Friday, February 26, 2010

Trinity Rep 2010-2011 season

Providence's Trinity Repertory Company has announced the lineup for its 47th season. Here's the 2010-2011 schedule along with the description from the news release:

Lerner & Lowe
Sept. 10 - Oct. 10

King Arthur has everything – peace, prosperity and a happy marriage… but will the arrival of the handsome, brash Sir Lancelot change Camelot forever?

Absurd Person Singular
Alan Ayckbourn
Oct. 15 - Nov. 21

It’s a dark and stormy night – perfect for a festive holiday party! This hilarious comedy romp follows three married couples through three disastrous Christmas parties, as they drink, frolic, and fight their way to… holiday cheer?

It's A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play
Joe Landry

This unique stage adaptation is performed as a radio play, broadcast on Christmas Eve, 1946. Everyman George Bailey gets the chance to see what the world would be like if he’d never been born.

The Crucible
Arthur Miller
Feb. 4 - March 13, 2011

Fear stalks the people of Salem, Massachusetts. Is it the work of the devil? Or has hysteria, malice, and one young woman’s lust started a chain of events that will undo a whole community? (This is the centerpiece of the Project Discovery program that brings students to the theatre and actors into classrooms.)

Dael Orlandersmith
Feb. 25 - April 3, 2011

Growing up in a small South Carolina town, Eugene and Alma find friendship, solace, and even love in each other. But he is light-skinned, and she is dark. Can their love survive the weight of the world?

Steel Magnolias
Robert Harling
April 15 - May 15, 2011

On her wedding day, Shelby is a vision in pink – two lovely shades! Her mother and friends gather at Truvy’s Beauty Salon to prepare for the big day. Still, beauty, hairspray, and all the pink in the world can’t protect this young woman from what lies ahead.

The Completely Fictional - Utterly True - Final Strange Tale of Edgar Allan Poe
Stephen Thorne
May 6 - June 5, 2011

Edgar Allan Poe has been missing for seven days. And that’s just the beginning of a journey that leads him to the bizarre, the macabre, and the sublime. Where is Poe going? To hell, to heaven… and back. (Thorne is a member of the acting company and this is his first play.)

So, what excites me the most?

Well Camelot, definitely, since I love the movie and I've never seen the musical onstage. Trinity Rep's artistic director Curt Columbus says, "We will be stripping away all of the expected trappings of traditional knights and fair maidens to focus on the complicated love triangle set in a world of political intrigue.''

I'm looking forward to British playwright Alan Ayckbourn's farce Absurd Person Singular. He's become a favorite of mine since I saw The Norman Conquests on Broadway last summer. The three plays were hilarious and together, they were one of my favorite theatergoing experiences.

I'm intrigued by the idea of presenting It's A Wonderful Life as a 1940s radio play. As someone who's not really into the annual production of A Christmas Carol, it's nice to have an alternative.

And the subject of Dael Orlandersmith's Yellowman, a 2002 Pulitzer Prize finalist, sounds interesting. In the New York Times, Ben Brantley called the play "a hard and piercing drama about intraracial prejudice."

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Dick Van Dyke returns to Mary Poppins

I can't even imagine how thrilling it must have been for the audience at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles when Dick Van Dyke made a cameo appearance in the Jan. 22 performance of Mary Poppins!

Of course he played Bert, the chimney sweep, in the 1964 movie with Julie Andrews.

Here's a clip from Entertainment Tonight:

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Gamm Theatre 2010-2011 season

It's the most wonderful time of the year - when theatre companies announce their new season.

First up is the Gamm Theatre in Pawtucket, which I think has a very promising 2010-2011 planned.

There's a North American premiere, a couple of plays I missed in New York that were fairly well-received, a classic of 19th century drama and a 20th-century play that seems all-too suited to our current economic woes.

The theatre is an intimate space, only 137 seats, and it's one I should get to more often. I saw a terrific production of The Elephant Man there in 2007.

Here's the schedule:

Glengarry Glen Ross
David Mamet
Sept. 2 - Oct. 3

Theresa Rebeck
Oct. 21 - Nov. 21

A Doll's House
Henrik Ibsen
Jan. 20 - Feb. 20, 2011

Howard Brenton
March 17 - April 17, 2011

Why Torture is Wrong and the People Who Love Them
Christopher Durang
May 5 - June 5, 2011

Even though I was disappointed by the two David Mamet plays I've seen on Broadway, Speed-the-Plow and Race, I do like the film version of Glengarry Glen Ross and I'm eager to see it on stage. Be aware that there's plenty of Mamet's trademark profanity in this 1982 play about small-time real-estate agents desperate to make a sale.

