Monday, March 02, 2015

Rasheeda Speaking at the New Group

On February 21st, I saw the matinee of the New Group's production Rasheeda Speaking.  It stars Tonya Pinkins, Dianne Wiest, Patricia Connolly and Darren Goldstein.   Joel Drake Johnson's new play is under the direction of Cynthia Nixon, making her directorial debut

Wow!  What an afternoon.  Aside from it conjuring all sorts of office PTSD for me, I found the play to be uncomfortable and quite terrifying, although quite hilarious.  It's the best and worst kind of comedy - the one that punches you in the stomach and makes you think about it's message for maybe ever...and hopefully it reached out and changed a few minds.  The story is set in a doctor's office. The main characters are two administrative assistants who seem to be friends and amiable co-workers until their boss stirs things up by promoting the older white one in order to get less experienced black one.  Nobody will say what they really mean and it's a itchy dance around racism and prejudices, both perceived and very real. 

I felt so challenged as a white person in the midst of some very diverse audience demographics.  I was sitting beside an older white woman and the two of us were sandwiched between black women.  The audience was a pretty mixed racially, although I was among the few younger seat fillers.   All of the black women in our row were ready for Tonya Pinkins to take them to church, as it were.  They were having a great time!  Meanwhile, I felt nervous on a number of levels.  There are office politics, scary co-workers and manipulation flying around the room.  The whole kettle threatening to boil over at any minute and it has everybody on edge. Each of the characters (and probably every last audience member) had some prejudice whether they admitted it, much less realized it.  

The play was superbly acted, which should not surprise anybody considering the pedigree of its actor and director (Tonys, Emmys, Oscar, etc galore).  As usual, I had a hard time keeping my eyes off Tonya Pinkins.  She's a magnet, cool and gorgeous and so very, very real in every movement.   Dianne Wiest is sheer perfection at playing meek and unsure of herself and falls apart in front of the audience's eyes.    Darren Goldstein smarmy and disgusting and quite perfect as the manipulative, upper middle class white doctor (ugh, my bosses were not doctors, but lawyers and I could see his type coming a mile away).  Patricia Connolly is wonderfully oblivious as the little old lady patient - she has no idea that she's saying anything wrong at all and quite outrageously threatens to steal the whole show.   

Rasheeda Speaking is on until March 22nd produced by The New Group at The Pershing Square Signature Center in the The Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre, 480 West 42nd Street.  I used Broadwaybox for discounted tickets.


Sunday, March 01, 2015

Debbie Voigt: Voigt Lessons at 92Y

Last week Debbie Voigt presented the new York City premier of her one woman show "Voigt Lessons" at the 92nd Street Y last Thursday night.  And girl, there were lessons to be learned.   
 
Deborah Voigt is one of the greatest dramatic sopranos of modern times.  I have seen her sing opera and lieder at the Met Opera and Carnegie Hall.  I saw her in my first Wagner, Tristan und Isolde and later in my first Ring Cycle, Gotterdammerung and Siegfried and earlier, in two Richard Strauss operas, Elektra and Die ägyptische Helena.  At Carnegie, I heard her sing Strauss' Last Four Songs with the Met Opera and in her own lieder recital.   Hearing her was thrilling, indeed.  

Aside from loving her singing, Debbie is a personal heroine of mine: she has shared her journey of conquering her compulsive overeating and addiction, weight issues, and other personal hurdles.  She published her memoirs, Call Me Debbie: True Confessions of a Down-To-Earth Diva, in January.

Voigt Lessons, a lovely evening of song and story, is a beautiful companion to her published memoirs.  The piece was created by Deborah Voigt, Terrence McNally (Tony award winning playwright and book writer) and opera and theatre director Francesca Zambello.  Richard Jay-Alexander staged the evening.  Debbie was accompanied on piano by her music direct, Kevin Stites. 

Debbie talked of learning to sing in the choir as a little girl in church to her time in high school musical theatre to learning to sing opera on the largest stages in the world.  She punctuated her very personal history by sharing some of her favorite songs from The Carpenters, musical theatre, old hymns and even Strauss and Brahms lieder.   She teased us with the opening bars to the second act of Tannhäuser.   She especially wowed us with her rendention of the tenor aria Nessun Dorma.   She even thru in a 'Ho-jo-to-ho'!  She closed the evening with the old gospel, His Eye is on the Sparrow.

