Those of us who share the rather unusual- and sometimes bizarre-profession of reviewing films for a living all share a nasty little secret: there are countless classic movies that we haven't seen. I'm not alone in making this mea culpa. No less than the late, great Robert Osborne, whose insightful introductions on Turner Classic Movies helped launch that channel's success, once confided in me that even he could list numerous classic movies that he had yet to catch up with. When he confessed this to Lauren Bacall, she told him that she envied him because she wish she could recapture the sheer joy of seeing a great film for the first time. I've never seen the 1942 musical "Holiday Inn". I can't say why but perhaps it's because that as a boy growing up in the Sixties, such productions seemed quaint and unappealing when I had a celluloid tidal wave of WWII flicks, Westerns and Bond-inspired spy movies. After all, John Wayne and Steve McQueen never danced on film, so why bother watching anyone else do so? Thus, when I attended the Papermill Playhouse's stage production of the much-beloved Irving Berlin song fest, I was in the unique position of not being acquainted with the property at all. At the risk of invoking the names of Rodgers and Hammerstein, the corn is as high as an elephant's eye, to be sure. However, the Papermill has outdone itself in presenting the ultimate "feel good" production for the holiday season.
The story is as sappy and sentimental as I suspected when I was a kid, but with the passing of decades, I've warmed to sappy and sentimental musicals and "Holiday Inn" turns the old concept of "Hey, kids- we can put the show on in the barn!" into a slight variation that boils down to "Hey, kids- we can put the show on right here at the inn!". The story opens with a song and dance trio just finishing a successful engagement. They are Jim Hardy (Nicholas Rodriguez), his girlfriend and dance partner Lila Dixon (Paige Faure) and Ted Hanover (Jeff Kready). Backstage, Jim drops a bombshell by proposing to Lila and announcing that they can now leave show business and move to a farm he has just purchased sight unseen in rural Connecticut. Although Lila accepts the marriage proposal, she says she wants to continue the act on the road for another six months with Ted while Jim prepares the farm for her to move in following their marriage. Jim agrees but when he gets to the historic Mason Farm that he has purchased, he discovers he's been snookered. The place is run down and he is immediately served with demands to pay back taxes and assorted other staggering debts he didn't know existed. While he struggles to cope, he is visited by Linda Mason (Hayley Podschun), the previous owner the farm, which had been in her family for generations. Seems Linda couldn't afford the upkeep and had been evicted, thus allowing Jim to secure the place while in foreclosure. In a coincidence that only occurs in musicals of this type, she is attractive and has a talent for performing on stage, though she gave up her career to become a teacher when sufficient opportunities didn't appear for her to make a living in show business. Jim imposes on her to sing a bit and he recognizes she has star power. Meanwhile, Lila makes a surprise visit and confesses she is so caught up in her own thriving career that she is calling off the marriage and going back on the road with Ted. You don't have to be the kind of person who wears a deerstalker hat and smokes a pipe to detect what happens next: Jim falls head over heels for Linda and they devise a plan to transform the failing farm into a hotel that presents musical productions. The plan proves to be an immediate success, drawing crowds from far and wide but things unravel when Ted turns up and announces that Lila has kicked him to the curb and broken up their act when a millionaire proposed to her. Desperate to jump start his career, Ted worms his way into the inn's revue, in the process falling for Linda, who is clearly smitten by Ted's talents as well as he egotistical self-assurance which is in contrast to Jim's modest nature.
The well-oiled plot device of a city slicker finding himself hapless as a farmer must date back to the invention of celluloid but it persists because it's a genuinely funny one, as evidenced by films such as "The Egg and I", "Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House", "The Money Pit" and the still amusing "Green Acres" 1960s TV series. The fish-out-water concept provides some genuine laughs but it is the wealth of Berlin songs that elevate "Holiday Inn" to a special status. Just consider all of these classic numbers in one show: "Heat Wave", "Blue Skies", "Happy Holiday", "Cheek to Cheek", "Easter Parade" and a little number called "White Christmas" that might actually catch on. All of them are superbly performed by a flawless and talented cast under the outstanding musical direction of Shawn Gough with equally impressive choreography by Denis Jones. Gordon Greenberg is the director of the overall production which practically had the enthusiastic audience dancing in the aisles. Kudos to costume designer Alejo Vietti for providing some eye-popping creations and especially to scene designer Anna Louizos, whose creative sets are not only impressive but are miraculously changed literally in the blink of an eye without the slightest interruption. The four leads in the show illustrate the Papermill's painstaking casting process pays off. Rodriguez, Podschun, Kready and Faure are delightful to watch throughout. Each of them has the ability to knock 'em dead during the musical numbers but they also deliver the witty bon mots in a style that ensures big laughs. There is also a spot-on supporting performance by Ann Harada as a local handywoman who finds plenty of work repairing Jim's dilapidated inn. The book has been tweaked a slight bit to make the dialogue more relevant for today's audiences but there are some quaint references to Connecticut as a dull, largely rural state, which gets big laughs from tri-state audiences who have suffered the endless traffic jams on the I-95 corridor.The film version was released in 1942 during the early days of WWII, which accounts for the sentimental success of "White Christmas", but for reasons unknown, the stage production takes place in 1946. A notorious blackface musical number in praise of Abraham Lincoln that appeared in the film has also been mercifully left out of the stage production.
The Papermill's presentation of "Holiday Inn" illustrates why the venue is the gold standard of regional playhouses. The show delighted the audience so much that even the rude nitwits that generally walk out before the show ends in order to get a head start on reaching the parking lot seemed transfixed by all the talent on stage and remained to join in the roaring standing ovation. It's the perfect holiday show and runs through December 30. Don't miss it.
The State Theatre in New Brunswick, New Jersey, launched their Broadway season for 2018. The theatre has long been regarded as a historic venue where outstanding productions have been presented, from theatrical performances to legendary rock stars, classic film shows and the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra in concert. Last year, the State initiated a bold new program: a full season of Broadway hits. The results exceeded expectations and today marked the second season's debut with a production of the zany, Tony-nominated "Something's Rotten". The comedy musical is set in the 1590s and incorporates such diverse topics as William Shakespeare and his works, women's liberation, "Les Miserables" and Nazis (don't ask!). It's Monty Python by way of Mel Brooks, with a bit of Woody Allen tossed in. As with the previous season's presentations, this was a first-class, expensive production that could be moved intact back to Broadway. The cast is uniformly first-rate and the packed house howled with laughter throughout. You'll have to move quickly if you want to see it at the State, however, as the show moves on to a national tour after the performances on Sunday, November 3. Broadway fans need not despair, however, because there are some other gems forthcoming in the theater's new season: "The King and I", "Finding Neverland", "Rent", "Stomp" and "Chicago: The Musical". The theatre's proximity to Manhattan ensures an abundance of talent is available and many of the performers are seasoned Broadway veterans. Click here for more information about the Broadway series. Click here for future play dates for the "Something Rotten" national tour.
