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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.”
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
I sat there in a state of stupefaction! Me “But weren’t you?… didn’t you? ..Um..ah…see..?”
Ex girlfriend “ I was absolutely caught from the moment you came on!
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 ofAutumn.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Broadway’s Best Shows has all the holiday recs you could wish for. There’s something out there for every type of theater kid this holiday season (of love)…
For the Super-Fan
When Broadway shows close, materials such as curtains, flooring, and vinyl posters would normally get thrown out, but small business Scenery Bags works with set designers and technicians to preserve these materials and transform them into fun accessories for fans. They feature bags made from the sets of shows like Ain’t Too Proud, Pasadena Playhouse’s Sunday in the Park With George, and Hello Dolly, among many others. They also sell all sorts of accessories, including this keychain made out of Phantom of the Opera banners, or this coffin-shaped ring made from the stage floor of Beetlejuice’s DC run.
For the Theatre Artist in Your Life
For your friend who works in the theater, and has been through tech rehearsals and production meetings, Scenery Bags sells “I’m Sorry for What I Said During Tech” and “Nothing For The Group” zip bags, great for storing pencils or makeup, or for travel. The materials are recycled from multiple off-Broadway scenery backdrops.
Your actor or arts worker friend probably spends a lot of time in Midtown, so they’ll also appreciate a gift card for Hell’s Kitchen bakery and coffee spot Amy’s Bread.
For Your Friend who Loves Theater Gossip
Shy: The Alarmingly Outspoken Memoirs of Mary Rodgers, published posthumously by Rodgers with assistance and additional material from New York Times theater critic Jesse Green, is a hilarious and wide-ranging book by the beloved composer of Once Upon A Mattress, who also grew up surrounded by theater royalty, as the daughter of Richard Rodgers. It’s full of juicy stories and cameos from Golden Age legends like Stephen Sondheim and Hal Prince, and even what Leonard Bernstein was complaining about at a cocktail party! Now out in paperback.
For the New Parent, Grandparent, or Aunt/Uncle
Start a child’s love of theater early with these picture books that introduce Broadway to kids:
Broadway Bird, by Tony-winning director Alex Timbers, tells the story of a parakeet who dreams of being a Broadway star.
A is for Audraand B is for Broadway, both by John Robert Allman, are beautifully illustrated alphabet books that introduce young readers to leading ladies (think “P” is for “Patti LuPone”) and the theater world at large (“C” is for “choreography.”)
For Your “Old Friend” Who Knows Their Theater History
Merrily We Roll Along offers this sweatshirt, which harkens back to the iconic costume design of the original, short-lived 1984 production.
For Your Friend Who Loves New Plays
Let them buy all the plays, theater biographies, and memoirs they want with a gift card to The Drama Book Shop. They can shop the latest scripts from Samuel French, like recent Pulitzer Prize winners Fat Ham and English. Gift cards can be purchased in-store or by calling (212) 944-0595, and can only be used in person.Unfortunately, gift cards cannot be used to purchase items at the cafe, like their monthly rotating Broadway-themed drinks (we recommend the Carolee Carmello Caramel Latte), but the baristas at the Shop will also have excellent book recommendations.
For Your Friend Who Loves Really New Plays
For just $12 per year, buy your friend a membership to New Play Exchange. A database created by theaters around the country, it offers access to over 50,000 scripts by emerging and established playwrights. This is also a great gift for a playwright friend, who can upload their work to the site so that it can be discovered around the world.
For the Friend Who’s Seen Everything
For your friend who loves storing all of their Playbills, or tracking every show they see in the Notes app or Mezzanine, let them show off how much they’ve seen with this scratch-off poster featuring 100 contemporary and golden-age musicals.
For the Wicked Superfan
These “Shiz University” sweatpants are cozy and relaxing, but nice enough to wear out and about. Your friend could even wear them to the multiplex next Christmas to see the Wicked movie! Also, if they weren’t able to make it to the 20th anniversary celebration, Playbill is still selling the special programs.
For your favorite New Yorker
Now that single-use plastic bags are banned in NYC, reusable tote bags make for an incredibly thoughtful and handy gift.
This tote bag from Gutenberg! says, “we’re on the weird side of 7th avenue.” Gutenberg is now playing at the James Earl Jones, one of only five Broadway theaters east of 7th avenue – great for a theater lover who knows the Theatre District like the back of their hand.
