Saturday, October 29, 2011

"Faith is putting all your eggs in God's basket, then counting your blessings before they hatch."
-Ramona C. Carrol

Friday, October 21, 2011

You Don't Have to Look Like Your Friends

The Best of Times -- the Music of Jerry Herman

Members of The Philhallmonic Society sang more than two dozen songs from the showbiz great at a free concert Sunday at Lincoln Center’s Bruno Walter Auditorium. Founder and artistic director Phil Hall directed the uplifting concert representing seven Jerry Herman classics.

The line to get in ran down Amsterdam Avenue for at least a block and many, many people were turned away. Lucky for me Phil had saved me a seat. The Philhallmonic Society is my favorite non-religious choral group. (Cabaret superstar KT Sullivan described them as “Sex and the City” meets “Glee.”) They radiate with the joy of singing and reminded me once again that even rough times can be the best of times with show music to boost our spirits.

Check their web site for future performances.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

"The ways to God are many. They appear when we are ready for them and when our faithfulness has shown we can live with the consequences of further growth."
-- John Punshon

Friday, October 14, 2011

Still true today

“One of the great liabilities of history is all too many people fail to remain awake through great periods of social change. But today our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and face the challenge of change.”
-- The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Midtown International Theatre Festival Seeks Submissions

The Midtown International Theatre Festival (MITF) seeks submissions for its 13th season, running from July 8 - Aug.5, 2012. The deadline for submissions is Monday, Jan. 20, 2012.
The Festival accepts submissions in all genres - any sort of stage play, musical or otherwise, new or revived, mainstream or focused on an ethnic or cultural niche. To be eligible, each show must have a producer and production team attached to the project. In addition, the MITF will include a Short Subjects division, with the same deadlines as the rest of the MITF.
"Last year was our best year ever," said John Chatterton, executive producer of the MITF. "Maybe not in size, but in the efficiency with which we got the job done. We're starting a month earlier this year, and in this business a month means a lot! I'm also expecting to add a week to the schedule and have enough plays to fill it."
Applications for the Midtown International Theatre Festival are available online at Completed applications, scripts, production materials and a non-refundable reading fee of $30 (no reading fee for Short Subjects) must be mailed to: The Midtown International Theatre Festival, 2578 Broadway #145, New York, NY 10025. (Submissions for the Short Subjects must be sent by E-mail, to

Monday, October 10, 2011

Slowing Down, Going Deeper

Doctor, you say there are no haloes
around the streetlights in Paris
and what I see is an aberration
caused by old age, an affliction.
I tell you it has taken me all my life
to arrive at the vision of gas lamps as angels,
to soften and blur and finally banish
the edges you regret I don’t see,
to learn that the line I called the horizon
does not exist and sky and water,
so long apart are the same state of being. . .
and now you want to to restore
my youthful errors: fixed
notions of top and bottom,
the illusion of three dimensional space.

-- Lisel Mueller, “Monet Refuses the Operation"

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Way

I was happy to see that Emilio Estevez’s new film, “The Way,” got such a good review in today’s NYT. I saw it last night at a private, prerelease screening in Kips Bay and thoroughly enjoyed it. The acting, with Martin Sheen in the lead, was strong, the story and characters involving, and the scenery gorgeous. For more details and to see a trailer, click here.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Christine Andreas and Robert Kimball open the new Dutch Treat Club season

Singing a few lyrics from “Autumn in New York,” cabaret star KT Sullivan opened the 107th season of Dutch Treat Club luncheons Tuesday at the National Arts Club in Gramercy Park. The Club, whose members make their living primarily in the arts, meets every Tuesday from October to May, hosted by Sullivan, its president, and offers a performance by a popular singer, wisdom from a noted speaker, good food and great company. I’ve been a member since 1996.

This week’s entertainer was singer/actress Christine Andreas (a member since 1997), who most recently starred as Jacqueline in the Broadway revival of La Cage aux Folles (and who in the 1990s played a schizophrenic, homicidal psychiatrist on my favorite soap, “Another World.”) She sang several songs from her upcoming show “Two for the Road,” which she’ll perform with her husband, composer Martin Silvestri (in photo with Andreas), at 3 p.m. Oct. 9 at the Irvington (NY) Town Hall Theater. All proceeds will go to Ability Beyond Disability, an organization that benefits children with special needs. Andreas has a personal interest in this charity -- her son Mac is 24 “but will always be 4,” she said.