She is warm, funny and beautiful.  She worked from a script for the evening, but at times spontaneously and to our great delight, went off book from time to time bring even greater joy to the evening.    Debbie did say shes still has some of the great roles in her, for which I cheered as loud as I could:  Kostelnička (Jenufa), Ortrud (Lohengrin), Dolly (Hello Dolly!) and Mame (Hell Yes!).    This was an evening of range - range of music and emotion - and I have no doubt she's up to any and all of these roles.

I found the evening to be quite cathartic.  I found myself in tears from the honest emotion and stories she shared.  I'm very grateful that she has been brave enough to own up and tell us all about all of this.  It's not easy.  As a woman who has struggled with compulsive overeating for as long as I can remember, I identify with her story and I know it's the hardest thing to work on much less talk about.  Everything and anything is easy compared to this, at least for me.   After the concert, I waited in line to have her sign my copy of her book and I'm so glad I did.  I felt a boost to continue working on my goals just being able to tell her thanks for being so brave.  Thanks very much indeed, Debbie. 


Debbie Voigt with Kevin Stites, photo by Richard Termine
Bonus: Because it's adorable and because my pal Jesse North is also in this video:

John & Jen at Keen Company

I was so delighted to see Keen Company's new production of John & Jen on Friday night.  The two-hander musical stars Kate Baldwin and newcomer Conor Ryan.  

It is a sweet, charming, funny, poignant musical with a great score and clever lyrics by Andrew Lippa and Tom Greenwald.  Orchestrations are by another Broadway composer, Jason Robert Brown.  
I loved the inventive music - from fun and very catchy to heart-string pulling.
The production is slight, leaving the actors to convey all of the changing times with their craft and they manage it very well.  Both actors have to play children to young adults, little brother and big sister in the first act and son and mother in the second act.   It's a beautiful coming of age story set during the 1960s into the 1980s. 

Conor is adorable at all times.  He does funny very well and his smile is contagious.  He had me laughing so much with his antics, which seems effortless.  He's got a great voice too.  I can't wait to see more of him. 

As for Kate, she never disappoints me.  Seeing her in the tiny space at The Clurman in Theatre Row is a magical experience.  The opportunity to see her on this stage is not to be missed - she's transcendent.   Her character  - big sister then mother - ages from 13 to late 30s.  Her transition is seamless and breathtaking.  She played all of the emotions so well and had me on the edge of my seat.  I really think there's nothing she can't do.

John & Jen plays until April 4th and I really think I will have to revisit this one.   Tickets are available at the Theatre Row box office at 410 West 42nd Street (btw 9th and 10th) or via Telecharge.  I used a Broadwaybox discount for $50 tickets.   

This is Keen Company's 20th Anniversary Production and to that they deserve many happy returns.  I have seen so many of their productions over the years and am never disappointed.  They offer a satisfying variety of drama and comedy, plays and musicals (their production of Marry Me A Little with Lauren Molina and Jason Tam is one of my favorite things ever  and they also gave me a chance to see the incomparable Kathleen Chalfant in Painting Churches). 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Turn of the Screw at Everyday Inferno Theatre Company


Henry James' thriller The Turn of the Screw is currently on at Everyday Inferno Theatre Company.   This stylized production is adapted by company member Jamie Wylie and is eerily set in the Morris-Jumel Mansion, Manhattan's oldest house. 

Setting the production in the Morris-Jumel is certainly inspired.   It was built in 1765 and served as headquarters to General Washington during the Revolutionary War.   It is said that ghosts are in residence and on a chilly night in a very quiet section of Washington Heights, I certainly felt a chill.

Ms. Wylie has set James' tale in the late evening after a dinner party: a well heeled guest shares a supposedly true story of suspense over after dinner drinks.  It's far past dark and the only lighting is moody and fraught with anticipation.   The production is simple and elegant, nuanced by Anais Koivisto's direction and period costume design.  She allows the evening gloom at Morris-Jumel be a  character in this production.  

The piece moves seamlessly and swiftly and is very well acted, particularly by Meg Kiley Smith as the Governess slipping into madness and Victoria Blankenship as the well-meaning Mrs. Grose.  The are joined by a fantastic company of Leslie Gauthier, Leslie Marseglia, James McCloskey, Graham Miles, Sam Ogilvie and Scott David Reeves.  Ms. Marseglia is admirably calm as the eerie Miss Jessel.  Most of the company does double duty portraying characters and effectively transition.   Suprises in scenes had me gasping and jumping in my seat, a testament to the execution of this company.  

The combination of execution of this classic story, an inspired destination setting and the season guarantees a satisfying evening for any thrill seeker....much more satisfying and immersive than any contrived haunted house during this Halloween season. 

