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Kehr as Billy Joel
Multi-talented musician Donnie Kehr has not only created and promoted “Rockers on Broadway” but has been a rocker on Broadway when he appeared in such musicals as “Billy Elliot,” The Who’s “Tommy,” Elton John and Tim Rice’s “Aida,” “The Human Comedy” and most notably “Jersey Boys.”
He also was in the first, La Jolla, California, production of the jukebox musical about Frankie Valle and The Four Seasons under Des McAnuff’s direction where he originated the Gyp DeCarlo role. Kehr was then tasked with bringing Norman Waxman to life in the original Broadway production. He then appeared as Waxman in director Clint Eastwood’s big-budget, cinematic version of the show.
But when the song-and-dance man lost his ability to strenuously jump and jive thanks to a fairly recent injury, he had to come up with another reason to be at center stage. So he’s now developed “The Greatest Piano Men,” a celebration of music men and their keyboards. “I grew up on the Broadway stage; I’m self taught on piano and have been playing close to four decades so I wanted to create a celebration of every piano man from Beethoven, Ray Charles, Scott Joplin, Stevie Wonder, Elton John and Billy Joel who have inspired me and continue to do so.”
In what inevitably has become a more and more elaborate production — “you’ll not only hear great music but you’ll also learn a lot of history about the instrument and the musicians associated with it” — the show had to be as captivating as possible. So in adding various elements that would make it both be dramatic and educational, Kehr enlisted a few music industry super-veterans. “I spoke to [super manager] Steve Leber, telling him about the idea. Without a moment’s hesitation he signed on.” So co-producing the show with Kehr is the legendary Leber, who then brought in concert-promoter impresario John Scher in association with Live Nation.
With this team on board, the stage could then include three different pianos and an eight-piece band. Kehr’s “The Greatest Piano Men” swings into action with three high-profile premiere concerts which have been set for this month, the first on Wednesday, August 15 at NJPAC; Thursday, August 16 at the Capitol Theatre; and, Friday, August 17 at the NYCB Theatre in Westbury. In order to reach audiences, piano prodigies will be interviewed in advance of each show and there will be a series of radio-giveaways to fans a chance to jump on board early on.
Added the 50-something producer/creator, “A lot of the audience may not be as well-versed in piano history, but I’ve incorporated it into this brief lesson about the instrument’s enduring power. Nonetheless, this show is still a 90 minute rock ‘n roll celebration from start to finish.”
As a kid, Kehr was dancing and singing, doing Broadway before he could drive but he’s no stranger to rock and roll as well, having been in band with his brothers in ‘80s called Urgent. “Since I was 11, I was playing music; I learned four different instruments because my brothers are musicians, so I’d always watch them. By the time I was 21, we created a band, and were on EMI Manhattan Records. We actually had two videos out, and got to number 56 on the top Billboard in 1984. It was a song called ‘Running Back for More.’ We did pretty well.”
The slick-pated performer had already established his live show production career in 1993 by putting on the annual charity concert, “Rockers on Broadway” (initially with Pete Townsend) where Great White Way performers get to rock-out. Shows have included or paid tribute to such performers as Debbie Gibson, Monkee Micky Dolenz, radio-personality Bruce Morrow, Rupert Holmes, Paul Williams and Frankie Valli and many others.
And his roots to this current show also lie in a performing act he fronted, Donnie Kehr’s Rockin’ Dueling Pianos, which had been staged in Las Vegas at The Paris. “I actually debuted Dueling Pianos there in 2004. I love Vegas and the variety of acts they have are top-shelf. I got to return to Vegas with Jersey Boys which was perfect way to start a New Year back then.”
Well, based on the initial expectations and with such a substantial track record, “The Greatest Piano Men” looks to be on the scene for quite a while. “So what about ‘The Greatest Piano Women’ as well?” Upon being prompted by this question, Kehr replied chuckling, “Let me get this first production out there and then we’ll see — anything’s possible!”
Emmy Award-winner Lucie Arnaz, in her much anticipated return to New York, will headline Birdland Theater, the cozy new concert site within New York’s iconic Birdland Jazz Club, headlines her new show, I Got The Job: Songs from My Musical Past, at 7 P.M. July 17, her birthday, through July 21. Ron Abel is music directing.
Lucie calls the show “a celebration of my life onstage” as she explores her theater roots, “looking back at some of the roles I’ve created on stages throughout the world.” The concert offers a behind-the-scenes look at the backstage magic in her amazingly diversified five-decade career with “anecdotes and cherished memories about my personal journey, co-stars, directors, and musical collaborators.” Along the way, she says, she’ll perform treasures from some of Broadway’s greatest shows and what it took to create them.”