The mania for adapting non-musical TV shows and movies as musical productions on Broadway continues with the news that the 1960s sitcom "Green Acres" will be brought to the Great White Way with more tunes than just composer Vic Mizzy's classic theme song, which seemingly every American of a certain age can still sing to perfection. The show was a major hit back in the day and starred Eddie Albert as a New York attorney who became fed up with the congestion and stress of living in Manhattan. He relocates to a small town called Hooterville where the naive city slicker finds that the farm he has purchased is a dilapidated mess. Much of the fun centered on his gorgeous but not-so-bright wife played by Eva Gabor, who longs to return to the big city. Both she and her husband toil on the farm while still clad in the same attire they wore on Park Avenue. The show, which is still shown in re-runs, was created by Paul Henning, the mastermind behind two similar sitcoms, "The Beverly Hillbillies" and "Petticoat Junction". Cast members from each show would turn up as the same characters across the three series. In watching the series today, I've been impressed at just how funny it still is, thanks to the wonderful performances of Albert and Gabor as well as the many great character actors who were regulars on the series: Alvy Moore, Pat Buttram, Tom Lester, Frank Cady among them. The fish-out-of-water premise for a comedy extends back long before "Green Acres". Cary Grant tried to adjust to country living in "Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House" and Fred MacMurray and Claudette Colbert did the same in "The Egg and I". In later years, Tom Hanks starred in the similarly-themed "The Money Pit". Whether contemporary audiences who don't even remember "Green Acres" will find its gentle style of humor entertaining is the big question. Let's just hope that keep that opening theme song.
I've become somewhat jaded and downright cynical when it comes to the tidal wave of musical stage productions based on popular, non-musical motion pictures. So it was with a sense of wariness that I approached the world premiere engagement of "The Sting" at the Papermill Playhouse in Millburn, NJ. After all, the classic, Oscar-winning 1973 film doesn't need musical production numbers to "improve it". There was already a great deal of interest in the production prior to the relatively last-minute announcement last month that the production would star Harry Connick, Jr. That sent already healthy tickets sales into overdrive and you'd be hard-pressed to find seats for the engagement, which runs through April 29. It doesn't take long to set aside one's suspicions that this might be a lightweight rip-off of a great film. As with all Papermill shows, this one first impresses with its creative and often ingenious sets designed by Beowulf Boritt and the magnificent orchestra under the musical direction of Fred Lassen. Not having seen the film version in decades, I can't say precisely how much of the movie's script by David S. Ward makes it into the musical production, but the book by Bob Martin seemed to include most of the important elements. The plot, set during the Depression, can be summarized succinctly by simply saying it involves the teaming of a legendary con man, Henry Gondorff (Harry Connick, Jr.) with an aspiring young protege, Johnny Hooker (J. Harrison Ghee) to use the ultimate scam to take down Doyle Lonnegan (Tom Hewitt), a filthy rich, ruthless crime kingpin who has murdered an old friend of Gondorff and Hooker. The elaborate plan requires military-like strategy, a good deal of money and a virtual army of experienced grifters. The pace of the production is suitably brisk, the dialogue punctuated with wisecracks and most of the musical numbers enable the advancement of the story line. The score by Mark Kollman and Greg Kotts (with contributions by Connick) is breezy and fun even if there isn't a single breakthrough number that you'll find yourself humming afterward. The dance numbers are outstanding thanks to the talents of choreographer Warren Carlyle. Connick's legions of loyal fans will be pleased that he gets to perform some solo numbers and he proves to be a very able and charismatic actor, as well. His on-stage partner in crime (Ghee) also delivers the goods with an assured and highly amusing performance. We won't make the case that Connick and Ghee will make you forget the teaming of Paul Newman and Robert Redford but they clearly have broad appeal to the audience, if the reaction at the show I attended is any indication. It must be said that the show benefits from some sensational supporting performances with Tom Hewitt in the villainous role so memorably played on film by Robert Shaw, Kate Shindle as a hooker with a heart of gold, Janet Dascal as a femme fatale and Kevyn Morrow as the ill-fated grifter whose murder sets off the caper especially impressive. Special praise should be lavished on Tony-nominated director John Rando, who has the daunting task of seamlessly overseeing the movements of a very large cast, which includes an abundance of nattily-clad con men and scantily-clad prostitutes, as well as ensuring that the cumbersome, elaborate sets are moved quickly and flawlessly. This production cost a considerable sum and every penny of it is up there on the stage. The goal is very obviously to move the musical a scant few miles to Broadway, as so many other Papermill productions have.
Robert Shaw, Robert Redford and Paul Newman in the Oscar-winning film version.
The production can still use some tweaking. The first act ends with the con men having successfully amassed their "army" of fellow charlatans, thus the audience is eager to get to the actual caper in the second act. However, there are so many musical numbers (all of them admittedly impressive) that it distracts from the sense of anticipation to see the elaborate "sting" enacted. At least one of the numbers can be eliminated because several are superfluous to the main story line. Additionally, although there is an abundance of great Scott Joplin songs, audiences may feel cheated that there are only a few fleeting, occasional strains of the legendary "The Entertainer", so memorably arranged for the film version by Marvin Hamlisch. In a recent interview, Harry Connick Jr explains why he had reservations about using the tune, but that won't negate the feeling of disappointment by viewers. It's like making a James Bond movie and not including the signature theme. Still, these are minor criticisms. "The Sting" musical production has not been created with the intention of winning awards or pleasing critics, who are generally down on these adaptations of hit movies for the stage. Its main purpose is to appeal to mass audiences and if the reaction I witnessed is any indication, the creative team has succeeded admirably.
Since my all-time favorite TV series is "The Honeymooners", the legendary sitcom that was originally broadcast in 1950s, one might think I would have been overjoyed at the prospect of seeing the show's new incarnation as a big-budget musical production that just premiered at the prestigious Papermill Playhouse in Millburn, New Jersey, a venue so revered that it was honored with a special Tony award. In reality, I had considerable trepidation about seeing the show. The characters in the TV series- bus driver Ralph Kramden, his devoted but long-suffering wife Alice and their best friends, sewer worker Ed Norton and his wife Trixie- have been ingrained in the minds of every American baby boomer. In fact, the re-runs have rarely left the New York airwaves even sixty years after their original airings and the four main cast members- Jackie Gleason, Audrey Meadows, Art Carney and Joyce Randolph- are all permanently enshrined as pop culture icons. It's for precisely that reason that I feared the new stage production would be less an homage than a ripoff, created by people who have no real feel for the show. We've certainly seen this occur before, especially in translating classic television series to feature films. Thus, I'm happy to report that the musical stage version of "The Honeymooners" is a success that will almost certainly please even the most die-hard fans of the show. Tickets are selling rapidly due to good reviews and word-of-mouth. Cinema Retro attended the October 8 performance, which coincided with a press night and cast and crew after party.
The plot fits snugly into the type of scenario found in any of the T.V. episodes: the working class Kramden (Michael McGrath) and his best friend Ed Norton (Michael Mastro) engage in one of their generally doomed get-rich-quick schemes, this time submitting a jingle for an advertisement promoting a brand of cheese. Lo and behold they actually win and before long are being wooed to join an advertising agency, with the promise of sky-high salaries. As you might imagine, Ralph starts scouting luxury apartments in midtown Manhattan before he's even earned his first paycheck, much to the chagrin of Alice (Leslie Kritzer). Meanwhile, a subplot follows Trixie Norton (Laura Bell Bundy), who has decided to return to the burlesque circuit in order to pursue her own career- a decision that leads her into the grasp of her lecherous boss, who surprisingly is not named Harvey Weinstein. (Trixie's career in burlesque was mentioned in one episode but never explored beyond that.) Predictably, the good luck that falls upon Ralph and Ed becomes a case of "be careful what you wish for", as they are subjected to seedy Madison Avenue executives, a devious boss (Lewis Cleale) and a grumpy sponsor (Lewis J. Stadlen) who expects a great jingles on the spur of the moment. The new-found success also causes a strain on Ralph and Ed's friendship.