Accompanied by her husband on piano, she opened with her show’s title song, then shared some stories. Six years ago when she was asked to play the mother in a national tour of The Light in the Piazza, she hesitated, not just because she hadn’t toured in ages, but also because it would mean leaving Mac for more than a year.

“There I was playing a special needs mother letting go and that’s just what I was,” she said, adding that she made the decision to do the tour because she had already placed the then 18-year-old Mac in a group home where he was happy.

In remembrance of visiting so many states on tour, she and Silvestri sang “Rhode Island Is Famous for You” -- you know that fun song by Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz with its listing of different geographical specialties -- “the camp chair in New Hampshire,” “pencils come from Pennsylvania,” ”vests from West Virginia” and from our neighbor, “New Jersey gives us glue.” A cute song, delightfully done.

She also sang a lovely number called “Is This the Way It Feels to Love?” from a new musical called The Countess of Storyville, which features music by Silvestri and lyrics by Joel Higgins that will have a reading at The Players Theatre later this month. She closed with “Fly Me to the Moon.”

For more information about her benefit show, billed as “a personal scrapbook of musical souvenirs and memories,” visit

Our opening day speaker was musical theatre historian and DTC member since 1976 Robert Kimball who reflected on his recent three-year stint as a Tony Award nominator. Interestingly, Kimball had an indirect connection to the Dutch Treat Club long before he was a member. As an orphan living in a school dorm, he used to listen to newscaster Lowell Thomas on the radio; Thomas was president of the DTC from 1978-81.

Kimball, who is known in part for his comprehensive books on the lyrics of American Songbook writers, joked that Zero Mostel threatened to send him a bill because those weighty books kept breaking Mostel’s coffee tables.

Sounding much like Richard Maltby Jr. did in his theatre talk at last month’s 15th anniversary celebration of Broadway Blessing, Kimball remembered the Great While Way of the 1940s, with its 70-some theatres where more than 200 new shows opened annually. Now, with fewer than 40 theatres left, the Broadway League talks excitedly about creating a record if 40 shows open in a year.

“The only new record being set is for ticket prices,” he said.

When asked if the American musical of today is a reflection of our culture, he replied sadly, “I’m afraid so. There are not a lot of great songs being written for the theatre now.”

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Rule, Britannia! --  Ocean’s Kingdom and Union Jack

By Mary Sheeran
Back when I was growing up in Washington, NJ, my friends and I played that we were The Beatles. We strummed badminton rackets and lip synched to our favorite Fav Four. So, when last February, New York City Ballet announced that it had commissioned a ballet score from Paul McCartney, I was pretty excited. McCartney’s ventures into classical music have not thrilled too many, but they are always interesting, for his music from the mid-1960s and beyond have always leaned on classical and even medieval motifs.
Then, in the next sentence, the company announced that its artistic director, Peter Martins, would do the choreography, and that let any air out of any balloons that might have started up. The company continued to generate excitement with press releases about Paul’s daughter, Stella McCartney, designing the costumes and some stories about how Peter and Paul (sounds almost Biblical) were working together, with Paul doing little step hops to suggest choreography and sketching out the libretto, and Peter waxing about their collaboration. Everyone seemed to be having a lovely time.
Unfortunately, no one outside the walls of the theater expected much except a ballyhooed red carpet, and that is pretty much what we got. Since the mid 1980s, when he succeeded the late George Balanchine, Martins’ dances have refused to catch fire. Some of us keep hoping, alas. Why he chose to create a dance for McCartney’s music is puzzling when there are more talented people around and when real opportunism would be not to lose the opportunity to do something wonderful.
I was flummoxed by Martins’ schizo/cynicism in admitting in advance that the collaboration would produce sold-out houses for Ocean’s Kingdom (that would be the ballet’s title) because of Paul, not because of the ballet, and then following that idea with his expressing the hope that more people would be drawn to the ballet as a result of seeing it.
Well, then, why did he phone in the steps? Did he think no one would notice? (NYCB’s Facebook page ignored the ballet completely with its gushing excitement about laying down the red carpet for the arrival of celebrities at its premiere and preparing for the ball afterwards. Or maybe they think that’s what we really care about.)
Everyone else worked on Ocean’s Kingdom – the McCartneys, the designers, the orchestra, and the dancers. Why couldn’t Martins?