Everyday Inferno Theatre Company offers this production The Turn of the Screw at the The Morris-Jumel, just two blocks off the C train stop at 163rd Street, through November 2nd.  Tickets are available via Brown Paper Tickets
 
photo by Anais Koivisto



photo by Anais Koivisto

 



Wednesday, October 08, 2014

A perfect symmetry: Marian and Noah

On Monday night, after experiencing one of the most thrilling nights of live performance, I returned home to learn that Marian Seldes had passed away.   My first thought was:  perfect symmetry.  

The thrilling night of theatre was Andrew Lippa's I AM HARVEY MILK at Avery Fisher Hall.   I was transported to so many nights of thrilling theatre and live performance and the fact that my friend Noah Himmelstein had much to do with so many of them - either sitting at my side, recommending a show to me, or in this case, directing the piece.   

Dear Marian Seldes.  She lived, breathed, and fairly exuded theatre - either on the stage since the 1940s or in seats, almost every day.   She officially taught acting at Julliard and at other theatre programs, but also by her actions and her enthusiasm.   Any day with a theatre ticket was a good day for her.  She was kind, beautiful and always wore purple, possibly a subconscious choice to reflect her inner regalness.

In the summer of 2007, I finally had the great pleasure of seeing her perform on the Broadway stage in DEUCE, starring opposite Angela Lansbury.   It was a dream to see these two actresses and I went many, many times.  From memorizing their lines - their delivery even - to greeting them at the stage door, it was my perfect Broadway summer.  

On July 4, 2007, Noah Himmelstein accompanied me to see  Marian and Angela in DEUCE.   He was already an associate theatre producer but he was working toward his goal of directing.  I know he was taking in more than just the performances of those two theatre legends.  We naturally gravitated to the stage door after in hopes of greeting them. 

It was one of those perfect serendipitous moments of being in the right place at the right time when I made Noah's photo with Ms. Seldes.   To me, the photo captures all of the volumes of love and knowledge passing from the great actress to the next generation of theatre professional.  

Later that fall, I had the photo enlarged and asked Ms. Seldes to autograph it for Noah.  She agreed to do so only if I would, in turn, provide her of a copy autographed by Noah.   Via associations, Noah went on to occasionally accompany Ms. Seldes to various theatre productions.  The learning between master and student continued.

We would occasionally run in to Ms. Seldes around the city - usually at the theatre - after the run of DEUCE finished.   One special occasion was after Barbara Cook's birthday concert in November, 2007 at Avery Fisher Hall.  Before we entered the hall, we saw our dear Ms. Seldes who said "Aren't we lucky to be here? I'm so excited. Barbara's so wonderful and I think she's such a great actress."

Ms. Seldes caught up with Noah and me as we were leaving. I said, "Marian, well, what did you think? Wasn't it perfect?" She replied, "Oh yes, it was perfect. Now we know there is a Heaven and she is an angel."

On Monday night, seven years later, I was celebrating after another glorious night involving my dear Noah Himmselstin at Avery Fisher Hall.  I couldn't help reflecting that certainly our Marian Seldes was there, this time as an angel, in that Heaven of live performance.



Noah Himmelstein & Marian Seldes, July 2007


Monday, October 06, 2014

I love this album: Ghostlight by Betty Buckley

Autumn in New York has been many things to me over the last 10 or so years - a calendar blissfully full of openings of new shows, opera, concerts at Carnegie Hall and the New York Phil...and especially Betty Buckley.

Betty is back in New York and this time, she's brought her new album GHOSTLIGHT with her.   She'll be at Joe's Pub all of this week performing songs from this delicious new album.   Oh my Lord, I can't wait to see her and immerse myself in her sound.

Ghostlight is produced by legendary artist T Bone Burnett.  Betty Lynn and T Bone go way back to their young lives in Fort Worth, Texas.  This album evokes all that comes from a long friendship - full of hope and love but also all of the things that all the years of living will do to you.   

Betty is that rare modern girl singer - she takes Broadway songs and standards, makes them her own and performs a full show with each and every stanza.   Her voice takes me places I didn't know how to get to on my own.  There's a lustful jazz sound to this album, sometimes completely mournful and then she moves on with a steely demand that all is hope and cheer despite the juxtaposition of the dissonant chords.  Betty's cutting, yet tender vocals are map of every human emotion.  Les you think this is an album of full of angst and longing, it's downright sexy too:  Body and Soul might make you drop everything to slow dance with your lover.

