Saturday, April 30, 2011

Book Review - Actor's Alchemy: Finding the Gold in the Script

Review by Rob Hartmann

ACTOR’S ALCHEMY: Finding the Gold in the Script. By Bruce Miller. 188 pp. Limelight Editions, an imprint of Hal Leonard, 2011. $16.99 (paperback); ISBN 978-0-87910-383-5

In his book Actor’s Alchemy: Finding the Gold in the Script, Bruce Miller lays out a very detailed, yet easy to understand process of script analysis for actors. Speaking as a writer, I hope all young actors read Mr. Miller’s book and absorb his advice on ways to understand and communicate a playwright’s work.

I have seen many student actors make common missteps: they generalize, approach scenes passively, exhibit “fuzzy thinking”, and fail to really make use of the words of the script. The ability to be specific versus general in one’s acting choices is, in my opinion, the chief skill which defines the professional, trained actor. Mr. Miller points out that it is impossible to be specific if you have only a general comprehension of the story you are trying to tell. Some beginning actors, when advised to “be specific”, don’t know what to do – only because they have never had the nuts-and-bolts of what specificity means explained to them in a useful manner. Mr. Miller, who is the Director of Acting Programs at the University of Miami, has seized on this pervasive problem, and focused his book almost completely on enabling actors to fully understand the scripts they are trying to bring to life.

Mr. Miller takes the reader step by step through the process of breaking down a script into its smallest components; he then explores all the options available to the actor once they understand the script thoroughly – everything an actor might do to take specific, effective action. Unlike many books on script analysis, Actor’s Alchemy makes the connection between understanding and doing very clear.

Although this book is probably most useful for young actors (Mr. Miller mentions his work with students a number of times in the book), I think any actor who would like a concise refresher on analyzing a script and finding strong acting choices would find this book worth reading. I believe Mr. Miller’s advice would be especially helpful in giving nuanced readings of sides at an audition, when actors are often forced by necessity to deliver a scene with little or no knowledge of the larger context of the play.

Mr. Miller’s tone is engaging – clear, authoritative, never dull. The book explores its subject comprehensively, yet is a fairly quick read. Mr. Miller has a true knack for storytelling, which not all textbook authors do; I was halfway through the book before I realized it. Perhaps it’s unusual to describe an educational book such as this as a “page turner”, but I believe this book qualifies.

Like all books which aim to teach a specific skill, Mr. Miller’s work is at its strongest when he is dealing with concrete examples. The book contains the full text of the short one-act Eye to Eye, by Chris Graybill; Mr. Miller dissects the play in a number of ways, showing the reader exactly what steps one needs to take to be fully prepared to begin rehearsals.

Many books on script analysis for the actor don’t think to go further than talking about what the actor can do with his or her dialogue; Mr. Miller includes a section about the importance of being fully present when another character is speaking. The chapter begins:

Even when watching classroom scenework, it’s pretty easy to tell which actors have equipped themselves to enter the marketplace and sustain a career. They’re the ones who can bring their strong analysis skills to the scene and know how to make choices based on what they have learned from the script, yes; but these are the ones who can also listen as well as give and take onstage. ... [A]nalysis and synthesis are essential for making choices about character and story action, but listening and reacting in the moment is every bit as important, and ultimately you must make all of these aspects work together.

The chapter goes on to describe some interesting exercises which can help improve and sharpen one’s ability to be an active listener onstage.

There are certain books intended for actors and directors which I recommend to writers as well; I have now added Actor’s Alchemy to that list. Mr. Miller’s thoughts about how to “find the gold” in a script (he mines the alchemy analogy thoroughly) I believe will be inspiring and instructive for playwrights: in order for actors to find any gold, we have to make sure we’re creating work which contains gold for them to discover.

Any actor, student or professional, who wants to improve his or her skill at unearthing every possible layer of meaning and action in a dramatic text, would do well to read Mr. Miller’s concise yet thorough book. In an audition or a rehearsal, the techniques Mr. Miller describes will give dedicated actors effective tools to focus and sharpen their performances. To borrow the author’s alchemy analogy – this book just may be the key to transform base metal into gold.

Rob Hartmann is a composer, lyricist and bookwriter on the faculty of New York University’s Graduate Musical Theater Writing Program; his works have been produced in a number of theaters across the country.

Book Review - The Tragedy of Arthur by Arthur Phillips

By Cody Daigle

It's tough to imagine a more entertaining riff on the "Shakespeare didn't write the plays" motif than "The Tragedy of Arthur."

Phillip's "Arthur" is really two books -- a lost script of William Shakespeare and a lengthy introduction to that script by its excavator (an introduction that is really a "memoir" of a con-man father and a writer son longing for his father's approval) -- framed by a clever conceit that blends literary smarts and frat boy mischief.

The Phillips writing the book (a fictional version of the real author) has uncovered a lost Shakespeare tragedy about the life of King Arthur. It was given to him by his father, who claims to have stolen the text from a rich man's library.

The problem? The father's got a long record of convictions for cons -- frauds of all sorts, including a fake crop circle incident that young Arthur takes part in.

Is the play for real? Is it another of the father's forgeries? Has young Arthur penned it himself in an attempt to give his father's life of conning some value?

The answer is really beside the point. What's lovely here is Phillips' loose and unexpectedly charming writing, which is as elastic and buoyant as anything I've read recently. While he clearly delights in the twisting conceit that frames the book, Phillips digs down deep into a child's struggle to connect to a parent he both loves and abhors. Joy and disappointment do a constant dance throughout "Arthur -- much as it does throughout Shakespeare's plays -- and it makes for some lovely reading. The writing is warm, funny, and fresh, and Phillips captures a child's struggle to figure out the truth of his parents -- are they the perfect heroes or just the imperfect fools? -- in a sharp and emotionally satisfying way.

In considering the constantly changing face of his con-man father, Phillips makes an interesting case for the truth being, in the end, irrelevant: does it matter if something is real when it makes us feel a sense of wonder? (Those Shakespeare conspiracists should take note and stop spoiling the fun.)

Things get a little less successful once you dive into the "lost" play itself. Phillips is a brave writer to tackle the notion of a lost Shakespeare, and he succeeds in parts. But too often, the writing falls a bit flat and feels so obviously un-Shakespearean that it's tough to buy into the conceit that anyone believed its authenticity.

But maybe that's the point. The play might be as false as the elder Arthur's many cons that sent him to jail, but the truth isn't what counts. What counts is the pursuit of wonder, and if it takes a forged Shakespeare (and a lifetime of learning to love a con-man) to find that wonder, who needs the truth anyway?

Friday, April 29, 2011

Album Review - The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

By Sherry Shaffer

The musical theatre adaptation of James Thurber’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty with music by Leon Carr, lyrics by Earl Shuman, and book by Joe Manchester, opened at the Player’s Theater in October, 1964. The show ran for 96 performances but nevertheless got good reviews for its short run. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is set on the 40th birthday of the title character, a constant daydreamer who is unhappy with his lot in life. Those who are familiar with the original short story and the 1947 film with Danny Kaye will see similarities with the theme and the wild fantasies he cooks up, but the storyline differs considerably. In fact, I’d consider it “inspired by” as opposed to adapted. In this version, Mitty decides to give up his boring, harried life and pursue excitement with a faded lounge singer. Like most of his ideas, it never gets past the fantasy stage and in the end he chooses to stay with his family – mainly for love of his daughter, Penninah.

Not having seen this musical, I needed a full synopsis to follow the songs on the album – and I highly recommend any first-time listener do the same. I do not consider this a flaw, however, as Mitty’s fantasies are just that, fantasies. It stands to reason that they would not follow a linear storyline. They disrupt Mitty’s life, and that comes through on the album. Songs like “Drip, Drop, Tapoketa” – tapoketa being a sound effect from the original story – and “Fan the Flame” would throw you for a complete loop if you didn’t know they were daydreams about performing life-saving surgery and watching the lounge singer, Willa de Wisp, perform in the “Folies de Mitty” as a comic French chanteuse.

The music is light and fun, as fits the general theme of the show. All the featured singers handle the material well – it’s not demanding, but they do need to be both funny and feeling in turns. Most of the songs are enjoyable but fairly standard for the time; I can’t quite put my finger on it, but you can tell it was written in 1964. It has that early mod era feeling that straddles the square fifties and the loose sixties. I won’t call it dated, as I think one can still relate to wanting to escape a hum-drum life, but it isn’t evergreen material either.

