Christopher Plummer. His evolution from captain to father made an avid fan of my eight-year-old self when I first saw "The Sound of Music" in 1965. But my slightly older self gained the proper respect and admiration as well. So the opportunity to be in the audience for a conversation about his life and career this past June was a can't-miss for me.
Michael Kahn, Artistic Director of DC's Shakespeare Theatre Company, conducted the chat~and it really did feel like a delightful "chat," not a formal presentation. Mr. Plummer was endearingly soft-spoken and unassuming, with an infectious laugh. In fact, the best parts of the evening for me were the times that he was chuckling so hard that the audience just couldn't help but start laughing along, without even having heard the "punch line."
There's no way I could truly capture the life journey he took us on for that 90 minutes, but here are ten of my favorite "points" of this true star:
Every story Christopher Plummer told had the audience riveted, and the time flew. I know I wasn't alone in being captivated by this legendary actor; the multitude of stories alone was an embarrassment of riches. But it was his genuineness, humor, self awareness and willingness to be open and vulnerable with respect to his struggles with ego and alcohol, that really drew me in. This was one instantaneous standing ovation that I felt honored to be on my feet for!
Thanks to Michael Kahn and The Shakespeare Theatre Company for the wonderful evening!
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!!
...but I play one every time I fill out one of those "just for fun" ballots (as in the "official" printable ballot from tonyawards.com shown left). And it's a good thing for my stress levels that I am not a Tony voter in real life, because it's nearly impossible to choose one, or even two, winner(s) in some of these categories. I've had the great pleasure of seeing every single one of the nominated shows, all but one of the nominated performances, and most of those that weren't nominated. Sure, there are some categories where I can narrow it down more easily than in others; but it's uniformly painful in most of them.
So, I'm going to rank the nominees in each category, from my favorites on down, relative to each other (not to everything I saw), based on how much I enjoyed the show, performance or creative work.
Let me also go on record as pleading for an award for Best Ensemble Cast. This season, I'd give it to the marvelous cast of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, hands down. I saw the show multiple times with varying endings, different companions and both early and late in the run. Each and every time, this cast worked miraculously well together, and I enjoyed all of the performances equally. From the most minor of roles to the leads, each performer added a critical piece of the puzzle. So, here's my personal "StageElf Award" to the cast of Edwin Droooood :).
On to the actual categories:
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike/Author: Christopher Durang
The Testament of Mary/Author: Colm Tóibín
Lucky Guy/Author: Nora Ephron
The Assembled Parties/Author: Richard Greenberg
The problem with this category is that each one of these plays is so completely different from the other, and I enjoyed each so much. In terms of impact on me as an audience member though, Vanya & Testament packed the most punch in vastly different ways~Vanya had me roaring with laughter; Testament stunned me into silence. For those reasons, they get the top two spots.
Matilda The Musical
A Christmas Story, The Musical
Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella
Bring It On: The Musical
This is one category where I would have nominated Chaplin instead of Bring It On. If Chaplin was in the mix, I'd rank it third behind Matilda. As it stands, Kinky Boots and Matilda are nearly tied, but I give the edge to Kinky Boots because I think it has a smidge more heart.
BEST BOOK OF A MUSICAL
Matilda The Musical/Dennis Kelly
A Christmas Story, The Musical/Joseph Robinette
Kinky Boots/Harvey Fierstein
Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella/Douglas Carter Beane
While I certainly enjoyed each of the stories in the nominated shows, I thought Matilda was the most cohesive and well-integrated book. I would have put Kinky Boots in first or second place, but I thought there was a bit of a character arc issue with the character of Charlie. Also, I applaud Douglas Carter Beane for updating the classic Cinderella story, and especially liked what he did with the characters of the stepsisters, but it was all a bit muddled for my taste.
