Categories
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

Celebrating the Jewish Holidays with Iconic Moments in the American Musical Theatre

by Sydney Lydecker

Is there anything more moving or beautifully rendered than the Sabbath Prayer from “Fiddler on the Roof”.  Whether it was recently celebrated on Broadway by Danny Burstein or is currently in its fourth year in a record-breaking national tour, whether it is done in English or in Yiddish by Steven Skybell about to return to New York for the holiday season in the unique Joel Grey production, this is a highlight of one of the great American musicals.

Danny Burstein (Photo: Joan Marcus) Steven Skybell
(Photo © Matthew Murphy)

What better time to listen to “Falsettoland” which not only has its youngest protagonist singing about “The Miracle of Judaism” but then also has the ensemble celebrating “Jason’s Bar Mitzvah”.  William Finn is not the only acclaimed composer-lyricist that has explored the Bar Mitzvah on stage—one could go back 60 years ago when Harold Rome’s heartfelt “A Gift Today” was sung (by Elliot Gould, no less) to Sheldon the young Bar Mitzvah in “I Can Get It For Your Wholesale”. 

And composer Jule (“Gypsy,” “Funny Girl”) Styne, one of the most prolific of Broadway composers, couldn’t get his musical “Bar Mitzvah Boy” to Broadway (it played in London and was introduced in New York by the American Jewish Theatre) but if you can find the original British recording, take a listen to the obscure song “The Bar Mitzvah of Eliot Green”.

Stephen Bogardus, Barbara Walsh, Chip Zien, Jonathan Kaplan, Michael Rupert, Heather MacRae and Carolee Carmello in the original Broadway production of Falsettos Photo by Carol Rosegg – pictured right, Elliot Gould

Looking forward to Jerry Herman’s “Dear World” at Encores this coming season.  Well, before that there was “Hello, Dolly!” and “Mame” and after that came “Mack and Mabel” and “La Cage Aux Folles”.   But in his very first show, Herman said hello to Broadway with “Shalom”, the opening number of his vastly underrated score for “Milk and Honey”.  That may not have been the first time that word found itself in a Broadway lyric but it definitely was the first Broadway song to use that word in the title.   When “Milk and Honey” arrived on Broadway in the state of Israel had recently celebrated its Bar Mitzvah as a nation and the rousing title song was a paean to the spirit, humanity, the dreams and the hopes of that country.

Last season the Tony nominated revival of “Caroline, Or Change” reminded us of the  Festival of Lights, with its joyous “The Chanukah Party”.  The Tesori-Kushner score was even handed with its equal appreciation of that other seasonal holiday with its lively “Santa Comin Caroline”.   Theatergoers can look forward later this fall to the latest Jeanine Tesori score when “Kimberly Akimbo” arrives on Broadway at the Booth Theatre.

Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

Finally let us salute, with break fasts coming up in at the conclusion of Yom Kippur, the ultimate panacea proscribed by almost every Jewish mother.  Again we reference “I Can Get It For You Wholesale” with the quiet but powerfully moving finale (in the original production) of “Eat a Little Something”, sung by Mrs. Bogen to her son Harry, whose ambition and manipulation has come tumbling down on his friends, family and business empire.

Lillian Roth

Maybe “Milk and Honey” at a future Encores; maybe “I Can Get It For You Wholesale” at a major revival of a resident theatre.  Maybe happy New Beginning and Ending for them both, as we wish you a Happy New Year from Broadway’s Best Shows.

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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.

Categories
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

Categories
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.

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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. 

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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.

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Gore Vidal Would Have Been 97 Today, We’ll Look at His Contribution to the American Theatre

Gore’s first venture in the theatre was the result of a teleplay that had been produced on the Goodyear Playhouse in 1955;  It was described thusly:  “A visitor from another planet arrives on Earth and seems anxious to provoke a war- “one thing you people do really well”.   The teleplay starred Cyril Ritchard, at the height of his US popularity having created the role of Captain Hook in Peter Pan.  He starred as Kreton, the visitor who had hoped to cover the United States during the Civil War, and through a time warp, had arrived in the 1950’s, upending the household of a General in Manassas, Virginia.  The popularity of the Playhouse presentation inspired Gore to expand the “Visit” into a full-length play and it opened to mostly positive reviews in February of 1957.

Brooks Atkinson in the Times called “Planet” “uproarious” and Life Magazine called it “the freshest and funniest invasion of the Broadway season.”  Not only did Ritchard create the role, he also directed the production. The play was later adapted into a Jerry Lewis film which bore little resemblance to the original. In the fall of 2000, there was a special reading of “Visit to a Small Planet at the Douglas Fairbanks Theatre.  The cast included Alan Cumming (as the Visitor), Lily Tomlin (in the gender-changed role of the General), Philip Bosco, Christine Baranski, Kristin Chenoweth and Tony Randall, directed by John Tillinger.  One could have charged premium tickets.  While the reading was positively received, its future was dimmed when Cumming, who was approached to continue in the role, was unable to schedule a commitment.

