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Creative

ARMIE HAMMER WITHDRAWS FROM THE MINUTES ON BROADWAY

PRODUCTION STILL ON TRACK FOR 2021-2022 SEASON

(New York, NY) Armie Hammer has withdrawn from the production of The Minutes for personal reasons.  

“I have loved every single second of working on The Minutes with the family I made from Steppenwolf. But right now I need to focus on myself and my health for the sake of my family. Consequently, I will not be returning to Broadway with the production.” – Armie Hammer

“Armie remains a valued colleague to all of us who have worked with him onstage and offstage on The Minutes. We wish only the best for him and respect his decision.” – A statement from The Minutes

As previously announced, Steppenwolf’s production of The Minutes by Tracy Letts, directed by Anna D. Shapiro, will return to Broadway in the 2021-2022 season.

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Creative

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.

With Debbie Allen, Ellen Burstyn, Bobby Cannavale, Kathryn Hahn, Kevin Kline, Eric McCormack, Audra McDonald, Mary-Louise Parker, Phylicia Rashad, Keanu Reeves, Heidi Schreck, Alia Shawkat, Heather Alicia Simms, Alicia Stith, Meryl Streep, and many more. 

The “Spotlight on Plays” presentations premiere on Stellar at 8PM ET / 5PM PT. Following the live premiere, presentations will be available to watch anytime on-demand for four days ONLY after its premiere.

THE THANKSGIVING PLAY
By Larissa FastHorse
Directed By Leigh Silverman
Starring Bobby Cannavale, Keanu Reeves, Heidi Schreck and Alia Shawkat

Premieres Thursday, March 25th, 2021 at 8:00PM ET – available to stream on demand for four days ONLY through Monday, March 29th at 6:00PM ET

Larissa FastHorse’s wickedly funny comedy finds a troupe of terminally “woke” teaching artists scrambling to create a pageant that manages to celebrate both Turkey Day and Native American Heritage Month. “A delicious roasting” (NY Times) of the politics of entertainment and political correctness, The Thanksgiving Play puts the American origin story in the comedy-crosshairs.

ANGRY, RAUCOUS AND SHAMELESSLY GORGEOUS
By Pearl Cleage
Directed By Camille A. Brown
Starring Debbie Allen, Phylicia Rashad, Heather Alicia Simms, and Alicia Stith

Premieres Thursday, April 8th, 2021 at 8:00PM ET – available to stream on demand for four days ONLY through Monday, April 12th at 6:00PM ET

Pearl Cleage’s “funny and hopeful” (Georgia Magazine) comedy is all about aging gracefully and gorgeously. Anna Campbell, now 65, sparked controversy when she bared it all on stage years ago. When a theatre festival asks to re-stage the work with a younger actress in her role, dramatic and comic fireworks ensue.

THE BALTIMORE WALTZ
by Paula Vogel
Directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz
Starring Mary-Louise Parker, Eric McCormack, and Brandon Burton

A comic and dramatic fantasia based on the love and adventures of a brother and sister, one of whom has a fatal disease.   Winner of the 1992 Obie Award for Best New American Play.

Premieres Thursday, April 29th, 2021 at 8:00PM ET – available to stream on demand for four days ONLY through Monday, May 3rd at 6:00PM ET (date subject to change)

WATCH ON THE RHINE
By Lillian Hellman
Directed by Sarna Lapine
Starring Ellen Burstyn and Carla Gugino

Written and set during the rise of Hitler’s Germany, Watch on the Rhine is a play about an American family, suddenly awakened to the danger threatening its liberty.  Hellman’s powerful drama won the 1941 New York Drama Critics Circle Award.

Premieres Thursday, May 13th, 2021 at 8:00PM ET – available to stream on demand for four days ONLY through Monday, May 17th at 6:00PM ET (date subject to change)

THE SISTERS ROSENSWEIG
By Wendy Wasserstein
Directed by Anna D. Shapiro
Starring Kathryn Hahn

Three very different sisters reunite after a lengthy separation and discover humanity, respect, and love in this definitive serious comedy about sisterhood. 

Premieres Thursday, May 20th, 2021 at 8:00PM ET – available to stream on demand for four days ONLY through Monday, May 24th at 6:00PM ET (date subject to change)

OHIO STATE MURDERS
By Adrienne Kennedy
Directed by Kenny Leon
Starring Audra McDonald

Ohio State Murders is an unusual look at the destructiveness of racism in the U.S.  When Suzanne Alexander, a fictional African American writer, returns to Ohio State University to talk about the violence in her writing, a dark mystery unravels.