Theresa Rebeck's play is about half-sisters battling over the family inheritance - a rare stamp collection - premiered on Broadway in 2007 and drew some comparison to Mamet's work. So it'll be an interesting follow-up. Steve on Broadway called Mauritius "surprisingly thrilling and highly entertaining" in his review.

Christopher Durang's play premiered off-Broadway in 2009 at the Public Theater. It has an intriguing, convoluted plot about a woman who wakes up after a hangover and finds herself married to man who may be a terrorist. The New York Times review called Why Torture is Wrong a "hilarious and disturbing new comedy about all-American violence."

A Doll's House, a domestic drama written in the 19th century by Norwegian Henrik Ibsen, is considered a seminal work because of its focus on the lives of the middle class and on the position of women in society. The protagonist, Nora, is an intense, physically demanding role, one of the most challenging dramatic parts for an actress.

Paul, by British playwright Howard Brenton, is about St. Paul's conversion to Christianity. The play caused some controversy at London's National Theatre in 2005. But it also won praise as "a compelling study of faith and of the human need for stories that explain the world and inspire action." The Gamm production will be its North American premiere.

Monday, February 22, 2010


Gratuitous Violins rating: ** out of ****

It's taken me awhile but my year of living theatrically, 2010 edition, is finally off the ground. Yesterday, I took in the tour of Xanadu at the Providence Performing Arts Center.

The musical is based on the 1980 movie with singer Olivia Newton-John. She plays a muse, Clio (aka Kira), who comes down from Mount Olympus to inspire a struggling artist in Venice Beach, Calif., named Sonny Malone. Sonny dreams of creating a roller disco at the site of an abandoned theater.

On the tour, Elizabeth Stanley plays Clio/Kira and Max von Essen is Sonny. Larry Marshall is Danny Maguire, the hard-nosed businessman who wants to tear down the building and turn it into condos.

Stanley, from the Broadway musical Cry-Baby, is pretty funny with her faux Australian accent. She spends most of the musical on roller skates, not an easy thing to do I imagine. Von Essen is sweet and goofy and so cute in his short shorts.

And I loved the two wisecracking sister muses who are extremely jealous rivals of Clio, played by Annie Golden and Amy Goldberger. I was especially excited to see Golden, who was in the movie version of Hair. They did a great rendition of Electric Light Orchestra's "Evil Woman."

I have to give book writer Douglas Carter Beane credit for the way he weaves in a refresher course on Greek mythology. He also takes some witty swipes at the current state of musical theatre but they got kind of tepid applause. Maybe they worked better on Broadway?

Xanadu has a score of catchy pop tunes that I really enjoyed, like the title track, "Magic," "Alive," "All Over the World" and "Have You Never Been Mellow?" After seeing more than a few overblown musicals, I like the fact that this is kind of an intimate show that doesn't take itself too seriously.

But I have to admit the plot of Xanadu felt kind of stretched out and while I laughed, I didn't think it was uproariously funny.

Part of it is, the musical may simply work better in a smaller venue. On Broadway, it played in the 597-seat Helen Hayes Theatre. PPAC has 3,000 seats. Sometimes you pick up on the enthusiasm of the people sitting around you, but the energy felt too dissipated in a big house.

Also, there was a major irritation that affected my enjoyment to the point where I'm knocking down Xanadu by half a star.

When I entered the theatre, I was so excited about my fourth-row orchestra seat that I didn't think about the row of speakers set up across the front of the stage. They hid the actors' feet.

Xanadu has tap dancing and roller skating - I wanted to see feet. As it was, I saw the top of Stanley's leg warmers. Dan Knechtges' choreography was lost on me.

Afterward, I spoke to a crew member who told me that the speakers were put on the stage so those of us in the first few rows could hear better. Maybe so but I never remember having my view of the stage blocked like that before.

The tour runs through the beginning of May and the next stop is Pittsburgh's Benedum Center. I don't know what the setup will be like in other cities but this is one show where you might want to sit a little farther back.