Or, for a friend who loves a powerful statement, check out this Purlie Victorious tote bag, with the quote from the play, “make civil rights from civil wrongs.”
For Your Friend Who Has A Detailed Ranking of Elphabas
This shop doesn’t just sell Waitress Playbill earrings. It offers half a dozen different Waitress Playbills as earrings, so you can make sure you get your friend’s favorite Jenna. Choose between Jessie Mueller, Katherine McPhee, Katherine McPhee’s Pridebill, Sara Bareilles’ 2017 or 2021 Playbill covers, Ciara Renee and Joshua Henry, or West End star Allison Luff.
…and For your Theater Twitter Friend Who Has Opinions About the 2017 Tony Awards
These earrings are also a Spotify scan code that links to “No One Else” from Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812.
Shining a spotlight on the best all-around productions Broadway had to offer this year. And who better to make the top 10 picks than the site titled Broadway’s Best Shows? Keep an eye out for our listing of the year’s best performances!
A Doll’s House
Henrik Ibsen’s timeless classic took center stage once again, its 14th Broadway production but the first since 1997. The play’s 1889 exploration of the complexities of marriage, misogyny, and societal expectations remains as relevant as ever. With Jessica Chastain starring in a new barebones adaptation by Amy Herzog, this Jamie Lloyd-helmed production brought a fresh eye to this masterpiece. The revival ran at the Hudson Theatre in the spring.
Shakespeare met hip-hop in ‘Fat Ham,’ a Pulitzer prize-winning bold reimagining of ‘Hamlet’ from writer James Ijames that electrified the stage of the American Airlines Theatre with its innovative fusion of classic and contemporary, after premiering at the Public Theater.
Here Lies Love
Immersive and pulsating with energy, ‘Here Lies Love’ was the unique theatrical experience that explored the life of Imelda Marcos. The show dazzled audiences with its interior transformation of the Broadway Theatre, inventive staging and infectious music from David Byrne and Fatboy Slim.
Merrily We Roll Along
Stephen Sondheim’s ‘Merrily We Roll Along’ finally gets its due, as superstars Jonathan Groff, Lindsay Mendez, and Daniel Radcliffe endure the deterioration of friendship and creative partnership nightly at the Hudson Theatre. The revival, the first since the production’s infamous initial flop, captures the conflict between friendship and ambition among artists, set to a particularly melodic Sondheim score.
Based on a true story, ‘Parade’ weaves a haunting tale of injustice and redemption in the American South. Starring Ben Platt and Micaela Diamond, the Broadway transfer of New York City Center’s 2022 gala production, brought the gripping narrative to life at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre with powerful staging from Michael Arden and Jason Robert Brown’s stirring score.
The drama of the courtroom took center stage as this new play, on Broadway last spring from across the pond, tackles issues of justice and gender. Jodie Comer won a Tony Award for her compelling and thought-provoking exploration of the complexities of finding justice or healing for sexual assault survivors from within the legal system.
Purlie Victorious: A Non-Confederate Romp Through the Cotton Patch
A celebration of African-American culture and resilience, ‘Purlie Victorious’ is a jubilant comedy that remains relevant and uplifting 62 years after its original Broadway bow. Ossie Davis’s essential words are brought to resounding life by Leslie Odom, Jr., Kara Young, and the rest of the pitch-perfect cast under the direction of Kenny Leon. The revival runs at the Music Box Theatre through February 4, 2024.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Stephen Sondheim’s macabre masterpiece continues to thrill audiences with its chilling tale of revenge and obsession. Josh Groban and Annaleigh Ashford give two of the great musical theatre performances of our times at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, with Aaron Tveit and Sutton Foster taking over the leads in early 2024.
Manhattan Theatre Club’s ‘Summer, 1976’ captured the essence of a generation in a nostalgic journey. Theatrical perennials Laura Linney and Jessica Hecht starred in this new play presentation at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre.
The Thanksgiving Play
In the comedic exploration of political correctness, Larissa Fasthorse’s ‘The Thanksgiving Play’ satirizes the challenges of creating an inclusive holiday celebration. Finally premiering on Broadway after a 2018 off-Broadway premiere, the play tickled audiences at the Helen Hayes Theatre with standout turns from Chris Sullivan and D’Arcy Carden.
