Wednesday, July 31, 2013

"The Sunshine Boys" with Danny DeVito and Judd Hirsch Coming This Fall


TICKETS ON SALE NOW!


The Sunshine Boys at the Ahmanson Theatre
Sept 24 – Nov 3, 2013
by Neil Simon
Directed by Thea Sharrock
Starring Danny DeVito and Judd Hirsch

Direct from London. Danny DeVito and Judd Hirsch together again for the first time on stage. The laughter hits the ceiling when Golden Globe and Emmy Award winner Danny DeVito joins Tony Award® and Emmy Award winner Judd Hirsch to tear it up in this outrageous new production of the Neil Simon classic.
At the pinnacle of Vaudeville, Al Lewis and Willie Clark were the undisputed Kings of Comedy before splitting unceremoniously. But when CBS attempts to re-unite the legendary double bill for a once-in-a-lifetime television special, the shtick hits the fan when old grudges begin horning in on the act.
This U.S. premiere direct from London directed by Olivier Award winner Thea Sharrock stokes the heart and the funny bone in a show about show business and the true measure of friendship.
This production of The Sunshine Boys marks the first reunion for DeVito and Hirsch since starring in the landmark television series “Taxi.”

“Theatrical Gold Dust” – London Sunday Telegraph
Danny DeVito “delivers a master class.”- London Evening Standard
 “A GOLDEN evening. Full of JOY and SUNSHINE. Pitch PERFECT.”- London Telegraph

“That’s comedy folks.” - Ben Brantley, The New York Times
“Insightful production, surprisingly delicate in its broadness. Perfect harmony.”
The New York Times
 

TICKETS ON-SALE NOW!

To order call 213.972.4400 or visit www.centertheatregroup.org/sunshineboys



Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Book Review - "Let Me Be Your Star" by Rachel Shukert

By Byrne Harrison

How much fun can you have for a $1.99?  If you pick up a copy of Rachel Shukert's "Let Me Be Your Star," the answer is quite a lot.

Shukert's book is based on her work recapping episodes of the first two seasons of "SMASH," the short-lived show about bringing a musical to Broadway.  This book isn't just a collection of those recaps, but a twisty tale of a girl who grows up loving theatre, tries her hand at acting and playwriting, and finds her way to the inner circle of theatre people she admires by making fun of them.

Which was okay.  As one of those theatre people says, "[O]f all the people who wrote about the show, you're the only one who was one of us."

"Let Me Be Your Star" is laugh-out-loud-on-the-subway-until-you-snort-then-have-to-avoid-eye-contact-with-everyone funny.  It's a must-read for anyone who enjoyed Shukert's recaps or her other writing.


To purchase your copy of "Let Me Be Your Star" at only $1.99, follow the link below.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Review - Rain Pryor's "Fried Chicken and Latkes"

By Byrne Harrison
Photos by Peter Zimmern

From the moment you walk into the Actors Temple, you know you're in for something different.  How many one-person shows have a jazz combo on stage?  How many have audience warm-ups to get them in the mood?  How many have a woman with that much hair?  And how many feature an outstanding talent like Rain Pryor?

Let's start with the obvious.  Rain Pryor has a fascinating story to tell.  She's the daughter of comedy legend Richard Pryor.  She grew up bi-racial (black and Jewish, hence the title of her show "Fried Chicken and Latkes") in Beverly Hills.  She has had experience that many of us haven't, not by a long shot, but she is able to make them absolutely relatable.

"Fried Chicken and Latkes" covers many chapters in Rain Pryor's life, and she brings to life many of the people who are important to her (her father, of course, features prominently, as do her mother, her Jewish grandmother, her black great-grandmother, her childhood friend Wanita, among others).  Pryor is great with voices, giving each character a distinct and realistic personality and sound.  Her imitation of her father is often hilarious, and at times downright heartbreaking.

Her stories are amazing, especially since they are true.  Having to deal with racial epithets (and how her mother took to task the principal who punished Rain for what she said back to her tormentor), dealing with the rich girls who wouldn't believe she was Jewish, making her first close black friend (Wanita), being raised by her mother while her father dealt with his issues with drugs and womanizing--all of this could have led Ms. Pryor down the path that many children of celebrities travel.  Instead, she grew to be an amazingly centered and self-aware person.  And created an entertaining show out of those experiences.

In addition to being a talented actor, Pryor is an excellent singer, as she demonstrates several times throughout the show.  Starting with a big number about being black and Jewish, sung to the tune of "Cabaret," to a cheerleading number, to a lovely version of "His Eye is on the Sparrow," Pryor shows off her vocal chops, including a version of "God Bless the Child" in the style of different singers.

I may not have known what to expect from "Fried Chicken and Latkes," but what I got was a very entertaining show, some terrific insight into Richard and Rain Pryor's lives, and a deep appreciation for just how talented Ms. Pryor is.  I understand the show will be coming back in the fall (it is currently on hiatus after a year-long run).  As soon as it comes back, I suggest you get tickets.


"Fried Chicken and Latkes"
By Rain Pryor

Music Direction: Isamu McGregor
Stage Management: Jonathan Santos
Bassist: Jerry Devore
Percussionist: Joel E. Mateo

Monday, July 22, 2013

Review - "The Love Song of Sidney J. Stein"

By Byrne Harrison
Photos by Mary Ellen Nelligar

Sidney Stein (Jim Pillmeier), the title character in Brian C. Petti's "The Love Song of Sidney J. Stein," is a man with a mission.  After a youth spent "in the life," Sidney is spending his adulthood working at a shelter for street kids, many of them LGBT youth who, like him, have been forced to sell their bodies to live.

Sidney's is a quiet existence, his meager salary supplemented by an inheritance from his mother.  He doesn't even seem to realize just how lonely he is until a teenaged hustler named Dennis (Dalton Gray) comes into his life.

Dennis is handsome and used to charming whatever he wants from men.  Sidney is wise to his tricks, having used them on men himself when he was Dennis' age.  As he and Dennis get to know each other at the shelter, they begin a cat and mouse game, each wanting something from the other --Dennis wanting money and drugs, Sidney wanting an escape for Dennis from the dangerous road he's walking.

