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Spotlight on Plays

Broadway’s Best Shows is proud to present Spotlight on Plays, a starry series of livestream readings of Broadway’s best plays to benefit The Actors Fund

TodayTix is Spotlight on Plays exclusive ticketing partner. 

RACE, by Pulitzer Prize winner David Mamet, tackles America’s most controversial topic in this provocative play. A potent dramatic cocktail of sex, guilt and legal maneuvering, Race concerns three lawyers (Ed O’Neill, David Alan Grier and Alicia Stith) defending a wealthy white executive (Richard Thomas) charged with raping a black woman. David Alan Grier and Richard Thomas return to the roles they created during the play’s hit run on Broadway. Tony Award winner Phylicia Rashad directs.

In David Mamet’s BOSTON MARRIAGE Anna and Claire, two scheming “women of fashion” have their world upended when Anna receives an enormous emerald and an income to match from a wealthy admirer. Claire, meanwhile, is infatuated with a respectable young lady and wants to enlist the jealous Anna’s help for an assignation. Tony Award winner Patti LuPone and Rebecca Pidgeon are Anna and Claire, with Sophia Macy as their Maid. Mamet directs.

Neil LaBute’s World Premiere adaptation of Anton Chekov’s UNCLE VANYA sees Tony Award winner Alan Cumming take on the titular role joined by Constance Wu, Emmy Award winner Samira Wiley, K. Todd Freeman, Anson Mount, Mia Katigbak, Manik Choksi and Academy Award Winner Ellen Burstyn. Gabriel Ebert narrates the proceedings in an evening directed by Danya Taymor (Heroes of the Fourth Turning).

TIME STANDS STILL is Pulitzer Prize winner Donald Margulies’ play about a photojournalist and a foreign correspondent trying to find happiness in a world that seems to have gone crazy. Laura Linney, Alicia Silverstone, Eric Bogosian, and Brian D’Arcy James return to the roles they originated on Broadway. They are once again directed by Tony Award winner (Proof) Daniel Sullivan.


BARBECUE

In Robert O’Hara’s rollicking BARBECUE, the O’Mallerys have gathered in their local park to share some barbecue and rousing straight talk while they await their youngest sister’s arrival. What appears to be a festive occasion is actually something quite different. O’Hara, who staged this year’s acclaimed Slave Play, directs a company that includes: Colman Domingo, S. Epatha Merkerson, Tamberla Perry, Kimberly Hebert Gregory, Heather Simms, Tony Award winner Laurie Metcalf, Carrie Coon, David Morse, Kristine Nielsen and Annie McNamara. 


TodayTix is Spotlight on Plays exclusive ticketing partner. 

The Actors Fund envisions a world in which individuals contributing to our country’s cultural vibrancy are supported, valued and economically secure.

Mission: The Actors Fund fosters stability and resiliency, and provides a safety net for performing arts and entertainment professionals over their lifespan.

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Cover Story 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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Cover Story Long Form

Looking Back to Look Ahead: How Nostalgia is Baked Into Broadway

Nostalgia has always been a powerful force in the theater – and right now, it’s stronger than ever.

With shows on Broadway and around the country unlikely to resume until the current pandemic’s final phases of reopening, fans and professionals alike find themselves missing almost everything about going to the theater. The sound of a live orchestra tuning up for an overture. The feeling of an audience-wide belly laugh. The hush that falls over a crowd at a dramatic moment. Pretty soon fans might start to miss the bathroom lines at intermission.

Nostalgia is evident, too, in the ad hoc streaming offerings that theater people have produced during the current lockdown. Original casts have reconvened online for readings of shows like “Significant Other,” while Seth Rudetsky’s ongoing variety show “Stars in the House” regularly hosts reunions of TV and film actors. Even playwright Richard Nelson’s just-written “What Do We Need to Talk About?” was performed over Zoom in conversation with the past, bringing together a familiar cast of actors reprising characters they’d portrayed in the four previous shows that comprise Nelson’s Apple Family Play.

“What Do We Need to Talk About?”

“We’re all streaming content that is based in reminding us what it was like to go to the theater,” says Elizabeth Wollman, the Baruch College theater professor whose books include “The Theater Will Rock: A History of the Rock Musical, From ‘Hair’ to ‘Hedwig.’” “One of the reasons that I thought the new Apple Family play worked so beautifully is because it did exactly what those plays do in the theater.”