Aaron Tveit, the multi-talented Tony-winning performer whose charm and charisma have graced screens and stages, big and small, has left an indelible mark on Broadway. While many recognize him from his television and film roles, including the suave Danny Zuko in “Grease Live!,” the enraged Enjrolas in the film adaptation of “Les Misérables,” or any number of shifty singers on Apple TV+’s “Schmigadoon,” Tveit’s roots in theater run deep. With the recent news that Tveit is set to succeed Josh Groban in the title role of the murderous barber in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Broadway’s Best Shows is taking a delightful stroll down the memory lane of his Broadway career, relishing each note, dance step, and standing ovation.
Hairspray (2006): The Broadway Debut that Sparked a Star
In 2006, Aaron Tveit burst onto the Broadway scene in the musical Hairspray. Tveit took over the role of the swooning and crooning love interest Link Larkin in July 2006 after playing the role on the musical’s long-running national tour. His infectious energy and standout performance must have caught the attention of audiences and industry insiders alike, since little did they know that they were witnessing the birth of a Broadway star. Tveit’s exceptional singing and dancing skills set the stage for what would become a remarkable career on stage and screen. He would later return to the role for a brief 2-week run in April 2008 before hopping into his next Broadway role just months later.
Wicked (2008-2009): Tveit Takes Flight as Fiyero
In the summer of 2008, Aaron Tveit soared to new heights when he stepped into the role of Fiyero in the Broadway production of Wicked. Taking on the part originated by Norbert Leo Butz, Tveit brought his own flair to the charismatic character, creating a Fiyero that was both charming and full of depth. His chemistry with the leading ladies, particularly in the fan-favorite number ‘As Long As You’re Mine,’ earned him praise from fans and critics. Adding this chapter to Tveit’s Broadway journey, Wicked became another feather in his cap, highlighting his adaptability and charm in a role that demands both vocal prowess and a magnetic stage presence.
Next to Normal (2009): A Breakthrough Performance with Emotional Depth
Tveit’s next venture on Broadway was in the critically acclaimed Next to Normal in 2009, his first fore into originating a role of his own. He portrayed Gabe, the troubled son of Diana, originally played by Alice Ripley. Tveit’s ability to convey both vulnerability and strength in his performance earned him widespread recognition and a Drama Desk Award nomination. His rendition of “I’m Alive” left audiences in awe, showcasing his vocal prowess and emotional depth.
Catch Me If You Can (2011): A Smooth Criminal Takes Center Stage
In 2011, Tveit took on the challenging role of Frank Abagnale Jr. in Catch Me If You Can, a musical adaptation of the hit film based on the true story. Tveit’s charismatic portrayal of the young con artist showcased his versatility as an actor and cemented his status as a leading man on Broadway. His chemistry with co-star Norbert Leo Butz was a highlight of the production, earning them both Tony Award nominations.
Moulin Rouge! The Musical (2019-2020): A Spectacular Return to the Broadway Stage
The 2019 adaptation of “Moulin Rouge!” brought Tveit back to Broadway in the role of Christian, the penniless writer caught in a love triangle. This production showcased Tveit’s ability to embody the romantic allure of the bohemian world. His performances of hit songs like ‘Your Song’ and ‘Come What May’ captivated audiences, earning him a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical.
Aaron Tveit’s Broadway career is a testament to his immense talent, versatility, and dedication to the craft. From Baltimore to Oz to Paris and now onto Fleet Street, Tveit’s list of Broadway credits has taken him on an exhilarating journey through a diverse array of iconic settings and characters, proving his ability to seamlessly transition from one captivating world to another. Tveit has continually proven that he’s a force to be reckoned with on the Broadway stage.
As Thanksgiving approaches, why not infuse a touch of Broadway magic into your familial feast? This year, we draw inspiration from Broadway’s currently running shows to create a menu that celebrates both the theatrical and the culinary arts.
Pheasant on the Bone from SIX: The Musical
Our culinary adventure begins with a twist on the traditional turkey; a regal dish inspired by the hit musical SIX. “Pheasant, keep it on the bone,” exclaims Anna of Cleves in her number ‘Get Down.’ Now, the dish takes center stage, mirroring the vibrant energy and historical flair of the show. In SIX, the six wives of Henry VIII reclaim their narratives, and this dish, rich and flavorful, symbolizes the opulence of the Tudor era.
