All posts by Greg Christo

Hollywood On Broadway

In an earlier post, we looked at Hollywood actors and actresses who got their start on Broadway.  Today we’re going to look at the reverse–entertainers who started in Hollywood and then tried their hand on stage.

Daniel Radcliffe

Having already received a warm reception from West End theater critics and audiences, Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe arrived on Broadway with the all-important stamp of British approval. Broadway fans and critics embraced the young man as well, and Radcliffe has now officially earned his stripes as a legitimate adult actor with his performances in Equus in 2008 and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying in 2011.  In between the two shows, he still needed to complete the Harry Potter series.  But his decision to return to Broadway after filming was a good one.  Apparently, he can dance too!

Katie Holmes

With the stigma of being a Hollywood tabloid darling firmly attached,  Holmes had little chance of winning over Broadway die-hards, and it didn’t help that she couldn’t rise to the level of experienced co-stars John Lithgow, Dianne Wiest, and Patrick Wilson. Lack of critical love notwithstanding, there were no shortage of fans at the stage door each night waiting to get photos of this Hollywood celebrity.  Holmes is best known for playing Joey Potter on six seasons of the popular teen drama Dawson’s Creek in the late ’90s. She made her Broadway debut in the 2008 revival of Arthur Miller’s All My Sons and originated the role of Lorna in Dead Accounts.

Lauren Bacall

Bacall began her career as a model, before making her debut as a leading lady with Humphrey Bogart in the film To Have and Have Not in 1944. She continued in the film noir genre with appearances with Bogart in The Big Sleep (1946), Dark Passage (1947), and Key Largo (1948), and starred in the romantic comedies How to Marry a Millionaire (1953) with Marilyn Monroe and Betty Grable, as well as Designing Woman (1957) with Gregory Peck. She co-starred with John Wayne in his final film, The Shootist (1976), by Wayne’s personal request. Bacall also worked on Broadway in musicals, earning Tony Awards for Applause (1970) and Woman of the Year(1981), which I also saw as a kid!

Denzel Washington

Mostly known as an A lister among A listers in Hollywood, the charismatic film star packed in the crowds and gave them a hell of a performance in this revival of August Wilson’s drama Fences in 2010. Washington did an excellent job of navigating a difficult character, who is initially so likable and funny before he reveals his ugly side.  He will be returning to Broadway in a revival of Eugene O’Neill’s classic work The Iceman Cometh in 2018.

Keifer Sutherland

The young movie star of the Brat Pack era went on to establish himself as a TV action hero with several seasons of 24 and as the President of the United States Tom Kirkman in his current role on the hit TV drama Designated Survivor. But in his Broadway debut in 2011, he co-starred in an ensemble cast of the Broadway revival of That Championship Season, which is a play about a group of guys reflecting on the 20th anniversary of their high school championship basketball season.  Sutherland plays a school principal who’s tired of being small.  Sutherland garnered positive reviews for being the best of the cast, which included Chris Noth, Jim Gaffigan, Jason Patric (his Lost Boys co-star), and Brian Cox.

Broadway Turned Hollywood

The focus of this post will be Hollywood stars who got their start on Broadway.  The list is surprisingly long even though most actors will tell you that doing both film and stage will make you a more well rounded performer.  Here are a few you may recognize.

Jason Alexander
Jason Alexander is probably best known as George Costanza, one of television’s most neurotic characters, but he was already a Broadway star when he landed his iconic role on Seinfeld, which ran from 1989-1998.  He made his Broadway debut starring as Joe in the Stephen Sondheim play Merrily We Roll Along in 1981.  In 1989, he won a Tony for the Jerome Robbins-directed review Broadway.  Even after his success on the small screen, Alexander never forgot his musical theater roots.  He returned  to the stage in 2003. Alexander was cast in a successful run, opposite Martin Short, in the Los Angeles production of Mel Brooks’ The Producers.   Alexander also appeared with Kelsey Grammer in the 2004 musical adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, playing Jacob Marley to Grammer’s Ebenezer Scrooge.

Meryl Streep
Before her breakout film roles in The Deer Hunter and Manhattan, one of Meryl Streep’s first professional jobs in 1975 was at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center’s National Playwrights Conference during which she acted in five plays over six weeks.  Streep moved to New York City in 1975, and was cast by Joseph Papp in a production of Trelawny of the Wells at the Public Theater, opposite Mandy Patinkin and John Lithgow.  She went on to appear in five more roles in her first year in New York, including in Papp’s New York Shakespeare Festival productions of Henry VThe Taming of the Shrew with Raúl Juliá, and Measure for Measure opposite Sam Waterston and John Cazale.  She starred in the musical Happy End on Broadway, and won an Obie for her performance in the off-Broadway play Alice at the Palace.   Unfortunately, she hasn’t been seen on the Great White Way since 1977, but made a memorable turn as the title character in the 2006 revival of Mother Courage and Her Children at the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park.  Not that she’s been twiddling her thumbs. She has picked up a whopping 20 Oscar nominations and three awards since.