Sidney becomes a surrogate parent to Dennis, eventually inviting him to stay with him at his home.  Under Sidney's guidance, Dennis seems earnestly to want to leave the street behind him.  And despite numerous disappointments and episodes of backsliding, Sidney desperately wants to believe that he will save Dennis, and that he will redeem his life the same way Sidney did.

But redemption, when it comes, has a very high price.

There is a lot to like in this production, starting with the cast.  Pillmeier's Sidney is in many ways fragile and damaged, and uses an arch, campy facade to keep the world at arm's length.  Gray's Dennis has a feral charm, and is a master at playing his cards close to the vest.  Since Petti has scenes which show a slightly older, more mature Dennis and a young, hustler version of Sidney, both actors have a chance to stretch a little and show completely different versions of their characters.

Petti's play is interesting in that it is comprised of a series of short, not always sequential scenes.  They jump through time to give insights into the characters and the action in "present time."  It's an unusual technique, but one that works well.

Unfortunately, these short scenes also serve to give the play a somewhat rushed feel, one that is exacerbated on several occasions by Pillmeier's delivery.  At times Sidney's dialogue comes so quickly, that it seems to be somewhat independent of the scene.  It feels that it's less about responding to what has been said, and more about getting the line out as quickly as possible (one particular scene had Sidney on the phone chatting with his sister with pauses so short that she would have been unlikely to have said more than a word or two).

His speedy delivery, however, works well when Sidney is highly emotional--a scene when Sidney is hysterical after a particularly monumental betrayal by Dennis is an excellent example.  During that scene, Pillmeier speaks so quickly that he is forced to take gulping breaths; it is perfect for what Sidney is going through, a moment of panic so absolute that he could barely remember to breathe.

Made up, as it is, of a number of short, not always chronologically sequential scenes, the play has a number of scene and costume changes.  These are not always smooth, and often take longer than they need to.  Both the awkward scene changes and the generally rushed pacing seems to indicate a certain hesitancy on the part of Brian Petti as director of the production.  His writing is solid, but this piece feels like it needs a director with a surer touch.

Part of this may simply due to the vagaries of being in a festival, and I would welcome the chance to see Petti direct again in the future, or to see a non-festival production of "The Love Song of Sidney J. Stein."


"The Love Song of Sidney J. Stein"
Written and directed by Brian C. Petti
Featuring: Jim Pillmeier and Dalton Gray

Produced as part of All Out Arts' Fresh Fruit Festival

Broadway Meows: A Concert for the Humane Society of New York

The FIFTH Annual BROADWAY MEOWS

a Concert for the HUMANE SOCIETY OF NEW YORK

Featuring the songs of SETH BISEN-HERSH

starring:
KARMINE ALERS (Rent)
JUSTIN BARNETTE (Encores! Fiorello!)
SETH BISEN-HERSH
BRIAN CHILDERS (Danny and Sylvia)
DANA COSTELLO (Jekyll & Hyde)
BRANDON J. ELLIS (Once)
KIMBERLY FAYE GREENBERG (One Night with Fanny Brice)
AMY GRIFFIN (How the Grinch Stole Christmas)
TERESA HUI
LARA JANINE (Rock of Ages)
AARON KELLER
KAITLIN KIYAN (Hair)
MIRIAM KUSHEL
MELISSA MITCHELL (Giant)
RORI NOGEE (Showgirls! the Musical)
CASSIE OKENKA (Bonnie and Clyde)
DAVID PERLMAN (Baby It's You)
ADAM SHAPIRO (2013 MAC Award Winner)
STACY SHIRK (Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog)
HALEY SWINDAL (Jekyll & Hyde)
ELISA WINTER (Sweeney Todd)

MONDAY, JULY 22nd AT 7PM

$15 Cover/ 2 Drink Minimum (cash only)
Don't Tell Mama, 343 W. 46th St.
Call for reservations after 4: 212-757-0788 or online at donttellmamanyc.com

Produced by Dennis Fowler
Directed by Melissa Eli
Stage Manager: Heather Ber

The 5th Annual Broadway Meows Concert for the Humane Society of New York will be presented at Don't Tell Mama, one night only, Monday, July 22nd at 7pm. The evening will be comprised of songs by composer/ lyricist Seth Bisen-Hersh. Bisen-Hersh will be joined on stage by a phenomenal cast including Karmine Alers (Rent), Justin Barnette (Encores! Fiorello!), Jaime Cepero (Smash), Brian Childers (Danny and Sylvia), Dana Costello (Jekyll & Hyde), Brandon J. Ellis (Once), Kimberly Faye Greenberg (One Night with Fanny Brice), Amy Griffin (How the Grinch Stole Christmas), Teresa Hui, Lara Janine (Rock of Ages), Aaron Keller, Kaitlin Kiyan (Hair), Miriam Kushel, Melissa Mitchell (Giant), Rori Nogee (Showgirls! the Musical), Cassie Okenka (Bonnie and Clyde), David Perlman (Baby, It's You), Adam Shapiro (2013 MAC Award Winner), Stacy Shirk (Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog), Haley Swindal (Jekyll & Hyde) and Elisa Winter (Sweeney Todd). The concert will be produced by Dennis Fowler, directed by Melissa Meli, stage managed by Heather Ber.

The audience can expect to hear 20 songs from Bisen-Hersh's catalog featuring songs from Love Quirks, More to Love, Stanley's Party, Malka, If Adele Can Do It, So Can I, The Final Frontier and more. Songs will include "Um, Yeah...", "Dear Facebook", "It's Not You, It's Me", "Can You Believe I Was Ever Sad We Broke Up?" and the popular youtube hit, "Hey!".

All the proceeds for the evening will go to the Humane Society of New York, which has "cared for animals in need when illness, injury or homelessness strikes" for over 100 years. The Humane Society saved Bisen-Hersh's cat, Smee's, life in 2009, and this annual benefit is his way of saying thanks.

For more information, please click:

http://www.sethbh.com/broadwaymeows
http://www.humanesocietyny.org/
http://www.sethbh.com/see



Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Book Review - "William Shakespeare's Star Wars"

By Byrne Harrison

"O help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi, help.  Thou art mine only hope."