Corn from Shucked
Transitioning from Tudor elegance, let’s take a comedic turn with the simplicity and humor found in the musical Shucked. The exclamation “Corn!” serves as a delightful reminder that sometimes, the most uncomplicated pleasures are the most enjoyable. Incorporate corn in your Thanksgiving menu, be it corn on the cob, cornbread, or a savory corn casserole, to bring a touch of Shucked‘s lighthearted charm to your festive table.
Spam from Spamalot
Now, over to Spamalot and the iconic canned meat, Spam… a lot. Embrace the quirkiness of Monty Python’s Spamalot by adding this unexpected delight to your Thanksgiving spread. Whether it’s incorporated into a festive appetizer or presented in all its Spam glory, this dish will undoubtedly add a comedic twist to your feast, ensuring that your guests will be talking about your unique Thanksgiving for years to come.
Meat Pies from Sweeney Todd
As we delve into the darker side of Broadway offerings with Sweeney Todd, we encounter the infamous “Meat Pies.” While we hope your version is entirely free of any unsavory ingredients, the essence of Mrs. Lovett’s culinary creations should not be lost.
“Ali Baba Ganoush” from Aladdin
Now, let’s transport ourselves to the magical world of Aladdin with a delightful addition to our Broadway-inspired Thanksgiving feast – in ‘Friend Like Me,’ Genie conjures up “a lifetime supply of Ali Baba Ganoush.” This playful twist on baba ganoush pays homage to the exotic and vibrant atmosphere of Agrabah. Infused with Middle Eastern flavors, “Ali Baba Ganoush” is a creamy and smoky eggplant dip that adds a touch of Aladdin’s enchantment to your Thanksgiving spread. Serve it with warm pita bread, and let your guests savor the magic of Broadway in every bite.
Aunt Missy’s Sweet Potato Pie from Purlie Victorious: A Non-Confederate Romp Through the Cotton Patch
And for dessert, let’s bring a touch of Southern charm with “Aunt Missy’s Sweet Potato Pie” from Purlie Victorious. This scrumptious sweet pays homage to the play’s celebration of culture and family ties. Much like the message of Purlie Victorious, this pie brings people together, infusing your Thanksgiving with a sense of unity and the sweet taste of tradition.
Candy Necklaces from Kimberly Akimbo
In Kimberly Akimbo, a coming-of-age musical that combines humor with heart, the title character Kimberly finds solace in chewing on her candy necklace. Bring a touch of whimsy to your Thanksgiving dessert table with this playful treat. Candy necklaces not only add a burst of color but also embody the sweetness of familial bonds, mirroring the themes explored in Kimberly Akimbo.
While “Broadway” refers to a specific set of Tony-eligible theatres located in midtown Manhattan, the term is metonymic of an entire industry. To theatergoers around the country and world, “Broadway” translates to high-quality musicals and plays performed by world-class artists; overall top-notch theatre.
Since not everyone can make it to New York City, the magic of Broadway is brought to audiences across North America through touring productions. With the holidays approaching, these special productions can also serve as great family activities, or even just a great gift for your theatre-loving-loved-ones. Here’s a glimpse into some of Broadway’s best touring shows that are currently captivating audiences from coast to coast (and beyond).
Based on Tim Burton’s iconic film, Beetlejuice brings the afterlife to the stage with humor, irreverence, and spectacular special effects. After two Broadway runs, pre- and post-shutdown, the show has gone out across the country, where it continues to make headlines, both for what’s happening onstage and off…
The Lion King
Disney’s The Lion King continues its reign as a theatrical masterpiece, both on Broadway at the Minskoff Theatre and in touring houses all over. Since opening on Broadway in 1997 and launching its first tour in 2002, the modern classic has had several national and international tour companies bringing Simba’s story far and wide. The latest tour launched in 2017 and is still going strong, with dates scheduled through summer 2024.
Ease on down the road with The Wiz, a soulful and energetic retelling of “The Wizard of Oz.” Set to hit Broadway in spring 2024 with Schele Williams at the helm and Wayne Brady in the title role following the tour, this production promises to bring a fresh and vibrant perspective to the beloved tale.