All of this is just the latest evolution of the way in which nostalgia has always had a presence theater. It’s baked into the form itself. “Theater is defined by legend, because each performance is once in a lifetime,” says Laurence Maslon, the New York University Tisch School of the Arts professor and the author of “Broadway: The American Musical.” Either you were in the house at “Gypsy” the night that Patti LuPone snatched a cell phone out of an audience member’s hand, or you weren’t.

The memory of a night at theater is more than just the show itself. It’s where you were, who you were with, what you did before and after the performance, and all the sense memories associated with those things. “It’s coming out of the subway and smelling the salty pretzels and getting a drink at Joe Allen,” Maslon says of the Broadway experience.

Joe Allen Restaurant in NYC

It’s no accident, then, that theater has always celebrated its history — its groundbreaking productions and talents — more than TV or film: The impulse rises from the effort to preserve what we can of an impermanent form, and it’s part of why we return so often to classic plays and musicals.

“People want musical art to be timeless, and it isn’t,” notes Raymond Knapp, the UCLA musicology professor whose books include “The American Musical and the Formation of National Identity.” “The impulse to revive is very, very strong. It’s partly based on nostalgia, and it’s also based on the notion that music transcends time.”

Revivals and even new works can draw on nostalgia on both a national level and a personal one. “The idea of doing a revival of ‘The King and I’ or ‘My Fair Lady,’ those tap into a national, theatrical, Broadway-musical sense of nostalgia,” notes Stacy Wolf, the Princeton University professor and author of the book “Changed for Good: A Feminist History of the Broadway Musical.” “Broadway can be nostalgic in wanting to revive classics like those that have this aura of Americana, or sometimes, like ‘Jersey Boys,’ a show can speak to individual theatergoers or generations of fans and to their personal feelings of nostalgia for the music they grew up with.”

Adrienne Warren and the cast of Tina! The Tina Turner Musical (photo by Manuel Harlan)

For some critics and scholars, nostalgia raises red flags. Commercial producers and nonprofit theaters alike sometimes ignore new work to return again and again to established sellers like “The Sound of Music” and “Death of a Salesman,” and many new musicals draw on popular song catalogs – The Four Seasons (“Jersey Boys”), ABBA (“Mamma Mia!”), Tina Turner (“Tina”) – rather than original scores. “I get nervous about the word nostalgia, because executives often lean too heavily on it, or it’s their own personal nostalgia that clouds their decision making,” says Ashley Lee, the theater reporter at the Los Angeles Times.

But don’t dismiss nostalgia entirely, warns Chris Jones, the longtime theater critic at the Chicago Tribune. “Nostalgia is a powerful force in why people go to the theater, and some of my most glorious moments in the theater have been really driven by nostalgia either for me or the people around me,” he explains. “I remember being at the opening night of ‘Mamma Mia!’ in London, and the audience on this wave of joy remembering their youths. Or when I was at a press performance of ‘Jersey Boys’ on Broadway where I would say, of all the tens of thousands of shows I’ve seen in my life, I don’t think I’ve ever seen an audience so excited.”

Mamma Mia
Mamma Mia!

Right now, looking to the past can also provide clues to what Broadway and the theater business will look like in the coming months, when they finally reopen. Many point to the post-9/11 popularity of good-time shows like “Mamma Mia!” and “The Producers” as an indicator that in the wake of the coronavirus, audiences and producers will similarly gravitate to escapist fare.

But looking further back suggests that the future might not be all frivolity. Maslon notes that during the Depression, Broadway was a place not just for crowd-pleasing baubles like “Anything Goes” but also for socially consciousness works like “The Cradle Will Rock.” “There was this bifurcation where Broadway was either escapist or very engaged,” he says. “It actually forced theatermakers to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and to be very much in vogue and at the forefront.”


Gordon Cox is a theater journalist and the host of Variety’s Stagecraft podcast.

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Stories from the Stage

STORIES FROM THE STAGE – Richard Thomas

The Best Audition Ever

I was ten years old.  Jane Fonda, who was a ballet student of my father’s at the June Taylor School, walked into class one day and said, “Your son’s an actor. We’re planning the first Actor’s Studio production on Broadway – STRANGE INTERLUDE – and there’s a part for a child. Would Richard like to go down to the Studio and meet Jose Quintero?”

I went down to the Studio and walked into Jose’s office.  He sat me down and asked, in his gruff and emotional way, “So. What do you want to be more than anything in the world?”

“An actor,” I said.  

He slammed the flat of his hand onto his desk and said, “That’s it!  You got the Part!”