So overall, Xanadu was a fun and frothy way to spend 90 minutes on a chilly February afternoon, not a bad way to start off my year of theatergoing. And best of all, it's only the beginning!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Revivals and revivals and revivals

The New York Times has a great spring/summer theatre preview today. What caught my attention was an article examining why familiar plays and musicals are being revived more frequently on Broadway.

Two of this season's revivals mentioned in the story are the musical La Cage aux Folles, which begins previews April 6 and the play A View from the Bridge, which runs through April 4.

I thought these comments were very sobering:

“One reason the wait time is getting shorter is that there are fewer and fewer great plays,” said Sonia Friedman, the London-based producer of La Cage aux Folles. "Many plays written in the last 10 to 15 years are on a smaller scale or too tied in to the zeitgeist.''

"Anthony LaPaglia, who won a Tony Award in the last View From the Bridge and stars this spring in Lend Me a Tenor (previously on Broadway 20 years ago), concurred: 'The talent pool is very thin, the generations of writers who stayed with theater has passed. Now they get the call for Hollywood and are gone.' "

Okay, maybe there's a kernel of truth. I don't doubt that the lure of Hollywood is a strong one. It always has been. Both William Faulkner and F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote for the movies. Shakespeare would have, too, if he'd had the chance.

Certainly, writers who concentrate on movies today would have been writing for the stage a couple generations ago. But I think Friedman's and LaPaglia's comments seem awfully dismissive of the current crop of playwrights.

What we ought to do is encourage writers to move among genres, like Martin McDonagh, who started in theatre, won an Oscar and is back on Broadway this spring with A Behanding Spokane.

Saturday, February 20, 2010


With two weeks to go until the Oscars, I've finally seen one of the 10 nominees for Best Picture. Yeah, I'm a little behind.

I know some of them are way too violent for me. And frankly, a lot of movies work fine on a small screen. So I simply add them to my Netflix queue and wait for the dvd to arrive in the mail.

But every once in awhile there's one I really wish I'd seen in the theater, or at least bought that 46-inch flat-panel plasma TV I've been thinking about.

, from Disney/Pixar, is definitely in the latter category. It's sweet and funny and visually stunning and it's a thrilling adventure story.

Like all Pixar films, it works on two levels - lots for the kids to enjoy and some witty references the adults might pick up on.

First, it's a buddy movie about a lonely widower, Carl Fredricksen (Ed Asner), and an eager little boy, Russell (Jordan Nagai), who yearns for some paternal attention.

But before they meet, there's a sequence introducing Carl that is simply masterful. Like the beginning of Wall-e, it's done without dialogue, yet conveys everything we need to know about his life. And it's so poignant, I was crying at the end.

Asner is in his Lou Grant mode, fiercely independent and a bit cranky. Nagai's Russell, the first Asian-American character in a Pixar movie, is so cute as a Wilderness Explorer who shows up on Carl's doorstep, trying to earn his final merit badge for "assisting the elderly."

Carl and Russell travel to an exotic location, make new friends, including a very energetic golden retriever, find themselves in hair-raising situations and match wits with a wily villain (voiced by Christopher Plummer). Some of the animation seemed so realistic, it was breathtaking.

In fact, Up reminded me of the best parts of the Indiana Jones movies. (If only Indy 4 had been this good!)

is only the second animated film, after Beauty and the Beast, to be nominated for Best Picture. This is one I should have gotten up off the couch and gone to the theater to see.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Homophobia in theatre reviews

I could not believe what Bloomberg News theatre critic John Simon wrote in his review of The Pride, a production of off-Broadway's MCC Theater.

In discussing his reaction to the play by Alexi Kaye Campbell, which examines gay relationships in 1958 and 2008, Simon writes "Another problem is men kissing each other ..." Then he quotes this bit of dialogue:

Oliver: The blonde one’s had his tongue in the other one’s ear since we got here.
Philip: Yummy.
Oliver: They’re sweet.

He ends the review by remarking, "I wonder how mainstream audiences will take to Campbell’s tongue in their ears."

Wow. John Simon, if you think that two men kissing is "a problem" then you clearly have "a problem" with gay people. If you can't leave your homophobia at the entrance to the theatre, then you should not have reviewed this play.

I mean, imagine the outcry if a critic had written about the musical Memphis, which features an interracial love story, "Another problem is a white man kissing a black woman." We would be outraged - and justifiably so.

At Parabasis, blogger Isaac Butler has gotten the discussion going. And apparently, Simon isn't the only theatre critic who has trouble keeping his prejudices in check. (Thanks to the West End Whingers for pointing out the following item.)