Melvyn Douglas, Lee Tracy and Leora Dana in “The Best Man” by Gore Vidal, (1960)

His most famous play would open three years later. When it opened in 1960, it was simply titled “The Best Man” and acclaimed as one of the best political plays ever on Broadway.  It ran for over a year at the Morosco Theatre and the leading role won Melvyn Douglas the Tony Award for Best Actor.  In the fall Douglas had portrayed President Warren G. Harding in “The Gang’s All Here” but here he was merely a former Secretary of State who was was an aspiring Presidential Candidate at a convention. The play was written pre-primary politics which has subsequently become a staple on the American scene, though that spring there would be the first highly publicized major Presidential primary with Senators Stuart Symington, Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey and John F. Kennedy vying to be the Democratic candidate. In the play the opposing candidates were famously drawn upon Adlai Stevenson who had twice been the Democratic presidential candidate and Richard Nixon. Almost stealing the spotlight was the character of the ex-President and potential kingmaker (patterned after Harry Truman) portrayed by Lee Tracy, who recreated the role in the film, which co-starred Henry Fonda and Cliff Robertson.

Melvyn Douglas (far right) with fellow 1960 Tony winners Mary Martin (“The Sound of Music”), Jackie Gleason (“Take Me Along”), and Anne Bancroft (“The Miracle Worker”).

When the play was revived in the year 2000, it came on the heels of the popular film “The Best Man” which starred Taye Diggs. When the producer Jeffrey Richards, with director Ethan McSweeney,  travelled to Ravello to meet with Vidal, it was suggested, to avoid confusion, that the play be retitled “Gore Vidal’s The Best Man”. Gore’s response:  “I thought you’d never ask”.   The production which co-starred Charles During, Spalding Gray, Chris Noth, Elizabeth Ashley, Michael Learned and Christine Ebersole won both the Drama Desk Award and the Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Revival and was a surprise success of the fall season. It also benefitted from the five week delay in the Presidential contest which resulted in the George Bush presidency.  A line that before the election did not get a laugh was noted to receive one after November 4th when the putative candidate Joe Cantwell remarked “and the last thing we want is a deadlocked convention.”

There was a second revival of the play in 2012 with another all-star cast including John Larroquette, James Earl Jones, Eric McCormack, Angela Lansbury, Candice Bergen, Jefferson Mays, Kerry Butler, and Michael McKean.  Again the play was a success. Gore attended the second week of rehearsals in a wheelchair and serenaded the company with stories about the original production and the night that JFK attended a performance. Unlike the first revival in which he joined the company on stage at a glittering opening night with celebrities in the audience included Woody Allen, Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, Bebe Neuwirth, Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick among others, Gore was unable to attend the second re-opening. He died later that year, during the engagement of the production, which focused attention on his life and work and, consequently, resulted in an extension of the play with a replacement cast of Cybill Shepherd, John Stamos, Elizabeth Ashley and Kristin Davis.

Gore Vidal (AP)

Gore’s third Broadway play was an adaptation of Frederick Durrematt’s “Romulus” about the last of the Roman emperors. premiered on Broadway in 1962; once again his director and star was Cyril Ritchard (Vidal quipped- “Cyril was a wonderful actor but as a director he would just tell the actors to stand there, in a line and recite the dialogue”) and Dame Cathleen Nesbitt and Howard DaSilva were also starred.  

His fourth play reunited him with the original director of “Gore Vidal’s The Best Man”, Joseph Anthony, but did not repeat the success.  The play was “Weekend “and a one sentence description of the play read as follows:  “An unscrupulous Republican senator’s son brings home his black girlfriend”.  The play opened in March of 1968;  the previous December the Spencer Tracy-Katherine Hepburn-Sidney Poitier film had a similar racial theme in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” and was Oscar-nominated and a big box office success.  “Weekend” was neither a box office success, despite a starry cast which included John Forsythe, Rosemary Harris and Academy Award winner Kim Hunter and introduced Carol Cole, Nat King Cole’s daughter, as the girlfriend, nor was it well received. The producers advertised it without quotes calling it THE PEOPLE’S CHOICE. It wasn’t. It played three weeks at the Broadhurst Theatre.

Gore’s fifth and final play on Broadway was in 1972; a blistering satire called “An Evening With Richard Nixon and…” with George S. Irving in the title role.  Originally scheduled to be directed by (Sir) Peter Hall, it was directed by Ed Sherin, who had staged “The Great White Hope”. It opened 50 years ago and was budgeted at $150,000; there was a cast of fifteen (with a very young Susan Sarandon) portraying a gallery of over 50 characters ranging from George Washington to JFK, including, FDR, Harry Truman, Thomas E. Dewey, Dwight Eisenhower, FDR, Gloria Steinem and Pat Nixon – Clive Barnes in his review said “I laughed a great deal at this political bloodletting” but had reservations about the play’s cumulative impact.  So did audiences, and without the star power that had been associated with previous Vidal entries, the play last only two weeks after opening at the Shubert Theatre.

George S. Irving, Susan Sarandon.

