Tuesday, September 30, 2008
God is a divine therapist according to Fr. Thomas Keating, founder of Contemplative Outreach, because God “searches through our personal history and heals what needs to be healed -- the wounds of childhood or our own self-inflicted wounds.”
On Saturday, Oct. 18, Gail Fitzpatrick-Hopler, president of Contemplative Outreach, Ltd., will present a workshop on divine therapy and the psychology of centering prayer and the contemplative journey. The workshop will be held at St. Bartholomew's Church, 51st. Street and Park Avenue, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in Rooms 32 and 33. Previous centering prayer experience is recommended, but not required. A brown bag lunch is recommended. Please register at St. Bart’s Central at email@example.com or 212-378-0222. Registration fee is $30; scholarship is available upon request.
Sunday, September 28, 2008
"Spirituality is not to be learned by flight from the world, by running away from things, or by turning solitary and going apart from the world. Rather, we must learn an inner solitude wherever or with whomever we may be. We must learn to penetrate things and find God there."
-- Meister Eckhart
Saturday, September 27, 2008
By the time I got to the Hirschfeld Theatre Wednesday night I didn’t know what to expect. Two friends had raved about this show, but then I ran into two fellow critics who had seen it and they both panned it. I thought I might fall somewhere in between. Well, I didn’t. I LOVED it. I want to go again!
Lyric and production-wise, it’s not the most original or inspired musical -- except, that is, inspired by Les Miz -- but as for entertainment, A Tale of Two Cities is one of the best musicals on Broadway.
Much of the credit for its success lies with James Barbour, who is magnetic as Sydney Carton, the cynical, drunken lawyer turned self-sacrificing hero. Carton is such an intriguing bloke in the canon of great Dickens characters anyway, and Barbour captures him fully through his nuanced acting and with his powerful voice. All of the cast members are good, but Barbour is the standout.
Director/choreographer Warren Carlyle maintains a fast pace, which is important because many shows that clock in at two and a half hours have spots that drag. Two Cities never drags, although it doesn’t make the mistake of The Color Purple, which felt as if someone were holding down the fast forward button. Jill Santoriello, who wrote the book, music and lyrics, has created songs that move the plot along as needed or stop it with the power of the emotion. I did feel a little déjà vu with “Until Tomorrow,” which proclaims the hope of the masses -- “It won’t be long until tomorrow is today” -- that could have been interchanged with Les Miz’s hope of the masses, “One Day More” -- “Tomorrow we’ll discover what our God in heaven has in store. One more day, one day more.” Those 18th century French rebels all seem to think alike!
David Zinn has fashioned evocative costumes, with gorgeous gowns for Lucie, handsome Victorian fare for the gentlemen and appropriate tatters for the peasants. The vividness of the costumes standouts against the simplicity of Tony Walton’s rolling sets.
No discussion of A Tale of Two Cities would be complete without mentioning the conclusion. The scene with the little seamstress is quite moving, with Mackenzie Mauzy making her Broadway debut in the role. And then, what we’ve been waiting for -- “far, far better,” which is given its full dramatic due. As Carton heads to the guillotine, which is at the top of a flight of stairs stage left, the stairs turn toward the audience and the rest of the stage is darkened. Carton climbs, in full spotlight, to utter one of the most famous quotes in English literature. It’s a true Broadway moment.
I don’t remember when a new musical has had as much advance trumpeting as this one has, especially considering the novice nature of its author. This is Santoriello’s first musical creation, and one that the self-taught musician spent 22 years developing. I don’t know if she has another show up her sleeves, but I hope she enjoys a long run with this one.
Friday, September 26, 2008
Thursday, September 25, 2008
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Lilli Marlene is a cabaret show mistakenly billing itself as a musical. Because Linn Maxwell’s singing talent so overwhelms the weak script by Kathryn Ryan, I often found myself tuning out the story as I waited for Maxwell to present another of the wonderful World War II-era hits that are the basis for the play.