Taye Diggs
In 1996, Taye Diggs played the (slightly) villainous landlord Benjamin Coffin III in the  debut of Rent.  From there, he has gone from film to theater and back ever since, starting with a role on the soap opera The Guiding Light 1997, starring with Angela Bassett in How Stella Got Her Groove Back in 1998, playing the Bandleader in Rob Marshall’s 2002 movie adaptation of Chicago followed by a stint as Billy Flynn on Broadway later that year.  He played nice guy heartthrob Dr. Sam Bennett on Private Practice alongside fellow Broadway star Audra McDonald from 2007-2013, starred as Harper Stewart in the Best Man movie franchise, and was a lead in the cast of the tv series Murder in the First from 2014-2016.

Sarah Jessica Parker
Before making Manolo Blahnik a household name, the Sex and the City star had a long list of credits that stretch back to her teen years.  Parker and four siblings appeared in a production of The Sound of Music at the outdoor Municipal Theatre (Muny) in St. Louis, Missouri.   She was selected for a role in the new 1977–81 Broadway musical Annie: first in the small role of “July” and then succeeding Andrea McArdle and Shelley Bruce in the lead role of the Depression-era orphan, beginning March 1979.  Parker held the role for a year.  In 1982, Parker was cast as the co-lead of the CBS sitcom Square Pegs. The show lasted just one season.  In the three years that followed, she was cast in four films: the most significant being Footloose in 1984 and 1985’s Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, co-starring Helen Hunt.  While she hasn’t graced the Great White Way in some time, she starred opposite Blythe Danner in the premiere staging of Amanda Peet’s The Commons of Pensacola Off-Broadway in the fall of 2013 until February 2014.

Jerry Orbach
It would probably surprise millions of Law & Order fans that Orbach, who played curmudgeonly detective Lennie Briscoe for 13 years, was a song and dance man.  Orbach’s professional career began on the New York stage, both on and off-Broadway, where he created roles such as El Gallo in the original off-Broadway run of The Fantasticks (1960) and became the first performer to sing that show’s standard “Try To Remember”;  Billy Flynn in the original Chicago (1975–1977), and Julian Marsh in the original 42nd Street (1980–1985), which I saw as a kid!   Nominated for multiple Tony Awards, Orbach won for his performance as Chuck Baxter in Promises, Promises (1968–1972).  Later in his career, Orbach played supporting roles in films such as Prince of the City (1981), Dirty Dancing (1987), Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989) and Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (1991) as the voice Lumiere.  He also made frequent guest appearances on television; including a recurring role on Murder, She Wrote (1985–1991) as private detective Harry McGraw.

The Difference Between Scrims, Cycloramas, and Backdrops

What exactly is the difference between a backdrop, scrim, and cyclorama?  These terms are used at times as if they are interchangeable.  That would be incorrect….and confusing to those who do understand the difference.

Scrim: A scrim will look like a solid curtain until you bring up the lighting behind it.  At that point, you will be able to see through it.  Scrims can also change appearance with different lighting techniques.  You can use it for front lighting and projections as well.  Scrims are typically made from what is called a sharkstooth weave, which is considered very durable for a scrim.  (We only carry sharkstooth scrims in black or white for rent).  Some of the other types of scrim are made from gauze and linen, which are much more delicate, but can be used in the same manner.  Scrims can also have painted scenes on them.  For example, a scrim with a forest painted on it can make it appear as people running through the woods.  It’s a simple, dramatic effect.

Cyclorama: A cyclorama–or “cyc” (pronounced “sike”)–is a plain curtain usually used to give the appearance of a “sky”.   Standard cycloramas are light blue in color although they are also made with white or natural muslin.  They are typically front lit with colored lighting to change the appearance of the stage. There’s no real difference between the functionality of the blue or white cyclorama other than the blue will mute colored lighting a little.  Seamless cycloramas are somewhat difficult to find as rentals and expensive to purchase.  A seamless cyclorama is useful for doing shadow effects with back lighting.  The seams will show when back lit, which is why seamless cycloramas are preferred.  Even with front lighting, a seamless cyclorama gives a more uniform appearance.  However, cycloramas with seams are just as effective.

Backdrops: A backdrop is actually a generic term used to refer to several different types of stage curtains including scrims and cycloramas. Most frequently, backdrops are used at the back of the stage or scene.  For our purposes, a backdrop is a hand painted, scenery of various themes.  In essence, we use the term “backdrop” to solely describe our painted scenes.