However, two songs – “Don’t Forget” and “Two Little Pussycats” – were real standouts that I went back and listed to a couple of times. “Don’t Forget” is a great comic number that showcases the constant nagging and boredom Mitty endures. Marc London as Mitty, Lorraine Serabian, as Agnes, his wife, and Susan Lehman as Mitty’s mother-in-law do a great job of weaving the nagging of the ladies through Mitty’s distraction and sorrow at growing older. Rue McClanahan and Lette Rehnolds are the “little pussycats” – women seduced by a scoundrel friend of Mitty then dropped – whose song is a jazzy lament of broken promises.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a fun album that is great for a retro evening with martinis and hors d’oeuvres. Top it off with a skinny tie or chandelier earrings and enjoy the rich fantasy life of a very average man.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Original Release Date: February 15, 2011
Label: Masterworks Broadway
Copyright: Originally Released 1964 Sony Music Entertainment

Walter Mitty: Marc London
Mother-in-law: Susan Lehman
Agnes: Lorraine Serabian
Peninnah: Christopher Norris
Willa de Wisp: Cathryn Damon
Irving Kornfeld: Charles Rydell
Fred Gorman: Eugene Roche
Harry: Rudy Tronto
Hazel: Rue McClanahan
Ruthie: Lette Rehnolds
Music by Leon Carr
Lyrics by Earl Shuman
Book by Joe Manchester
Musical Direction: Joe Stecko

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Family Shakespeare

By Byrne Harrison

If you've ever tried to watch "The Sopranos," "Sex and the City" or a similar made-for-cable show on a "family" network, then you will fully appreciate what Thomas Bowdler was trying to do when he rewrote Shakespeare's plays to make them more "acceptable."  No off-color jokes, no blasphemy (or even questioning of God and man's place in creation), no suicide for Ophelia - all of this was unacceptable to Thomas (and his father who first rewrote these plays for his children).

His idea of the perfect world was one that was pretty, inoffensive, and heavily censored.

It is no real surprise that the Bowdler family, as portrayed in David Stallings' The Family Shakespeare, is not nearly as pretty and neat as Bowdler himself  might have portrayed them.  Stallings' version of the Bowdler family shows them as damaged individuals.  Henrietta (Cotton Wright) is a fragile, child-like woman trapped in a world of fantasy.  Jane (Corey Tazmania) is bitter about her lot in life and her physical disabilities.  John (Eric C. Bailey) is promiscuous leaving a string of bastard children behind him.  And Thomas himself (Jason Emanuel) is conflicted about his desire to live away from his family and the close, and somewhat inappropriate bond he has with Henrietta.

The play centers around Henrietta and her discovery that the Shakespeare that she grew up with and that her brother will eventually publish, is not the Shakespeare that the rest of the world knows.  She becomes consumed by the "new" plays that she has discovered, and retreats further into her world of make-believe.  When her passion for storytelling leads an impressionable boy (Frankie Seratch) to leap from a window (thinking he, like The Tempest's Ariel, could fly), it forces a confrontation with Thomas and the rest of her family and makes her question all the things that she had simply accepted as given up until that point.

While not as fully explored, Stallings creates a nice counter-point to the Bowdler family with his inclusion of the servant class, especially new maid Dorcas (Alexandra Cohen-Spiegler) and her mother Mrs. Tinsley (Diánna Martin).  Though not blessed with the upbringing that the Bowdler's have, they are completely realistic about the way the world works.  While Thomas and his kin might want to hide what is unseemly, their servants acknowledge and profit by it.

The cast features some excellent performances, notably Cotton Wright's amazing work as the naive Henrietta and Corey Tazmania's powerful performance as Jane.  Eric C. Bailey does an extraordinary job as the genial, but predatory John.

Production values are strong, especially Rachel Dozier-Ezell's marvelous 18th Century costumes and Blair Mielnik's set.

There is quite a bit going for this production, however, it could use some tightening up.  Although director Antonio Miniño does a good job overall (I especially like how he handles fantasy scenes - those times when Henrietta's very active imagination brings her stories to life), there are times when the momentum of the performance flags, most notably in some of the weaker scenes in Stallings' script.

The Family Shakespeare is an interesting play, and the topics it raises, especially the insidious nature of censorship, are extremely timely.  Featuring strong performances and a thought-provoking script, MTWorks has created another production to be proud of.

And one final thought, if you are not in the habit of reading the program, make an exception this time.  David Stallings has written a marvelous note about the play which touches on his inspiration, the power of imagination and censorship, and "that moment where you put your art into the world and no longer have any control over it."  It's a nice piece of writing and a great complement to his play.

The Family Shakespeare
By David Stallings
Director: Antonio Miniño
Producer: Martha Goode
Set Designer: Blair Mielnik
Costume Designer: Rachel Dozier-Ezell
Lighting Designer: Dan Gallagher
Composer: Jessie Montgomery
Production Stage Manager: Carolynn Richer
Assistant Stage Manager: Jean Marie Hufford
Dialect Coach: David Malcolm Wells
Marketing Directors: Louise Flory, Russell Jordan, Robin Madel
Graphic Designer: Lindsay Moore
Press Representative: Katie Rosin, Kampfire PR
Producing Consultant: Michael Roderick, Small Pond Entertainment

Featuring: Eric C. Bailey (John Bowdler), Sarah Chaney (Beatrice), Alexandra Cohen-Spiegler (Dorcas), Jason Emanuel (Thomas Bowdler), Diánna Martin (Mrs. Tinsley), Frankie Seratch (Fen), Peter B. Schmitz (Marcus/Deacon Barlow), Corey Tazmania (Jane Bowdler), Cotton Wright (Henrietta Bowdler)

June Havoc Theatre
312 West 36 Street

April 13-30
Tuesdays-Thursdays 7 PM
Fridays-Saturdays 8 PM

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A Shot Away: Personal Accounts of Military Sexual Trauma

By Byrne Harrison

According to the director's notes, it is estimated that 80% of sexual assaults involving military service members go unreported*.  Some victims are scared or humiliated.  Others run up against a military bureaucracy that either demands silence or blames the victims.  Some just want to forget.

Others, like Panayiota Bertzikis, try to make things better.  In 2006 she founded the Military Rape Crisis Center.

Panayiota is one of the victims of sexual assault whose story is told in Donna Fiumano-Farley's A Shot Away: Personal Accounts of Military Sexual Trauma currently being produced by The Red Fern Theatre Company at the LABA Theatre. Based on four years worth of interviews with many military victims of sexual assaults, A Shot Away shows the devastating effects of sexual assault and the military's cavalier attitude toward it.

The central story of A Shot Away concerns Tina Priest, who was sexually assaulted, then died in Iraq. The military claims it was a suicide, but the evidence uncovered by her mother, Joy (Jackie Sanders), and sister, Dani (Tara Ricasa), tells a different story.

As Joy and Dani talk about Tina, six other characters come out and tell their stories. Young and old, male and female, of varying ethnicities, each has a heart-wrenching story of abuse.

Fiumano-Farley's script is well written, and director Melanie Moyer Williams does an outstanding job guiding the action and making use of Katherine Akiko Day's large set.  The cast is exceptionally strong, and while it is hard to single out any particular performer, both Jackie Sanders and Elizabeth Flax are superb.

A Shot Away is certainly not a feel-good play.  If anything, it should be called a feel-outrage play.  But if that outrage moves you to support an organization like the Military Rape Crisis Center or simply to find out more about sexual abuse in the military, then Fiumano-Farley has done a good job.  The fact that she has created a play to both moves and entertains means she has done a great job.

A Shot Away: Personal Accounts of Military Sexual Trauma
By Donna Fiumano-Farley
Directed by Melanie Moyer Williams
Dramaturg: Ken Hall
Scenic Designer: Katherine Akiko Day
Costume Designer: Elizabeth Barrett Groth
Sound Designer: Colin J. Whitely
Lighting Designer: Marie Yokoyama
Properties Deisgner, Viral Makreting Director: Megan Eileen Kosmoski
Production Stage Manager: Michael Aaron Jones
Technical Director: Mike Tilton
Assistan Directors/Rehearsal Stage Managers: Barbara Harrison, Christine J. Schmidt
Sound Technician: Bruno Diaz
Artistic Associate: Kel Haney
Press Representative: Katie Rosin/Kampfire PR
Production Assistants: Tazio G., Lori Singleton

Featuring: Laura Anderson (Panayiota), Dana Berger (KC), Grant Chang (Amando), Elizabeth Flax (Shirley), Jessica Myhr (Marianne), Jeff Pierce (Michael), Tara Ricasa (Danielle Priest), Jackie Sanders (Joy Priest), Rafe Terrizzi (Soldier), Ian Way (Soldier)

LABA Theatre at the 14th Street Y
344 East 14th Street

Closed April 17th

*If this number is correct, over 13,000 sexual assaults involving military personnel occurred in 2007.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Help Fund A Multimedia Work

By Byrne Harrison

Playwright Duncan Pflaster is using Kickstarter to fund his latest work, Sweeter Dreams, which will be part of this year's Planet Connections Theatre Festivity - New York City's premiere eco-friendly theatre festival.

