Monday, May 31, 2010

Dennis Hopper. actor and art collector

"I started acting at the Old Globe Theater in San Diego, from the time I was thirteen years old to when I was seventeen. I was doing Shakespeare and plays at the Old Globe in Balboa Park." Dennis Hopper

Dennis Hopper (1946-2010) and some of his beloved paintings.

If you read the celebrity columns and blogs, Dennis Hopper is often treated as an oddball, an eccentric actor. Much of it is true. Once spurned by Hollywood and nearly destroyed by drugs, he bounced back as so many of us do. And over a long career he worked hard to redeem his reputation.

In later years, his feet were solidly planted on the ground. For one thing he collected art. Not as an investment (though he seems to have quite an eye for emerging artists) but as a tool, perhaps even an obsession that enriched his acting. For another, he voted Republican, something most people are surprised to learn. He was a wonderfully complex person, a living contradiction.
"My whole written history is one big lie! [laughs] I mean, I can't even believe my history. But I did have the first Campbell's Soup painting. It was in the office at Virginia Dwan's, and I bought it for $75. This is '62 or '63. "Dennis Hopper

We will miss him, Perhaps the best memory we could take away of him is that of someone who was as curious about the visual arts as about life.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Broadway has another Billion Dollar Year

Actually, only a couple of theatres are on Broadway itself.

The Broadway League released end-of-season statistics for the 2009 – 2010 season, which began May 25, 2009 and ended May 23, 2010. For the 2009 – 2010 season, Broadway shows yielded $1.02 billion in grosses, and total attendances reached 11.89 million.

Grosses are up 1.5% from last season's absolute numbers (which do not include Young Frankenstein*). Attendance is down 3.0% from the 2008 – 2009 season, also using absolute numbers.

Charlotte St. Martin, Executive Director of The Broadway League, said, “Using the numbers we know, grosses were up 1.5% over last season. However, if we factor in estimated figures for Young Frankenstein which ran 32 weeks in 2008 – 2009, it could be down slightly this season – perhaps as much as 1.0% in grosses. In any case, it seems that even in this current economic climate, the numbers are strong thanks to the vibrancy of this season's offerings.“

The League recently studied the demographics of theatre-goers and found that, for Broadway, international visitors accounted for one in five admissions. Tourists in general accounted for a whopping 63% of Broadway admissions, though that could be a misleading statistic since under their parameters I would be considered a tourist, not the Broadway regular I consider myself.

The report also shows that the use of the Internet for the purchase of tickets has grown by 471% since the 1999-2000 season (from 7% to 40%). Online purchase was the most popular method of ticket buying for a fifth year in row.

During the 2009-2010 season, 39 shows opened (11 new musicals, 14 new plays, 6 musical revivals, and 8 play revivals).

The total for 2009-10 was $1.02 billion vs. $1.00 billion in 2008-9.

The more important figure was the gross attendance and that was 11.89 million in the last year, vs. 12.25 million the year before, representing a decline.

Broadway audience is aging

The average age of the Broadway theatregoer was 42.2 years old, slightly older than last season, while those aged from 25-34accounted for 16% of all tickets sold, higher than it has been since the 1999-2000 season. But younger audiences generally seem to prefer the more edgy (and cheaper) offerings of off-Broadway and off-off Broadway houses.
Broadway theatregoers were a very well educated and affluent group. In addition to an annual reported income of $195,700, 73% of theatregoers over the age of 25 had completed college and 36% had earned a graduate degree. 

“Broadway is a national pastime! As there is more of a choice for the theatregoer than ever before, it is exciting to report that we are seeing a wider audience for Broadway. Our shows, and our audience, are more diverse than ever,” continued Charlotte St. Martin. “With our goal to make Broadway a stronger international brand, we do believe that the increased attendance from foreign visitors to New York City reflects that these efforts are working. A stronger international brand will not only be an asset for Broadway’s business, but for the New York City economy as well.”

*Estimates for Young Frankenstein, which played 32 weeks during the 2008-09 season are not included here (previews began 10/11/07, closed 1/4/09 ) The producers refused to cooperate with the Broadway League and insisted on keeping their numbers to themselves.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Goodspeed Musicals "Annie Get Your Gun" Hits a Bullseye

The Company of Annie Get Your Gun at Goodspeed Opera House until July 3. Photos by Diane Sobolewski.

Theatre companies do Broadway musicals all the time, but few productions ever seem to measure up to the originals. The one reliable exception is the little Goodspeed Opera House, hidden away in East Haddam, Connecticut, just southeast of Hartford. This is one company that almost always hits a bullseye.

Jenn Gambatese as Annie Oakley

Since Irving Berlin's Annie Get Your Gun opened this past weekend, we had to revisit this musical tale about Annie Oakley (1860-1926), who was a sharpshooter from Ohio, and her husband, Frank Butler.

The verdict? The audience rewarded it with wildly enthusiastic applause, and so did I. It's fresh, funny and fabulous. The love they lavished on this musical is right up there on stage to hear and see. There's an energetic cast of two dozen singers and dancers who put their hearts into the show. The choreography by Noah Racey was dazzling. The work of the hard working performers was enhanced by the sparkling sound, with eight top notch musicians in the orchestra pit.