Movies That Turned Into Plays–Part II

Here are some more movies that were made into musical plays that you should check out:

 

Hairspray

Hairspray is an American musical with music by Marc Shaiman, lyrics by Scott Wittman and Shaiman and a book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, based on the 1988 John Waters film Hairspray. The songs include 1960s-style dance music and “downtown” rhythm and blues. In 1962 Baltimore, Maryland, plump teenager Tracy Turnblad’s dream is to dance on The Corny Collins Show, a local TV dance program based on the real-life Buddy Deane Show. When Tracy wins a role on the show, she becomes a celebrity overnight, and meets a colorful array of characters. She then launches a campaign to integrate the show.

The musical’s original Broadway production opened on August 15, 2002.

In 2003 it won eight Tony Awards, including one for Best Musical, out of 13 nominations. It ran for 2,642 performances, and closed on January 4, 2009. Hairspray has also had national tours, a London West End production, and numerous foreign productions and was adapted as a 2007 musical film. The London production was nominated for a record-setting eleven Laurence Olivier Awards, winning for Best New Musical and in three other categories.

 

High School Musical

High School Musical is a 2006 American television film, first in the High School Musical film franchise that was created by Peter Barsocchini and directed by Kenny Ortega.  It starred Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Tisdale, Corbin Bleu, Lucas Grabeel, and Monique Coleman.  Upon its release on January 20, 2006, it became the most successful movie that Disney Channel Original Movie ever produced, with a television sequel High School Musical 2 released in 2007 and the feature film High School Musical 3: Senior Year released to theaters in October 2008. It is the first Disney Channel Original Movie to have a theatrical sequel. The film’s soundtrack was the best-selling album in the United States for 2006.

 

The film was adapted to a stage musical starting in early 2006 with two versions: a 70-minute One Act play and a full-length Two Act musical. On August 1, 2006, Playbill  announced that the Stagedoor Manor summer theater camp, featured in the film Camp, would be the first venue to produce High School Musical on-stage. Pacific Repertory Theatre School of Dramatic Arts staged the California premiere in 2007, which was revived in 2008.  From early 2007 though the end of July, North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly, MA had a production of High School Musical that featured Broadway actor Andrew Keenan-Bolger as Ryan and Kate Rockwell, a semi-finalist on Grease: You’re the One that I Want!, as Sharpay.  Theater of the Stars in Atlanta, Georgia was the first professional company to put on High School Musical.

 

High School Musical is a story about two high school juniors from rival cliques – Troy Bolton (Zac Efron), captain of the basketball team, and Gabriella Montez (Vanessa Hudgens), a beautiful and shy transfer student who excels in math and science. Together, they try out for the lead parts in their high school musical, and as a result, divide the school. Despite other students’ attempts to thwart their dreams, Troy and Gabriella resist peer pressure and rivalry, inspiring others along the way not to “stick to the status quo”.

 

Legally Blonde

Legally Blonde is a musical with music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin and book by Heather Hach. The story is based on the novel Legally Blonde by Amanda Brown and the 2001 film of the same name. It tells the story of Elle Woods, a sorority girl who enrolls at Harvard Law School to win back her ex-boyfriend Warner. She discovers how her knowledge of the law can help others, and successfully defends exercise queen Brooke Wyndham in a murder trial.

Legally Blonde premiered in pre-Broadway tryouts in San Francisco, California from February 6 through February 24, 2007. On April 29, 2007 the show moved to the Palace Theater on Broadway, opening to mostly positive reviews and grossed more than $1,000,000 a week on several occasions. Jerry Mitchell directed and choreographed with set design by David Rockwell, costume design by Gregg Barnes, and lighting design by Kenneth Posner and Paul Miller. The original cast included Laura Bell Bundy as Elle, Christian Borle as Emmett and Richard H. Blake as Warner. It received seven Tony nominations and ten Drama Desk nominations but failed to win any. The West End production opened in January 2010 at the Savoy Theatre. The West End production was nominated for five Laurence Olivier Awards and won three, including the Best New Musical award.  The musical was recorded in September 2007 and aired on MTV in October 2007.

 

The Producers

The Producers is a musical adapted by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan from Brooks’ 1968 film of the same name, with lyrics written by Brooks and music composed by Brooks and arranged by Glen Kelly and Doug Besterman. As in the film, the story concerns two theatrical producers who scheme to get rich by overselling interests in a Broadway flop. Complications arise when the show unexpectedly turns out to be successful. The humor of the show draws on ridiculous accents, caricatures of homosexuals and Nazis, and many show business in-jokes.

After 33 previews, the original Broadway production opened at the St. James Theatre on April 19, 2001, starring Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, and ran for 2,502 performances, winning a record-breaking 12 Tony Awards. It spawned a successful London production running for just over two years, national tours in the US and UK, many productions worldwide and a 2005 film version.

