Thursday, April 30, 2009

I have thoughts, too!

It's been over a year now since I started writing Gratuitous Violins and I'm still waiting, patiently, for a publisher to stumble upon it and offer me a book deal. Sigh.

Until then, I'll live vicariously through Julie Powell, who wrote a blog about working her way through Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. It became a bestselling book and now, a movie, Julie & Julia, starring Amy Adams and Meryl Streep in the title roles.

Here's the trailer. It opens Aug. 7, and I can't wait! Meryl Streep is pretty amazing.

Watching my tv on dvd

Catching up on tv series that I missed is one of the joys of my Netflix subscription. (Why didn't I buy stock?!) Some, I've loved - The Sopranos, Arrested Development, Sex and the City. Some, I watched a few episodes and decided they just weren't for me - Sports Night.

In fact, I think I prefer television this way. I'd rather wait until the end of the season and just catch up on all the episodes at once. And honestly, with some series, like Lost, I'm so lost that I might as well wait until the final episode airs and then watch it from beginning to end.

Anyway, I never watched thirtysomething when it aired but I've enjoyed one of its stars, Patricia Wettig, as the devious Holly Harper on Brothers & Sisters. So now that it's finally coming out on dvd, I'm curious enough to check it out. According to the Los Angeles Times, Season 1 will be released on Aug. 25, with subsequent seasons coming about every six months.

The series, about a group of baby boomer yuppies in Philadelphia in the 1980s, was influenced by the 1983 movie The Big Chill. It ran on ABC for four years, from 1987 to 1981. And of course, it added a word - thirtysomething - to the vocabulary.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Spring Awakening at the Tonys

I mentioned a couple days ago how much I loved seeing Spring Awakening on Broadway with its original cast. Here's their performance at the 2007 Tony Awards, modified a little bit for television:

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Still youthful David Hyde Pierce

A belated happy birthday to Gratuitous Violins favorite David Hyde Pierce, who turned 50 on April 3. has an interview with the very talented and gracious actor, whose play Accent on Youth opens Wednesday at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre.

I still remember jumping off the couch and cheering when he won the Tony award in 2007 as the singing and dancing detective in Curtains.

On winning the Tony:

"I had all those years in Frasier at awards ceremonies, where I’d gotten up because I’d won or stayed sitting because I didn’t. I’m used to all sides of that. But at the Tonys, there was just… Being back in the theater means so much to me, because Broadway means so much to me, because of the experience of doing that show and what we all had together. All that combined was overwhelming. And I was surprised to be overwhelmed because I thought I was an old hand at this stuff."

The difference between musicals and plays:

"Those [Curtains and Spamalot] were fairly large musicals, and you had a big orchestra underneath you, which is the engine that carries you and the audience along. In a play, the actors onstage are the engine, so I end up less physically tired, but slightly more brain fried."

Meeting fans of Frasier:

"People are really nice. They come up a lot on the streets of New York, and of course, more when there are tourists in town. But regardless, there’s such affection for the show. Now it’s in reruns, and people really appreciate it. So it’s not about screaming. More often, it’s a nice quiet conversation on the street. I’ve had a million of those, and I love it."

Monday, April 27, 2009

Congratulations Iowa!

A big mazel tov to the approximately 360 gay and lesbian couples who received marriage licenses today in Iowa!

Here's the Iowa Supreme Court decision in Varnum v. Brien that made the day possible. And here's a full report from the Des Moines Register.

Yes, there were some protesters but you know, it's not about them. It's about these happy people:

Cedar Rapids:

Lolita Linn Blaha, 44, and Lisa Harbit, 43, of North Liberty got to the Johnson County office at 7:10 a.m. and were first in line.

They began dating in high school but, in the words of Harbit, “sacrificed” their happiness to appease family and community members in their small hometowns. Now, more than two decades later and after reuniting a few years ago, they will be married.

“I can’t even tell you” how it feels, an emotional Harbit said after filling out the marriage license application. “It’s surreal. It’s an emotion you can’t describe.”

Maeve Clarke, 44, and Jodi Tate, 40, of Iowa City, partners for about a dozen years, were among those celebrating who later applied for a marriage license. They were joined by their two young sons. The legal rights marriage offers is important to them as a family.

“I guess it feels like it’s going to give our relationship validation but also extra protection for our family,” said Clarke, adding that they plan to marry on Friday.

Council Bluffs:

Mike Yowell, 53, and Hersh Rodasky, 58, of Council Bluffs arrived at the courthouse at about 7:15 a.m. to get their license.

The couple says they have been together for 28 years and have an adopted daughter and two grandchildren.

"Now we’ll have the protection of the law for our family. That’s what’s most important to us," Yowell said.

David Jones, 36, and Thomas Clark, 39, both of Council Bluffs, have been together for 14 years in June. They were ecstatic after filing their marriage license application Monday.

"We wanted to stand up and be counted," Clark said. "We’re the guys next door."

The men said that while they don’t have children, it’s important that if something happens to one of them that the other can make decisions.

Jones and Clark plan to be married at 11 a.m. Thursday by a district court judge at the courthouse.


Terry Wilkerson sat in a ball cap, eating French fries — with tears in his eyes.

It’s finally sinking in. He’s getting married.

On June 6, their 18th anniversary, 43-year-old Wilkerson will finally marry his partner, 46-year-old Russell Mentzer. All of their friends and family will be there.

And it will be legal.

“It’s incredible,” he said at the Des Moines-based One Iowa “Marriage Day Celebration” party, held Monday night at Jersey Grille in Davenport.

A small crowd gathered in the restaurant’s upstairs meeting room for the event, eating dinner and talking about the historic day: The first time gay couples could get marriage licenses in the state.