I talked to Duncan about his latest project.

Is this your first time using Kickstarter to raise money for a show?

Yes, a few of my friends have used Kickstarter in the past, and they'd had good experiences with it, but this is my first time using it.

How is it going so far?

It's been going well, I think. We seemed to get a slow start, but now with only a few days left, people have really begun to chip in and right now we're less than $450 from our goal of $4,000.

Tell me a little bit about Sweeter Dreams.

It's a story about love and art; it's about an independent filmmaker who is torn between the two men she loves: her husband and the handsome actor who inspires her and appears in her movies. And meanwhile a television critic seems to have a grudge against her films. There are four people onstage and a large cast onscreen in multimedia filmed segments.

Is this your first time incorporating film?

Yes, it is. I wrote the first draft of this play almost 10 years ago, and the script has been languishing in a virtual drawer since I didn't have the know-how. But last year I worked as a technician on Before Icarus Fell, a multimedia puppetry piece by my friend Tony Chiroldes, and realized that with modern technology it's relatively easy to do, though still more complicated than the sort of play I'm used to.

Who is your team for the show?

My friend Christopher Cariker of Hanging Hammer Productions will be doing the filming. I've worked with him as an actor in a several of my shows, and he used me as an actor in his "Ass Masters" parody video. I've written the scripts for the film clips and fake movie trailers, and he'll be in charge of the HD filming and editing.

Kickstarter allows you to reward your investors. What sort of incentives are you offering?

For $25 or more I will write a poem on the subject and in the style of your choice.
For $150 or more you get two tickets to the show.
For $200 or more you get two tickets to the show and an invite to an exclusive after-party with the cast.
For $400 or more you can get a non-speaking cameo in one of the multimedia portions of the show.

When do you find out if your project has funded?

Well, Kickstarter keeps a running tally of how much money has been pledged - I believe we'll know right away as soon as someone pushes us over the limit. But we'll know after our deadline (Friday Apr 29th, 6:09am), if it hasn't been funded. So we have about 3 days left, and (at this moment) only $430 to go to reach our goal.

To find out more about Duncan's show or to become a sponsor, visit the Sweeter Dreams Kickstarter page.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Sad News - Wings Theatre

Sad news from John Chatterton about Wings Theatre on Christopher Street.

"I'm writing to pass on the sad news that Wings Theatre, 154 Christoper Street NYC, will be closing its doors on April 30th. Thus on Wednesday, April 27 from 2pm - 10pm they're having an open-house where they're making much of their costumes, props, set pieces, etc. available to other theaters, non-profits, etc. who can make good use of the materials. If you know of a deserving arts organization, please pass the info along."

Thursday, April 21, 2011

FringeFAIR - FringeNYC Job Fair - To Be Held Sunday, May 1st

WHAT is FringeFAIR?
FringeFAIR is a FringeNYC-specific job fair held (appropriately enough) on MAY DAY. It is an opportunity to meet FringeNYC staff and discuss the positions that are available (see below for sample job descriptions). If you are unable to attend FringeFAIR, please send an e-mail (and resume if available) to STAFFING@FringeNYC.ORG.

WHEN? Sunday, May 1, 2011: 12PM - 6PM
WHERE? 520 8th Avenue, 3rd Floor



We have two stipended positions which are available at each of our 20 venues and one at FringeCENTRAL. These positions are light very commitment from May through June, and then things pick up a bit, and then during FringeNYC, it is a “more-than-full-time-FringeNYC-is-your-life” kind of gig.

We have a regular box office staff person at each of our 20 venues. Selling tickets at FringeNYC is very simple. No experience is necessary, and long-time volunteers are encouraged to apply! Full-time Box Office Staff will attend a training session and receive a stipend of $500. We will need 20 Box Office Managers (one for each venue). The Box Office Managers will report to FringeCENTRAL each day of the festival to check out their performance envelopes and attend a daily roll-call meeting, and then head for their venue.

We are also in the process of hiring Venue Directors for each of the 20 venues. A Venue Director is in charge of the theater they are assigned to, and the 10 to 12 shows / companies we program into that venue. The Venue Director becomes the liaison between the theater owner/manager and the participants. They are also they liaison between FringeNYC staff and the participants. The participants have many questions as the festival approaches and these will go through the venue director. Venue Directing is very much like Production Manager/Theater Manager and Company Manager. It’s an amazing experience for anyone wanting to learn different aspects of theater and wanting to make theater contacts. Venue Directors receive a stipend of $800.

We need five FringeCENTRAL Managers to coordinate work schedules and make sure that there is always a Manager on duty at FringeCENTRAL, which is conveniently located and open from Noon to 8pm, every day from August 1st – 30th. Your responsibilities will include learning our ticket sales system, training volunteers, answering questions, and generally supervising the operation of our central box office, under the supervision of our overall FringeCENTRAL Manager. FringeCENTRAL Managers receive a stipend of $500.

If you are unsure as to which stipended staff position might be right for you, please come to FringeFAIR!

Watch April's exclusive FringeTALK video on FringeFAIR to learn even more

Femi Kuti and the cast of "Fela" at the New Afrika Shrine

Saturday, April 16, 2011

30 Plays in 30 Blocks - Theatre in Motion

Join the NY Neo-Futurists for a performance walk up 2nd Avenue on Sunday, April 17th. The Neos have created an audio version of Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind featuring 30 plays, each inspired by a different block in the East Village. The plays are geo-tagged on a free iPhone app, Broadcastr, which streams each play automatically as you reach each block.

Download the app here:

Meet the Neos at 3pm on the NE corner of 2nd Avenue and Houston. Bring your headphones and an iPhone.** After the walk, they'll meet at Paddy Reilly's Bar (519 2nd Avenue) for drink specials, storytelling, and TML ticket discounts.

** No iPhone? Just email for a link to download the podcast ahead of time.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Goodbye, Dear Elizabeth

By Elizabeth Claire Taylor

This is how I dealt with the death of my namesake: I didn't watch "Cleopatra." I didn't watch "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof." I didn't watch "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" Nope. Not even "Butterfield 8."

I did a photo shoot. Why?

Seeing her in live action would be too intimate – too real. For anyone, watching Elizabeth Taylor on screen is a powerful experience. But for me, as she is whom I was named after, it transcends “watching” a film. Unlike other actors whom we see on screen and feel pangs of longing for their grace, their beauty, etc – Elizabeth Taylor and I shared that direct link: our name.

Since childhood, it has always been impossible for me to sit through one of her films and not feel intense desires: adoration, yearning, jealously, love, fear, sadness. I'd like to confess that I have out grown all of that – that I can simply take her name and nothing else, but that would be a lie. I think her mega-watt bulb was too strong for me to ignore, even as a confused 8 year old, staring at the People magazine covers of her 8th marriage. Recognizing my name in bold purple print but not my face on the cover.

I'm emotional now, even as I write this, realizing that yes, she is gone and yet, you live on. You live on with a name that belonged to as USA Today claimed the “Biggest Star Ever” And yet, you – Elizabeth Claire Taylor – are not an accountant, nor a librarian like my savvy mother. No, you are an actor. A thespian. A drama queen. A diva. And maybe one day, a star.

Going to drama school at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts tore down what I had conventionally thought a 'star' was – they yelled at us Freshman year, “You were ALL the leads in your high school musicals – get over it!” Egos ripped apart, some students made it to graduation, some did not. Greek tragedy was studied – Kabuki theatre – Noh – but more importantly, we were imbued with a sense of duty to our art. The possibility of social change. “Think about it like this: you could be playing Nora in A Doll's House and in the audience that night, an abused housewife could see your performance and say, okay – that's it – I'm going to leave.”

I got chills down my spine the day I heard that, and everything changed. I realized that, yes, you could have the beauty and glamour of a star but it had to be rooted in the right concepts, concepts greater than you. Coming out of the haze of an eating disorder that had crippled my creativity and my spirit while at NYU I started telling my story – I started plus-size modeling – my world and the world around me was changing.

I had always heard of Elizabeth Taylor's commitment to AIDS research and diligent activism, but this was in the present looking back – it was only when I read a ton of biographies did I grasp how bold it was for her to speak out in the 1980's – when celebrity activism was unheard of, particularly in regards to something so taboo and shrouded in stigma as AIDS.

When I realized the through-line of my solo show Finding Elizabeth Taylor was a call to arms for young women to refute the corporate blitz on their bodies and minds, I saw the link. I recently saw solo performer Sarah Jones's work and she mentioned performing for the UN and White House councils on girls and women. Ah! The honor! “One day” I silently said to myself, “One day...”

I want to look back on my life and believe I did the best I could with the gifts I was given.

