Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Holiday gifts for theatre lovers

I compiled this holiday gift list for Broadway Direct. Happy shopping!

Finding the right present for someone can be challenging, unless that someone is a theater-lover. From inexpensive stocking stuffers to memorable experiences, Broadway Direct’s holiday gift guide will steer you to a purchase that will truly be appreciated.

Books: The Drama Book Shop, 250 W. 40th St.

The hottest book this season is William Shakespeare’s Star Wars by Ian Doescher. Return once more to a galaxy far, far away with this retelling of George Lucas’s epic “Star Wars” in the style of The Bard. Reimagined in iambic pentameter — and complete with 20 Elizabethan illustrations, William Shakespeare’s Star Wars will astound and edify Rebels and Imperials alike. $15.95.

Also popular are:

To Be or Not To Be: A Chooseable Pub Adventure by Ryan North, William Shakespeare and YOU. A choose-your-own-path game book version of Hamlet. Play as Hamlet, Ophelia, or King Hamlet — if you want to die on the first page and play as a ghost. $28.95

Song of Spider-Man: The Inside Story of the Most Controversial Musical in Broadway History by Glen Berger. $25.

Untold Stories of Broadway Vol. 1: Tales from the World’s Most Famous Theaters by Jennifer Ashley Tepper. $19.99; 212-944-0595

Theater-themed apparel and souvenirs: Theatre Circle, 268 W. 44th St.  

The 6-foot-long woven and fringed piano keyboard scarf is double thick with piano keys image on both sides and has been a classic accessory. for decades $39.95  

The Lion King musical snow globe features three-dimensional figures inside and surrounding the base.  Plays “The Circle of Life” from the show.  $29.95

The ticket/ticket stub organizer is a terrific way to preserve the ticket stubs one accumulates from going to Broadway shows and events.  Holds up to 80 tickets (with place for notes) in 29 archival-quality, acid-free plastic pages.   $15.99 To order these items, call 212-391-7075.

Posters: Triton Gallery, 630 Ninth Ave., has the world’s largest collection of theatrical posters.

This year's top-sellers are Pippin (2013 revival) Matilda and Kinky Boots. All $20
Display them in black, gold or silver metal frames with Lucite. $35 each.; 212-765-2472

Tickets: If you want to send someone to the theater but don’t know what they’ll like, get a gift card from Telecharge. Cards start at $50 and are good for any show Telecharge represents, with no expiration date. Visit for a list of shows and to order. Gift cards also can be purchased at the show’s box office or by calling 212-239-6200/800-447-7400.

Theatrical experiences: Camp Broadway offers authentic Broadway experiences for young people: 

Camp Broadway Dance: Dancers aged 14 to 18 learn how to apply classic dance technique to a real Broadway rehearsal room, immersing themselves in the dance style of a specific Broadway show or choreographer. Dancers develop their character through small group coaching and master classes that include all the skills needed to make it on the Great White Way: a mock audition, vocal rehearsals and ballet with a musical theater point of view. Feb. 15 to 17, $675 -- enroll before Dec. 31 to receive $50 off.

Camp Broadway enables theatre-loving children ages 10 to 17 to develop confidence, character and presentation skills through ensemble performance and an authentic Broadway rehearsal process. July 14 to 18, $1,295 -- enroll before Dec. 31 to receive $100 off.

Shining Stars encourages children ages 6 to 9 to discover their artistic voice through creative play. Over the course of the week, participants adapt and develop the script of a beloved and age-appropriate show. The group also workshops songs, creates unique choreography, paints sets and designs costumes for their final showcase on the Friday of their Camp week. July 14 to 18, $695 -- enroll by Dec. 31 to save $100.

The Next Step trains experienced performers ages 15 to 18 to improve their unique style and presentation skills through solo and small group acting, singing and dancing classes, all under the guidance of a mentoring coach. Participants have the opportunity to learn from Broadway professionals during master classes and individualized coaching sessions. The Next Step finale allows each participant to perform a solo piece as well as in ensemble numbers. July 14 to 18, $1,395 -- enroll by Dec. 31 to receive $100 off. For more information and to register, visit

Theater tours: Broadway Up Close Walking Tours bring to life more than 100 years of ghost stories, anecdotes and other tales from behind the scenes in Broadway theaters. Normally $30 per person, a $5 discount will be given to anyone mentioning Life Upon the Sacred Stage. Offer expires March 1, 2014. Bookings may be made by e-mail -- -- or phone -- 917-841-0187. For details, visit

The Gift of Song: THE SINGING EXPERIENCE, founded by award-winning director Linda Amiel Burns, offers nurturing, non-competitive and supportive workshops where you will conquer stage fright and learn to sing out with confidence and joy. The six sessions include four fun-filled rehearsals, a performance at The Triad where you and your classmates will be applauded by an audience of family and friends, and a Viewing Party to celebrate your success (a professionally taped DVD included in tuition).  Special offer for Broadway Direct readers: $50 off of workshop tuition! See graduates in action at or for more info: visit, Email: or phone 212 315-3500.

The Gift of Broadway: Audience Rewards ShowPoints can be redeemed for your choice of Broadway and Off-Broadway shows, theatre merchandise, unique experiences and more.  Visit

Dining: Sardi’s has gift certificates for any amount. Available at the restaurant, 234 W. 44th St., by phone -- 212-221-8440 -- or online --

Collectibles: Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS has a wide variety of theater-themed gifts, from a $5 red ribbon heart charm bracelet, to a set of six ornaments featuring Playbill covers for $50 and an apron and oven mitt set for $50. Children’s gifts, CDs, DVDs, T-shirts, jewelry and more are offered. Click on Shop for the Cause on

Monday, December 2, 2013

A Christmas Carol

What the Dickens is going on at the Theatre at St. Clement’s? A whole lot of fun, that’s what, thanks to Patrick Barlow’s playful adaptation of A Christmas Carol.

Barlow’s previous experience turning a classic into whimsey brought us The 39 Steps, the Tony Award-winning show that spoofed Alfred Hitchcock’s movie and ran on Broadway for two years. Now, in 90 minutes, he takes on Victorian England with tongue-in-cheek glee -- Scrooge describes the London slums as “Dickensian.” He is well-supported by director Joe Calarco who has characters toss a handful of snowflakes over their heads as they enter Scrooge’s office. No need for fancy special effects here. The production’s good spirit and power of imagination carry the day.

Peter Bradbury heads the excellent cast of five, all of whom seem to be having a jolly good time. Mark Light-Orr plays Bob Cratchit and other parts and Jessie Shelton, Franca Vercelloni and Mark Price portray various characters as well as sing and play instruments in Anne Kennedy’s festive costumes. Tiny Tim is a marionette skillfully manipulated by Price.

Scenic designer Brian Prather has created the barest of sets, just a black outline of a window and door and a spiral staircase. With a revolving stage and Chris Lee’s lighting, we fly through time for Christmases past, present and future.

I hope this Christmas Carol will become an annual event, right up there with the Rockettes and the lighting of the tree at Rock Center.

For more information, visit

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!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Lady Day

The songs are there, but the singer who made them famous isn’t. Billie Holiday is long dead, of course, but I didn’t encounter much of her spirit in Lady Day, starring Tony and multiple Grammy Award winner Dee Dee Bridgewater as the late, legendary jazz artist in the newly revised biographical play at the Little Shubert Theatre.

This isn’t what I expected. Before this New York debut, Lady Day, written and directed by Stephen Stahl, was produced at the Theatre de Boulogne-Billancourt and Theatre du Gymnase Marie Bell in Paris, as well as The Donmar Warehouse and The Piccadilly Theatre in London, where it received critical praise and earned an Olivier nomination for Bridgewater. (She won a Tony in 1975 for her role as Glinda in The Wiz.) But the show wasn’t believable to me or my friend Colleen, in spite of the fact that Bridgewater won the 2011 Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Album for "Eleanora Fagan (1915-1959): To Billie With Love From Dee Dee." (Eleanora Fagan was Billie’s birth name.)

