Friday, March 27, 2009

"Hair" Opens Tuesday: We Have Newest Photos, Big Discounts

Just in: the first review I have seen and it's a gem! Check out Life's A Pitch Gavin Creel as Claude (center) and the cast of the Broadway revival of HAIR: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical directed by Diane Paulus and choreographed by Karole Armitage. HAIR features a book and lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado and music by Galt MacDermot. Al Hirschfeld Theatre (302 West 45th Street, NYC). All photos by Joan Marcus.

At the dawning of a new age in America, HAIR: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical returns to Broadway for the first time in over 30 years. cultural icon is a legendary show which changed Broadway musical theatre. This fresh new version of the counter-culture musical started its second journey to Broadway last summer in Central Park. There the Public Theatre presented it with Jonathan Groff, of Spring Awakening fame. Though he is not in the revival due to other commitments, but word is that the entire cast is first rate.
Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical. Photos Joan Marcus.

Assuming good reviews when it opens Tuesday at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre on 45th Street, tickets will become hard to get, especially at a discount, but here's a great deal. You can buy $112-122 Orchestra/Mezzanine seats for only $60 for the Tuesday to Friday performances, or Sunday evening. For the Saturday Matinee and Evening, and Sunday Matinee, they are $75.00 Jot down the code "HANYTW4" and call 212-947-8844 or go to and enter the code when prompted. Currently, this offer is valid on all performances through May 10, 2009.
Will Swenson as Berger and the cast of the Broadway revival of Hair.

A celebration of life, a love letter to freedom, and a passionate cry for hope and change, Hair features some of the greatest songs ever written for the stage, including "Let the Sun Shine In," "Easy To Be Hard," "Good Morning, Starshine," "The Age Of Aquarius" and the rousing title song. Welcome to the curly, shaggy, gleaming, streaming, wonderful world of Hair!
Tommar Wilson, Will Swenson as Berger and Bryce Ryness as Woof in the Broadway revival of Hair.

Directed by Diane Paulus and choreographed by Karole Armitage, Hair features a book and lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado and music by Galt MacDermot.
Sasha Allen as Dionne (center) and the cast of the Broadway revival of HAIR. Photo Joan Marcus.

The full cast of Hair includes Sasha Allen, Ato Blankson-Woo, Steel Burkhardt, Jackie Burns, Briana Carlson-Goodman, Allison Case, Gavin Creel, Lauren Elder, Allison Guinn, Chasten Harmon, Anthony Hollock, Jay Armstrong Johnson, Kaitlin Kiyan, Andrew Kober, Josh Lamon, Megan Lawrence, Caissie Levy, Nicole Lewis, Ryan Link, John Moauro, Darius Nichols, Brandon Pearson, Paris Remillard, Megan Reinking, Bryce Ryness, Michael James Scott, Saycon Sengbloh, Maya Sharpe, Kacie Sheik, Theo Stockman, Will Swenson and Tommar Wilson.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Wrestling Patient: A New Generation Revisits the Holocaust

The Wrestling Patient is a new play which receives its world premiere this weekend. It promises to be an important work since it revisits the Holocaust through the words of Etty Hillesum, much as the Diary of Anne Frank did on Broadway half a century ago. (In that famous production Susan Strasberg played Anne Frank.)

That a whole new generation of artists are returning to this subject is important. Sadly this genocidal event is but a footnote to history for most people. But we must never forget. Most Americans were born after the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust took place. Indeed the depth of the atrocities didn't become widely known until after WWII was over and the newsreel footage revealed their demented "final solution" to the "problem" of the Jews.
Will Lyman and Anne Gottlieb in a scene from THE WRESTLING PATIENT, running March 27 thru April 11 at the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts. Photo: Stratton McCrady. Tix/Info: 617-933-8600

Etty's story lends itself to dramatization. As WWII engulfs her native Amsterdam, Etty is confronted with a remarkable choice: to hold onto a kind of integrity, or to save her own life. With the help of a charismatic teacher, she enters into the emerging science of psychology and wrestles to answer the demons of her time by looking within herself. The Wrestling Patient brings to light Etty’s secret history of musical evenings, therapeutic wrestling matches, black-market strawberries, and midnight prayers. Her story is one of an amazing transformation during one of the darkest hours in history. You can learn more about The Wrestling Patient at