My show's growing success over the past 4 years has been encouraging - Elizabeth Taylor's name creates quite a buzz, regardless, but people love that it actually IS my real name (why would someone do this to themselves otherwise??) and I have a story to go with it. “So tell me, did you parents really name you after her?” “Did your parents do that on purpose?” “What were they thinking?!” Sorry, you have to see my show to find out!

And I knew Elizabeth was sick. I knew she had just turned 79 on February 27th – a Pisces, born in London to American ex-pat parents. I knew so much about her that her death felt like that of a family member. It was always a comfort, knowing she was alive. Like a guardian angel watching over me. Knowing that I really didn't have to live with that name all by myself. That it still belonged to someone else.

March 23rd I woke up to 5 text messages, half a dozen emails and my Facebook had exploded.

I called my mother and father first – with much tears, my mother saying back to me, “We are so glad we named you after her”. And finally, I called my friend and mentor Camryn Manheim. Sobbing to her I said, “My show – my show! What am I going to do about my show?”

“You have to address it – you have to work it in. And look at it this way – now you're free.”

Free? Free. Free from this name. Free from my life in her shadow. A diamond encrusted, brunette vixen of a shadow, but a shadow none the less. But do I ever really want to be free of it? I can't imagine my life without it. It IS my life. If you take her away, then who actually am I? We're getting existential here, I know – but this is why her death hits me so hard.

I took myself to Spa Castle that cold and rainy day, as ET would have appreciated – (she was known to be quite the frequent bather) and I sat in the lavender jacuzzi thinking, “Well, there will be all the covers of the newspapers tomorrow, then People magazine and Time next week, then the weekend long movie marathons on AMC and the 60 Minutes retrospectives – culminating with an over the top Oscar tribute next year – but's over.” It's over. Then I'm the only one. Just me.

Her legacy will always be there in my life but not as sharp, not as in focus as she has been while alive.

And make no mistake, the timing is amazing – I'll be performing Finding Elizabeth Taylor as part of the Planet Connections Theatre Festivity the last two weeks of this coming June. April was the month my director, Morgan Gould and I were going to rewrite and tweak the script. May was rehearsal and publicity. Think about it: Elizabeth could have passed the week of my show. The morning of my opening night! This was a blessing. I am blessed.

So how I said goodbye to my namesake was a photo shoot.

Over the years I have re-created famous photos of Elizabeth Taylor as publicity for my show. Instead of sitting in bed with my Netflix streaming Cleo or Cat (as I have done numerous times in my life), I sat in front of a mirror and applied false eyelashes and fake nails.

Here's "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof":

 "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?":

and the ever popular "Cleopatra":

The Daily News, The Post, and USA Today all had gorgeous, typical photos of Elizabeth for their obit story. Full color, alluring, cleavage, eyes – the seductress. I got two copies of each – one for my mother – and held them close to my chest as precious bounty. “Only 50 cents?” I said at the newsstand while buying The Post. The man smiled to me and said in a thick accent, “50 cents and Cleopatra” while handing me my change. I cried on the train heading downtown.

But when I spread them all out on my kitchen floor, the one that stood out to me was the New York Times cover. A simple black and white photo, Elizabeth with her head turned to the side – looking far away – a stunning broach on her off the shoulder dress – with the headline “A Lustrous Pinnacle of Hollywood Glamour” underneath.

I stared at that photo long and hard, wondering to myself: will I ever be as beautiful? Will I ever be as talented? Will I ever be as loved? As adored? As idolized? As demonized? If I put myself out there, will I be compared? Villainized? Insulted? Laughed at?

Then I calmed myself down and realized it was just my ego talking. I have my own path – my own story – and yes, they do converge at times – and yes, we do share the same name, much like a line of Queens – but only destiny will decide where the similarities truly begin.

So here is my interpretation of this iconic photo of Elizabeth Taylor – one that may not be as familiar as some of the others – but one that has significant meaning to me as a reminder of the sun setting on one life and rising on another.

Gene Frankel Theatre
24 Bond Street
6/15@ 6pm, 6/16@ 5pm, 6/19@ 4pm,
6/20@ 8:30pm, 6/22@ 5:30pm, 6/25@ 5pm

Tickets and info:

Thursday, April 14, 2011

"The Tallest Building in the World" About the Building of the World Trade Center Previews Tonight

It was the 1960’s – a time to reach for the sky! Luna Stage proudly presents the world premiere of The Tallest Building in the World by Matt Schatz, an entertaining and inspiring new play about the construction of the World Trade Center Towers---one of the grandest achievements in the history of engineering. The production runs for five weeks, Thursdays through Sundays, beginning on Thursday, April 14th, with the first of five preview performances. Opening night is Friday, April 22nd, and the show closes on Sunday, May 15th. All Thursday performances begin at 7:30pm, Fridays and Saturdays are at 8pm, and Sunday matinees are at 2pm through May 15th, 2011. Tickets are on sale now, $20-$30, on the Luna Stage website,, or by calling 973-395-5551. The theatre is located at 555 Valley Road, West Orange, NJ, in the heart of the Valley Arts District of Orange and West Orange.

With equal measures of ego and genius, a low level bureaucrat at The Port Authority sets out to build the world’s tallest building — an easy task, as long as he can get his architect, his engineer, the owner of the Empire State Building, and the Laws of Physics to cooperate. Based on actual events, The Tallest Building in the World examines the 1960s birth of the World Trade Center towers and the partnerships and friendships that were tested along the way.

David Bonanno leads the outstanding cast of five as “Gino”, the engineer turned bureaucrat who must manage all the temperaments and egos to get his project off the ground. Mr. Bonanno has appeared on Broadway in Light in the Piazza, directed by Bartlett Sher at Lincoln Center Theater, and recently completed a tour with Christopher Lloyd as Howard in Death of a Salesman.

Pun Bandhu portrays “Yama”, the temperamental and reluctant architect who must reinvent his craft to rise to this challenge. Mr. Bandhu received his MFA from the Yale School of Drama and was in the world premieres of AR Gurney's Far East (Williamstown Theatre Festival, directed by Daniel Sullivan) and Theresa Rebeck's The Bells (McCarter Theatre Center, directed by Emily Mann), among others. He can be seen in the upcoming film "Two Days in New York" opposite Chris Rock.

Kane Prestenback plays “Lee”, the brash young engineer whose revolutionary ideas hold the key to the project’s success or failure. Kane recently made his London Theatrical debut at The Old Vic with the TS Eliot US/UK Exchange, hosted by Kevin Spacey, in Anna Moench's Halo/Titanic.

Rounding out the cast are two ensemble players who give life to all of the opposing forces: The Port Authority, displaced Radio Row merchants, and even an iconic building or two.

Drew Dix founded a theater company in the West Village (Theater In Action) and directed the company’s operations from 1981-1991. He has performed at the North Carolina Shakespeare Festival, the 78th St. Theater Lab and various theatres on Theatre Row and does voice over work with Motion Capture Studios in Manhattan.

Nehassaiu deGannes performed with Alec Baldwin in EQUUS at Guild Hall. Additionally, she has performed in numerous productions at LaMAMA in NYC and regionally at Trinity Rep.

Playwright Matt Schatz is also a lyricist, composer, and bookwriter whose other full-length plays and musicals include Love Trapezoid, a finalist at the O’Neill National Music Theater Conference and Yale Institute for Music Theatre; Exchanges, with music by Michael Kooman; and The Baby is Blue. He is a three-time recipient of an EST/Sloan Commission and has been a finalist for the Fred Ebb Award and the Page 73 Playwriting Fellowship.

Troy Miller, who is directing the production, holds an MFA in Directing from Trinity Rep in Providence, RI, and is making his Luna Stage debut with The Tallest Building in the World. He has been a finalist for the Sir John Gielgud and Mark Okrent Fellowships. His past directing credits include Craig Lucas’ Bathroom Humor at Playwrights Horizons and – as both director and choreographer - The Bully with Vital Theatre and Together This Time:A Rock Musical for the NY International Fringe Festival.

The Tallest Building in the World is the final production of Luna Stage’s inaugural season in The Valley Arts District. The play was originally commissioned by The Ensemble Studio Theatre/Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Science and Technology Project and was read in Luna’s New Moon Play Reading Series in the fall of 2009.

Cheryl Katz, Director of Play Development at Luna Stage, says about the play: “Of course, it is not possible to even mention the words World Trade Center without evoking memories and emotions associated with the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001. In a unique way, this play addresses the tragedy that occurred ten years ago, because from the perspective of the present, audiences cannot help but see in these past events, the future."

Broadway Stars Join Annual Earth Day Benefit Concert - Broadway Recycled

AT HAND THEATRE COMPANY's annual Earth Day concert, BROADWAY RECYCLED, will take place this year on Monday, April 25th at 7pm and 9:30pm at Joe's Pub. The concert of songs cut from musicals – songs that shouldn't go to waste - benefits the Broadway Green Alliance and At Hand Theatre Company.

