Friday, May 28, 2010

Review - Razzle Dazzle! My Life Behind the Sequins, Mitzi Gaynor at Feinstein's

By Byrne Harrison

"And if he mentions Mitzi Gaynor, and he will, pretend you know who she is."
- Sideshow Mel, "All About Lisa," "The Simpsons"

It's inconceivable to me that anyone could not know Mitzi Gaynor. "My Blue Heaven," "There's No Business Like Show Business," "Anything Goes," "South Pacific." Who doesn't know those movies? And you had to have seen at least one of Ms. Gaynor's many, many television performances.

If you missed all of those, you should consider dropping by Feinstein's to catch Ms. Gaynor's New York debut at Feinstein's, Razzle Dazzle! My Life Behind the Sequins, running through May 29th. While she may not have the same voice that she had in her heyday, she more than makes up for it with her stories about her show business career and her life on and off screen. These stories, featuring her friends and costars, including Ethel Merman, Howard Hughes, and some touching memories of her late husband, Jack Bean, are more than worth the price of admission. Getting to see her perform a "South Pacific" medley is just icing on the cake. In between songs, both modern and classic, stories and costume changes (featuring some stunning Bob Mackie creations), Razzle Dazzle! features clips from Gaynor's many television and film performances.

The show is not without it's flaws. As mentioned before, Ms. Gaynor's voice is not as strong as it used to be, and she has a tendency to be drowned out by the band (the accoustics in the Loews Regency ballroom leave much to be desired). The overuse of the keyboard in many of the songs gives the show a dated, somewhat cheesy sound. Brassy, bold, and bigger than life, Gaynor is not in the least bit dated, so there is a bit of a disconnect.

Overall, Razzle Dazzle! is a fun night out for fans of Mitzi Gaynor and fans of Hollywood's late Golden Age.

Razzle Dazzle! My Life Behind the Sequins
Starring Mitzi Gaynor
Director/Choreograhper: Tony Charmoli
Musical Arrangers: Dick DeBenedictis, Bill Dyer
Orchestrations: Colin R. Freeman, Nick DeGregorio
Band: Ed Czach (Musical Director/Piano), Paul Kreibich (Drums), Gary Nesteruk (Keyboard), David Finck (Bass)

For a taste of her show, see the video below (Featuring scenes from the full-length version of the show. The Feinstein's engagement is a shortened version of this show.)

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Sing Your Way to the Tony Awards

By Byrne Harrison

Are you a Broadway belter stuck far away from the Great White Way? Well here is your chance to win a trip to New York and the Tony Awards with the Macy's Ticket to the Tonys contest.

Upload a video of yourself singing one of the songs on their list by noon Pacific Time today and you could win a trip to the Tony Awards in New York.

For more details and the list of songs click here.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

2nd Annual ITBA Award Winners

The Independent Theater Bloggers Association (of which I am a member) has announced the winners of their 2nd Annual ITBA Awards.

See the announcement video featuring Susan Blackwell, Jeannine Frumess and Ann Harada.

And the winners are . . .


A View From The Bridge

American Idiot

La Cage Aux Folles

Circle Mirror Transformation


The Glass Menagerie


A Boy And His Soul

Circle Mirror Transformation

Nina Arianda, Venus In Fur
Kate Baldwin, Finian's Rainbow
Desiree Burch, The Soup Show
Rebecca Comtois, Viral
Viola Davis, Fences
Jon Michael Hill, Superior Donuts
Douglas Hodge, La Cage Aux Folles
Sarah Lemp, The Pied Pipers of the Lower East Side & Happy In The Poorhouse
Laura Linney, Time Stands Still
Jan Maxwell, The Royal Family & Lend Me A Tenor
Bobby Steggert, Ragtime & Yank!
Amy Lynn Stewart, Viral

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

End of an Era

Doris Eaton Travis, the last surviving Ziegfeld girl has passed away at the age of 106.

I saw Ms. Eaton most recently at the Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS Easter Bonnet competition and was amazed at how lively she was, and how truly excited she seemed to be participating in the show.

The following statement comes from Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

Doris Eaton Travis passed away today at the age of 106. Ms. Travis was one of the legendary Ziegfeld Follies Girls and a longtime friend of Broadway Cares/ Equity Fights AIDS having made many memorable appearances in their annual EASTER BONNET COMPETITION.

In a statement on behalf of the family, Joe Eaton, Jr., Doris’ nephew, said, “Doris and her brother, my father Joe, had been working with Arthur Murray just after the war. She met Paul Travis in Detroit. They married in 1948. The work with Arthur Murray Dance Studio franchises really took off then and for the next 25 years. In 1972 they retired to Norman, Oklahoma and began Travis Ranch, a horse farm. But Doris always continued to dance, teaching privately, performing at local benefits and parties. She was thrilled when first invited by Broadway Cares/ Equity Fights AIDS to participate in the opening number of the first EASTER BONNET COMPETITION to be produced at the New Amsterdam Theatre where she had appeared in the Ziegfeld Follies over 70 years before. Doris loved coming back to Broadway for the event every year after – 12 times altogether. From 1998 – 2010, she only missed it in 2007. It became the highlight of her life. She adored dancing with the young dancers, seeing new shows and the incredible response from the Easter Bonnet audience and Broadway community. Life came full circle for her again and again and she said each year how much she loved everyone at BC/EFA for making it possible. Just this past weekend, she was talking about what she wanted to do next year. I know she’ll be there in spirit. Even from heaven, she wouldn’t miss it.”