Joyce Randolph and cast members Michael Mastro, Laura Bell Bundy, Michael McGrath and Leslie Kritzer are joined by Brian Carney (right), son of Art Carney at the afterparty. (Photo copyright Cinema Retro. All rights reserved).
The show's book is written by Dusty Kay and Bill Nuss, both of whom are obviously fans of the T.V. series, as evidenced by the peppering of references to classic episodes that left the audience delighted. The script presents plenty of zingers associated with the characters, each of of whom is expertly portrayed by their modern counterparts. McGrath and Mastro do masterly work, evoking all of the character traits of Gleason and Carney and even bearing a substantial resemblance to the comedy legends (though McGrath reportedly wears padding to match Gleason's chubby physique.) Leslie Kritzer is highly impressive, channeling Audrey Meadows even as Laura Bell Bundy creates a new interpretation of Trixie that benefits from the fact that the script emphasizes the character far more than the T.V. series did. (Though purists might growl about Trixie's sultry dance number). All of these are extremely talented young actors and they do yeoman work. (McGrath is Tony winner and Bundy is a Tony nominee.) The supporting cast is also first-rate. The musical score by Stephen Weiner and lyrics by Peter Mills are impressive even if no breakthrough numbers emerge that will have you humming when you leave the theater. The entire enterprise is creatively directed by another Tony winner John Rando, who keeps the pace lively despite the fact that the show is a bit overlong. The choreography by Joshua Bergasse is very creative but there are at least a couple of musical numbers that could be trimmed without causing any negative impact on the show. There are also missed opportunities: the production practically calls out for some reference to the Huckabuck and Mambo dances that feature prominently in two of the best episodes, but which are nowhere to be seen. (A Huckabuck skit was originally included but was cut from the finished production. Time for the producers to rethink that one) and I don't recall hearing the iconic theme from the T.V. series, "Melancholy Serenade", which was composed by Jackie Gleason. I must confess that I'm not a proponent of turning non-musical properties into big, lavish musical stage productions. The writing in "The Honeymooners" is good enough to have carried the show perhaps as a 90 minute comedy sans music and intermission. However, there is no doubt that the audience relished the songs and the reaction was overwhelmingly good. I should also mention that it was a wise decision to keep the story set in the 1950s and the impressive sets evoke a real feel for the show, including the legendary Kramden kitchen where most of the action in the T.V. series took place. There is also a very creative aspect to the final moments of the show with the introduction of a surprise plot device focusing on "Cavalcade of Stars", the program where "The Honeymooners" was introduced as a series of periodic sketches before it became a regular series. It makes for a delightful finale. Most importantly, like the T.V. show, this version of "The Honeymooners" isn't just a litany of one-liners. It has heart and real emotion, as it explores the value of relationships.
(Photo: Evan Zimmerman)
I attended the performance in the company of Joyce Randolph, who is an old friend and the only surviving member of the original "Honeymooners". Joyce, who would have no problem voicing disapproval, gave the show a big thumb's up- and if it's good enough for Trixie Norton, it will surely please the legions of fans who are salivating to see it. Don't panic if you can't get tickets. Like so many of the hit shows that have world premieres at the Papermill Playhouse, there's talk of moving "The Honeymooners" to Broadway, a development that even Ralph Kramden couldn't dream of.
CLICK HERE FOR TICKET INFORMATION FOR THE SHOW, WHICH RUNS THROUGH OCTOBER 29.
(CONTINUE READING FOR MORE PHOTOS FROM THE PRESS NIGHT)
In the old days it was common for movie studios to adapt hit Broadway stage productions for the screen. However, in more recent years the reverse philosophy has been all the rage with countless films being brought to the stage, generally as musicals. In some cases this makes sense, as illustrated by Mel Brooks' musical version of his 1968 comedy film classic "The Producers". However, the cost of staging a show on Broadway is almost prohibitively expensive. Thus, skittish investors know that tourists, who make up the bulk of ticket purchases, want a genial, uplifting experience, which explains why there has been a dearth of new dramas on the Great White Way. Even when dramas and non-musical comedies do show up, they are generally limited runs and powered by the presence of big movie stars in the main roles. The desire to squeeze musical numbers into any production has often reached the point of absurdity with horror and science fiction movies being adapted as song-and-dance extravaganzas. The Guardian takes a look back at some of the most notorious Broadway movie-to-stage flops that includes "Carrie", "Spider-man" and even "The Fly". Click here to read.
All things come to those who wait. Having somehow inexcusably missed actor/writerJim Brochu's award-winning play "Zero Hour" that depicts the controversial life and career of Zero Mostel, I was able to see the show's most recent revival at the Theatre at St. Clement's which is just off Broadway. The show is presented by the Peccadillo Theatre Company, which specializes in staging worthy productions in the prestigious venue that is just off Broadway. For Brochu, the one-man show is a triumph.. He wrote the script himself and the production is directed with flair by three-time Oscar nominee Piper Laurie. Mostel was a larger-than-life talent and he is played with uncanny skill by Brochu, who somehow makes himself into the spitting image of the iconic actor (he doesn't bare the slightest resemblance to Mostel off-stage). The imaginative scenario finds the entire play set in Mostel's New York painting studio in 1977, shortly before his untimely death at age 62. (It was news to me that painting was his real passion and that he considered acting a sideline that paid the rent.) When the story opens, Mostel welcomes a New York Times reporter who is there to conduct an interview. "Welcomes" is perhaps not the proper word: Mostel addresses the unseen writer with a barrage of insults and quips that appear to be only partly said in jest. As Mostel unveils the story of his life, he is simultaneously busy painting a portrait of his guest. He relates his humble beginnings in Brooklyn and his respect for his hard-working, honest father. His parents were Orthodox Jews and his mother never forgave him for marrying outside the religion. The strained relationship apparently lasted until his mother was literally on her death bed and she refused to greet Zero's young son Josh because he was the product of a mixed marriage. Much of the show covers Mostel's diversified acting career, which came about quite accidentally. He was on a trajectory toward fame and fortune when he had the misfortune of falling under suspicion during the McCarthy era. Called before a committee with a demand to save his career by naming colleagues who were alleged to be communists, Mostel refused. Consequently, he was blacklisted for years with devastating effect on his psyche, not to mention his finances. Mostel airs his grievances against those artists who "named names", such as Elia Kazan and up-and-coming legendary Broadway director Jerome Robbins. Years later, however, he would work with Robbins despite his personal revulsion of the man because he recognized he was an artistic genius.
During the 90 minute production (played without intermission), Brochu's intense performance makes you think you are actually watching Mostel himself. He rails, rants, raves and charms. Mostel was capable of making crowds laugh uproariously but at the same time was known to be a challenge to work with. Mostel addresses these character flaws in the story, admitting some faults but denying others. One must keep in mind that the show is not an objective overview of his career simply because it presents Mostel relating his own version of his personal history. He tells fascinating stories about his most famous roles in "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" and as the original Tevye in "Fiddler on the Roof"- and denounces the film version of the latter because he wasn't asked to star in it (allegedly because he was too difficult to work with) He also dismisses his cinematic triumph in Mel Brooks' "The Producers", saying that he hated the film because "I looked like a beached whale". If all Brochu offered was the Mostel who possessed a volcanic temper, the show would be unbearable. Who would want to spend 90 minutes with such a boor? However, he also shows us Mostel's softer, sentimental side especially when it came to him remaining loyal to the people who stood by him during the blacklisting years. (Burgess Meredith is singled out for praise as is his friend, Philip Loeb, who committed suicide because he was blacklisted). Mostel also proudly embraces his liberal political views, repeatedly pointing out that he agreed to have Jerome Robbins hired for his plays because to not do so would have been the equivalent of blacklisting - something Mostel felt the political left should never be responsible for. Strangely, the play doesn't make mention of Mostel's final film appearance in the 1976 movie "The Front", a scathing indictment of McCarthyism that was created by people who had been blacklisted (director Martin Ritt, screenwriter Walter Bernstein and Mostel, among them.)