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE (MUSIC AND/OR LYRICS) WRITTEN FOR THE THEATRE
Kinky Boots/Music & Lyrics: Cyndi Lauper
Matilda The Musical/Music & Lyrics: Tim Minchin
A Christmas Story, The Musical/Music & Lyrics: Benj Pasek & Justin Paul
Hands on a Hardbody/Music: Trey Anastasio and Amanda Green Lyrics: Amanda Green
This was not a hard category for me. I think the score to Kinky Boots is its ace in the hole (especially as performed by Billy Porter, Stark Sands & Annaleigh Ashford). From the opening strains of "The Most Beautiful Thing in the World" to the rousing "Raise You Up" at the close, I loved this score. A shout out is also deserved by Trey Anastasio and Amanda Green for a score that was perfectly suited to the Texas setting of "Hands on a Hardbody," and didn't sound like any other musical (in a good way!).
BEST REVIVAL OF A PLAY
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
The Trip to Bountiful
Easy choices for me for the top two and bottom two; more difficult between the top two. Virginia Woolf gets my top slot because of the complexity and challenges in the story and the characters. It was emotionally wrenching for me to watch, and that's a compliment.
BEST REVIVAL OF A MUSICAL
The Mystery of Edwin Drood
Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella
This was the most obvious category to me because I think the revival of Pippin is just brilliant. That said, Edwin Drood was a really close second! Cinderella and Annie are both great fun, but there's a wide gap for me between the top two and third place.
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE IN A PLAY
Tom Hanks/Lucky Guy
David Hyde Pierce/Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
Nathan Lane/The Nance
Tracy Letts/Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
If Best Revival of a Musical was my easiest ranking to do, this was one of my most difficult. Each one of these actors, particularly the top four, were my favorite parts of their shows; and each one of these actors is well-deserving. The best I can do is rank them this way. I would be especially thrilled if Tom Sturridge were to win; he was breathtaking in an otherwise flawed production. The missing piece in this category is a nomination for Alan Cumming for his bravura performance in Macbeth.
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE IN A PLAY
Cicely Tyson/The Trip to Bountiful
Kristine Nielsen/Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
Amy Morton/Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Laurie Metcalf/The Other Place
To be fair, this was the only category in which I did not see every performance (I did not see Laurie Metcalf). However, the top three are an embarrassment of riches on their own; and Amy Morton was also amazing. I'm putting Cicely Tyson at the top, because she owned that stage with her fragile presence. And Kristine Nielsen was convulsively funny in her performance, so she's next. But Holland Taylor's Ann Richards is a revelation, and I would call it a draw between her and Kristine Nielsen for the second spot.
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE IN A MUSICAL
Billy Porter/Kinky Boots
Bertie Carvel/Matilda The Musical
Stark Sands/Kinky Boots
Santino Fontana/Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella
This was a tough one, because Rob McClure was truly amazing as Charlie Chaplin, and I have a really soft spot in my heart for his performance. I'm giving the edge to Billy Porter because of the challenges inherent in the duality of his character. And I loved Stark Sands, but I'd put Bertie Carvel ahead of him based on the physically demanding part that Bertie Carvel plays.
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE IN A MUSICAL
Stephanie J. Block/The Mystery of Edwin Drood
Laura Osnes/Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella
Valisia LeKae/Motown The Musical
Easy, easy, easy. As much as I adored Stephanie J. Block's performance, Patina Miller just oozes her performance out of every pore. To be honest, I was not a huge fan of Patina's performance in Sister Act; I liked her more in the Kander & Ebb revue at The Kennedy Center last season. But this role showcases her spectacular talents perfectly! Her mastery of the Bob Fosse-inspired movement, and her edginess as Pippin's "guide," are deliciously wonderful. Laura Osnes was also a perfect Cinderella, by the way :).
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A FEATURED ROLE IN A PLAY
Richard Kind/The Big Knife
Courtney B. Vance/Lucky Guy
Danny Burstein/Golden Boy
Billy Magnussen/Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
Tony Shalhoub/Golden Boy
My heart is with Richard Kind in this category, but I'd call it a draw between him and Courtney B. Vance, who has perfect chemistry with Tom Hanks, and was my second favorite part of Lucky Guy. I know the popular choice here is Billy Magnussen, and I did really enjoy his performance. But in context, the others made more of an impact on me.