ABBA’s hits take center stage in Mamma Mia, now back on the road celebrating the show’s 25th anniversary. Since opening on Broadway in 2001, the jukebox musical has had many touring and international engagements, as well as two film installments (to date), becoming a global cultural phenomenon. You now have your shot to get in on the fun; the new tour kicked off in Elmira, NY in October 2023 and is scheduled to travel the country through at least summer 2024.
After a bountiful Broadway run with Lea Michele in the leading role, the revival has hit the road. The classic musical Funny Girl tells the story of Fanny Brice, a legendary Ziegfeld Follies star. With a blend of humor, romance, and unforgettable music, this production showcases the indomitable spirit of a woman who dared to follow her dreams. Michael Mayer’s direction alongside choreography by Ellenore Scott is now on view in theatres around the country.
Wicked has cast its spell on audiences for over 20 years as it explores the untold story of the Witches of Oz. This visually stunning production, featuring iconic songs like ‘Defying Gravity,’ ‘Popular,’ ‘For Good,’ and more, continues to captivate with its imaginative storytelling and powerful performances. The tour continues to make stops all over North America, with several international productions having played all over the world over the years. Even more theatre enthusiasts will also get to experience the magic of Wicked when Jon M. Chu’s two-part film adaptation starring Cynthia Erivo and Ariana Grande hits movie theatres in 2024 and 2025.
Britney Coleman leads the cast of this national tour as Bobbie. Following its 2021-2022 Tony-winning Broadway run, this Sondheim revival is traveling the country, with stops scheduled into late summer of 2024. In Marianne Elliot’s updated take on the classic concept musical, Bobbie is a 35-year-old woman reckoning with her love life as well as those of her mostly married friends, and haunted by the pressures of living in 21st century New York City.
Girl From the North Country
Playwright Conor McPherson’s narrative spin on the song catalog of Bob Dylan launched a cross-country tour in October 2023, kicking things off in Minneapolis. The folk musical played two separate engagements at the Belasco Theatre, closing in June 2022. The tour currently has stops scheduled into mid-2024 with more to be announced!
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s revolutionary musical Hamilton remains a cultural phenomenon. This hip-hop-infused tale of Alexander Hamilton’s life has become a must-see for theater enthusiasts, and good thing then that there are so many opportunities to see it, with as many as three separate touring companies having launched, sometimes playing different ends of the country at the same time.
Hadestown offers a unique and mesmerizing take on the ancient Greek myths of Orpheus & Eurydice and Hades & Persephone. This Tony Award-winning Best Musical combines folk, jazz, and blues music to sing this “old song” again and again and again. With short stints through the United States on offer until May 2024, don’t miss catching Anaïs Mitchell’s hauntingly beautiful score and lyrics while you can!
Broadway enthusiasts can catch so many more sensational productions currently on tour, including Aladdin, MJ The Musical, To Kill a Mockingbird, Moulin Rouge!, Mrs. Doubtfire, SIX, and more!
Broadway’s best touring shows offer a taste of the magic and excitement that define the New York City theater scene. Whether it’s a timeless classic, a contemporary hit, or a reimagined tale, these productions bring the thrill of Broadway to audiences across North America and around the world. So, grab your tickets, sit back, and let the enchantment unfold in a city near you!
With Spamalot having returned to Broadway 18 years after its debut, readers may be curious about what the original 2005 cast is up to now. Below, Broadway’s Best Shows is celebrating the original cast of the spoof-filled musical and the careers they’ve enjoyed since.
A voice acting legend for his 30+ years of work on The Simpsons, Azaria made his Broadway debut as Sir Lancelot in Spamalot. He later appeared in the 2007 Aaron Sorkin play The Farnsworth Invention on Broadway and has appeared in many TV shows and movies, most recently starring in Brockmire and The Idol, while continuing on The Simpsons.
SNL alum Taran Killam plays Lancelot in 2023, with Beetlejuice’s Alex Brightman set to take over the part in January 2024.
Borle had maybe the craziest track in a show where everyone played 2-5 characters. In the program, he was listed as “Historian, Not Dead Fred, French Guard, Minstrel, Prince Herbert.” He went on to Legally Blonde, and Falsettos, two performances seen far and wide after they were recorded for television, and has two Tonys, for Peter and the Starcatcher and Something Rotten. He was nominated again for 2023’s Some Like It Hot. Oh yes, and he was on Smash.