With that background, Billie’s soul should have ruled the stage. Could it have been an off night for Bridgewater? I had been scheduled to see the the show last week but was reassigned because she was out suffering from exhaustion. From what I saw this week, the play -- or at least the spoken parts -- seemed to be suffering from exhaustion. It had the feel of one of those shows that’s been around for years, through multiple cast replacements, that limps along on its former reputation. The theatre was at least a third empty, adding to that feeling.

The biggest problems are with Stahl’s direction and script. He follows a typical biographical play form in which the character talks about her life, either to other characters or the audience -- in this case both -- to give background, then sings, then talks some more, with flashbacks thrown in. Unfortunately, Lady Day’s flashbacks don’t work. Stahl has Bridgewater reenact them, which is awkward at best, especially in the case of her being raped at 10. Seeing an adult woman trying to portray this horrible episode reminded me of someone trying to give a clue during a game of charades. These scenes, in the first act as Billie is rehearsing in a London theatre in 1954, rob the show of the emotional impact it should have in Act Two when a drunk Billie takes the stage for that night’s concert. I wasn’t involved with Billie as I should have been.

The evening would have been far better had the play been scrapped and Bridgewater allowed to just sing Billie Holiday’s songs, which she does nicely. The show includes more than two dozen of the standards Holiday made famous, including "Don't Explain," "Good Morning Heartache," "A Foggy Day (In London Town)," "Them There Eyes," "Strange Fruit," "My Man," "God Bless the Child" and "Mean to Me."

Bridgewater looks the part in Act Two in a shimmery gown, white mink stole and Holiday's signature gardenias in her hair (costumes by Patricia A. Hibbert). But too often in between numbers she addresses her audience to tell stories of her life; the one about being arrested in Philadelphia rambled on far too long. When she wasn’t singing, I was quite often bored.

A concert rather than a play also would be far better for the musicians -- Jim Cammack on bass, Neil Johnson saxophone, Jerome Jennings drums and Bill Jolly piano (he is also the musical director) who are onstage with speaking roles. As musicians they are fabulous, as actors, not so. But then the script leaves them little to work with. They are “cats” and sound like a 1940s wholesome, flat movie version of band members.

David Ayers plays Robert, Billie's manager, and in the role usually played by Rafael Poueriet, Jorge Cordova was the assistant stage manager the night I was there.

For more information visit

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Glass Menagerie

Celia Keenan-Bolger isn’t alone on stage in director John Tiffany’s Broadway revival of The Glass Menagerie. The great two-time Tony winner Cherry Jones is also up there with her at the Booth Theatre. But no matter what drama was transpiring in this Tennessee Williams classic, my eyes never strayed far from Keenan-Bolger. Even when she knelt or sat silently in the shadows, her Laura dominated the stage for me.

I’ve never viewed The Glass Menagerie this way before. It was always Amanda’s play, and it would seem that has long been the experience of critics and audiences, since discussions of the play always center on who played Amanda and how was she, starting with the first, Laurette Taylor, and continuing through the years with Jessica Tandy, Julie Harris and Jessica Lange, to name a few. But I don't recall much discussion or commentary about great Lauras.

I mentioned how drawn to Laura I was to my friend Mary when we were leaving the theatre and she said she had the same reaction and that it reminded her of the first time she read the play and Laura had been the center of it for her. When she said that I remembered having the same response when I first read it as a sophomore in high school. It was Laura’s play to me then, but in my viewings since, Amanda always dominated.

Keenan-Bolger allowed me to see the play as I first had fallen in love with it. Her Laura is so fragile I felt she could shatter at any moment. I instinctively kept an eye on her because I wanted to protect her. With a childlike voice, frightened expression and cowering gestures, she seems ready to disintegrate, like some delicate plant that cannot last long in the harshness of the world.

The ghostlike quality that Keenan-Bolger captures so perfectly is the heart of Williams’s “memory play,” and is supported fully by Natasha Katz’s brooding lighting, which is like a fifth character in the play. The entrances and exits choreographed for Laura by Steven Hoggett are pure genius, making her all the more the haunting dream figure she is for her brother, Tom (Zachary Quinto), the play’s narrator. When he delivered his final lines, “Blow out your candles, Laura -- and so goodbye,” my eyes filled with tears.

This production, largely thanks to Keenan-Bolger, is just so heart-achingly sad and theatrically beautiful. I was completely transported, so much so that when the theatre doors opened after the matinee performance and the sun shone in, I was startled. I was fully engrossed, even though I know the play so well I can recite line after line in my mind with the actors. This was a new play for me, and I heartily thank Ms. Keenan-Bolger for that.

I imagine Williams would like this interpretation too, since it was his timid sister -- and domineering mother -- who inspired the play.

As for Amanda, Jones avoids making her the intentionally cruel mother sometimes portrayed, for which I am grateful. She captures Amanda’s gallantry, which I liked, yet I didn’t sense Amanda’s vulnerability. A faded southern belle deserted long ago by her husband -- that “telephone man who fell in love with long distances” -- she has plenty to be regretful about and catalogues these complaints readily, but Jones has such a carry-on type force that I didn’t see the weakness and pain underneath. She might have an accent, but her spirit is pure Yankee.

Quinto’s Tom is a nice balance of a young man trapped between his sense of obligation and his overpowering desire to escape. He loves his severely shy and “crippled” sister and his nagging mother too, but he wants to be a writer and have a life of his own. Quinto never allows Tom’s anger to go over the top, though, which is a relief because I’ve seen some explosive Toms before. I’m sure Williams would appreciate this too since Tom is the Williams character in the play.

The three actors connect and fail to connect just as they are supposed to in this sad family. They are people who love each other, just not in the way each needs to be loved.

Last to appear is the would-be savior, the Gentleman Caller Amanda has prodded Tom into bringing home from work to meet Laura, whom Amanda desperately wants to marry off. Brian J. Smith (in photo with Keenan-Bolger) is the most likable of the Gentleman Callers, whose name is Jim, I’ve seen. He and Keenan-Bolger have a natural chemistry that makes their time together seem real as he helps Laura emerge briefly from her shell.

Set designer Bob Crowley (who also did the Depression-era costumes) has taken a counterintuitive approach to creating the claustrophobic St. Louis tenement that is so depressing for Amanda, a trap for Tom and a refuge for Laura where she can escape into the world of her glass animal collection. Rather than show the walls that hem the characters in, he offers an open stage with a few pieces of furniture to indicate the living room and the dining room. The oppressiveness is conveyed by a fire escape rising out of sight that dominates the stage, and by Katz’s lighting and Nico Muhly’s haunting original music.

Haunting is the word that best describes this production in general, all the haunting, painful memories that are what this play is about. One scene in particular will stay with me forever, or at least I hope it will. Laura kneels on the living room floor with the horn from the unicorn figurine, her favorite, that was knocked off of the table while she and Jim were dancing. Jim has gone, having disillusioned Laura and Amanda by declaring he had a fiancĂ©. (He hadn’t known his invitation to dinner was a setup for Laura.) Keenan-Bolger, alone in the living room, holds the horn before her eyes and stares long and intensely at it, as if she can see the future in it. Then in one decisive gesture, she tosses it away and I felt I could see a door shut in her mind, as if she were purposefully closing down to all joy and possibility. It was a quiet moment, one that with a gesture and a look rocked with emotion and power. I felt I was watching someone die. It was one of the most painfully beautiful scenes I’ve experienced in the theatre.

This production of The Glass Menagerie, first produced at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, MA last winter, has extended its Broadway run until February 23, 2014, having originally been scheduled to end Jan. 5.  For information, visit

Thursday, October 3, 2013

A Man's World

Frank Ware is a young novelist in the New York of 1909 who is gaining a reputation for writing about the city’s underclass. When word gets out that Frank is a woman, the general assumption is that she must be getting help from a man. Frank laughs off that slight, but the sexism she will face later is much more personal, forcing her to choose between her long-held beliefs and love in A Man’s World, the engaging revival of Rachel Crothers’s 1910 drama directed by Michael Hardart at the Metropolitan Playhouse.