The presentation has been gestating for some time. Three talented theatre artists came together to
create this remarkable tale. It was Anne Gottlieb who first secured the rights to tell Etty’s story, and who,
in 2005 brought on playwright Kirk Lynn. Lynn is the founder and co-artistic director of the Rude Mechanicals theater collective in Austin, TX, where he has had 16 of his plays produced. Mr. Lynn has also had success in New York with productions of his plays Lipstick Traces and Major Bang. In 2006, director Katie Pearl joined the project, which received a staged reading last March sponsored by SpeakEasy Stage.
Anne Gottlieb takes a moment out from rehearsing THE WRESTLING PATIENT, a new play inspired by the life and writings of Dutch Jewish author Etty Hillesum. Photo: Stratton McCrady

The Wrestling Patient was selected as a finalist in the Outstanding New American Play competition administered by Arena Stage and sponsored by the NEA. The title role is played by Anne Gottlieb and also features Daniel Berger-Jones, Joel Colodner, Tom Gottlieb, Marya Lowry, Will Lyman and Will McGarrahan. Co-creator Katie Pearl directs.
Etty's Writings Dramatized.

The Wrestling Patient will be performed in the Nancy and Edward Roberts Studio Theatre in the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street in Boston’s South End. Further information and tickets can be had by calling 617-933-8600 or visit

Monday, March 23, 2009

Toxic Avenger: The Musical Attacks New York City

"Better then Cats!"

I envy those of you who are in the NYC area, you can quickly get to the New World Stages on 50th Street to check out the hot new musical, The Toxic Avenger, directed by the immensely gifted Tony winner John Rando who has been lent to you by the Berkshires. Rando directed a hilariously funny A Flea in Her Ear at the Williamstown Theatre Festival last summer and we want you back ASAP. (Read my story on John and French Farce for some insights into his genius.)

Simply click to play. Find more videos like this on the Toxic Avenger site.

So what's the big deal? Well unless you have been in solitary, you must know that The Toxic Avenger is a 1985 classic cult movie, and has spawned several sequals. Now it is a hot new rock musical with music and lyrics by David Bryan - keyboardist and founding member of Bon Jovi. For show mavens, the book and more lyrics are by Joe DiPietro (I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change).
Nick Cordero as Toxie
Photographed by Kelly Ryman

He’s New Jersey‘s first Superhero and he takes to the stage in this rock ‘n roll monster of a comedy. Thrown into a vat of toxic goo by two bullies, a mild-mannered science student named Melvin Ferd the Third is reborn as a one-of-a-kind environmental crusader, The Toxic Avenger! Armed with superhuman strength and a heart as big as Newark, he’s out to save New Jersey, end global warming and woo the prettiest, blindest librarian in town. He’ll leave you laughing in the aisles as he rocks the house and saves the earth for all of mankind.
Nick Cordero who plays Toxie greets the fans.

My spy in Queens tells me the show is fabulous, though in previews, and destined for great things. These days there are two kinds of musicals, one for older audiences, and one for younger crowds. The best summary is this one:
The Toxic Avenger is appropriate for audiences from 13 to 100+, although over 100, we're not responsible for death due to laughter. The show contains a monster that might frighten young children, and it also contains some words our mothers said we shouldn't use. If it was a movie, it'd be rated PG-13… but it’s not a movie. Children under the age of 4 are not permitted in the theatre.

And finally, want to have some fun? Go to the Toxic Avenger Interactive Street Scene and poke around.It will take a few seconds to start loading. High speed connection is best. Have fun at home, then go see this show in New York, or near you when your local theatre company gets permission to perform it. It is truly a musical for everyone!

Extreme Shepherding: Viral Marketing That Works for Samsung

Artistic Flock. Photo courtesy Daily Mail.

It took three hundred sheep, three dogs and one determined farmer three hours to assemble his herd into this Spring Awakening. David Kennard has a farm in Devon, and revealed his secret. It takes more than just sheep and dogs. He planted feed along the outlines of the letters, too.

This short video captures everyone's attention, from computer geek to visual artist. And proves that even the shepherds in the hills of Wales have time to think artistic concepts, and the tenacity to work all day, and long into the night, to make them come to life. It is now a Samsung viral video, with 2.5 viewers to date.

As I watched the finale, I wondered what Arthur Fiedler (founder of the Boston Pops) would have thought.

