Friday, November 22, 2013

The PhilHallmonics free holiday concert

Whether you've been naughty or nice, The PhilHallmonics holiday concert is sure to delight! With a three-piece band and a bevy of beauties strutting their stuff, MAN WITH A BAG promises to be their sing-iest, swing-iest, holiday show yet. The big man himself makes an appearance in the final number – in and OUT of his Santa suit!

1 and 4 p.m. December 7
Lincoln Center Bruno Walter Auditorium
New York Public Library for the Performing Arts
40 Lincoln Center Plaza

Free admission, first come, first serve. It is recommended to arrive at least one hour prior to show time!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Gettysburg: One Woman’s War

  Michele LaRue will bring her acclaimed performance of Gettysburg: One Woman’s War to the Metropolitan Playhouse, 220 E. Fourth St., for two performances only, Dec. 2 and 3 at 7:30 p.m. The one-hour show will be followed by a talk-back.  

 Gettysburg: One Woman’s War is drawn from three stories from Elsie Singmaster’s 1916 classic Gettysburg, a collection of nine short stories presenting a group of related fictional characters whose lives illuminate various facets of the bloodiest engagement of the American Civil War.

In Singmaster’s powerful and specific exploration of a Civil War icon’s physical and emotional terrain, fictional townswoman Mary Bowman lives the war and its legacy — from the first shots at Willoughby Run to the consolation of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, to the country’s healing a half century on.

LaRue specializes in performances of American theatre and literature from the turn of the 20th century. Three-hundred-plus sponsors include colleges, universities, libraries and historical societies, from Maine to Texas to Minnesota. Previously, Metropolitan Playhouse has presented her The Bedquilt, by Dorothy Canfield Fisher. In January, the Playhouse’s Gilded Age festival will include her Roman Fever, by Edith Wharton.

Paula Olinger, associate professor at Gettysburg College and a member of Historic Gettysburg Adams County, said LaRue’s performance fills a major unmet need.

“What you have to offer is priceless,” she said. “There is almost nothing in the whole big 150th celebration that focuses on women. . . . So masterfully, professionally, affectively and effectively presented … Truly a treasure.”

Singmaster (1878 – 1958) is best remembered for her local colorist fiction, featuring the Pennsylvania Germans of her native state. Most of her novels and short stories were set in Macungie, Pennsylvania, either connected to her childhood there, or to the town’s history. Other Civil War – related works include I Speak for Thaddeus Stevens, “The Courier of the Czar,” and Swords of Steel. A graduate of Cornell University and Radcliff College, Singmaster lived in Gettysburg for all of her adult life. 

Metropolitan Playhouse explores America’s theatrical heritage through forgotten plays of the past and new plays of American historical and cultural moment. Called an “indispensable East Village institution” by and "invaluable" by Back Stage, Metropolitan has earned accolades from The New York Times, and received a 2011 OBIE Grant from The Village Voice for its ongoing productions that illuminate who we are by revealing where we have come from.

Tickets for Gettysburg are $18; $15 for students and seniors.  Visit or

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Just in Time for Christmas

Listening to Natalie Toro on her new CD, “Just in Time for Christmas,” I hear in her voice the qualities that make her so magnetic onstage and in person. In these seven songs, the warmth and joy that she embodies shine brightly.

Among her many stage roles, Toro was a fearsome Madame DeFarge in Broadway’s A Tale of Two Cities. I’ve loved her first CD, Natalie Toro, for years. Then I was fortunate to meet her when she sang “Where Is It Written?” from “Yentl” for Broadway Blessing’s 15th anniversary celebration in 2011. All of us who met and worked with her loved her.

The songs on “Just in Time for Christmas” are a mix of old and new. In the title track by David Friedman and David Zippel, she sings about how the loneliness and commercialism of Christmas -- when “the holidays were something to get through” and “I was sure my faith has all run out” -- were transformed by love and “just in time for Christmas, you showed me what Christmas is about.” Fans of Friedman’s songs will love it.

The CD includes two lively duets -- “Baby It’s Cold Outside” with Ryan Kelly and a Latin-flavored “I’ll be Home for Christmas” with Jon Secada -- and a gorgeous blend of “Ave Maria and O Holy Night.” Rounding out the recording are “The Christmas Song,” which she infuses with new life, “Once Upon a Christmas Song” by Gary Barlow and Peter Kay and “Our First Christmas Together” by James Kimball Gannon, Walter Kent and Buck Ram.

Visit for more information.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Becoming Dr. Ruth

Debra Jo Rupp is a pint-sized powerhouse playing a pint-sized powerhouse in Mark St. Germain’s funny and loving new one-woman biographical play, Becoming Dr. Ruth, at the Westside Theatre Upstairs. For 90 minutes with no intermission the audience is entertained by a great storyteller who is also part standup comic.

St. Germain has developed an effective way for Dr. Ruth Westheimer to tell the story of her remarkable life while avoiding the pitfall of the blah, blah, blah boredom that these let-me-tell-you-my-story plays often descend into. We find the renowned sex therapist in the living room of her cluttered Washington Heights apartment in 1997, two months after the death of her third husband who has died from complications of a stroke, ending her third marriage, the one that lasted for decades rather than years like the previous two.

Cardboard boxes are everywhere as she packs to move out of her longtime home. (Great set by Brian Prather.) Different items prompt memories, which she shares with the audience as if we were guests seated around the room. Under Julianne Boyd’s direction and with Rupp’s effervescence, one tale follows quickly upon another, aided by Daniel Brodie’s projections in what is Dr. Ruth’s window with its view of the George Washington and Tappan Zee bridges, which reappears in present-time moments.