Living in a Greenwich Village walkup with Kiddie (Michael Fader), a 7-year-old boy she has adopted, Frank (Kathleen Dobbs) is independent and upbeat, and quite sure of her place in the world. The equality of women is a given to her.

“I’m a natural woman -- because I’m a free one,” she says, explaining that her father had told her stories and taken her everywhere with him to give her a broad education. “I began to balance men and women very early -- and the more I knew -- the more I tho’t the women had the worst of it.”

An assortment of artistic friends and neighbors make themselves at home in her apartment and she seems content with her life, which besides writing also includes working with disadvantaged women. When Frank is not around, the friends speculate about Kiddie’s parentage, most assuming that he is her child.

The issue is forced when Frank falls in love with Malcolm Gaskell (Kelly Dean Cooper) who loves her too and wants to marry her, provided Kiddie isn’t hers.  A woman with an illegitimate child is completely unacceptable to him.

A miniature portrait of Kiddie that a neighbor, Clara (Kendall Rileigh), has painted exposes the hypocrisy of his stance. As the friends study it, they become convinced they see a resemblance to Malcolm. Frank learns of their suspicions and confronts Malcolm, who is shocked at the idea, but doesn’t see a man with an illegitimate child as any kind of obstacle in a relationship.

“A man wants the mother of his children to be the purest woman in the world,” he says.

Frank understands all too well.

“Yes, and a man expects the purest woman in the world to forgive him anything -- everything,” she says. “It’s wrong. It’s hideously wrong.”

It is wrong, but women still live with inequality, mostly now it terms of income, so the play doesn’t feel dated. The assumptions Frank challenges are still out there and it in many ways it continues to be a man’s world.

Crothers (1878-1958) didn’t live to see this sexual double standard overturned. Interestingly, she wrote A Man’s World early in her career, one of the 23 plays she would pen. I was happy to discover her at the Mint Theater, first with Susan and God in 2006 and then with A Little Journey in 2011. I like her courageous female characters who struggle to live life on their own terms.

Metropolitan Playhouse has done an splendid job of giving this work new life. All parts of the production come together well. I especially liked Dobbs’s portrayal of Frank as strong, intelligent and extremely likable. And artistic director Alex Roe has created sets that are part Victorian, part bohemian and fit just right in the limited space the theatre has for a stage.

The production runs through Oct. 13. For information and tickets, visit

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Bend in the Road

Watching Bend in the Road, a new musical based on Anne of Green Gables, I so much wished that as a child I had read the Lucy Maud Montgomery novel from which it is drawn. I fell in love with this story of Anne Shirley, an orphan who finds a home on Prince Edward Island, Canada, in 1896.

A selection of the New York Musical Theatre Festival's (NYMF) 2013 Next Link Project, the entire run sold out so quickly that NYMF added a performance. This is obviously a story cherished by many people, and it has been lovingly recreated by a cast of 14 under the direction of Benjamin Endsley Klein, who directed Ann last season on Broadway.

Alison Woods (left in photo), making her New York stage debut, is delightful as the high-spirited red-haired orphan who is adopted by middle-aged siblings Marilla (Anne Kanengeiser) and Matthew Cuthbert (Martin Vidnovic). (It seems plucky, red-haired orphans are good subjects for musicals.)

In the opening number, “A Home for Me,” Anne arrives by train from Nova Scotia to her new town bursting with joy at finally reaching “a place where you’re needed, a home.” She has already become well-known to her fellow passengers with her nonstop talking and soon begins charming -- or annoying -- the town folks with her exuberance. Nick Potenzieri, associate director/musical staging, captures this well as all bustle about before the station.

When Matthew arrives in his horse and buggy, he is surprised to fine a girl. He and his sister had hoped for a boy to help with their farm. But as you will suspect, Anne’s intelligent and vivacious spirit wins over the Cuthberts and everyone else in town, including the nosy town gossip, Mrs. Rachel Lynde (Maureen Silliman).

Right from the start Anne, who has a vivid imagination as well as a temper, knows she’s where she was meant to be.

“It’s the first thing I’ve seen that couldn’t be improved by my imagination,” she declares of Prince Edward Island.

In no time she finds a best friend in Diana Berry (Whitney Winfield, right), a neighbor, and they employ their imaginations to conjure up danger and treasures as they walk through the woods together to school. “We’ll be kindred spirits till the end of time,” they promise.

Anne’s impulsiveness gets her into more than a little trouble, but as she tells Marilla, “I never make the same mistake twice.”

To which Marilla replies: “I don’t know that’s much benefit as you’re always making new ones.” 

Matthew explains to her in “Trouble is Trouble” how to make the best of difficulties. “To get through the darkness, there’s only one route. Face what’s really there, then walk yourself out.”

The songs (lyrics by Benita Scheckel and Michael Upward; music by Upward) offer that kind of welcome simplicity and optimism and serve the storytelling well. (Scheckel also wrote the book.) Andrew Gerle directs the five-piece orchestra.

Set designer Lauren Helpern convincingly creates Anne’s world with just a few props and Andrew Lazarow’s video and projection designs. David Kaley captures the period in his charming costumes. Excellent work also by Joe E. Silver with his lighting.

Since publication, Anne of Green Gables has sold more than 50 million copies and has been translated into more than 20 languages. The author also produced numerous best-selling sequels. The original book is taught to students around the world.

 Bend in the Road (the title refers to changes one must face in life) received unanimous rave reviews in its 2012 premiere at the Carrie Hamilton Theatre at the Pasadena Playhouse. It recently played for six performances at PTC Performance Space as part of the New York Musical Theatre Festival, the largest annual musical theatre event in the world, which presents 30 productions each summer in the heart of the Theatre District, along with an array of readings, concerts, and other special events. It’s been called the Sundance of Musical Theatre and is a highlight of summer for many of us.

The young woman sitting next to me for Bend was spellbound throughout the first act. When we talked at intermission, she said she had read the book as a girl and seen a PBS mini-series of it. She had forgotten many of the details, but said they were coming back to her as she watched. She thought the musical version was wonderful. And so did I.          

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Tony nominee Melissa Errico to deliver annual theatre reflection at Broadway Blessing

Popular Broadway singer/actress Melissa Errico will deliver the annual theatre reflection at this year’s Broadway Blessing, the free interfaith service of song, dance and story that brings the theatre community together every September to ask God’s blessing on the new season. The 16th annual Broadway Blessing will be Sept. 9 at 7 p.m. at The Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration, commonly known as The Little Church Around the Corner, on 29th between Fifth and Madison.

Errico made her Broadway debut in a musical adaptation of Anna Karenina at Circle in the Square in 1992. The following year she won the coveted role of Eliza Doolittle in the Broadway revival of My Fair Lady. Her other Broadway credits are High Society, Amour, for which she received a Tony nomination for Best Actress in a Musical, Dracula, the Musical and White Christmas. In 2004, she starred in the hit production of Finian's Rainbow at the Irish Repertory Theater, where she also appeared in The Importance of Being Earnest, Major Barbara and Candida, earning nominations for each. She was selected by Stephen Sondheim to star in Sunday In The Park With George at The Kennedy Center, and became a favorite at The Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles where she starred in "My Fair Lady," "Camelot" and "The Sound of Music."

Most recently, Errico appeared as Clara in the acclaimed CSC revival of Passion until she was sidelined in late March with bronchitis. In June she underwent successful vocal surgery from which she has been recovering.

In the past, theatre reflections have included Lynn Redgrave talking about the importance of theatre in her life, Boyd Gaines reading a speech by Althol Fugard, Marian Seldes and Frances Sternhagen reading from Tennessee Williams and others, and Edward Herrmann doing a dramatic reading of the final scene of Our Town, taking on all the parts.

As previously announced here, other Broadway Blessing performers this year include Tony nominee Christiane Noll who will sing “Ordinary Miracles” and actor Rich Swingle who will perform an excerpt from his one-man play Beyond the Chariots. The Actors’ Temple and St. Clement’s Episcopal Church will be part of this year’s event, as they have been from the beginning, as will the Broadway Blessing Choir, now under the direction of Claudia Dumschat, The Little Church’s music director. Project Dance is expected to return as well.

