Thursday, September 17, 2020

NOT BORN YESTERDAY. Sept. 2020. Boys in the Band; Billy Elliot the Musical; Les Miserables in Concert.

Dear Theater Lovers: In my search to find live recordings of brilliant stage plays from the past to share with you, I came across the following three that I still recall, with emotion and admiration, their original New York Productions.

  

BOYS IN THE BAND (1968, Off Broadway)

Once regarded as shocking, this play is about a group of gay men in Manhattan who get together for a birthday party and spend much of the evening hacking away at each other’s submerged emotional truths. When each one is challenged to phone some-one they once loved, the results are sad, revealing and sometimes hilarious.

Laurence Luckinbill is a schoolteacher who, when he realized he was homosexual, left his wife and family; Cliff Gorman is a flamboyant interior designer who flings campy jibes at Reuben Greene, a soft-spoken book-store clerk. Frederick Coombs, (who was on Broadway in “A Taste of Honey” and I toured with in that show) is Donald, a self-described “underachiever” who has fled New York. The party is thrown into turmoil when sexy “Cowboy” Robert La Tourneaux arrives as a present for the Birthday Boy!

The play was never recorded, but in 1970 William Friedkin directed a movie version that stays true to the original production. With screenplay by original playwright Mart Crowley, this film conveys with singular brilliance the way “Boys” played on stage. The nine actors in the film, who by then had performed together onstage a thousand times, give performances so bold and fearless that it captures the original dynamic that I remember from so long ago. On You Tube: https://fando.trosck.com/ywmi3sq and Amazon.

 

 BILLY ELLIOT THE MUSICAL (2014, London)

This beautiful show, with music by Elton John and book and lyrics by Lee Hall, won 10 Tony Awards in New York and, after it closed on Broadway in 2012, the London West End production was filmed live for worldwide distribution. In case you missed the movie version, it’s about a young boy from a coal mining village in England who wants to become a ballet dancer. This is during the 1980’s miner’s strike that created tension and poverty throughout the country. As his coal-miner Dad is against the idea, the boy takes his boxing lessons money and uses it secretly for dancing lessons. Realizing that Billy is a prodigy, his dancing teacher gets him an audition with The Royal Ballet School in London. The confrontation with his disapproving father, and the outcome of the contest, makes for a highly emotional yet persuasively honest revelation about artistic passion and family love that will bring tears to your eyes. On BroadwayHD, Google Play and iTunes.

LES MISERABLES IN CONCERT: THE 25TH ANNIVERSARY (2010, London)

On the anniversary of the original West End production of this dynamic musical, based on Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel, an ensemble of over 300 performers and musicians, that had appeared in its various incarnations worldwide, came together to perform. Tenor Alfie Boe is the noble Jean Valjean; Norm Lewis is the relentless Javert, and Lea Salonga is the tragic Fantine. For a surprise encore, four stars sing “Bring Him Home” – Colm Wilkinson from the original London and Broadway cast; John Owen-Jones from the touring company; Simon Bowman from the current London cast, and Boe. Producer Cameron Mackintosh introduces composer Claude-Michel Schönberg and librettist/lyricist Alain Boublil. The concert was shown live across the UK, Ireland and around the world, and, on March 6, 2011, aired on United States television as a PBS special. Available on BroadwayHD and DVD.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

NOT BORN YESTERDAY. August 2020. Live Theater on BroadwayHD


ELAINE STRITCH AT LIBERTY (2002 Broadway)

Stritch was as famous for her onstage performances as she was for her offstage person - and here she takes you from childhood to Broadway, in Noel Coward’s Sail Away and Stephen Sondheim’s Company - where she stole the show singing The Ladies Who Lunch! She does this Tony Award winning show wearing nothing but a white blouse and black semi-sheer pantyhose. 

So, if you love backstage anecdotes, show tunes, and dry wit, don’t miss this one!

PRESENT LAUGHTER. (2017 Broadway)

In this revival of Noël Coward’s zany comedy, Kevin Kline earned his 3rd Tony Award playing a jaded matinee idol in his 50s who is estranged from his wife (an elegant Kate Burton), needled by his secretary (a delightful Kristine Nielsen) and irked by his vacuous work. He fills the time by sleeping, griping, and bedding silly debutantes who claim to have lost their latchkeys. This busy schedule is interrupted when his business partner’s wife (a predatory Cobie Smulders) attempts his seduction.