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A FEATURED ROLE IN A PLAY
Judith Light/The Assembled Parties
Shalita Grant/Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
Carrie Coon/Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Judith Ivey/The Heiress
Condola Rashad/The Trip to Bountiful
I loved all of these women in their roles almost more than I can say. If I must choose at all, I would call it a tie for me between the top two. Shalita Grant gave a hilarious and inspired performance as the wise-cracking, voodoo-happy housekeeper, and Judith Light was just all heart with a biting wit. I put Condola Rashad last in this category solely because of the nature of the part itself; she amazes me each time I've seen her on stage.
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A FEATURED ROLE IN A MUSICAL
Charl Brown/Motown The Musical
Gabriel Ebert/Matilda The Musical
Keith Carradine/Hands on a Hardbody
Will Chase/The Mystery of Edwin Drood
I just adored Terrence Mann as Pippin's father, King Charlemagne. He is fearless in his physical comedy, and somehow manages to be likable, despite his fairly despicable nature. Charl Brown was one of my favorite parts of Motown, so I'd put him next, but the other three actors all gave memorable performances that I thoroughly enjoyed. Any of them would deserve the win.
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A FEATURED ROLE IN A MUSICAL
Annaleigh Ashford/Kinky Boots
Keala Settle/Hands on a Hardbody
Lauren Ward/Matilda The Musical
Victoria Clark/Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella
Hardest category, by far, for me in terms of the top three. I absolutely adored Annaleigh Ashford and Keala Settle for their comically heart-felt performances. But Andrea Martin has stolen the show in her one major scene every time I've seen Pippin from Boston to Broadway. Also Lauren Ward was so charming as Matilda's heroine, her performance makes the category even more difficult.
BEST DIRECTION OF A PLAY
Nicholas Martin/Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
Pam MacKinnon/Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Bartlett Sher/Golden Boy
George C. Wolfe/Lucky Guy
Of the nominated plays, Vanya was the most unique of them, effectively combining hilarity and angst, and therefore my pick in this category. But it's hard not to root for Virginia Woolf, which was immensely powerful. I'd be satisfied with either one.
BEST DIRECTION OF A MUSICAL
Matthew Warchus/Matilda The Musical
Scott Ellis/The Mystery of Edwin Drood
Jerry Mitchell/Kinky Boots
No question in my mind that Diane Paulus should get this award. Her vision of the Pippin we would enjoy 40 years after it first ran, is truly brilliant. Loved all of these shows, but Pippin is the best example of what great direction can produce.
Peter Darling/Matilda The Musical
Jerry Mitchell/Kinky Boots
Andy Blankenbuehler/Bring It On: The Musical
For his celebration of the original Bob Fosse choreography, and its vital importance to the look and feel of Pippin, Chet Walker is my number one in this category.
Chris Nightingale/Matilda The Musical
Danny Troob/Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella
Stephen Oremus/Kinky Boots
Ethan Popp & Bryan Crook/Motown The Musical
I'm probably not the best judge in this category, as I'm not well versed in distinguishing the orchestrations from my general opinion of the score as a whole. With that caveat, my sense is that Matilda had the richest sound.
BEST SCENIC DESIGN OF A PLAY
John Lee Beatty/The Nance
Santo Loquasto/The Assembled Parties
Michael Yeargan/Golden Boy
David Rockwell/Lucky Guy
I very much liked the sets for both The Nance and The Assembled Parties. They were each elaborate and evocative. Golden Boy also had a lovely set, but the detail of the other two shows give them the edge in my memory.
BEST SCENIC DESIGN OF A MUSICAL
Rob Howell/Matilda The Musical
Anna Louizos/The Mystery of Edwin Drood
David Rockwell/Kinky Boots
This category is both hard and easy. Easy to pick my favorite, Matilda, because my jaw dropped when I entered the theater for the show, and the pleasure I got from the rich and whimsical set has stayed with me for months. The other three are much harder to rank, and I'm calling it a three-way tie for second place.