This is not to say Lilli Marlene isn’t an enjoyable show. With songs like “As Time Goes By”, “It Had to Be You” and “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square,” interpreted and sung movingly by Maxwell, it’s definitely an entertaining way to spend 90 minutes. But the three friends Maxwell portrays never become real characters to care about because time is too short. The songs, among the most beautiful love songs ever written, are the true story of the evening, and the only one we really need.
It would be impossible for someone like me who is well acquainted with cabaret superstar Andrea Marcovicci’s show I’ll Be Seeing You: Love Songs of World War II not to draw a comparison. Marcovicci uses the device of an imaginary woman whose husband is at war and suggests her longing and anxiety to introduce each song. But this “story” is only a small part of the show, mostly just a clever form of cabaret patter.
In Lilli Marlene, Maxwell portrays Daphne, a midwestern housewife who gave up her singing career when she got married, Rose, a British music hall performer, and Lilli, a German opera singer. Their stories are told through the letters they write to one another. Lana Fritz has designed small, effective sets for each in different areas of the stage and Maxwell moves easily from one to the other, changing only her accent and an article of clothing -- an apron for Daphne, long scarf for Rose and hat for Lilli.
I’d rather have the scripted part shortened so Maxwell, a classically trained singer who has appeared with major orchestras and opera companies around the world, could sing more -- I wanted every verse of each song. Her voice is far stronger than Marcovicci’s, and I say that as someone who has been a big fan of that singer since I was in high school more than three decades ago. Better still, let that gorgeous music shine alone and develop Daphne, Rose and Lilli into full characters in a play that allows them to live. Ninety minutes isn’t enough time for both.
Tickets for Lilli Marlene, at the Abingdon Theatre (312 W. 36 St. –- between Eighth and Ninth Avenues), are $25 and are available through Smart Tix, (212) 868-4444 or www.Smarttix.com.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Monday, September 22, 2008
Saturday, September 20, 2008
This CD by Gloriae Dei Cantores is one of the best selling of the choir’s 45-some recordings and I can see why. The combination of this choir’s gorgeous voices with the majestic music of Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff and Sviridov make for a powerful recording.
The voices of Gloriae Dei Cantores (Singers to the Glory of God) have been nourishing my soul for some time now and I’m thrilled that I will finally be hearing them in person as their upcoming tour brings them to New York Oct. 7. (Full details of the tour are included in my Sept. 17 posting.)
The range of offerings on this CD, first released in 1990, are a blessing -- from solemn with Sviridov’s “Liubov’ Sviataya” (Sacred Love), to glorious with Chesnokov’s “Hvalite Imia Ghospodne” (Praise the Name of the Lord). The 19 selections represent the rich styles of centuries of Russian church music and are clearly close to the hearts -- and mission -- of this choir, which has toured Russia three times.
During its first tour, in 1990, Gloriae Dei Cantores brought sacred Russian choral music to the concert halls of Moscow and Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) for the first time since the Russian Revolution. The choir also sang parts of the Russian Orthodox liturgy with the Russian people in their worship services.
When the group returned in 1992, after the fall of Communism, it was among the first western artistic groups to tour Siberia.
The 40-voice choir, based on Cape Cod, seeks to “promote peace and understanding among peoples of different nations and cultures.” Under the direction of Elizabeth C. Patterson, Gloriae Dei Cantores has toured 23 countries in Europe and North America, with a particular mission to Eastern Europe. The choir is skilled in sacred choral music of all historical periods and styles and has been critically acclaimed as a master of the Gregorian chant.
For more information about Gloriae Dei Cantores, visit www.gdcchoir.org.
Friday, September 19, 2008
“. . . the only possible whole state is the wholly joyous. . . If you do not choose to be wholly joyous, your mind cannot have what it does not choose to be.
“Thoughts increase by being given away. The more who believe in them the stronger they become. . . The idea of the Holy Spirit shares the property of other ideas because it follows the laws of the Universe of which it is part. It is strengthened by being given away. It increases in you as you give it to your brother.
“. . . the Holy Spirit is God’s answer to the ego. . . The Holy Spirit has the task of undoing what the ego has made.