While this will be Broadway Blessing’s first year in its new home, Transfiguration has been welcoming actors for years, which is how it earned its nickname, The Little Church Around the Corner. The name dates back to 1870 when Joseph Jefferson, famous for his portrayal of Rip Van Winkle onstage, had requested a funeral at another church for his fellow actor and friend, George Holland. Upon learning that the deceased had been an actor, the priest refused. At that time many considered actors to be unworthy of Christian burial. After some prodding by Jefferson, the priest commented, “There is a little church around the corner where it might be done.” Jefferson responded, “Then I say to you, sir, ‘God bless the little church around the corner.’”

The church has maintained its close ties to the theater, serving as the national headquarters of the Episcopal Actors' Guild since its founding in 1923. The facility itself was designated a United States Landmark for Church and Theater in 1973.

The mission of the Episcopal Actors’ Guild, one of this year’s sponsors, is to provide emergency aid and support to professional performers of all faiths undergoing financial crisis.  It is also dedicated to helping emerging artists advance their careers through scholarships, awards, and performance opportunities.  

The primary service of the Guild is its Emergency Aid & Relief Program (EARP), giving grants to performing artists in financial crisis regardless of faith, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, physical ability or language.  The Guild addresses such crucial issues as eviction, housing court stipulations, utilities shutoffs, emergency medical and dental costs, and sustenance needs (including food and transportation).      

It prides itself on being one of the only agencies able to provide immediate emergency financial assistance, when necessary.  When a qualified applicant contacts the Guild in crisis, they can receive a vendorized check the same day.

Broadway Blessing was founded in 1997 by author and journalist Retta Blaney, who has been producing the event ever since.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Grace Kelly's glamorous, yet regret-filled life portrayed in "Longing for Grace"

Actress Grace Kiley took the stage Sunday and brought to life another actress whose name is similar to hers, Grace Kelly, in her thoroughly engrossing one-woman biographical play, Longing for Grace, an offering of 59E59 Theaters’ annual East to Edinburgh Festival.

Under the direction of Austin Pendleton, Kiley paints such a full and fascinating portrait of the late actress turned princess of Monaco that it’s hard to believe the show, written by Kiley, is only an hour in length. In her Kelly persona, Kiley addresses various family members and friends, transitioning fluidly from reminiscences of her youth through to her death at 52 in 1982, presenting a cautionary tale about a woman with a dream, which she pursued, excelled in, then gave up, only to spend the rest of her life in regret and loneliness.

“My life wasn’t my own anymore, for years, after the icon faded, my friends dispersed, my prince remote, my body changing, my face, my hands, all the things I struggled to make sense of, didn’t make sense . . . lost because I left behind what I loved,” she tells her youngest child, Stephanie. “I loved acting. The passion, something of my own.”

Finding that something of her own was important to the young girl in a family of athletic, trophy-winning children when she was not good at sports. She felt inferior. Later, when she had brought her acting teacher turned lover home for a visit to Philadelphia, he commented on the medals and awards filling the living room. “Everyone in your family has something displayed except you, Gracie, as if you don’t even exist.” She replied that it’s because she hadn’t accomplished anything.

But she felt called to pursue an acting career, much to her father’s horror. She was a debutante from a proper family and he considered actors to be “streetwalkers.” She moved to New York anyway, studied acting and followed that dream into success on stage and screen, winning an Academy Award for “The Country Girl” in 1954.

She says all she wanted was recognition from her father, and she thought she had finally achieved it through her career. Her family was in the front row for her Broadway debut in Strindberg’s The Father, for which she received good reviews. Her father, though, squashed her joy by remarking to one of the critics, “I’ve always thought it would be Grace’s sister Peggy whose name would be in lights. Anything Gracie can do, Peggy can do better.”

But she had found her passion and pursued it so fiercely that director Alfred Hitchcock described her as a "volcano covered with snow."

Yet she gave it all up to marry Prince Ranier III, a man she met once while in the South of France for the Cannes Film Festival and with whom she corresponded for a year before he proposed during a visit to her family home. She had been fourth on a list of blonde actresses put together by the prince’s priest.

The marriage contract alone should have warned her she was not entering a happlily-ever-after princess life. It’s “volumes long and right out of ‘The Napoleonic Code,’” she tells her friends. In the event of a divorce, the prince would get sole custody of the children and she must leave the country. And the prince just happened to want a dowry of two million dollars.

“It seems that the palace is a little cash poor and needs some sprucing up before the wedding,“ she says, trying to make a joke of it.

Then the prince announced, much to Grace’s surprise, at a press conference that she would be giving up acting, and banned the showing of her films in Monaco. Still, she remained in denial.

“I’m sure it’s just for the papers until the wedding,” she tells friends. “He truly loves me, the movie star and as soon as we’re married Monaco will see what a devoted princess I am. And then” (pausing) “I’ll pick up my acting career. Just like that! I’ll never stop acting.”

From the start, her new life was hell. The servants ridiculed her because she was an American and they considered her an impostor. She knew no one in Monaco and was prevented from seeing most of her Hollywood friends and even from going out alone.

The birth of Caroline, “born exactly nine months and one day after our wedding,” brought her joy and a temporary closeness with the Prince, although her father’s comment was, ”Ah shucks, I wanted a boy.”

Even maternal happiness didn’t last., though, as she was not allowed to show affection for her second child, and only son, Albert (“Albie”), because Ranier feared it would soften him and make him unprepared to take over the throne as an adult. Her relationship with Stephanie was troubled; it was in an attempt to try to work things out with her that Kelly dismissed the chauffeur for the afternoon and went out for a drive alone with Stephanie. Kelly lost control of the car and crashed. Both were injured, but Grace sustained the greatest harm. She died the next day, Sept. 14, 1982, having never regained consciousness.

Kiley portrays Kelly’s anguish at how her life turned out so well I could feel that world stifling her. Although petite, unlike Kelly, Kiley possesses the same good looking regal blonde quality that Kelly was known for. (Actually, Kiley looks a great deal like another actress in this category, the late Lee Remick.) Katalin Varga’s costumes, Elle Murphy’s make-up and Giovanni Villari’s lighting complete the transformation.

Brian Tubbs has created an effective set consisting of a stately chair on a red runner that divides the stage into two playing areas -- a guest room with a red velvet chaise, small table with scripts, martini glass and a wooden letterbox on the floor. On the other side are a writing table and chair, telephone and appointment books and an ornate mirror. With this and her powerful script, Kiley creates the international life of a very famous woman.

After the show as I was waiting in the lobby for a friend who was joining me for dinner, the elevator opened and Kiley emerged carrying a large portion of this set, now collapsed and ready to be packed off to Edinburgh for 25 performances. From the glamor of the spotlight to striking the set, such is the life of a fringe festival performer.

I wished her well in Scotland. She opened up for me a life I knew little about, although I remember the day Grace Kelly died quite well. I was the government and politics reporter for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, MD, and Sept. 14, 1982 happened to be a primary election day. I was walking by the AP photo wire machine and was the first to discover the news and announced it to the newsroom. Our editor slammed down his long metal ruler and shouted, “Damn.” Mr. Sensitive was not reacting in sadness to Kelly’s death; he was angry because he had already configured the front page for the next day, something that in those days was done on paper with a pencil to map out the space and placing. He had planned on all election stories and now had to fit in coverage of a famous person’s death.

Later that day we learned a Middle Eastern president had died and, later still, that novelist John Gardner had also passed away, but Mike had decided with Kelly’s death that rather than readjust his layout he would just tease to the inside obit from the area above the banner. The president and writer didn’t even get that courtesy, just small obits inside.  The moral of the story back then was that if you wanted good press coverage, don’t die on a busy news day.  Now, with news a 24-hour venture, one can get plenty of attention.

The East to Edinburgh Festival continues through Sunday, July 28 at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). Tickets to each show range from $10 - $20 and may be purchased by calling Ticket Central at 212-279-4200 or online at Check the web site for the offerings. Unfortunately Longing for Grace played the final of its three performances on Sunday.