Pat Bates, 51, and her partner, Jennifer Bird, 40, both of Davenport, said they picked up a license today, with plans to marry in July. They have been together five years.

“People don’t realize how excited we are to have the opportunity to do something everyone else has been allowed to do already,” Bates said.

Des Moines:

In Des Moines, Lori Blachford was among the people applying for marriage licenses. As television cameras surrounded the dozens of couples in line, she talked about how life with her partner of 25 years, Karen Utke, is going to change.

“We’re living the married life, same as our parents did, painfully and traditionally boring,” said Blachford, who is 45.

Denny Schrock and Patrick Phillips-Schrock wore tuxedos to the recorder’s office. They’ve been together five years, and had a commitment ceremony three years ago at the Unitarian Universalist church in Des Moines.

“I didn’t think this would happen in my lifetime,” the 58-year-old Phillips-Schrock, a retired high school French teacher who is originally from Jefferson but now lives in Urbandale, said. “It’s incredible. In Iowa, of all places!”


Monday would be the day that Kentaindra Scarver and Veronica Spann would bring their eight year relationship full circle. The two women arrived at the Dubuque Courthouse early in the morning before appearing in open court to receive a waiver from Judge Monica Ackley around 10 a.m.

“We knew we were partners for life but to legally have it printed on paper; that’s what means so much to us,” said Scarver.

The two women were relieved to finally have the legal title of a married couple.

“For me it is the legal things that heterosexuals have like simple visits to the doctor for the kids. Those things mean the world to us,” said Spann.

Mason City:

Dean Genth of Mason City was waiting outside the Cerro Gordo County Recorder’s Office at 7 a.m. today — the first day same-sex couples could apply for a marriage license in the state of Iowa.

Genth wanted to be first in line to file papers to marry his partner Gary Swenson, also of Mason City.

“The overwhelming emotion got to me when I got to the counter,” Genth said fighting back tears. “I’ve been talking to them for the last couple of weeks about coming here and doing this. Gary’s not here with me so I thought I’d just be fine but all of a sudden the tears came. It’s just a big moment.”

Sioux City:

Around 9:15 a.m. Chrissy and Annette McCalmont, of Sioux City, descended the stairs from the second floor of the courthouse holding hands, and walked into the recorder's office to file for their marriage license.

"Fourteen years is a long time to be waiting," Chrissy McCalmont said. "It's been legal in our hearts all along."

Chrissy McCalmont said the two met when she was 29 and Annette was 19. They had a wedding ceremony in July of 1996, but their commitment to each other was not legally recognized.

"It's hard to love someone so much and be denied the right to be legal," McCalmont said standing in the courthouse atrium in front of a several TV news cameras.

Spring Awakening

Gratuitous Violins rating: ***1/2 out of ****

Sunday afternoon marked a milestone in my admittedly short theatergoing career. For the first time, I saw a show on tour that I'd seen on Broadway with its original cast.

I saw Spring Awakening in 2007, about a month after it won the Tony for Best Musical. It was a Wednesday matinee, the seventh and final musical during my five days in New York. You'd think by then, I might have had my fill of show tunes. And I wasn't sure I'd be interested in the problems of teenagers in 19th-century Germany.

But Spring Awakening, based on a play by Frank Wedekind, was so unlike anything else I'd seen that week. It was just thrilling to watch. I loved the rock 'n' roll score by Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater. The characters and story moved me so much, I was in tears. I left the theatre feeling drained and exhilarated.

The young, energetic cast was wonderful, especially Jonathan Groff as the rebellious intellectual Melchior, Tony-winner John Gallagher Jr. as the awkward and insecure Moritz and Lea Michele as the sweet and innocent Wendla.

At the risk of sounding like a theatre snob, the original cast just occupies a special place in my heart. I met them at the stage door afterward and got to see how incredibly gracious they were with their fans, even though they had another show that evening. Their parents definitely raised them right!

The second time around the story didn't pack quite as big an emotional punch, probably because there wasn't the same element of surprise. But I still felt the same exhilaration, I still loved the way the music and the choreography and the lighting all fit together to tell this story in such an imaginative, compelling way.

I really enjoyed Canadian Kyle Riabko as Melchior, Lost alumnus Blake Bashoff as Moritz and Christy Altomare as Wendla. My only qualm is that I didn't think they were quite as powerful actors or singers as Groff, Gallagher and Michele. But that could be my memory playing tricks on me, too.

Throughout the musical, these teenagers and their classmates explore their sexuality and face pressures both at home and at school.

The musical comes with a parental discretion warning that it contains mature themes, including sexual situations and profanity. There's a masturbation scene that's pretty funny, even if it went on longer than I remembered! And there's a very small amount of nudity during a sex scene - a partially exposed girl's breast and a boy's rear end that you can see fleetingly.

Spring Awakening also deals with child abuse, abortion and suicide. But I think it deals with them honestly, in a very believable way. The show never struck me as titillating for the sake of being titillating, the way sex or four-letter words are sometimes used.

There were elements that definitely hit me stronger this time around - the humor as the boys try to cope with their feelings of lust, the harshness and cluelessness of most of the adult characters - parents and teachers - played by Angela Reed and Henry Stram. (Although I wish the gay love scene had been played with more tenderness and fewer laughs).

One of the things that makes Spring Awakening so exciting is that it's visually stunning - especially Kevin Adams' lighting design and Bill T. Jones' choreography. I could watch the ensemble numbers "The Bitch of Living" and Totally F***ed over and over again, they are so much fun. But there's also a great deal of poignancy, too, in songs like "Those You've Known."