"Zero Hour" is a remarkable achievement about the life of a great talent whose name is in danger of fading into oblivion. If younger people know who he is it's largely because of "The Producers"- if they even know about the film. However, for now, Mostel's and legend are alive and well on the stage of the Theatre at St. Clementine's. The production runs through July 9. Don't miss it- this is New York theater at its very best.
A new stage adaptation of Harper Lee's literary classic "To Kill a Mockingbird" will be brought to Broadway by producer Scott Rudin. He has hired veteran writer Aaron Sorkin to write the script, which we are told will deviate from the previous, unrelated stage version that adhered closely to the original story and text. Rudin says that the original concept can't be kept in "the original Bubble Wrap" and plans to add scenes that are only alluded to in the film. His instincts better be right because generations of readers have a passionate love for the novel and the 1962 screen version that won an Oscar for Gregory Peck. Readers reacted in shock when the beloved Lee's unpublished novel "Go Set a Watchman" was published last year. The manuscript, which was written before "Mockingbird", presents the character of Atticus Finch (played by Peck in the film as a stalwart and courageous fighter for racial equality) as a blatant racist. Lee passed away last week after suffering declining health for years. There has been speculation that she never intended to have "Watchman" published but those who looked after her affairs said she was mentally competent and wanted the book to come out. The same controversy is likely to occur with the new stage production of "Mockingbird" with skeptics sure to raise questions regarding just how involved she was in granting rights for the show. Lee lived a low-profile life style since the 1950s when "Mockingbird" was published. She rarely granted interviews and expressed a disdain for publicity. Some of those who befriended her wonder if she was mentally or physically competent enough to make such decisions and note that the highly lucrative publishing of "Watchman" seemed at odds with her decision to keep it unpublished for over a half-century. (Click here for more on the debate about her mental health.) Nevertheless, a new "Mockingbird" will grace Broadway. The curiosity factor alone seems to ensure some big ticket sales, but whether any resulting backlash will damage the production remains to be seen. For more click here.
the American Theater of Actors, in conjunction with Dr. Harriet Fields, presented
a theatrical reenactment of the 1928 trial of W.C. Fields for the murder of a
Canary. Entitled “The Real Transcript of W.C. Fields Murder Trial (Of A
Canary),” the thirty minute production is based upon a true story of the night
that Fields was arrested for the inhumane treatment of a canary in his act at
the Earl Carrol Theater by two New York City policemen attached to the Humane
had been appearing in Earl Carroll’s Vanities and was performing a routine that
is immortalized in his 1932 film “The Dentist.” In the routine, a man with a
huge brisling beard comes to see Fields, the dentist. As Fields pokes around
the man’s beard in an attempt to locate the man’s mouth, birds fly out, at
which point Fields grabs a rifle and tries to shoot them. When the routine was
done on stage, the two police officers claimed the bird, was not shot, but was
tortured and fatally injured when it ran into the scenery and fell to the stage.
While they could have issued a summons under the law protecting the creatures,
they instead arrested Fields and took him to jail.
was arraigned at the Seventh District Magistrates’ Court at 314 West 54th
Street and tried in front of the Honorable George Simpson charged with:
“Violation of Section
949 of the Penal Law in that on September 13, 1928 at 11:35 P.M. at 755 Seventh
Avenue, the Earl Carroll Theater, he did carry a bird in his pocket and took
the same from his pocket and permitted the bird to fly upon the stage and cause
said bird to fall to the floor as to produce torture.” (From the actual
can’t make this up.
also cannot believe that the reenactment was done on a stage in what was then,
in 1928, the original courtroom where the trial was held. Yet that is also
true. Under the direction of James Jennings, the founder of the American
Theater of Actors, his team of professional took some very slight liberties
with the actual trial and transcript and added some dramatic business to
entertain the fairly large crowd who attended this commemorative
performance. Fields was played by
Terrence Montgomery and, taking some license with the casting, changed the
“Honorable George” to the “Honorable Georgina—played by Jane Culley.
changes were required in what must have been one of the most entertaining
trials in New York jurisprudence. Especially when Officer Moran, the arresting
officer in the case (played emotively by Thomas Kane), had actual lines from
the trial like:
“We saw the bird in
the cage, and in the window of the taxicab we held the bird up. It was gasping, and we took it down, and we
notified the taxi driver that the bird was dying. When we got to the hospital, the bird was
surprising that, in the performance, Fields signaled to the audience, that
“Moran” is really pronounced “Moron.” Especially as Fields’ attorney,
established to the court that the two officers posed for press photos with the
bird in the cage before leaving the theater. He also brought out the photographers’
use of magnesium powder flashes almost suffocating the people in the photos.
the judge patiently let both sides produce witnesses and allowed the trial to
go on, it was obvious that the Honorable Georgina found a more likely cause of
the birds death (the flash powder used by the photographers when the officers
posed with the bird and cage). She delivered her verdict, as the original Judge
“The bird was all
right, I am satisfied, until he got into the hands of one or both of the officers. This was a case I am very frank to
say, that if the proper discretion had been used, Officer Moran would not have
taken a reputable citizen and placed him under arrest when he had the right to
use a summons…There is no danger of Mr. Fields running away and, in an act that
is shown every night, there is every inducement to stay here. He made an
unjustifiable arrest of a reputable citizen on the theory that this bird was
suffering torture and, before me, there is not one scintilla of evidence of the
bird having suffered torture….The bird did not die from any act on the part of
this defendant, William C. Fields, nor did the bird suffer any torture at his
hands whatsoever. Therefore I find the Defendant not guilty, and he is
acquitted. (The bird and cage returned to the attorney for the defendant.” (Again,
from the original trial transcript)
audience signaled agreement with their applause and the reenactment was
followed by some film clips of the sound films Fields made in the years
following his run in with the law.
was then followed by a question and answers session with Dr. Fields and James
Jennings and some refreshments generously provided by the theater. A fun
evening for all and definitely NOT for the birds.
Author Ray Morton provides an insightful look into the making of the 1976 version of King Kong in the latest issue of Cinema Retro. Ray will also be introducing "Kong '76", a spoof of that remake, which will be presented at The Bell House in Brooklyn, on September 5. Prepare to celebrate the great ape's return to Gotham! For details, click here.
you are like me, you probably have a nostalgic heart. The fact that you read
Cinema Retro is a major clue. Have you ever yearned to spend an evening in the
past, a la Gil (Owen Wilson) in Woody Allen's “Midnight in Paris?” What if I
told you how to experience an evening with Josephine Baker, Fanny Brice, Marion
Davies, Will Rogers and Florenz Ziegfeld for a show at his famous theater that
is hosted by Eddie Cantor? Would you go?
real life can not actually bring you back in time to do so, Cynthia Von Buhler
can, and has, with her new iTheater production “Ziegfeld's Midnight Frolic”
current running on Friday and Saturday evenings at the Liberty Theater on 42nd
Street in NYC. Cynthia's previous interactive and immersive shows
“The Bloody Beginning” and “The Brothers Booth” were wonderful productions that
brought audience members into the cast playing famous (and not so famous)
characters that interacted with the show and cast members. The Frolic takes you
one step closer and one step beyond.
show centers around the tragic death of Olive Thomas, a small town girl who
moved to NY in 1914 to seek her fame and fortune at 17 years old. She started
out as a model and won the title of “Most Beautiful Girl in NY.” The following
year she starred as a Ziegfeld girl in one of his most risque shows held late
nights in a smaller stage at the top of The New Amsterdam Theater. She had a
four-year film career and married Jack Pickford, the younger brother of film
star Mary Pickford. She died, under mysterious circumstances, in Paris, in 1920
when she drank mercury bichloride. It was one of the first heavily publicized
members 'travel' between Paris - the Cabaret du Néant (Cabaret of Nothingness).