I look forward to these shows each summer as 59E59 hosts United States productions en route to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the largest arts festival in the world. Created as a way to help shows get on their feet before flying off to Scotland, East to Edinburgh simulates the same production constraints that all shows experience at the Festival During this whirlwind three weeks, 16 productions will have been featured, reflecting some of the most adventurous theater from New York and across the country.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Tony Nominee Christiane Noll to Sing at 16th Annual Broadway Blessing

Christiane Noll, a beloved singer on Broadway and concert stages far and wide, will sing at this year’s Broadway Blessing, the free interfaith service of song, dance and story that brings the theatre community together every September to ask God’s blessing on the new season. The 16th annual Broadway Blessing will be Sept. 9 at 7 p.m. at The Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration, commonly known as The Little Church Around the Corner, on 29th between Fifth and Madison

Currently appearing in “They’re Playing His Songs: The Music of
Marvin Hamlisch,” the world premiere tribute show conceived and directed by David Zippel at the Cape Playhouse in Massachusetts, Noll appeared on Broadway last season as Hannah Chaplin in Chaplin, earning a Drama Desk nomination for best featured actress in a musical. She was nominated for a best actress in a musical Tony for her performance as Mother in the 2010 revival of Ragtime, and her many other theatre credits include creating the role of Emma in the 1997 Broadway production of Jekyll & Hyde and appearing on Broadway in the 1999 revue It Ain't Nothin' but the Blues. 

Noll frequently performs Broadway favorites in concert and has been a guest soloist as part of Bravo Broadway with the National Symphony and Marvin Hamlisch, The Cincinnati Pops, The Jerusalem Symphony, The Philadelphia Pops and Peter Nero, and has sung with The Cleveland Orchestra, the Detroit Symphony, The San Francisco Symphony, and the Sinfonica Brasileira in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. She made her Carnegie Hall debut with Skitch Henderson in his last New York Pops performance, and she has released four solo CD’s.

Also appearing at this year’s Broadway Blessing will be Rich Swingle, an actor beloved around the world for his one-man plays. Swingle will will perform an excerpt from his play Beyond the Chariots, which picks up where the 1981 film “Chariots of Fire” left off. The script is being translated into its seventh language for the Sochi Olympics and shows Eric Liddell leaving Olympic glory behind to serve the people of China for the rest of his life.

As founder and producer, I am lining up additional guest artists for this year’s Blessing, which will be supported by The Little Church and the Episcopal Actors’ Guild, celebrating its 90th anniversary. Among those who have participated in the past are Lynn Redgrave, Marian Seldes, Frances Sternhagen, Boyd Gaines, Edward Herrmann, Billy Porter, KT Sullivan, James Barbour, Three Mo’ Tenors and Broadway Inspirational Voices.

The Actors’ Temple and St. Clement’s Episcopal Church will be part of this year’s event at The Little Church, as will the Broadway Blessing Choir, now under the direction of Claudia Dumschat, The Little Church’s music director. Project Dance is expected to return as well.

While this will be Broadway Blessing’s first year in its new home, Transfiguration has been welcoming actors for years, which is how it earned its nickname, The Little Church Around the Corner. The name dates back to 1870 when Joseph Jefferson, famous for his portrayal of Rip Van Winkle onstage, had requested a funeral at another church for his fellow actor and friend, George Holland. Upon learning that the deceased had been an actor, the priest refused. At that time many considered actors to be unworthy of Christian burial. After some prodding by Jefferson, the priest commented, “There is a little church around the corner where it might be done.” Jefferson responded, “Then I say to you, sir, ‘God bless the little church around the corner.’”

The church has maintained its close ties to the theater, serving as the national headquarters of the Episcopal Actors' Guild since its founding in 1923. The facility itself was designated a United States Landmark for Church and Theater in 1973.

The mission of the Episcopal Actors’ Guild is to provide emergency aid and support to professional performers of all faiths undergoing financial crisis.  It is also dedicated to helping emerging artists advance their careers through scholarships, awards, and performance opportunities.

The primary service of the Guild is its Emergency Aid & Relief Program (EARP), giving grants to performing artists in financial crisis regardless of faith, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, physical ability or language.  The Guild addresses such crucial issues as eviction, housing court stipulations, utilities shutoffs, emergency medical and dental costs, and sustenance needs (including food and transportation).   It prides itself on being one of the only agencies able to provide immediate emergency financial assistance, when necessary.  When a qualified applicant contacts the Guild in crisis, they can receive a vendorized check the same day.  

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Comedy of Errors

Sheer delight is how I would describe director Daniel Sullivan’s staging of The Comedy of Errors, the first of this summer’s Shakespeare in the Park productions, which opened last night at the Delacorte Theater. In 90 fast-paced minutes the Bard’s silliest play becomes a welcome escape into a world of mistaken identity, physical comedy, delicious wordplay and razor-sharp performances, with Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Hamish Linklater leading the way.

 The mayhem unleashed by the plot of two sets of identical twins, separated as children and now both unexpectedly in the same town, could be confusing to follow, especially since Ferguson (left in photo) and Linklater play the roles of each twin, remaining in the same costumes (wonderful designs Toni-Leslie James) throughout. With the slightest change in posture or tone of voice, we know which twin is involved, the longtime resident of Ephesus or the new arrival from Syracuse.

After being torn apart in a shipwreck 25 years ago, the young men are now master-servant pairs living in rival cities. The craziness begins when one pair crosses the border and locals mistake the new arrivals for their neighbors and the new arrivals are dumbfounded trying to figure out the working of this strange land where people act as if they know them. To further shake things up, the pairs who know each other are more often than not separated, so the servant from Syracuse is abused for not doing the wishes of the master from Ephesus and thinks his master is just acting capriciously. That sort of befuddlement continues as the different characters bump up against each other, not knowing they have a mirror of themselves nearby.

In the role of both servants, Dromio of Syracuse and Dromio of Ephesus, Ferguson proves he is a master at physical comedy. Linklater, playing both masters, Antipholus of Syracuse and Antipholus of Ephesus, is the gentleman (or gentlemen), at least until the wackiness allows him to let loose. Their timing is perfect as they exit as one character only to appear a minute later as the other. These parts are usually cast with two actors who resemble each other, but these brave actors play both roles, and they make each one believable.

I know a bit about identical twins, being the daughter of one and niece of another. One scene reminded me of some family experience of mistaken identity. Antipholus of Ephesus has a wife, Adriana (Emily Bergl) who mistakes Antipholus of Syracuse for her husband and drags him home for dinner, leaving Dromio of Syracuse to guard the door to admit no one. Shortly thereafter, Antipholus of Ephesus returns home and is refused entry to his own house.

In our family, that confusion played out when my parents started dating and friends would report to my mother (a brunette) that they had seen John (my father) with a blonde, who was actually my Aunt Ruth out with her husband, Ed. Ruth would hear the same accounts of “Ed” being out with a brunette -- our own little comedy of errors. The play has a bit of this too, when Antipholus of Syracuse falls in love with Luciana (Heidi Schreck) , Adriana's sister, who is appalled at the behavior of the man she thinks is her brother-in-law.

Adding to the sparkle of this production are John Lee Beatty’s colorful cartoon cutout sets evoking a theatre, church, hotel, train station and jewelry store in an upstate New York town in the late 1930s. They are turned to go from one to the other just as seamlessly as the twins slide from one character to the other. An ensemble of dancers swing to music from the period (choreography by Mimi Lieber) before the show and during scene changes, enhancing the lively sense of fun.

Many other incidents of whimsy abound. I loved when an off-stage Antipholus of Ephesus calls for his wife, Adriana, in a gruff voice that immediately conjures up Sylvester Stallone’s famous “Yo, Adrian” from “Rocky.” All that was missing was the ‘yo,” but I’m sure everyone old enough to remember that feel-good 1976 film heard it.

The Public Theater’s production of The Comedy of Errors continues through June 30. I hope it moves to Broadway. It’s a joy!  