I noticed lots of empty seats at the Providence Performing Arts Center. Maybe part of it had to do with the 88-degree day. The grandmotherly woman sitting next to me said she'd heard a few people walked out during an earlier performance. But she enjoyed it, even thought she told me it was the first R-rated musical she'd ever seen!

Spring Awakening moves to Boston next and I hope it attracts a bigger audience. If you missed it on Broadway, don't worry. This production is thrilling and it touches on some very real issues in the lives of teenagers. If you're seeing it for the first time, bring some tissues.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Shakespeare slot

The Playgoer, always on the lookout for interesting stories from across the country, found one in the Denver Post, where John Moore wrote about the Denver Center Theatre Company's practice of scheduling plays by "slots" i.e., the black play, the woman's play, the Latino play.

Moore argues that it can end up seeming condescending to the very audience the theatre is trying to attract. (Okay, we've given you your "black" play during Black History Month, now we can forget about you for the rest of the season.)

But he admits that the alternative hasn't worked out very well. For years, the Denver Center Theatre had pretty much ignored the city's large Hispanic population and Latino theatergoers felt the doors were closed to them.

"I do think of it as a slot in our season but I think that's a positive,'' says artistic director Kent Thompson. And Moore notes that many of the works from Latino playwrights are commissioned by the theatre, which is great.

Honestly, those slots don't bother me, as long as they're worthwhile plays. I like seeing diversity built into the schedules of regional theatres. We should have more plays by blacks, women and Latinos. And I've written before that as an audience member, I want a balanced season - between new works and classics, comedies and tragedies.

However, when I first read this story I was thinking, there is one slot I could do without. I know this is blasphemy, but it's the Shakespeare slot. My eyes glaze over when I see Shakespeare on an upcoming schedule.

It's not out of a lack of interest - he covered some pretty universal themes, after all. Over the past few years I've seen Hamlet, Richard III and Macbeth. They're usually nice to look at - interesting scenic design and special effects and menacing villains.

But it's been a long time since high school and I just don't find the language very accessible. It's often difficult to figure out who's who and what's going on without some preshow preparation. I don't mind being challenged when I go to the theatre. But I don't feel I'm getting as much out of Shakespeare as I should.

Last fall, I wrote about Seattle theatre critic Brendan Kiley's list of 10 things regional theatre companies must do to save themselves. Kiley, who writes for Seattle's alternative weekly, Stranger, put this at the top of his list: "Enough with the ********* Shakespeare already."

In fact, he called for a five-year, nationwide moratorium on all productions of Shakespeare, arguing that the Bard has become a crutch theatre companies use when they're timid and have run out of ideas.

Okay, maybe that's a little harsh. I understand that some theatres are pretty much obligated to do Shakespeare. Trinity Repertory Company, as part of its Project Discovery educational series that brings schoolchildren to the theatre, alternates Shakespeare and classic American works.

And there's probably a part of the adult audience that wants to see the Bard, too. Next season, Trinity Rep is doing Twelfth Night. I might go. I'll just make sure I do some homework beforehand.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Bartlett Sher and August Wilson

An article this week by Patrick Healy in The New York Times discusses the controversy over the selection of a director for August Wilson's play Joe Turner's Come and Gone. This is the first time a play of Wilson's has been produced on Broadway with a white director, Tony-winner Bartlett Sher.

Wilson, who died in 2005, always insisted that African-Americans direct major productions of his works. He felt black directors could best interpret his plays, which deal with African-American life in the 20th century. And he wanted to provide them with opportunities that were sorely lacking on Broadway. His widow, Constanza Romero, gave the go-ahead for Sher to direct this Lincoln Center revival.

I haven't seen the play, so I can't comment on whether or not Sher was a good choice. (Broadway & Me weighs in with, as usual, a terrific and perceptive review.) But I can see both sides of the issue.

It seems to me that you're going to be pretty limiting if you start assigning shows to directors based on race, religion, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation.

A good director should be able to direct a play that might be the furthest thing from his or her own personal experience. That should include African-Americans directing plays with white casts. And Asian-American and Latino directors, too. Who knows, perhaps their interpretation will bring something new and vital to the table.

Look at a few recent examples: Annie Dorsen directed Passing Strange on Broadway, the story of a young African-American man; and Kate Whoriskey is directing Ruined off-Broadway, about the lives of women in the African nation of Congo. Both are white. Thomas Kail, who as far as I know isn't Latino, directed In the Heights, about a Latino neighborhood in New York City.

Still, I understand what Wilson was trying to achieve - a body of work that would be performed and presented by African-Americans, both onstage and backstage.

In the examples I just mentioned it would have been nice to include some of the African-American directors who have helmed shows on Broadway with largely white casts but I don't know if there are any, at least not recently.

That, it seems to me, is the heart of the matter - the lack of black directors - not only on Broadway, which is, after all, a pretty small place, but off-Broadway and in regional theatres all across the country. (And while we're at it, what about stagehands and choreographers and costume and set and lighting and sound designers?)

It would be great if Lincoln Center, now that it's broken the color barrier with Joe Turner's Come and Gone, would do its part. Andre Bishop, the artistic director, seems to understand. In the Times article, he says, “This experience has started a conversation about opportunities for black directors, and I’m taking it very seriously.”

I hope he does take it seriously because honestly, I think as theatergoers, we'd all benefit from a diversity of voices and experiences - both onstage and behind the scenes.

Some of the comments on the Times' site have been critical of Wilson's widow for allowing Sher to direct the play. But Romero is his sole executor and I have to believe that she and Wilson discussed what would happen after his death. Romero alludes to this in a 2007 Seattle Times article:

"I lived long enough with August to feel I knew what he wanted done with his work. ... Before he died we touched base on a few things. He understood I had to make decisions that would benefit his body of work, his legacy."