BEST COSTUME DESIGN OF A PLAY
Ann Roth/The Nance
Soutra Gilmour/Cyrano de Bergerac
Albert Wolsky/The Heiress
Catherine Zuber/Golden Boy
I honestly don't really have a standout in this category. I liked all of the top three equally well; and Golden Boy did have a wonderful look as well. They are all period shows, so the costumes did contribute to the overall impact of the story in each case, and I thought all were successful.
BEST COSTUME DESIGN OF A MUSICAL
William Ivey Long/Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella
Gregg Barnes/Kinky Boots
Rob Howell/Matilda The Musical
This is a tough one for me because, while the costume design of Cinderella had to do double duty as part of the action as well (rags to ballgown anyone? :)) and for that reason I'm putting it at the top, there were lots of things about the costumes for that show for which I didn't care much. Kinky Boots is very cleverly designed as to the costumes, and the signature boots are a winner for sure. But the missing nominee for me is The Mystery of Edwin Drood, which I would have put just behind Cinderella.
BEST LIGHTING DESIGN OF A PLAY
Jules Fisher & Peggy Eisenhauer/Lucky Guy
Jennifer Tipton/The Testament of Mary
Japhy Weideman/The Nance
Donald Holder/Golden Boy
The lighting in Lucky Guy was memorable for me in large part because it served to distinguish the multiple locations, simultaneous action, and had the right harshness for the subject matter of a tabloid newsroom. Testament is a very close second~the haunting light throughout the show was so effective at keeping the audience in the twilight of our minds.
BEST LIGHTING DESIGN OF A MUSICAL
Hugh Vanstone/Matilda The Musical
Kenneth Posner/Kinky Boots
Kenneth Posner/Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella
Yes indeed, I'm going to pick the lone not-Kenneth Posner nominee :). As with the set design above, the lighting in Matilda was just magical and memorable. The other three were great, but none as special as Matilda.
BEST SOUND DESIGN OF A PLAY
John Gromada/The Trip to Bountiful
Mel Mercier/The Testament of Mary
Leon Rothenberg/The Nance
Peter John Still and Marc Salzberg/Golden Boy
This was a fairly clear choice for me. The poignantly meaningful birdsong of home, contrasting with the city noise of a certain despair, was so well done in Bountiful.
BEST SOUND DESIGN OF A MUSICAL
Jonathan Deans & Garth Helm/Pippin
John Shivers/Kinky Boots
Nevin Steinberg/Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella
Peter Hylenski/Motown The Musical
By contrast with the Sound Design of a Play category, there isn't really one of these nominees that I could pick as way above the others. Pippin gets the nod because of the humor I sensed in some of the choices for the sounds.
So there you have it. Not the ones I think will win; just my thoughts on how I felt about the nominees. Enjoy the show on Sunday night, Jun 9 at 8pm on CBS!!
On April 23, 2013, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS held its annual fundraiser, The Easter Bonnet Competition, in which various shows (cast & crew) get together to try and outdo each other in the design of the most creative, outlandish headwear. The entries are presented on two days in April with comedy and musical skits accompanying the parade of "bonnets." Awards are presented on the second day, as judged by a celebrated panel. The proceeds from ongoing show fundraising efforts, and ticket proceeds from the competition all go to the organizations efforts to provide for those in need in the NY theater community.
The judges for the 2013 competition, as described by the Broadway Cares website were "two-time Tony-winning costume designer Gregg Barnes, choreographer Josh Bergasse, Grammy Award nominee Deborah Cox, Tony winner Cady Huffman, Jujamcyn Theaters' executive vice president Paul Libin (who also is president of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS' Board of Trustees), Tony nominee Constantine Maroulis, Emmy winner Holland Taylor and Michael Urie. Also joining the judging panel were Hollis Stern and Peg Wendlandt, who won their spots by being high bidders on exclusive VIP packages at the 26th Annual Broadway Flea Market & Grand Auction in September."