Christopher Hart penned this line in his review of Plague Over England in the London Sunday Times: “There’s also quite a lot of men kissing. I can cope with most things on stage — rape, torture, the plays of David Hare — but I still have to lower my gaze at men kissing.”

So you can put up with viewing rape and torture on stage but the sight of two men kissing forces you to avert your eyes from the horror? Unbelievable. Viewing violence against women is palatable to Hart but a display of affection between two men sends him over the edge.

I don't know whether this is simply a generational thing - Simon is 84. Or whether it's a matter of two male critics trying to prove their bona fides lest they be considered a little less than straight.

Whatever the excuse, both reviews are offensive. The stories of gay men and lesbians deserve to be told and their relationships deserve to be treated with respect. It should be that way in theatre reviews and in real life as well.

Personally, I have no problem with two men or two women kissing and being affectionate with each other. I think it's sweet. They're part of "the mainstream" and so are the rest of us who consider them friends, family, coworkers, neighbors.

The "problem" as I see it is letting the bigots control the conversation. Their voices shouldn't be the only ones that get heard.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Notable, quotable American plays

I've been looking over the results of a poll by the Denver Post that came up with the 10 most important American plays. They are:

1.) Death of a Salesman
2.) Angels in America
3.) A Streetcar Named Desire
4.) Long Day's Journey Into Night
5.) Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf
6.) Our Town
7.) The Glass Menagerie
8.) A Raisin in the Sun
9.) The Crucible
10.) Fences

The only one I haven't seen is The Glass Menagerie. I've seen four on stage - Our Town, A Raisin in the Sun, Fences and The Crucible - and movie versions of the others. (My high school put on The Crucible, so it's been a long time!)

The newspaper surveyed people connected with the theatre world and the list is filled with high school and college English class fare. They're older works, which I guess is how you become a classic.

Two things surprised me about the list.

First, they're all exceedingly serious. Hasn't anyone written a great American comedy? Second, the article includes a quote from each play and I was surprised by how few I recognized.

These are important plays for the way they illuminate American life. But if I didn't already know the names of the top 10, I would only have been able to match the dialogue to the play for three - Death of A Salesman, A Streetcar Named Desire and A Raisin in the Sun.

I'm not sure that's important. A great play is more than a collection of snappy one-liners, right? Maybe it's just a reflection of my lousy memory. I can't quibble with the list or say that I would have done any better.

Anyway, here's a clip from a 1985 TV production of Death of A Salesman, adapted from the 1984 Broadway revival. It featured Dustin Hoffman as Willy Loman, John Malkovich as Biff, Stephen Lang as Happy and Kate Reid as Linda.

For Willy's sake, please pay attention!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The music that changed history

Last week at the White House, President Obama hosted "A Celebration of Music from the Civil Rights Movement." It aired on PBS but I caught the concert online here.

I love the music of the 1960s, especially the songs that became civil-rights anthems. They were designed to inspire and lift the spirits of people who had been battered and bruised in the fight for equality. This was music meant to be actively sung, not simply listened to passively.

As Jon Pareles put it in his New York Times review, "If any music can claim to have changed history, it was the songs of the civil rights movement."

And how stirring to see and hear these songs not in some grainy black-and-white news footage from some small Southern town but in the elegance of the East Room.

Yolanda Adams sang Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come," a song that always gets me choked up. I liked John Mellencamp's rockin' "Keep Your Eyes on the Prize."

How cool was it to hear Bob Dylan sing "The Times They Are A-Changin" for an audience that likely included actual senators and congressmen!

Of course, Joan Baez sang "We Shall Overcome," the song she performed at the March on Washington in 1963. What a perfect bookend to history.

It was incredible to listen to these songs and think about the people who sang them half a century ago, people who were beaten and jailed and even killed simply for trying to register African-Americans to vote.

Now, these same songs are performed at the White House in front of our country's first African-American president. Could anyone ever have imagined it?

Here are the performances by Adams:

And Dylan

And Baez

Monday, February 15, 2010

It's Rhoda Morgenstern - following me!

I am totally susceptible to flattery. So I was incredibly excited to discover that the Broadway play Looped, which begins previews Friday at the Lyceum Theatre, was following me on Twitter!

That's Looped starring Valerie Harper as the legendary actress Tallulah Bankhead. Valerie Harper - Rhoda Morgenstern! I'm one degree of separation from The Mary Tyler Moore Show. I'm a little verklempt right now.