He then looked toward a closet in the room and said, “Gerry!”  The closet door opened and Geraldine Page emerged. She walked to my chair, knelt down, took my hands in hers, looked me into my eyes and said, “My son. You’re my son.”


Richard Thomas began is career on Broadway in 1958 in “Sunrise at Campobello” and has never looked back.  Among his prominent Broadway credits are “The Little Foxes” (Tony nomination),  “Strange Interlude”, “The Fifth of July”, “Democracy”, “The Front Page”, “You Can’t Take It With You”, “The Great Society” and “Race”.   Richard is an Emmy Award winning actor beloved for the his iconic John-Boy  Walton in “The Waltons” and will soon be seen throughout the country as another iconic figure, Atticus Finch, in the National Tour of “To Kill a Mockingbird.”  This Thursday, October 29th through next Monday, November 2nd,  Richard has recreated his role of Charles Strickland in “Race” (co-starring Ed O’Neill, David Alan Grier and Alicia Stith) in a Special Benefit Performance for the Actors Fund which can accessed on this site.

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Long Form

Political Acts: The fascinating history of Broadway shows about American presidents

In one way or another, being the American president means having a relationship with the American theatre. That might mean being a regular attendee (like Bill Clinton) or a one-time Broadway producer (like Donald Trump).  It might mean meeting the future First Lady while starring with her in a community theatre production (like Richard Nixon), or it might mean, of course, losing your life at Ford’s Theatre. 

But more than anything, being the president means having the symbolic power of your office — and very often the specifics of your own administration — embodied on stage. As we approach another election, it’s a good time to survey how dramatists have imagined the Commander-in-Chief, because no matter who wins in November, he’ll likely find himself in a play soon enough.

Broadway has been delivering shows about presidents for almost as long as it has existed. Take Benjamin Chapin’s drama Lincoln, which premiered in 1906 and was revived in 1909. it launched a decades-long trend of serious-minded plays that depict real-life presidents as heroes. This includes Maxwell Anderson’s 1934 drama Valley Forge, which lionizes George Washington; Charles Nirdlinger’s 1911 play First Lady in the Land, which celebrates both James and Dolly Madison; and In Time To Come, a tribute to Wilson’s creation of the League of Nations that was written in late 1941 by Howard Koch and the legendary filmmaker John Huston as a direct response to World War II.

Chapin, meanwhile, was just the first of many playwrights to respectfully depict Honest Abe. John Drinkwater had a smash hit in 1919 when his play Abraham Lincoln ran on Broadway for almost six months, and The Rivalry, Norman Corwin’s 1959 dramatization of the Lincoln-Douglas debates had a starry L.A. revival as recently as 2008, with David Strathairn as Lincoln and Paul Giamatti as Douglas. And Robert Sherwood nearly outshone them all with Abe Lincoln In Illinois, which focuses on the future president’s rise to political prominence. It opened to raves in 1938, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1939, and ran for over 470 performances.

However, it’s hard to imagine a show like Abe Lincoln in Illinois being embraced today. As historian Bruce Altschuler says in his book Acting Presidents, “Which presidents are portrayed and in what ways [tells] us quite a bit about how Americans have perceived their leaders,” and since the late 1960s, the theatre has reflected the nation’s political strife, disillusionment, and ambivalence. While the occasional play like Give ’em Hell Harry (about Truman) or musical like 1776 still depicts the nation’s leaders as the undeniable good guys, the president is now more likely to represent conflict, confusion, or downright villainy.

Just look at what happened to Lincoln: He appears in the musical Hair, which is synonymous with the counterculture rebellion, after a character’s acid trip leads to historical hallucinations. In both 1993’s The America Play and 2001’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Topdog/Underdog, Suzan-Lori Parks probes the country’s fraught racial history by depicting a Black character who performs as a Lincoln impersonator.

TopDog/Underdog

These more subversive productions are part of a lineage that arguably starts with MacBird!, a 1967 satire that reimagines MacBeth as the story of Lyndon Johnson’s rise to power, complete with the murder of a king who resembles JFK. At the time, this was considered so scandalous that Walter Kerr called the play “tasteless and irresponsible”, and according to Altschuler’s research, there were cries of treason at a backer’s audition. While there had certainly been shows that mocked the foolishness of American politics (including the Gershwin’s musicals Of Thee I Sing! and Let ‘Em Eat Cake), MacBird! marked the first time a major production took specific, vitriolic aim at a sitting president. 