VIP ticket purchasers party for half an hour at a “champagne orgy” with Alberto
Vargas and scantily clad Ziegfeld girls including the aforementioned ladies.
You can also visit the room of honeymooners Pickford and Thomas at the Ritz
Hotel but are eventually whisked magically back to NYC to watch the “Midnight
Frolic” and back to Paris for the death scene and investigations.
Moskowitz and Joey Calveri shine as the doomed couple and perform some
wonderful stage numbers. Delysia La Chatte is Josehine Baker incarnate. Chris
Fink as Eddie Cantor controls the show as emcee. Other standout performers are
dancer Brianna Hurley, Heather Bunch as “the down and out lady” and Erica
Vlahinos as Fanny Brice who will knock you out with her songs. The music is all
1920s but there are a couple of rearranged recent hit songs given a jazz era
arrangement that will pleasantly surprise you. Did I mention the aerialists?
Amazing. How they do it with so little clothing on is a wonder.
Midnight Frolic” is running under a well-deserved extension for the next two
weeks. I hope it will continue its run. I know I'm going back to see it again.
I didn't get to see everything - there is so much to see and do, so many nooks and
crannies to visit, too many flirtatious flappers, well, you get the idea. To
learn more visit speakeasydollhouse.com where you can also purchase tickets.
There is also a prix fixe dinner option available. I did not eat the night I
attended but people I spoke with enjoyed the meal. It must, however, be reserved in advance.
Details are available on the website.
web-site disclaimer: “PLEASE BE ADVISED: THIS SHOW CONTAINS JAZZ, LIQUOR
& FAST WOMEN” is well-deserved. So are all the rave reviews this show
It's a little late in the day to extol the virtues of the Papermill Playhouse's production of "Hunchback of Notre Dame" which has its last performance on April 5, but since the show is being groomed for Broadway, it's relevant to point out that the production is simply magnificent. (The play premiered at the La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego last fall before moving here.) Upon entering the Papermill, we took our seats in front row, center....generally the best in the house. However, there was concern because the entire stage now had a massive new floor temporarily built on top of it. The result of this was the "new" stage not only extending practically into our seats but also having the effect of "elevator shoes"....it was a good foot above where the normal stage rose. My concern was that everyone would have to crane their necks to see what was going on directly in front of them- and indeed some of those attending who were not very tall found it necessary to sit on their coats in an attempt to elevate themselves enough to see the action. Whatever grumbling may have occurred was subdued because of the sight that stood before our eyes: a massive, ingenious example of production design that ranked among the most impressive I had ever seen. Clearly, we knew this would be a memorable theatrical experience- and it was. The reaction became even greater when we first see Quasimodo, who is hanging on a rope attached to a set of descending giant bells. The effect is breathtaking and the reason for the new stage floor would become apparent, as massive edifices as wheeled in and out of scenes throughout the production. The staggering weight would have crushed the existing stage floor.
The new show, under the inspired direction of Scott Schwartz,is a unique production that combines the key elements of Victor Hugo's classic 1831 novel with songs by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz that appeared in Disney's animated film version and, in the process, reworks the original German 1999 production of this musical. (Peter Parnell wrote the book for the new version.) It should be mentioned that, although this production boasts memorable songs from the Disney film, this is not a feel-good experience and kids may well walk away more upset than entertained. (It notably is not recommended for kids under age 12, per a disclaimer on the show's advertising.) That's because Hugo's book presents us with one of the most tragic protagonists in literary history: Quasimodo, the deformed illegitimate son of a Frenchman of good standing and a Gypsy girl, both of whom die shortly after the baby is born. The infant's uncle is Dom Claude Frollo, the top priest at Notre Dame cathedral. He is appalled by the disfigurement of the child that he has taken into his care, but he is also ashamed. He raises the boy within the confines of the bell tower, where young Quasimodo receives an education but has been completely isolated from the bustling city of Paris, which he can only observe from the tower. His sole function is to chime the enormous bells on schedule. One day, Quasimodo slips into the streets to experience the annual "Feast of Fools", a one-day event during which the city's most undesirable elements are allowed to run rampant and indulge themselves in any vices they desire. Quasimodo no sooner enters the crowds than he becomes the object of cruel mockery and torture for the amusement of others. He is rescued by the one person who shows him an act of kindness: the beautiful gypsy girl Esmeralda. She escorts him back to the cathedral where she is initially met with disdain by Frollo, who informs her that gypsies are not welcome in the church. However, he can't help but be smitten by her beauty and changes his tune when he makes a blatant attempt to seduce her. She rebuffs him and the humiliated Frollo plots to have her arrested on charges of witchcraft. Esmeralda goes into hiding and receives protection from Frollo's own Captain of the Guards, Phoebus de Martin, who becomes a wanted man himself because of his desire to save Esmeralda from the clutches of Frollo. In the course of the story, Quasimodo proves himself to be smarter than anyone had anticipated...and a man of great courage, as well. He not so secretly loves Esmeralda but realizes their relationship can only be platonic. Yet, he risks his life to in attempt to save her from the death sentence Frollo has condemned her to suffer.
As you might surmise from the synopsis, "Hunchback" is a morbid affair. Yet, it is a stirring production that doesn't need artificial sentiment to rouse the emotions of the audience. The cast is simply brilliant. Ciara Renee is radiant as Esmeralda and Andrew Samonsky makes for a dashing hero as her protector/lover. However, the two most impressive performances are given by Michael Arden and Patrick Page as Quasimodo and Frollo, respectively. Arden is simply amazing. He walks on stage as a handsome young actor and in front of our eyes turns himself into the afflicted Quasimodo without the benefit of a mask or makeup. He achieves this by contorting his face and maintaining that effect through the entire play (in addition to jumping on bell ropes and performing acts of derring-do"). Page is also highly impressive, playing a man decades older than his actual age and possessed of a voice that is truly a thing of beauty. There are at least thirty other actors and extras, making this the largest cast I've seen in a stage production in many years. If there is a criticism of this ambitious show, it's that there isn't a single standout song. They are all good, but none of them are great. Most are designed to advance the drama as opposed to having audiences hum them while exiting the theater.
The Papermill Playhouse is arguably the most acclaimed regional theater in the nation. This production of "Hunchback" proves why. My bet is that this production will find a home on Broadway. When it does, make sure you catch it.
(For more about the history of this musical, click here)
(Photo copyright 2014 by Mark Mawston. All rights reserved.)
BY MARK MAWSTON
Ennio Morricone, one of the most celebrated
film composers in cinema history, appeared to a packed 02 arena in London’s Docklands
on February 5th 2015. The venue, (formally The Millennium Dome) normally
a mainstay for Boy Bands and Revered Rockers, seemed Cathedral -like, not only
due to its sheer size and capacity, but mainly due to the soaring music which
filled it over two hours. This concert, unlike other Morricone concerts I’ve
had the pleasure to attend, had a reverential feel to it, one of reflection.