Movies That Turned Into Plays–Part I

We’ve already posted some plays that were made into movies, but what about the other way around?  Here are some movies that were made into plays for you to check out:

Aladdin

Aladdin is a musical based on the 1992 Disney animated film of the same name with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman, Tim Rice and Chad Beguelin. Beguelin also wrote the book. The musical includes three songs written for the film by Ashman but not used.   There and four new songs written by Menken and Beguelin. The story follows the familiar tale of how a poor young man discovers a genie in a lamp and uses his wishes to marry the princess that he loves and to thwart the Sultan’s evil Grand Vizier.

Aladdin premiered at the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle in 2011.  After several regional and international productions in 2012, the musical was given a Toronto tryout in 2013.  It opened on Broadway at the New Amsterdam Theatre on March 20, 2014 to mostly warm reviews and was nominated for five Tony Awards.

Big

Big The Musical is a 1996 musical adaptation of the 1988 film starring Tom Hanks. It was directed by Mike Ockrent and featured music by David Shire and lyrics by Richard Maltby, Jr., with choreography by Susan Stroman.  It involves Josh Baskin, a 12-year-old boy who grows up overnight after being granted a wish by a Zoltar Speaks machine at a carnival. With the aid of his best friend, Billy, he must cope with his new adulthood while finding the machine so that he can wish himself back and more.  The musical opened on Broadway at the Shubert Theatre on April 28, 1996, and closed on October 13, 1996, after 193 performances.  Although it was nominated for five Tony Awards (Best Actress, Supporting Actor, Book, Score, and Choreography), it was one of Broadway’s costliest money-losers

La Cage Aux Folles

La Cage aux Folles is a musical with a book by Harvey Fierstein and lyrics and music by Jerry Herman.  Based on the 1973 French play of the same name by Jean Poiret, it focuses on a gay couple: Georges, the manager of a Saint-Tropez nightclub featuring drag entertainment, and Albin, his romantic partner and star attraction, and the farcical adventures that ensue when Georges’s son, Jean-Michel, brings home his fiancée’s ultra-conservative parents to meet them. La cage aux folles literally means “the cage of mad women”. However, folles is also a slang term for effeminate homosexuals (queens).

The original 1983 Broadway production received nine nominations for Tony Awards and won six, including Best Musical, Best Score and Best Book. The success of the musical spawned a West End production and several international runs. The 2004 Broadway revival won the Tony Award for Best Revival, the 2008 London revival garnered the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Musical Revival. The 2010 Broadway revival was nominated for eleven Tony Awards, winning the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical. La Cage aux Folles is the first musical which has won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical twice and the show that has won a Best Production Tony Award (Best Musical or Best Revival of a Musical) for each of its Broadway productions.

 Footloose

Footloose is a 1998 musical based on the 1984 film of the same name. The music is by Tom Snow (among others), the lyrics by Dean Pitchford (with additional lyrics by Kenny Loggins), and the book is by Pitchford and Walter Bobbie.  It opened at the Richard Rodgers Theatre on October 22, 1998 with 737 performances.  It was nominated for several Tony Awards.  With its Oscar’-nominated hit score (the film soundtrack album has sold over 15 million copies world-wide), the celebrated film musical now bursts explosively onto the stage.  The production has developed a following since its original release being one of the most frequently performed school musicals in recent years.

The Bloody Irish!

In honor of St Patrick’s Day, I was wondering what kind of stage shows featured an Irish theme or were set in Ireland.  Here’s a quick look at a few of these.  No!  Brigadoon is not one of these.  That was a Scottish village.

The Beauty Queen of Leenane

The Beauty Queen of Leenane is a 1996 black comedy by Irish playwright Martin McDonagh which was premiered by the Druid Theatre Company in Galway, Ireland. It also enjoyed successful runs at London’s West End, Broadway and Off-Broadway.

It was nominated for an Olivier Award as Best Play for the London production, and the 1998 Broadway production was nominated for six Tony Awards, winning four, for Best Leading Actress in a Play, Best Featured Actor in a Play, Best Featured Actress in a Play and Best Direction of a Play.

The play centers around Maureen Folan, a plain and lonely woman in her forties, who lives with and cares for her elderly mother Mag in the small village of Leenane, Connemara.  With possibly her first and last chance at love, Maureen must deal with her manipulative mother who is trying to derail it.

John Bull’s Other Island

John Bull’s Other Island is a comedy about Ireland, written by George Bernard Shaw in 1904. Shaw himself was born in Dublin, yet this is one of only two plays of his where he thematically returned to his homeland, the other being O’Flaherty V.C.. The play was highly successful in its day, but is rarely revived, probably because of so much of the dialogue is specific to the politics of the day.

The play deals with Larry Doyle, originally from Ireland, but who has turned his back on his heritage to fit in with the English and Tom Broadbent, his English (and very Machiavellian) business partner. They are civil engineers who run a firm in London. They go to Roscullen, where Doyle was born, to develop some land.

