Monday, November 09, 2015

Harriet Walter would love to play Macbeth. Yes, please.

"A third production with Phyllida Lloyd is planned, and although the play has not yet been determined, there is one tragic hero Walter would relish taking on. 'Having played Lady Macbeth'—opposite Antony Sher, in 1999—'I would love to play Macbeth,' she said. 'We were yin and yang. I would like to try the yang to the yin—or whichever the female is. I can’t remember.'"

Dame Harriet Walter, to the New Yorker in "Women's Work" by Rebecca Mead, November 16, 2015 issue

Having seen Dame Harriet twice in the all-female production of "Julius Caesar," once at the Donmar in London and once at St. Ann's Warehouse here in New York, I'm here to tell you that she knows what she's doing when it comes to Shakespeare and playing a traditionally male role.  She's equal parts thrilling and terrifying.

In a few weeks, I'll see her in “Henry IV” at St. Ann's with two other card carrying members of the Dame Harriet Walter Society.   It's imperative.  

(and yes, I've seen that Macbeth in which Dame Harriet played Lady M to Anthony Sher's Macbeth - it was released to DVD in 2003)

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Sylvia at the Cort Theatre: Hey! Hey hey hey!

Almost exactly twenty years ago I saw A.R. Gurney's play Sylvia at the Zach Theatre in Austin, Texas. It was the first really grown-up comedy I saw and I've never forgotten it.

It's a play about a dog and the man who loves her...well, mostly. It's a really the sweet story about a married couple but it's the dog named Sylvia who really steals the show. Over the years, I would recall that dog named Sylvia, especially after I adopted my own little dog named Little Bit (actually shortly after I saw this play - maybe I was inspired). Mr. Gurney perfectly captures the voice and actions of a dog, with the help of the actress who plays her. I would imagine Little Bit talking to me as Sylvia talked to her human.

I was thrilled to see Sylvia in previews and was treated to "blogger night."  Two of the stars, Julie White who plays the wife and Annaleigh Ashford who plays Sylvia, were on hand to discuss and share stories of their process in preparing for this comedy.  Both ladies are dog owners: Julie has an ancient Pomeranian named Lulu (my Little Bit was a Pom too) and Annaleigh has a toy Australian shepherd named Gracie.   Annaleigh took obedience and agility classes with Gracie to help her prepare for this role. 

The play made its New York debut off-Broadway starring Sarah Jessica Parker as Sylvia the dog at the Manhattan Theatre Club.   Now, her husband, Matthew Broderick, is starring as the husband who adopts Sylvia, on Broadway at the Cort Theatre.    Robert Sella marvelously plays various roles to round out the cast.  

This time around, I'm a little more mature than the first time I saw it so the sweet, matures themes of the play touched my heart differently, but I still found Sylvia to be one of the most hilarious plays I've ever seen and my sides aching from laughing were proof of that.  I'm still chuckling at the thought of Annaleigh Ashford and her antics as the dog, especially in her scenes opposite Robert Sella.    (I want to see Annaleigh in EVERYTHING - she's delightful, brilliant, fabulous...)

Because the dog is played by an actress, you are privy to her thoughts and conversations and it's sometimes easy to forget that she is in fact playing a dog.  However, her movements in prancing about and constantly sniffing at things keeps you in the suspension of disbelief.  Her barks and greeting are "Hey! Hey!"  She doesn't hold back on her feelings for her new owners, the husband she loves, the wife of whom she's a bit wary of and just a tad jealous.  From her antics in the dog park to her behavior in the living room to her reactions to the stranger in her home, she has the audience in her paw...and practically rolling in the aisles with glee.  When she sees a cat in the park, her reaction is just about the funniest - and spot on dog characterization, save the wonderfully foul language - you'll ever see.   The performance is raucous and the audience laps it up.  A friend of mine went with her husband and she told me she never remembered him laughing so hard.  While it's sweet and simple adult-themed play, it's one of the best nights of laughing you'll have, particularly if you've ever had a pet. 

Beginning this coming Tuesday, November 10th, audiences will be invited to stay for post-show discussions that will feature members of the Sylvia cast and company, in addition to leading animal experts, authors, media personalities and animal-related non-profits for its Tuesday Talkback Series.

Sylvia runs until the end of January.  Tickets are available via Telecharge or by calling (212) 239-6200 or in-person at The Cort Theatre box office (138 W. 48th St. between 6th and 7th avenues, around the corner from the B/D or the N/Q Trains ).  Discounts are available via BroadwayBox.   A limited number of Rush tickets are available for purchase in-person at The Cort Theatre box office beginning at 10am Monday - Saturday (12pm on Sundays) for that day's performance(s) only. Rush tickets cost $32 with a maximum of two tickets per person. Rush tickets are subject to availability and may not be offered at all performances. Rush seating locations will be determined at the discretion of the box office.
Annaleigh Ashford and Julie White - Blogger Night

Annaleigh Ashford and Julie White - Blogger Night

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Much Ado About Nothing at The Frog and Peach Theatre Company

I've been going to Shakespeare productions at Frog and Peach Theatre Company for quite a while.  Besides getting to hear and see the words of Shakespeare well acted, it was fun to walk just a few blocks for them right in my neighborhood. 