“Joining the Atonement [perfect love] is the way out of fear. The Holy Spirit will help you reinterpret everything that you perceive as fearful, and teach you that only what is loving is true. . . you are part of God because he created you.
“Teaching should be healing, because it is the sharing of ideas and the recognition that to share ideas is to strengthen them.
“The Holy Spirit atones in all of us by undoing, and thus lifts the burden you have placed in your mind. By following Him you are led back to God where you belong, and how can you find the way except by taking your brother with you?
“Guilt is always disruptive. Anything that engenders fear is divisive because it obeys the laws of division.”
“Whatever you accept into your mind has reality for you. . . If you enthrone the ego in your mind, your allowing it to enter makes it your reality.
“The Holy Spirit, like the ego, is a decision. Together they constitute all the alternatives the mind can accept and obey. The Holy Spirit and the ego are the only choices open to you. God created one, and so you cannot eradicate it. You made the other, and so you can.
“Your mind does make your future, and it will turn it back to full creation at any minute if it accepts the Atonement first.
“Nothing the ego perceives is interpreted correctly.
“It is still true that where you look to find yourself is up to you. Your patience with your brother is your patience with yourself. Is not a child of God worth patience?
“. . . you need merely cast your cares upon Him because he careth for you. You are His care because he loves you. His Voice reminds you always that all hope is yours because of His care. You cannot choose to escape His care because that is not His Will, but you can choose to accept His care and use the infinite power of His care for all those He created by it.
“Unless the healer heals himself, he cannot believe that there is no order of difficulty in miracles. He has not learned that every mind God created is equally worthy of being healed because God created it whole. You are merely asked to return to God the mind as He created it. He asks you only for what He gave, knowing that this giving will heal you. Sanity is wholeness, and the sanity of your brothers is yours.
“Why should you listen to endless insane calls you think are made upon you, when you can know the Voice of God is in you? God commended His Spirit to you, and asks that you commend yours to Him. He wills to keep it in perfect peace, because you are of one mind and spirit with Him. Excluding yourself from the Atonement is the ego’s last-ditch defense of its own existence. It reflects both the ego’s need to separate, and your willingness to side with its separateness. This willingness means that you do not want to be healed.
“Whenever you are not wholly joyous, it is because you have reacted with a lack of love to one of God’s creations. . . . you must already have decided not ot be wholly joyous if that is how you feel. . . Be very firm with yourself in this, and keep yourself fully aware that the undoing process, which does not come from you, is nevertheless within you because God placed it there. Your part is merely to return your thinking to the point at which the error was made, and give it over to the Atonement in peace. . . the Holy Spirit will respond fully to your slightest invitation.”
--from A Course in Miracles, by Foundation for Inner Peace
Monday, September 15, 2008
Cast members from The Public Theater’s acclaimed revival of HAIR: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical will gather in Central Park on the International Day of Peace on Sunday, Sept. 21 for a “Be-In” celebrating peace and love. The “Be-In” is free and the public is invited to Frisbee Hill to share flowers, stories, food and music in commemoration of the global holiday honoring peace and unity.
The “Be-In” will take place from 3-7 p.m. on Frisbee Hill, located just north of the Sheep Meadow Café. The nearest park entrance is at 69th St. and Central Park West. At the climax of Act 1 of HAIR, the characters attend a “Be-In” in Central Park where they burn their draft cards and unite against war and global violence.
“When we first heard about the International Day of Peace, we knew it would be a great opportunity to further spread the message of peace and harmony that we’ve been advocating in HAIR,” said HAIR cast member Andrew Kober. “The ‘Be-In’ is a chance to gather in the park as a community and spend some time together on love and unity.”
The United Nations' International Day of Peace is a global holiday where individuals, communities, nations and governments highlight efforts to end conflict and promote peace. In the 1960s, a “Be-In” was a peaceful gathering of anti-war protesters. One of the most historically significant “Be-Ins” was held in April 1968 in Central Park’s Sheep Meadow. It drew more than 10,000 people who celebrated life and love with chants, fellowship, and singing.