George Lucas meets the Bard in Ian Doescher's recently released "William Shakespeare's Star Wars."  Having already read (and seen a production of) Adam Bertocci's "Two Gentlemen of Lebowski," and being both a Shakespeare and "Star Wars" fan, I'll admit to being fairly predisposed to like this book.

The "Star Wars" fan in me loved this.  Doescher seems to be having a great time working "Star Wars" dialogue into iambic pentameter, and the fact that he manages to have R2-D2's beeps and whistles and Chewbacca's growls and roars keep in meter (not to mention making R2's noises rhyme), shows both a love of "Star Wars" and a real facility for Shakespeare's language.  He made subtle (and not so subtle) references about whether Han or Greedo shot first, the fact that Luke and Leia are siblings, and all the clever little in-jokes that a "Star Wars" fan would love.

The Shakespeare fan in me liked it.  The iambic pentameter was great.  I especially enjoyed reading some of the dialogue out loud (I would love to get some friends together and do a staged reading of this at a party).  However, the play made it very obvious just how much the movie relied on special effects, and how hard it would be to actually stage this.  Doescher uses a chorus to describe scene changes and some of the more difficult special effects.  There is a lot of chorus; it becomes distracting.

But really, this isn't meant to be performed; it is meant to be read, and as such it is a success.  And I will admit that the director in me really wants to give it a shot just to see what it will take to make it work on stage.

But that will have to wait for another day.

Doescher also tends to shoehorn familiar passages from Shakespeare's plays into the story (tons of reworked lines from Hamlet, Macbeth, Henry V, etc.).  On the one hand, it shows his knowledge of Shakespeare's work.  On the other, it just gets a little annoying.  I know what Shakespeare wrote; I want to see what Doescher can do without relying on the Bard's own words.

For now, I will say this is a must-read for any "Star Wars" fans who have an appreciation for Shakespeare.  And I would recommend it and "Two Gentlemen of Lebowski" for any Shakespeare fans as well.  It is a great read, a clever concept, and the epic story really lends itself to this style of writing.


To purchase "William Shakespeare's Star Wars" for Kindle, click the link below.




To purchase the paperback version, click this link.

News Roundup - Jim Brochu, Taylor Lautner, and Alex Timbers

Interview with Alex Timbers of Love's Labours Lost.

Pilobolus review.

Review of Jim Brochu's latest one-man show, coming to NYC this September.

Taylor Lautner hangs out backstage with the Blue Man Group.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

News Roundup - What's Your Dream Role, Things New Yorkers Do, Tomato Fight

Tomato Fight

Which role in a Broadway revival would you most like to play?  Some of Broadway's favorite actors give their answers.

35 things most New Yorkers do.

There's lots going on this weekend, but Saturday you can throw tomatoes at total strangers.

Interview with Capital Fringe Executive Director, Julianne Brienza.

Monday, July 15, 2013

News Roundup - Cabaret Review, The Civil War, Kushner on Musicals

Mid-year cabaret review.

Theatreworks USA's The Civil War opens today.

Arab-Hebrew Theatre Company comes to New York.

Tony Kushner and the Off-Broadway musical.

Project Shaw Reading of "On the Rocks" Monday, July 22nd at The Players

The next Project Shaw staged reading will be Monday, July 22nd at 7 PM at The Players on Gramercy Park.



ON THE ROCKS
A Political Comedy
Written by George Bernard Shaw in 1933
A comedy cocktail about money, greed, politics and sex. This viciously witty comedy tackles, head-first, the unthinkable concept of a country in the midst of an economic depression. Unemployment, health care, human rights…you name it. It’s a riotous cast of character, assembled as only possible in the always-surprising imagination of G.B.S.

Our Thrilling Cast:
Sir Arthur Chavender, the Prime Minister … Mr. Jonathan Hadary
Hilda Hanways, the PM’s secretary …   Ms. Alison Cimmet
Sir Broadfoot Basham, The Chief  Commissioner of Police … Mr. Merwin Goldsmith
Miss Flavia Chavender, daughter of Sir Arthur …  Ms. Andrea Lynn Green
Lady Chavender, wife of Sir Arthur … Ms. Karen Ziemba
David Chavender, son of Sir Arthur … Mr. Michael McDonald
Mayor Tom Humphries … Mr. Michael Selkirk
Aloysia Brollikins ... Ms. Justine Salata
Viscount Barking …  Mr. A.J. Shively
Alderman Blee …  Mr. Ron McClary
Mr. Hipney …  Mr. George S. Irving
The Lady (and also the Narrator) … Ms. Diane Stilwell Weinberg
Sir Dexter Rightside, Foreign secretary … Mr. Jack Gilpin
Admiral Sir Bemrose Hotspot, First Lord of the Admiralty … Mr. Robert Stanton
Mr. Glenmorison, Pres of Board of Trade… Mr. Matthew Sullivan
Sir Jafna Pandranath, The Wealthiest Man in England … Mr. James Rana
The Duke of Domesday, Aristrocrat …  Mr. Marc Vietor


For tickets, click here.

Review - "Birthright"

By Byrne Harrison

I had planned to review David Lawson's "Birthright," about his experience in the Birthright "heritage tour" of Israel, along with the three one-man shows that I reviewed yesterday.

Upon reflection however, "Birthright" doesn't really fit with those plays.  "Birthright" isn't a play so much as it is an autobiographical monologue, and as such has a different style and texture than the other three shows.  Lawson isn't playing anyone other than himself.  He isn't recreating his experiences in the Birthright program so the audience can experience them with him, he's reflecting on them and bringing his thoughts and observations to the audience.

In Birthright, he explores his innate cynicism when he comes up against the propaganda machine that is the Birthright program, a mix of Zionism and vacation that is the 'must-do' trip for young American Jews.  As he recounts his experiences, he explores the layers and nuances of the effect the program had upon him.  The glib cynicism that seems to be part of his generation wears away as he is forced to deal with his ambivalence toward his identity, the frustration he feels with aspects of the Birthright program, and his inability to connect with things that others in the program seem to accept as given.

Lawson has a natural charm and humor, and having seen him as an actor in both regular plays and in auto-biographical monologues, I have to say that he shines in his monologues (Birthright and VCR Love are the two I've seen), which isn't an easy thing to do.  His insights hold an audience's attention, and are both thoughtful and entertaining.  I look forward to seeing more of this work from Lawson in the future.