"Can we get more sheep for the finale?" would likely have been his response.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Epstein and Berkshire Theatre Festival to Celebrate Shakespeare's 445th Birthday

Berkshire Theatre Festival Artistic Director Kate Maguire announced that Jonathan Epstein will perform a piece titled Love in the Afternoon – Shakespeare’s Sonnets and the Story Behind Them at Berkshire Theatre Festival’s Unicorn Theatre on Sunday April 26th at 2:00 pm in honor of William Shakespeare’s 445th birthday. Epstein’s one-man show explores Shakespeare’s passionate relationships and work through an in-depth look at his sonnets.

Describing the event, Maguire said “Epstein will engage the audience, working through the identities, histories, and complicated relationship of The Dark Lady and The Young Man, while providing background on Shakespeare and the Elizabethan world. This isn’t your typical one-man performance; it is truly an actor’s look at Shakespeare’s life and writings - a performance of history by an accomplished actor.”
BTF Actor Jonathan Epsein

Epstein has many Shakespearean credentials on his resume. He was a principal actor, teacher and director with Shakespeare & Company, where his roles included Benedick, Puck, Bottom, Dogberry, Feste, Richard III, Iago, Macbeth, Lear, and scores of others. He is the host of Boston's Annual Sonnet Marathon and is much in demand as a guest lecturer on Shakespeare and the Sonnets at universities and theatre companies across the country.

Epstein most recently appeared at BTF as Davies in last season’s The Caretaker. Earlier he was Randall McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Frank in Educating Rita, Salieri in Amadeus, and David Hare in Via Dolorosa. He is a master teacher of the BTF Apprentice Company. Additionally, he has performed on and Off-Broadway, in London's West End as Goethe's Faust, and in dozens of regional theatres. Epstein has been awarded Boston’s Eliot Norton Award for Outstanding Actor twice.

Epstein is currently performing the role of Max Kellerman in the Pre-Broadway National Tour of Dirty Dancing, now in Boston, moving to LA in May.

Epstein's single performance of Love in the Afternoon – Shakespeare’s Sonnets and the Story Behind Them is slated for BTF's Unicorn Theatre on April 26th 2009 at 2:00pm. The performance will be followed by a discussion with Mr. Epstein, and a post-show reception. Tickets are $50 and available by calling the Berkshire Theatre Festival Box Office at 413-298-5576.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Steppenwolf's Ensemble Star Power -Gary Sinese and Robert Belushi

Ensemble members Anna D. Shapiro, Martha Lavey and Gary Sinise.

It is arguable that no American theatre company practices ensemble acting better than Chicago's famed Steppenwolf. Their entire approach to acting is built upon this foundation. But like a well functioning sports team, when the machine is highly trained and well oiled, stars invariably rise to the stop. Today we take a moment to consider two of them.

Gary Sinise is a co-founder of Steppenwolf and he joins the company and Board of Trustees in a very special gala on April 18th which is for their most ardent - and generous - supporters. There will be cocktails on stage, scenes from The Tempest, a seated dinner hosted by the ensemble, live auction, and capping the evening, a private show by Gary Sinese and the Lt. Dan Band to cap off the night of revelry. Tickets start at $1,000 and reservations can be made by contacting Tara Gillespie, Special Events Manager at 312-654-5682 or by email to

Gary Sinese has visited Iraq for USO shows with his Lt. Dan Band

Then coming up April 25 and running to May 10th is the Steppenwolf for Young Adults presentation Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. This classic play is set in the last Depression and is the tale of struggle and survival and the power of friendship.

Michael Patrick Thornton is directing, a fine actor who starred as John Merrick last season in Steppenwolf for Young Adults’ production of The Elephant Man. As a director, Michael has helmed productions at The Gift Theatre Company, where he is co-founder and artistic director. He received a Joseph Jefferson Award for his performance in Gift’s production of The Good Thief.

In the ensemble are actors Robert Breuler, Emanueal Buckley, Ron Butts, Paul D'Addario, James D. Farruggio, Jessie Fisher, Richard Henzel, Keith Kupferer and Guy Massey.
Robert Belushi

Then there is also Robert Belushi, son of Jim Belushi, who may still be a youngster to some, but sure is polishing his acting skills fast. Those who grow up in families of actors seem to blossom easily, perhaps because of the advantage of being able to learn from their parents, sometimes directly, sometimes by observation. Steppenwolf audiences are fortunate to be able to watch the rise and evolution of Robert Belushi as an actor.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Did You Know 3.0 - Getting Behind the Future

The video is called Did You Know 3.0. Who knew a Power Point presentation could be so revealing...and riveting. The song in the video is Right Here, Right Now, by Fatboy Slim.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Matthew Goade in, Chad Allen out of Arena's "Looped"

Jay Goede replaces Chad Allen in Looped.