This year's BROADWAY RECYCLED concert will feature performances by Sean Bradford (The Lion King), Blake Daniel (Spring Awakening), Katrina Rose Dideriksen (Hairspray), Gideon Glick (Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark), Annie Golden (Xanadu), Jessica Lee Goldyn (A Chorus Line), Jeff Hiller (Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson), Natalie Joy Johnson (Legally Blonde), Adam Kantor (Rent), Andy Karl (Legally Blonde), Andrew Kober (Hair), Liz Larsen (Starmites), MK Lawson (Bloodsong of Love), Tracy McDowell (Rent), Andy Mientus (Spring Awakening), Kevin Michael Murphy (Awesome '80s Prom), Kate Pazakis (South Pacific), Vanessa Ray (Hair), Megan Reinking (People In The Picture), Kate Rockwell (Legally Blonde), Lance Rubin (Things To Ruin), A.J. Shively (La Cage Aux Folles), and Taylor Trensch (Little Miss Sunshine).

Concertgoers at BROADWAY RECYCLED can expect to hear songs cut from Hair, Side Show, Rent, Chicago, Legally Blonde, Spring Awakening, Little Shop of Horrors, The Boy from Oz, Bloodsong of Love, Guys and Dolls, Tick Tick Boom, Subways Are For Sleeping, Betty Boop, and Working!

The concert will be directed by Jennifer Ashley Tepper with musical direction by Julie McBride. Last year's performance featured the original cast of [title of show] singing the now infamous and complete version of “The Tony Award Song," un-recorded Dolly Parton songs cut from 9 to 5, an Altar Boyz number too offensive to make it out of an early workshop, and Anthony Rapp and Annaleigh Ashford singing a song they performed in the NYMF production of Feeling Electric... before it became Next to Normal.

AT HAND THEATRE COMPANY is nonprofit whose mission is to produce original work using environmentally conscious means. Past productions include the world premieres of The Body Politic by Richard Abrons and Margarett Perry at 59E59, Anton Dudley’s Letters to the End of the World, Dan Horrigan’s My AiDS, Lila Cante by Mark Snyder, Cake and Plays…But Without the Cake by Jono Hustis, Brian Dykstra’s Silence!, and One Nation Under by Andrea Lepcio, as well as the NY premiere of Trickster at the Gate by John Patrick Bray. At Hand also produces a free Staged Reading Series throughout the year, a yearly one-act festival called POP! featuring new plays that revolve around pop culture, and an annual benefit concert every Earth Day, entitled Broadway Recycled at Joe’s Pub. For more information, please visit

BROADWAY RECYCLED will be presented Monday, April 25 at 7:00pm and 9:30pm. Joe's Pub is located in The Public Theater at 425 Lafayette Street at Astor Place -- accessible from the N/R trains at 8th Street or the #6 train at Astor Place. Tickets are $30 in advance, $35 at the door (subject to availability); a limited number of $60 tickets, which include preferred table seating and a poster autographed by the cast.

For tickets call 212-967-7555 or visit

Discount Ticket Offer for "Tomorrow Morning" at the York Theatre Company

“Fresh, fun and lively!” – Associated Press

“Quietly Affecting… Recalling everything from Sondheim to Jason Robert Brown!”
– The New York Post

The York Theatre Company
619 Lexington Avenue at 54th Street

TOMORROW MORNING: Making its NYC debut at the York Theatre Company, this new musical follows a couple as they face the uncertainty of what tomorrow morning holds on the eve of two life changing events. A young couple is looking forward to spending the rest of their lives together, while, ten years later, their older selves are contemplating a life apart. Following in the footsteps of 500 Days of Summer and He's Just Not That Into You, TOMORROW MORNING is both a humorous and moving story of the complexity of contemporary relationships and will speak to people of all ages who have felt the joy and the pain of love.

Two Easy Ways to Purchase Discounted Tickets

See TOMORROW MORNING for just $47.00 (regularly $67.50)

1. Visit and mention code HHCMORNING
2. CALL (212) 935-5820 and mention code HHCMORNING

Offer not valid in conjunction with any other offer or on previously purchased tickets. Subject to availability and prior sale. All sales final. No refunds or exchanges. Offer may be revoked at any time. Blackout dates may apply. Offer is valid for performances through April 23rd, 2011.

Book Review - Stagecraft: Stanislavsky and External Acting Techniques

Review by Rob Hartmann

STAGECRAFT: Stanislavsky and External Acting Techniques. By Robert Blumenfeld. 384 pp. Limelight Editions, an imprint of Hal Leonard, 2011. $19.99 (paperback); ISBN 978-0-87910-384-2

Robert Blumenfeld’s book, Stagecraft: Stanislavsky and External Acting Techniques, is an interesting but at times confusing book which aims to cover a wide range of theatrical topics; the author clearly has a great store of theatrical knowledge, but does not always connect his thoughts as clearly as he might.

In the preface, Mr. Blumenfeld explains that this volume is a companion to his earlier work, Using the Stanislavsky System: A Practical Guide to Character Creation and Period Styles. It may be that his newest book will be clearer in purpose to those who have read the previous volume (which I have not.)

The book is divided into three sections: in the first, the author discusses subjects such as vocal technique, delivering Shakespearean prose and verse, and performing in comedy and musical theater; in the second, he touches on period acting styles from the Greek and Roman period through the mid-20th century; and in the final, shortest section, he delves briefly into discussions of post-Stanislavskian approaches to theater such as the work of Sanford Meisner and Anne Bogart, among others.

Even that brief description of the book’s contents gives a sense of the vast territory Mr. Blumenfeld is attempting to cover. He admirably tries to survey almost every element of an actor’s training: from specific exercises to train one’s voice to what to wear to rehearsal. Unfortunately, this attempt to touch on so many subjects means that some are dealt with so briefly that the reader may wonder why they are included at all. For instance, a short chapter on stage makeup, although it includes interesting references to Stanislavsky’s skill with makeup and Sarah Bernhardt’s advice on accenting one’s features, ultimately feels a bit like the author is skipping a stone across the surface of a much deeper subject. The reader might question other inclusions, such as a three-page review of basic parts of speech (definitions of nouns, verbs, adjectives and so on), when the space might have been given to other topics.

The author’s desire to compress a large amount of information into a small number of pages is keenly felt throughout the book. Mr. Blumenfeld, no doubt, has many more books in him; it’s unfortunate that he must here rush from one topic to the next. The chapter on the late 19th century and Victorian England rockets, within the space of a few paragraphs, from discussing Oscar Wilde’s accent, to the accents of U.S. Presidents Taft and Wilson, to Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, to Helen Potter, a 19th century performer who presented impressions of notable people (such as Wilde and Susan B. Anthony, among others) delivering their well-known speeches. The reader is intrigued and entertained, but also occasionally lost in the dizzying rush.

There’s no doubt that Mr. Blumenfeld has aimed high; in the book’s second section, in which he touches on the acting style of various historical periods, he sets himself an almost impossible task: what can one realistically say about the topic of acting Shakespeare in a chapter eight pages long? (Granted, the topic of dealing with Shakespeare’s work does turn up in many different sections of the book; somewhat oddly, Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar is covered in the chapter covering Greek and Roman drama.) Occasionally he presents a bullet-pointed timeline of major historical events during a given period; however, it’s not always clear what the student actor should do with the information.

Further, the student actor may be frustrated at the somewhat lopsided focus in parts such as the chapter entitled “Acting In Musical Theater and Opera.” Here, Mr. Blumenfeld really only discusses opera and operetta, with just the briefest reference to modern musical theater; one wonders what the author has to say about the challenges of acting in musicals in the Sondheim and post-Sondheim era.

At its best, however, the book is like having a long, fluid, engrossing conversation with a very well-read friend. In the midst of his discussions, Mr. Blumenfeld quotes liberally from others who have written about the theater, and directs the reader to further books for more detailed study; all of his suggestions sound intriguing. He has a very conversational tone to his prose, which is never dry. In fact, one can imagine that parts of the book capture what it must be like to talk with him; he emphasizes his passion for the art of theater throughout (with a fondness for exclamation points.)

For the average acting student, some of the more arcane – yet fascinating – bits of historical trivia may seem to be shoehorned into the book. The author discusses the 19th century manner of playing Shakespeare, criticizing the grand, melodramatic style as counter to Stanislavsky’s approach. One could question why he includes such a detailed analysis of the style when it seems to be in opposition to the overall thesis of the book. However, the reader can sense Mr. Blumenfeld’s respect and enthusiasm for theatrical history and tradition; even though it appears to be a digression from the book’s primary purpose, it’s apparent he couldn’t bear to leave it out.