Lucie became a beloved household name when she co-starred opposite her mother, legendary comedy icon Lucille Ball, in recurring roles on The Lucy Show, beginning in 1962 at the ripple old age of 11, and six seasons of Here’s Lucy (1968-1974). She also co-starred in the 1991 CBS series Sons & Daughters. One of her most cherished film roles was appearing opposite Neil Diamond and Sir Laurence Olivier in 1980 remake of The Jazz Singer, which in 1927 ushered in movies’ sound era.
Though a popular TV staple, also with her 1985 half-hour series The Lucie Arnaz Show where she portrayed psychologist/advice columnist Dr. Jane Lucas, who takes calls on her radio show, she had a burning love for live theater. She had her first theatrical experience at 14 as the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland. Lucie’s last Broadway appearance was in the 2013 Pippin revival, when she joined the cast in 2014 as “Grandma Berthe, hanging high above the stage doing a trapeze routine.”
Other Broadway appearances include They’re Playing Our Song, Lost in Yonkers, and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. She co-starred in the first national tours of Seesaw, Whose Life Is It Anyway?, Social Security, My One And Only, and Pippin. She appeared regionally in Vanities and Master Class as well as numerous stock productions. She appeared on the West End in The Witches of Eastwick. For the West Coast production of They’re Playing Our Song, Lucie won the Los Angeles Drama Critic’s Award.
Lucie teaches song performance master classes, and has dipped her hand into directing. Along with brother Desi, she manages Desilu, Too LLC.
On the 1981 Oscars, Lucie opened the show headlining a chorus of22 hoofers in a song and dance "Hurray for Hollywood" tribute. She’s also performed at the White House; and, in a twist of fate, just happened to be visiting the White House when President Obama opened the door for relations with Cuba, the homeland of her father, legendary TV producer as well as comedy icon Desi.
During her 37 years as a New York resident, Lucie was a trustee of the American Theatre Wing, co-presenter of the annual Tony Awards, for 15 years beginning in 1999. As a resident of Palm Springs, she’s lent her name to the annual Lucie Arnaz Awards, which “support, sustain, grow, and inspire quality performing arts experiences” for Riverside and San Bernardino high schoolers.
Lucie and husband actor Larry Luckinbill “manage five children between us (our three and his two).” Tickets for Lucie Arnaz, I Got the Job! Songs from My Musical Past, are $40 and available at the Tickets link at www.birdlandjazz.com
For more information on Lucie Arnaz, visit www.luciearnaz.com
BoundariesDirected by Shana Feste
Starring Christopher Plummer, Christopher Lloyd, Kristen Schaal, Peter Fonda, Lewis MacDougall, Vera Farmiga
Following in the tradition of the great road movies, director Shana Feste’s “Boundaries” tells of a particularly conflicted family trio — dysfunctional mom Laura Jaconi (Vera Farmiga), awkward son Henry (Lewis MacDougall), and estranged father Jack (Christopher Plummer— who embark on trip along the Pacific Coast to take grampa/grandpa to his other daughter Jojo (Kristen Schaal). Told in the same offbeat manner that the late great director Hal Ashby embraced, it offers a sometimes touching, sometimes infuriating, portrayal of family betrayal and redemption.
Feste’s very personal story of family and friends taps into a catalog of quirks. Struggling single mother Laura has an extraordinary love for strays — dogs, cats and men. This 30-something lives with her exceptionally talented 14-year-old son, a fabulous artist who can’t resist making nude drawings of everyone he encounters including his female principal, who expels him from school for such a piece of work. Her pot-dealing dad has just been kicked out of yet another nursing home for turning his apartment into a ganja patch. So she strikes a deal with him, even though he has abandoned throughout her life. She will come to his rescue and drive him to Cali, if he will give her the money needed for Henry’s tuition in a school for special students. But in order to finance her, Jack hijacks his fellow travelers into being his drug mules as the road trip veers off course so he can make stops to sell off his marijuana stash. They visit his art-forging friend (Chris Lloyd) and old Hollywood client (Peter Fonda), and make a side trip to see Henry’s deadbeat dad Leonard (Bobby Cannavale) — who also happens to be a client of Jack.
Laughs and tears alternate throughout it all as they come together as a family that will probably never get fixed — though Henry is likely to discover his true course in life through art and disruption — a confidence he gains acquired by getting to know his grandfather.
Obviously a story like this draws on Feste's own checkered family history, so this indie has a comfortability and ease of narrative that offsets its sometimes uneven pacing and delivery. Thankfully, by being stocked with a stalwart cast such fine actors from 88 year-old Plummer to 16-year-old MacDougall, Feste’s finds ideal surrogates who put voice to her narrative about family compromise and resolution.