Doyle has no illusions about Ireland while Broadbent is taken with the romance of the place. Broadbent, a lively man who seemingly is not always aware of the impression he makes, becomes a favourite of the people. Before the play is over, it is clear he will marry Nora Reilly, the woman waiting for Doyle (who is more than happy to let her go) and become the area’s candidate for Parliament after Doyle refuses to stand, but has also ‘called in’ all his loans given “so easily” to the locals against their homes and intends (as he had planned all along) to make the village into an amusement park.

Another major character is the defrocked priest Peter (Father) Keegan, the political and temperamental opposite of Broadbent, who sees through him from the beginning and warns the locals against him.

Dancing at Lughnasa

Dancing at Lughnasa is a 1990 play by dramatist Brian Friel set in Ireland’s County Donegal in August 1936 in the fictional town of Ballybeg. It is a Memory play told from the point of view of the adult Michael Evans, the narrator. He recounts the summer in his aunts’ cottage when he was seven years old.

It’s August, 1936 in rural Ireland.  Step into the kitchen of the five proud Mundy sisters, a place for talking, laughing, and lively dancing—moments that defy the hardships of their daily life. Their brother, a missionary, has just returned from Uganda, and the sisters find themselves each on the brink of momentous change. Friel’s Tony-Award-winning play captures a beautiful and exuberant sliver of these women’s lives, a summer where love—and everything else—seemed possible.

 Once

Once is a musical stage adaptation based on the 2007 film of the same name by John Carney. Like the film, music and lyrics were by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, including the Academy Award-winning “Falling Slowly”. The book for the musical was written by Enda Walsh. The musical premiered at the New York Theatre Workshop in 2011, before transferring to Broadway in 2012. The production received eleven 2012 Tony Award nominations, and won eight including Best Musical, Best Actor and Best Book. The musical also won the 2012 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Musical and the 2013 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album. It has since spawned a London production, with a North American Tour which started on 1 October 2013.

In the musical, the cast also serves as the orchestra. A minimalist set is used, including a bar in center stage with chairs lining stage left and right. Exiting cast members simply step to the side of the stage and sit down. They serve as the orchestra from these chairs. The bar is used before the show and at intermission as a working bar for theater patrons.

Guy is an Irish singer and songwriter who spends his days fixing vacuums in the Dublin shop he runs with his father, and his nights playing his music in local pubs. He is on the verge of giving up music altogether when a Czech immigrant, “Girl,” walks into the bar, hears him play and refuses to let him abandon his guitar. As it turns out, she has a broken vacuum cleaner, Guy repairs it, and she pays him in music on a piano she plays in a record shop. Over the course of a week, Girl convinces Guy to believe in the power of his music and his love for the woman who inspired his songs. They scrape together money to record a demo album with a motley crew of bar friends, and their unexpected friendship and collaboration evolves into a powerful—but very complicated—love story.

The Bloody Irish

Written by Barry Devlin, directed for the stage by Michael Barker-Caven, music composed and arranged by David Downes, this 80 minute musical drama based on the events of the 1916 Rising had its premier broadcast in October 2015 on the prestigious Public Broadcast Service (PBS), the most watched public service station in the USA.

General Sir John Grenfell Maxwell – the man who signed the death warrants of the 1916 leaders – narrates this dramatic retelling of the events of Easter Week. Starting out with a belief that the rising is a foul act of treachery, Maxwell has a change of heart, asking in the end whether he has made a grievous mistake in sending Pearse, Connolly and the rest to their death.

Theater and Martin Luther King

Now that it’s January 2017, I was wondering what kind of stage shows featured Martin Luther King.  There are a few ranging from full scale theatrical productions to informational kids plays.  Here’s a quick look at a few of these.

mountaintop-poster-651x1024The Mountaintop

The Mountaintop is a play by American playwright Katori Hall. It is a fictional depiction of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.’s last night on earth set entirely in Room 306 of the Lorraine Motel on the eve of his assassination in 1968.  The play initially failed to find a venue in the US but premiered in London at the 65-seat Theatre503. After critical acclaim and a sell-out run the play transferred to the Trafalgar Studios in the West End. The production was directed by James Dacre and featured British actors David Harewood and Lorraine Burroughs. Harewood was nominated for Best Actor in the Evening Standard and Whatsonstage Awards and Burroughs for Best Actress in the Olivier Awards. The production won the Olivier Best New Play Award and was nominated for Whatsonstage Awards and Most Promising Playwright in the Evening Standard Awards.

The Independent wrote that the production at Theatre 503 was “an imaginative portrayal” and shows “a relationship that is breathtaking, hilarious and heart-stopping in its exchanges and in its speedy ability to reveal character and pull the audience into the ring.”  Theater critic Charles Spencer in The Daily Telegraph wrote of the production at Trafalgar Studios “It is a beautiful and startling piece, beginning naturalistically before shifting gear into something magical, spiritual and touching.”