Gore’s final play that received a production premiered at Duke as part of Duke Theatres’ Previews in 2005.  A glittering cast headed by Charles During, Chris Noth, Michael Learned, Harris Yulin, Richard Easton, Isabel Keating and David Turner brought “On the March to the Sea” to life for a brief engagement.  Directed by Warner Shook, who had brought “The Kentucky Cycle” to Broadway, “Sea” was a noble effort that failed to march on to New York.  The play concerned a Georgian family’s trial by fire during Sherman’s famous march during the Civil War.  Vidal delighted students at a writing class with various bon mots such as “The best writers have been actors…Shakespeare, Shaw, Twain, Wilder.”;  “Reading is like going to bed with someone.  Save Jane Eyre for a dismal night” and on the staged reading format of the play “naked language…the eye is not distracted by the adventurous and dangerous set designer”…

Gore had developed and was retooling a script inspired by his novel Lincoln (which had also been a mini-series on television in the late 80’s) when he passed away. A reading had been scheduled and ultimately was not realized.

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Cover Story 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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Interviews

Twenty Questions with Tony Award Winner Michael Rupert

Michael Rupert won the 1986 Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical for his portrayal of Oscar in the revival of Sweet Charity. He received his first Tony Award nomination in 1968 at the age of 16 for his Broadway debut in Kander and Ebb’s The Happy Time. Rupert originated the role of Marvin in the William Finn musicals March of the Falsettos (1981) and Falsettoland (1991), which would later be combined into the 1992 two-act Broadway musical that featured Rupert, Falsettos. His impressive resume also includes Pippin (1974), Mail (1988), City of Angels (1991), Ragtime, originating the role of Professor Callahan in Legally Blonde (2007), and Our Town (2014). 

In addition to acting, Rupert is an experienced director, writer, and composer. He directed The Lunch Anxieties Off-Broadway as well as the musical The Stars In Your Eyes. He composed the score to Strange Vacation, Mail, 3 Guys Naked from the Waist Down, and Streets of America, which he also co-wrote the lyrics and books. 

We were fortunate enough to speak with Michael and get Twenty questions with a Tony Award Winner. 

1. What were your first thoughts upon being nominated for a Tony Award?

I was thrilled. I had been nominated once before and had not gone on to win, so I thought whatever happens, at the very least, I’ll get to enjoy the next few weeks of parties and anticipation. 

2. What were your first thoughts upon winning?

I was pretty shocked. I didn’t think it was going to happen. I hadn’t even come up with any kind of “Thank You” speech, so I fumbled a few words and made my way backstage. Very surreal.

3. Do you have any fond memories from the night of the ceremony? 

The Tony ceremony that year happened in the theater where my show, Sweet Charity, was playing, so when I got backstage, I was greeted by all the crew people I was working with 8 times a week. That was quite special. I got to share the moment with my friends.

4. What was a great opportunity winning the Tony Award afforded?

Winning the Tony Award did not really change my life or my career considerably, other than whenever anyone wrote about me or mentioned me, I was referred to as “The Tony Award-winning Actor…etc.

5. Where do you keep your award now? 

I keep my Tony in a cabinet with other memorabilia.

6. Who is an artist/performer you admire?

Sam Gold.

7. What is the best advice you have received in your career?

“Just say the words. Don’t act. Trust that you’re interesting enough.”

8. What is the last book you read?

NEVER by Ken Follett.

9. What is a dream role of yours?

I have no dream role, per se. Though, Fagin in OLIVER! is cool.

10. What previous role of yours had your favorite costumes?

In LEGALLY BLONDE The Musical, I got to wear very expensive tailored suits. I enjoyed that.

Kate Shindle, Laura Bell Bundy, and Michael Rupert in Legally Blonde, photo by Joan Marcus.

11. What is a fond rehearsal memory of yours? 

I was in the very first workshop of William Finn’s A NEW BRIAN at The Public Theater. Jason Robert Brown was our musical director/vocal arranger. The first day of rehearsal I watched him attack the keyboard like no one I’d ever seen. Truly brilliant muscular musicianship. I was in awe.

12. Which of your previous roles did you feel most similar to? 

Marvin in FALSETTOS.

13. Which of your previous roles did you feel most different from? 

I once played a cranky, old elf in a workshop production of Harry Connick, Jr.’s THE HAPPY ELF directed by John Rando. I am not an elf.

14. What has been a challenge you’ve faced in your career?

Letting go and trusting myself. I’ve always been too self-critical.

15. What are you working on now?

I’m retired from acting/performing at this point. I spend my time now directing and working with students at various colleges and universities.

16. What is your favorite song?

“I’ve Never Said I Love You” from Jerry Herman’s DEAR WORLD. I can still listen to Pamela Hall’s performance of that song, and it gets to me every time. Brilliant.

17. What is a show or movie you are looking forward to seeing?

It doesn’t come out until next year, but I look forward to seeing the next part of DUNE.

18. What was your best subject in school?

English Lit.

19. What is your go to brunch order? 

The Avocado Burrito at Tajin in Lower Manhattan. Unbelievably brilliant!

20. What is your favorite part of theatre?

Sitting in the audience the moment the lights go down.