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

New York says hello to Dolly

Last month it was Arthur Laurents and now, New York magazine writer Jesse Green has turned his attention to Dolly Parton. Her musical 9 to 5 opens at Broadway's Marquis Theatre on April 30 and she comes across as very gracious and down to earth in this profile.

Green writes that the idea for a 9 to 5 musical came from Robert Greenblatt, of Showtime, who bought the rights to the 1980 movie. Parton sent Greenblatt a few sample songs and told him if they weren't right, she wouldn't be offended. He could hire another songwriter and still use her title tune.

(Of course, her songs turned out to be just fine, although I haven't heard any of them yet - except for "9 to 5," which I already knew.)

And this piqued my curiosity: She has an autobiographical Broadway show in the works.

But the funniest passage is when Green visits Dollywood, in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., and Parton's creative director, Steve Summers, tries to convince him to try some fried bologna:

“I eat your sushi when I’m in New York,” says Summers. Though I have ground my supply of Lipitor into a paste and swabbed it over myself as a shield against ambient cholesterol, I feel my defenses beginning to crack."

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Yom HaShoah

On Broadway tonight, Tovah Feldshuh, the star of Irena's Vow, will lead a candlelight ceremony in front of the Walter Kerr Theatre to mark Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. In the play, Feldshuh portrays a real-life Polish Catholic woman who rescued Jewish refugees during World War II.

Taking part in the Yom HaShoah remembrance when I lived in Israel in 1998 was one of the most unique and unforgettable events of the year I spent there.

I was standing on the corner of a busy street in Tel Aviv when the memorial siren went off at 10 a.m. At first, I didn't realize it, because there was so much noise from the traffic.

But suddenly, everything went silent. Buses pulled over to the side of the road. Drivers got out of their cars. People walking along the street stopped in their tracks. Customers at a cafe got up from their chairs. Everyone stood at attention and bowed their heads. No one moved.

For two minutes, the only sound was the siren. It was a simple, yet profound and deeply felt act of communal memory. We stood still together and silently remembered, each person caught up in his or her own thoughts.

Some Jews have argued that standing silently isn't a very Jewish way to commemorate something. And they do have a point. We shouldn't just do that.

I didn't write anything a few weeks ago when the National Organization for Marriage released its "Gathering Storm" commercial, about the supposed dangers American society faces from legalizing same-sex marriage.

But today seems like a day when I ought to say something - indeed, when I'm obligated to say something. What angers me about that video is the way it presents gay and lesbian Americans as people we should fear, the way it presents their relationships as a threat to our society.

That video is disgusting and reprehensible and unAmerican. Extending equal protection hurts no one. And our gay and lesbian friends, family members, coworkers, neighbors and loved ones are not a threat to anyone.

You can read the Human Rights Campaign's statement debunking it. HRC has also set up a Web site, End the Lies, to confront the lies and distortions used to defeat LGBT equality measures.

Tomorrow, the House Judiciary Committee will take up the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, also known as the Matthew Shepard Act. The bill would give the Justice Department the power to prosecute bias-related crimes where the victim is chosen because of their race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.

In The New York Times on Sunday, Frank Rich called "Gathering Storm" a turning point in the demise of America's antigay movement. "If it advances any message, it’s mainly that homophobic activism is ever more depopulated and isolated as well as brain-dead."

It may be the last gasp of the bigots but today of all days, I can't dismiss it so easily.

Whenever we present one group of people as objects of hatred and fear it becomes easier to think of them as less than human, as less deserving of equal rights. And that is the true threat to all of the values we hold dear as Americans.

Pulitzer for Drama goes to Ruined

Congratulations to Lynn Nottage, who won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for her play Ruined, about the plight of women in the African nation of Congo who have been scarred by civil war. You can see it off-Broadway at the Manhattan Theatre Club through May 17.

The citation calls Ruined "a searing drama set in chaotic Congo that compels audiences to face the horror of wartime rape and brutality while still finding affirmation of life and hope amid hopelessness."

You can read more about Nottage and Ruined in a Los Angeles Times profile, in the New York Times review and in a review from Broadway & Me.

In this piece from the New York Post, Nottage writes about the play's origins, including how she and director Kate Whoriskey traveled to Uganda to interview Congolese refugees. (Thanks to Elisabeth Vincentelli, the Post's drama critic, for pointing me to it in her new blog for the paper.)

There's a very interesting quote in the Los Angeles Times story about what Nottage, 44, sees as the failure of her generation of playwrights to engage audiences:

'Our job as artists is to literally keep our eyes open while everybody else's are shut,' " she recalls. "And we've fallen down very badly in the last couple of decades. We're in a really unique position to have a conversation with an audience. But we are not challenging them, not their morality, their religion, their politics, liberal or conservative. We are not shaking them to the core."

Before the award was announced, Nottage said what she'd really like, more than the plaque, was to see Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey in the audience for Ruined. "I would like to see them take up the plight of women in the Congo as their special cause. That would be the prize."

Here's a clip that includes scenes from the play and an interview with the playwright about the issues raised in her work:

And kudos, too, to the Windy City.

I definitely have to get to Chicago someday because among other things, it's a great theatre town, which I'm embarrassed to admit I didn't realize until the last couple of years.

Chris Jones, of the Chicago Tribune, notes that Ruined was commissioned by the Goodman Theatre. That makes 2009 the second year in a row that a play originating in Chicago won the Pulitzer, coming on the heels of Steppenwolf's August: Osage County.

As this year's winner shows, the drama prize doesn't always go to a play with an American theme. Most notably, in 1956, Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich won for The Diary of Anne Frank. The citation notes that the award is given "for a distinguished play by an American author, preferably original in its source and dealing with American life."