Spongebob’s erstwhile simple sponge Ethan Slater steps into the track in 2023.
David Hyde Pierce
Pierce was possibly the most famous actor coming into Spamalot, after eleven years on Frasier. While he had acted on Broadway before, he learned to sing and dance for the production. After his turn at the Round Table, he won a Tony for his performance in Curtains, appeared in Vanya and Sonya and Masha and Spike, and worked opposite Bette Midler in Hello, Dolly! He can currently be seen at The Shed in the final Sondheim musical Here We Are, and on the MAX series Julia.
Michael Urie plays his role in the 2023 production.
Ramirez has recently reentered the zeitgeist with their attention-grabbing role as Che Diaz on And Just Like That, but theater fans know them as the Tony-winning Lady of the Lake in Spamalot. In the intervening period, they worked on eleven seasons of Grey’s Anatomy as Callie Torres, breaking barriers for queer representation in television.
Beetlejuice’s Leslie Rodriguez Kritzer steps into the part for 2023.
After his Tony-nominated stint as Sir Galahad in the original Spamalot, Sieber did a series of impressive physical comedy roles, including originating the role of Lord Farquaad in Shrek, garnering another Tony nom, replacing as Miss Trunchbull in Matilda, and rolling around the floor of the Jacobs doing martial arts with Jennifer Simard in 2022’s Company revival. The role of Trent Oliver in The Prom was written specifically for him.
Broadway stalwart Nik Walker takes over the role in 2023.
Tim Curry made his fourth Broadway appearance, as King Arthur, in Spamalot. His post-Spamalot work is sadly limited, due to a stroke in 2012, although he did make a winning turn narrating the 2016 Rocky Horror Picture Show remake. He has also worked extensively as a voice actor, including in the critically acclaimed animated series Over the Garden Wall.
James Monroe Iglehart (Aladdin, Hamilton) plays the part in 2023.
McGrath, Spamalot’s loyal Patsy and a beloved New York character actor, appeared in an incredible nine Broadway shows afterward. Most recently he understudied Matthew Broderick in Plaza Suite, andstarred as Ladislav Sipos in Roundabout’s 2016 revival of She Loves Me, among many other credits. Sadly, McGrath passed away in fall 2023.
Christopher Fitzgerald (Waitress) plays Patsy in 2023.
And a special bonus…
Waddingham starred as the Lady of the Lake when the production moved to London, and also came to New York near the end of its run. In 2020, Waddingham vaulted to stardom as football club owner Rebecca Welton on Ted Lasso, winning an Emmy for her performance. She was also the “Shame Nun” on Game of Thrones and a helicopter parent on Sex Education.
Waddingham is releasing a Christmas special on Apple TV, and an accompanying album, both out on November 22nd.
This year’s parade broadcast is on Thursday, November 23rd and starts at 8:30 am ET, a half hour earlier than usual. The event will end at 12 pm noon.
How do I watch the parade (especially the Broadway shows in the parade)?
NBC is the primary broadcaster for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. If you don’t have a TV but you have a cable provider login information, you can watch on NBC.com. Alternatively, you can sign up for Peacock for $5.99/month. (Peacock does not offer free trials, but, note to our younger readers – they offer a student plan for $1.99/month.)
CBS will also broadcast the parade starting at 9 am. Similarly, you can log in on CBS.com with your cable provider, or you can stream on Paramount+ for $5.99/month after a one-week free trial.
What Broadway shows will be in this year’s parade?
Eight Broadway shows will perform as part of the parade this year, five on NBC and three on CBS. The five shows performing live on NBC are & Juliet, Back to the Future, Shucked, How to Dance In Ohio, and Spamalot. Performances from Broadway shows take place at the parade end point at Macy’s Herald Square. Macy’s does not announce precisely when each show will perform, but they always occur during the first 90 minutes of the broadcast, while the parade itself meanders from the Upper West Side to Macy’s. So make sure to wake up early if you want to catch your favorite shows!