Directed by Diane Paulus, with book and lyrics by James Rado and Gerome Ragni and music by Galt MacDermot, HAIR began previews on July 22 at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park and played to sold-out houses through the final performance on September 14. HAIR will transfer to Broadway later this season.
Thursday, September 11, 2008
Fredric Fastow has taken one of my favorite instruments, the classical guitar, and used it to compose 30 original pieces for this blessing of a CD. Ranging from peppy and upbeat with “Hunting for Chamatz” and “Prayer for the Sea” -- which was so joyful I got up and danced -- to soft and gentle with numbers like “Last Prayer on Yom Kippur.”
Some of the selections, like “Simchat Torah March,” “Bar Mitzvah of Your Dreams” and “Bedouin Love Song,” sound like traditional Jewish music, while “Archeology” and “Whispers of the Old City” transcend any one religion with their timelessness. “Anticipating the Messiah” is hopelessness set to music, while “We Will Not Forget” represents determination. For playfulness and whimsy, “Baby’s First Chanukah” is a delight.
Fastow, whose music was new to me, is a lawyer and architect who has been playing the guitar for nearly 50 years and once studied with Stanley Solow. He started composing relatively recently and described his method to me in this way: “First, I sit down and compose something. Second, I am noodling on the guitar and something interesting comes out or, third, I wake up from sleep and hear a melody in my head. ”
Besides this CD, Fastow has recorded "Jewish Songs for Classical Guitar," traditional melodies he arranged and recorded in 2001 for Transcontinental Music. "Compositions II," all original compositions played on various guitars and in various arrangements, is in the works. Fastow also plays at private parties, fund raisers, synagogue services, weddings, bar/bat mitzvahs and other special events.
For more information or to order CDs, write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Adam Jacobs singing "Nothing There to Love" from the new musical Amazing Grace: The True Story. (Words and music by Christopher Smith)
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
I enjoyed the staged reading of this new play several weeks ago at the 45th Street Theater. It’s a comic romp by playwright John Martin (in photo) into the off-stage world of show business, with the crazy schemers and dreamers who craft it.
Sam Balaban (Charles Karel) is a theatrical producer without a cultural or artistic cell in his body. Wendell Taulkingham (Ben Killberg), his assistant, is a playwright who wants his boss to back his latest play, Young Shakespeare, but figures he hasn’t got a chance after his last artsy work bombed at “a theatre so far off Broadway only Lewis and Clark could find it.” Believing the work is good and that his boss would like it if it were submitted by another writer, he hires an actor, Lancaster Cohen (Mike Roche) to pose as the author.
Into the mix come Paul Bailey Starr (Jim Murphy), the billionaire evangelical owner of the Faith-Based Shopping Network who wants to “help purify America’s life and language through dramatic art” by backing a Broadway show, his daughter, Jenny June Starr (Stephanie Stone) and Claudia Larkspur (Chris Kelley), a late middle-aged actress who declares she wants to advance gender equality by playing the Bard.
The cast, under the direction of Nat Habib, did a great job bringing the play to life. Martin told me before the show that he has been developing it for three years and hopes now to have it produced in regional theatres before coming back to New York for an Off-Broadway run. I wish him the best of luck and look forward to seeing the full production when it returns.
Monday, September 8, 2008
There is a Place Beyond Ambition
When the flute players
couldn’t think of what to say next
they laid down their pipes,
then they lay down themselves
beside the river
and just listened.
Some of then, after a while,
and disappeared back inside the busy town.
But the rest—
so quiet, not even thoughtful—
are still there,
Mary Oliver, REDBIRD (Boston: Beacon, 2008)
Sunday, September 7, 2008
When the lights came up on stage and the cast members were taking their bows, I wanted to shout, NO! THAT’S NOT THE ENDING. As any fan of the 1996 movie knows, Percy doesn’t end up the happy owner of a restaurant, with a fiancé, best friend and surrogate mother. She ends up dead.
I was shocked and highly disappointed that the creators of this musical version of the film, which up to that point I had really been enjoying, would conclude the show with a 1940s Hollywood movie ending. That is not what Lee David Zlotoff’s movie was about. The film developed a large following among people of faith because of its Christian themes of repentance, the need to forgive and transformation. These are watered down in the stage version, a revival of which opened last night at the Sage Theatre.