On other note about "Birthright."  It was produced in a performance space in Crown Heights called LaunchPad.  It is a terrific small space, really perfect for this sort of show.  I hope to see more work presented there.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Review - "Buyer and Cellar," "Ann," and "Son of a Hutch"

By Byrne Harrison

I've mentioned before that I tend to be a little skittish at seeing one-man shows.  They really need to have an exceptionally capable and compelling actor, a strong director (or a self-aware actor who can distance himself from the material and the performance enough to know what works and what doesn't), and a story that the audience will find entertaining.

A show doesn't have to have all three of these to work, but when it does, it can be fantastic.

A great example of a play with all three elements is the delightfully entertaining "Buyer & Cellar" featuring Michael Urie.

Photo by
Sandra Coudert
Written by Jonathan Tolins, "Buyer & Cellar" was inspired by a section of Barbra Streisand's design book, "My Passion for Design," in which Streisand describes a "mall" in the basement of a barn on her estate that has been made to look like a street of quaint shops, each dedicated to one of her various collections. There is a doll shop, a gift shop, an antique clothing boutique, even a frozen yogurt stand.

Tolins, taking that concept to it's absurd extreme, imagines an out-of-work actor hired by Streisand to be a salesman in this mall.  One lonely salesman serving one very important customer; both dealing with different kinds of isolation, and finding some common ground because of it.

The result is a funny and touching fantasy that pokes gentle fun at Streisand and the legion of people who adore her, or at least her public persona.  There are also a number of insights about the cannibalistic nature of celebrity (people being so desperate for a piece of one of their idols that they would consume them given the chance), the pain inflicted by family, and the long-term damage to the psyche these things can cause.

Michael Urie is outstanding as Alex, the actor who, despite have been fired from Disney for threatening a child with a churro, finds himself in Barbra's basement.  As Alex tells his story, he brings to life the other characters - his boyfriend, Streisand, James Brolin, Streisand's assistant, to name a few.  His version of Streisand is remarkable in that it is subtly painted.  Urie doesn't do an impression, but uses a few details - a change of voice, certain languid movements - that call to mind Streisand without being too obvious.

Stephen Brackett ably directs the show, and Andrew Boyce's set and Alex Koch's projection design create an extraordinarily nimble playing area for Urie to work with.

The only thing that could have made "Buyer & Cellar" any better is if it had been based on a real story.

-------------------------------------------

Having grown up in Texas during the time of Ann Richards' governorship, I've always admired the white-haired liberal firebrand.  Holland Taylor's recent production of "Ann" on Broadway brought back a flood of good memories about the former governor.  And while the play is somewhat uneven, Holland Taylor gives an amazing performance, solidly recreating a larger-than-life woman, who nevertheless is thoroughly real and believable.

"Ann" starts with the former governor giving the commencement speech at a Texas university, talking about her life and experiences in government.  This segues into a day in the life of the governor as she wrestles with a variety of issues (including a thorny, last-minute death row decision).  It returns to Richards giving her speech and reflecting on her later years and death (which threw me out of the play a little since I began to wonder if this was meant to be something like the movie "Defending Your Life").

Richards' stories are interesting and often very funny, and Taylor excels showing her puckish charm,  fierce intelligence and strength (not to mention nailing the Texas drawl and swagger).  The play is a loving tribute to Ann Richards, and one that is entertaining, but it left me wanting more.  She was at her best interacting with people; Taylor's play has some of that, but there is only so much a one-person show can do.

-------------------------------------------

Joe Hutcheson's "Son of a Hutch" explores the issue of identity.  There have been a number of plays by gay men that have dealt with what it means to be a man, or to live up to their families' or societies' expectations.  Hutcheson's play is a variation on that theme.  What does it mean to be Hutch (the nickname the men in his family all eventually inherit)?

Photo by
Jennifer Beard
Hutcheson traces his journey from awkward childhood (acting out scenes from "Dynasty" with his brother), to his first inklings of his sexuality (repeated viewings of the locker room scene from "Wildcats") to coming out to his parents (both parents surprised him with their reactions).  Along the way he explores the relationships with the other Hutches in his life - his father, his uncle and his brother.

At different points in his life, he has different understanding of what it means to be Hutch, and how best to become that man.

Hutcheson is an engaging performer with a real talent for bringing to life the characters he portrays (watching him seamlessly transform into his brother, mother, father, uncle and others is a joy).  But watching his journey and search for his place in his family and world is the true delight.  "Son of a Hutch" is compelling, funny and touching.


For more information about these shows and upcoming performances ("Ann" closed on June 30th, but "Buyer & Cellar" and "Son of a Hutch" are still running), visit their websites.

"Buyer & Cellar"

"Ann"

"Son of a Hutch"

Cory Monteith Dead at 31

By Byrne Harrison

Cory Monteith, who shot to fame as Finn on Fox's musical high school series Glee, passed away yesterday in Vancouver.  He was found in his hotel room after missing a Saturday check out.

USA Today reports that his publicist, Melissa Kates, has confirmed his death, saying, "We are so saddened to confirm that the reports on the death of Cory Monteith are accurate. We are in shock and mourning this tragic loss."

The coroner will determine a cause of death, but the actor has been dealing with substance abuse issues for many years, most recently checking himself into treatment center in March.

Tributes are showing up on various social media sites and his friends and fans process the news.




Saturday, July 13, 2013

News Roundup - Wallace Shawn, Twelfth Night Beach Blanket Bingo, Penn and Teller and Pilobolus

Twelfth Night as a '60s beach party?

Mayoral forum on arts and culture coming up on July 27th.  Find out what the candidates think.

Pilobolus Dance Theater collaborates with Penn and Teller.

John Astin as Gomez Addams
Photo call at Wallace Shawn's The Designated Mourner.

An Evening With John Astin at SUNY Delhi.

A look at Staten Island's Harbor Lights Theater.

Jonathan Breit vs. cranky old man.

Cheyenne Jackson's new music video.

Friday, July 12, 2013

News Roundup - Mermaids, Peter Pan, and RENT in paradise


Are these the top ten stage musicals?