The music that the 100 strong orchestra and 75 piece choir gave life to wasn’t simply
the most popular from the composer’s incredible body of work but obviously the
ones that meant to most to him personally. Tracks from films such as Casualties
Of War, 1900, The Mission and Cinema Paradiso were the ones given centre stage.
This may be because this concert was called “My Life In Music” and although
famous for the scores he composed for such Westerns as Once Upon A Time In The West and The Good The
Bad And The Ugly, it was the smaller, more obscure works that were given life
by the composers famous baton, such as the theme from Quemada, a Marlon Brando
film about slavery. This shouldn’t have been too much of a shock as only about
35 of the 500 plus soundtracks that Morricone has composed were for these
beloved Westerns, which still remain his most famous works. The love for these
films was reflected in the fact that highlight of the night was the glorious
version of Ecstasy Of Gold, taken from Morricone’s childhood friend Sergio
Leone’s The Good The Back and The Ugly. Never has a soundtrack so perfectly
matched the visuals on screen, supporting the fact that Morricone’s themes were
as important as the actors and the director themselves in shaping these
wonderful films. This love and appreciation was reflected in the fact that,
after two encores and cries of “Maestro” Morricone returned to stage and played
the piece once again, to rapturous applause.
(Photo copyright 2014 by Mark Mawston. All rights reserved.)
It was a huge pleasure to see the maestro on
stage once again after serious back problems had forced him to cancel his original
concerts last year but, as said, there was a touch of poignancy this time. It
was as though he was conducting the music for his own requiem and by doing so,
making sure it was perfect. He wouldn’t settle for anything else I’m sure. When
this third encore ended, he picked up his music sheets like a professor running
off to his next lecture, and, after a bow to the audience, left stage without a
word. He didn’t need to, as his incredible music had spoken for him. I hope
that this won’t be the last time we get to see the maestro who’s most recent soundtrack
work, on old friend Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper, show a man still at the
top of his game. Although the most outstanding moment from that soundtrack
could easily be seen as a missing theme from the Eastwood Spaghetti westerns
with his familiar horns and heavenly choirs, the fact that it is called “The
Funeral” again made one feel that this concert was indeed a very special but
poignant event. I left hoping that our own lives will continue to be sound
tracked by this undoubted genius
Ordinarily, spending time in a Turkish prison on drug smuggling charges would not be considered a good career move. Ironically, for Billy Hayes, the famed protagonist of Midnight Express, the experience somehow evolved into a life-changing adventure that has seen him become an international best-selling author, the subject of an Oscar-winning movie and now the star of a one-man show, Riding the Midnight Express, that is opening off-Broadway tonight for a limited run at the St. Luke's Theatre. I was invited to view a preview performance and it is possible the final version show might be tweaked a bit but the basics will remain the same. Hayes was a cocky young product of the Flower Power generation who was enjoying a free-wheeling lifestyle of travel, pot smoking and casual sex. In 1969 he ended up in Turkey where he recognized that it was pretty easy to smuggle hashish out of the country into the USA. Hayes profited from the fruits of his crime, which he felt was a victimless endeavor. However, in 1970 he was eventually caught and sentenced to the hellish experience of an extended stay in Turkish jail. There he was terrorized by sadistic guards and had to battle to stay alive every day. Yet he behaved himself and served his sentence when, 54 days prior to his scheduled release, the court ruled that he should now serve a life sentence. Feeling betrayed, Hayes began planning a hair-raising escape that eventually succeeded, against all odds. He not only escaped the prison but had to elude his pursuers and eventually made his way out of Turkey on a rowboat. To say any more would ruin many of the more startling aspects of his story. Suffice it to say that his situation was equally perilous even after he arrived in Greece.
Hayes turned his incredible tale into the bestseller Midnight Express. The book was made into a smash hit film in 1978 by director Alan Parker and screenwriter Oliver Stone, who would get an Oscar for his screenplay. Hayes has written a couple of follow-ups to his original book and has carved a niche for himself as a successful actor and director. Thus, it is not surprising that he would end up in a one-many show. The production is as bare bones as you can get, as the "set design" consists of a stool that Hayes sits on while he relates his thrilling tales. He is charismatic, witty and can weave a good yarn without ever arousing suspicion that he may be exaggerating his experiences. In fact, elements of his hippie personality are still very much in evidence by the fact that, if anything, he underplays some of the more dramatic aspects of his legendary experiences. For example, he takes issue with the way his story was presented in the film, pointing out that he never killed a prison guard and debunking other aspects of the script. He is also dissatisfied that the film completely excluded his post-prison escape via rowboat. He is more passionate about the effect the film had on worldwide audiences. Hayes maintains that his guards were sadistic and the legal system in Turkey is corrupt, but says he has great affection for the Turkish people. Thus, it still irks him that every Turk depicted in the movie was cast in a villainous light. In fact, the film was responsible for a 95% decline in tourism to the country in the year after it was released .
Hayes is refreshingly modest and self-effacing, blaming himself for being dumb enough to deal with drugs in Turkey. He claims he intended to do his time until his sentence was changed, an action he believes was influenced by President Nixon's crackdown on world wide drug trafficking. He engages the audience with a winning manner and brings both laughter and pathos to his tales, pointing out that there was some good to come of the experience. For example, he met his wife when attending the Cannes Film Festival premiere of the film and they are still together today. Hayes finishes every performance with a Q&A session that the audience responds to with great enthusiasm. If I have any criticism of the show, it's that he told some wonderful anecdotes (especially about the film) during the Q&A that should be included in the show itself.
Riding the Midnight Express is a memorable evening of theater that will appeal to any real life or armchair adventurer. Billy Hayes is a master storyteller who doesn't have to fictionalize any elements of his true life adventures: they are incredible enough.
(The show runs through March 23. Billy Hayes greets the audience after every performance and personally signs copies of his books in the lobby.)
Click here for the show's official web site and ticket information.
8 PM, Sat. Aug 24. The Old Franklin Schoolhouse, 491 Middlesex Ave, Metuchen (btwn the Masonic Lodge & the Firehouse). $10 @ the door.
Based on Rudyard Kipling's classic yarn, this rousing radio play tells the tall and timeless tale of two rogue soldiers/freemasons who set off from 19th century British India in search of adventure, and end up as kings of Kafiristan. Featuring a live rendition of the song sung by Brother Danny Dravot in the John Huston film, "Son of God Goes Forth to War" (set to the Irish tune "The Moreen"), and, as always, complimentary cocktails!
With Carlyle Owens as Brother Peachey Carnehan, Jeff Maschi as Brother Daniel Dravot, Laurence Mintz as Billy Fish, and Michael Jarmus as the Voice of Raconteur Radio (and assorted other characters).
Attention Freemasons! Don't miss our staged presentation of this rollicking adventure by freemason Rudyard Kipling, topfull with masonic myth and brotherly bonhomie. For the sake of the Widow's son!
Raconteur Radio stages theatrical presentations of classic and original radio plays (and pop culture parodies) for live audiences throughout the Tri-State area. Theatrical lighting, costumes, vintage commercials, and extensive sound effects!
Showgirls! The Musical! is a satiric stage production based on the notorious NC-17 1995 film Showgirls that has had a vibrant after-life as a guilty pleasure for lovers of campy movies. The stage show debuts April 17 in New York City and runs through May 4. According to the web site DNAinfo.org:
"The new musical promises not only the “erotic dancing” of the original but also “questionable dancing,” according to a statement.
There will also be musical numbers like “Don't Lick that Pole, Girl” and “I’d Look Great in Versace” – as well as plenty of thrusting."