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Hildegard of Bingen and the Living Light 

  Since its 2012 release, the landmark DVD “Hildegard of Bingen and the Living Light” (Paraclete Press) has continued to attract a growing audience captivated by the production’s unique exploration of one of history’s most intriguing saints.  This week, in celebration of the first anniversary of Hildegard’s long-awaited canonization by the Vatican, an enhanced version of the DVD is being made available with Spanish and German subtitles to further increase its international appeal.

Produced by critically acclaimed mezzo soprano Linn Maxwell, the production features a powerful film adaptation of Maxwell’s compelling one-woman stage play and more than three hours of supplemental content.  Extras include an annotated script and production notes, a two-part seminar for church or academic group discussion, and a variety of topical interviews with many of the world’s leading Hildegard scholars, authors and experts.

“Having the opportunity to invite modern audiences to meet this extraordinary 12th-century nun, writer, composer, healer and prophet continues to be a remarkable privilege,” Maxwell said.  “Those who do agree she has many important things to say, and it is not surprising that her voice – impossible to silence in her time – continues to grow in relevance and strength today.  The addition of new film subtitles in both Spanish and German will only amplify Hildegard’s international appeal.”

Hildegard has been an admired and controversial figure both inside and outside the Catholic Church for centuries.  Beginning in earliest childhood, she experienced powerful, recurring visions that called her to express herself through her many talents and assume a role of unique leadership in the medieval church – one that often challenged the establishment head-on.

International interest in Hildegard has enjoyed a powerful resurgence following her May 10, 2012 canonization and October 2012 naming by Pope Benedict XVI as a “Doctor of the Church.”  This rare title, bestowed over nine centuries on individuals of extraordinary importance in the life of the Church, has placed Hildegard in the highly select company of only 35 individuals, only four of whom have been women.

Written and performed by Maxwell, the film adaptation of the play “Hildegard of Bingen and the Living Light” is based on an original production directed by Erv Raible that has won widespread critical acclaim after 80 performances in both North America and Europe.  Writing in the New York Theater Review, John Hoglund has said, “Hildegard returns...through the artistry of Linn Maxwell in a commanding performance that is as scholarly as it is relevant today;” according to The Times of London, “Hildegard is reborn as mezzo Linn Maxwell,” with her “hypnotically beautiful song.”

The DVD features Maxwell as Hildegard, performing the mystic’s compositions on authentic medieval instruments and, through Hildegard’s actual writings, reveals the life and passion of an extraordinary woman who lived centuries ahead of her time.

Maxwell has performed on the stages of major orchestras including the Chicago, Cleveland, Seattle and Toronto Symphonies, and the Berlin Radio Orchestra, among others.  Her operatic engagements include San Francisco (Placido Domingo conducting), the Cincinnati Opera, Netherlands Opera (with Nicholas Harnancourt), Hungarian State Opera and recital halls across the United States and in 27 countries worldwide.  In addition to her extensive performances of the stage version of “Hildegard of Bingen and the Living Light,” Maxwell has also performed cabaret and one-woman shows in New York City and made her European cabaret debut in 2006 at Frankfurt’s International Theater.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

A Picture of Autumn

In the middle of the last century, playwright N.C. Hunter was known as “the English Chekhov”, an appropriate title judging from his 1951 family drama A Picture of Autumn, which opened in its American premiere last night at the Mint Theater. Director Gus Kaikkonen and a for-the-most-part capable cast give life to the themes of aging, memories and a clinging to the past.

 A Picture of Autumn is a sensitive and often comic portrait of a once aristocratic family’s attempt to gracefully accept the changes that time enforces. Charles and Margaret Denham (Jonathan Hogan and Jill Tanner, in photo) are in their 70s, living in disarray in their decaying ancestral home with Charles’ 80-year-old brother, Harry (George Morfogen), and their demented servant, Nanny (Barbara Eda-Young).  With 18 bedrooms, 60 acres and little money to hire help, Margaret is ready to accept the inevitable when her elder son, Robert (Paul Niebanck), returns to England after several years abroad with the intention of convincing his parents and uncle to sell the estate to a college and move to smaller, more manageable quarters.

“It’s like living in a badly kept museum,” Margaret acknowledges.

Designer Charles Morgan does the place justice, having created one of the largest sets I’ve ever seen at the Mint, with a sitting area before a fireplace and mantel, dining room and imposing circular staircase that illustrate what a grand home this once was. It is largely through Margaret that we learn of the dry-rotted wood and the unkempt grounds. What we see looks both elegant and comfortably livable, making it understandable why leaving is so hard, especially for the brothers who have lived nearly their whole lives there.

Tensions about moving take shape in Act Two, as do the family dynamics that make the decision such a challenge. Memories bubble up right and left, with one having a lovely visual incarnation as Robert’s stepdaughter, Felicity (Helen Cespedes), descends the grand staircase in a 40-year-old blue gown last worn by Harry’s wife, who died all those years ago at the estate. (All the costumes by Sam Fleming are first rate.) She stands out as a sparkling school girl who represents the future while appreciating the elegant past, the bridge between both worlds.

Harry is the hardest to convince, but by Act Three he is seated with the rest of the family, surrounded by draped furniture and partially packed boxes, waiting for the taxi that will take them to the train and a new life.

“Nobody appreciates it, of course, but this is actually a historic moment,” he proclaims with his gallows humor. “This is the fall of the House of Denham. There has been a Denham at Winton Manor since -- when, Charles?”

Charles tells him 1762.

“Since 1762,” he continues. “And now we pass, shuffling out of our inheritance with no more ceremony than if we were cattle being driven to the slaughterhouse.”

Margaret tries to quiet him, but he goes on.

“Thank goodness, I’m perfectly capable of looking at the thing objectively. Let us at least be conscious of what we are doing,” he says, looking around the room. “It’s a fine house -- solid, well-proportioned, light and spacious. We shall not look upon its like again. It was built in the days when Englishmen appreciated good craftsmanship. Even if we have capitulated at last, we may, I suppose, be proud to have delayed its surrender to the barbarians. The spirit was willing, though the flesh was weak. . . Lower the flag and let the enemy advance.”

But as it turns out, departure may not be as imminent as it seems. Hunter has a few surprised in store, although the ending is poignant no matter how it goes.

 A Picture of Autumn has held up well, although it’s a bit long (two hours and 20 minutes) as plays of that era tended to be. The third act definitely drags. I could have done without Nanny, a stock character sent in for laughs. As portrayed by Eda-Young, she could use more work with dialects coach Amy Stoller because she mostly sounds American, when she isn’t sounding cockney or Irish. The two other actors, Katie Firth as Robert’s wife and Christian Coulson as his younger brother, are fine in their rather predictable roles.

The show is scheduled to run until July 14, although Mint productions tend to get extended. This one deserves to.

For information, visit

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Tea for Three: Lady Bird, Pat & Betty

 Meeting a friend for tea is usually a pleasant get-together, a chance to spend a little time in a comfortable setting for a some chatting and often a bit of soul-baring. That is the experience actress Elaine Bromka creates in her intimate one-woman performance of Tea for Three: Lady Bird, Pat & Betty, which she wrote with playwright Eric H. Weinberger. Under the direction of Byam Stevens, the three former First Ladies share their stories and, even more effectively, their feelings in this engaging 80-minute show at The 30th Street Theatre.

Set in a parlor of the While House in 1968, 1974 and 1976, each Lady spends just enough time with us to draw us into her world and her reactions to it without going on too long. This impressed me. These kinds of plays where the character addresses the audience about her or his life can get tedious to the point where I feel like screaming, “Get over yourself.” I felt that last season with the popular one-woman Broadway play Ann, about the late governor Ann Richards. In Tea for Three, each Lady left me feeling sorry to see her go.

The clever device that links the three segments is that each woman, after reminiscing about her husband’s nearly completed administration, is preparing to greet her successor with tea and a While House tour. Lady Bird heads out of the parlor to greet Pat, Pat to meet Betty and Betty to meet the unseen Rosalynn. In between, the lights come up a bit for some brief set adjustments but no intermissions interrupt the flow. (Set coordinator Matt Kapriellian created a simple room with a desk in the background and coffee table and chair at front so the Ladies’ stories are the real focus.)