Michael Rupert and Debbie Allen in Sweet Charity.
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Cover Story Interviews

Twenty Questions with Tony Winner Blair Brown

In 2000, Blair Brown won the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play for her portrayal of Margrethe in Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen. Brown first appeared on a New York stage in the 1975 New York Shakespeare Festival’s production of The Comedy of Errors and boasts an impressive theatre resume including the 1989 Broadway production of Secret Rapture, the 1995 Lincoln Center Theater production of Arcadia, two runs as Frau Schneider in the 1998 and 2003 productions of Cabaret, and the 2006 production of The Clean House. She can currently be seen at Studio 54 as Ms. Innes in Tracy Letts’ The Minutes, playing through July 24th only. 

On Screen, Brown appeared in the 1973 Oscar winning film, The Paper Chase, as well as in The Choirboy, Altered States, One Trick Pony, Stealing Home, and A Flash of Green. She received a Golden Globe nomination for her leading role opposite John Belushi in Continental Divide. She received a second Golden Globe nomination for her portrayal of Jacqueline Kennedy in the TV miniseries Kennedy. She had a 5-year run on the television comedy-drama, The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd, where she received 5 consecutive Emmy Award nominations. In 2008, Brown appeared on the Fox television series The Fringe, and was featured as Judy King in 3 seasons of the Netflix comedy-drama series, Orange is the New Black

We were fortunate enough to speak with Blair and get Twenty questions with a Tony Award Winner. 

Blair Brown at the 2000 Tony Awards.

1. What were your first thoughts upon being nominated for a Tony Award?

Why wasn’t there an ensemble award?  There still isn’t. I was in a three-character play, Copenhagen, and Michael Cumpsty and Phil Bosco and I were totally dependent on each other for our performances. 

2. What were your first thoughts upon winning?

It’s just nice to win a prize even though we know it doesn’t really matter. 

3. Do you have any fond memories from the night of the ceremony? 

My son in a tux as my date. I got a chance to thank the brilliant wig maker, Paul Huntley, whose artistry in helping actors create characters was largely unrecognized, and I got to sing and dance Irish music on that huge Radio City stage in that gargantuan house. A nice night!

4. What is the biggest change you experienced after winning?

You get better billing. That’s it really

5. Where is your award now? 

In a cabinet mixed in with small ceramics my son made as a child. 

6. Who has been a mentor in your career?

I never had a mentor but there were two actors that I wanted to be like: Marian Seldes and Roger Rees. They both brought such genuine joy and enthusiasm to this work they loved. I try to remember that. 

7. What is the best advice you have received in your career?

One day in rehearsal at the Guthrie Theater playing Portia in The Merchant of Venice I was having a crisis of confidence. Michael Langham, the director, took me aside and basically said “You expect people to pay money to watch you think and feel so get on with it”. He said it in a slightly nicer way but that’s what he meant and it’s true, we do! 

8. Do you have any preperformance rituals?

I make up different rituals for every show. 

9. What is the last book you read?

I Just finished rereading A Swim in a Pond in the Rain by George Saunders. A wonderful look at Russian short story writing that can inform what actors do creating characters. 

10. What is a dream role of yours?

I wish I’d done more Shakespeare, more Shaw, more Restoration comedies. I was in the wrong country. 

11. What previous role of yours had your favorite costumes?

My Favorite, most favorite costume was a gown designed for Camino Real by Michael Krass that was based on a 1950’s Dior petal dress. I shed sequins and petals wherever I walked. Divine!

12. Which of your previous roles did you feel most similar to?

I always felt Gretta in James Joyce’s The Dead was someone I could have been. 

13. Which of your previous roles did you feel most different from?

When I was in drama school I was cast as a termagant in John Osbourne’s Live Like Pigs because I’d been complaining about playing ingenues. I had to look up the word and I was ridiculous as this older hardened prostitute!

14. Is there a role that you would like to revisit?

I’d like to revisit playing Prospera in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. It was such a rich and interesting experience to switch that protagonist’s gender, fascinating to feel the story play out differently. I’d like another shot at it with Emily Mann directing again. 

15. What has been a challenge you’ve faced in your career?

The biggest challenge for me was trying to balance raising my son with the work I loved doing but also needed to do to support us. 

16. What is a song that always makes you smile?

“Let’s Do It, Let’s Fall in Love” by Cole Porter always gets me smiling. 

17. What is your favorite cocktail?

Danny Meyer’s Tabla on Madison Square used to make a Citrus Ginger Snap cocktail. Delish!

18. What is a place you would like to visit?

I want to see more of Scotland, those wild islands.  

19. What is your favorite show tune?

No single show tune stands out. It’s a crowded field. Anything from Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George.  Or The Threepenny Opera.  Or The Band’s Visit

20. What is your favorite part of theatre?

My favorite part of theater is rehearsal and tech when the play emerges.  Thrilling!  My 2nd favorite is the moment after the Sunday matinee when you’ve run the 8-show gauntlet and you breathe a sigh of relief and accomplishment. 

Samira Wiley and Blair Brown in Orange is the New Black.
Categories
Interviews

Twenty Questions with Tony Winner Jessie Mueller

In 2014, Jessie Mueller won the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical for her portrayal of Carole King in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. Along with her 2014 win, Jessie has been nominated for three additional Tony Awards for her Melinda Wells in the 2011 revival of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, originating the role of Jenna in the 2016 hit Waitress, and most recently, her Julie Jordan in the 2018 revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel

Jessie Mueller’s distinguished career has also included appearance on shows including The Family, Blue Bloods, Madam Secretary, Evil, and Candy. She can currently be seen in Tracy Letts’ Tony Nominated Best Play, The Minutes, playing at Studio 54 until July 23rd. 