Scottish fans of the legendary 1960s TV series The Prisoner will want to flock to the stage production Magic Number 6, to be performed at the Space on the Mile: Theatre One in Edinburgh, August 19-24. The play examines the trials and tribulations between the show's star and creator Patrick McGoohan and producer Sir Lew Grade in bringing the unique series to TV. For more info click here
Robert Vaughn will return to live theater, starring in the Pulitzer Prize-winning screwball comedy You Can't Take It With You at the Geva Theatre Center, Rochester, New York. Performances run from September 11-October 7. For more click here
Family members of the late Gilligan's Island producer Sherwood Schwartz are preparing a musical based on the icon 1960s sitcom in the hopes that it will open on Broadway. A Tony-nominated director is attached to the project, which will showcase the familiar group of castaways- along with a new character, an alien. We presume they mean from out of space, not a person from out of the United States. We're just concerned that the alien angle might diminish the realism of the traditional plot lines- you know, as in the case when the Harlem Globetrotters ended up on the island. You can count us among those who have long pondered why a group of tourists who had signed up for a three hour cruise seem to have an unlimited amount of wardrobe changes, survival gear and food. For more click here
Broadway has seen the future: and it lies in Hollywood's past. The Great White Way is shaping up a number of productions based on motion pictures, ranging from modestly budgeted films like Diner and Bullets Over Broadway to major league adaptations of Back to the Future, Flashdance and the Rat Pack opus Robin and the 7 Hoods. For more click here
The tragic final days of Judy Garland and her attempt for one last career comeback are traced in End of the Rainbow, a British stage production now on Broadway. According to critic Mark Kennedy, the show is a stunner, thanks mostly to star Tracie Bennett's acclaimed portrayal of the doomed Hollywood legend who died of a drug overdose in 1969. For more click here
Julie Taymor, the director and co-writer of the original version of the Broadway production Spider-man: Turn Off the Dark, has filed suit against the show's producers and her former collaborators claiming that she was misled, deceived and blamed for the show's now legendary mishaps in its early days. The production is the most expensive in Broadway history but a number of mishaps involving accidents became the stuff of legend on the Great White Way. Critics were also scathing, leading the show shutting down temporarily while massive rewrites were performed. It has emerged as a major hit but behind the scenes intrigue still lingers. Taymor is a Broadway legend herself, but in court papers, she claims she was blamed for the show's initial failure. She alleges secretive plots to keep her working on the production even while her collaborators secretly schemed behind her back. She also claims her work was rewritten without her permission and that she has not been properly compensated. Predictably, the show's producers deny any culpability. Click here for more
When you first saw the 1976 horror flick Carrie, based on the Stephen King bestseller, you witnessed a teenage girl humiliated at her prom by her cruel classmates. You watched as she unleashed telekinetic powers to wreak bloodshed and mass destruction on her tormentors- and you probably thought to yourself, "Hey, this would make one heck of a Broadway musical!" Incredibly, that's what some investors thought- and they lost $8 million on a legendary Broadway flop. Granted, it was no Moose Murders, the infamous comedy that closed after one performance, but it was a big enough bomb that the backers have never allowed it to be staged anywhere again. Now, some bold, dumb or courageous investors are dredging up the exiled musical and revamping it for a new stage run, albeit it with significant rewrites. Click here to read. - Lee Pfeiffer
Arthur Miller's American masterpiece Death of a Salesman will get yet another revival on Broadway next March. The Miller play is especially relevant today, even though it debuted in the 1940s.The story's protagonist Willy Loman is a tragic figure: after years of loyal service to his company, he is unceremoniously fired, thus leading to a series of tragic events. Lee J. Cobb, Dustin Hoffman and Brian Dennehy all triumphed on Broadway in the role of Loman. In the new production, Phillip Seymour Hoffman will try his hand at playing Loman. Andrew Garfield, star of the forthcoming Spiderman movie, will co-star. For more click here
The Monkees' 1968 feature film Head features prominently in their new tour.
The Monkees have launched their latest reunion tour- as usual without the participation of Mike Nesmith who has adopted an "I Am Not Spock" attitude toward the group that brought him fame and fortune. Writer Gregory Weinkauf attended their concert at the Greek Theatre and gives the concert an unrequited rave. Click here to read and to view a clip from the Monkees' feature film Head.
In a recent interview, Bono and The Edge spoke candidly about the mishaps that led the recent Broadway production Spider-man: Turn Off the Dark into a downward spiral of negative reviews and technical problems that forced the show to temporarily close. The legendary musicians, who provided the score for the show, said that they were on different wavelengths than the show's director Julie Taymor, who recently left the show under duress. Bono and The Edge say that, had they envisioned the show would become an endless nightmare, they wouldn't have been involved. The retooled production needs to attract large audiences to cover its $70 million+ production costs. For more click here
Undaunted by the problems old Spiderman has encountered with his Broadway rock-themed show, Warner Brothers is launching a spectacular of their own starring the Caped Crusader himself. The tepidly-titled Batman Live (couldn't they have at least put in an exclamation point?) will combine action spectacle with rock 'n roll music in a concert arena setting. We're not sure what rock 'n roll has to do with the super hero genre but it's all the rage. The show will launch this July in Manchester, England with plans to tour with the production, if it proves successful. The shows pits Batman and Robin against an all-star cast of villains. What's next? Thor on Ice? Click here for more
Plans to bring a musical version of the hit 1982 screen comedy Tootsie to Broadway have hit a snag. The composer and lyricist originally contracted to work on the show are suing producers after they were summarily fired. They claim they were unfairly treated and are entitled to the money they could have made from royalties the show can potentially generate. Click here for more
What a tangled web the producers of the Spider-man Broadway show weaved when they agreed to bring the $65 million production to reality. The show's bumpy start became fodder for cynical critics and late-night TV show hosts, as a series of high profile accidents and mishaps marred many of the performances. The show continued to sell $1 million worth of tickets every week, but that barely covered the expenses. Now the production has been put on hiatus until a May 12 re-opening- a strategy that has added another $5 million to the cost. The producers are speaking candidly about their misjudgments and their present strategy of replacing many of the key members of the creative team. Click here to read
Samuel L. Jackson has been cast as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the acclaimed play The Mountaintop,which speculates about King's actions and thoughts as he retired to his motel room after giving the last speech of his life. He was assassinated on April 4 1968 on the balcony of the motel while in Memphis to support striking sanitation workers. Halle Berry was to co-star but had to drop out due to legal matters concerning custody of her children. The play will open on Broadway in September. Click here for more
On the MSNBC news program, New York magazine writer John Heilman referred to the never-ending debacles revolving around the troubled Spiderman Broadway extravaganza as a NASCAR-like event in that many people who attend are secretly hoping to witness a disaster. Already the show's official premiere has been postponed twice and numerous accidents and technical problems have plagued the production. Now the coup de grace: the show's acclaimed director Julie Taymor has abruptly quit. The show has also postponed the premiere again until June. This would be the kiss of death for most productions, but the curious and the morbid have continued to ensure that the show's preview performances draw hefty boxoffice receipts. For more click here
Dismayed by their perception that the highly-touted and highly-troubled mega budget Spiderman Broadway extravaganza has strayed too far from the essentials of the comic book, a new team is planning to open their own musical version tribute titled The Spidey Project. It will premiere in March, one day before the official opening of the oft-delayed $65 million stage epic. With a budget of "zero dollars", the team will get around legal obstacles from Marvel by emphasizing it's a satire. For more click here
In an age of dumbed-down celebrities, it's easy to overlook some of the seminal giants of American culture. Such a man was Tennessee Williams, the masterful playwright whose work was adapted for many memorable films. This past weekend, an extraordinary gathering of stars associated with his plays gathered at New York's 92nd Street Y for readings and discussions about the literary genius. Click here for report
It looks like the professional understanding that theater critics hold off reviewing Broadway shows until the official press performance or opening night is down the drain. Unable to resist jumping the gun on the much-publicized, much-troubled $65 million production of Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark, critics for Bloomberg News and Newsday published their reviews five weeks before the official opening. The show's producers have been frantically making changes to the production, especially in lieu of a number of high profile accidents and technical flubs that have plagued the cast and crew. Producers were predictably outraged that a work in process was reviewed, even though both critics claim they intend to review it again when it officially opens. Click here for more
More bad news from the tangled web that is Spiderman Turn off the Dark, the $65 million Broadway special-effects laden production. The official opening night has been pushed back almost a full month until February. This is on the heels of the disastrous preview several weeks ago in which technical glitches and embarrassing delays gave the show a running time of Ben-Hur. One bright spot for the producers: every mishap seems to only entice audiences even more. Sales are going very well indeed. If only the producers of Heaven's Gate had mastered that ability- United Artists might still be a viable company. For more click here
Did Thora Birch's father drive a stake into her chances of starring on stage in Dracula?