The 2009 finalists were: Becky Shaw, by Gina Gionfriddo, "a jarring comedy that examines family and romantic relationships with a lacerating wit while eschewing easy answers and pat resolutions;" and In The Heights, by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegría Hudes, "a robust musical about struggling Latino immigrants in New York City today that celebrates the virtues of sacrifice, family solidarity and gritty optimism."

Monday, April 20, 2009

Spring Awakening in Providence, Boston

Those frisky, angst-ridden 19th-century teenagers of Spring Awakening have wrapped up their nearly monthlong stay in Toronto and are headed for New England! (Sorry, Vance. I know how much you'll miss them.)

The tour of the 2007 Tony-winning Best Musical stops at the Providence Performing Arts Center Tuesday through Sunday. They're giving away tickets to Tuesday night's performance, while supplies last. The promotion ends today so I'm not sure whether there are any tickets left but it's worth a try.

You have to go to one of these locations and ask a staff member on duty about the Spring Awakening Ticket Treasure Hunt. They'll give you a voucher that you'll have to redeem at the PPAC box office by 4 p.m. today. So don't waste any time! For more information, go to the tour Web site, Totally Trucked. (Love the name, btw.)

Providence Central Library, 225 Washington Street, Providence, RI
Mt. Pleasant Library, 315 Academy Avenue, Providence, RI
Rochambeau Library, 708 Hope Street, Providence, RI
Knight Memorial Library, 275 Elmwood Avenue, Providence, RI
Greenville Library, 573 Putnam Pike, Greenville, RI
Seekonk Library, 410 Newman Avenue, Seekonk, MA
Cranston Public Library, 140 Sockanosset Cross Road, Cranston, RI
George Hail Free Library, 530 Main Street, Warren, RI
Rogers Free Library, 525 Hope Street, Bristol, RI
East Providence Public Library, 41 Grove Avenue, East Providence, RI
Borders Book Music Movies & Café, 142 Providence Place, Providence, RI
Borders Book Music Movies & Café, 190 Hillside Ave., Cranston, RI (at Garden City)
J. Jill, 100 Midway Road, Cranston, RI (at Garden City)
Borders Book Music Movies & Café, 1212 S. Washington, N. Attleboro, MA

After Providence, the show moves to Boston, where it'll take up residence at the Colonial Theatre from April 28 - May 24. There are a couple of Boston promotions, including a chance to have dinner and meet the cast, details here; and a discount offer, saving $10 a ticket, which you can find out about here.

I loved Spring Awakening when I saw it on Broadway in 2007. It was the last musical in a seven-shows-in-five-days marathon and it was so unlike anything else I'd seen. I was blown away by the energy and electricity of the young cast and I thought the story was so poignant.

The Boston Globe has a story about the musical's themes and its devoted fans. You can read a guide for parents here. From the reviews by my fellow bloggers Steve on Broadway and Vance, at Tapeworthy, the touring production sounds terrific.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Casting call for 101 Dalmations

I never realized that Playbill has a jobs section until I found information about auditions for the upcoming national tour of 101 Dalmations.

The description of what they're looking for in the musical's principal cast members is pretty amusing:

Prince: Male Dalmatian, 30s. Narrator of the show. Charming bon vivant. Hugh Grant-type.

Male Dalmatian, 30s. New father who maintains his sense of humor even with the weight of the world on his shoulders. Dick Van Dyke-type, with a touch of Buster Keaton.

Missis: Female Dalmatian, 30s. Pongo's wife. Feminine, but can bristle when her family is threatened. Mary Tyler Moore (Laura Petrie) type.

Cruella DeVil: Woman, 30s - 40s. BIG belt. Larger-than-life villain who’s as much a diva as she is a devil.

Hey, you wouldn't want to confuse a Mary Tyler Moore (Laura Petrie) type with a Mary Tyler Moore (Mary Richards) type, right? I bet that sent some aspiring Dalmations scurrying to their Wikipedias. I wonder how many of them had ever seen The Dick Van Dyke Show?

Actually, I think this sounds like fun. I'm very fond of Hugh Grant, especially in any romantic comedy set in London. I always liked Rob and Laura Petrie, too.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Why Grey Gardens makes me queasy

So, the Grey Gardens movie premieres on HBO tonight, with Jessica Lange as "Big Edie" Beale and Drew Barrymore as her daughter, "Little Edie."

I won't be watching, since I dropped HBO a few months ago. All of their original programming is available on dvd soon enough and I can just get it from Netflix. Also, I'm not totally on the Big Edie, Little Edie bandwagon.

When I saw the 1975 documentary Grey Gardens about the Beales - aunt and cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis - my initial reaction was, these women are mentally ill. They're living in squalor in a decaying Long Island mansion and clearly have trouble coping with everyday life. I felt that filmmakers Albert and David Maysles exploited them a bit.

I guess I'm not the first person to raise the issue because it's addressed on the commentary track. The producer and director argue that Big and Little Edie were nonconformists, that their lives were examples of how opportunities for women of their era were constricted. If they were British we'd be calling them eccentric and their behavior would be considered charming.

Later, I saw Christine Ebersole on The View. She played the older Edie in the first act and the younger Edie in the second act of the Broadway musical Grey Gardens, and won a Tony award. One of the hosts brought up the same question: Wasn't there something emotionally wrong with these women? Ebersole gave pretty much the same answer, that they were artistic types, nonconformists, etc.

But leaving food out for the raccoons in your attic is not normal behavior. Neither is leaving bags of garbage - and worse - around your house. I felt these women were being romanticized and their plight explained as "nonconformity" when it was really closer to mental illness.