Besides all that, Ghostlight just sounds damn awesome.   It was recorded at The Village in Los Angeles, CA.   The session musicians are a who's who and include Bill Frissell on electric guitar and T Bone Burnett himself on acoustic guitar.  Betty Buckley was involved in all of the arrangements, and on my favorite of the tracks, If You Go Away (from Jacques Brel) Betty co-arranged with Bill Frissell. 

It's the type of album just makes me want to hit repeat over and over again.   Buy it on iTunes, Amazon or order directly from Palmetto Records - the liner notes are gorgeous.   Get to Palmetto thru Betty's beautiful site http://www.bettybuckley.com/

Buy the album then go see Betty this week at Joe's Pub down on Layfayette.  Next week, Betty is teaching her song interpretation workshop at the T.S. Schreiber Studio.  She's also doing a couple of extra concerts in the area - on the 12th, she'll be out at the Bay Street in Sag Harbor  and on the 18th she'll be in concert at the Tilles Center in Long Island.   In November, she heads to San Francisco for a series of performances at Feinstein's at the Nikko. 


Thursday, October 02, 2014

I AM HARVEY MILK

Dearest Friends,

 
If you don't already have a ticket to I AM HARVEY MILK at Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall on Monday night, get one! http://iamharveymilknyc.com/ Ticket prices start at only $40.

 
Here's the thing about I AM HARVEY MILK: it's technically termed a choral oratorio, but it's so much more. I think of it as cantata meets Broadway meets opera. I saw it at the inaugural performance in San Francisco and can't wait to see it again. My heart swelled and my mind opened larger than they had ever been before from what I learned and felt with this piece.

 
It is a biography of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official. But to me it was more than just about Harvey Milk and being gay. It's about being true to yourself and who you are, respecting others for who they are and celebrating life. It transcends Harvey's personal story into all of ours, gay, straight, male, female, whatever.

 
The piece is a collection, sort of a song cycle, of solos and choral numbers. It's very theatrical - heart wrenching, emotionally soaring, joyful!

 
There's a young boy singer, who sings the role of the young Harvey, a soprano who sings a sort of generic role of "mother" and "teacher" (at this one it's Kristin Chenoweth; I saw Laura Benanti in San Francisco, in LA it was Alexandra Silber), a men's chorus (this time made up of Broadway leading and chorus performers), and a tenor who sings Harvey. Harvey is being sung by Andrew Lippa, the composer and lyrcist of this piece. Accompanying the piece is the prestigious Orchestra of St. Lukes.

 
I'm also very excited that my dearest friend Noah Himmelstein has collaborated on this work with Andrew Lippa and directed it from the start. Noah has created a truly magical staging, intricately delicate but bold and inspiring.

 
Please find me before and after the performance, outside of Avery Fisher Hall near the center pillar of the walkway. I want to say hello to each of you! 
 

Sunday, September 07, 2014

You Can't Take It With You on Broadway Needs More Kittens, Less Snakes

I was happily charmed when I attended Bloggers Night at  You Can't Take It With You last week.  Now playing at the Longacre Theatre on West 48th Street, the Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman classic runs until January, 2015.  

The cast is headlined by Rose Byrne (a lovely Broadway debut) and James Earl Jones.  Kristine Nielsen, as mother Penelope, steals the show.   Annaleigh Ashford, as daughter Essie, is a close runner up for thief of said show.  Also on stage are Elizabeth Ashley, Joanna Day, Julie Halston (she's always everything you want her to be), Byron Jennings, Fran Kranz, Mark Linn-Baker, Reg Rogers, Will Brill, Patrick Kerr, Marc Damon Johnson, Karl Kenzler, Nick Corley, Austin Durant and Joe Tapper.

And there are kittens!   And snakes.  The only thing this production needs is more kittens, less snakes.  MORE KITTENS!

Jeffrey Richards and his producing partners have once again done what they do best - bring a fantastic ensemble together on a gloriously decorated stage to bring a historic comedy to life (remember Blithe Spirit and The Best Man?  Although, let's not forget August, Osage County - another genius ensemble play but a drama, produced by Richards et al.)

You Can't Take It With You first played on Broadway for 838 performances, opening at the Booth Theatre on December 14, 1936.  It was revived on Broadway in 1945, 1965, 1967, and 1983.  In 1938, Frank Capra directed the film version starring Jimmy Stewart and Jean Arthur. 

If you're on the fence about seeing it, I beseech you to see it for Kristine Neilsen - she is an absolute genius and one of the very best of the American stage.  I loved her last season in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.