Moments With Dr. King

Per Playbill, this play, press notes state, “provides factually-based slices of the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. from December 1955 until April 1968.  Written by Eric Falkenstein and produced by close confidants Ambassador Andrew Young and Congressmen John Lewis, it depicts widely-known historic events as well as more private behind-the-scenes moments.” A cast of more than 20 will offer “close-up examinations of Dr. King’s interactions and relationships with Coretta Scott King, other family members, associates, officials and adversaries.”  The production secured permission from the King estate to make use of portions of speeches, writings, recordings and other property of the King family.

mlk-small-e1407234412939Life & Death of MLK—America: Dreams & Nightmares

In the years following his “I Have a Dream” speech, Dr. King saw his liberal allies in government desert him, his own staff question him, and more radical activists berate him over his beliefs and principles.

Written and directed by Paul Stebbings, produced by Grantly Marshal, and music by John Kenny, this play explores how this came about, following the spiritual and political journey of this once humble preacher to the status of icon and, tragically, martyr. And this is the stuff of tragedy because Martin Luther King was man torn by inner demons and wracked with guilt; a man who lived by the creed of non-violence and saw his supporters savagely beaten, wrongfully imprisoned, humiliated and all too often murdered.

Skin Deep:  Story of Martin Luther King

This is a short, simple, easy to produce, yet electrifying dramatization of the main events in Martin Luther King’s life as leader of the American Civil Rights movement. Skin Deep illumines the attitudes of white racists without mocking them, and highlights the challenge of black activists to remain non-violent.  SKIN DEEP was originally produced in a church in Kitchener, Ontario in 1985. Martin Luther King’s eldest daughter, Yolanda, was present for the occasion and later addressed a city-wide ecumenical gathering.

We Are the Dream

This is a play about Martin Luther King’s life specifically written for schools and churches.  It uses easy language for young students to learn.  It’s about 45 minutes long.  You can use a cast of all children.  You can mix generations.  You can add or subtract lines and music as you see fit.  It was meant to be an easy production to promote confidence and team spirit while keeping the action moving and everyone involved throughout the play.

HOLIDAY SHOWS…Thanksgiving Edition

With Halloween over, it’s time to look at the next holiday on deck…Thanksgiving.  Now, when you think of holiday shows, Thanksgiving themed ones don’t usually come to mind.  I know there are mentions of Thanksgiving in some Broadway shows such as the Thanksgiving revue performed within South Pacific.  But there are some others as well.  Some are full productions.  Some are short plays or skits meant to be performed by elementary schools.  We’ll take a look at a few here.

The Humans

The 2016 Tony Award winner for Best Play by Stephen Karam, The Humans revolves around the Blake family gathering at Thanksgiving at the run-down Manhattan apartment in Chinatown of Brigid Blake and her boyfriend Richard. Brigid’s parents, Erik Blake and Deirdre Blake, arrive from their home in Scranton, Pennsylvania, to have dinner with Brigid, Richard and Aimee, their other adult daughter. Brigid is a musician and Aimee is a lawyer, living in Philadelphia. Aimee has recently broken up with her girlfriend and has developed an intestinal ailment. Also present is Erik’s mother Fiona “Momo”, who has Alzheimer’s Disease. The parents are unhappy that their daughters have left home and have abandoned their religion. The family members must deal with “aging, illness, and a changing economy”. (A CurtainUp Review, March 2, 2016)

John

John takes place in a Gettysburg, Pennsylvania bed and breakfast the week after Thanksgiving. It follows a cheerful innkeeper, a young couple struggling to stay together and the thousands of inanimate objects watching.  Annie Baker’s new play is all dolled up for a ghost story. A young couple arrives at a bed & breakfast in Gettysburg, Penn., run by an eccentric old dear with a creepy doll collection. Her spooky house could be haunted by Civil War dead and the dolls might be possessed by spirits — or not. In any event, it’s a great setting for the scary story that the Pulitzer-winning writer promises to tell and we long to hear. But as one would-be storyteller sheepishly admits, “I can only do build-up to scary, not scary itself.”  Sadly, that’s the problem here. (Variety Magazine, Aug 2015)

First Thanksgiving

This is a short 15 minute play written by Robert Reed typically performed by children in second and third grade.  The play begins with the journey of the Pilgrims to the New World in their cramped vessel: The Mayflower. When the Pilgrims arrive in America they establish the Plymouth Colony. By the spring, the survivors are shown by friendly local Wamponoag Indians how best to plant crops. When the harvest is gathered, the grateful Pilgrims decide to give thanks for their bounty and invite King Massasoit, who arrives with vension as a gift and 90 of his tribe. The feast lasts for 3 days and the celebrations include: displays of musketry and archery, dancing and games. However, who has to do all the cooking? Moreover, who’s going to do the washing-up?

