We last met Maggie Keenan-Bolger this past March, when she was in the midst of working on The Birds and The Bees Unabridged with Rachel Sullivan. The pair created the show based, in part, on the results of a survey on female sexuality they compiled, and then combined with improvisational exploration done with the carefully assembled, diverse cast. You can read more about that show in my post Birds + Bees + Humans = Theater! (Mar 19 '13).
Maggie is once again employing theater to bring us together as humans :). It's a story about stories, "coming out" stories to be precise. Stories about speaking the truth about yourself to yourself...and then to others. It will involve Broadway actors and young people being helped by the organization Green Chimneys in their program focusing on gay, lesbian, transgender youths. In their own words: "Green Chimneys believes in creating safe spaces and supporting healthy development for Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and Questioning (LGBTQ) youth who are runaway or homeless. We seek to empower these youth and equip them with vital skills and resources to help them enter adulthood as confident, responsible members of their communities who feel supported and celebrated." Maggie worked with this group on a previous project, Queering History, and is looking forward to partnering with them on this new work.
Here's the press release for Not Just Another Coming Out Story. It's a one-night only performance on Aug 13 '13 at Speyer Hall in New York City, and tickets are only $20!
If you'd be interested in lending your voice, you can find the survey here. And you can also watch this video about the survey, if you want to know a little more before you start:
As the video says, you do not have to be gay to contribute. Maggie and her team welcome all thoughts. It might just be an interesting experience to respond to some questions you may not have thought about before :).
There is so much good that work like this can do for the youth at Green Chimneys, and via a ripple effect, for all of us. Self esteem and self discovery can be wonderful by-products of working in the theater, so this kind of production has the potential to touch all those who participate, whether on stage, in the audience or by filling out a survey. The project's Facebook page provides additional information and progress reports, and you can find it here!
If you'd like to know more about The Point Foundation and The Palette Fund, sponsors of the project, visit their websites.
Most importantly, here's the link to grab your tickets for this event: http://notjustanothercomingoutstory.brownpapertickets.com/
Not Just Another Coming Out Story is likely to be not just another night at the theater...it's theater for the soul!
David Gritten, in a recent article in the UK Telegraph, bemoans the trend towards creating stage musicals from well-known films. I am fighting my instinct to go all Pollyana on him and flail about defending the Kinky Boots and Once-s of the world. But in truth, what gets my Irish up is not his opinion - he's absolutely entitled, and welcome, to it. What sets my theater-loving teeth on edge is the closed mind it reflects. My plea with respect to the arts, theater especially, is to try to avoid saying never when it comes to broad generalizations like "films made into stage productions." That's a pretty broad swath to cut.
Most often when I use the term "never" while talking about shows, it's to say "I never thought it would work, but it does!" Or "I never thought I'd be interested in that genre/story/style but I loved it!" I have walked into theaters with trepidation, and walked out floating from the experience and/or or laden with unexpected emotion. I openly own my eclectic taste, but much of that is born of making a real effort to face my biases and challenge them.
The fact that a film-to-stage project doesn't work does not lead me to the conclusion that it's a bad idea to look to films for inspiration. And who's the judge of whether it worked? What's the measure? If you use financial success it will often argue in favor of the transfer! I will passionately argue that if you attract a new audience for future theater works because the attendee used to say "you could never get me to a musical!" and then experienced a movie they loved successfully (to them) done on stage, then you've moved the stage and the story forward, not diminished the value of the film.
Last season's new musical Hands on a Hardbody was based on the documentary film of the same name; and the story about contest participants trying to win a truck presented some challenges for staging, to say the least. For example, the contestants needing to keep their hands on the truck at all times. It called for creative choreography, interesting songs and compelling performers, all of which the show had in abundance. The original score was written by Amanda Green and Trey Anastasio, and it didn't sound like any other show on Broadway...in a good way! While not a commercial success, it did many things right; especially in telling us some wonderfully human stories. I would hate to think that David Gritten would never even have given the show a chance based solely on its former life as a film.
I realize that financial gain is the motivation behind many a stage production put forward by the film studio that owns the rights, but that motivation doesn't guarantee a bad show. For-profit theater is just that...for profit. I do agree with Mr. Gritten that greedily pushing film-to-stage musicals without consideration for the art form, for the original film, etc. does all of us a disservice. But the very fact that a show started its life on screen can't be the sole criteria relevant to whether it should or shouldn't be re-imagined on stage, from either perspective. Gritten says that if he disliked a film, he wouldn't see a stage version anyway. Really? Why? I'm not saying he'd like Kinky Boots (the film he uses as an example) on stage, but maybe the stage is just what it needs.
He also says that, with classic movie musicals like Singin' in the Rain and Top Hat, both popular West End productions, he only wants to ever see them in their original film versions. But here's the thing-one of my younger friends caught both of those shows while in London because of their casts, and is now determined to go back and watch the original films and others like them based on how much he enjoyed the stage productions.