NICHOLAS NICKLEBY (1982 Broadway)

Charles Dickens’ novel, about a young man who has to support his mother and sister following the death of his father, was brought to the stage in sections that added up to 8 hours. Engrossing theater but not an experience for the faint of heart. The show started in London, and, when it transferred to Broadway, won Tony Awards for Best Play, and Best Leading Actor for Roger Rees. Given the play’s immense length, home viewing might be the best way to watch because you can take an intermission whenever you like.

THE KING AND I (2018, London)

Set in 1860s Bangkok, this Rodgers and Hammerstein favorite is based on British schoolteacher Anna Leonowens’ presumed romance with King Mongkut of Siam. After opening on Broadway in 2015, the production transferred, with all its New York leads, to the West End, where it was filmed for a limited cinematic release. Starring Kelli O’Hara, Ken Watanabe, and Ruthie Ann Miles, this show features a memorable score that includes Getting to Know You, Shall We Dance, and We Kiss in a Shadow.


SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE (1986, Broadway)

A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte, by Georges Seurat, is one of the great paintings of the world, and book writer James Lapine, and composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim, created a story to illustrate the work and bring it to life. Starring Bernadette Peters and Mandy Patinkin, while the painting depicts people gathered on an island in the Seine, the musical goes beyond simply describing their lives. It is a visual exploration of art, of love, and of commitment. Seurat connected dots to create images; Lapine and Sondheim use connection as the heart of all our relationships.

AN AMERICAN IN PARIS (2017, London)

Starring Robbie Fairchild, Leanne Cope, and Haydn Oakley. Filmed live from London’s Dominion Theatre in 2018, An American in Paris follows Jerry Mulligan, an American GI who moves to Paris to pursue his dreams of becoming a painter. After a chance encounter with Lise, a young dancer, Jerry finds himself caught up in a complicated love triangle. Featuring music and lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin, the New York production was nominated for 14 Tony Awards, including Best Musical.


Friday, July 17, 2020

NOT BORN YESTERDAY. July 2020


Dear Readers: I hope you are able to watch some live theater from home this month, as YouTube and Facebook are serving up numerous challenging theatrical experiences. However, if you feel the need to get out of the house for a bit, there is a benefit concert series starting in Ventura that you can attend in your car - and children under 12 are FREE!

LITTLE LORD FAUNTLEROY: THE MUSICAL - on YouTube.
If you are locked down at home with the grandkids, here is a charming 45-minute show, taped live at the Staten Island Children’s Museum in 2007, that will be fun for all. Based on the novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett (“The Secret Garden”) this is about 7-year old Cedric, a gentle kind-hearted boy, living in New York City in 1901, who learns he is heir to the Earldom of Dorincourt in England.  When he meets his grandfather, the Earl, his challenge is to melt the heart of this crotchety old man who doesn’t like children! Music and lyrics are by Ralph Martell, and I wrote and directed this production, with David Yourke as Cedric, Nancy Yourke (who really is David’s mother) as his Mother, Richard Bartels as the Earl, Diane Fisher-Flores as the Solicitor, and Staten Island favorite Kevin Lobat as Mr. Hobbs. This show was made possible by a grant from the Arts Council of Staten Island and funding from the NYC Dept of Cultural Affairs. Go to: https://youtu.be/NmLnz_Jejug

DEAL – also on You Tube
Here is a delightfully funny and surreal 10-minute play where a housewife (Sarah Drew) is addicted to watching “The Price is Right” and imagining herself a super winner. Meanwhile her husband (Sean Astin) patiently humors her, until she actually makes it on to the show with startling results. This was originally a published short story by award winning journalist Barbara Isenberg, and director Sonia Malfa cleverly brings it to life without changing a single word. In fact, even while keeping safe distancing, the actors perform the story, word for word, in a creative new way that infuses it with an infectious vitality. Produced by L.A. Theatre Works with support from Good Company. Enjoy at: youtube.com/watch?v=o8xe86id40w&feature=youtu.be.