This edition of Annie Get Your Gun is not the same as the original, however. Cuts - most significantly of "I'm An Indian Too" - and updates were made to both book and song to bring it into the 21st Century, and to avoid some of the earlier racist cliches that were common in the mid 1940's.

From the opening notes of "There's No Business Like Show Business" to the rip roaring final duet of "Anything You Can Do" the two lead actors, Jenn Gambatese as Annie Oakley and Kevin Earley as Frank Butler filled the hall with glorious singing and acting that made the old fashioned book almost believable. Despite all its puns the audience loved every line, got every joke. I had a grin that went from ear to ear for most of the show. So much so that my jaw is sore today.

Kevin Earley as Frank Butler and the company of Annie Get Your Gun at Goodspeed Opera House.

Success of course has many mothers. Nevertheless, a big portion of the credit has to go the incredibly clever director, Rob Ruggiero who used every inch of stage space available. His cast swarmed and swirled under the big top, through the crowned heads of Europe and into a high society gathering. One dance took place on the top of a railroad car which rolled on and off stage with ease.

David McDonald made Buffalo Bill Cody a gentleman ringmaster in this role. Equally impressive were Bill Nabel as Pawnee Bill and Rebecca Watson as Dolly Tate. Impeccable timing in delivering his lines was Chief Sitting Bull played by the delightful Michael Nichols.

Orville Mendoza - who I first heard at Barrington Stage Company - carried the roles of Running Deer and several others over the course of the evening.

Rounding out the major figures are the two lovers Winnie Tate (Chelsea Morgan Stock and Tommy Keeler (Andrew Cao). Their voices were sweet, if not terribly loud.

As usual, the Goodspeed's production was world class, even with the limited playing space this jewel box of a theatre has to work with. Michael Schweikardt's set was highly creative, billowing posters and curtains doing the work of dividing the locations and scenes with speed and decisiveness. The costumes by Alejo Vietti were just amazing to see, detailed right down to the dirt and grime on Annie's leather and rough hewn clothes.

Anyone who is looking for a top notch musical - of the old fashioned variety - should find their way to East Haddam and see this superb company for themselves. You will quickly discover why Goodspeed is the home of Broadway hits - they have sent more musicals to Broadway than any other regional theatre company.

Annie Get Your Gun. Music and lyrics by Irving Berlin. Original Book by Herbert and Dorothy Fields. Revised by Peter Stone. First performance April 16, 2010. Recently extended to play to July 3. Goodspeed Opera House, East Haddam, Connecticut. About 2 hours, 15 minutes with one intermission.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Roger Rees and Sir Ian McKellan mistaken for bums in Sydney

Sir Ian McKellan mistaken for a bum by a passerby who dropped a dollar in his hat.

If there is anything more dangerous than a "method" actor, it's a "method" costume designer. Put the two together and the public can be easily fooled.

Ian McKellen was taking a break during rehearsals for Waiting for Godot which he and Roger Rees (former Williamstown Theatre Festival Artistic Dirextor) first did in London and are now performing in Australia.

Roger Rees (top) and Ian McKellan take their routine on the road.

As fate would have it, Sir Ian is sitting a short distance from the stage door, Estragon's bowler in hand when a passerby takes one look at the aging, threadbare actor and drops a dollar in the hat.

Of course, that prompted the publicist to set up some photographs which we most happily reprint here.

McKelan hopes the Melbourne critics will be as kind.

After Waiting For Godot finishes its run in Melbourne, it will continue on to Sydney, Adelaide and Perth.
The Samuel Beckett play was a huge success in London's West End, with Sir Ian starring as Estragon opposite Patrick Stewart's and then Roger Rees's Vladimir.

Sir Ian McKellan attracts stares as he continues to wait for Godot in full public view.

You can ead more at: The Daily Mail.

Sir Ian has a wicked sense or irony:

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Concert Hall Decorum Loses to PaGAGnini Players

The Pagagnini Quartet.

They begin as any chamber concert does, with a pensive pianissimo passage of a Bach Brandenburg or the Pachebel Canon in d. Their playing is superb. The audience is rapt. Then...cleverly choreographed chaos erupts. The Pagagnini Quartet is off and running and the evening erupts in hilarity. It's about as entertaining as classical music ever gets.

Descended from a squiggly line of classical clowns, from Spike Jones (Carmen Ghia) to Anna Russell to PDQ Bach, the Pagagnini foursome is clearly out to have a good time. Their audiences respond with endless cheering and laughter. The group, from Spain, is about to appear in New York City and we want to be sure you know about them.

Their high voltage show makes quite a racket, and the choreography requires their playing to be almost acrobatic as they pluck, bow and abuse their instruments in the name of art. This video will give you a good idea of what they are up to.

They play the New Victory Theatre in Manhattan from May 7 - 23. Performances are Fridays at 7pm, Saturdays at 2pm and 7pm, and Sundays at 12pm and 5pm.

Regular ticket prices are $35, $25, $12.50. With our code your discount price is only $29.75, $21.25, $10.50.

When you call for tickets, (646-223-3010) be sure to mention code GAG1915.

You can also order on line directly from the New Victory Theatre. Again, when prompted, enter the code GAG1915 for your special pricing. Or bring a copy of this advance story to the box office at 209 West 42nd Street.