When I hear of a movie musical coming to the stage, I do sometimes have my doubts....doubts that I am happy to have washed away once the curtain rises. I wasn't sure what to think about the idea of an on-stage Once; but in the hands of brilliantly creative director John Tiffany, it is a thing of beauty. On the other hand, I was also skeptical of Dirty Dancing, a show I saw recently on the West End in London. Do I think it could make a great stage musical? Yes. Do I think this was it? No. But I sat near quite a few delighted audience members; so for them, it worked.
There are several film-to-stage productions coming to Broadway this season~Big Fish, Bullets Over Broadway, The Bridges of Madison County, Rocky. Among my wishes for any musical I see are a good book/story, great cast, great music that fits the story, interesting staging. I know that not every show is going to have everything I want; but I've learned that, for me, the story is the most important element. If that story was told well on the screen, it does not automatically mean it can't be told well on the stage. I don't know yet what I will think of these new shows. I liked the movie versions of their stories. I hope I'll like the stage versions too, and I think it will be fun to find out!
So I'm going on record as saying that, while I may not think stage adaptations are always successful, I will never dismiss them out of hand before I've been introduced :).
UPDATE 8/16/13: Playbill.com has a great article about some very successful screen-to-stage adaptations.
Here's a winning recipe:
Start with one great cause, add your choice of Broadway talent and blend well. In any order, mix in an assortment of eatable and drinkable sweet treats. When smooth, stir in an unlimited number of avid and generous fans of Broadway and taste some delicious fun!
One of the most scrumptious stops in the Hell's Kitchen/Theater District area of NYC is Schmackary's. They serve liquid and baked refreshments, it feels as if you're in a neighborhood hang out and it's become a must-go destination for me when I'm in the city. The baked goods even travel well, so I bring a survival kit of cookies/brownies to enjoy back in DC.
But it's always better when a business feels a responsibility to the community in their neighborhood, and Schmackary's has embraced the theater community with a huge heart. So for a week in May '13, they enlisted the help of some of their rather well-known Broadway friends (and cookie fans themselves!) to serve behind the counter from 3-6pm each day, during which time the proceeds would go to Broadway Care/Equity Fights AIDS (I've written about two of their events in the past: the Broadway Flea Market in September and the Easter Bonnet Competition in April). They called the week "Broadway Bakes," and the various Broadway teams had a friendly competition to see which day would earn the most for the cause.
Over the week, actors from shows such as Kinky Boots, Cinderella, Wicked and Newsies all showed up to pitch in. Here's what the full line up looked like (there were some changes during the week, with additional guests showing up unannounced :):
Friday, May 31 '13 featured some of my very favorite Broadway talents. A fabulous brother-sister two-fer of Andrew Keenan-Bolger (Newsies, Tuck Everlasting) and Celia Keenan-Bolger (Peter & The Starcatcher, The Glass Menagerie); and the composing team of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (Dogfight, A Christmas Story).
From left: Benj Pasek, Justin Paul, Andrew Keenan-Bolger, Schmackary's owner Zachary Schmahl, and Celia Keenan-Bolger
For an additional donation to the Broadway Cares Tip Jar, the gang was kind enough to sign my box of cookies after Benj did a great job of juggling the assortment I requested~3 of this, 3 of that, 6 of the other, etc. I can never choose my flavors easily, and somehow, when it's an incredibly talented (and so nice :)) Broadway composer picking out the cookies for me, I found it even harder. In hindsight, I apologize to the folks in line behind me as I had to compose myself while ordering!
My very favorite flavor is Cookies N Cream (below), but I've never had a cookie, or any treat, from Schmackary's that I didn't love :). Next time you're in the theater district, head to W 45th St. & 9th Ave...they're open early to late, it's never the wrong time for a treat, and they're just nice people who care about the community!!
By the way, the total raised for the week came to over $8,600 and the team that raised the most was the team from Wednesday that featured Stephanie J. Block, Rob McClure, Ellyn Marsh and Lilla Crawford, among others!
p.s. They also have an online presence at www.schmackarys.com!
This post is dedicated to the memory of one my early theater pals (and high school/college friend), Tom Murphy. So many of my theater memories in the late 70's and early 80's involve seeing shows in DC and NYC with him: Evita, Cats, Brigadoon, Dancin' and so many more at The National Theatre in Washington; and on Broadway: Woman of the Year with Lauren Bacall, Lunch Hour with Gilda Radner and the play that comes to mind today, Fifth of July by Lanford Wilson.
I am particularly thinking of Tom now because of something he once said to me, as we sat in his childhood bedroom, hugging pillows and talking about dreams and wishes. He told me, with frustration, that all he really wanted was the white picket fence, the kids, the family; but that as a gay man who couldn't be open about who he loved, he felt as if he was destined for a life of one-night stands and anonymous sex in bar bathrooms. "How can I fall in love?," he asked "when I can't speak the name of that love?" It breaks my heart that AIDS claimed him before the age of 40; long before he could have walked down the aisle to marry a man he loved. I'm sure he never thought either of us would see the day the Supreme Court would hand down the decision it did last week. I certainly didn't.