Audiences didn’t mind. The show ran for 386 performances Off Broadway and earned Stacey Keach an Obie for his lead performance. Soon enough, both sitting presidents and living ex-presidents were considered fair game.

Gore Vidal is another key figure in this evolution. His 1960 play The Best Man is arguably one of the best American dramas ever written about politics, and though it draws inspiration from real-life figures like Truman and Kennedy, it uses fictional characters to probe the American political system.

Meanwhile, in 1972 Vidal wrote An Evening With Richard Nixon and…, using the then-current president’s own words in a play that sees him judged by the ghosts of presidents past. Similarly, George W. Bush was still in office when David Hare dissected his administration in the play Stuff Happens, and shortly after he left the White House in 2009, he was lampooned by Will Ferrell in the Tony Award-nominated solo show You’re Welcome America. More recently, Lucas Hnath’s play Hillary and Clinton, which came to Broadway in 2019, imagined the fateful night in 2008 when Hillary Clinton lost the Democratic nomination to Barack Obama.

With its poetic look at the Clintons’ inner lives, Hnath’s play belongs to a 21st-century tradition of presidential plays and musicals that seek to challenge our conventional understanding of a political narrative. In Michael Friedman and Alex Timbers’ Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, which premiered on Broadway in 2010, the controversial president is reimagined as an emo rock star whose volatile emotions help him gain the public’s ardor. Peter Morgan’s play Frost/Nixon shows us Richard Nixon after his resignation, when he’s lost his influence and is desperately trying to rehabilitate his reputation. And Hamilton, of course, is famous for casting the Founding Fathers with actors of color, which among other things underscores that every American deserves to take ownership of the ideals pursued by presidents like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson

And not unlike MacBird!, Robert Schenkkan’s plays All the Way and The Great Society give LBJ’s presidency a Shakespearean tinge. Instead of satire, however, Schenkkan opts for the sweep of a history play and the emotional punch of a tragedy. All The Way, which won the Tony Award for Best Play in 2014, charts one of Johnson’s greatest victories — the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act — but this climax becomes painfully bittersweet when it’s considered alongside The Great Society, which depicts the Johnson administration’s disastrous descent into the Vietnam War. 

Often, the most enduring shows about presidents — either real or fictional — stay with us because they seem to understand our current moment. For instance, David Mamet’s play November, about a fictional (and morally dubious) chief executive named Charles “Chucky” Smith, premiered on Broadway in 2008. One of Smith’s final lines (“I always felt I’d do something memorable — I just assumed it’d be getting impeached”) was funny at the time, but it feels shockingly prescient in the Trump era. Likewise, unless politicians suddenly change,  the mudslinging campaign tactics in Gore Vidal’s The Best Man are guaranteed to be freshly relevant every four years. 

And with this year’s presidential election feeling especially fraught, there’s no doubt it will inspire another crop of plays to keep the president on stage for years to come.


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

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Streams

Race

A presentation to benefit The Actors Fund.

The presentation runs 1 hour and 20 minutes with two short breaks.

To view the presentation on a TV, search for “Spotlight on Plays presents RACE by David Mamet” on your SmartTV’s YouTube app.

RACE is available to stream only through Monday, November 2nd at 8pm ET.


“Mamet’s gripping play argues, everything in America – and this play throws sex, rape, the law, employment and relationships into its 90 minutes of stage wrangling – is still about race.”

Chicago Tribune

“Scalpel-edged intelligence!”

The New York Times 

RACE, by Pulitzer Prize winner David Mamet, tackles America’s most controversial topic in this provocative play. A potent dramatic cocktail of sex, guilt and legal maneuvering, Race concerns three lawyers (Ed O’Neill, David Alan Grier and Alicia Stith) defending a wealthy white executive (Richard Thomas) charged with raping a black woman. David Alan Grier and Richard Thomas return to the roles they created during the play’s hit run on Broadway. Tony Award winner Phylicia Rashad directs.

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Stories from the Stage

STORIES FROM THE STAGE – Jack O’Brien

The One That Got Away

You needn’t ever ask anyone who has served as an artistic director of a regional company if there is anything left they wished they’d directed. If the service happens to extend to about 25 years, as mine did at the Old Globe in San Diego from 1982 to 2007, I probably ticked off most my secret favorites, including as much Shakespeare as anyone of my generation. But along the way, I also managed a modern, “regional” adaptation of KISS ME, KATE, as well as THE TORCHBEARERS, with the full intent to prove that George Kelly predated the Brits’ NOISES OFF by a couple of generations, as well as a production of the rarely done THE WAY OF THE WORLD in Balenciaga gowns and including an original rhymed prologue and epilogue of “ghosts” of the period, explaining the connotation and getting a few welcome laughs.