Sad news today from Arena Stage. As playwright Matthew Lombardo continues to develop the upcoming production of Looped starring four-time Emmy Award-winning Valerie Harper (Rhoda on The Mary Tyler Moore Show) as Tallulah Bankhead, another casting change has taken place. Jay Goede, known for his work on Broadway in Angels in America, A Year with Frog and Toad and Sex and Longing, as well here in the Berkshires at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, will now play opposite Harper in the pre-Broadway staging, directed by Rob Ruggiero at Arena Stage at the Lincoln Theatre May 29 through June 28, 2009.

“As the play has evolved, I found it necessary to reconstruct the character of Danny Miller,” Lombardo remarks. “And although the previously announced Chad Allen is a fine talent, the demands of the play now require a different actor in the role. And I am extremely excited to have the remarkably gifted Broadway veteran Jay Goede joining our production.”

"Next to Normal" Arriving on Broadway - We Have Earlybird Discounts

Next to Normal. Photo: Joan Marcus

Do we have a deal on the hot new musical Next to Normal for you! More on that later, but first you need to know why you should go. This contemporary musical explores how one suburban household copes with crisis. Through drama and music, it shows the length parents will go to in order to preserve the illusion of "normalcy." Of course, under the veneer of suburban conformity often lie unpleasant truths. Without them there would be no theatre, no soap operas, only boredom.

Next to Normal is the second of two productions that have made it from Molly Smith's Arena Stage to the Big Apple this year. 33 Variations starring Jane Fonda has already opened , while Next to Normal doesn't begin previews until March 27, and the show opens officially April 15.

Arena Stage’s production of Next to Normal went through four weeks of rehearsals and three weeks of previews before opening on December 10, 2008. For Arena’s production, five new songs were written and two new actors joined the ensemble: J. Robert Spencer as Dan and Louis Hobson as Dr. Madden/Dr. Fine.
Aaron Tveit, J. Robert Spencer, Alice Ripley, Jennifer Damiano, Adam Chanler-Berat and Louis Hobson. Photo: Walter McBride/Retna Ltd.

Producer David Stone states, “Anyone who has been involved with the creation of an original musical knows that much of the work happens in the rewriting. From the day after Next to Normal opened Off-Broadway through opening night at Arena Stage, Tom Kitt, Brian Yorkey and Michael Greif were committed to improving and rewriting this show with a level of dedication and focus I have seldom seen from a creative team.”

Arts America ran a photo report on Next to Normal earlier this year during its run in Washington, D.C. The news of its transfer to Braodway has been welcomed, the show deserves wider attention. One of the changes made is that the venue has changed from the Longacre to the Booth Theatre which is smack in the middle of all the action, on 45th Street, right at the corner of Shubert Alley.
Alice Ripley. Photo: Joan Marcus

The D.C. cast is superb and continues intact, from the dynamic Alice Ripley to the heart-throb Aaron Tveit whose Berkshire appearances at Barrington Stage were notable for the crowds of admirers who greeted him after each performance of Calvin Berger in William Finn's Musical Workshop. Perhaps the time is drawing near for one of our in-depth interviews with this rapidly rising young actor, as well as the incredible Alice Ripley who continues to stir audiences to their feet.
Aaron Tveit is on the rise.

In his review of the Arena Stage production, Peter Marks of The Washington Post, wrote, "Next to Normal is a moving, blisteringly honest, and inordinately powerful new musical, sung with a wallop by a six-member cast that includes the astonishing Alice Ripley, and dexterously directed by Michael Greif. Writers Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey have stocked the musical with beautiful songs that get to the heart of the story- and simply get to the heart."

The discount deal we found for tickets to Next to Normal is simplicity itself: regularly $110-115 tickets in the orchestra and front mezzanine are $60.00 each if you use the code NNYT0316 and is good for all performances through May 10, 2009. Performances are Tuesdays at 7:00, Wednesday through Saturdays at 8:00 and SUnday at 7:30. The Matinees are Saturday at 2:00 and Sunday at 3:00.