We saw Fifth of July on Broadway together, on Friday, Jul 17, 1981. It was the original cast, but for Richard Thomas replacing Christopher Reeve as Kenneth Talley, Jr. We were thrilled to see Swoosie Kurtz in her Tony Award-winning role, and were moved and deeply affected by the show. Richard Thomas' performance has stayed with me for years. I remember talking and talking on the train heading back to Prospect Park, Brooklyn (our home with a friend for a theater weekend)...about how the Viet Nam war had impacted each of us, and how remarkable it was that the lead character was a gay, paraplegic veteran. In that era, finding a non-stereotypical personification of a gay man was like finding a unicorn.
Here's an excerpt about the play from a Berkshire on Stage review of a 2010 production of the play at Williamstown Theatre Festival in the Berkshires, that explains this sea-change:
"So why is Fifth of July considered a great American play? When I first saw it with Christopher Reeve in the role of Ken Talley and Jeff Daniels as Jed, it was the first time you could see two men kissing each other openly on stage. Once the word leaked out via the underground press, tickets were hot items as mainstream audiences – supplemented by gay ticket buyers – stormed the box office as the play, begun off Broadway with William Hurt, moved to Broadway with Christopher Reeve and then Richard Thomas, and moved in for a long run with many Kenny and Jeds over the two following years. “I saw Superman/John Boy Walton kiss another man,” was the sort of invaluable word-of-mouth that helped this show to run for 511 performances."
I honestly don't remember a lot of specifics about that night. I remember that we were so excited to be in the Orchestra (Row H, far to the side for the astronomical sum of $25.00, so much to pay for recent college-graduates with entry level jobs), but truly, we were just happy to be at a Broadway show.
To refresh my memory today, I pulled out my Playbill from 32 years ago next week (you can see how I feel about theater keepsakes from my Feb, '12, "Thanks for the Memories" post :)). Paging through this "snapshot of an era" gave me some amusing (and telling) glimpses back to those days of $25 Broadway show prices, and a theatre named The New Apollo (a reincarnation of the original Apollo Theatre from the 1920s; read more at PlaybillVault.com).
Along with the wonderful reminders of the play itself, there are also some other gems, like this peek at the line-up of shows at the time:
For the record, within the next couple of years after this, I would see Evita, Annie, Barnum, Children of a Lesser God, Woman of the Year, Dancin', They're Playing Our Song and Sophisticated Ladies. It took me a bit longer for The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas and A Chorus Line. There are still more to see from this list too.
And below is a feature, "Dear Playbill," that really made me feel as if I was reading a magazine about theater, not just a program for that particular show.
A venerable, lasting part of the Playbill, the "At This Theatre," always seems to generate conversations amongst my fellow audience-members before the lights dim, and at intermission. I've overheard many an exclamation along the lines of "I knew I'd been here before!! This is the theatre where we saw __________!!"
Cigarette ads anyone? I count 6 from this issue; including two two-pagers and the back cover. You can also find an ad for furs (real ones :)!) and the below ad for what you did for quick cash before the days of ATMs. Note the way you operated the phone...that would be a dial.
An advertisement in Playbill is all the more grand with an endorsement from the then-star of Woman of the Year, the great Lauren Bacall.
Aside: One of my favorite jaw-dropping, heart-stopping, breathtaking life moments was, 12 years later, having Lauren Bacall, her son Sam Robards and others make a grand entrance into Spago (on Sunset Blvd in LA), and brush past me on the way to their table. All any of us at the table could utter for a full minute was "Oh.My.God."
Back to the present day. This past spring, I was once again fortunate enough to see a production of one of Lanford Wilson's plays at Roundabout Theatre Company's Laura Pels Theatre, Talley's Folly, and loved the passion and humanity of the writing and the characters. Somehow, I had not made the connection that this play was part of Wilson's trilogy, and came between the first, Talley & Son, and Fifth of July. I am clearly working backwards in this series, and will now have to find a production of Talley & Son, to complete the journey. What a treat to now have some additional context for the story that had such an impact on me 32 years ago.
And just yesterday, I spent the Fourth, as I have for many years, at my aunt and uncle's longtime home, just across the street from the house Tom grew up in; a house in which we had so many marvelous, wonder-filled conversations about the theater...and life.
So, to Tom, and to all my theater-loving friends of today with whom I have equally marvelous, seemingly-endless, conversations, thanks for the memories...and here's to many more fifths of July from which to drink!!
So I got to thinking that if you wanted to mix your Fourth of July celebration with your love of musical theater, you might want to create a playlist that features songs from the stage that actually "set the stage."
While we are celebrating a particular event in American history on July 4, it really is "Independence Day;" a day we honor freedom. I like to think that this "freedom" is, at its core, the freedom to be yourself, and the gift we give others in letting others be themselves alongside us!
So, for this eclectic mix of musical theater songs, I didn't go for the traditional July 4th Broadway tunes, but the ones I picked do that for me (sometimes in a tongue-in-cheek sort of way :)): they celebrate America's freedom, the freedom that living in America gives us as individuals and the wonderful things about taking this day to celebrate "home."
The songs are in no particular order (pretend the playlist is on "shuffle" :)), and I provided the links to the iTunes listing for the cast recording for each show. Be sure to comment below with any you'd add to the list! And if you haven't seen some of these shows, you can add them to your list of shows to see in the future :).
HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY!!