Both the movie and the play present the story of Percy Talbott, a woman in her early twenties who has just been released from prison, having served five years for murdering her stepfather. With no family to turn to, she takes off for a small Wisconsin town called Gillead because she saw a picture of it in a travel book and liked the name and all the surrounding trees. She gets a job at the Spitfire Grill, the only eatery in the depressed town, and is befriended by Shelby Thorpe, with whom she eventually shares some of the story of her sad life. Her father died when she was young, and her stepfather molested her, causing her to become pregnant when she was 16. In spite of the circumstances of its conception, she loved the baby that was growing in her. But her stepfather beat her until she lost the baby, and she was told she would never be able to have more children. One night, after her stepfather had abducted her from the hospital where she was recovering, he drove her to a motel and got drunk. She took his knife and stabbed him repeatedly.
Only Shelby knows this story, but over time Percy makes a place for herself in the town. One person in particular, though, doesn’t trust Percy. Caleb Thorpe, Shelby’s husband, is an angry, disillusioned man who is unwilling to allow Percy to have a second chance in his town.
In the musical, he comes around and all live happily ever after. In the movie, it takes Percy’s accidental death to save Caleb from the hatred that had been eating him up for years. In an extremely moving scene in the film, the townspeople are gathered in the local church for Percy’s funeral, talking about what they knew about her. Then Caleb, played perfectly by Will Patton, walks in and says, “I didn’t know Percy Talbott,” and he shares his regret for his hardheartedness.
It is not only dramatic, but it is a device central to classic literature -- the confession. He needs the forgiveness and acceptance he wouldn’t grant Percy. She is the Christ figure, the innocent who had to die for the “sins” of others. The “resurrection” of Caleb and the town comes in the form of a young single mother and her baby who have won ownership of the Grill in an essay writing contest. She presents the new life that Percy’s death set in motion.
Fans of the film, and they are legion, are unlikely to embrace the Easter Sunday of the play without the Good Friday of the movie. Which is a shame because the musical is strong up until the end. The songs -- music and book by James Valcq, lyrics and book by Fred Alley -- are winning, the performers were good, especially Celine Rosenthal as Percy and Annie Gane as Shelby, and the musicians were excellent -- Paul L. Johnson (musical director, piano), Rachel Kaufman (accordion), Mike Pettry (guitar), and Deborah Sepe (cello).
The Spitfire Grill received its world premiere at New Jersey's George Street Playhouse and opened Off-Broadway in 2001 at Playwrights Horizons. That production won the Richard Rodgers Production Award administered by the American Academy of Arts and Letters and received Best Musical nominations from the Outer Critics Circle and Drama League, as well as two Drama Desk nominations. The show has been produced more than 250 times across the United States, in Germany, South Korea and this past summer had its UK premiere at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
Now it’s playing a one-week engagement in a small second-story walkup theatre on Seventh Avenue, a pleasant space, but with a stronger ending the show could be having a run at a major Off-Broadway, or even Broadway, theatre. It’s got the potential. I hope the creators will send this promising musical back into workshop for an ending worthy of such a moving story.
Friday, September 5, 2008
Leonard Jacobs should be given a preservation and presentation award for this beautiful and moving book. I was touched by these photos -- and the corresponding text -- of Broadway in a bygone era and glad someone cared enough to bring that spirit back to life.
Historic Photos is more, though, than a sentimental journey in a gorgeous coffee table book. And it’s more than a history of some of Broadway’s first century. It captures the soul of so many people who went before us, many whose performances are no longer even a memory to anyone living. Here they are frozen in time, yet brought forth into a new century in a way that makes them seem not so far removed.
Jacobs, Back Stage’s national theatre editor, selected his photos from The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts’ collection, which is the world’s largest archive devoted to theatre documentation. It houses about nine million items, a third of which are photos. As theatre division curator Bob Taylor points out in his forward, they are “the only existing visual documentation of plays, vaudeville acts, concerts and dance during that unusually rich period of American performing arts.” These include not just performance shots, but rehearsals photos and backstage candids.