We are very grateful that Jessie took some time between shows to answer Twenty Questions with a Tony Award Winner.

Jessie Mueller in Beautiful (Joan Marcus).

1. What were your first thoughts upon being nominated for a Tony Award?

When I was nominated for Beautiful, I was thrilled. I was so proud of all the amazing work everyone had done putting that show together.

2.   What were your first thoughts upon winning?

Honestly? Walk and talk fast and don’t fall down. It had been a long night!

3.   Do you have any fond memories from the night of the ceremony?

I remember seeing Nick Cordero perform from Bullets Over Broadway, and thinking who IS this cat? He’s amazing.

4.   What is the biggest change you experienced after winning?

It opened a window to professional opportunities I’d never had before.

5.   Where is your award now?

In a box still from a recent move!

6.   Who has been a mentor in your career?

Oh gosh…I try to pick up a little from all the wonderful people I meet. Steal what I admire and learn from what I don’t. Harry Connick Jr. was certainly a mentor for my early days in NY. He took me under his wing during Clear Day. He’s someone I know I can always come to if I need advice.

7.   What is the best advice you have received in your career?

“Do your thing and don’t worry about other people.” -HCJ

Not easy, but very sound advice.

8.   Do you have any pre-performance rituals?

Lately, a little yoga beforehand helps me get my head in the game and start breathing.

9.   What is the last book you read?

I don’t remember. But the last one that really made me laugh was Phoebe Robinson’s Don’t Sit On My Bed In Your Outside Clothes.

10.  What is a dream role of yours?

Being an animated Disney character…I will be a tree stump. I’m not particular.

11.  What previous role of yours had your favorite costumes?

My costumes as Melinda Wells in Clear Day were pretty fabulous. Cathy Zuber made me feel like a million bucks. There were hats and matching shoes. It was so fun.

12.  What is the best prop you’ve used?

Ok, I have to say the first thing that popped into my head was prop baby dolls. They’re always hilarious. They’re usually very scary looking, and you spend most of the scenes when they appear trying to look lovingly into their dead eyes while hiding their face from the audience at all costs.

13.  Which of your previous roles did you feel most similar to?

Probably each one as I was playing them. I think that’s where I start. I use what I have, so each role brings something out in me that is particular to that moment in time.

14.  Which of your previous roles did you feel most different from?

Maybe Adelaide in Guys and Dolls. I loved that. It was a fun departure.

Jessie Mueller and Joshua Henry (Julieta Cervantes).

15.  Is there a role that you would like to revisit?

Not a role really, but I think I’d like to do Into the Woods again at some point.

16.  What has been a challenge you’ve faced in your career?

Juggling life and work. It’s really hard. Live theatre work especially is extremely demanding. It seems like you only work a few hours a night, but it’s no joke.

17.  What is a song that always makes you smile?

Sunshine On My Shoulders by John Denver was the first thing I thought of!

18.  What is your favorite cocktail?

Oooooh. Spicy margarita or a vodka martini up with a twist, honey!

19.  What is a place you would like to visit?

Ireland.

20.  What is your favorite show tune?

I like the overtures.

Jessie Mueller and Noah Reid in The Minutes (Jeremy Daniel).
Categories
Interviews

Twenty Questions with Tony Winner Elizabeth Ashley

In 1962 at the age of 22, Elizabeth Ashley won the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play for her portrayal of Mollie Michaelson in Phoebe and Henry Ephron’s Take Her, She’s Mine. Along with her 1962 win, Elizabeth has also received two other Tony Award nominations for originating the role of Corie in Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park and for her Margaret in the 1974 revival of Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

She has been featured in more than 30 movies, including the 1964 film The Carpetbaggers, as well as dozens of TV series, including the currently running Netflix original series, Russian Doll

We were fortunate enough to speak with Elizabeth and get Twenty questions with a Tony Award Winner. 

Elizabeth Ashley and George Peppard

1. What were your first thoughts upon being nominated for a Tony Award? 

“To say it was a shock is to underestimate the effect it had on me. You have to remember that I was very young, and I gotten the part in this play because it was just – at the time when Art Carney had left The Honeymooners and the part was not originally that big, and George Abbot kept rewriting and rewriting to the point where my part got much bigger and showier. It became a play more centered on the relationship between Art and my character. It had never even occurred to me but being nominated was a big deal and I felt like the hottest little twinkie on Broadway… I was nominated again for Barefoot in the Park, which was surprising to me. I remember I was supposed to present but had some teenage drama, you know, so I wasn’t able to present… For Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Tennessee wanted his original version done, and that was directed by the brilliant Michael Kahn. It got a lot of national press and Roger Stevens brought it to Broadway and then the Opera House… Because it was such a huge success both critically and in every other way it could be, it was totally expected.”

2. What were your first thoughts upon winning?

“When they called my name, I mean, it was like a mental, emotional, and psychological explosion because I was so young and inexperienced. I couldn’t really grasp the meaning of it.”