In a statement, Tom Viola, Executive Director of BC/EFA, said, “Doris Eaton Travis was beloved at Broadway Cares. Since first meeting her in 1998 at the very young age of 94 when she appeared at the 12th edition of the EASTER BONNET COMPETITION at the New Amsterdam Theatre through the 24th edition which was held two weeks ago at the Minskoff - no matter her age when the stage lights hit Doris, she was instantly and forever young. Whether leading 30 Broadway dancers in a conga, playing sassy in a tux with the Cagelles, celebrating her 100th birthday on the New Amsterdam stage where she first appeared at the age of 16, teaching Sutton Foster “the Black Bottom,” or showing the young ballerinas from Billy Elliott the “Ballin’ the Jack” – a number she had introduced in 1921, Doris was simply a delight. Broadway loved her, giving her a standing ovation just two weeks ago that I know she took to heart and I’m certain has taken with her. Doris taught us all a little bit about how to celebrate the past and live for today. We will miss her forever.”

Funeral arrangements will be private. A memorial service in West Bloomfield will be announced at a later date. Tomorrow night at 8:00 pm the lights on Broadway will be dimmed in memory of Doris Eaton Travis.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Interview with Writer/Director/Producer Del Shores

By Byrne Harrison
Photo by Rosemary Alexander

Del Shores has written, directed and produced film, television and stage. His stage work includes Cheatin’ (1985) Daddy’s Dyin’ (Who’s Got The Will?) (1987), Daughter’s of the Lone Star State (1993), Sordid Lives (1996), Southern Baptist Sissies (2000), The Trials and Tribulations of a Trailer Trash Housewife (2003). Awards and nominations for theatre include Los Angeles Drama Critics’ Circle, Ovation, GLAAD, BackStage Garland, NAACP and LA Weekly (2006 Career Achievement Award). His film work includes “Daddy’s Dyin’... Who’s Got The Will?” Writer/Executive Producer, (MGM), “Sordid Lives” Writer/Director/Producer (Regent Entertainment), “The Wilde Girls” Writer/Director/Executive Producer (Showtime). He has received Best Film Awards for “Sordid Lives”: New York Independent Film & Video Festival, Atlanta Gay & Lesbian International Film Festival, Austin Gay & Lesbian International Film Festival, South Beach Film Festival, Memphis International Film Festival and the San Diego International Film Festival. A partial list of his television work includes “Touched By An Angel”, “Ned and Stacey”, “Family Ties”, “Dharma and Greg” and “Queer As Folk.” Shores’ critically acclaimed series “Sordid Lives: The Series” premiered on MTV’S Logo channel July 23, 2008 and has aired in seventeen countries internationally. He wrote, directed and executive produced all twelve episodes. The series stars Olivia Newton-John, Rue McClanahan, Beth Grant, Caroline Rhea, Bonnie Bedelia, Leslie Jordan, Ann Walker and Jason Dottley. In 2009, Shores toured his one-man show “Del Shores’ My Sordid Life” playing thirty-four cities which segued into stand-up performances in many cities, including New York City’s Comix. Shores is legally married to Jason Dottley and is the proud father of Rebecca (20) and Caroline (17). He is represented by Creative Artist Agency and his publisher is Samuel French, Inc.

When did you first get involved in theatre?

My mother went to college when I started first grade and majored in drama. She took me to all the college rehearsals and productions and I fell in love. When she graduated she started teaching speech and drama. When I reached junior high, she was my drama coach and into high school. I was the lead in all the plays and wrote my first play when I was in seventh grade, that we performed. It was a horror play called Strange Visit To Uncle Johnny's. I wish I had a copy of it.

What is your theatrical background?

After high school, having been obsessed with speech, drama, English and journalism, I went to Baylor University. I majored in journalism and Spanish, heavily influenced by my mother, who knew if I majored in drama I wouldn't just want to teach, I would want to be an actor. I acted in a couple of class productions at Baylor, then the night I graduated came to L.A. to pursue acting. My mother was very supportive at this point, gave me the money for my first and last months rent on an apartment, and I immediately started acting. I studied with several coaches out here, but the biggest influences were the late Lilyan Chauvin and Joan Darling, who is my mentor for life. Joan taught me so much about acting that I use in directing. Also, a huge influence was Sherry Landrum, who directed my first two plays, and also studied with Joan.

You've made a successful career in theatre, television, and film. How did you transition between them?