Besides being the author of a number of books on theater, Mr. Blumenfeld has had a long career as an actor and dialect specialist. In this book, he draws on his own acting experience with various roles when discussing various theatrical techniques; I’m not sure if Mr. Blumenfeld has written a memoir of his career in the theater, but I would certainly be interested to read it.

Overall, Stagecraft: Stanislavsky & External Acting Techniques has the admirable intention of being a comprehensive guide for actors, but suffers from occasional lack of organization in the structure and flow of the information presented. The book, with its engaging and lively tone, could prove useful for a theater student needing a quick overview of a wide range of topics, even though the whole is not as coherent as it might be.

Rob Hartmann is on the faculty of New York University’s Graduate Musical Theater Writing Program, and has written a number of articles on theater history for the Encyclopedia Americana.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Intern Wanted - kef theatrical productions

kef theatrical productions is seeking an intern to assist the Artistic Director (Adam Fitzgerald) on the upcoming production of FIRST PRIZE. Interested candidates should be available (with computer and internet access) 1-2 days/week from now until April 25th with increased availability during tech and evenings during the run. Duties will include assisting in the day-to-day producing duties of marketing and administration, correspondence, ticketing and the organization of house management for the run. Producing Intern may also be asked to occasionally run errands, prop shop or drop postcards relating to the show and other projects of kef theatrical productions. No pay, college credit and letters of rec wherever applicable.

Interested persons should send cover letter and resume to with “PRODUCING INTERN” in the subject line. Start date ASAP, through 5/22.

By Israela Margalit
Directed by Margarett Perry

With Brian Dykstra*, Susan Ferrara*, Christopher Hirsh* and Lori Prince*

April 28 – May 21, 2011
Thurs, Fri, Sat at 8:00, Mon at 7:30
(additional performance Sunday, May 1 at 7:30)

Tickets - $18.00 visit or call 212.352.3101

The ArcLight Theatre – 152 West 71st Street, NYC
Between Broadway and Columbus (1, 2, 3, C to 72nd St.)

Production Stage Manager Jessa Nicole Pollack*
Scenic Design by David L. Arsenault
Lighting Design by Travis McHale
Costume Design by Nicole Wee
Sound Design by Colin Whitely

This world premiere production by renowned concert pianist and award-winning writer, Israela Margalit, explores a young woman’s quest for glory and fulfillment in the cutthroat world of classical music. Inspired by her real-life experience, Margalit weaves a story of colorful characters with wit, charm, passion and dynamic classical music. The production features Margalit’s piano playing from her numerous internationally acclaimed recordings.

Be A Broadway Star!

By Byrne Harrison

Last night I won my first two Tony Awards. I'm not really sure what the first one was for... I was just in the right place at the right time. The second, however, was for my performance as Cabaret's Sally Bowles in what can only be described as a very, very non-traditional casting choice.

While I may not have ended up the ultimate Broadway Star, I have my Tonys and my memories, and they can't take that away. Well, they did take away my Tonys; I had to leave them behind when Broadway Game Night was over.

Ken Davenport and the wonderful staff of Davenport Theatrical hosted an evening of board game delights for bloggers, critics, actors and Broadway fans. The board game was Be A Broadway Star!, which you may have seen featured on the Today show.

I've had an ad for Be A Broadway Star! on StageBuzz for a while now (and please feel free to click it to find out more and buy a copy), but hadn't played until last night. Simply put, I had a terrific time. The game itself is fun and easy to learn. It features opportunities to "Sing out, Louise," test your theatre knowledge, and do a dramatic monologue or two. Worried about performing in public? Don't be. None of the performances are necessary in order to play the game; they just help you increase your score.

The game (which reminded me a little of The Game of Life board game from when I was a kid) follows you as you begin your acting career, join Equity, find an agent and publicist, get cast in your first Broadway show, win a Tony (or two), and finally become a Broadway Star. Along the way you'll face challenges. You may play a body on Law & Order. You might get replaced in a show by a puppet. You may be forced to go back to acting school. But all along the way, you're picking up fans and cash.

Like any interactive game, this one is best played with a large group, especially one that likes showtunes. There were five of us on my game (I believe there were 7 games going on simultaneously), and everyone was having fun. We joked, teased, gave hints, and had an all around fun time.

Among the guests were Jesse North of Stage Rush, Linda Buchwald of Pataphysical Science, StageBuzz contributor Patrick Doyle, the lovely and talented Andrea Alton, theatre critic Peter Filichia... and a whole bunch of other people (my apologies for forgetting the names of everyone I met).

Buy the game, grab some friends, and start working on your LuPone imitation. You'll have a great time.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Interview - Laura Frankos, Author of "The Broadway Musical Quiz Book"

By Byrne Harrison

Laura Frankos writes the “Great White Way Wayback Machine” column on and is the author of several books in the fields of mystery, science fiction, and fantasy. Frankos also works as a librarian and lives in Chatsworth, CA, with her husband, author Harry Turtledove.

I had a chance to talk with Laura about her amazing new book, "The Broadway Musical Quiz Book," the hardest test I've taken since my grad school comprehensive.

I love trivia, but this made me feel like a rank amateur. Please tell me that this was the result of painstaking effort on your part, and not just a bunch of facts that you already had in your head.

Well, both parts are true. There was a lot of work involved, but my brain is stuffed with lots of seemingly useless knowledge that I often managed to squeeze into a quiz question. Or an answer. I admit that the answer section was backbreaking effort, but I hate those quiz books in which the answer section simply lists Question 9: B. So I not only listed the name, but I tried to explain some of the reasoning that went into my choices for the wrong answers. For example, if a question dealt with casting for a certain role, I made the "distractor" answers include other actors working at that time--sometimes even people who had been considered, but not hired, for that role.

I know the questions are hard. But I didn't simply want to ask "What's the longest running musical in Broadway history?" or "Who was the original El Gallo in The Fantasticks?" Instead, I'd list five famous actors and ask which one DIDN'T appear during The Fantasticks' long Off-Broadway run. I'm aware that very, very, very few people have any sort of detailed knowledge of what the Follies girls were wearing in 1907-1909, but I hope that merely by reading the possible answers--which include such costumes as taxicabs with working headlights, mosquitoes in the New Jersey marshes, and jurors at the trial of Enrico Caruso, who had pinched a girl at the zoo -- readers will be interested enough to guess, and learn something new.

I'm a historian by training, and I like to think of the Quiz Book as a kind of anecdotal history of the American musical.

How did you go about doing the research for the Quiz Book?

To quote Johnny Mercer, "I'm old-fashioned." I used libretti, cast albums, and a gigantic library of theatre books, foremost among them being the works of Gerald Bordman, Ken Mandelbaum, Richard Norton, Ethan Mordden, John Stewart, and Steven Suskin. The Internet isn't bad for fast-and-dirty research, but it's not completely trustworthy. I wish I could have included my full bibliography, but it would have run on for pages.

Sometimes a quiz would come together very easily; other times, I'd have to wade through pages, waiting for inspiration to strike. This book would not exist without the invention of Post-It notes. I had sticky notes everywhere and on everything. As I'd read, I'd jot notes. Eventually, I'd cobble them all together. And yes, I'd get distracted. For example, while writing the quiz for spring, I was looking for song titles or character names with flowers in them. But then I'd notice a bunch of song titles mentioning coffee. Nothing to do with spring, but I started making a "coffee song" list, and managed to turn that into a question for a different quiz.

Just listening to songs could often generate quiz material. That's why I describe the book as one woman's excuse for listening to show tunes and calling it work!

How did you come up with the categories?

I knew I wanted quizzes covering nearly all major songwriters, as well as some notable actors, producers and directors, and ones covering each decade from 1900 to the present. Many of the thematic quizzes -- sports, shows set in France, food -- sort of grew, like Topsy. I'd scribble notes until I had enough for a quiz. Others I developed more deliberately. For example, I knew I had to have a quiz on jukebox musicals, even though I personally don't like them. But I think it turned out to be one of the better quizzes, maybe because I sweated so much over it.

For the long quizzes on major figures, I tried to include a little biographical information, then centered each quiz on ten significant shows for each person, listed chronologically. (Yeah, Sondheim got 35 questions, including the Sweeney Todd mini-quiz, plus I stuck the shows for which he was just the lyricist in other areas... what can I say? I'm a rabid Sondhead.) I tried to balance the source material for each quiz: some questions were based on song lyrics or plot, some on production details (tryouts, design, cuts), some on the actors involved, and some on weird anecdotes. I didn't always succeed. I'm not happy with the Ahrens and Flaherty quiz since it's almost entirely based on lyrics and plot detail. On the other hand, I'm proud of the Hal Prince quiz, since nearly every question was based on a directorial decision of Prince.