Terri and the Turkey

Written by Wade Bradford, the play is set on Thanksgiving Day. The play presents Thanksgiving from Tom´s standpoint. Tom is the family´s turkey. Nobody really wants to kill him when it comes to it. The responsibility to chop the turkey´s head off passes from Grandpa to Dad, from Dad to Son and from Son to Daughter. When, finally, the son´s sister decides to do it. Tom, stressed because of his impending death, faints and need medical service. In the end, they agree on sparing his life and they go for pork chops, which scares the family´s pig….

The Turkeys Go on Strike

Bad Wolf Press with Ron Fink and John Heath bring you this short play meant to be performed by 2nd to 6th graders as a compliment to any school’s Thanksgiving celebrations.  Thanksgiving is in danger of being cancelled because of some extremely dissatisfied poultry. While negotiations go on around the clock—an event covered by TV reporters and influenced by ambitious members of the Squash family—students learn about the historical origins and the real meaning of the holiday.

Free Birds

Here’s a bonus for entertainment purposes only since this is a movie from 2013 and not a stage production.  But, it has to do with Thanksgiving, so I thought it tied in nicely to the theme here.  Free Birds is an animated film where a lucky turkey named Reggie gets pardoned by the President to live a carefree lifestyle, until fellow fowl Jake recruits him for a history-changing mission. Jake and Reggie travel back in time to the year 1621, just before the first Thanksgiving. The plan: Prevent all turkeys from ever becoming holiday dinners. Unfortunately, the two birds encounter colonist Myles Standish, out to capture feathered friends for all the hungry Pilgrims.  Maybe it could be turned into a stage production.  Maybe.

There are many more short plays and skits for kids and a number of more religious themed skits about life for adults.  This was just a sample of a few current Broadway productions and popular children plays/skits.

UDMA Worcester Trade Show Recap

Our booth at UDMA Worcester 10/1-2/16
Our booth at UDMA Worcester
10/1-2/16

We exhibited at our first trade show this past weekend at the UDMA, United Dance Merchants of America, show in Worcester MA at the DCU Center.  And, I mean our first trade show ever!  We had no idea what to really expect, but we had a great time.  We met new people and caught up with old friends.  For the past three years or so, I was told by a good friend of ours, Jane O’Donnell, owner of the Center for Performing Arts right here in North Andover, that we should attend this show.  It had always been in New York (New Jersey), and we balked at the idea.  But, this was the first year that UDMA had the show in Worcester, and there was no way that I was going to let the opportunity pass since it was going to be right in our back yard.

I had a special banner made that was going to be used on the front of our exhibit table, and I was going to hang one of our smaller backdrops behind us.  Unfortunately, the backdrop didn’t work (it was too tall), so I had to use the table banner behind us as you can see in the photos.  It looked great, but I’m going to have to have a special backdrop made just for the trade shows, which we will probably continue to attend.  I was really disappointed the backdrop didn’t work, but you live and learn.  Like I said, we had no idea what to expect.

The set up.
The set up.

On our table we had a sign-up sheet for potential customers to give us their information in order to send them a coupon for use on their next order.  Now, you have to have attended the show and sign our sheet to get this special coupon!  If you have that coupon, don’t forget to call and order your backdrops!  We also had some gifts for the attendees as did most of the exhibitors at the show.  We had candy and mints, emery boards with our logo on them, and stress balls with our logo on them as well.  I gotta tell you!  I was surprised at how popular the stress balls were!  I’m gonna have to get more of those, I think.

I brought my tablet and files with me too.  I was able to show new customers our website and how easy it is to maneuver around the site.  I took a couple of orders from some long-time customers.  They figured they were there.  Why not take care of it face to face!  I thought I would get more orders, but again, I didn’t quite know what to expect.  Most were there to get information and ideas.   We were both amazed at the costume companies.  They took up entire rows and had hundreds of costumes on hand for people to try on and order on the spot, which is what most of the studio owners did.  What a business!

Some of the other exhibitors.
Some of the other exhibitors.

In addition to the costume companies and backdrop rental companies, there were videographers, dance competition companies, dance magazines, dance accessory and supply companies, and software companies offering dance specific programs to name a few.  It was literally what the title says—dance merchants of all kinds.

As I mentioned, we saw long time customers at the show.  And I have to thank them for the kind words about me.  My mom helped me out over the weekend, and needless to say, she was very proud when she heard the comments.  We also made new friends that had never

From l-r: Nancy Stone, Pam Christo (mom), and Art Stone
From l-r: Nancy Stone, Pam Christo (mom), and Art Stone

rented backdrops before and who, I hope, will give backdrop rentals a try.  You’ll see how very easy they are to use.  And, hopefully, we can start a new relationship.