But now, they've moved down to midtown.  It's still worth going to see them!   Now ensconced at the Workshop Theatre (312 W 36th St. 4th Floor), they are better than ever.  The black box space is just a bit more intimate and the acoustics are marvelous.  And really, New Yorkers are happy to travel any where in the city for great theatre, right?

On now, Frog and Peach has mounted a really groovy production of Much Ado About Nothing.  As usual. director Lynnea Benson takes a rock & roll approach - it's fast and tight and ultimately fun to watch.  It's so much fun to see Lenny Ciotti as Benedick.  He's hilarious and it's cool to see an actor move to stage front from the usual cast of supporting characters.  While not your typical leading man, he's a refreshingly wonderful and is quite marvelous in the role.  I was rooting for him all along.  I really hope to see him in more roles at Frog & Peach (perhaps Macbeth? God, he'd be so good).  Lenny and Amy Frances Quint as Beatrice had great chemistry.  I couldn't wait for them to get together!   Amy is always the perfect leading lady - beautiful and regal, but she handles the comedy very well too.

Seeing this company's performances on a fairly regular basis over the years has lead me to recognize so many of the actors and witness their progress as Shakespearean experts.  I always love where they take me.   Marcus Watson as Claudio and Ilaria Amadasi as Hero are perfect as the young lovers.   Veteran actress Vivien Landau perfectly gender bends Leonato to Leanata as mother to Hero.  I think it should always be the mother - brava to Vivien and brava to Lynnea for making this change.  David Elyha absolutely steals the whole show as the ridiculously incapable constable Dogberry.  It's one thing to see him hilariously and nattily dressed as a hippy, but his delivery is riotous.  It's one of the funniest performances I've seen.

The Frog and Peach always features music in its productions - classic rock & roll before curtain and during intermission always set the tone.  They also wonderfully feature original music.  This production features original music by Ted Zurkowski and is wonderfully performed by actor David Personne. 

I enjoyed all of the performances and it's always a treat to see company members, old and new, JP Makowski, Alyssa Diamond, Matthew Velez, James Foster, Jr., John Lampe, David Personne, Alec Barniskis, Liz Tancredi, Paul Battiato, Samuel Douglas Clark, Jamar Brathwaite and Vicki Kulkin.  They all round out this production fabulously.  A little bonus is that Samuel Douglas Clark, an Aussie, recites his lines with a decidedly British accent.  I have to admit that this Anglophile gets kick out of hearing Shakespeare with a posh accent amongst a very American cast (save for Italian actress Ilaria Amadasi who still speaks with a Italian accent, which is funny since this play is set in Sicily.)

The creative team by Asheley Cuask (set & design),  Dennis Parichy (Lighting Design), Tom Knutson (Movement), Ellie D’Eustachio (Stage Manager)  Sara Parcesepe (Asst. Stage Manager), and Nannan Gu (Design Intern) efficiently assist this actors in doing this fun and fast-paced production.  Of note, Nina Vartanian's costume design is fabulous - she decks out the cast in groovy 1970's vintage chic and it's a completely transportive effect.

I'm so glad I saw this production.  It's a play I've seen a number of times both on stage and on film, and Frog and Peach doesn't disappoint.  It runs for another week -  November 15 at The Workshop Theatre (312 W 36th St. 4th Floor - between 8th & 9th Avenue, just around the corner from the 34th street subway stop on 8th Avenue) with performances Thursday–Saturday at 7:30pm and Sundays at 3pm. Tickets are $18.  Tickets are available at the door or via SmartTix .

Amy Frances Quint, Vivian Landau and Ilaria Amadasi

Lenny Ciotti  and Amy Frances Quint

David Elyha and JP Makowski


Monday, November 02, 2015

DiVaR Alert: Great Performances: Chita Rivera: A Lot of Livin’ to Do - Preview

CLICK HERE TO WATCH A PREVIEW: Great Performances: Chita Rivera: A Lot of Livin’ to Do - Preview

Check your local listings - on Thirteen WNET in New York, it's on Friday, November 6, 2015 at 9:00 pm and repeats on Sunday night at 7:00 pm and Monday morning at 3:00 am. 

I've seen several variations of Chita's cabaret and I'm here to tell you, Chita is FABULOUS.  Don't miss it!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Nika Leoni - Soprano and Composer

Last week I went to Empire Opera for the first time, specifically to see Nika Leoni.   I had been looking for a chance to hear her again, ever since I heard her in "Pushkin's Little Tragedies" in 2009.  

That's a long time to remember such a voice, but her voice is that memorable.

Empire Opera, a New York company founded in 2007, hosted this Composers Concert, i.e. an evening of Songs by Singers, at the Advent Lutheran Church on Broadway.  It was an enjoyable evening, especially in that it was only blocks from my home.  I was impressed by the variety of talent and performance. 

For this evening, Nika Leoni was accompanied on both of her pieces by pianist Violetta Zabbi.