Actress Thora Birch, who gained fame in American Beauty, is the reluctant center of attention relating to a bizarre scenario that saw her fired from an off-Broadway production of Dracula just days before the opening. Seems her father, who was observing the rehearsals, objected to an actor giving Thora a back rub. When the actor protested that he was simply following the director's orders and that it was part of the scene, the father instructed him to nevertheless cease and desist. Words were exchanged and Birch was summarily fired. Producers haven't commented on whether her dismissal was a direct result of the incident, but insiders say there was no other apparent reason. For more click here
Not even Dr. Octopus could have contrived this many problems for Spiderman. At the Sunday opening of the long-awaited $65 million Spidey musical, technical problems plagued the production and it had to be halted five times - and at one point the web-spinning super hero was left dangling helplessly above the stage! For more click here
Broadway is mourning the death of 11 year-old Shannon Tavarez, who starred in the stage production of Disney's The Lion King. Shannon desperately needed a bone marrow transplant but a donor could not be found in time to save her life. Click here for more
New York Times theater critic Charles Isherwood reviews the new Beatles Broadway tribute show Rain, and at best, damns it with faint praise. Ishwerwood says he enjoyed aspects of the show but compares it unfavorably to Jersey Boys, which provides a compelling narrative behind the rise of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Instead, Rain is simply two hours of cover versions of Beatles songs. Isherwood praises the talents of the faux Fab Four, but says the makeup and costumes are cheesy enough to resemble a Benny Hill sketch. He also says the vintage commercials and film clips shown on screens are more compelling than the show itself. However, he points out that the 70s Beatles tribute show Beatlemania proved critic-proof and ran seemingly forever. (I never understood why people spent the same amount of money on the show's soundtrack album when they could have purchased a Beatles hit compilation for the same price.) Be warned: Rain is primarily for those audiences who enjoy singing along with other fans. I'm afraid I'm generally the skunk at the garden party when it comes to those types of concerts: I don't really want to spend my hard-earned money to hear a butcher from the Bronx's version of Hey Jude. To read the review click here
Linda Lovelace was a struggling unknown when her one peculiar talent made her an international pop culture figure in the 70s.
By Lee Pfeiffer
There's a new off-Broadway play about the making of the legendary 1972 porn film Deep Throat, which was made for peanuts and grossed over $600 million- much of it funneled into the pockets of organized crime figures. As prurient as the show may be, New York Times theater critic David Rooney says the play is "slapdash" in its presentation of the pop culture phenomenon that made Linda Lovelace a household name. He also says the show "unfolds like a witless Laugh-In sketch." Undoubtedly, the show's producers will find these kinds of notices hard to swallow. Click here to read review
Most Superman fans probably don't realize that in 1966, the character starred in a major Broadway musical titled It's a Bird! It's a Plane! It's Superman! No less than the esteemed Charles Strouse provided the score. The show opened in the midst of Batmania and took a campy approach to portraying the Man of Steel. Reviews were kind, but the public was unresponsive and the show closed after a brief run. It has now been revived in Dallas and the time frame has been brought back to 1939 in order to ensure that the material doesn't seem too dated for contemporary audiences. Click here for more
Critics are complaining that the new Broadway musical version of The Addams Family lacks the charm and wit of the classic TV show.
Not even Charles Addams could have dreamed up the kind of blood-curdling reviews the Broadway musical version of The Addams Family. Click here to read New York Times critic Ben Brantley's take on the production which he calls "genuinely ghastly".
Acclaimed British actress Judy Cornwall will co-star with Sally Farmiloe-Neville in the new play When the Lilac Blooms, My Love which will open at the Leicester Square Theatre in London on 14 April and run through 1 May. The new drama concerns the? crisis that occurs when a daughter returns home to inform her family that she is pregnant. Cornwall has many loyal fans based on her long-running role as Daisy in the classic British sitcom Keeping Up Appearances. For more click here
Andrew Lloyd Webber's long-awaited sequel to his blockbuster The Phantom of the Opera premiered in London and was greeted by mixed reviews. Perhaps Webber could never have lived up to expectations. The musical has been subjected to a grass roots campaign by Phantom purists to denounce the new work even before they have seen it. Critics cited the opinion that audience members who are not very conversant in the storyline of the original will be hopelessly lost. Webber did get some good notices, but in the end, reviews may not matter, as his shows are generally critic-proof. For more click here
Carrie Fisher is battling the producer of her acclaimed one-woman play Wishful Drinking over rights to the show, which ended in New York late last year. The producer says he has lucrative offers to take the show on the road, but Fisher won't agree to appear in it. Instead, according to the New York Post, he suspects Fisher is trying to stage productions of the play, which chronicles her battles with depression and alcoholism, without involving him. A battle is now brewing over who ultimately holds rights to future presentations of the play. Both Fisher and the producer are claiming that the other did not fulfill their contractual obligations. For more click here
Jerry Zaks, the legendary Broadway director, has been brought on board for the Broadway-bound musical version of The Addams Family starring Nathan Lane. The $16 million production is in try-outs in Chicago and producers became concerned when some influential critics suggested that the show needed rewriting. Although reviews were generally positive- particularly toward the cast- there was concern that younger audiences may not be as familiar with the eccentricities of the characters. Rewrites are being done to address the issue. Producers deny the show is in any trouble and, indeed, rewrites generally do occur to some extent prior to shows opening on Broadway. For more click here
Kelsey Grammer will star in a revival of La Cage aux Folles on Broadway next April. The show is an import of the current UK hit revival and Grammar will star with that show's lead Douglas Hodge. The oft-revived tale originated as a French stage comedy that was transferred to the screen in 1978. Robin Williams and Nathan Lane starred in the hit American screen version, The Birdcage. Grammer will star in the role played by Williams in that film. For more click here
Martin Sheen rose to prominence with her performance as the son in Frank D. Gilroy's acclaimed play The Subject Was Roses. He nabbed a Tony nomination and later starred in the acclaimed 1968 screen version opposite Patricia Neal and Jack Albertson as his parents. The story concerns a young man who returns from the military and must deal with the contentious state of his family relationships. Sheen will star as the father in a revival of the play at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles this February. For more click here