Purlie Victorious star Leslie Odom, Jr. and Gutenberg duo Andrew Rannells and Josh Gad will also stop by the parade route to chat with the NBC hosts, and Mean Girls star Ashley Park will be on the Sesame Street float. Expect to see Leslie, Andrew and Josh, between 8:45 am and 10 am, and Ashley between 11 am and 12 pm.
The CBS broadcast will include exclusive pre-taped performances from Chicago, Aladdin, and A Beautiful Noise. Chicago will feature ‘The Hot Honey Rag,’ performed by current Velma Kelly Kimberly Marable, and a unique appearance by CBS newscaster and former Rockette Keltie Knight. Expect these three performances to be spread out across the three-hour broadcast.
Due to copyright restrictions, the performances won’t be on YouTube after. If there’s a particular show you don’t want to miss, check the show’s social media pages the morning of Thanksgiving – sometimes they’ll offer hints as to when exactly the show goes on TV.
More Helpful Info
The parade features many exciting performers beyond Broadway, including 11 university and high school marching bands, Bhangra, Salsa, and tap dance troupes, the Big Apple Circus, and this year’s Miss America, a nuclear physicist and classical violinist from Wisconsin.
If you’re interested in viewing the parade in person, the 2.5-mile parade route starts at the Natural History Museum on 77th and Central Park West, curves East on 59th St, and travels down 6th Avenue from 59th to 34th.
Following a triumphant stint at The Kennedy Center, the Broadway revival of Spamalot opened last night at the St. James Theatre with a stellar cast who is having so much fun, you can’t help but have a great time. Standout performances include Taran Killam, who masterfully tackles some of Monty Python’s most famous characters including the closeted Sir Lancelot, the French Taunter, and the Knight Who Says “Ni!”. Michael Urie does a phenomenal job as the not-so-brave Sir Robin. Leslie Kritzer, as the Lady of the Lake, steals the show with a powerhouse rendition of ‘Whatever Happened to My Part?’ Her commanding presence and vocal prowess bring the house down. Expertly directed and choreographed by Josh Rhodes, the over-the-top comedy makes this an unmissable spectacle of joy, absurdity, and charm.
Broadway has witnessed the evolution of various dance forms, but none have left as indelible a mark as tap dance. The rhythmic, percussive art of tap dance has not only entertained audiences but has also played a crucial role in shaping the very essence of musical theatre. Today, tap dance takes a starring role in Casey Nicholaw’s Tony Award-winning choreography for Some Like It Hot, and Rodgers & Hart’s classic Pal Joey gets a Savion Glover-powered jazzy choreographic makeover in New York City Center’s revival. In celebration, Broadway’s Best Shows is taking you on a journey through time to explore the rich history of tap dance on Broadway, highlighting shows and artists who have left an impact on the form.
The Birth of Tap Dance
There was no one individual ‘inventor’ of tap dance. Instead its roots can be traced back to the fusion of African, Irish, and British folk dances in the United States. This dance form evolved from the rhythmic body and foot movements of enslaved people from Africa and the “jigs” brought by Irish immigrants. The elements coalesced in Lower Manhattan in the mid-19th century after the abolition of slavery in New York State in 1827. The poorest New Yorkers – the formerly enslaved, and the Irish – were forced to live together in slums, combining their cultural traditions and creating a unique American art form that would eventually find its way to Broadway.
Bill “Bojangles” Robinson: A Pioneering Force
One of the earliest and most influential figures in the history of tap dance on Broadway was Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. Robinson’s legendary career began in vaudeville but quickly transitioned to Broadway, where he starred in the famous “Blackbirds of 1928.” Robinson’s grace, precision, and charisma paved the way for other African-American dancers, challenging racial barriers during a time of segregation.
“Shuffle Along:” A Groundbreaking Musical
“Shuffle Along,” on Broadway in 1921, was a turning point in the history of tap dance. This show, with Broadway’s first all-Black cast and creative team, introduced syncopated tap routines that would become iconic. The choreography by Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake, along with the performances of Paul Robeson, and later on the national tour, Josephine Baker, showcased the energy and innovation of tap dance. It ran for 484 performances 1921-1922, an incredibly long run for the era.
The story of the show’s creation was later chronicled in the 2016 Broadway musical “Shuffle Along, or, the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed,” which starred a who’s who of Black Broadway stars including Audra McDonald, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Billy Porter, Joshua Henry, Brandon Victor Dixon, Adrienne Warren, and more. It was directed George C. Wolfe and choreographed by the legendary Savion Glover (who we’ll discuss more further down).