Because he didn’t have to. He was right. The house sold out, and Paul McCartney got a standing ovation because, well, he’s Paul McCartney, but will those “new” people come back to see more? Wasn’t that audience worth working for?
This sloppy, cynical way of doing business irritated me as I watched those hard workers put through their paces. The slickness of the publicity, the opportunism of it all, the “let’s pretend we’re doing something important” as they toss us junk jewelry is disheartening and discouraging in a company that has such a heritage as the repertories of New York City Ballet’s founder George Balanchine and of his co-ballet master Jerome Robbins.
All the reviewers focused their stern gazes on Ocean’s Kingdom, and I’ll get to that eventually, although I guess you have an idea of my opinion. But first things first, and for this performance, Balanchine comes first.
Fortunately, Ocean’s Kingdom was presented on a bill with Union Jack, George Balanchine’s bicentennial tribute to the United Kingdom. It’s one of his crowd pleasers and brings the whole company dressed in colorful kilts stepping out on stage to a steady drumbeat. As the dancers keep processing out from a sort of London Bridge-type gate, they fill the stage with color and life. It’s simple but magnificent stagecraft, and a gasp-inducing sequence.
Once the clans break rank, they dance to various folk songs like the “Keel Row” or “Colonel Bogey’s March.” The audience, already floored, is easily captivated by the variations and then wrought up again with Wendy Whelan and her Amazons in the McDonald of Sleat section. It’s another drum-only sequence, with the women kicking up their legs and stabbing the floor with their toes. It’s a showstopper, the sort of thing that encourages cheers and happy hoots.
Balanchine drew on a mighty library of the history he was part of – Russian ballet, Diaghilev, Hollywood, Broadway, Stravinsky, westerns, a passion for Tchaikovskian melody, and a capacity for both minimalism and DeMille type showmanship. If I once thought that his more popular ballets like Union Jack were distilled through a Russian sensibility, this past Tuesday, I thought how much more “American” the dances looked than I remembered. After almost 30 years, Balanchine ballets have come home to American bodies. They’re us now.
The exception to this in Union Jack is the Costermonger Pas de Deux. Most of us haven’t the foggiest notion of what a costermonger is, and the vaudeville-like style is foreign to everyone in the room, including Tuesday’s cast of Andrew Veyette and Megan Fairchild. These two were just swell, but they weren’t aware of all the jokes they could sell. Balanchine knew costermongers well enough and the humor of the British music hall.  I would know that just by remembering the dancers performing this when he was still alive. Back in the day, children, this was Patricia McBride’s role, and she sold the thing to Row K in the Fourth Ring, where I used to sit. She showed me what a costermonger was. And along with her partner Jean Pierre Bonnefous and later Mikhail Baryshnikov, the section was laugh aloud funny and devilishly sly. On Tuesday, Veyette and Fairchild danced the steps and had fun with them, and so did we, but the reason for this segment’s existence, being the slot in the program where the company is changing clothes, was more obvious than it needed to be. The Costermonger Pas de Deux should be more than a utilitarian section.
I could (tactlessly) say the same of Wendy Whelan’s turn in the marvelous McDonald of Sleat segment. Children, when Karin von Aroldingen led her Amazons through the drum roll, it was with noncommitatal expressions that added to the women’s power and sent chills down our backs. They were Balanchine’s female army – the ones you see in Symphony in Three Movements or his Tchaikovsky Suite #3. On Tuesday, I was startled to see some of those Amazons smiling. The steps are there, and the power is still there, but not the understanding behind them.
It’s not just that “they don’t dance the way they used to” – they’re not supposed to. But if you subtract something from the equation, you should add something, and while the actual dance is done brilliantly, the motivation is missing. If they don’t know why they’re there except for steps, why is the audience there? Yes, the dances have become “American,” and we feel at home in them, but they still require the original motivation to make them resonate.
Oh, why am I so picky? It’s Union Jack! What’s wrong with me? It was lovely to see Maria Kowroski saucily leading the WRENS and the RCAF. I got to give a little more applause to the retiring Charles Askegard. And it’s always a breath catching moment when the company signals “God save the Queen” in semaphore code as the orchestra plays “Rule, Brittania!,” the cannon blasts, and the curtain comes down. Union Jack is just so much fun.