Don’t kid yourself — the fare of a seasonal roster of plays by any regional theatre is not actually dictated, as one might suppose, by the whims of its artistic staff. It is completely at the discretion of a publishing deadline for the dreaded and deeply feared subscription brochure, something as fixed as the Sword of Damocles, and just about as welcome. If one depends upon a subscription, as almost all the major regional companies have done over decades, that slender folder of printed promise needs to go out in time for the cash to come back in before you’re able to spend a single penny; and management really doesn’t much care if you are on a first name basis with your Muse or not: they need the next six plays, let’s say. Cough it up!

I’ve always equated choosing a season with sport fishing, or maybe even better, cooking. People are coming over to eat. They assume you cook well, and if you expect to see them again, you don’t want to disappoint them; so off you go to the Farmer’s market with your basket, and you choose the best possible ingredients, trying to excite yourself as well as tempt the tastes of your friends. So initially perhaps, “one from column A, and another from column B” is a good place to begin. In the case of the Globe, the faithful expected no fewer than three Shakespeares during every summer. And, oh yes! A musical will certainly bring them in… find us a good musical! See what I mean? By the time you’ve chosen your classic, and hit upon an appropriate musical project, and thought of something for “him,” your best actor, or “them,” that attractive new married couple with the hit t.v. show on both a hiatus and with a lust for legitimacy, you are more than half way there.

So possibly something just for you might spur your enthusiasm and renew your excitement. We were usually fairly fortunate during the years I was in residence in San Diego, but I must confess, the moment Sondheim and Lapine’s INTO THE WOODS became a possibility for us to premiere, the entire regional field burst into bloom, and the future was written all over our walls. No longer the “boonies…” we swiftly became America’s theatrical proving ground, and the gloves were pretty much off. There were those sassy premieres you could grab, and others that were in serious contention, but always, inevitably, that private stash of your own, tucked away for special occasions. KISS ME, KATE and THE WAY OF THE WORLD certainly qualified for me, but honestly, too, always did Meredith Willson’s THE MUSIC MAN.

It so happened that my father, who died in the ’50’s when I was 18, was very involved in SPEBSQSA, The Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing in America, to the extent that he wrote a column for their national publication, and since THE MUSIC MAN gave glorious precedence to it’s own barbershop quartet singing immaculate material — LIDA ROSE?… oh God!!… I have longed all my life to have a whack at it. As a matter of fact, when I was finally able to witness the original production following my dad’s demise, I presented myself at the stage door, not to get an autograph or gaze at either Robert Preston or Barbara Cook, but rather to climb interminable stairs up to the very last dressing room in the Majestic Theatre to pay my compliments to the Buffalo Bills, the celebrated featured quartet, who had been pals of my dad’s and who consequently presented me with my first taste of Scotch whiskey. Their harmony, I recall, was also equally neat and marvelously peaty.

The fallacy, of course, is that those “at the top” pretty much have the field to themselves, and get to do whatever they wish. Nonsense! Timing, availabilities, even politics carry the day, and here I am, hat in hand, finally reconciled to the fact that my good friend, the inestimable Jerry Zaks has beaten me to the punch, and will be guiding brilliant Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster to their announced and assuredly glorious revival. As a crusty veteran of these celestial lotteries, I am thoroughly contented to order my ticket early and wish them nothing but health, happiness, and extravagant raves in this coming, (please, dear God!) recovering season of ours. I guess it’s time for me to reset my sights on something a bit more attainable: anyone up for GAMMER GURTON’S NEEDLE?


Jack O’Brien, one of the American theatre’s most honored directors,  is a ten-time Tony Award nominee and has been awarded the Tony three times, for his direction of “Hairspray,” “Henry IV” and “The Coast of Utopia”. He is also the recipient of four Drama Desk Awards, for his staging of the aforementioned  plays and “The Invention of Love”. Among his major New York theatre directorial credits are:  “Porgy and Bess” (1977 revival), “The Most Happy Happy Fella (1979 revival), The Cocktail Hour, Two Shakespearean Actors”, “The Full Monty”, and “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”. He served as the Artistic Director of the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, California from 1981 to 2007.