Here's Valerie getting a little help rearranging her dressing room. I love this backstage stuff.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Bringing The Mountaintop to Broadway

Producers of the play The Mountaintop are aiming to bring it to Broadway next fall, which interests me for two reasons.

The subject of Katori Hall's play: the Rev. Martin Luther King. Jr. on the last night of his life, sounds fascinating. Here's an interview with Hall from 2008, where she talks about what led her to write it.

The title comes from King's stirring and prophetic final speech, delivered at a Memphis church on April 3, 1968:

"Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!"

What surprises me is that The Mountaintop had its world premiere in London last summer. It was praised by the critics, including the very discerning West End Whingers, and has received an Olivier nomination for Best New Play. (Update 3-21: In an upset, The Mountaintop won the Olivier for Best New Play!)


Why did a play by an American writer about such an important American subject have to go across the Atlantic Ocean to get produced?

That just seems astounding to me and a little sad. (Apparently there was some kind of in-development reading at the Lark Theatre in New York.)

Why couldn't Hall get The Mountaintop commercially produced in the United States? Is there something about London that makes theatre producers salivate, that gives a play a little extra cachet?

I found an interview with Hall from the London theatre Web site What's on Stage, and maybe this is part of the answer:

"I would love to work here again. The space for new writing is much much bigger here. New writing is much more respected. It seems like there’s a bigger space for it ..."

Here's the trailer from The Mountaintop:

My guess is the play, which has only two characters, King and a maid at the Lorraine Motel, will be re-cast with American actors.

I'd like to nominate Tony winner Jeffrey Wright, who's already portrayed the civil-rights leader in the HBO movie Boycott. Just my 2 cents but he's about the right age and I think he'd be a great choice.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Red Sox musical, an update

I've gotten a dozen or so hits (pun intended) recently from people searching for information about the Boston Red Sox musical in the lineup at Cambridge's American Repertory Theater.

So I figure with spring training just around the corner, it's time for an update.

The musical begins previews May 14 and runs through June 27 at the Loeb Drama Center. When I first wrote about the show, it was called Red Sox Nation. The name's been changed to Johnny Baseball. (I like the old name better but sadly, no one asked for my opinion.)

The story, described as "an exhilarating blend of fact, fiction and the mystical power of the game," spans the years from 1919 to 2004, when the Red Sox broke the Curse of the Bambino to win the World Series after an 86-year drought.

At its heart is a romance between white baseball player Johnny O'Brien, a hard-luck right-hander on the 1919 Sox, and Daisy Wyatt, a dazzling black jazz singer. Their son is kept out of the major leagues because of his skin color. (The Red Sox were the last team to integrate.)

The creative team is the same: playwright Richard Dresser, who penned the Beach Boys jukebox musical Good Vibrations, is writing the book. Music and lyrics are by brothers Robert Reale and Willie Reale, who collaborated on the score for A Year with Frog and Toad.

Robert Reale said this week on Twitter that auditions have wrapped up and they've made several casting offers. Scott Pask is designing the set. Also on board are lighting designer Donald Holder and costume designer Michael McDonald.

There's an extensive interview with the Dresser and the Reale brothers on the A.R.T. Web site. Clearly, big themes are in play here.

"One of the things that drew us to this project was the idea that this whole region of the country was following this one team so closely and getting consistently defeated in these inspired, tragic ways," Dresser says. "In fact, we always spoke about this musical as a kind of Greek tragedy."

I like the combination of baseball lore, American history and love story. It's encouraging that Diane Paulus, the A.R.T's artistic director, will be directing the musical. She helmed the Tony-winning Broadway revival of Hair, one of my favorite shows of 2009.

Here's a clip of Paulus talking about the show when it was still called Red Sox Nation:

Update: The cast has been announced and it includes Stephanie Umoh, who was in the short-lived Ragtime revival on Broadway, as Daisy Wyatt; Colin Donnell as Johnny O'Brien; and Burke Moses as Babe Ruth.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Kids' night isn't just on Broadway

Just a reminder to all of the theatre-loving adults out there that while it's called Kids' Night on Broadway, the annual program isn't limited to New York City.

In cities all across these United States young people ages 6 to 18 can get a free or reduced price ticket on certain dates when accompanied by an adult. (In Boston, the show is The Lion King on Feb. 16. In Providence, kids' night is the March 18 performance of 101 Dalmations at the Providence Performing Arts Center.)