Boundaries opens nationally on June 22
The 72nd annual Tony Awards, presented by the Broadway League and the American Theatre Wing, will have enough star power to light not only 50th Street and Avenue of the Americas but also all of Times Square. The list of mega talent guests could light the world! The Awards will telecast live Sunday from 8 – 11 P.M. from Radio City Music Hall on CBS, proudly entering its 60th year as Tony’s network.
Waitress creator [and former star; recent Jesus Christ Superstar live telecast] Sara Bareilles and multi-talented pop/crossover singer Josh Groban [Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet] are hosting Broadway’s penultimate, always-glittering event. As in previous years, there will be lots of social media action and surprises. The network begins full Red Carpet arrivals at 5 P.M.
“It’s Broadway’s biggest event,” says Ms. St. Martin, “and, rightly so. It will be a starry, starry night seen in 45 countries (which include Argentina, Australia, Brazil, China, France, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, the Philippines, and the world-wide Armed Forces TV Network). We welcome Sara Bareilles and Josh Groban to an illustrious roster of Tony hosts.”This has been a season of particular highs with the move to Broadway of A Band’s Visit, blockbusters Frozen and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, a season of nine classic and much-acclaimed revivals – probably a record, and the year that Tina Landau’s dream and vision of a different kind of musical came to be – SpongeBob SquarePants, after 10 years of development. And if you want to know where the best-dressed gals are, check out the August Wilson, where you’ll also revel in one of the season’s outstanding comic turns by Mean Girls’ Grey Henson. While welcoming back Lauren Ambrose (My Fair Lady), Glenda Jackson (Three Tall Women), Diana Rigg (My Fair Lady), Nathan Lane and Andrew Garfield (Angels in America, Parts One and Two), David Yazbeck and Tony Shalhoub (Band’s Visit), and Denzel Washington (Iceman Cometh), we can also celebrate the return to the New York stage of Tony winner Norbert Leo Butz, Showstopper of the Year for his Alfred Doolittle in My Fair Lady. We can also feel for the masses who missed one of the most offbeat and well-acted plays of the year, The Children.Remember the old MGM axiom: “More stars than there are in the heavens!” Well, the goal of the 2018 Tony Awards is to top that. There’ll be more stars than there are in the galaxy – and many of them will be singing and dancing!
Bruce Springsteen will make not only a rare TV appearance in appreciation of his Tony honor for Springsteen on Broadway, but also perform. The roster of guests and presenters includes Lifetime Achievement recipients Chita Rivera and Andrew Lloyd Webber; and Uzo Aduba, Christine Baranski, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Melissa Benoist (Glee), Erich Bergen (Waitress), comedienne Rachel Bloom, Matt Bomer, Rachel Brosnahan (Marvelous Mrs. Maisel), Tituss Burgess, Claire Danes, Jeff Daniels, Robert De Niro, Brandon Victor Dixon, James Monroe Iglehart, Christopher Jackson, Billy Joel, Patti LuPone, Tatiana Maslany (TV’s Orphan Black), Katharine McPhee, Matthew Morrison, Carey Mulligan, Leslie Odom, Jr., Kelli O'Hara, Jim Parsons, Zachary Quinto, Bernadette Peters, Andrew Rannells, Kerry Washington, Ming-Na Wen (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), and Marisa Jaret Winokur (Hairspray).Production numbers by the casts of Tony-nominated shows The Band's Visit, Carousel, Frozen, Mean Girls, My Fair Lady, Once on This Island, SpongeBob SquarePants and SUMMER: The Donna Summer Musical. Returning for a performance is 2017 Tony-winning musical Dear Evan Hansen. Once On This Island is set in a tropical village in the aftermath of a storm, and at the Tonys like audiences at Circle in the Square, the Tony-nominated Revival of a Musical will be host 130 volunteers and staff from U.S.-based 501(c)3 non-profit organizations bringing relief to areas impacted by natural disasters: All Hands Volunteers, Americares, and UNIDOS Disaster Relief and Recovery Program. They’ll be onstage on a sandy beach with lagoon, water, goats, and chickens. “Our performance is dedicated to those who give of themselves to help put homes and hearts back together,” says producer Ken Davenport.
To make way for more entertainment, Creative Arts Awards and Special Honors will be distributed in an hour pre-telecast portion that will be seen on NY1 News and www.TonyAwards.com. Highlights will appear during the telecast.Tony telecast veterans Ricky Kirshner and Glenn Weiss of White Cherry Entertainment return as executive producers of the Awards; with Weiss also directing. At the Broadway League, Tom Schumacher is chair and Charlotte St. Martin is president; at the American Theater Wing, Heather A. Hitchens is president and CEO.In the U.K., Olivier-winning Elaine Paige will host a special program on BBC Radio 2, which will include telecast performances. The Tonys will be seen throughout Canada live and time-delayed. In many countries, the Awards will be seen within a week of the event.For a complete list of the nominations and more info, go to: www.TonyAwards.com
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