3. Do you have any fond memories from that night?

“I remember Charles Nelson Reilly won also that night, and I remember he and I sort of walking out together and Charles grabbed my hand as we were trying to cross Park Avenue and he said, ‘Well look at us, we’re the newest stars around here’.”

4. What is the biggest change you experienced after winning? 

“I think I was being paid maybe $100 a week and I think I got a raise to $125. The thing I remember most clearly was being offered star billing, and my brilliant young agent, Stark Hesseltine, said ‘Absolutely not. In the Theatre, once you go above the title, you must never go below it again.’ And he was saying that to someone who was 22 years old, so of course I did what he said, and I took my $25 raise and was utterly happy with it. Because I was so young and it was considered unusual at the time for a young actress to be considered funny, so that got a lot of attention and press, and I think that opened many many doors to me. Overall, let me just say, no one that I know of was luckier than I was at the beginning of my career, and it all happened so fast. It was years before I could begin to start to look back and think what it meant…I remember it was the first time I was sent pages, and they were from Neil Simon and he wanted to write a play for me to be in, which would lead to Barefoot in the Park… I didn’t realize how unusual and remarkable it was.”

5. Who has been a Mentor in your career?

“The great Roger L Stevens, the man who built the Kennedy Center. He had the playwrights company that represented Tennessee Williams. When I was an understudy in a hit comedy called Mary, Mary, and I wasn’t even a standby, I was an understudy where I had to be there all the time and that’s where I met Roger Stevens. I suppose the next great mentor or the man who made me a ‘star’ was the great George Abbott in the play that won me the Tony, Take Her, She’s Mine.” 

6. What is the best advice you have received?

“There is a brilliant director named Michael Wilson that I owe a great deal too. Any actress goes through those times when no one wants to hire them for anything. For many years, Michael was the Artistic Director at Hartford Stage and put together an extraordinary company of actors and designers… On stage, because I was physical, I always tended to move around to much. I’ve never been known to underact. Because Michael and I clicked so well that he went right at all the bad habits I had. He went right for every psychological grab bar or comfort we had, which over all the years, has made me a better actress than I would have been.”

7. Who is one of your favorite playwrights you’ve worked with?

“Tennessee [Williams] and I had an immediate affinity. We became close. Tennessee loved actors. My God he loved actors. He was amazing and extraordinary… His plays are operatic. The soliloquies are like arias in a sense and his use of breaking the fourth wall was remarkable… If I ever became known for anything, it was Tennessee Williams plays. We became very close friends. If one wants to know about Tennessee, they should read the book by John Lahr who spent 13 years writing the biography. Tennessee has never written a play that when I read it or saw it, I didn’t immediately identify and understand the soul of it.”

8. What is a play you would like to re-read? 

“I look forward to re-reading The Visit. I haven’t read it in years and I would like to read it again to see if it still applies the way I have always thought. I’d like to re-read Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra. I would also like to re-read some of his [Shakespeare] comedies. I can pull out my big, fat book of Shakespeare.”

9. What is a show you look forward to seeing?

“The play I am really looking forward to seeing after my knee heals is Tracy Letts’ The Minutes. I had the privilege of being in August: Osage County.”

10. What is the last book you read?

“I tend to read an awful lot of peculiar history and detective novels. Give me a good Michael Connelly book any day and I’ll go for it.”

11. What is a dream-role you want to play?

“The one Tennessee I never played was Streetcar Named Desire because by the time I could’ve done it, it had been done brilliantly by several actors… The one part that I lusted after and longed to play and have never had the opportunity is The Visit. It needs a great translation… I knew that woman. I knew that situation. I knew that was me.” 

12. What previous role of yours had the best costumes?

“I think when I played Isadora Duncan in a play called When She Danced at Playwrights Horizons. I’ve had brilliant costume designers, but Jess Goldstein, those were the most gorgeous costumes I’ve ever had. One of the first things I did after coming out of retirement and coming back to New York, there was the designer Peter Joseph for The Enchanted by Giraudoux at the Kennedy Center. Those costumes were ones that I kept and loved forever… This sounds very diva-ish, but one of the things I won’t work without is a Paul Huntley wig.”

13. Which role of yours did you feel most similar to?

“For Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, what can I say, this will sound like arrogance, but that’s not in the least in the way I mean it, but that part [Maggie] had my name on it. I knew Maggie. There was not one thing in that play that I hadn’t lived or known or experienced in my life of in the lives around me. In part she was my mother.” 

14. Which role of yours felt the most different from you?

“Well, this Netflix series, Russian Doll. That character was, in many ways, quite distant from me. Much more contained. I had to approach it in a totally different way. Also, Isadore Duncan in When She Danced, I had to really stretch out for that.”

Elizabeth Ashley at the Russian Doll Season 2 Premiere

15. What has been a creative challenge you have faced in your career?

“Probably Ceasar and Cleopatra. I didn’t know what I was going to do with that play, because it was Shaw, but the first famous scene you are kind of on your own in a sense. I had done so much research and I knew her age and that she was exiled because they wanted her dead. She was like a feral child that had grown up in the sewers, which led me to make a more radical choice in how she looked so you would see the story of a powerful man creating a queen. Developing it, towards the end, became a challenge because I had to age her and tame and teach her. It was challenging to find the truth and comfort zone of that without ‘acting’ it.”