Bill O'Reilly and Jesse Watters mock participants of Coney Island Mermaid Parade.

High school production of The Laramie Project cancelled by principal.

20th Century Fox to bring as many as 12 of their films to stage.

A night out with the girls and Imelda Marcos.

Three Broadway shows to add autism-friendly performances.

Profile of Barbara Zinn Krieger of the Vineyard Theatre and Making Books Sing.

More Peter Pan coming to New York?

Dublin theatre festival to mark the 60th anniversary of Waiting for Godot with a new production.

I'm betting in this version they don't sing "Hasa Diga Eebowai."

You can see RENT in Rochester, NY.  Or better yet, Maui.

This is a lot of money to raise on Kickstarter, but what an amazing cast he has lined up if it happens.

Playwright Charlie Louis Russell, Jr. dies at 81.  Wrote Five on the Black Hand Side.

Henry Hodges on being a child actor.

TONY offering discount to New York Musical Theatre Festival.

"Colin Quinn Unconstitutional" Extends Again


Colin Quinn Unconstitutional, a new comedy written by and starring Colin Quinn, has been extended at The Cherry Lane Theatre (38 Commerce Street) and the show will now close on August 8th. (The show was previously on sale through July 23). Colin Quinn Unconstitutional, is presented by Brillstein Entertainment Partners and Mike Lavoie.

On May 25th, 1787, fifty-five delegates in wigs and tights sat down to create a country from scratch. In 2013, Colin Quinn offers his unique comedic perspective on our national character. From predator drones to the Kardashians, he pulls no punches in asking if this is what the founding fathers planned.

Directed by Rebecca A. Trent, Colin Quinn Unconstitutional is also produced by Brian Stern, with set design by James Fauvell, costume design by Alexis Forte, and lighting design by Sarah Lurie.

The New Yorker calls Colin Quinn Unconstitutional “Entertaining and a little shocking” while The New York Daily News applauds “Fast, furious and funny! In Quinn we trust.” Time Out New York give the show a critics’ pick and The Hollywood Reporter cheers “Hilarious! Wonderfully riotous.”

After the New York run of the show is completed, Colin Quinn Unconstitutional will embark on a tour in the fall, travelling to the original 13 colonies, in the sprit of the Constitution.

Colin Quinn Unconstitutional marks Colin’s return to the New York stage after his acclaimed Broadway engagement of Long Story Short, for which he was nominated for the Drama Desk Award as well as an Emmy Award for the HBO broadcast of the play.

Tickets for Colin Quinn Unconstitutional at The Cherry Lane Theatre are $46 with premium seating available. The schedule for the additional performances of Colin Quinn Unconstitutional are:

Monday July 29, 8PM
Tuesday July 30, 8PM
Wednesday July 31, DARK
Thursday August 1, 8PM
Friday August 2, 8PM
Saturday August 3 5PM & 8PM
Sunday August 4 3PM & 5:30PM
Monday August 5, 8PM
Tuesday August 6, 8PM
Wednesday August 7, 8PM
Thursday August 8, 8PM

 Tickets can be purchased by visiting www.cherrylanetheatre.org or calling (212) 352-3101. For more information, please visit: www.ColinQuinnUnconstitutional.com.


Taryn Sacramone Steps Down as Executive Director of Astoria Performing Arts Center


The Astoria Performing Arts Center (APAC) is bittersweet to announce that Executive Director Taryn Sacramone will be stepping down from her position to join the Queens Theatre (QT) as Managing Director. APAC’s Board of Directors will be immediately commencing a search to find her replacement. APAC Artistic Director, Tom Wojtunik is looking forward to announcing the 2013-2014 in the upcoming weeks.

Sacramone became Executive Director at APAC in August 2005. In Sacramone’s tenure at APAC, the budget increased fourfold, and its programming expanded to include an after-school playwriting program for children and a performance program for senior citizens. The company established a home theater at the Good Shepherd United Methodist Church and set up its offices at Kaufman Astoria Studios. In 2012, USA Today named APAC a “Top Queens Attraction.” The New York Times praised APAC for being “"adventurous"” and "“talented"” and Time Out New York described the company as an “"inventive programmer"” on its list of “50 Things to Love about NYC Theater.” These achievements at APAC were recognized by leaders in the community. In May 2013, Sacramone was honored by Senator Michael Gianaris at the Women of Distinction Honors Ceremony in Albany, New York. In the same month, Sacramone was included as an honoree at the 11th Annual Queens Top Women in Business Awards, hosted by the Queens Courier. In 2012, Sacramone was recognized with an Artistic Achievement Award by Assembly Member Aravella Simotas and Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney as part of Women’s History Month.

Shelly Felder, the President of APAC’s Board of Directors said, "I know I represent the full board when I say that we are thrilled for Taryn and this wonderful opportunity. We know she will do an incredible job for the Queens Theatre. We know that because she’s done an incredible job for APAC. It is that great work that leaves us in a position of strength, with an excellent staff and a committed board of directors. We wish Taryn the very best and look forward to the next great chapter in APAC’s life.”"

Sacramone said, "My experience at APAC has been extraordinary-more challenging and rewarding than I could have anticipated when I became APAC's Executive Director eight years ago. I've had the opportunity to work with talented and generous people and have learned from every one of them. Though I'm excited to move to this new position at the Queens Theatre, I will also remain in the APAC family - as an audience member and supporter." 



ASTORIA PERFORMING ARTS CENTER (APAC), a not-for-profit organization, was founded in 2001 with a mission to bring high quality theater to Astoria, Queens, and to support local youth and senior citizens. On its mainstage, APAC produces revivals and premieres of plays and musicals. APAC also develops new works through readings and workshops. Its flexible theater space changes with each production. To date, APAC has received 21 New York Innovative Theatre Award nominations and 4 wins (Children of Eden & Ragtime), as well as an Off-Off Broadway Theatre Review Award for Outstanding Production of a Musical (Is There Life After High School?). In 2012, the New York Innovative Theatre Foundation honored APAC with its Caffe Cino Fellowship. APAC offers free annual community programs, including a summer performance camp for children ages 8-13, an after school playwriting program for middle school students, and a performance program for Queens residents over the age of 60. These programs deepen ties with the community, and develop new audiences for theater. Diverse programming and consistent quality attracts a loyal and growing audience that reflects the diversity of Western Queens and also draws from the other boroughs and beyond. 