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Stories from the Stage

STORIES FROM THE STAGE – Laura Osnes

Once Upon a Time…

Once upon a time my life changed forever when a horrible onstage accident led to a happily ever after. This was before my Broadway break, way back in Minneapolis, MN, where I grew up performing at the Tony Award-winning Children’s Theater Company, where we set our scene.

I took a year off after my freshman year of college to intern as a Performing Apprentice at CTC in 2006, performing and understudying in all the shows that season, including the splashy holiday musical, Disney’s Aladdin. It was led by one of the most influential directors of my life, Matthew Howe… who also proved to be a bit of a match-maker. I was 19 years old, cast in the ensemble, and charged with understudying the role of Princess Jasmine (forgive us, this was 15 years ago in a very scandinavian Minnesota). Also in the ensemble, a charismatic and very handsome young Nathan Johnson, understudied Aladdin. We often found ourselves gravitating towards each other, wanting to hang out on rehearsal breaks or between shows, and everyone (even my own mother) was placing bets on when we’d start dating. I had just gotten out of a long relationship and was hesitant to recognize any new romantic spark. 

However, this budding “showmance” blossomed when one afternoon, the real Aladdin and Jasmine actually collided on stage in the middle of the opening song, “One Jump Ahead.” He spun around at just the right moment, with just the right velocity, to knock his teeth right into her forehead, chipping his front tooth in half. Like gladiators, they charged on, using Aladdin’s stolen loaf of bread to soak up the blood dripping from the bite into her eyebrow. The audience applauded as we buttoned the number, no one really realizing the severity of what had happened, until the voice of God came over the speakers to hold the show. 

It was determined the real Aladdin and Jasmine would both need to be rushed to the hospital, Nathan would be the new Streetrat, and I would be stepping into the Princess’ beautiful, albeit blood-stained, golden gown (remember, this is regional theater where understudies get one rehearsal, rarely go on, and definitely don’t get their own understudy costumes or wigs).

Everything from here on out was basically a blur. Except that somehow, I knew I was going to be safe out there with Nathan — even though we were both understudies, taking on these iconic roles as blue-eyed babies, we had at least gotten one understudy rehearsal together and our off stage friendship made the onstage chemistry effortless. In Act II, as he reached his hand out to me earnestly, “Do you trust me?”, I knew there was truly no one I could trust more in that moment to have my back and look out for me as we navigated our way through telling the story from this new, fantastic point of view. I still can’t believe we actually rode that magic carpet together. As I said, my memory of it, from way up here, is far from crystal clear.

Unlike in the famous animated movie, Aladdin and Jasmine actually get married at the end of the musical. And this is the one moment I do recall. It was staged so that Nathan and I walked down opposite side aisles of the house, arriving and meeting center stage… Nathan in his pillowy, white turban, and me in Jasmine’s pristine, belly-button-bearing wedding dress. My eyes met his and we couldn’t help but smirk in disbelief and beam over the fact that we had made it.  And that this was really happening!?  With paper rose petals raining from the rafters and the entire teary-eyed cast staring at us and harmonizing a glorious reprise of “A Whole New World”, Nathan took my face in his hands and kissed the bride!  

I know you want me to say that time stopped and fireworks exploded everywhere, but I’m a professional, and a stage kiss is exactly that… a stage kiss. Even when it’s with the boy I have a covert crush on. A few days later, I hosted a christmas carol party with the cast at my house, and as we said goodnight that evening, Nathan and I shared our first off-stage kiss… now THAT was indeed shining, shimmering, splendid!  What was so inevitably meant-to-be, finally became clear in my heart.  We started officially dating in that moment, he proposed exactly one year later, and we celebrated our 13-year wedding anniversary this past May. I guess you could say that onstage, fairytale wedding foreshadowed all that was to come, and it’s been a whole new world ever since!


LAURA OSNES was last seen on Broadway in​ Bandstand ​and the title role in​ Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella ​(Drama Desk Award; Tony, Outer Critics Circle, Drama League, Astair noms.). Other Broadway: Bonnie Parker in​Bonnie & Clyde​ (Tony nom.); Hope Harcourt in Anything Goes ​(DD, OCC, Astaire noms.); Nellie Forbush in​ South Pacific ​and Sandy in​ Grease. Encores! Productions of​ The Band Wagon, Faust​ and ​Pipe Dream; The Sound of Music ​in concert (Carnegie Hall); MCP’s​ Crazy for You ​(Lincoln Center);​ Carousel ​(Chicago Lyric Opera).

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Streams

This is Our Youth

A presentation to benefit The Actors Fund

Thank you to all who have donated to The Actors Fund!