As for Ocean’s Kingdom, that was well danced, too, but it was disheartening to watch. There wasn’t any choreography, just steps here and steps there, none of which related to much of the music or story, except for what the music and the talents of the dancers could contribute. Yes, indeed, Peter Martins phoned in the steps after barely skimming through the score. His failure hampers the music, some glorious scenery by Perry Silvey and projections by S. Katy Tucker, and the imaginative, intelligent costumes by Stella McCartney. The piece was helped by the quality of the dancers Martins selected to get his ballet through (for him, apparently) this cynically viewed media event (the dancers being the glorious Sara Mearns, Robert Fairchild, Amar Ramasar, and Georgina Pazcoguin, who created dimensional characters with little to go on. Daniel Ulbricht could have been given more to do.)
McCartney’s music is pretty and, if two-dimensional, enjoyable enough. It certainly told the story. When dancers enter, the music tells you who they are, and if you close your eyes, you can imagine more than you can see in the steps. His libretto admittedly lacked logic, but this is, after all, a medium where swans turn into maidens and nutcrackers battle mice. Even so, the names of the characters alone could make you giggle. Warring families and star crossed lovers wander all over the arts, but this plot was a sad imitation. You see, there were these two kingdoms, one underwater and one of earth. King Terra of the earthly kingdom (I’ll bet you guessed that) arrives in the underwater kingdom (there is no underwater equipment in the ballet and no, I don’t know how people moved from one kingdom to another, but they did). Prince Stone, Terra’s younger brother, falls in love with King Ocean’s daughter, Princess Honorata, but their love is threatened by Terra’s own desire for her. With the help of one of Honorata’s handmaidens, Scala, the princess is abducted by Terra and his henchmen.
Even allowing for the triteness of some ballet and opera stories, this one had many holes were not as easily discerned when NYCB’s excellent dancers took to it. I don’t know what motivated Scala to keep changing her mind, but you could overlook that with Pazcoguin’s strong performance, and what was the point of kidnapping Honorata (the wonderful Sara Mearns)? Why not send her some water lilies? If you secretly desire a princess, why do you put her in prison? But Mearns' performance in the prison (a glorious projection of blue pillars by the way) was breathtaking. The dancers deserved better, though, than a story that resembles a Popeye cartoon with Bluto and Popeye fighting over Olive Oyl. But the dancers found  genuine feeling to be danced, and there was genuine feeling in the music, and from the musicians in the orchestra (conducted by the impish Clotilde Otranto).
Martins is an ideal classroom choreographer, creative about steps but not about what to do with them and completely unconcerned about what he shows an audience.  Those days he had promise were the days when he was campaigning for Balanchine’s favor and Balanchine’s job. It’s time we all stopped pretending to take him seriously.
Ocean’s Kingdom. Music and libretto by Paul McCartney; Orchestrated by Andrew Cottee; Choreographed by Peter Martins; Costumes by Stella McCartney; Video & projection design by S. Katy Tucker; Lighting by Mark Stanley; Scenery by Perry Silvey. Featuring: Sara Mearns, Robert Fairchild, Amar Ramasar, Georgiina Pazcoguin, Christian Tworzyanski, Daniel Ulbricht. Premiere: Sept. 22, 2011. Union Jack. Music by Hershy Kay, adapted from traditional British music; Choreographed by George Balanchine; Scenery and costumes by Rouben Ter-Arutunian; Original lighting by Ronald Bates; Lighting by Mark Stanley. Featuring: Joaquin de Luz, Charles Askegard, Abi Stafford, Jared Angle, Janie Taylor, Wendy Whelan, Maria Kowroski, Andrew Veyette, Megan Fairchild, Adam Hendrickson, Sean Suozzi. Premiere: May 13, 1976.
New York City Ballet’s fall season runs through Oct. 9 at Lincoln Center. For information and tickets, go to
Mary Sheeran is the author of Quest of the Sleeping Princess, a novel set during a gala performance at the New York City Ballet, and Who Have the Power, a historical novel set during the Comstock Lode era about a musician discovering that her mother is a healing woman of the Washo tribe. Her CD, Through the Years, is available on CD Baby.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

"Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do. Don't bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself."
-William Faulkner