Premieres Thursday, June 3rd, 2021 at 8:00PM ET – available to stream on demand for four days ONLY through Monday, June 7th at 6:00PM ET (date subject to change)

DEAR ELIZABETH
By Sarah Ruhl
Directed by Kate Whoriskey
Starring Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline

Based on the compiled letters between poets Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop, Dear Elizabeth maps the relationship of the two poets from first meeting to an abbreviated affairand the turmoil of their lives in between.

Premieres Thursday, June 17th, 2021 at 8:00PM ET – available to stream on demand for four days ONLY through Monday, June 21st at 6:00PM ET (date subject to change)


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

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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Creative

PIAF. . . Her Story. . . Her Songs

Broadways Best Shows and The Actors Fund present Raquel Bitton’s acclaimed musical event “PIAF… Her Story… Her Songs.” All proceeds from suggested donations will benefit The Actors Fund.

Available for streaming on Broadway’s Best Shows Youtube channel and The Actors Fund Youtube channel beginning Monday, February 15 at 7:30PM ET. The concert will be available for four days through Thursday, February 18.

Part documentary, part stage performance, “PIAF… Her Story… Her Songs” is a “powerful, emotional and mesmerizing” (San Francisco Chronicle) look at French chanteuse Edith Piaf as she tells her story through a theatrical presentation by singer Raquel Bitton. Bitton literally becomes Piaf while singing, but steps back and tells her story – in English – between the mostly French songs. Archival photos of Piaf illustrate her life of lucky breaks and tragedy. Some of the evening’s best moments are of Bitton and Piaf’s friends, lovers, composers happily discussing Piaf over food and wine at a Paris bistro. The event features 16 songs performed with a full orchestra, including “La Vie En Rose,” “No Regrets” and “Hymn to Love.”

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Creative Long Form

Bah Humbug!: Finding the Comedy in A Christmas Carol

You’re gearing up for the holidays, and your boss starts to wax poetic about how Christmas is more of a nuisance than a celebration.  Later in the evening, when some eccentric guests show up at the office party, he complains that they may be products of his indigestion, and says he’d rather be getting a good night’s rest than chit-chatting.  Soon, the familiar music comes in.  And no, it’s not the brass tuba and mandolin plucking of the “Curb Your Enthusiasm” theme, but rather the joyful sounds of carols – A Christmas Carol, to be exact.  

Patrick Stewart in A Christmas Carol

Scholars have speculated that Charles Dickens’ 1843 holiday classic may be the “most adapted” text in the English language.  And indeed, A Christmas Carol was the subject of Dickens’ first “public reading,” a practice he would continue annually during the holidays until his death in 1870.  Perhaps this is one of the many reasons why A Christmas Carol seems to have a very special relationship with theatricality – it’s been adapted hundreds of times in the 20th and 21st centuries: there were the “story theatre” style productions that began in the 70’s; the large-scale Broadway musical performed at Madison Square Garden until 2003; Patrick Stewart’s famous one-man version; traditional productions mounted annually at regional theatres across the country; modern-day spinoffs like A Christmas Carol in Harlem or 3 Ghosts, a steam-punk adaptation – and everything in between.  Basically: if you can imagine an iteration of A Christmas Carol, it’s undoubtedly been done somewhere in the world.  

A Christmas Carol in Harlem

Most scholars agree on the importance of the character Scrooge when considering the theatrical and literary legacy of A Christmas Carol.  He’s the heart and (blackened) soul of the original text, and one of the major reasons why it’s been adapted within an inch of its life.  Not unlike the great white whales of Shakespeare’s oeuvre, characters like Lear and Richard III, Scrooge has been played by some of the all-time greats of theatre and film, including Patrick Stewart (as discussed above), Michael Caine, Jim Carrey, Lionel Barrymore, Kelsey Grammer, Albert Finney, and Jefferson Mays – in a one-man version that opened at the Geffen Playhouse in 2018 and was re-recorded to be streamed for holiday audiences this season.  