Nika's performance on this particular evening was especially thrilling, singing her own compositions.  In the first act, she performed a selection from her song cycle Love Songs, with text from the poetry of Sara Teasdale.  This short set was lovely and I found myself wanting more.   Five of the six songs were performed coquettishly and all were quite pleasing.  These poems/songs are teasing and playful, however, my favorite of this piece was To-Night, a departure in that is a song of passion and want, which Nika sang powerfully. 

Nika's second work of the Composers Concert was Euridice Suite, for which she co-wrote text and score.   Scene I lyrics are by Marilena Ruscica and Scene II lyrics are by Nika.   Here, they took the story of Orpheus but told it from Eurydice's perspective.   It's an interesting and welcoming take on a familiar story.  The music has a sound of mystery and runs the gamut of feelings which Eurydice must have been experiencing during her time in Hades and separation from her husband.   It's dramatically beautiful while conveying confusion, love and finally acceptance.  Again, Nika is so vocally expressive and took me on the journey with her and honestly I found myself quite lost between her voice and her telling of the story.

Nika Leoni's talent is extraordinary.  Her lower tones are so velvety rich that I almost believed her to be a mezzo, but she belies that with her gorgeously full upper register.   There's a lovely brightness in the voice as well as deepness.  She exudes a calm and elegant presence, while vocally she expresses emotion with great aplomb and maturity.   It's an exciting combination and voice I hope to hear again and again in the future.

Friday, May 01, 2015

Audra McDonald, Your Tardiness Is Excused

We were supposed to see Audra McDonald at Carnegie Hall on December 12, 2014.  Unfortunately, she postponed due to a work conflict.  We finally saw her on Wednesday night, April 29, 2015.  She was just a little late; but, for the show she gave us, she is certainly excused for her tardiness! 

I have seen  Audra in concert (mostly at Carnegie Hall!) and on Broadway here in New York many times now and I am never, ever disappointed.  In fact, I'm usually thrilled.  Her performance this week was definitely thrilling.  She gave us almost songs from the musical theatre, both from the golden age of Broadway and modern musicals, and with just a couple of standards thrown in for a treat. 

I love Audra - her stage presence is magestic yet humble.  She says what's on her mind and she shares hilarious anecdotes (i.e. I was the darkest Mother Abbess ever; Chipotle is my office; "Audra McDonald dropped the F Bomb in Carnegie Hall") . 

She called this concert "Songs from My Living Room."  She chose songs that she great up listening to as well as shouting out to the ladies who inspired her:  Barbara Cook. Chita Rivera, Betty Buckley, Patti LuPone, Liza Minnelli.   She especially sang in honor of Chita Rivera and Barbara Cook and said she hoped she would have a Broadway career like they have had.  I think she'll do okay in that deparatment (6 Tonys and counting and she's only 44 years old). 

Seeing her in concert is like just hanging out with her friends, until she opens her mouth and out pours that huge, glorious, warm mezzo sound, not mention when she occassionaly throws in some soprano notes and your eyes want to roll back in your head.  

Her thrilling set list:

"Sing Happy" from Flora, the Red Menace by Kander & Ebb
"Mister Snow" from Carousel by Rodgers & Hammerstein (Audra's first Tony Award!)
"Chief Cook and Bottle Washer" from The Rink by Kander & Ebb
"My Buddy" by Walter Donaldson and Gus Kahn
"Let's Not Talk About Love" from Let's Face It by Cole Porter (additional silly lyrics personalized for Audra by Dachslager)
"No One Else" from Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 by Dave Malloy
"Proud Lady" from The Baker's Wife by Shephen Schwartz (he especially revised lyrics for Audra)
"It Was Never You" from Knickerbocker Holiday by Kurt Weill
"Vanilla Ice Cream" from She Loves Me by Bock and Harnick
"Tale of Otter and Bear" by Shaina Taub
"Maybe This Time" from Cabaret by Kander & Ebb
"How Could I Know" from The Secret Garden by Marsha Norman and Lucy Simon (Audra's Broadway debut!)
"Facebook Song" by Katie Miller-Heidke (who happens to be Australian opera singer!)
"When I'm Gonna Go Back Home" from The Scottsboro Boys by Kander & Ebb
"Writing on the Wall" from The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Rupert Holmes
"Make Someone Happy" from Do Re Mi by Styne, Comden and Green
"Rainbow High" from Evita! by Andrew Lloyd Webber
"Climb Ev'ry Mountain" from The Sound of Music by Rodgers and Hammerstein
"Over the Rainbow" by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Yarburg

Sweet bonus:  Audra on Buzz Feed.  It's brilliant.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The arts are not

I found this note in a stack of papers in an old file folder recently.  I don't know the why, when, or where of this quote from Michelle Obama, but it's been sitting on my typing stand and I think it's time to share it. 

"The Arts are not just a nice thing to have or do if there is free time or if one can afford it.  Rather, paintings and poetry, music and fashion, design and dialogue, they all define who we are as a people and provide an account of our history for the next generation."  Michelle Obama