You can call 212-947-8844 to order (remember to use the code) or go to and use the same code, NNYT0316. Offer expires May 10, but may be withdrawn at any time. Telephone and internet sales are subject to the usual service fees.

Louis Hobson, Adam Chanler-Berat, Jennifer Damiano,
J. Robert Spencer, Alice Ripley and Aaron Tveit gather for the original cast recording
Photo by Bruce Glikas

The original cast album is in the works. The cast has just finished recording it for Ghostlight Records. Exact date for the release of the Original Broadway Cast recording is not yet known.
Aaron Tveit flashes his charming smile moments before singing as Gabe, son of Diana and Dan.
Photo by Bruce Glikas

Finally, here is a full ten minute preview of the show I found on YouTube. You can also find some fascinating clips of Alice Ripley and Aaron Tveit in other shows, performances and club engagements.

Friday, March 13, 2009

It's Hats Off to a Brand New Crowns at Arena Stage

The completely restaged, redesigned hit musical Crowns features Zurin Villanueva (center), a local Howard student, in her professional debut at the Lincoln Theatre March 27-April 26. Photo by Scott Suchman.

Crowns is back in town, and with it the incarnation of a new star - Howard University student Zurin Villanueva who was discovered in Arena’s January “Finding Yolanda” one-day casting search. This production marks her debut professional performance.

"Crowns is a pageant, in the great African-American tradition of pageants,” remarked Director and Choreographer Kenneth Lee Roberson. “This show teaches audiences about the values, style and grace of the African-American church community. Crowns demonstrates the handing down of culture from one generation to the next and celebrates the refuge, equality and healing that occurs in this place of spirituality.”

With musical direction by Grammy nominee e’Marcus Harper, this soulful musical will be bigger than ever in the Lincoln Theatre. In addition to Villanueva, Arena favorites Marva Hicks (The Women of Brewster Place) and E. Faye Butler (Dinah Was, Ain’t Misbehavin’) are joined by NaTasha Yvette Williams (Broadway’s The Color Purple), as well as Mary Millben, Kara Tameika Watkins and Phillip Boykin.

"The beauty of Crowns is in the stories and the relationship between the women,” notes Arena Stage Artistic Director Molly Smith. “It's a show about community, and it beautifully articulates the ties that bind us all. We are particularly excited to stage this show at the Lincoln Theatre, the historical home of so many great African-American performers like Duke Ellington and Billie Holiday.”
Another view of the Hat Queens.

Written by Regina Taylor and adapted from the acclaimed book by photographer Michael Cunningham and journalist Craig Marberry, Crowns takes an intimate look at six women whose storied lives are woven into the hats that adorn their heads. This gospel-infused musical presents an oral history of the African-American women affectionately known as “hat queens,” as seen through the eyes of Yolanda, a Brooklyn teenager sent to live with her South Carolinian grandmother. Crowns features soulful, joyful music that celebrates family and faith.

This season’s production marks the fourth (and likely most spectacular) staging of Crowns at Arena. The musical made its Arena debut during the 2003/04 season–winning four Helen Hayes Awards, including Best Resident Musical–and returned for a limited engagement that summer. Due to popular demand, Arena produced it again in the summer of 2005.

Tickets may be purchased online, by phone at (202) 488-3300 or at the Arena Stage Sales Office at 1800 S. Bell Street, Arlington, VA 22202. A limited number of $10 tickets for patrons ages 30 and under go on sale beginning each Monday for performances that week. (All patrons must present valid ID.) Check out HOTTIX, where a limited number of half-price, day-of-performance tickets, are available 90 to 30 minutes before curtain of every performance.

(L-R)  E. Faye Butler as Mother Shaw, Zurin Villanueva as Yolanda, Marva Hicks as Velma in Crowns at Arena Stage at the Lincoln Theatre, March 27 — April 26, 2009. Photo Scott Suchman.

In addition, there are three special nights during the run:

The Salon – Monday, March 30, 2009 at 7:00 p.m.

In the spirit of artistic and literary salons of the past, The Salon features artistic leaders from Arena Stage in a series of lively, in-depth conversations with the playwrights, actors, directors, designers, dramaturgs and audiences that make Arena Stage unique. Reservations must be made through the Arena Stage Sales Office at (202) 488-3300.