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Kenneth Lonergan’s acclaimed THIS IS OUR YOUTH, which follows forty-eight hours in the lives of three very young New Yorkers at the dawn of the Reagan Era, has attracted a trio of the most exciting new actors. Lucas Hedges, an Academy Award nominee from Lonergan’s Manchester By the Sea, this year’s Emmy Award nominee for Best Actor, Paul Mescal (Normal People) and Grace Van Patten (The Meyerowitz Stories, Good Posture). This play, which involves theft, drug-dealing and youthful desires is a riveting snapshot of the moment between adolescence and adulthood. Lila Neugebauer (The Waverly Gallery) directs.

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Streams

Gore Vidal’s The Best Man

In conversation with John Malcovich, Robert Krulwich, Zachary Quinto

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Long Form

American Plays About American Power: Why playwrights love to write about the president

You might not think you can draw a line from Andrew Jackson to the sensual allure of the musical Moulin Rouge!, or that Herbert Hoover has anything to do with the anarchic fun of Broadway’s Beetlejuice. Alex Timbers, however, has proven the connection. Long before he directed those productions, he injected a similar, raucous spirit into three different musicals about American presidents. 

In Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson, the 2010 Broadway show he created with Michael Friedman, he turned the Commander-in-Chief  into a swaggering emo rock star. In 2015’s Here’s Hoover!, he let Hoover take the stage and argue, via rock songs, that he deserved a better reputation. And back in 2003, he directed Kyle Jarrow’s insouciant show President Harding is a Rock Star, which put a wild new slant on Teapot Dome and other scandals.

Alex Timbers and Michael Friedman

These projects not only helped Timbers develop the aesthetic style he’s carried over to his current Broadway hits, but also let him explore his particular fascination with the American presidency. The office has enticed countless theatre artists, since it offers so many angles for investigating America’s identity, history, and possible future.

Timbers is especially interested in subverting our common notion of the role. “There is something fun about taking presidents, whom one thinks of as very staid and buttoned-up, and ripping open that shirt collar,” he says. “Without being wildly rigorous with the depiction of these people, you can still capture their spirits and the way they catalyzed moments in history.”

Take the antihero of Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson: “We depict him as a frustrated teenager in the suburbs who feels overlooked by his parents, and even if that’s not literally true, it does get at something real about who Jackson was,” Timbers says. “He felt disenfranchised, and he felt that the frontiersman wasn’t being represented by the government.”

Benjamin Walker and the cast of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson

Timbers is also intrigued by the brevity of the president’s power, which only lasts a maximum of two terms. “I’ve always been interested in legacy,” Timbers says. “With kings, you die without knowing your legacy, but with presidents, you can live half your life after you’re out of office. You can see your legacy taking shape in front of you.” 

It makes sense that he would compare a president and a king. According to cultural critic Isaac Butler, “If you’re doing a drama about the president, it allows you to engage in the same things that are so pleasurable about Greek tragedies or about Shakespeare’s history plays. You can tell the story of big social transformations and the nature of politics itself through the actions of one complicated individual.”

Robert Schenkkan

That epic sense of narrative certainly informed Robert Schenkkan, who wrote a two-play history cycle about Lyndon B. Johnson: In All the Way, which won the 2014 Tony Award for Best Play, we see Johnson on the ascendant, pushing to pass the Civil Rights Act and learning how to wield his office on behalf of his ideals. In The Great Society, which premiered on Broadway last fall, we see his plan for the titular social reform get swallowed by the quagmire of the Vietnam War. 

“I was very much thinking about Shakespeare when I wrote, and the sense of the wheel of fortune rising and falling,” Schenkkan says. “There’s a rise and fall of kings, and LBJ was the king. All plays are, to varying degrees, about the acquisition, distribution, and use of power, and nothing is more clear in that regard than the narrative of how one becomes president and then how one governs as president.”

Americans deeply understand that story. No matter how long one has lived in the country, the president’s power — and that power’s ability to impact our lives — is impossible to overlook. 

In fact, long before he wrote about him, Robert Schenkkan had a first-hand encounter with LBJ’s influence. The future writer was only three or four years old at the time, visiting the then-senator’s Texas ranch after his father (a major player in public broadcasting) got an invitation. And while Schenkkan doesn’t remember much about the trip, he has asked his older brother for details.   

“My brother told me, ‘I don’t remember LBJ specifically, but what I remember is how incredibly respectful our father became around this strange man,'” Schenkkan says. “And what’s interesting about that to me is the child’s perception of his father’s response to the presence of power. That’s what stuck with him. I think that’s a really illuminating anecdote.”