Eleanor Powell: The Queen of Tap
Eleanor Powell was another tap sensation who made waves on Broadway during the 1930s and 1940s. Her performances in shows like “At Home Abroad,” among others, and films including “Born to Dance” demonstrated her remarkable technical skills and her ability to tell a story through dance.
The Golden Age of Musicals
The 1930s and 1940s also marked the beginning of the Golden Age of Musicals on Broadway, and tap dance played a pivotal role. Musicals like “On Your Toes” (1936) incorporated show-stopping tap numbers that showcased the athleticism and charisma of their dancers. The choreography of the great George Balanchine, in “On Your Toes,” combined ballet (“Slaughter on Tenth Avenue”) and tap, pushing the boundaries of the art form.
The Nicholas Brothers, Fayard and Harold Nicholas, were two teenagers from Philadelphia, aged 18 and 11, when they were plucked from performing at the Cotton Club in New York City to dancing on the big screen in 1930s MGM musicals. Their influence was far and wide – everyone from Michael Jackson to Mikhail Baryshnikov were fans of their acrobatic, athletic partnered dancing.
Gene Kelly, another important performer of the era, took tap dance to new heights with his athleticism and innovative choreography. His work in “Pal Joey” and “Anchors Aweigh” displayed the versatility and expressiveness of tap dance, bridging the gap between Broadway and Hollywood.
The Nicholas brothers’ most famous routine, from the 1943 movie Stormy Weather:
“42nd Street:” A Tap Extravaganza
The 1980 Broadway production of “42nd Street” took tap dance to a whole new level. This musical, choreographed by Gower Champion, featured extravagant tap numbers that became legendary in their own right. The opening sequence alone, with a chorus line of over 60 dancers, is still celebrated as one of the most iconic tap dance moments in Broadway history. The long-running revival of the musical that opened in 2001 further cemented its place in dance history.
Savion Glover: Revolutionizing Tap Dance
In the modern era, Savion Glover emerged as a revolutionary force in tap dance. Known for his lightning-fast footwork and innovative choreography, Glover has been a driving influence on the art form. He gained recognition for his work in several Broadway productions, including “Black and Blue” (1989) and “The Tap Dance Kid” (1983). Opening on Broadway in 1983, “The Tap Dance Kid”is a musical about a 10-year-old New Yorker who longs to be a dancer like his uncle and grandfather and his attorney father who forbids him from dancing. Choreographer Danny Daniels won the Tony Award and Astaire Award for his work. A year into the show’s run, a 10-year-old dancer Savion Glover took over the role of Willie. In 2022, Glover directed the Encores! Presentation of the show.
Glover’s exceptional talent and contributions to the Broadway stage were further highlighted when he won a Tony Award for his choreography in “Bring in ‘Da Noise, Bring in ‘Da Funk” (1996), a groundbreaking production that fused traditional and modern tap. His performance in the show also earned him a Tony nomination for Best Actor in a Musical.
Savion Glover’s continued dedication to preserving and advancing tap dance has solidified his status as a legend of the art form. His unique style and storytelling through rhythm have influenced countless tap dancers and choreographers. Recently, his work on the revisal of “Pal Joey” fused tap, ballet, and traditional Broadway.
The history of tap dance on Broadway is a testament to the power of creativity, diversity, and innovation within the world of musical theatre. It continues to captivate audiences and inspire new generations of performers and choreographers, ensuring that the rhythm of Broadway will always be one filled with the joy and energy of tap dance.
Alex Timbers, Josh Gad, and Andrew Rannells equal a non-stop night of laughs. A parody of the writing and producing process, Gutenberg! follows the one-night-only presentation of Gutenberg the Musical, written by and starring Bud (Josh Gad) and Doug (Andrew Rannells). The two present their larger-than-life musical idea to an audience full of “Broadway Producers,” but having spent all their budget on the theater, the two must play every character, alternating between literal hats labeled with character names. This gleefully self-aware comedy hits the mark, showcasing the unmatched chemistry between Gad and Rannells.
Gutenberg! The Musical! Is playing through January 28th, 2024, at the James Earl Jones Theatre.