An all-star roster of hosts and presenters provided additional entertainment. I loved seeing Katie Finneran ("Annie"); Billy Porter ("Kinky Boots"); Nathan Lane ("The Nance"); Andrea Martin ("Pippin"); Christopher McDonald & Peter Scolari ("Lucky Guy") and the amazing trio of Harvey Fierstein, Cyndi Lauper and Tom Hanks! The audience also included recognizable faces, including Judith Light, Delia Ephron (cheering on the cast of her sister Nora's final play "Lucky Guy"), and producer Daryl Roth ("Kinky Boots," "Lucky Guy," "Annie").
The event was held at the Minskoff Theatre (home of "The Lion King"), and you can watch the highlights below:
Tom Hanks, Cyndi Lauper and Harvey Fierstein announced the winners.
The grand total raised from this year's event: $4,250, 542 broke the previous record of $3,734,129 set in 2007.
Harvey Fierstein and Lilla Crawford ("Annie") greet fans at the stage door after the event.
There are shows that quite literally take my breath away. I will find myself unable to express my thoughts and feelings by voice until after I've been silent; letting them slowly drip down into my soul. This was true after The Scottsboro Boys. Also after The Normal Heart. Each time, my companion and I were mute as we made our way back into the world. And then came the flurry of conversation that gave substance to the way the show had touched us.
And so, after cheering wildly at Fiona Shaw's bows, I was silent at the end of The Testament of Mary. So much sheer, raw, naked emotion from the playwright, as brought to the stage by this fearless actor; and from the audience in return. Shaw's and Colm Toibin's Mary is bitter, grief-stricken, traumatized and a bit mad. Well why shouldn't she be, after witnessing her son's descent onto a dangerous path that she didn't understand; one that ended in the gruesome spectacle of his crucifixion? This Mary is not on board with the divinity of how her son came into the world, or how he left. She rails against the version of the story being told by the disciples, who she blames in part for the end. Regardless of your religious or spiritual beliefs, this is a unique and, I found, fascinating perspective on a pivotal story in Christian, especially Catholic, dogma. It does not need to shake you from the security of your belief; in fact it could push you to an even greater certainty of why Mary's story is divine.
The audience was invited to explore the stage pre-show. A plexiglass cube sat stage right, containing a seat, some figurines, votive candles, a faucet and an opaque cover over what appeared to be a pool of water. Once the stage was filled with milling audience members, Fiona Shaw strode through the crowd, entered the cube from the back, seated herself inside in the iconic garb of the Mary we see in art throughout the ages. She held lilies in her right arm, forming a suggestion of a pieta (Mary holding the body of the crucified Jesus in her lap), and an apple in her left. Her lips moved in silent speech with her eyes closed at first, and then opened with a slight hint of a smile, but with tears rolling down her cheek. She stared straight ahead, as people quietly filed around the cube; stopping to take in the sight of this living sculpture.
The stage was otherwise filled with a confounding assortment of objects in various tableaux. To the left is the scene looking down beneath the stage through a glass window in the floor. A ladder descending to a brilliant blue pool and surrounded by clay pots and artifacts.
Some of the objects strewn about were later used in the storytelling, such as the barbed wire and the ladder, both representing aspects to the crucifixion itself (cross, crown of thorns). Others like the live vulture (which did not stay onstage during the play), and empty birdcage (which did), served only as foreshadowing. The gigantic, solid tree trunk, suspended from the rafters, gently moved as people reached to touch it. It was contrasted later in the show with a delicate, golden, shimmering tree with full leaves, that rises from the pool of water onstage. This is the pool into which Mary has plunged just before, and then emerged, drenched but seemingly calmer and with a bit more peace. The tree of life indeed.
This is first and foremost a piece of theatrical storytelling of the highest order....a single performer on stage for ninety minutes, moving about the space and commanding our attention primarily with her words. The modern day symbolism of a tape recorder, handwritten notes, pencil (not the more permanent ink) make us think about how stories are told and passed down. We might be wise to question how the storytellers come to tell us the version we hear. What influences were being brought to bear?