Michael Arden, director of Mays’ one-man version of Christmas Carol, agreed that Scrooge is the ultimate, and one of the first, anti-heroes, in the tradition of Lucifer or Faust.  Though he’s undoubtedly evil, bitter, and miserly, Arden described him as the “heart” and “center” of the piece.  For these very reasons, it’s one of the most difficult roles to interpret.  Actors find themselves asking: how “mean” does Scrooge have to be in order to give the show, and his transformation, appropriate stakes?  

Estella Scrooge The Musical

There are easy pitfalls.  Ben Brantley wrote of Walter Charles’ portrayal, for example, “…you can forget for long patches that A Christmas Carol is about [Scrooge’s] conversion to goodness.  Perhaps so as not to frighten younger spectators, he’s largely a benign scoundrel.”  And Alexis Soloski wrote that Anthony Vaughn Merchant’s recent Scrooge “didn’t seem that mean” – rather that he just went “for laughs.”  

“Humor” and “wit” were two of the first qualities Arden named in describing Scrooge.  I, too, in re-reading various adaptations of the play, was struck by how funny Scrooge can be.  Between his complaints about the unrealistic expectations of Christmas, loud carolers, over-indulgent writing and speech, indigestion, lack of sleep, teenagers generally, love generally, and work generally, it can feel more like reading an episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” than the first act of A Christmas Carol.  Any actor playing Scrooge must walk that knife’s edge between frightening darkness and a sense of humor to rival Larry David.

Jefferson Mays in A Christmas Carol

And the Scrooge-Larry David parallels don’t stop there: Scrooge is a man of a certain age, who lives alone and seems generally mystified by current social mores.  You could easily see an episode of Curb focusing on Larry’s annoyance with Christmas carolers who are too loud, or Larry being flummoxed by the tradition of giving gifts to your employees in addition to what you already pay them.  In many adaptations, when Scrooge is first warned of the appearance of three ghosts he asks, “I think I’d rather not…couldn’t I take them all at once and be over with it?”  You could easily see Larry David wagering with a fearsome ghost in the same way.  And the famous expletives Larry uses when confronted with teens who are “too old to dress up for Halloween,” coffee he believes isn’t hot enough, and a crush who voted for George W. Bush – to name just a few – can be seen as direct descendants of Scrooge’s “Bah Humbug.”

But given how funny Scrooge can be at the beginning of A Christmas Carol, it’s not hard to see how the good, earnest, transformed version we encounter at the end of the play could end up feeling like a wet blanket.  Arden disagreed.  He reminded me that Scrooge is still funny at the end of the play – it’s just a different kind of humor.  “At the beginning of [A Christmas Carol],” Arden explained, “Scrooge uses [humor] as a defense.  In the end when he’s playing the practical joke on Bob Cratchitt – it’s humor with a different motivation.  He wants to have fun.  He wants to make up for lost time and use humor to do that.”

Michael Cain in A Christmas Carol

While “Scrooge” (and “being a Scrooge”) has become synonymous over the years with malice, bitterness, and greed, the comedy in the character should not be underestimated.  “It’s what makes [Scrooge] likeable even though he’s horrible,” Arden explained. “You [as an audience member] get that there’s hope there, and it’s identifiable.”  Ben Brantley underscored this point in his rave review of Campbell Scott’s most recent interpretation: “…he’s probably a lot like many New Yorkers you know.  And those who have already had your fill of premature Christmas music may find yourself rooting for Scrooge as he dismisses the carolers who gather outside his house.”  

Larry David and the success of shows like Curb Your Enthusiasm has made it clear that characters today can be mean-spirited AND funny.  Written and portrayed in a certain way, a cynical and jaundiced view of the world can fuel laughs.  Moreover, as Arden argued, we root for characters who are funny, because, even if they appear cynical and closed on the outside, a great sense of humor indicates the humanity within.  And Arden said, too, what’s ultimately important is that an audience identifies with Scrooge – he is our surrogate and our window into the play, the reason it’s been adapted again and again, and the character in which we see ourselves, for better or for worse – or more to the point, for better AND worse. “Dickens was trying to put the reader in Scrooge’s shoes,” Arden explained.  “In some senses [he’s] a bit ridiculous and cartoonish, but the more you get into him, the more we start to see ourselves in Scrooge, even in small ways.  That’s why he travels through so many different past experiences…we have to understand him as ourselves…”  Put another way, Scrooge’s story “has always been – and remains – our own,” as Brantley has said.  