That’s the kind of story, in fact, that could become the basis of a play. 


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

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Streams

Gore Vidal’s The Best Man

A presentation to benefit The Actors Fund

“I like to think intelligence is contagious…

unfortunately, it isn’t.”

THE BEST MAN

Thank you for all who have donated to the Actors Fund!

GORE VIDAL’S THE BEST MAN weaves humor and suspense in equal measure as a Secretary of State and a U.S. Senator contend for the Presidential nomination and, most importantly, for the endorsement of a colorful and canny ex-President. Academy Award winner Morgan Freeman plays the ex-President and the company of actors includes John Malkovich, Zachary Quinto, Vanessa Williams, Stacy Keach, Tony Award winners Phylicia Rashad, Reed Birney, Katie Finneran, and Elizabeth Ashley, directed by Michael Wilson.

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Stories from the Stage

STORIES FROM THE STAGE – Chris Noth

To have my Broadway debut be the 2000 revival of Gore Vidal’s The Best Man was a stroke of good fortune that almost passed me by. I had been filming Sex and the City at the time and convinced myself that I shouldn’t try to juggle the two (which actually was not a problem since my character came and went throughout the series and wasn’t in every episode). The truth is I was a bit intimated by the character of Joe Cantwell – he seemed like an archetype to me – with the distinct possibility of descending into a caricature and I wasn’t sure that could pull it off – so I turned it down.

On set of SATC that week I casually mentioned this to Sarah Jessica. “Have you lost your mind?!!” she exclaimed (with some exasperation), “It’s GORE VIDAL on BROADWAY!! Wake up!!!” I’m so glad I did. With a cast of 17 and a voiceover by Walter Cronkite – this examination of a presidential election during a presidential election proved to be the most exciting and unforgettable experience I’ve ever had on stage. The actual election was a nail biter and when the results of Florida came out – many of us were on stage.

I remember being in a scene with Christine Ebersole (who played my wife) – and hearing Elizabeth Ashley’s distinctly loud voice off stage, “Al Gore just won Florida!…Hooray!!!!” But by intermission they took it away from him. With ballots being recounted over the next weeks – suddenly the audience who came to see us were listening much, much more intensely to what Gore Vidal had to say about politics. Dialogue which never got much response before – like “Bill this convention is really hung up and the way things are going we may never nominate anybody” suddenly got a roar of laughter – people were invested in what they were hearing on stage – every moment seemed to have meaning and Gore’s play seemed to be giving them insight to what was happening to the country in real time.

And oh what a band of players I got to be with-all of them! I can never forget Spalding Gray who managed to convey an electric wire of nerves with an unflappable serenity at the same time. Michael Learned who played the enduring wife to Spalding’s – Bill Russell – brought such a delicate ballast to Spalding’s intellectual storms – she always amazed me with her pitch perfect timing. The charming, sly, with a dash of the devil – Charlie Durning who many nights before curtain regaled me with the stories of World War Two and his hand to hand combat during the Battle of the Bulge. Who could have guessed that Charlie Durning was phenomenal ballroom dancer? So deft on his feet he seemed to float; which to our shock and awe he displayed at different parties during the run. And my partner in crime Christine Ebersole who’s merry, lilting laugh and participation in some high jinx pranks with me made every night a joy…

My dressing room next door neighbor Elizabeth Ashley, whose booming voice and laugh filled the theater on and off stage, was and is a treasure. and this is where my friendship with Mark Blum, recently lost to COVID-19, began 20 long years ago – Mark the consummate actor – never one to blow his own horn – Mensch doesn’t begin to describe what he brought to the mix. Once you worked with Mark – you wanted him in every project you ever got hired for. We both went right from the play to a soapy mini series in Toronto – thank God he was with me – we were to be in a production of Uncle Vanya this summer at The Berkshire Theater Group. It’s hard to even consider him gone. And of course the master – Gore Vidal whose stories of history, literature and gossip (a lot of historical gossip) – wicked impressions of Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote – made for glamorous nights of drinking.

How can so many of this group have passed? I miss them all… the living and the dead; and the experience of together bringing life to Gore’s grand play for the ages.


Chris Noth

Christopher David Noth is an American actor. He is perhaps best known for his television roles as NYPD Detective Mike Logan on Law & Order, Big on Sex and the City, and Peter Florrick on The Good Wife.