We are told the so familiar stories of Lazarus being brought back to life, and the wedding feast at Cana. But from this Mary, they are laid bare to cynicism. However, we must ask what is driving the despair and dark rage in this version. And, for me, Fiona Shaw's brilliance is in the electric undercurrent of terror, grief and confusion that was always palpable; and which elicited sympathy, and even gentle laughter of recognition from the audience.
Some of the actions in which Shaw engaged-holding an unlit cigarette for much of the time; dashing over to sit in a folding chair, back to the audience, agitatedly drumming her feet and making marks on her wrists went unexplained in the narrative, and perhaps at all. I interpreted these things as pointing to the element of madness in the narrator.
As Mary tells us how she is being encouraged, nay forced?, to tell a version of the events that will serve the narrative of her son's death as redemption for the world. "They tell me," she says, that this version will forever "change the world." "Really?," she asks both the unseen handlers, and the audience, "all of it?" And then, finally, comes the pronouncement that is the most human, and devastating, of all..."if that's so....it. was. not. worth. it."
The 2013 Tony Award nominations have been announced, and I readily admit to clapping with glee over several, and frowning over others. With the exception of one play, The Other Place, I saw every single nominated production as well as all of those that were eligible but not nominated. I enjoyed this past season a great deal, and one big takeaway from today's nominations is the wonderful diversity represented. There really are shows for everyone running on Broadway; so for someone with extremely eclectic taste (like me :)), that's great news. This year, in particular, "family fare" is well-represented among the nominees: Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella, Bring It On, Pippin, Matilda, Kinky Boots, A Christmas Story The Musical and The Mystery of Edwin Drood (all but Bring It On, A Christmas Story The Musical and The Mystery of Edwin Drood are still running).
For the most part I don't take issue with too many of the decisions. I thoroughly enjoyed the much-nominated Kinky Boots, Pippin and Matilda. They are each crowd-pleasing, and feature extraordinary performances among the casts. In fact, one of my favorite nominations of all announced today, is the one received by Annaleigh Ashford, for Best Featured Actress in a Musical in Kinky Boots. The night I saw Kinky Boots, she literally stopped the show with her number! But she's in a tough category with Andrea Martin (also in a show-stopping number in Pippin) and Keala Settle for Hands on a Hardbody. Keala was definitely my favorite part of that show, and she richly deserves the recognition (she was also a scene-stealer in Priscilla Queen of the Desert).
The Tony Awards Administration Committee made the, perhaps controversial, decision that the new production of Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella, originally written and produced for television (starring Julie Andrews) in 1957, would be eligible in the category of revivals, rather than as a new musical (it has now received a nomination in the revival category). They apparently based the decision on the rules regarding shows that may be new to Broadway, but are otherwise an incarnation of a production well-known to audiences. However, in my opinion having seen the show, the fact that it has a new book (by the nominated Douglas Carter Beane), and has never been produced with this music on Broadway before, would classify it as a new musical.
The other much-debated Tony Awards Committee decision regarding eligibility had to do with the four young actresses sharing the title role in Matilda The Musical (each performs twice a week). They were ruled not eligible in the lead actress category, but will receive a special award to honor their achievement. However, Lilla Crawford, who has sole responsibility for the title role in Annie, and plays 6-8 performances a week herself, had to compete against the adult actresses in the leading category, did not receive a nomination, and will not receive any special recognition either. Personally, although she does give an excellent performance, I would not have nominated Lilla either (I actually preferred her understudy, having seen both), but I also wouldn't give the Matilda actresses a special honor.
I am also particularly pleased with the nominations of Tom Sturridge for his heartbreaking performance as a vulnerable, mentally challenged young man in Orphans; Stark Sands for Kinky Boots; and Cicely Tyson and Condola Rashad for The Trip to Bountiful (their scenes together were especially lovely).
And as much as I adored the performances of Ryann Redmond and Gregory Haney in Bring It On, I truly enjoyed Chaplin much more, and would have given Chaplin a nod for Best Musical. Rob McClure was nominated for his performance as Charlie Chaplin though, so all was not lost. Truth be told, I also preferred Hands on a Hardbody to Bring It On (and to Motown the Musical as mentioned above).