Southwest Night – Friday, April 3, 2009 at 8:00 p.m.

An invitation is extended to our Southwest D.C. neighbors to buy $20 tickets, plus applicable fees, for one designated Friday evening performance of each production. Proof of Southwest D.C. residency or employment for each audience member of each party must be presented at the time of purchase. Tickets are limited to four per person and are based on availability. To purchase tickets, call (202) 488-3300 or stop by the Arena Stage Sales Office.

Out at Arena – Wednesday, April 8, 2009 at 7:30 p.m.

For gay and lesbian audiences on selected Wednesday evenings, a post-show discussion with cast members and a reception following the performance are offered. This could be quite interesting as most churches that serve African Americans are notoriously homophobic and in denial about the number of gay people of color. Indeed, young black men who are gay - and find little support in the community - have alarming rates of suicide. Check with the Arena Stage Sales Office at (202) 488-3300 for further details.

Mureen McGovern premieres A Long and Winding Road at D.C.'s Arena Stage

Maureen McGovern

Cabaret singers are extraordinary artists who bring a depth of interpretation and emotion to love songs, Broadway show tunes and "personal" songs, those intimate tunes that break our heart or bring us to the edge of tears. Maureen McGovern is among that rarified group of artists, though her choice of music is unabashedly American. Washington's Arena Stage has collaborated with Boston's Huntington Theatre Company on this production, the latter having recently sponsored a workshop of this show last month. This evening promises to be something quite original - an evening with the other American songbook.

A Long and Winding Road is an entertaining and introspective look at the songs that inspired Maureen McGovern before her Academy Award-winning hit song “The Morning After.” A nostalgic tribute to Maureen’s roots as a folk singer, this theatrically infused concert celebrates her love affair with the early works of James Taylor, Jimmy Webb, Carole King, Bob Dylan, Randy Newman and other groundbreaking singer-songwriters from her youth. The repertoire includes an eclectic selection of iconoclastic singer-songwriter material including "The Circle Game," "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?" "The Moon's a Harsh Mistress," "Imagine," "Fire and Rain" and many others.

Co-conceived and written by McGovern and director Philip Himberg, with musical direction by Jeffrey D. Harris and production design by Clifton Taylor, A Long and Winding Road runs March 27–April 12, 2009 at Arena Stage in Crystal City.

“At this time in my life, looking back, what interested me most were those introspective singer/songwriters who influenced my musical coming of age on the way to ‘The Morning After,’” says McGovern. “I started out as a folk singer in the late ‘60s, so it was an emotional journey for me to go back and explore this particular section of my musical influences. The concert takes us on a vivid journey back to a time when everything was possible and people set out to change the world."

Arena's Artistic Director Molly Smith observes, “Maureen McGovern has the kind of voice you never forget. In this intimate show, she shares her personal perspective on her years growing up and into her talent. These songs and stories take us back to a time many will remember dearly, and it’s a true pleasure to share an evening with her.”

Tickets may be purchased online, by phone at (202) 488-3300 or at the Arena Stage Sales Office at 1800 S. Bell Street, Arlington, VA 22202.

Dennehy, Falls and Chicago's Goodman Theatre Look Ahead

Desire Under the Elms with Carla Gugino and Brian Dennehy slated for Broadway in April. (Ephraim Cabot). Photo by Liz Lauren.

Lots of news from Chicagoland. The success of the Goodman Theatre's Desire Under the Elms has propelled them to take it to Broadway with actor Brian Dennehy driving the star vehicle. Looking ahead, the company has also announced plans for the 2009-10 season, with Dennehy returning for two more challenging roles, plus a Marx Brothers Musical, a new play by Rebecca Gilman, and the directing debut of the multi-faceted actor Philip Seymour Hoffman.

The Broadway transfer of Goodman Theatre’s critically-acclaimed production of Desire Under the Elms, directed by Robert Falls, is set to begin preview performances April 14 at the St. James Theatre on 44th Stret for a thirteen week limited engagement with the opening date scheduled for April 27. The New York production features the original Chicago cast of Brian Dennehy , Carla Gugino, Pablo Schreiber, Boris McGiver and Daniel Stewart Sherman.