SAFE-DISTANCE DRIVE-IN THEATRE CONCERT SERIES – LIVE!
Rubicon Theatre Company patrons will be able to enjoy live 75-minute concerts from the safety and comfort of their cars (parked 6’ apart) in the parking lot of the Ventura County Fairgrounds. Performers from Broadway, Pop and Rock, will perform on an elevated stage with live video projected on large screens. All CDC guidelines are observed for attendees, singers and musicians. Artistic Director Karyl Lynn Burns says it will be “…a cross between a drive-in theatre experience and a live concert.”
July 6-8. Christian Hoff and Travis Cloer celebrate the era of Drive-Ins, Muscle Cars and Music in ‘DRIVE-IN HITS’ with songs from icons such as Sam Cooke, The Everly Brothers, Smokey Robinson, Brian Wilson, Little Richard, the Beatles, Frankie Valli and The Four seasons –for example there’s oldies - “Sherry” and “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.”
July 20-22. Baritone Andrew Samonsky sings Sinatra favorites in “2 AM AT THE SANDS” with a humorous musical trip back to Las Vegas in the late 60’s when the Rat Pack ruled. He’s backed by a nine-piece swing band performing arrangements by Quincy Jones with songs such as “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” “Fly Me To The Moon” and “Amore”!
At The Fairgrounds, 10 W. Harbor, Parking Lot A, Ventura. To buy tickets: (805) 667-2900 or www.rubicontheatre.org - they will not be available for purchase onsite.


Monday, June 1, 2020

NBY Column. June 2020. THE WINDSOR FOLLIES - IN THESE UNCERTAIN TIMES - ART GOES ON - SKYLIGHT LIVE


Even though we are all confined at home there is no need to be starved for some exciting theatre experiences and already I am discovering companies adapting to the crisis in various ways. Here are a few exciting programs that you can experience through your computer, your I-phone, or other online scenarios you are familiar with.


IN THESE UNCERTAIN TIMES. Source Material, a nomadic theatre company, has devised a digital performance piece created specifically for these uncertain times and presented weekends on Zoom. Director Samantha Shay started this project as a way for the company to feel connected. “As it evolved, I started to realize our performance vacillates between humor, sorrow, and open love-letters to the art of theater. This has kept my mental health steadier, and has helped me touch the deep magma core of why I love theater, why I miss theater, and I think the jury is out on what theater is, was, and shall be in the coming days, months and years.” Their work is anchored in reverence for the classics, often adapting literature into performances with highly original staging. This show is a tragicomic, Chekhovian happening, from drinking competitions, sad monologues and corona-virus meme collages. For information: www.sourcematerialcollective.com

SKYLIGHT LIVE. Los Feliz’ Skylight Theatre Company are already presenting a number of new plays inspired by the COVID-19 crisis, all performing live on Facebook and/or YouTube. Skylight has brought together a number of Los Angeles writers, directors and actors for weekly presentations of uplifting stories created specifically for the online medium. The series includes an interactive conversation with audiences after each performance. On Thursdays at 3 pm. For info: https://skylighttheatre.org/event/skylight-live/

ART GOES ON. 
Los Angeles’ Center Theatre Group just announced a new project “Theatre Skills @ Home” – a series where directors, designers, actors and artisans give tips on how to inject stage magic into your home. Videos feature costume designer Ann Closs-Farley (Zoot Suit) creating a fairy costume out of odds-and-ends in your home; while fight-director Edgar Landa (Homebody/Kabul) teaches the art of onstage Physical Combat!!! Lindsay Allbaugh, CTG Associate AD, says her friends are giving themselves haircuts, baking bread and making soup, while parents are looking for fun projects to do with their homeschooled children. So, who better to turn to than theatre-mavens who have made a career of transforming bare stages into Brave New Worlds.  ART GOES ON projects also include “Artists Create”- videos produced by CTG’s family of artists; “LA Theatre Speaks” - where they share ideas, strategize and support each other, and, “Scenes from the Vault” - a series of favorite moments from CTG’s history. All of these can be viewed online at CTGLA.org/ArtGoesOn; Or at youtube.com/CTGLA; Or the hashtags #ArtGoesOn and #ScenesFromTheVault.