I also was grateful that Bromka didn’t try to imitate the women’s voices, rather she transforms herself swiftly from one to the other through a change of wig and dress. (Costume design by Patricia Carucci, Bunny Mateosian and Robert E. McLaughlin, who also designed the wigs.) She’ll use an appropriate drawl or speech pattern, but no mimicry.

Tea with Lady Bird is tea with a southern gentlewoman who tells her daughters the idea of a woman having a life of her own is for their generation, not hers. Making Lyndon happy is her goal in life. But this was not easy as their time in the White House was marred by rising protests against the Viet Nam war, and she shares the anguish she and the president felt. Publicly they had to carry on as chants of Hey, L.B.J., how many boys did you kill today followed them. But she lets us know that privately her husband was so anguished he used to go downstairs at night to check on the latest causality counts -- for a war he inherited, she makes a point of telling us. She is a staunch defender of her husband throughout. But like a proper southern gentlewoman, she does not linger in complaint, pointing out the positive changes she has been able to make, such as highway beautification.

Next, having tea with Pat (photo by Ron Marotta) was the most interesting because she is the most complex character. We see the spirit she had that she suppressed before the public. Her early life growing up in a small California town was marked by economic hardship and a heavy domestic load cooking and caring for her father and brothers. She dreamed of travel and an acting career and those dreams light her face as she talks. But an even deeper passion -- anger -- takes over when she talks about the 1960 election she believes the Kennedy campaign stole from her husband through voter fraud and when she discusses Watergate. She is like an animal trapped in a cage when she describes how that unfolding scandal kept her inside, pacing the room -- she can tell you how many rotations it takes to make a mile -- or slipping out at night with daughter Julie to the worst parts of town where no one was out so she could walk and walk, Secret Service agents following, until they could walk no more from exhaustion. I really felt I had been let into a private world in this segment and gotten close to the real character.

Betty was my least favorite portrayal, although she was my favorite of those three First Ladies. I had fun with her, but she was a little too much of the good time gal, giddy from painkillers and booze, while I would have preferred more depth, such as when she discussed how she was able to use her breast cancer, discovered only one month after her husband assumed the presidency, to encourage women to be screened. She maintained rather a whoopee attitude throughout, rather than displaying more of a range of emotions. Having had such a great time during her husband’s term, she is not the least bit ready to leave the White House. She illustrates this by mentioning that when she was having her First Ladies’ tea and tour after Nixon resigned, Pat had pointed to a red carpet and told Betty she’d get sick of them. I never did, Betty tells us with glee. She departs to welcome Rosalynn, the wife of the man who has deprived her of four more years of excitement in the White House, playfully speculating on whether she could offer Rosalynn a drink instead of tea.

Bromka has been performing Tea for Three since 2005. It was inspired by her appearance opposite Rich Little in The Presidents, which she performed across the country and on PBS.  Called upon to impersonate eight First Ladies, she spent months poring over videotapes of the women. Studying nuances of their body language and speech patterns to explore psychologically why they moved and spoke as they did, she became more and more drawn in by their personalities.

“These were women of intelligence and grit who suddenly found themselves in a fishbowl,” Bromka has said. “I realized I wanted to tell the story from their point of view. And I wanted to explode myths. Pat was called ‘Plastic Pat’ in the press, for example, because she was always smiling. Look more closely at her eyes, though. There’s nothing plastic about her. You see the eyes of a private, watchful survivor.”

This Amas Musical Theatre production of Tea For Three will run through June 29. For information, visit

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Testament of Mary interviews

 I wrote this feature for the May 10, 2013 issue of National Catholic Reporter. When the Tony Awards were announced yesterday, playwright Colm Toibin was nominated for best new play, but actress Fiona Shaw and director Deborah Warner were ignored so the show is closing Sunday. I am sorry to hear this because it was the most moving and powerful theatre I’ve seen in a long, long time. I walked out of the theatre dazed. I didn't know what century I was in, or where I was or which way to turn. Other women have told me they felt this same way. 

For centuries, she has appeared on medals, in paintings, been sculpted into statues, sung about and worshiped in prayer, making her the most iconic woman of all time. Now, in what must be her most unlikely appearance yet, Mary, traditionally considered to be the mother of God, is the star of a Broadway show.

“I was trying to bring the audience with me and see where it would go,” says Irish novelist Colm Toibin, creator of this latest vision of Mary. “It’s not mockery. I’m serious. What I was trying to do was capture someone real.”

This real Mary of Broadway, in the world-premiere stage adaptation of Toibin’s 2012 novella, The Testament of Mary, does not believe her offspring was the son of God or that he performed miracles, calls his followers misfits -- “fools, twitchers, malcontents, stammerers” -- and was not at the foot of the cross at his death, having fled for her life after watching at a distance. Decades after the crucifixion, living in Ephesus under the guardianship of the disciples, she wants her side of the story to be heard, and she tells it for 90 minutes with fierceness, anger, sarcasm and humor, making for the most powerful theatre on the Great White Way this season, or any other in recent memory.

Two weeks into preview performances, with tweaking taking place daily before the April 22 opening, Toibin and director Deborah Warner spoke in separate phone interviews about developing this piece, a one-woman play starring Fiona Shaw, the irish actress acclaimed for her work on British and New York stages who recently has appeared as Petunia Dursley, Harry Potter’s annoying aunt, and Marnie Stoenbrook in HBO’s “True Blood.” The show is scheduled for a 12-week engagement through June 16 at the Walter Kerr Theatre.

“We were able to develop it when we saw it as storytelling,” Warner said, describing the awesome task of turning a work that was in the form of a novel rather than a play, with one character -- a revered and historical one at that -- into an evening of theater on a vast stage in a Broadway house. “People love having stories told to them. It goes back to Sunday school. That aspect absolutely plays to the child in us in the hands of a great storyteller. We really give ourselves over.”

Not that Testament is a story for children. Shaw’s portrayal of Mary’s guilt and her agonized memories of watching her son’s suffering as he was nailed to the cross are raw. She draws the audience in, leaving them transfixed.

“Everybody in the theater is silent,” Warner says. “The density of silence is everybody working through their understanding of the story. It’s an extraordinary thing happening at the same time, their parallel experiences of the story. It’s different for everybody.”

Bringing this realism to life was an excruciating journey for Toibin, a self-described lapsed Irish Catholic who no longer believes in God. While creating the passages of Mary’s memory of the crucifixion he only wrote when other people were in the house and always kept the door open. One particularly vivid image is that after his first arm is nailed to the cross and he roars in agony, he fights so hard to hold his other arm on his chest that other men have to come pry it off to nail it.

“I had to imagine it to the fullest,” Toibin said. “I couldn’t just write it. I had to almost see it.”

When he emerged one day after writing, a friend looked at his face and asked with concerned, “Are you all right?”

Toibin, who lives part of the year in New York while teaching English literature at Columbia University, was inspired to give Mary a voice by two paintings he had seen in Venice -- Tittian’s “The Assumption” and a Tintoretto painting of the crucifixion. As a child, kneeling daily with his family to pray the rosary, Mary had not only been the Queen of Heaven, but the Queen of Ireland as well. He realized that other than the Magnificat, “a literary convention,” she had for the most part been silent throughout the gospels.

The trick was to find the right voice. She had to live in a real house, “but not the house next door.” She would have to have grandeur in her tone, as well as deep fragility, with nothing in between.

“She’s not a housewife,” he said. “I couldn’t bring her down, she’s not someone you see in the store. That regal thing had to be there.”

For this reason, she had to be alone onstage. She recounts her arguments with the disciples -- they are trying to get her to verify their accounts of her son’s life so they can start a new movement and she refuses -- but no ordinariness of somebody making tea and moving about could disrupt her story.

This presented a challenge to the actor and director. Warner meets it by allowing the audience to take the place of other characters. Before the show they are encouraged to go onstage, walk around the set and handle the props. This device brings to life the sense of restlessness and ferment described in the book as surrounding the crucifixion. The lines of people waiting to go onstage remind Warner of people on a pilgrimage.