Campbell Scott in A Christmas Carol

Larry David owes a great deal to Dickens’ leading man.  Ebenezer Scrooge was the first to prove that a miserly, cranky and even seemingly nasty middle-aged man can be the emotional center of a show with the capacity to change – one that is “prett-ay, prett-ay, prett-ay good,” even to this day.


Katie Birenboim is a NYC-based actor, director, and writer. She developed and hosted a weekly live interview show entitled “Theatre Book Club” for Berkshire Theatre Group, and 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 and member of Actors’ Equity.

Categories
Creative

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


Spotlight on Plays presents

7 Great Plays by 7 Great Playwrights

ANGRY, RAUCOUS AND SHAMELESSLY GORGEOUS 

by Pearl Cleage

THE THANKSGIVING PLAY 

by Larissa FastHorse

WATCH ON THE RHINE 

by Lillian Hellman

THE OHIO STATE MURDERS 

by Adrienne Kennedy

DEAR ELIZABETH 

by Sarah Ruhl 

THE BALTIMORE WALTZ 

by Paula Vogel 

THE SISTERS ROSENSWEIG 

by Wendy Wasserstein

COMING SPRING 2021


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.

Categories
Creative Video

Before the Show Goes On, We All Need to Take a Moment to PAUSE

With Stars Of Hamilton, The Band’s Visit, and Fiddler On The Roof 

Based in Jewish tradition, Shabbat — and its teaching that spending meaningful time connecting with friends and family — is for everyone. Much like yoga or meditation can be, Shabbat is an act of peaceful rebellion against a constantly moving world. When this isolating global pandemic took hold, OneTable was looking for a way to keep the magic of Friday night Shabbat going, and for a way for people to mark time when every day feels the same. 

They landed on PAUSE, a new video series collaboration between OneTable and Broadway’s Adam Kantor. Initially conceptualized as a one night special, OneTable and the production team behind Saturday Night Seder were stuck on the fact that the beauty of Shabbat comes from its unfaltering arrival every single week. The series is designed to build on the ritual of Shabbat, to take a moment — a pause — and ask big questions. Each video melds tradition with innovation, asking and answering the question how might we imagine the world not as it is, but as it could be? 

“Since Broadway has shut down, I’ve been missing the joys of collaborating with artists who inspire me on the daily,” Kantor said. For the series debut, OneTable and Kantor collaborated with dancer/choreographer Jesse Kovarsky (The Band’s Visit, Fiddler On The Roof, Sleep No More). “Jesse is one of my favorite artists and collaborators on Broadway,” Kantor said. “We first met during Fiddler On The Roof, in which he played the titular role, and then we had the good fortune of working together again on The Band’s Visit, in which he was the associate choreographer.” Filmed in his own NYC apartment, Kavarsky explores his interpretation of receiving traditional Shabbat candles in the mail from his parents, and figuring out how to make them his own — delving into the question, “What do we do with the things we inherit?” 

The second installment (Friday, November 6) features Daniel Watts (Hamilton, Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, In the Heights, Tina) and Kelly Hall-Tompkins (the fiddler violin soloist in the recent Broadway revival of Fiddler On The Roof), wrestling with the concept of making the ancient new, through music and spoken word poetry. The remaining ten episodes of the series (co-produced by Eric Kuhn and production agency Gesundheit Media) will debut on each of the first Fridays of the month, culminating on Friday, September 3, 2021. 

You can watch the first video above, and stay tuned at @onetableshabbat or onetable.org/pause on the first Friday of each month at 5pm Eastern as featured artists offer their personal interpretation of the traditions, intentions, and contemporary applications of Shabbat ritual through digital performance art, spoken word, dance, song, humor, meditation and more.

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Creative

Talkin’ Turkey


Exclusive excerpts from Talking Turkey: The Wit and Wisdom of President Charles H.P. Smith. For one night only, tune in on Thursday, May 7, 2020 at 8pm ET to see President Smith (John Malkovich) and two key members of his campaign team, Clarice Bernstein (Patti LuPone) and Archer Brown (Dylan Baker) tackle major American concerns just days before the upcoming Presidential election. To quote one of President Smith’s most famous lines:  “I always felt I’d do something memorable… I just assumed it’d be getting impeached.”


THE ELECTORAL SEASON

My opponents are yapping at my heels.