In addition to its theater space within the Good Shepherd United Methodist Church, APAC’s offices are located within the historic Kaufman Astoria Studios. For more information on APAC, visit www.apacny.org

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Ensemblist Podcast Episode 1 - Origin Story

By Byrne Harrison
Photo by Kevin Thomas Garcia

I knew as soon as I heard the cute theme song by The Skivvies that I was going to like this show.

"The Ensemblist" is a podcast about the often-overlooked part of a Broadway show - the chorus members, the gypsies, the ensemble.  This podcast will show what their lives are like onstage and off.

In this first episode, hosts Mo Brady and Nikka Graff Lanzarone introduce the mission of "The Ensemblist" and talk about some upcoming episodes.  They both are engaging and sound like they will make amazing hosts.

Episode 2 is already up, and explores partnering: what it takes to create that movement, what it takes to dance those steps, and all the little stuff in between.  Their guests include: Stephanie Gibson, Peter Nelson, Mark Stuart, Cameron Adams, and Marty Lawson.

"The Ensemblist" is available through iTunes.


James Comtois Steps Down as Co-Artistic Director of Nosedive Productions

By Byrne Harrison

It has been announced that James Comtois has stepped down as Co-Artistic Director and Resident Playwright of the indie theatre company Nosedive Productions.

"This wasn't an easy decision, but the time has come for me to move on," said Comtois, who is leaving Nosedive after forming the company 13 years ago with fellow Co-Artistic Director Pete Boisvert. "Doing Nosedive has been an absolute blast, and is something I am and will always be immensely proud of."

"I was definitely saddened to hear James' decision, but I can see that it is the right one for him," Boisvert added. "I want to thank James for his tireless dedication to Nosedive over the years. In addition to being an incredibly talented writer, he has been an amazing collaborator and a true friend, and I would not trade the many years we have worked side by side for anything."

Boisvert, Company Manager Stephanie Cox-Williams and Artistic Associate Patrick Shearer plan to continue producing their horror anthology series, The Blood Brothers Present...

Meanwhile, Comtois plans to form a new creative venture to be announced at a later date.

To celebrate the life of the company under Mr. Comtois’ and Mr. Boisvert’s joint direction, Nosedive plans to throw a gala in September that will be free and open to the public. Details to arrive soon. 

I have been a fan of Nosedive for many years, and am always pleased to see the amazingly creative work that the company has fostered.  That said, I find that I'm excited to see what happens next, both for Nosedive, which has clearly been left in remarkably capable hands, and with Comtois himself.  A talented writer, I imagine there is something grand coming up for him.

In the meantime, I look forward to seeing the Nosedive family at their gala in September.

News Roundup - Edward Albee, Julie Halston and Billy Crystal

Out of prison, into a theatre.

Edward Albee wins 2013 Chicago Tribune Literary Prize.

Julie Halston to perform at Birdland August 12th and 19th.

Billy Crystal helps out his hometown.

Off-Broadway for beginners.

Jack√©e Harry to will join cast of NEWSical The Musical.

I kind of wish I could see this.  Any musical with a song called "Fat People Choreography" piques my interest.

Pennsylvania's People's Light and Theatre to name Mainstage Theatre for Leonard C. Haas.

Lea Salonga talks about her recent work in "4Starts" in Tokyo.

Neil Patrick Harris joins American Theatre Wing's Advisory Committee.

Chita Rivera to celebrate her 80th birthday with a show.

Brian C. Petti's "The Love Song of Sidney J. Stein" Opens Tomorrow at the Fresh Fruit Festival


The Fresh Fruit Festival presents Brian C. Petti's The Love Song of Sidney J. Stein, a gay relationship play for the new millennium, at the The Wild Project, 195 East 3rd Street on the Lower East Side (bet. Aves. A & B, F train to Second Ave.) A former male prostitute tries to guide a troubled young streetwalker in this comedy/drama about trust, honesty, and second chances.

Show times are: Friday, July 12th at 9pm, Saturday, July 13th at 4:30pm, Sunday, July 14th at 7:30pm.

Tickets may be purchased for $18.00 online at https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/cal/527.

Runtime approx. 80 minutes.

Further information available at http://pettiplays.wikispaces.com/The+Love+Song+of+Sidney+J.+Stein.



Interview - Rajendra Ramoon Maharaj of "The Little Rock Nine Project"

By Byrne Harrison

After reading about the upcoming Little Rock Nine Project, I spoke with Red Shirt Entertainment's Producing Artistic Director Rajendra Ramoon Maharaj to find out more.


What was the genesis of The Little Rock Nine Project?

I have a relationship with the Little Rock Nine.  I wrote a play called The Little Rock Nine which tells the story of their first year integrating in Little Rock Central High School.  I wanted to create a work that told the story of the Little Rock Nine crisis and its legacy on children today.

Tell me a little about what the audience can expect to see at this concert?

A soul-stirring concert that blends together original poems, music and monologues that will warm your heart and touch your soul.

Original member of the Little Rock Nine, Ernest Green, will be attending the performance. How did he come to be involved?

He is a mentor and friend of mind.  He heard about the project and wanted to support me and the kids.

Speaking of the kids, what was it like working with members of the Camp AmeriKid Leader-in-Training program?

It was one of the most important, inspiring journeys I have had in my life.  It's changed my artistic DNA!

If you could say one thing to your potential audience about this performance, what would it be?

You will learn about history and realize that each of us have the power to change the world, just like the Little Rock Nine did in 1957.



Rajendra Ramoon Maharaj is an Indo-Caribbean American artist, educator and activist.  He is the Producing Artistic Director of Red Shirt Entertainment (www.redshirtentertainment.com) and has numerous directing/choreography credits. 