Desire received an operatically scaled production and became the unabashedly sexual centerpiece of the current season. The work just closed, but has been followed by Goodman Theatre’s world-premiere production of Magnolia by Regina Taylor, directed by Anna D. Shapiro—which began previews on March 14 and runs through April 19, playing in the Goodman's Albert Theatre.

As to the 2009-10 season, artistic director Robert Falls has come up with a diverse program that has something for everyone.

During the Animal Crackers period, there were four Marx Brothers.

Foremost among the offerings is the still-popular-after-all-these-years musical, a contemporary update of Animal Crackers made famous by the Marx Brothers. "Hello, I must be going!" My Amtrak tickets from the Berkshires to the Windy City are almost confirmed. The last production I saw was at Boston's Huntington Theatre, under Peter Altman, and I have rarely enjoyed a show so much. Animal Crackers had its own pre-Hollywood tryout, playing Broadway in 1928, before being made into the 1930 film.

Animal Crackers has a book by George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind, music and lyrics by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby, directed by Henry Wishcamper, and launches the season in the Albert Theatre (September 2009).

The Goodman Theatre's Artistic Director Robert Falls. Photo: Peter Wynn Thompson

Next, Falls and Brian Dennehy team up again for a Broadway-bound double-bill of Eugene O’Neill’s Hughie directed by Falls, and Samuel Beckett’s one-man-show Krapp’s Last Tape (January 2010) helmed by Canadian director Jennifer Tarver. You can read a fascinating tale about Beckett's Endgame which is just winding up its run at the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, MA in the current Berkshire Fine Arts.

In March 2010, Rebecca Gilman’s Goodman commission, A True History of the Johnstown Flood makes its world premiere production.

Finishing the season in June 2010—and launching the fifth biennial international Latino Theatre Festival—is Karen Zacharías’ The Sins of Sor Juana, directed by Henry Godinez, following one of the legendary figures of Mexican arts and literature. Still to be announced is one Spring 2010 production directed by Chuck Smith in the Albert Theatre.

Magnolia with Annette O'Toole and John Earl Jelks, written by Regina Taylor, directed by Anna D. Shapiro begins March 14, 2009 in the Goodman's Albert Theatre.

Also scheduled are three provocative world premiere productions debut in the Goodman's Owen Theatre, beginning with Joan D’Arc, a co-production with Austria’s prestigious Linz Festival; acclaimed Bosnian artist Aida Karic and Tanya Palmer put a contemporary spin on Friedrich Schiller’s great romantic tragedy The Maiden of Orleans (September 2009).

Also appearing in the Owen are High Holidays, Alan Gross’ boisterous, darkly comic look at coming of age in suburban Chicago in the early 1960s (October 2009) and Brett C. Leonard’s searing The Long Red Road, directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman in his Goodman Theatre directorial debut (February 2010).

Subscriptions are now on sale. Further information: Visit Goodman's website or call 312.443.3800.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Stratford Shakespeare Festival - Penny Wise and Pound Foolish?

The brilliant Christopher Plummer as Julius Caesar. Photo: David Hou, Stratford Shakespeare Festival

From the National Post in Canada comes word that the Stratford Festival came up $2.6 million short in 2008, and that a request for a government bailout is in the works.

The blame is put on dwindling sales of tickets to Americans:

“I think we were poised to have an extremely good year … We had Christopher Plummer and Brian Dennehy … My sense is that if this had been a normal year, we would have done extremely well,” said Antoni Cimolino, the company’s general director, in an interview yesterday. “We’ve never had better press in terms of the reviews, especially in the United States. It’s especially hard to watch the American attendance drop in a year when we got such great attention in the United States.”

But perhaps part of their problem is that their "press" coverage is not well targeted. When I contacted Richard Kornberg, Stratford's American press rep to inquire about covering Stratford for Berkshire Fine Arts, i was given a politely worded but transparently oozy turndown that was akin to disposing of of a wet kleenex into the trash. They could hardly be bothered with such minor annoyances as an online digital magazine, or (gasp!) a blog like this which recently covered the International Shakespeare Conference. . After telling Kronberg that I was quite flexible on dates, he informed me that to give out comps to reviewers means sacrificing the sale of those same tickets. I let the matter drop.

With this news of scads of unsold tickets, I don't think I believe you, Mr. Kornberg.