Friday, May 15, 2020

NBY Column. May 2020. WHY I LOVE LIVE THEATER






There are many opportunities during this crisis to check in online and stream videotaped performances of classical live shows. Supposedly this gives us a chance to see great actors and actresses in action – as if we were actually there - but I find myself hesitant to tune in.
Movies and television have never given me the joy that I recall from being there, in person, when great theater is happening. On the screen, shows feel manufactured to me and, even though I am often moved to laughter or tears, they hardly ever satisfy my hunger for live performances.
I can recall witnessing moments in theater that haunt me to this day. I am a child of the last century and my first experience of live theater was when I was 9 years old and the Gilbert & Sullivan operetta “Iolanthe” changed my life. However, that is another story and, for now, let me share just one of these remembrances.

   THE ENTERTAINER (Broadway 1958)  .

Laurence Olivier portrayed Archie Rice, a second-rate song and dance man in British Music Hall, in this play by John Osborne, directed by Tony Richardson. The show with its corny songs was engrossing, the audience silently attentive, all delighting in seeing the great Olivier bawdily singing and dancing.
In one scene, Archie admits to his daughter Jean that he is aware of his mediocrity having once witnessed a great performance in the American South. It was a black woman, a great blues singer (Bessie Smith?), and at that moment he realized the difference between schlock and genius.
It’s a family drama with three generations in conflict over loyalties, infidelities and past hurts. Meanwhile, his youngest son Mick, who is overseas in the army, is reportedly a prisoner of war while negotiations are underway for his release. Then suddenly the play turned, the mood, the suspension of disbelief shattered when Archie’s eldest son Frank ran into the theatre and down the aisle gasping and raging, “They killed him. Mick’s dead! The bastards killed him!
Silence. The horror was too real. The audience stricken. And then Olivier, overcome with pain, staggered to the proscenium, grasped at the carved wooden frame and, in a voice redolent of a glorious black singer long dead, he sang the blues! Sang with the deep throaty magic of a great lost woman whose pain was in her voice.
That is live theater! No movie screen could ever capture the power of that event that has stayed with me for over 60 years.
Other scenes in live theater that are etched forever in my mind include Fredric March in Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” 1956; Elizabeth Bergner in Romain Gary’s “First Love” 1961; Ralph Fiennes in Brian Friel’s “Faith Healer” 2006; Godfrey Cambridge in Ossie Davis’ “Purlie Victorious” 1962, John Shea in Arthur Kopit’s “End of the World” 1984, and Richard Burton in “Hamlet” 1964, directed by John Gielgud (available on DVD)

If you are interested in hearing about any of these Great Moments in Live Theater in future columns please email me at dramatist2006@yahoo.com



RESPONSES:

GWEN VAN DAM: Loved your article re Theater...it's so true. I have indelible memories of great performances too, that have remained in my mind & have inspired me from the beginning. Some are: Gertrude Lawrence in "Tonight at 8:30", Julie Harris in "Member of the Wedding", Jason Robards, Jr. in "Long Day's Journey into Night", Ruth Draper(I was a child but I remember her), Kim Stanley in "Travelin' Lady", Geraldine Page in "Summer and Smoke", etc. So wonderful! Thanks for reminding me of them & others.

KAREN HEBERT: Brillant article Morna. Makes me want to go to the theatre!

CHRISTINE DIXON: Wow! Oh Momma, this is a fabulous column! I was moved to tears as "Frank ran in saying Mick's dead." I was able to see all of your words play out in my mind, which is a gift of a truly great writer. Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful work with me. Also, the details of a throaty Blues singer. I could hear the pain in my ears. 


Thursday, March 26, 2020

NBY.April Column. Reviews: OUR MAN IN SANTIAGO, DOROTHY & OTTO. Listings: SCINTILLA, GERONIMO & THE NIGHT BUSTER KEATON DREAMED ME


I managed to see these two plays before the health lock-down and, hopefully, both shows will be appearing onstage after the scare is over:

OUR MAN IN SANTIAGO, at Theatre West, was a fictional account of a covert CIA operation in 1973 imagined by author Mark Wilding in an appropriate James Bond style. It was an amusing concept until the appearance of the President Richard Nixon (Steve Nevil) and his Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (Michael Van Duzer) when the comedy soared to a riotous peak. Just seeing these two actors as bickering Men of State had this critic not just sitting but rolling in the aisle and wanting more. When the show returns make a point to see it so you can laugh at how some past politicians made asses of themselves behind the wall of secrecy then in place. Info: www.TheatreWest.org