I've softened a little bit. There's an audio interview with Little Edie that was recorded a few years after the documentary came out. On it, she talks about how much she and her mother liked their portrayal. And she actually sounded more lucid than she did in the film.

Also, I subsequently saw Grey Gardens on Broadway and Ebersole was great. She absolutely channels Little Edie in the second act. And she creates a memorable Big Edie in the first act, really out of whole cloth, with no documentary to guide her. I think Little Edie would have been thrilled and flattered by her performance.

Still, I couldn't get away from the fact that I'd seen the documentary. The way those two women lived was not okay. No one would want to live in those conditions. Check out this 2002 New York Times obituary for Little Edie for the details.

I'm definitely curious about the movie. But I just have a tough time seeing the Beales as icons, as cult figures to be lionized. To me, they were two lonely, troubled women who needed help. And there's nothing charming about their circumstances.

Friday, April 17, 2009

PPAC's 2009-2010 season

All right, the Providence Performing Arts Center has finally released the schedule for its 2009-2010 season.

Here's the lineup:

Young Frankenstein: Sept. 29 - Oct. 4; Avenue Q: Oct. 20 - 25; Wicked: Dec. 16 - Jan. 10; Xanadu: Feb. 16 - 21; Beauty and the Beast: Feb. 23 - 28; 101 Dalmations: March 16 - 21; A Bronx Tale: April 16 - 18; Jersey Boys: May 12 - June 6.

I'm excited about Xanadu, since I never got a chance to see it on Broadway and it's supposed to be tons of campy fun - on roller skates! I love the movie of 101 Dalmations. And Chazz Palminteri got great reviews for A Bronx Tale when he did the one-man show in New York.

On the other hand, while it's great that Young Frankenstein is starting its national tour in Providence, I was disappointed when I saw it on Broadway and it did get very lukewarm reviews. This was one of those shows where everyone around me was laughing hysterically and I was only mildly amused.

Plus, we seem to be getting a lot of musicals that have been around for awhile: Avenue Q and Jersey Boys, Disney's Beauty and the Beast. I'm a huge fan of Wicked and I'll definitely see it again, but it was just here two years ago.

Next year's lineup also seems a lot less diverse than this year's, which includes Fiddler on the Roof, A Chorus Line, Spring Awakening and The Color Purple.

Compare PPAC's season with Hartford's Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, which is getting the national tours of three current, highly regarded Broadway shows: South Pacific, In the Heights and August: Osage County. I loved them all and they would have been in my lineup, along with Mary Poppins, Dreamgirls and Little House on the Prairie.

Granted, I'm looking at this as a theatre maven, not as your average theatre fan who doesn't get to New York - or even Boston. Jersey Boys and Avenue Q have the cachet of winning the Tony for Best Musical; Wicked, Young Frankenstein, 101 Dalmations and Beauty and the Beast have name recognition.

And who knows, maybe they weren't offered any of those other shows.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Red Sox musical swings for the fences

Move over Damn Yankees - another baseball-themed musical is stepping up to the plate.

Red Sox Nation, a musical tragedy about the Boston Red Sox, will have its premiere in May 2010 at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Mass. The musical will be directed by A.R.T.'s artistic director, Diane Paulus, who's also helming the revival of Hair on Broadway.

Playwright Richard Dresser, a Massachusetts native and Brown University graduate known for his social comedies, is writing the book. (His lone Broadway credit is the book for the Beach Boys jukebox musical Good Vibrations, which ran for 94 performances, closing on April 24, 2005.)

The music and lyrics are by brothers Robert Reale and Willie Reale, who collaborated on the book and score for A Year With Frog and Toad, which ran on Broadway for 73 performances in 2003.

Here's the description from A.R.T's Web site:

"Red Sox Nation is an exhilarating blend of fact, fiction, and the mystical power of the game. It traces the origin of the Curse to a collision of three orphaned souls: Johnny O’Brien, a hard-luck right-hander on the 1919 Sox; his idol, the man-child Babe Ruth; and Daisy Wyatt, a dazzling African-American blues singer and the love of Johnny’s life."

Okay, it's probably not going to become a second Damn Yankees but it does sound intriguing.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Some musical news and views

Okay, it's been a few days since I've had a theatre-related post and there's quite a bit of interesting news, so it's time for a little catch-up.

The Broadway revival of West Side Story is launching a national tour starting in the fall of 2010. I think this is exciting. Sure, it's fun to see the new shows when they come on tour but it's also nice to catch up with the classics, especially one with a new twist. And a production that incorporates Spanish dialog and songs hopefully will attract a whole new audience. I'm assuming the tour will keep the Spanish parts. So it's definitely something to look forward to.

The Tales of the City musical is going to be developed this summer at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, Conn., as part of the National Musical Theater Conference. It features a book by Jeff Whitty of Avenue Q and songs by the Scissor Sisters - Jason Sellards and John Garden. I've read the first book in the Tales series and I liked it. Sometimes you read about a planned musical and then, nothing. So I was happy to read that this one is coming together.

McG (Joseph McGinty Nichol) is in talks to direct the movie version of the Tony-winning musical Spring Awakening. I'm not sure how I feel about this one. On the one hand, he does have experience making music videos and a lot of time, Spring Awakening does feel like you're in a club listening to a cool new indie rock band. On the other hand, McG directed Charlie's Angels. I just don't know. I loved Spring Awakening on stage and I don't want them to mess it up.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

American Wife

I wouldn't normally pick up a biography of Laura Bush, but the thinly veiled fictional account of the former first lady that Curtis Sittenfeld has constructed in American Wife sure is fun, in a gossipy kind of way.

In fact, this is one of the most absorbing novels I've read in awhile and I read it slowly, so I could savor all 555 pages.