The decade quizzes were tough. For the early years, I knew most readers would never have heard of some of these shows, yet I wanted to give a flavor of what early Broadway was like. So I picked some operettas, some revues, some shows with famous comic stars. For the later decades, I included significant shows by songwriters with small output (i.e., not enough to generate a full quiz; thus, The Music Man is in the 1950s quiz, but there is no Meredith Willson quiz). For some of the decades, it was easy to find enough one-hit-wonders to make a full quiz, but not for the forties! Since all the forties shows of Berlin, R&H, Weill, and Porter were covered in those songwriters' quizzes, what was left of the decade was a bit on the thin side.

There's more stuff I could have added, but the end result was 82 quizzes and over 1200 questions, with over 700 shows referenced. Things did get cut -- I had a quiz on state songs, but since a few states have not had the honor of a show tune (Washington State, Vermont -- unless you include the cut song from Lolita --, and a couple of others), I dropped it. So now there's no question derived from Whoop-Up. (What did Bruce Kimmel ask me last year, when I told him I'd just sold the book: "Is there a question on Whoop-Up?") And I keep running into more Shakespeare musicals I left out of the literature quiz, too.

What kind of feedback have you gotten from the musical theatre fans?

It's been generally favorable. I learned Seth Rudetsky featured the book on his show, which had me totally chuffed for days. Some fans have said they intend to use the book at their Tony Awards party -- a truly fun idea. The biggest complaint is the level of difficulty. On the other hand, I've got a teenage cousin, eager to star in a musical one day, who has said, "I'm not getting any of these right, but I'm learning a lot!"

That's exactly how I felt! If you had to choose, what would you say is your favorite Broadway musical and why?

That's easy: Sweeney Todd. I love Sweeney because I think it's the best constructed musical of all time. I've seen enough musicals in my life that even when I'm enjoying a production, I find myself wondering about characterizations or plot points or clunky lyrics or whatever. There's always some little thing that I might ponder, "Maybe they should have..." But Sweeney is put together so damn well, without any extra fat on it, it just works. I love the story arc, the musical clues to the mystery, those lyrics that evoke the era without wallowing in Victorian sentiment, and those vivid characters. But then, I've already admitted to being especially partial to Sondheim. If stuck on a desert island with only a dozen cast albums, I think half of them would be Sondheim. And the first would be Sweeney.

What's next for you?

I'm ready to submit the next column for "The Great White Wayback Machine" on, which (I hope) will start running on a more regular basis. I'm using leftovers from the Quiz Book, as well as material that wouldn't have fit in quiz format, and examining different aspects of musical theatre history. Current plans include a multi-part series on immigrants in musicals, and a study of cows on stage. Yes, cows. If you thought Milky White and Caroline were the only bovines on Broadway, you've got another think coming.

And I do have some ideas for short stories that I'd like to get working on--science fiction and fantasy, but with some theatrical elements in them.

The Broadway Musical Theatre Quiz Book
By Laura Frankos
Published by Applause Theatre & Cinema Books, an imprint of Hal Leonard
ISBN 978-1-4234-9275-7

Saturday, April 9, 2011


The Brick Theater, Inc. in association with
Sneaky Snake Productions
Captain Sharky's Historical Gender Equality Reactualization Burlesque Society



A continuing Nerd Burlesque performing on the Second Saturday of each month!

The long-awaited fourth episode of Nerdlesque.

Lovestruck scientists! Megalomaniacal geniuses! Hypercephalic, mildly depressed young people coming to terms with their budding sexuality!

We ache, all of us, with tragic desire. We cry out in the wilderness. We long for the shelter of a wood-paneled basement, the reassuring clatter of a twenty-sided die, the rapturous transit of the Spirograph. Do you feel it, too? Come, then. Come to where it is warm, where the Boba Fett figurine sits untouched in its packaging. This is Nerdlesque. Welcome home.



Our headliner, Magdalena Fox!


Justina Flash
Dr. Fluxxx
Sir Francis Bacon Strip
Bettie Rose
Tickled Ginger
Ginny Gems and

With your ever-gracious hosts, Makin' Whoopie and Dick E. Lovejoy

Musical Guest:

to be followed by multiple games of STRIP TABOO!

Sat April 9 @ 11pm

Only at The Brick
575 Metropolitan Avenue, Williamsburg Bklyn
(L to Lorimer, G to Metropolitan)

"The Other Place" - Wrenchingly Powerful

Review by Judd Hollander
Photos by Joan Marcus

Actress Laurie Metcalf turns in a stellar performance of a woman struggling with something neither she nor those closest to her completely understand in Sharr White's emotionally devastating and gently ironic The Other Place, winningly directed by Joe Mantello and presented by MCC at the Lucille Lortel Theatre.

52 year-old Juliana (Metcalf) is a scientist who for the past several years has been working for a drug company on its latest offering, a drug specifically tailored to target the effects of dementia, said drug having just gotten approval from the FDA. During a lecture about the potential benefits of the drug she spots, to her great annoyance, a young woman in a yellow string bikini who has just come into the lecture hall. As Juliana continues her talk, she begins making this woman the butt of several pointed jokes, only to notice that the woman is not only actively listening to the lecture, but is quickly becoming emotionally engaged in what she is saying. But before Juliana can reason out just who this person is, she loses her train of thought and needs to be escorted from the stage.

Juliana believes she is having what she calls "an episode," one related to brain cancer, as she tells her long-estranged daughter Laurel (Aya Cash) in a phone call. Juliana hasn't seen Laurel in person for over a decade. Not since Laurel ran off with Richard (John Schiappa), Juliana's doctoral student, and a man 15 years Laurel's senior. Laurel and Richard are now married and have two little girls. Juliana is also in the middle of divorcing her oncologist husband Ian (Dennis Boutsikaris) due to his having an affair with one of his colleagues. Yet she still trusts her soon-to-be-ex enough to want him to be her doctor. It seems brain cancer runs in Juliana's family and she has long been dreading the day when she learns she been stricken.

Yet is what Juliana saying, and believes with every fiber of her being, actually the truth? Did Laurel run off with Richard, or did Richard kidnap her? Is Ian actually having an affair, and why can't he ever get the chance to speak to Laurel when she calls? Plus, why does Juliana keep referring to the family beach house on Cape Cod in the present tense when she and Ian sold it years ago - or did they? For that matter, does she actually have brain cancer?

With The Other Place (a terms with several meanings) the playwright has crafted both an analytical and poignant story about the terrible fragility, vulnerability, and immense desire of the human mind. For as Juliana's condition worsens, she becomes more and more determined to fix the most important things that went wrong in her life in the time she has left, such as repairing her relationship with Laurel and Richard. However, that may not be possible, as Juliana is revealed to be a powerful, controlling, and often condescending woman who can't seem to resist getting in one verbal dig after another. Yet it is this same need for control that drives her to continue to try to put things right, even though it may be way too late, as people eventually try to tell her.

Running through the entire play is the fear of what dementia can do and how it can eventually destroy one's very sense of self. As Juliana notes in her lecture, the condition has "a 100% mortality rate," so the fear of the disease is something everyone can certainly relate to. What is not that well known and which the play powerfully points out, is that such conditions may exist for years before full-blown episodes of the disease actually occur. As demonstrated in flashback when it is shown just what happened to drive Laurel from her home years earlier. Unfortunately all too often people are too close to the truth to really understand it. A point made clear when Juliana angrily tells her doctor (Cash) "if I had dementia I would know it!"

Metcalf is brilliant as Juliana, a powerful, self-assured woman whose very identify is being stolen away. It's a testament to the actress's ability that she is able to take a not very likable character and make her an object of understanding and sympathy, rather than abject pity. Used to using acid humor and anger first as a defense, then as crutch, the few quiet moments Juliana has are both shattering and frightening to behold. Especially when she finally realizes just what is happening to her. She is also able to deliver the scientific explanations and jargon quite well.

Boutsikaris works very well in the role of Ian. Long since used to his wife's frequent outbursts of rage, he puts up with it because he loves her dearly. Through Ian, the play is able to show how those closest to someone suffering from such an illness are affected just as powerfully. Especially when all they can often do is offer support while being a verbal punching bag for the afflicted person's rage and anger, while being unable to really talk to the one person they love the most.

Cash and Schiappa both work well in multiple roles. Cash is believable both as Laurel and as Dr. Cindy Teller, a neurobiologist whom Juliana is certain is having an affair with Ian; the Teller character nicely being able to maintain a professional demeanor in the face of Juliana's accusations. Cash's best role however is a young woman going through a painful period of her own and who encounters Juliana in the final scenes. Schiappa is good as Richard and in several other roles; through he has less to do than the rest of the cast. Yet is able to give his various characters a nice air of both authority and realism.