Out of the library’s three million theatre images, Jacobs chose 240 to help tell the story of Broadway. “It’s as much a metaphor, an idea, a symbol, a brand, a destination, as it is a long, jagged thoroughfare extending nearly 150 miles from Bowling Green in lower Manhattan, to Albany, capital of New York State,” Jacobs writes in his Preface.
I love the production shots and the feeling of journeying back in time to a former New York, but what I find most touching are the photos of individual performers. In costume and looking excited, or alone in a dressing room wearing far-off looks, these faces of long dead actors captured in their showbiz world will be treasures to anyone whose life revolves around the theatre. As a critic, I see so many seasons come and go and so many shows open and close. It can be sad how quickly the glory passes. In the future, people will probably view glimpses of our world on YouTube or through other mediums, but I don’t see how that will ever be as evocative as these simple black and white photos.
“These images ask us not to judge and not to linger,” Jacobs writes. “They simply ask us to pay a visit, tip our hats in respect, and take the full measure of our present moment in the theater by sneaking a quick peek through that metaphorical window to the past. . . . They also let us celebrate our present and they ultimately demand that we press on, to welcome the future with fully open arms.”
This book will be a blessing to all the theatre lovers on your holiday shopping list. I highly recommend it.
Wednesday, September 3, 2008
I haven’t seen Amy Hersh in far too long. More than a dozen years ago we worked together at Back Stage and have stayed in touch sporadically, more often through Diane Snyder and Michele LaRue, fellow Back Stage alums. So was I ever surprised to learn Amy had written and recorded a CD of children’s songs, “Someone Else’s Bubblegum.” And it’s terrific!
Actually I shouldn’t be surprised. Amy was a hoot when she sang the songs she had concocted by making up her own words to popular tunes. My favorite was one she devised to the theme from “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” about a very difficult woman we know who shall remain nameless. (Don’t worry, Amy. I won’t quote you on this one.)
Amy’s songs work well because she’s clever with rhyming. And she remembers so much about childhood. The first song, “Someone Else’s Bubblegum is Sticking to my Shoes,” reminded me how much I used to resent that and take it personally. Amy sings, to the tune of “John Brown’s Baby,” about walking quickly into town and hearing a “mushy” sound. “My sneakers wouldn’t move an inch,/ had gum stuck to the treads./ I was madder by the minute/ and I wished I’d stayed in bed./ I was standing like a statue,/ birds were landing on my head,/ and I can’t lift my feet up off the ground.”
I didn’t need to be reminded of the misery of one of her other selection -- what follows Labor Day. Amy turns blues singer and chronicler of this sad time in “I’ve Got the Back to Elementary School Blues,” with all its worries about being smart enough and fitting in. A wise older cousin points out some good things, though, like the cafeteria’s great mac and cheese, and says that even teachers get nervous before school starts.
Another fun song is “I Want to Linger with the Langurs,” which reflects Amy’s familiarity with the animal world, gleaned from her years now of working at the Bronx Zoo, and offers an armadillo who lives outside Amarillo. In “Bug Bites,” “hungry, stupid bugs,/ miserable, nasty, rotten thugs” ruin a perfect day by eating through socks while “I was minding my own business, I didn’t understand how./ Why me? Why bugs? Why now?” Songs also deal with important matters like lost boots and completed homework.
Because Amy isn’t a professional singer, the songs have a natural sound that children will connect with. Accompanying herself on guitar, it’s as if she were sitting on the floor with them having a good time.
Parents will like this album too. It's one children’s recording they won’t want to hide while going on a road trip. In fact, they’ll probably be the ones to put it in the CD player and sing along.
If you’ve got a child on your holiday shopping list, this is one present that is sure to be a hit. Your child will love it, and so will her or his friends, who will all want a copy. The subtitle proclaims it to be “Songs for Kids of All Ages,” which is true, but mostly for those from 4 to 11.
To order, go to http://cdbaby.com/cd/amybsounds. For more information, write to AmysTunes4Kids@gmail.com.