But good luck with your problem. We tried to help spread the word to our ticket buying-readers. There is not much more we can do. Besides, we still haven't been added to their press list to get the news releases after two requests. The problem seems to be one of their own making.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

NEA Announces Guidelines for $50 Million in Recovery Grants

"Angels in America" - the NEA prepares to help the arts

Yesterday, the National Endowment for the Arts announced the availability of grant guidelines for The Arts and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.. This opportunity was created in response to passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which includes $50 million to assist the nonprofit arts sector through funding to the National Endowment for the Arts. The new program will fund projects that focus on the preservation of jobs in the arts.

"Amidst these dire economic circumstances, the NEA and its partner organizations have been called to marshal our extensive grantmaking expertise to direct federal funds to organizations across the country to preserve jobs. We embrace this responsibility and this unprecedented opportunity. We look forward to working with our partners and our many constituents to reinvigorate the arts in our great nation."
- NEA Acting Chairman Patrice Walker Powell

The NEA will offer two categories of one-time support based on its existing distribution mechanism of 40 percent to the designated 56 state and jurisdictional arts agencies and their six authorized regional arts organizations, and 60 percent awarded through competitive direct grants. These direct grants will be available to nonprofit arts organizations including local arts agencies, statewide assemblies of local arts agencies, arts service organizations, and other arts organizations.
NEA Guidelines

Applicants must have received NEA funding in the last four years to be eligible to apply. In addition, applicants can receive these funds through only one source – from the Arts Endowment directly, or from a state arts agency, a regional arts organization, or a local arts agency eligible to regrant.
The new NEA granting program embodies the goals of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to be transparent, targeted, timely, and temporary.

Funded projects must address two areas, salary support and contractual fees. Projects may support full or partial salaries for one or more positions that are critical to an organization’s artistic mission and that are in jeopardy or have been eliminated as a result of the current economic climate. Projects also may support fees for previously engaged artists and/or contractual personnel to maintain or expand the period during which such persons would be engaged.

Grants will be implemented on an expedited timeline to help get funds to communities quickly so that jobs in the arts are preserved.
NEA Deadlines

For state arts agencies and regional arts organizations:

Applications due: March 13, 2009

Awards announced: April 2009

Project start date: on or after April 1, 2009.

For nonprofit arts organizations:
Applications due: April 2, 2009

Awards announced: July 2009

Project start date: on or after July 1, 2009.

To read the guidelines for these grants, use this link to the Recovery section of the NEA Web site for more information.

Learn more about the workers and organizations that make up the arts sector of the economy.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

"Bad Dates" Travels to Merrimack Repertory Theatre for a Month

Elizabeth Aspenlieder in the original production at Shakespeare & Company. Kevin Sprague photos, courtesy Shakespeare & Company.

Watch out Lowell - the play may revolve around all her bad dates, but this delightful show is an evening out that will make the boys laugh as much as the girls. They may even catch a few clues! Elizabeth Aspenlieder is about to move in on the Merrimack scene, and she is telling all. Her one woman show, Bad Dates has warmed up the Berkshire's normally frigid winter theatre scene with sell out performances for two months. At yesterday's press conference announcing the 2009-10 season for Shakespeare & Company everyone was delighted to learn that her triumphant one-woman show was getting a run of its own within driving distance of Boston. Now you can see what all the excitement has been about.

The hilariious Theresa Reebock play has its final Lenox performance on March 8, and then Aspenlieder moves to the Merrimack Repertory Theatre from March 19 to April 12 to recreate the role. You can also read a review in Berkshire Fine Arts.

Merrimack Rep's blurb describes it this way:

A hilarious and touching comedy. A single mother with a teenage daughter, a screamingly stressful job, and a collection of 600 pairs of shoes, Haley Walker tries to find love in the big city. Relive her rotten romances as Tibetan Buddhists and even the Romanian mob get in the way of her finding “Mr. Right.” Her story is a love and fashion odyssey that has had audiences across the country rolling in the aisles!

"Do you think this pair matches?"

For the actress the only question remaining is which shoes to take.

Key Info: Merrimack Repertory Theatre has online ticket ordering and is centrally located at the convergence of Routes 3, 93 and 495 in the heart of historic downtown Lowell. If you live in the Boston area, you are probably less than 30 minutes away from what people say is “the best kept secret of the Merrimack Valley.” Merrimack Rep is professional theatre at affordable prices and without the hassle of traffic and parking. For more information you can call them at 978-654-4678.