In the category of plays, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, which I saw at Lincoln Center before its Broadway transfer, is exactly the kind of play I love to see nominated. The cast is superb; it's one of those stories that manages to be both hilarious and soulful; and it was creatively staged. David Hyde Pierce and Kristine Nielsen, each nominated for their performances, were brilliant together as bickering siblings; and Shalita Grant was utterly delightful as the voodoo-happy housekeeper who somehow manages to manage them. I also so enjoyed the fascinating story and great production of The Assembled Parties, and am happy that Judith Light was recognized. Although I would also have nominated her fellow cast member, Jessica Hecht, who was breathtaking in her role.
And I have to give a big shout out to the entire production of The Mystery of Edwin Drood. It was just a wonderful experience; and having seen it three times with different companions of varying ages, I can honestly say it was the most fun I had on Broadway all season (Stephanie J. Block so deserves her nomination). Likewise, the multiple nominations for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, which I saw at Arena Stage with the same cast before it moved to Broadway, make me happy. Tracy Letts, Amy Morton and Carrie Coon were each outstanding, and I'm thrilled that they have been nominated!
So although I am mostly at peace with the nominations as they stand, there are a few nominations I think were missed given the nominations that were actually made. As always, my opinions are just those of an audience member. I have no "credentials" other than my love of theater! Here are the ones I would have added (or replaced):
For Best Musical: Chaplin; Hands on a Hardbody
For Best Play: Grace
For Best Actor in a Lead Role in a Musical: Matthew Thomas for Pippin
For Best Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical (but this is a really crowded category already): Ryann Redmond for Bring It On; Rachel Bay Jones for Pippin
For Best Actress in a Lead Role in a Play: Fiona Shaw for The Testament of Mary; Bette Midler for I'll Eat You Last
For Best Actor in a Lead Role in a Play: Alan Cumming for Macbeth
For Best Scenic Design of a Musical: Beowulf Borritt for Chaplin
For Best Costume Design of a Musical: William Ivey Long for The Mystery of Edwin Drood
For Best Orchestrations: Larry Hochman for Pippin
There's also been lots of buzzing about the "big name stars" who made high profile runs on Broadway this past season, but failed to score nominations. The list includes Scarlett Johansson (Cat On a Hot Tin Roof), Al Pacino (Glengarry Glen Ross), Bette Midler (I'll Eat You Last), Alec Baldwin (Orphans) and Katie Holmes (Dead Accounts). Of those, I probably would have given a nomination to Bette (see above). I saw I'll Eat You Last twice, and each time she held court on stage, by herself without ever seeming to lose the audience, and without taking her butt off the couch until the final 5 minutes. Tom Hanks did receive the nomination for his performance in Lucky Guy; and he deserves it especially for having amazing chemistry with anyone and everyone with whom he shares the stage.
However, despite the well-known, marquee-ready names not being nominated, I thought most gave admirable performances that I enjoyed a great deal. It is certainly satisfying that almost every acting nomination went to actors primarily working in theater, but a great performance is a great performance and, as an audience member, I don't begrudge a well-known star the part or the nomination if they give a deserving performance. My experience is that the recognizable name in a show may make permanent theater fans of new audience members drawn in by the "name;" those new fans might then see more theater down the road, while also becoming fans of the actors whose names and faces they didn't know beforehand.
By the way, one of my favorite categories this year is Best Lighting Design of a Musical, in which 3 of the 4 nominees are, in fact, the same person: Kenneth Posner for Kinky Boots, Pippin and Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella. The fourth nominee is Hugh Vanstone for Matilda The Musical, and I think he'll give Mr. Posner a run for his money-the lighting in Matilda was amazing!
In the end, I'm thrilled for all the nominees and can't wait for the awards ceremony! TonyAwards.com offers a viewer's guide section, and a printable ballot so that you can play along. CBS will telecast the awards from Radio City Music Hall, Sunday evening, June 9 at 8:00/7:00 central.