At this stage in her life, even while packing, she’s a celebrity. When the mover calls about something, he takes advantage of having a sex expert for a client and asks a question about his penis, which he evidently feels is too small. She assures him it just seems that way because he’s looking down and tells him to see himself sideways in a mirror when he is erect and he will feel differently. “Love your penis,” she tell him, before adding “and bring some more bubble wrap.”

Dr. Ruth’s journey to becoming America’s most famous sex therapist was unlikely. She was raised in an Orthodox Jewish family in Frankfurt, Germany, an only child beloved by her parents and fraternal grandmother. That love for the first decade of her life helped her to survive what was to come after. At 10, she was sent to a school in Switzerland as part of the Kindertransport of Jewish children. The refugees were treated as servants for the other children and one cruel matron even told them they were there because their parents had given them away.

But this did not crush the spirit of the child then known as Karola Ruth Siegel. The refugee children formed a close bond and Karola remained at the school until she was 17 and went to Tel Aviv to work on a kibbutz where she met her first husband. In Jerusalem, where the couple settled, she studied to be a kindergarten teacher -- she was told she’d be a good one because at 4’ 7” she would fit well in the chairs -- and joined the Haganah, a Jewish paramilitry organization, where she “learned to throw a hand grenade.” On her 20th birthday she was seriously injured in a bombing that filled her body with shrapnel and blew off the top if her right foot.

This didn't stop her either.  She recovered and with husband number two, moved to Paris and then to New York where the second marriage ended and she struggled as a single mother to further her education. Oh, by the way, she was given a scholarship to the New School in her second week in America. You just can’t make this stuff up.

After a therapist pointed out to her that the love she had received as a child is connected to the sexual pleasure she enjoyed as an adult, she determined to become a sex therapist to help other couples develop their sexual intimacy. With her knowledge, plus her wit and personality, she was given a 15-minute radio show, which was so wildly successful it expanded to an hour and that is how she became Dr. Ruth.

 Becoming Dr. Ruth comes to New York following its world premiere at Barrington Stage Company and a sold out run at TheaterWorks, Hartford.

The evening is definitely entertaining as Dr. Ruth tells her stories with great humor. A bit more gravity and reflection, though, would have made the portrait deeper. She does reach this level at the end when she straightforwardly recites statistics about the Holocaust, then acknowledges the personal, most important ones that still eludes her -- whatever happen to her parents and grandmother. She had last received a letter from them in 1941 and now wonders how long they lived after that, where they were sent and how they died. Dr. Ruth became more human to me then. She had been enjoyable company up until that point, but her vulnerability made her an even better companion.

Monday, November 4, 2013

After Midnight

Dulé Hill walks out onto a stage bare except for an old-time lamppost. Dressed all in white, with an oversized jacket and wide lapels, he invites the audience to the only place to be in 1932 -- Harlem -- and the only time to be there -- after midnight. Then in a snap we are transported to a land of music and dance as the Cotton Club comes to life, complete with a full big band orchestra onstage. And the fun begins and continues for 90 uninterrupted minutes at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre where After Midnight opened last night.

Hill (currently on TV’s “Psych”, formerly on “The West Wing”) serves as the narrator opening and closing the show, quoting from Langston Hughes and performing as well in this musical revue of more than two dozen jazz-era classics from the likes of Duke Ellington and Harold Arlen. Directed and choreographed (spectacularly) by Warren Carlyle, with musical direction by Wynton Marsalis, After Midnight features sexy performances by Tony Award-winner Adriane Lenox (Doubt) and Grammy Award and “American Idol”-winner Fantasia Barrino (Celie in Broadway’s The Color Purple), plus an ensemble of first-rate dancers, all to celebrate Ellington's years as band leader at the Cotton Club, using his original arrangements and performed by the 17-member Jazz at Lincoln Center All-Stars, conducted by Daryl Waters.

While it may be set in 1932, no hint of the Great Depression can be found in this production, which shoots more for glorious escapism than a realistic recreation. The show began life as Cotton Club Parade, conceived by Jack Viertel, and played sold-out engagements for City Center’s Encore! in 2011 and 2012. Isabel Toledo (who designs clothes for our ultra-stylish First Lady) created to-die-for costumes, from glittery gowns to jazzy flapper dresses, in all white or a blaze of colors. I would have been happy to have any one of them.

The spirited dances range from full-cast thunder to solo tapping and had me entranced. I love tap and don’t see much of it on New York stages, so watching Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards and Jared Grimes was a joy. They could have danced all night as far as I was concerned.

But then I also loved a whimsical cast number done to “I’ve Got the World on a String” that featured long and lanky couples in stark black and white dancing gracefully while hold red helium-filled balloons. It was as light and shiny as the balloons themselves.

The evening includes pieces by jazz composers of the time, including Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields ("I Can't Give You Anything But Love" and "Digga Digga Doo"), Arlen ("Stormy Weather," "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea") as well as Ellington ("Rockin' in Rhythm," "Cotton Club Stomp," "Black and Tan Fantasy" and "Creole Love Call").

After Midnight will follow the Cotton Club's tradition of “celebrity nights” by welcoming the stars of today in limited engagements throughout its run, starting with Fantasia who appears through Feb. 9. She will be followed by Grammy-winner k.d. lang (Feb. 11-March 9) and Grammy Award-winning artists Toni Braxton and Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds (March 18-30). I wish I could go back to see them all!