DOROTHY & OTTO was a guest appearance, at the West Hollywood Library, of a production that has garnered awards - and deservedly so. Two brilliant actors – Shelli Boone, fabulous as Dorothy Dandridge, going from ambitious starlet to troubled superstar; Eugene Alper, riveting as the autocratic Otto Preminger, in love with her but, being a foreigner, not comprehending the depth of racism in the USA. Plaudits to playwright-director Sharon L. Graine, who brought this complicated yet sincere love affair to life with just 2 performers. A Playhouse Theatre Players aka “SLG Productions” presentation. Info: sharonlgraine@aol.com

Upcoming and scheduled for mid-April openings but, as many shows are being postponed, check for exact dates.
SCINTILLA (North Hollywood)
This is a tender story that appears to be about the divisions in family but also deals with the question of our very survival on this planet. Marianne (Taylor Gilbert) is a reclusive artist living in the woods in California’s Wine Country. When her son Michael (Kris Frost), and his wife Nora (Jacqueline Misaye), are visiting her there is a raging wildfire but she stubbornly refuses to leave. Playwright Alessandro Camon started his career in Italy as a TV executive and film critic. Directed by Ann Hearn Tobolowsky. At the Road Theatre, in NoHo Senior Arts Colony, 10747, Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood. Tkts: (818) 761-8838 or www.roadtheatre.org
GERONIMO (Santa Monica)
This one-man drama, dramatically performed by Rudy Ramos, reveals the seldom told story of Geronimo’s life as a POW in the Fort Sill Indian reservation. Ramos has stated “I wanted to give him the voice he deserves, that has never been heard. This was a great leader yet for 23 years he was a POW in his own country.” Written by novelist Janelle Meraz and directed by Steve Railsback, it focuses on the resiliency, humor and genius of the great Apache leader. At Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 4th Street, (nr Wilshire). Tkts: (310) 394-9779 ext. 1 or www.SantaMonicaPlayhouse.com/Geronimo.html
THE NIGHT BUSTER KEATON DREAMED ME (North University Park)
In this surreal, dream-like movie-within-a-play, two orphan girls find color in their lives by living in a silent-film world of black, white and varying shades of gray. Author Kerry Muir won the Maxim Mazumdar Award in 2010 for the play and Debbie Devine directs the West Coast premiere that includes Spanish supertitles. At the 24th Street Theatre, 1117 West 24th St. (nr Hoover) Tkts: (213) 745-6516 or www.24thstreet.org

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

THE BLUEST EYE – Reviewed by theater colleague Rosemary Thomas.

Toni Morrison



    
    I highly recommend this adaptation of Toni Morrison's novel, by Lydia R. Diamond, that started off Black History Month in Hollywood with a bang. Nobel winning author Morrison, after working on a short story about a little black girl who wanted blue eyes, wrote the book in 1965, based on a girl she’d known growing up in Ohio. By the time the book came out 5 years later she was an editor at Random House that went on to publish all her future novels.
    The story unfolds through the narrative of two young and playful sisters, Claudia (Briana Price) and Frieda (ReSheda Terry). Their mother temporarily takes in their playmate, Pecola (Rodnesha Green), who the neighbors have deemed ‘ugly.’ It's with their watching eyes that we see the sorrows, hopes, fears and racial bias that dictate the flavor of all their lives.
    This ensemble of talented women and men brought to life the acerbic nature of humanity in the 1940's along with the consequences of personal choices. Director, Bernadette Speakes and choreographer Shari Rhone, used lively dance and soul touching songs in perfect intervals. The show is creative and masterful - from the set design to the costumes.
    Initially I was taken aback when the two lead actors changed from their child character voices and demeanor to take on an adult tone as they faced the audience to tell the story. But the candidness with which these words were spoken added a deeper layer of honesty a child may not have been able to express
    This haunting play does not shrink from stirring up the audience and cutting a hole in one's heart to expose the soft or hard (as the case may be) inner core. The actors seemed to know instinctively how to pull the marrow out of the characters they were cast to portray. The precision and purpose in which the characters entered and exited the stage made the two hours of uninterrupted performance fly. While the tenor of the play is drama, humor is plentiful. 
    An All the Way West Production at the Hudson BackstageTheatre, Hollywood.