Mantello's direction is very good, allowing the mystery and power of the play to continue to grow with each succeeding scene and making sure the various actors keep their roles totally real in connection to what is going on, with never a false note. Eugene Lee's set, a sort of backdrop perhaps indicting the human brain or the jumble the mind can become, works well.
In the end the show comes full circle in a sense, allowing the characters to move forward by understanding what has come before, while being uncertain as to what is coming next. Devastatingly powerful, with a final realization that is heartbreaking, The Other Place illustrates a desperate attempt to fix what can't be fixed and an ultimate ending about moving on, broken in some sense, but whole in others. This one is a must-see. It's also nice that the theatre has a rule that no latecomers being seated once the performance begins. Too bad about the people's cell phones that kept going off or the woman who was texting throughout the play.

The Other Place
Written by Sharr White
Directed by Joe Mantello
Scenic Design: Eugene Lee
Costume Design: Dane Laffrey
Lighting Design: Justin Townsend
Sound Design: Fitz Patton
Video & Production Design: William Cusick
Production Manager: B.D. White
Production Stage Manager: Linda Marvel
Presented by MCC

Featuring: Dennis Boutsikaris (Ian), Aya Cash (Dr. Cindy Teller, Laurel, Woman), Laurie Metcalf (Juliana), John Schiappa (Dr. Richard Sillner, Medical Technician, Nurse)

Lucille Lortel Theatre
121 Christopher Street

Tickets: 212-270-4200 or

Running time: 80 minutes (no intermission)

Closes: May 1, 2011

"Double Falsehood" - Interesting But Uneven

Review by Judd Hollander
Photos by Joan Marcus

True Shakespeare devotees will rush to see the production of Double Falsehood at Classic Stage Company for its pedigree, the play being an adaptation of a lost work of the Bard, but there is often not much more to recommend.

Double Falsehood is Lewis Theobald's 18th century adaptation of the lost work Cardenio, a play now widely believed to have been penned by William Shakespeare and John Fletcher. While perhaps not a pure Shakespearean work, per se, as there were probably several other people who adapted the play before Theobald got hold of it, as explained in the program notes, one can certainly see elements of Shakespeare's style and dialogue throughout. Indeed, the first few lines of the show are a sort of homage to Shakespeare. As for the play itself, there are problems throughout with various themes and story efforts that don't quite fit together.

As the play opens, the Duke (Philip Goodwin) is worried about his ner-do-well son Henriquez (Slate Holmgren), who seems to be more concerned about pleasures of the flesh, than learning reason. A fear which soon proves to be not without merit. For when we are first introduced to Henriquez, we see this way too self-assured fellow trying hard to woo the lovely Violante (Mackenzie Meehan). However after being rebuffed, Violante being quite aware of Henriquez's unsavory reputation, he brutally wrongs her for his own base pleasures and satisfaction.

Soon after this incident Henriquez does actually seem to fall in love, his object of desire being the beautiful Leonora (Hayley Treider). However Leonora is in love with another, that being young Julio (Clayton Apgar), to whom Lenora's father Don Bernardo (Jon Devries), has happily given his consent. Julio also happens to be a close friend of Henriquez. But when Julio takes too long in getting his own father's permission to marry, and is also ordered away to court, Don Bernardo reneges on his promise and gives Leonora to the eager and lasciviously waiting Henriquez. This sudden turn of events forces Lenora to take matters into her own hands, but not before Julio insets himself into the situation, despite Lenora's urgent warning for him not to do so.

When the dust settles, Julio has fled to the wilds of the mountains and Lenora has enclosed herself in the sanctuary of an abbey. This doesn't stop Henriquez who, enlisting the aid of his kind and true brother Roderick (Bryce Gill), concocts a scheme which would restore Lenora to him. Though when Roderick begins to get wise to what's going on, he plots a strategy to set things right, but only for those who deserve it. Appearing with a plan of her own is Violante, who has come to find Henriquez and make him acknowledge his wrongs against her.

The Bard's presence is evident is throughout the script, with elements of such works as King Lear, The Tempest, A Midsummer Night's Dream and Romeo and Juliet popping up throughout this story. Unfortunately they all combine to give the production a sort of rehashed air and diluted final project. Written late in Shakespeare's career, one might say this would belong in his "Romance" period, as the play ultimately focuses on the themes of forgiveness and moving forward. Yet the feeling of "too many hands" in the plot gives the Double Falsehood a sort of meandering air rather than any firm direction.

Characterization is also a problem, with those populating the story never quite feeling fully formed and without any real depth. Henriquez is by far the most interesting of the group, with the potential to have become one of Shakespeare's most devilish villains. His speech, masterfully delivered by Holmgren, where Henriquez convinces himself without too much trouble about the righteousness of his actions against Violante, brilliantly lays out the flaws of the character for all to see. Yet a later scene where he is supposed to undergo a catharsis doesn't ring true. Plus, the final solution to Henriquez's situation feels like someone has taken the original idea and given it a twist to make it more palatable to the audiences of the Restoration era (a situation that's also addressed in the program notes).

Treider and Meehan are decent enough in their roles, but only that and one feels the actresses' potential is hamstrung by the limitations of the text; neither able to make their characters stand out. The same holds true for Gill's take on Roderick. He's an interesting character, but too one-dimensional to really hit home. Goodwin does lend a strong air of authenticity as the Duke, and Apgar is nicely idealistic as Julio.

Brian Kulick's direction is okay, given what he has to work with, and the show moves quickly enough. Sometimes it actually moves too quickly, with not enough time given to really delve into just who these characters are and how they find themselves in certain situations. There are several transitions that are somewhat jarring, including between acts one and two, with the feeling that something, a few speeches at least, have been cut somewhere along the way,

The set by Oana Botez-Ban, basically a series of ornamental rugs draped about the stage which are moved to suggest changes in time or location, works fine. (One audience member said they reminded him of ABC Carpets. I said it was more like QVC.) Lighting by Brian H. Scott is adequate, as are Botez-Ban's costumes.

Double Falsehood is an interesting and curious piece. Yet one has to shift through a lot of upper layers to find the Shakespeare imprint and what is finally there is more probably suited to a classroom discussion than a fully-staged play.

Double Falsehood
By William Shakespeare and John Fletcher
Adapted by Lewis Theobald
Directed by Brian Kulick
Scenic and Costume Design: Oana Botez-Ban
Lighting Designer: Brian H. Scott
Original Music and Sound Design: Christian Frederickson
Assistant State Manager: Kelly Ice

With: Bryce Gill (Roderick/Citizen/Shepherd), Philip Goodwin (Duke/Camillo/Shepherd), Clayton Apgar (Julio), Hayley Treider (Leonora), Jon Devries (Don Bernardo), Slate Holmgren (Henriquez), Mackenzie Meehan (Violante)

Classic State Company
136 East 13th Street
Tickets: (866) 811-4111 or
Subway Info: Take the L train to 3rd Avenue or the W, N, R, 4,5,6 train to Union Square
Running Time: Two Hours

Closed: April 3, 2011

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Album Review - Jennifer Hudson's " I Remember Me"

By Cody Daigle

She's got this.

At least that's what Jennifer Hudson's saying in "I Got This," a smooth groove self-empowerment anthem from her sophomore effort "I Remember Me" : "And if you feel what I'm feeling / don't be scared to say it with me."

It's the attitude that pervades "I Remember Me" and while it might not be the kind of album that rattles critics into apoplexy -- you'll have to check out Adele's "21" for that -- the breezy, soulful 12-track set shows Hudson at her loose, powerful and full-throated best.

This album's fun. And this woman deserves it.

After the tragic loss of her mother and brother in 2008, the 2009 birth of her son, and her recent 80-pound weight loss thanks to Weight Watchers, Hudson's been through a lot. But "I Remember Me" isn't an album weighted down by sturm and drang. Instead, it's a bright soul-flavored R&B album that paints Hudson as a woman who's taken that walk through the dark night of the soul and emerged from it strong, powerful and hopeful.

And of course there's the voice: emotionally transparent in the big moments and achingly vulnerable in the quiet ones. Everything we loved about her devastating turn in "Dreamgirls" is on full display here.

Highlights on the album include the moody and lovely "Where You At" -- it's a great showcase for her powerhouse voice -- and the pop-flavored "Gone," which avoids being completely forgettable thanks to Hudson's emotion-rich delivery.

There's also musical playfulness at work here. There's a yummy throwback to '90s dance sounds ("Everybody Needs Love" easily would have been a CeCe Penniston hit), and a funky '70s-flecked groove called "Don't Look Down." And don't forget her fresh take on the classic "Feeling Good."

And for those who are looking for a musical answer to her rough few years, Hudson brings on the tears with 'I'm Still Here," a beautiful tribute to those that are gone but still close to our hearts. It's an emotional peak, and a recognition that tragedy breeds triumph in those who are strong enough to face it with grace.

That's definitely Jennifer Hudson, and "I Remember Me" is worthy of this phenomenal talent.