Alice Lindgren, Sittenfeld's Laura Bush stand-in, is a sweet, bookish, middle-class girl from a small town who grows up to be a school librarian and a Democrat. (Just like the Laura Bush!) She marries Charlie Blackwell, the ne'er-do-well son of a wealthy Republican family who turns his life around and follows his father into politics. (Just like George Bush!)

I'd reveal more of the plot, but if you know anything about George and Laura Bush, and you've been paying attention to the news over the last decade, you can figure it out. It's not subtle.

The veiled part is that most of this occurs in Wisconsin, not Texas. They have one daughter, not two. And Charlie goes to Princeton, not Yale. Clever, huh!

Some of the things that happen to Alice happened to Laura Bush but most of it comes from Sittenfeld's imagination. And she's created a sympathetic character: Alice is thoughtful and likeable. As for Charlie and the rest of the Blackwells, not so much. They mostly come off like snooty, clueless rich people.

Sittenfeld makes Alice a compelling, if passive, protagonist. I was struck by how uneasy she seems with her own life, how little control she's had over the events that have defined her, the amount of time she spends questioning decisions she's made. It's kind of sad but very human, I guess.

And Alice is so quiet and unassuming I couldn't figure out what she saw in Charlie, who drinks too much and is a bit of an insensitive lout. I guess he's also fun and kind of charming at times. They do have some pretty steamy sex scenes. But he seems the opposite of everything she is, of everything she believes in. They really do come from two different worlds.

In return for marrying him, Alice is thrust into this unfamiliar life of immense wealth and privilege, of snobby country clubs and private schools and summer homes. I don't think she ever really feels a part of it. She's always trying to do little good deeds on the side to somehow make up for the privileges.

Then, when Charlie is elected to public office and Alice finds herself in the glare of the spotlight, she feels embarrassed by the attention and uncomfortable with the scrutiny. In that sense, I wonder if she's like a lot of women (and probably some men) who are married to politicians.

I'm sure on some level, Alice enjoys her life, or at least she's made peace with it, even though she doesn't seem particularly happy. I couldn't help but wonder whether the real Laura Bush has felt the same uneasiness, which I guess is part of the book's attraction.

Intellectually, I know Sittenfeld isn't really describing the life and innermost thoughts of Laura Bush. Especially in the last section, I think Alice acts in a way that Laura never would. I'm also not convinced that the Bushes disagree as much politically as Alice and Charlie do. I think Alice is more liberal than Laura.

But emotionally, in a way that sometimes made me feel uncomfortable, like I had no business peering into this woman's subconscious, I did wonder just how close Sittenfeld had gotten to the truth.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Remembering Marian Anderson

Classical music critic Alex Ross has an interesting article in The New Yorker about African-American contralto Marian Anderson.

This month marks the 70th anniversary of Anderson's concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, after she was denied permission by the Daughters of the American Revolution to sing at Constitution Hall because it was only open to white artists.

Yesterday, in a tribute concert re-creating that historic event, African-American opera singer Denyce Graves performed the three songs Anderson sang 70 years ago: "America," "O, Mio Fernando" and "Ave Maria."

Ross has a link to Anderson's performance of "America." You can watch it here, too. And historian Raymond Arsenault has written a book about the events leading up to and after that concert in 1939, called The Sound of Freedom.

What a great reminder that some of the things we once thought of as immutable traditions, maybe even "justified" by the Bible, weren't so immutable or justifiable after all.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The art of the Peep

Who doesn't love Peeps? So sugary, so marshmallow-y. And so versatile.

For your viewing pleasure, check out the top 40 entries in the Peeps diorama contest from The Washington Post and from the Chicago Tribune, the 15 finalists in the Peeps on Parade contest.

Lots of entries were inspired by current events, including octomom Nadya Suleman and her octopeeps and former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. ("Impeement!")

For theatre fans, the Washington Post finalists include Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Peep Street (No. 14); and Mary Peepins (No. 19).

This year, the winners of both competitions pay homage to classic American works of art. And happy Easter!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Following Kevin Spacey's every tweet

Kevin Spacey was in Boston and I missed him. Darn it! If only I'd known that he was Twittering, or Tweeting, on Twitter. I could have followed his Twits, or his Tweets. (In a respectful, non-stalkerish way, of course.)

At first I wasn't sure whether it was the real Kevin Spacey or the fake Kevin Spacey, because I know that does happen.

Apparently, some celebrities use ghostwriters for their 140-character messages. There's a great comment from NBA star Shaquille O'Neal, who does his own Twittering. He told The New York Times: "It’s so few characters. If you need a ghostwriter for that, I feel sorry for you.”

I think it really is Kevin, or at least someone who works for him. There are lots of Tweets about the Broadway revival of Alan Ayckbourn's trilogy The Norman Conquests, which began previews this week at Circle in the Square. It's a transfer from The Old Vic Theatre in London, where Kevin is the artistic director.

He also mentions that he saw Two Men of Florence at the Huntington Theatre Company in Boston. He really was there. I have proof! I found a photo on the Huntington's blog. Nice to know that he's getting out and seeing some shows.

(That's Kevin, looking dashing in his leather jacket and cap, with the cast, playwright Richard Goodwin and Goodwin's wife, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin.)

It was kind of hard to follow the messages at first, because I guess other people - "followers" - can leave comments on your Twitter stream. But eventually I figured out which ones were from Kevin:

"Old Vic production of trilogy NORMAN CONQUESTS starts perf at Circle in Square on 50th in NYC. Wonderful, dir by Matt Warchus. Go. Go. Go!"

"Saw Two Men of Florence by R Goodwin in Boston at Huntington. Great. Go only 3 more perf. Ed Hall directs fabulous."