His commissioned works include: Diss Diss and Dis Dat, a new hip hop musical inspired by the music of the Funkie Natives (Woodie King Jr.’s New Federal Theater); Grey and Twenty-Five (Ensemble Studio Theater NYC); BlackfootNotes (Sloan Grant/Ensemble Studio Theater NYC); Little Rock (Arkansas Repertory Theater/TCG/NEA New Generations); Children of the Dream (Alliance Theater, ATL).  Co. Written and Co. Conceived work: History of the Word, a new spoken word play with music; Exposures, an urban spoken word choreopoem.  Adapted work: Ghosts by Ibsen “Jamaican adaptation” (Rebel Theater Co.); Abortion by O’Neill “Mississippi Night” (Rasa Theater Co. & Sign of the Times); Black Nativity by Langston Hughes “Darfur Nativity” (Goodman Theater & Congo Square); the poem Willie by Maya Angelou “Spook” (Rebel Theater Co.); Daisy inspired by the life and legacy of the indomitable Daisy Lee Bates. Straight Outta Denmark (Hip Hop Hamlet Red Shirt Entertainment); Holocaust Project (a trilogy focusing on the genocides in Germany, Rwanda and Darfur).

He is the founder of a children’s arts group “Be, Do, Fly” that provides free performing arts access to children in need across America. Maharaj is the founder and the artistic advisor of River Voices, an African American Latino playwriting festival in collaboration with Arkansas Repertory Theatre.  He is also an artistic consultant for the Arkansas Repertory Theater. Maharaj has been featured in American Theatre Magazine, Yale Review, New York Times, The Star Ledger, The NAACP Crisis News, Chicago Sun Times, Ebony, Arkansas Times, Uptown Magazine and has been featured on the Hot List as a New York Theater Artist to Watch, Amsterdam News and Variety for his work in the American theatre.  

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

News Roundup - Schwimmer, Pippin and an amazing looking Macbeth

This is the kind of news we love to hear.  A high school drama club from Alice, Texas visits New York, sees some shows, including Peter and the Starcatcher, Newsies and Matilda.

David Schwimmer returns to Chicago theatre he helped found.

Shake up at the Bolshoi.  But will it help?

Architect Sergio Fisher finally gets to visit the theatre he helped design in Sitka, Alaska.

Signature Idol - Let your inner diva out with at the Signature Theatre Open House in Arlington.  You have until July 24th to prepare a YouTube video of your best show tune and send the link to info@signature-theatre.org.

So You Think You Can Dance's Smash moment.

Review of the Manchester International Festival production of Macbeth starring Kenneth Branagh.

Little known facts about Pippin's Matthew James Thomas.

Three reasons a theatre degree is important.

Photos from the National Medal of Arts ceremony.

Theatre critic Peter Filichia on Leonard Lopate Show tomorrow to talk about his new book, "Strippers, Showgirls and Sharks: Best Musicals."

Red Shirt Entertainment Announces New Concert Piece - "The Little Rock Nine Project"


Red Shirt Entertainment, in association with Camp AmeriKids, Be.Do.Fly! and the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, is announcing a new concert piece entitled “The Little Rock Nine Project.” The event will take place on Saturday, July 13th at 7:00PM at the historic Nuyorican Poets Cafe, located at 236 East 3rd Street in New York’s East Village.
The project will honor the legacy of the Little Rock Nine, the Civil Rights group that challenged racial segregation at Little Rock Central High School in 1957, through original monologues, poetry, letters and music. In attendance will be Little Rock Nine member, as well as Congressional Gold Medal and NAACP Spingarn Medal recipient, Ernest Green.
"It's an incredible honor to have a Civil Rights icon and dear friend, Ernest Green, attend our event and to have several politically-conscious organizations come together for this common goal,” said Red Shirt Entertainment Artistic Producing Director and Be.Do.Fly! Founder Rajendra Ramoon Maharaj.
Parties involved in the conception of the project include Maharaj and participants of the Camp AmeriKids Leader-in-Training (LIT) Program. AmeriKids is a non-profit group devoted to enhancing the lives of young people coping with the challenges of HIV/AIDS and sickle cell disease. LITs range between the ages of 16 and 18. The performances are meant to parallel the struggles in their lives with those of the Little Rock Nine. All proceeds from the night will go toward AmeriKids, in addition to Be.Do.Fly! and the Nuyorican Poets Cafe – both non-profit organizations, as well.
“This adds to the list of meaningful work spearheaded by each of the respective organizations involved with this project,” said Frank O’Brien, Executive Producer of Red Shirt Entertainment and recent recipient of the AmeriKids “Making a Difference” Award. “We at Red Shirt are pleased to continue our relationship with each of them as we attempt to change the lives of these youngsters in need.”
Please reserve tickets and make your $20 donation by visiting www.redshirtentertainment.com.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

News Roundup - Encores!, Zombies, Mary Ann and Well Strung

City Center's Encores! series to tackle Off-Broadway musicals.

After staffing changes, John Pollano's Small Engine Repair to open Off-Broadway this fall.  Jon Bernthal (The Walking Dead) is out, but James Badge Dale is in, so zombie enthusiasts are still covered.

Anthony J. Wilkinson's long running My Big Gay Italian Wedding and My Big Gay Italian Funeral extended through year's end.

Dawn Wells of "Gilligan's Island" joins cast of San Jose Rep's Love, Loss, and What I Wore.

Jason Ralph
Jason Ralph, Boy in Peter and the Starcatcher, on being shy.

A look at a Broadway star's dogs in honor of the upcoming Broadway Barks cat and dog adoption event.

The Trip to Bountiful extends again.

Laura Benanti and Steven Pasquale to divorce.

29 signs you have a theatre degree.

Broadway Week returns to Live With Kelly and Michael starting July 22nd.

Ma-Yi Theater Company announces its next season.

String quartet Well Strung releases first video.

President Obama to award 2012 National Medal of Arts and National Humanities Medals.  Award winners include Renee Fleming, Tony Kushner, Elaine May, and Anna Deavere Smith.

The Public Theater Announces Benefit Concerts Featuring Sting


The Public Theater announced today that, for the first and only time, Sting will perform songs from his new album, The Last Ship, for 10 concerts to benefit The Public Theater in their intimate, 260-seat Anspacher Theater from September 25 – October 9. An evening of music and storytelling with one of the world’s most prolific artists, these performances will offer unique insight into the creative process of both his new album, to be released September 24, and his forthcoming play of the same name, premiering in 2014. All proceeds benefit The Public Theater and are tax deductible.