16. What is one of your favorite theatrical experiences to have been a part of?

“I think my best work ever and the part I identified with the most was in Sweet Bird of Youth. I think that’s my favorite role I had the privilege to play. Again, under the direction of the wonderful Michael Kahn.”

17. What is a song that always makes you smile?

“Desperado by The Eagles.”

18. What is your favorite cocktail?

“Straight gold tequila in a shot glass.” 

19. What is a place you would like to visit?

“The most joyous and happy times of my life were when I was retired and became a sailor and lived in the Caribbean on an ocean raising sailboat. When I went, the islands were a secret. There were no roads, no electricity, no phones. The one thing I have done is travel all over the world and lived all over the world… I think where I’d like to go again is the Scandinavian countries. There are islands off Norway that I’d like to see what happening there.”

20. What is your favorite part of theatre? 

 “The theatre is my home, you know. A stage, it’s instinctive. There is something in my DNA that understands it, respects it, adores it, loves it, and damn well knows what to do on it. The thing I have always loved the most is the research. Basically, I’ve always said I’m a mechanic. I like to go under the hood and take it apart and put back together and make it go like a race car. Good directors have helped me when I need to make it into an old Plymouth and not Ferrari.” 

Elizabeth Ashley in The Best Man (Photo: Joan Marcus)
Categories
Long Form

Austin Pendleton: 60 Years Of Theater And Loving It!

Imagine having a true life “in the theater”, what would that mean? Austin Pendleton, now celebrating his 60th year in the theater can tell you. Pendleton, the prolific actor-director-playwright, currently appearing prominently in Tracy Letts’ The Minutes at Studio 54 has just been honored this Spring with the New York Drama Critics Circle Special Citation for his 60 years of work in the theatre, The Actors Equity Foundation Richard Seff Award for veteran actors and was nominated for an Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Featured Actor in a Play. 

Pendleton, now 82 years young, developed his love for theater when he was as a child, as theater rehearsals were happening in his living room. You see, he grew up in Warren, Ohio. After WWII–it was an industrial hub–but the people wanted to begin a community theater. They came to his mother, actress Frances Manchester for help. “She told them to raise money and she helped them and they pulled her into directing and acting. Their early productions were rehearsed in our living room and I got so into it,” recalled the actor, director and playwright. “I grew up with theatre literally in my own home. There are all kinds of wonderful advantages to theatre, where you get to do the play every night. Once theatre is a bug in your system it stays there, you just keep wanting to do it.”

It’s not surprising that when he went to school he got involved in school plays. But, it wasn’t just being bitten by the bug that inspired him to be involved in theater. “What attracted me to acting was when I was a kid, I stuttered very badly and I found that when I would act in school plays that went away. That was before there was a sophisticated approach to treating stuttering. I escaped into acting,” Pendleton shared.

Pendleton began his professional New York acting career in the 1962 Arthur Kopit sensation, Oh Dad, Poor Dad Momma’s Hung You in the Closet and I’m Feelin’ So Sad. Now six decades later he is on Broadway in The Minutes. 

The Minutes, about a City Council meeting that goes awry, beginning as, The New York Times declared, an “expert comedy” then morphs into “jaw-dropping horror”. Pendleton plays the character of Mr. Oldfield, a stick in the mud. He’s been on the City Council year after year and he has views that are not with the times. “I want them to find that amusing, but I also want them to feel like what it would be like to be that person. That’s what you want with any character, you want the audience to know what it would feel like to be that character,” Pendleton added.

Looking at his journey with The Minutes and the pandemic, Pendleton reflected, “We got within three days of the official opening night two years ago. We got it together, we were working on the day of the night the press was coming, then came the lockdown.”

Austin Pendleton’s 1964 breakout role on Broadway as the tailor Motel Kamzoil in the original cast of Fiddler on the Roof.

Pendleton has had the privilege of working with some of the crème de la crème of theater. And one opportunity has led to another. He began his career in Oh Dad, Poor Dad…, which was directed by Jerome Robbins. His performance led Robbins to cast him as Motel in the Original Broadway production of Fiddler on the Roof. Later Pendleton played the role of Leo Hubbard, in Mike Nichols’ famed production of The Little Foxes. Pendleton is quick to admit that while playing the role, he feared getting fired and was saved by simple advice from his co-star Anne Bancroft. “There was something not working about my performance. Anne Bancroft gave me the key–she said you walk the wrong way for the character. Lillian Hellman was so impressed with the way my performance suddenly turned, that 14 years later she thought of me to direct a revival of Foxes, which also served as the Broadway debut of Elizabeth Taylor.”