“The audience is in partnership. They have a relationship with her before she appears,” she says, adding that people had had a relationship with Mary’s son that caused crowds to follow him. “The challenge is to surprise people to be more open to listen and hear. He had been a success, people flooded to where he was. That’s harder to get with just one of you onstage.”

Sound designer Mel Mercier enhances this feeling of a Middle Eastern landscape with original music and the sounds of movement and animals and marketplace noises.

Interestingly, as in the novella, Jesus’ name is never mention. Mary refers to him as “my son” or “the one who was here.” Toibin had two specific reasons for this.

“First of all, I couldn’t bring myself to do it,” he said. “That was moving into space I didn’t want to go to. I didn’t want to make the name ordinary.”

Secondly, he was struck by something he discovered while research his book Lady Gregory’s Toothbrush. As he read the papers of this great patron of the theatre in Ireland at the New York Public Library, he noticed that after her son, Robert, had been shot down over Italy in 1918 during World War I she never mentioned his name again in her letters. Toibin realized it must have been too painful for her.

And the Mary Toibin has created shares this pain, although in far greater measure because of her guilt at not stay until her son died, at not having done anything to stop his public preaching, which she found annoying -- “his voice all false and his tone all stilted” -- and her rage at the disciples for trying to make of his death something it was not. No one will listen to her memories because they don’t confirm the story the followers are preparing to spread, so she roams her home alone reliving the truth for herself. 

“It is what really happened that is unimaginable, and it is what really happened that I must face now in these months before I go into my grave or else something that happened will become a sweet story that will grow poisonous as bright berries that hang low on trees,” she says. “I do not know why it matters that I should tell the truth to myself at night, why it should matter that the truth should be spoken at least once in the world.”

By the end of the show, she turns this rage on the disciples. “I was there,” she told them. “I fled before it was over but if you want witnesses then I am one and I can tell you now, when you say that he redeemed the world, I will say that it was not worth it. It was not worth it.”

Although Toibin is no longer a believing Catholic, he is grateful for his upbringing in the tradition and sees no negative influences.

“The iconography and language and experience stays with you and can be summoned up easily,” he says. “It gave you an extraordinarily rich way of perceiving beauty in the world.”

When asked how he wanted people to see Mary, he paused before saying he’s not a theologian, that he used his imagination and is not trying to convince anyone.

“I’m just a poor fiction writer. All I was trying to do was find a voice I thought would be credible during that time at the theatre. I am in the business of creating images which are fictional. That’s powerful.”

He says he has received no hate mail, only a few e-mails, which were divided between people who were upset or who wanted to debate. The responses on Amazon were angrier, he added. About 50 protesters organized by the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family, and Property, a conservative Catholic organization based in Pennsylvania, gathered in front of the theatre before the first preview.  An earlier version of the show was performed in Dublin without protest.

While director Warner has collaborated theatrically with Shaw for a quarter century, this is the first of their efforts to premiere in the United States. She says the journey from deciding to do this project and getting to Broadway has been an endurance test.

“We spent many nights in the desert. We were often in agony, asking ourselves, ‘Why do we do this?’”

Having grown up as a Quaker in England, her only association with Mary was “mostly through 2,000 years of art history.”

“There’s something about the guise of the story that’s right,” she said. “It’s contemplative and a jolly good story at the same time. It’s not a traditional Broadway show, but great storytelling is part of the Broadway tradition.”

Toibin hopes audiences will experience the show in their nervous systems, bypassing their intellect.

“I want them to have an experience in the theatre that will matter to them.”

Monday, April 22, 2013

Motown: The Musical

If Motown: the Musical, the latest jukebox show to hit Broadway, had had a good book, instead of the anemic and self-serving one written by Berry Gordy, it would be a powerhouse. Still, thanks to that music, which to me is among the greatest of all time, Motown is one immensely entertaining evening that sent me out of the Lunt-Fontanne filled with joy and memories.

The show, directed with little imagination by Charles Randolph-Wright, is drawn from Gordy’s 1994 autobiography, To Be Loved: The Music, The Magic, the Memories of Motown, about the creation of his pioneering music labels, most notably Motown. Gordy presents himself in a far kinder and milder light than that of Curtis, the Gordy figure in in the far better written -- and by all accounts except Gordy’s, more accurate -- Dreamgirls. (Gordy is also one of Motown’s producers.)

That’s one of the biggest problems of the show -- no conflict. At 29, after being a failure at every job he’s had, Gordy (Brandon Victor Dixon) borrows money from his family to start a recording company, which becomes the empire known as Motown (a name derived from Motor City, the nickname for Detroit, his hometown) and would launch the careers of some of the best singers and groups of the 20th century -- Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, The Temptations, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson, to name a few.

Act One shows this unfurling with nearly miraculous ease -- Gordy discovers talent after talent, records are turned out rapidly and all become hits that are accepted on white radio stations as well as black. It’s all too simple and courteous. Dreamgirls (book and lyrics by Tom Eyen) brought out the ruthlessness of the record mogul and the back-stabbing behind the “girl group” he founded, which was based on the Supremes. It portrayed the fight for acceptance, the dirty dealing of other groups in stealing songs and the betrayal of love in that high-stakes showbiz environment.

Gordy also could have taken lessons from Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice on how to write a strong book for a jukebox musical about real people. Their Jersey Boys tells an involving story about the lives and career struggles and successes of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. So it can be done.

The trouble is, Gordy seemed to want to take on the whole Motown history. Even in a show that is two hours and 40 minutes long, that’s not enough time to do more than give a passing nod -- if that -- to the stories of these performers. With more than 50 songs, Motown seems more like a Greatest Hits concert than a Broadway musical.

By the second act, though, I no longer cared about knowing the full story behind the songs because the songs were the story. That’s the music I grew up with in the 1960s and 70s, starting in elementary school when we used to line dance to the Temptations. I carried my transistor radio with me everywhere -- out with friends, to the swim club, the beach, baby-sitting and into my bedroom at night. I listened every waking moment I could.

That’s why Motown was so appealing to me, because it was the soundtrack of my youth, the way the songs of the Hit Parade were for my mother. Music that is so interwoven into our lives will always touch a deep cord. I remember being on the Underground in London in 1984 and seeing a headline on a tabloid across the aisle announcing that Marvin Gaye, a Motown genius, had been fatally shot by his father. I was devastated.

I felt an emotional response in the show when the young Michael Jackson (Raymond Luke Jr. in a standout performance) was introduced to Gordy. It was sad to remember what a fireball of talent he was then, and remained right up through “Thriller” in 1982, but what a pathetic -- and sick -- figure he became.

 Motown only goes as far as 1983, using the framing device of the 25th anniversary TV tribute to the company, its founder and its artists. At the start, Gordy refuses to go, bitter is he that so many of the stars he discovered have moved on and his company is in steep decline, unable to compete with the mega-million dollar contracts conglomerates like RCA can offer. By the end, after recounting what here seems like a breezy road to success over two decades, Gordy relents and joins his superstars on stage for the happy ending.

I liked Valisia LeKae as Diana Ross. Her speaking voice sounds amazingly close to Ross’ breathy, little girl voice, and I especially liked her “Reach Out and Touch” number that had her singing with volunteers from the audience and ended with all of us holding raised hands with our neighbors, swaying and singing along.

Charl Brown as Robinson and Bryan Terrell Clark as Gaye were also strong, even if their characters seem more like bit players in this musical that is trying to fit in so much. The ensemble members were good as they came and went quickly, dancing the steps made famous decades ago by the likes of the Temptations and now choreographed by Patricia Wilcox and Warren Adams. Esosa did a smashing job with costumes, David Korins needed more pizzaz in his sets.

I’m not alone in liking Motown, flaws and all. It is one of the top-grossing Broadway productions of the season, playing to sold-out houses, and, according to, grossing upwards of $1 million weekly for all four weeks of its preview period – a record for any Broadway show to arrive in New York without an out-of-town tryout.

(Photo, by Joan Marcus, of the Temptations, played by Jesse Nager, Donald Webber ,Jr., Julius Thomas III, Ephraim M. Sykes and Jawan M. Jackson.)