I've always marched to my own drummer, so it wasn't really that hard. In TV, of course, there is a formula, and you have to write within those guidelines, so that was self-taught by reading scripts and watching episodes. Plays were just organic to me because I had read so many and performed in so many -- and you can really create your own structure. With film, I tried to follow formula, but always ended up just throwing that out the window and writing the story the way it felt right. Maybe I would have had a block buster if I had been more formulaic -- but no regrets.

What are the challenges presented by each medium and what do you wish you had known when you started working in each of them?

Stage -- it all just felt right immediately. TV -- I was shocked that so many people told you what to do (Notes). I wish I had known and I would have been mentally prepared. Once I did, I accepted that was part of that element and said "thank you" as the money came in. Film -- I wish I had known more about the technical aspect of directing. The "Sordid Lives" film has so little movement in it; it is very very basic and could have been shot better. My strength is directing actors. I adore them and most of them adore me (or at least how I direct). Now, I just insist on a Director of Photography who understands my style. David Sanderson, who DP'ed "Sordid" series was the perfect match and I plan to use him the rest of my life!

Having grown up in Texas myself, I really relate to the characters in your plays. Where do you draw your inspiration?

Life and real characters. I feel writing is observing. In my one man show Del Shores: My Sordid Life, I always say, "By the end of the evening, you'll find out that I'm not really a writer, I am a thief."

Tell me a little bit about your new play, Yellow, which will be opening May 29th at the Coast Playhouse in West Hollywood. I understand this will be more dramatic than your previous works.

Both Southern Baptist Sissies and The Trials and Tribulations of a Trailer Trash Housewife were very dramatic, but there was intense comedy in them as well. Yellow certainly has comedy -- I don't know how to write without comedy -- but the story is so dramatic and the comedy lessens as they play progresses. I can't put it better than this part of the press release -- "Everything quickly begins to fall apart when an unexpected tragedy rocks the solid foundation of the Westmoreland family to the breaking point. YELLOW dives head first into the themes of cowardice, intolerance and the damage caused to families by secrets, rejection and the difficulty of forgiveness."

You seem to have completely embraced the new social networking tools. I see your updates on Facebook and Twitter all the time, which probably explains the phenomenal ticket sales for Yellow. What's the best part of using these sites to stay in touch with your fans?

I was doing The Tony Sweet radio show recently and Mo'nique was one of the guests as well. She said something that really applies to my connection to my fans. They are my employers. They are the reason I have this career. My husband Jason is a master of the internet for marketing. I answer all my fans, have hired someone to post about our merchandise, etc -- but it is me who writes all the fans back. I feel that is my job and I love the connection. And yes, I do believe the connection sells tickets -- and gets the word out about projects.

Finally, do you have any advice for students who are planning a career writing for theatre, film or television?

I have no formal training in writing for these mediums. I am a storyteller. If you can tell a story, decide on the medium in which you want to tell that story, and study that medium. Then find a way for your work to be seen. There are so many more tools now than when I started. The internet has given great opportunity for upcoming artists.

To find out more about Del and his work, visit his website, the Yellow website, or his Facebook fan page.

Second Annual ITBA Award Nominations Announced

By Byrne Harrison

The Independent Theater Bloggers Association has announced their nominations for the 2nd Annual ITBA Awards. Winners will be announced May 20th.

American Idiot
Everyday Rapture

In The Next Room (or the vibrator play)
Next Fall
Superior Donuts
Time Stands Still

Finian’s Rainbow
La Cage Aux Folles
A Little Night Music

Brighton Beach Memoirs
Lend Me A Tenor
A View From The Bridge

Circle Mirror Transformation
Clybourne Park
Orphans Home Cycle
The Temperamentals

Bloodsong of Love
Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson
The Scottsboro Boys

The Glass Menagerie
A Lie Of The Mind
Twelfth Night

Alice In Slasherland
Girls In Trouble
In Fields Where They Lay
Rescue Me
Samuel & Alasdair: A Personal History of the Robot War
The Soup Show

The Lily’s Revenge

Company XIV

A Boy And His Soul
Zero Hour

Circle Mirror Transformation
A Lie Of The Mind
Twelfth Night

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

We Will Rock Q

Avenue Q responds to the Muppets' version of Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody. Hat tip to Kevin at Theatre Aficionado at Large.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Lockdown in Times Square

By Byrne Harrison

Details are still a little sketchy about the SUV that shut down Times Square this evening. According to some news reports, it was an incendiary car bomb, rigged with propane cylinders and gas containers. In others, the SUV simply contained materials that could be used to make bombs.

Clearly, more will come out about this as the NYPD investigates.

The SUV, which was left outside the Minskoff Theatre, led to late start times of some Broadway shows, and due to the gridlock caused by the evacuation, kept many other theatre-goers from getting to their shows.

The NY Post was the first to point out that the car was left outside the Times Square offices of Viacom, parent company of Comedy Central. While there is no indication that this had anything to do with the recent Muhammad episode of South Park, you wouldn't guess it by looking at the online forums.

UPDATE: Clearly, we now know this was indeed a car bomb, and had it gone off, the results would have been catastrophic. Given the time that most of my friends and I spend in that area (and on that street), it's a pretty frightening thought.