Pendleton developed his acting craft while training at HB Studios with Uta Hagen. He was also in the Lincoln Center Training Program and worked with theater legend Robert Lewis. Pendleton has found over his six decades that while acting was fulfilling, he also had the propensity for directing and playwriting. He found himself writing musicals, while an undergraduate at Yale. He wrote the script for Tom Jones and Booth Is Back In Town!  in his Junior year. He later made Booth Is Back In Town! into a straight play called Booth, which is still performed today. He wrote a dark play called Uncle Bob, which is his most produced work. Reflecting on how he came to New York, he recalled coming to pursue being a writer due to the two musicals he had done at Yale. “I got ambushed into doing Oh Dad…,” he mused.

Directorial opportunities came about due to Robert Lewis, who also taught at the Yale Drama School and saw something else in Pendleton, something that he shared with Nikos Psachopoulos, who ran the Williamstown Theatre Festival. “There was something that I did in a scene as an actor and Robert said that is an idea a director would have. Lewis told Nikos that I had talent as a director. I knew about directing because I would watch rehearsals of the community theatre at home, and there were three directors, including my mother. I would watch how they worked. Nikos invited me to Williamstown and the first two shows I directed there were huge hits. I was able to direct three shows on Broadway that got Tony nominations. When I worked with Jerome Robbins, I watched the clarity of his storytelling. He was unmatched at that.”. 

Pondering the role that the audience serves to inspire him when he’s on stage, Pendleton said, “The key word in putting on any theatrical piece is suspense, which is much more important than the laughs. If you feel the audience literally and figuratively leaning forward wanting to know what’s going to happen next that’s what you look for. If they are not leaning forward, then you know that’s something you have to fix.”

In his six decades Pendleton shared that he’s had ups and downs, but he’s stayed the course. “There were a couple of times my acting was pronounced officially over. I had a late lunch with Lynn Redgrave, I had career killing reviews and she said you just have to keep acting, it will take seven years. In those years you can’t stop acting. Act in showcase productions, theaters outside of town and that was a professional life changing conversation. So that’s what I did. When they were able to come back around to me I was ready. So that led to this longevity. If you stop for too long, you’re going to be afraid to do it again and no one will want you to. You will fade from the memory. If you keep doing it, it’s just one long continuum.”

Whenever Pendleton takes on a role he brings such an authenticity to it. Talking about his process he shared, “It’s kind of different with every role. You keep reading the play or the script and look at how your role contributes to the storyline. Sometimes you feel an immediate identification and sometimes you don’t. You find a small thing you identify with and you build on that. Like with The Little Foxes, I started with the walk. Anne said angle your body differently when you walk and she was totally right. I had no way of identifying with the character, nothing in my life identified with his. When I changed my walk things began to happen.”

Madeline Kahn and Austin Pendleton in What’s Up, Doc?

For 60 years Pendleton has not only acted, directed, written plays, but he also has taught directing at The New School and teaches acting at HB Studios. He has been a member of the Steppenwolf Theatre ensemble since 1979 and served as Artistic Director of Circle Repertory Company. He simply lives an all-encompassing “life in the theater”. When asked why, he said, “It just fascinates me. There are vast numbers of things that I don’t know. I can’t understand how they operate. I stick with this because it’s the only thing I have any skill at.”

Over the years Pendleton has received accolades for his work. In 1970 he won both an Obie Award for Performance and a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Performance in The Last Sweet Days of Isaac. In 1981, he received a Tony nomination for Best Direction of a Play for The Little Foxes. Other Tony nominations for Direction included Shelter and Spoils of War. In 2011 he won the Obie Award for Directing for The Three Sisters. In 2015 he was nominated for both The Lortels Outstanding Director Award and the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Director of a Play for Between Riverside and Crazy. He was also honored as a Legend of off-Broadway in the same year.

Accolades are still coming as Pendleton is the subject of “Starring Austin Pendleton,” a documentary film about his life and legacy, in which many of his famous challenges reflect on their friend including Meryl Streep, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Olympia Dukakis, and Ethan Hawke. Pendleton, while epitomizing a life in the theater, he has also appeared in 100 films and television shows.


Linda Armstrong is a theatre critic with the New York Amsterdam News, Theatre Editor for Neworldreview.net, A&E Editor for Harlem News Group and has written for Playbill Online, had a Theatre column “On The Aisle” for Our Time Press, Network Journal Magazine, Show Business Weekly Newspaper, Headline Magazine, Theatre Week Magazine, Black Masks Magazine, and the New York Daily News. Lincoln Center Performing Arts Library interviewed her for their “Critical Perspectives” series, and she was cited on the Jeanne Parnell Radio Show in March 2021 as a Woman Making History.

Categories
Creative

Stupid Kids

STUPID KIDS
By John C. Russell
Directed By Michael Mayer
Starring John Clay III, Lauren Patten, Ali Stroker and Taylor Trensch
With Stage Directions By Christian Borle

Stupid Kids premiered Wednesday, September 22nd, 2021 at 8:00PM ET/5PM PST and was available to stream on demand through Saturday, September 25th at 6:00PM ET.

STUPID KIDS follows four students at Joe McCarthy High School as they make their way from first through eighth period and beyond, struggling with the fears, frustrations, and longings peculiar to youth. With his magical touch, John C. Russell turns these familiar stereotypes into moving and provocative archetypes of adolescence whose lingo takes on a lyricism that is both true to its source and revelatory of the hearts and minds of contemporary youth.