I have been asked if I wish them ill.

No, I do not wish them ill. If I wished them ill I would withdraw from the race. For this job, finally, is an unmitigated pain in the ass.

Yes, there are moments of reward – as when the Press goes home, or I can just sit back on Air Force One and tell racist jokes; but, by and large, the job is a never ending grind, with little to look forward to but the hundreds of millions of dollars my supporters will be called upon to cough up when I have left office.

Let me serve notice on them now: you may call it “directorships,” or “Charitable Institutions,” or stock tips, or the “loan” of your beach house, but, friends, I did my part and you’re going to do yours.

And, should one of my opponents prove successful come November, I say to them what the aged parents say to those with a newborn: “Ha Ha – you’re in for it now!”

God bless the United States.

Charles H.P. Smith


ON THE SUBJECT OF THE CONSTITUTION


The constitution is one of the foundation documents of this great country. No, it is not written on stone, it is written on parchment or the skins of some animal which, though perhaps endangered now, was, at the time of its composition, perfectly disposed to have its skin written on.

Is this different than tattooing? Yes and no.

Tattooing is a custom brought to thee shores by those intrepid mariners who first ventured to the great south seas, bringing syphilis and bringing back coral, pineapples, and those cunning print shirts so popular during the summer months. Tattooing is also used, as we know, in identification of the lips of horses, poodles, and other beasts both of burden and enjoyment. These tattoos identify the animals, should they be lost or stolen. So the next time you see an ownerless horse, thank those visionaries who drafted that compact which keeps us safe and secure: your constitution.


Sincerely, 

Charles H.P. Smith, President of the United States


MY MILITARY SERVICE

Military Service, as I understand it, means nothing more and certainly nothing less than service in those branches of the Armed Forces we, as a Nation, have assembled to stand between us and those countries, individuals and groups which want us dead.

What is America? Some might say it but a “washer” keeping Mexico from crashing into Canada, and thus, unacceptably mixing the beavers and the gauchos.

But it is more than this. It is the place where we, many of us, first got laid; and, as such, it is inexpressibly dear to us. Perhaps it was in the backseat of a Chevy, perhaps it was “up against a tree.” How, and wherever, it is an event graven on our memory. And a country worth fighting for.

I recall a poster from the Days of World War II: We’re one for all and all for one Behind the Man, Behind the gun” – as was I, during the years of my eligibility for Military service. 

Did I “serve” – in the commonly accepted sense of the term? Not in uniform, no.

I wear that uniform now. It is a blue suit, and I wear it to my office. Every Day, as Commander-in-Chief of those who also risk their lives, their jobs, and the stability of their marriages, while their spouses, tempted beyond restraint to cavort with the grocer, the UPS Man or Woman, the poolboy, clerk, firefighter, secretary, whose combined effort is summarized in the phrase: “United States.”


DO I WEAR A TOUPEE?

When young we are taught not to make personal remarks. 

Which of us has not seen the unschooled youngster, shocking and disgracing its parents with the remark, “Mommy, look at that Jew!” or similar slurs.

No, we must curb our tongues. The foundation of a viable community is our ability to refrain from those thoughtless commends which sow discord.

“Look at that Big Fat Pig,” for example, is a phrase acceptable only as an expression of delight at the State Fair; and I am hard-pressed to imagine an acceptable situation for “Mormons make me vomit.”

We are all in this together, and even the least of us, the homeless, the old, producers of Reality Shows, are entitled to the same courtesy we extend to their productive neighbors.

Don’t make personal remarks. Teach your children so that they may teach their children (such conceived, hopefully, after the former’s teenage years).


Yours for Abstinence,

Charles H.P. Smith


CONGRESSIONAL SEX SCANDALS

Congressmen should be allowed to turn over a new leaf, but not allowed to turn over one of the pages.


YOGA

Yoga is responsible for more human vice and misery than any force I know.

Children in India steal, some from their very parents, to get money for the study of yoga.

I would rather have a child on drugs than “on” yoga. 

For there is an organization especially created to counter drugs, we call it the police, but where are the heroes, standing up to the scourge of yoga?

I therefore have asked congress to prepare a bill which will be named: “Defense of the Country – The War on Yoga”.


Your President, 

Charles H.P. Smith

P.S. If you see anyone “bending over” too long – call the police.

March 26, 2008