We had some old friends stop by too.  Rhee Gold took some time out of his hectic schedule to come say hello as did Nancy and Art Stone.  They were very pleased that we were there contributing to the scene and also had very nice things to say.  My mom goes way back with all three of them. It was a chance for mom to help me out, have fun, and reacquaint with old friends.  My mom is a retired dance teacher and knows all of these people through her years in the business.  She wishes that some of the companies in attendance were around when she taught such as the on-line recital ticket ordering programs.  But, alas, the technology did not exist. She said it would have made her life so much easier.

All in all, we are so glad that we attended this show.   It was a wonderful experience.  We hope to see you all at some of these shows in the future.  And remember, “We’ve Got Your Backdrop!”

Greg

Rhee Gold and mom
Rhee Gold and mom

 

 

 

 

Political Parody (Why Do We Live This Crazy Life? Part 4)

CMMCall Me Madam is based on the life of Washington DC hostess and Democratic fundraiser Perle Mesta, who was named Ambassador to Luxembourg in 1949.  Once President Harry S. Truman appointed Mesta, the foundation was laid for a musical comedy that would kid politics-foreign and domestic alike.  It is a musical with a book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse and music and lyrics by Irving Berlin. Call Me Madam is a satire on politics and foreign policy that spoofs America’s penchant for lending billions of dollars to needy countries.  It centers on Sally Adams, a well-meaning but ill-informed socialite widow who is appointed United States Ambassador to the fictional European country of Lichtenburg. It’s not long before her down-to-earth, undiplomatic manner surprises and charms the local gentry, especially the handsome Prime Minister. A second romance is blossoming between her young Ivy League aid and Lichtenburg’s enchanting young Princess. The course of love is threatened by the stuffy opposition, who eventually succeed in wrangling Sally’s recall, but not before all has resolved happily for both pairs of lovers.

Directed by George Abbott and choreographed by Jerome Robbins, the musical premiered at the Shubert Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut on September 11, 1950. Reviews were mixed – Variety said it “inspires warm applause rather than cheer”—and Berlin wrote two new songs to bolster the sagging second act. It opened in Boston on September 19, and while The Boston Record thought it offered “only an occasional flash of inspirational fire”, it played to standing-room-only audiences throughout the run.

With a record advance sale of $2 million, the Broadway production opened on October 12 at the Imperial Theatre, where it ran for 644 performances and grossed more than $4 million. In addition to Ethel Merman and Russell Nype, the cast included Paul Lukas, Pat Harrington, Sr., Galina Talva, Lilia Skala, and Richard Eastham. Brooks Atkinson of The New York Times thought it offered one of Berlin’s “most enchanting scores: fresh, light, and beguiling, and fitted to lyrics that fall out of it with grace and humor”, and the New York Post called Merman “indescribably soul-satisfying”, “a comedienne of rare skill”, and “one of the joys of the world.” She remained with the show for the entire run and appeared in the limited four-week engagement staged to celebrate the reopening of the National Theatre in Washington, D.C., but her understudy Elaine Stritch starred in the national tour.

The musical opened in the West End at the London Coliseum on March 15, 1952 where it ran for 486 performances and starred Billie Worth.

The New York City Center Encores! semi-staged concert version starring Tyne Daly, Walter Charles, and Melissa Errico was presented in February 1995. A regional production ran at the Paper Mill Playhouse, Millburn, New Jersey, in April–May 1996 and starred Leslie Uggams. Other major productions have starred Constance Bennett, Joanne Worley and Karen Morrow.

The Union Theatre in London produced Call Me Madam in the fall of 2012. It was staged and directed by Michael Strassen and starred Lucy Williamson, Gavin Kerr, Leo Miles and Natalie Lipin. It received five nominations at the Off West End Awards and was named as one of the productions when the Union won Best Fringe at The Stage Awards in 2013 alongside The Globe (Best Theatre).

While this series of blog posts is focused on “lost” musicals, Call Me Madam has had some very successful runs recently, but it is not a show that has people calling me for backdrops (unfortunately).  Unlike some of the other shows, it’s not because the plot is irrelevant or can’t be adjusted to today’s topics.  It’s probably because politics is too much of a hot button topic right now for high schools and colleges to want to undertake.  Politics is of course a subject with diverse ideas and ideologies where opinions are adamantly argued.  But, I think everyone can agree that it can also be the subject of great humor especially of the “shake your head” variety (I don’t know if that’s good or bad) like appointing an unqualified socialite to represent US interests in a foreign country.  That idea seems absurd! (sarcasm intended).  But looking at today’s political landscape, Call Me Madam may have been ahead of its time (well, maybe Harry Truman was anyway).  But I think it’s a story line that’s light-hearted and neutral enough where high schools and colleges could perform it without stirring the political pot.  It’s a comedy and a love story.  Who doesn’t love those?