“Sting is one of the great artists of our time, a brilliant songwriter who is also a model of activist commitment,” said Public Theater Artistic Director Oskar Eustis. “The Last Ship is shaping up to be a masterpiece, both an elegy for and a celebration of the working class life of the Newcastle shipyards. The Public is honored to call Sting a friend and thrilled to be hosting these benefit concerts.”

Sting added, “The Public Theater, a New York institution committed to supporting all of the city's distinct communities, was a natural fit to perform this material that is, at its core, about the importance of community." 
In the spirit of The Public Theater’s ongoing mission of accessibility, a limited number of free seats will be distributed the day of each performance via a lottery system.  Entries will be taken between 5:30 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. each performance day, with a drawing beginning at 6:00 p.m. (All entrants must be present to win.)

Sting also has a long tradition of hosting special events for members of his official fan club. In addition to these 10 performances, 100 Sting.com Fan Club members will receive free tickets, selected via lottery, to attend a very special concert in celebration of Sting’s birthday on Wednesday, October 2 at The Public Theater. For details, please visit www.sting.com.

American Express ® Cardmembers can purchase advance tickets beginning on Wednesday, July 10 at 6:00 p.m. EST through Sunday, July 14 at 10:00 p.m. EST at http://www.publictheater.org/content/view/296 or 212-967-7555.

An exclusive pre-sale for Sting.com Fan Club members will begin Saturday, July 13 at 12noon EST and conclude Sunday, July 14 at 8:00 p.m. EST. Sting.com Fan Club members must purchase tickets by phone at 212-967-7555.

Tickets will go on sale to the general public beginning Sunday, July 14 at 10:01 p.m. EST at http://www.publictheater.org/content/view/296 and beginning Monday, July 15 at 12noon EST by phone or at the box office.

Benefit ticket prices range from $250-$2,500, with tickets at the top tier to include VIP seating and a pre-show meet & greet with Sting. Tickets are tax deductible for US residents. All performances begin at 8:00 p.m.

This fall, Sting will release a new album of original material entitled The Last Ship.  Drawing inspiration from the shipbuilding community of Wallsend in the North East of England where he was born and raised, Sting has crafted both an entire world and a close-knit community of original characters. In celebration of the album, these intimate benefit concerts at The Public Theater will reveal Sting’s influences behind the album through storytelling and visual projections paying homage to the traditional roots of the North East of England, with music from pub-like folk tunes to a wall of sound from Sting’s full band, many of whose members also hail from the North East.


Varla Jean Merman to Premiere New Show in Provincetown This Summer

Photo courtesy of The Art House
Varla Jean Merman (aka Jeffery Roberson) has been the acknowledged entertainment Queen of P-town for the past decade. Each summer brings the anticipated premiere of her latest, original and irreverent music-comedy show – a summer-long ‘hot ticket’ every year. After a typically busy year starring to critical acclaim as the title roles in the original musical comedy farces Mildred Fierce in Boston and Scrooge in Rouge in New Orleans, as well as in Menotti’s opera The Medium in New York, Varla returns to P-Town to premiere "Twice Upon A Mattress…Will My Prince Ever Come?" at The Art House from July 1 – August 31, with MRF at the piano. For tickets please visit www.ptownarthouse.com

In the new show, the artist explains, “Varla gives the mother of all gooses to everyone's favorite fairy tails. After years of kissing frogs, toads and other slimy creatures, Varla is tired of trying to make her prince come. Should she toss it all aside and embrace her inner Evil Queen? With Grimm stories, a castle's worth of couture and a libido that could wear out seven dwarves, this Ambien-addled Sleeping Beauty is wide awake and ready to give everyone a happy ending!”

2010 Elliot Norton Award Winner, Roberson’s Varla Jean Merman has been featured on television as a guest on TV’s Ugly Betty and on Bravo’s Project Runway Season 5 as the winning model for the show’s drag challenge. Other TV credits include his network television debut on All My Children in the recurring role of lady of the evening Rosemary Chicken, HBO’s Dragtime, E!’s Fashion Emergency, E! Goes to Cannes, MTV’s True Life: Mardi Gras, Francesca Page with Rossy DePalma, and has most recently appeared as Varla Jean on Logo starring in shorts for “Drag History Month.” He shared the Outfest Film Festival “Best Actor” Award and the Aspen HBO Film Festival “Best Actress” Award with his costars Jack Poltnick and Clinton Leupp for his featured performance in the cult classic film Girls Will Be Girls (Sundance 2003) directed by Richard Day. This past January he filmed the sequel entitled Girls Will Be Girls 2012. When Varla (aka Jeffery Roberson) starred opposite Leslie Jordan spring of 2012 at the Little Shubert Theatre, the New York Times wrote “If Carol Burnett and Harvey Korman had stood in front of the right pair of funhouse mirrors, they might have resembled Ms. Merman and Mr. Jordan in stature as well as comedic talent.” He also played the role of Mary Sunshine in the revival of Chicago on Broadway and appeared at the Long Wharf Theatre in Hartford Stage’s production of The Mystery of Irma Vep directed by Michael Wilson performing the roles originally made famous by Charles Ludlam.

Jeffery as Varla Jean has filled concert halls and cabarets across the world including the Sydney Opera House, Carnegie Hall, the Public Theater, London’s Soho Theatre, LA’s Renberg Theatre, and San Francisco’s Victoria Theatre. He was the opening act of Vienna’s LifeBall, the largest fundraiser for AIDS research in Europe, where he shared the stage with Sharon Stone and Catherine Deneuve. His many Fraktured Classiks productions in New York include The Mailman Always Comes Twice, Screen Door and CAGED! with Lily Tomlin, Joan Rivers and Isabella Rossellini, Lypsinka is Harriet Craig, The Miracle Worker (with Charles Busch) and Varla Jean Merman is The Bad Seedling. Recent engagements also include the title role in Auntie Mame, Scrooge in Rouge, Ricky Graham’s production of Irma Vep at Southern Rep/Le Chat Noir, his recent solo show Varla Jean’s The Loose Chanteuse featuring Tom Judson, which ran in Provincetown, LA, New York and New Orleans, and last summer’s Topping Myself, which sold out its summer run.