Here's a partial list of theatres but I know it doesn't include every venue. It should be easy enough to call or e-mail the theatre in your area and ask if they're participating. (If they're not, ask them why not. Don't be bashful!)

The Kids' Night on Broadway Web site also has lots of fun stuff for the budding theatre-lover in your life, including a souvenir Playbill they can download. And here's a great Hartford Courant article for parents on bringing children to the theatre.

This is a good opportunity to introduce a new generation to the thrill of live performance. So find a kid, and take them!

Monday, February 8, 2010

It's Freedom to Marry Week

It's Freedom to Marry Week, a time to talk about love and equality and fairness.

If two unrelated adults who are in love, building a life together, in many cases raising children together, want the benefits and protections of marriage, they ought to get them. It shouldn't matter whether they're two men or two women or a man and a woman. It's a matter of equal protection under the law.

The campaign of fear, the scare tactics, that opponents of gay marriage use are deeply offensive to me. To imply that allowing gays and lesbians to marry threatens children or heterosexual marriage is bigotry, pure and simple. It's immoral and unAmerican.

My friends who are gay and lesbian pay taxes, are good citizens, decent people with the highest values. They shouldn't be treated like second-class citizens when it comes to marriage.

I look at their loving, committed relationships and I compare them to John Edwards and Eliot Spitzer and Mark Sanford, three heterosexual married men, with children, who did not take their vows seriously at all. I wonder: Who presents the real threat to the sanctity of "traditional marriage?"

I know how fortunate my friends feel to have found the love of their life. And I know how truly happy and fulfilling their lives are together. The longer I know them, the more strongly I feel that they should have the freedom to marry the person they love. They will certainly honor the sanctity of marriage better than Spitzer, Sanford and Edwards.

In Sunday's New York Times, Frank Rich wrote about the push to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," which prevents gays and lesbians in the military from serving their country openly. He said, "Most Americans recognize that being gay is not a 'lifestyle' but an immutable identity."

Like a lot of straight people, there was a time when I didn't know many people who were openly gay or lesbian. But times change and so, too, should our concept of equality. This comment sums up how I feel:

"As more gay people have come out — a process that accelerated once the modern gay rights movement emerged from the Stonewall riots of 1969 — so more heterosexuals have learned that they have gay relatives, friends, neighbors, teachers and co-workers. It is hard to deny our own fundamental rights to those we know, admire and love."

In the week leading up to Valentine's Day, that's a statement worth taking to heart.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Follow Friday - JK's TheatreScene

To borrow a phrase from Twitter, it's "follow Friday!"

I'd like to give a shoutout to a fellow New Englander whose blog I recently started following, JK's TheatreScene. Jeff, or "JK," lives in Vermont and he's been blogging since August. (I found him via Steve On Broadway's blogroll.)

Here's what Jeff has to say about himself: "MAJOR theatre enthusiast! Love the Divas, the Broadway Boys. I mostly enjoy musicals, but lately have come to even seek out a good play. Theatre is my passion, a passion I hope to share with many others."

What I like about his blog is that it's thoughtful and wide-ranging but best of all, Jeff has a conversational style that's fun to read. The enthusiasm definitely comes through.

Plus, he makes it fresh every day! (Or close to it.)

In addition to reviewing musicals and cast recordings and previewing upcoming shows, he's also written about riding the Megabus to New York, delved into the history of Broadway theatres, and created a Broadway-themed crossword puzzle, which I definitely need to get started on.

It's always great to find a new theatre blogger whose writing I enjoy. So even though I'm a little late, a belated welcome to the blogosphere!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Falling in love with my iPhone

I've had my iPhone for three whole days now and I'm still loving it. Having e-mail and Internet access wherever I go is so cool. Now, I'll be totally lost in cyberspace.

Sure, I liked my old Motorola Razr, so sleek and compact, until it became increasingly difficult to turn back on when I turned it off. Taking the battery out for a few seconds helped. Since it was three years old, I figured it had outlived its natural life and bought a new one.

But after three months, I had the same problem. On Sunday, I turned it off for a minute and when I tried to restart it, the phone came back on but the screen was blank.

Apparently I'm not alone. One suggested (and I'm sure unauthorized) fix I found online - banging the phone on a hard surface a few times - didn't help.

I decided it was time for a change.