"Got up on stage last night at The Box sang 'Just a Gigolo' for Philip Green and wife who opened TopShop/NYC. Simon Cowell asked for encore!"

"I can assure everyone who is wondering if this is really me that it is. No ghosts here. Put up photos to prove. Lets just believe. Okay?"

Okay, I believe!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Huntington Theatre Company's new season

I haven't written anything yet about the Huntington Theatre Company's 2009-10 season. Unfortunately, I can't get to Boston as often as I'd like, but the Huntington is a great place to see a show.

As an added attraction, it's right down the street from my former stomping grounds, aka where I went to college. So a visit to the old neighborhood is always fun.

There are still a couple holes in the schedule but here's what artistic director Peter DuBois has announced so far:

Fences, by August Wilson, Boston University Theatre, Sept. 11 - Oct. 11
A Long and Winding Road, a musical journey with pop icon Maureen McGovern, Wimberly Theatre, Oct. 9 - Nov. 15
A Civil War Christmas: An American Musical Celebration, by Paula Vogel, Boston University Theatre, Nov. 13 - Dec. 13,
Becky Shaw, by Gina Gionfriddo, Boston University Theatre, Jan. 8 - Feb. 7, 2010
Stick Fly, by Lydia Diamond, Wimberly Theatre, March 26 - May 1, 2010

I'm most excited about Fences, directed by Kenny Leon. I haven't seen any of August Wilson's plays on stage yet. This one, the sixth in Wilson's 10-play cycle chronicling African-American life in the 20th century, received the Tony and the Pulitzer Prize and I think it's considered among his best works.

There are still two more plays to be announced and DuBois told The Boston Globe that he's planning a multiyer focus on American comedy, so maybe that's a hint about what's coming.

"One thing I discovered over the past couple of years directing comedy is that the human experience is often illuminated in comedy in the most surprising ways," DuBois says.

"I don't know of any other major theater in the country that's stepping back and saying let's create a festival environment around American comedy, and let's really ask the questions of what's the difference between American and European comedy styles, what characterizes it, and go all the way back to the '20s and '30s."

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Kirk Douglas live on dvd

I'm glad there are plans to preserve for posterity Before I Forget, the one-man show by Kirk Douglas that was staged last month for four performances at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City, Calif.

In an interview with CNN, Douglas says he wants to turn the 90-minute show into a television special and a dvd. Proceeds would go to the Motion Picture and Television Home, where he endowed a wing in memory of his father.

That'll be great for those of us who couldn't get to California. Still, I can't imagine it could compare with the experience of sitting in the audience and listening to the 92-year-old actor reflect on his life and career. I'm thinking this is one where you just had to be there.

"So many people cried," Douglas said, "and I thought, you know, it's easy to make people cry, but it's more important to make people laugh. ... Especially in this world today, if you don't laugh, you cry."

Of course, Douglas is best known for movies such as Spartacus, Lust for Life and Paths of Glory but my favorite is a 1966 film set in Israel called Cast A Giant Shadow. I found it when I was channel-surfing late one night and the movie inspired me to make my first trip to Israel, in 1995. I ended up living there for a year, so Kirk Douglas has had quite an impact on my life.

Here's an interview with Douglas on NPR. And a report from the Los Angeles Times on opening night. In his review, Charles McNulty noted that Douglas' stroke-impaired speech was a little difficult to understand at times but he says:

"Genuinely touching and amusing by turns, the show — special event, really — has a relaxed, moseying feel. It’s as though we’ve been invited into Douglas’ Beverly Hills den to watch home movies and listen to tales from his incredible showbiz odyssey."

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Chicken soup, matzo balls, no schmaltz

I used to cook quite a bit and I enjoy it, but with Whole Foods nearby, why bother?

Still, a few times a year, on major Jewish holidays, I'll whip up some chicken soup using the scariest and most dangerous kitchen appliance ever invented - a pressure cooker.

Hey, I'm no Joan Nathan, but this recipe works for me:

Step 1: I slice three carrots and one medium-sized yellow onion so that the bottom of the pot is completely covered. I hate cutting the onions. They sting my eyes and make me cry. I know there's probably a way to cut an onion and not make your eyes sting but I haven't found it yet.

Step 2: Then I add boneless, skinless chicken breasts. These are organic, air-chilled, free-range chickens but really, any kind will do. I just use them because I always have. "Tradition, Tradition!" Naturally, you don't get as much flavor as you would using a whole breast, with the skin and bones, but it's much healthier. Life is a tradeoff.

Step 3: I liberally, and I do mean liberally, sprinkle parsley and celery flakes over the chicken, adding a few teaspoons of powdered chicken soup mix to make up for the lack of schmaltz. The first time I made chicken soup on my own I put in paprika. Big mistake.

Step 4: I add six cups of water. I use bottled water but tap water will work perfectly fine, too. Notice you're not filling the cooker all the way to the brim.

Step 5: I let it cook until the pressure regulator starts rocking violently. Then, turn the heat down slightly and let the cooker simmer for 15 minutes. This is the scary, dangerous part. I'm always afraid it's going to blow up. But I guess that's what the pressure regulator is for. At least I hope.

Step 6: It usually takes about 45 minutes for the cooker to cool and the pressure to go down. If you want to speed things up, you can put the cooker in the sink and run some water over it. There's probably enough soup for six to eight servings.

Step 7: Plop in a matzo ball. I used to make my own from a mix but matzo balls are like tribbles. You make 20 or so the size of walnuts, put them in a pot to boil and in no time at all you've got 20 or so the size of baseballs. Who needs that many matzo balls?

Enjoy! And kids, don't try this at home without adult supervision. (By the way, if the White House is interested, my chicken soup and I are both available for next year's Passover seder.)