About 80 percent of my day - including when I'm at work or sleeping - I have access to a computer. Maybe 5 percent is spent driving. But it's that last 15 percent when I've thought, "It would be nice to have Internet access right now."

The iPhone 3G was $99, same price as the Razr. I was already using AT&T and they let me keep my cheap cell-phone plan, $17.99 a month. My only added expense is $30 a month for the Internet. (I also had to pay a one-time $18 upgrade fee.)

So far, it's been great.

If I'm stuck waiting in a doctor's office for two hours, as I was this week, or I'm running around doing errands, I can check my e-mail or catch up on the latest theatre news via Twitter. I can use it as a radio to listen to my favorite NPR station.

I'd tried out the keyboard a few times at my local Apple Store and it was awfully small and kind of difficult to type on. But now that I've used it a few times, it's much easier than I thought. I'm much more accurate than I thought I'd be.

I downloaded my first "app" from Apple's App Store, the Internet Movie Database.

I was hoping to find some Broadway or theatre-related ones but apparently my options are limited, according to this blog post from producer Ken Davenport. It would be nice if the Internet Broadway Database could be adapted for the iPhone.

Having an iPhone with the movie database would have come in handy a couple years ago when I saw the musical Grey Gardens on Broadway.

At intermission, I turned around and realized the actor who played "Hesh" on The Sopranos was sitting behind me. At the risk of sounding terribly gauche, I introduced myself, told him how much I loved the series and confessed I didn't remember his name.

He was very nice - his name is Jerry Adler. Later, I realized that he was also in the movie Manhattan Murder Mystery, with Woody Allen and Diane Keaton. If only I'd known!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Why does repealing DADT take a year?

I'm glad Defense Secretary Robert Gates said today that the Pentagon has begun the process of repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." But I don't quite understand why that process will take a year to complete.

According to Gates, the Pentagon has put together a working group that will "reach out to the [military] ... to authoritatively understand their views and attitudes about the impacts of repeal."

With all due respect, who cares about their views and attitudes? Should the views and attitudes of white soldiers have been a factor in President Harry Truman's decision to desegregate the armed forces by executive order in 1948?

In this case, it's even easier.

By one estimate, 65,000 gay and lesbian Americans are already fully integrated, proudly and honorably serving our country. The only difference is, they're forced to hide something so basic to who they are or risk being discharged.

That's not the American way.

As Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said, "No matter how I look at the issue, I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens."

If tomorrow, all 65,000 were able to serve openly and honestly, what would change? They'd still be exactly the same individuals doing exactly the same jobs. The only difference is, they would no longer be forced to deny who they are, forced to live a lie.

I think that would make our armed forces, our country, better.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Sitting down and making history

I can't let this day go by without noting a milestone. Fifty years ago today, on Feb. 1, 1960, four black college students sat down at a Woolworth's lunch counter in Greensboro, N.C., and refused to leave until they were served.

That quiet, dignified act helped spark similar protests across the United States. "They spread to Nashville, Atlanta, Miami, Durham, N.C., and Little Rock, Ark.," says historian Andrew Lewis. "More than 70 cities and towns in eight weeks. By summer, more than 50,000 people had taken part in one."

The lunch counter was desegregated on July 25, 1960. (You can see a section of it at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, which is my favorite museum in the world.)

Sit-ins became part of a movement that helped make this country a more just, more equal and better place. "Greensboro was the pivot that turned the history of America around," says historian Bill Chafe, of Duke University.

Today, the International Civil Rights Center & Museum is opening in Greensboro, at the site of that Woolworths. Here's a review of the museum from The New York Times.

And here's an interview from the Greensboro News & Record with the three survivors of the Greensboro sit-in: Joseph McNeil, Franklin McCain and Jibreel Khazan (formerly Ezell Blair Jr.) The fourth, David Richmond, died in 1990.

For me, one of the most interesting aspects of the civil-rights movement is the extent to which it was a movement of young people - blacks who took part in the marches and sit-ins and freedom rides, whites who came to the South to register voters.

McNeil says of those who joined the protests in the 1960s, “They didn’t come back and say, 'What’s in it for me?’ That’s something we hear a lot of today. People gave of their lives, their time and their money.”

It's difficult today to imagine how much courage it took those four young men to act. They faced arrest, physical violence, expulsion from college, the disapproval of their families.

But it was liberating, too. "The best feeling of my life," McCain said, was "sitting on that dumb stool."