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Photographs by: Christopher Duggan
The first annual Chita Rivera Awards, named in honor of 10-time Tony nominee and two-time winner Chita Rivera, who rose from the gypsy ensemble to stardom and one of theater’s most loved personalties, celebrated dance and choreographic excellence. They were hosted by Tony Award winner Bebe Neuwirth at the Hirschfeld Theatre.
Tommy Tune was presented with the inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award; Diane Paulus with the Award for Outstanding Contribution to Musical Theater as Director; and entrepreneur Antonio Vendome with the award for Outstanding Contribution to the Arts and Humanity.
Among theater notables making appearances were tony nominee Melissa Errico, Nikki M. James, Tony honoree Baayork Lee, veteran dancer Carmen de Lavaliade, Tony nominee Robert Fairchild, Tony winner and A Chorus Line nominee Priscilla Lopez, Tony winner Donna McKechnie, Chris Noth, Tony honoree and two-time nominee David Hyde Pierce, Tony nominee Lee Roy Reams, Tony nominee Sergio Trujillo, Tony-nominee Tony Yazback, four-time Tony winner Jerry Zaks, and four-time Tony nominee and Tony winner Karen Ziemba.
There were dance tributes to Rivera from the New York City Ballet, performing “America” from 1957’s West Side Story, her third original Broadway role and the one that first put her on the map, as the fiery Anita; American Dance Machine for the 21st Centrury; the Teen Company; and performances by the casts of A Bronx Tale, Tony-nominated Come from Away, and the recent Sweet Charity revival.
Nominators considered outstanding choreography, featured dancers and ensemble in shows on Broadway and Off Broadway, as well as, outstanding choreography in film, that opened in the 2016-2017 season. Nominations were determined by the designated nominating committees.
The Chitas were directed by four-time Tony- nominee Randy Skinner and produced by American Dance Machine for the 21st Century (ADM21), producing artistic director, Nikki Feirt Atkins, in association with Patricia Watt. For more information, visit www.ChitaRiveraAwards.com.
Outstanding Choreography in a Broadway Show * Andy Blankenbuehler, Bandstand Josh Bergasse, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Warren Carlyle, Hello Dolly! Peter Darling and Ellen Kane, Groundhog Day Kelly Devine, Come from Away Denis Jones, Holiday Inn Sergio Trujillo, A Bronx Tale
Ensemble, Broadway Show A Bronx Tale Bandstand Cats Come from Away Hello Dolly! Holiday Inn * Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812
Male Dancer, Broadway Show * Corbin Bleu, Holiday Inn John Bolton, Anastasia Max Clayton, Bandstand Tyler Hanes, Cats Ryan Kasprzak, Bandstand Ricky Ubeda, Cats
Female Dancer, Broadway Show Andrea Dotto, Bandstand Lora Lee Gayer, Holiday Inn Eloise Kropp, Cats Georgina Pazcoguin, Cats Emma Pfaeffle, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory * Megan Sikora, Holiday Inn Christine Cornish Smith, Cats Jaime Verazin, Bandstand
Choreography, Off-Broadway Show * Joshua Bergasse, Sweet Charity David Dorfman, Indecent Merete Muenter, The Golden Bride David Neumann, The Total Bent Misha Shields, Baghdaddy
Female Dancer, Off-Broadway Show Yesenia Ayala, Sweet Charity Asmeret Ghebremichael, Sweet Charity Nikka Graff Lanzarone, Sweet Charity Emily Padgett, Sweet Charity * Lyrica Woodruff, Finian's Rainbow
Male Dancer, Off-Broadway Show Ato Blankson-Wood, The Total Bent * Brandon Espinoza, Baghdaddy Curtis Wiley, The Total Bent Cody Williams, Sweet Charity Blake Zolfo, Kid Victory
TheatricalAnthony Van Laast, Beauty and the BeastMandy Moore, La La Land * Javier de Frutos, London RoadDanielle Flora, Tian Wang, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
DocumentarySusan Glatzer, director, Alive and KickingSteven Cantor, director, DancerTomer Heymann, director, Mr. Gaga*Linda Saffire, Adam Schlesinger, directors, Restless Creature
Olivier-winning Best Musical (West End) and Tony-nominated Best Musical Groundhog Day star, Olivier winning and three-time Tony nominee Andy Karl was feted Thursday, August 17 with a reception and Dan May oil portrait for Tony’s di Napoli Wall of Fame. Event producer was Valerie Smaldone.
Karl’s portrait is number 51 in a tradition that began in 2001 when Mamma Mia! cast members Carolee Carmello, Gina Ferrall, and Judy McLane were honored. But it was 2003 when the restaurant’s walls began getting really framed, with former Napoli bartender May portraits of Antonio Bandaras, Jeff Goldblum, Hugh Jackman, Chita Rivera, composer Stephen Schwartz, and Brooke Shields.
Groundhog Day won the 2017 Olivier Award for Best Musical and was nominated for seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical. The production, with book by Danny Rubin, who wrote the screenplay, and music and lyrics by Tim Minchin (Matilda), is based on the 1993 film of the same name about a cynical Pittsburgh TV weatherman, suddenly cursed to relive the same day over and over.
Karl (The Mystery of Edwin Drood [revival], Rocky, On the Twentieth Century [revival], Legally Blonde, 9 to 5, Jersey Boys, Altar Boys, Wicked, Saturday Night Fever) received his third Tony nod for his portrayal of Phil Connors, the role he created in the London world premiere. . Many will remember Karl as Sergeant Mike Dodds on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (Season 17). Bill Murray, a huge fan of Karl and the musical, originated the role onscreen. The 1993 film was voted “one of the 10-best comedies of all time” in a Total Film poll.
At the unveiling, Karl stated, “This has been one of the best experiences of my career. I’ve been surrounded by the great people in our cast, who have made this journey such a job.”
He invited co-star Barrett Doss and his 22 plus cast members to join him in a photo opt. Then, host, di Napoli GM Bruce Dimpflmaier, rolled out a huge birthday cake for a surprise celebration in advance of Karl’s August 28 birthday.
Karl signed poster of the portrait to be auctioned for the outreach programs of BC/EFA. Legally Bound, the live album which captures the December 2016 concert at Feinstein’s/ 54 by Karl and wife, Tony-nominee Orfeh [who was framed on the Wall of Fame in 2007], has just been released on Broadway Records.
The occasion of the portrait unveiling was bittersweet since it had just been announced Groundhog Day will end its run September 17 at the August Wilson Theatre. Plans are far a national tour and open-ended West End production.
Brandon Graham's comics inhabit a strange space. His work spans from other-worldly roadtrips (Multiple Warheads), to intergalactic wars (Prophet). His characters inhabit worlds decorated with annotations, hinting at stories yet untold or worlds beyond the gutters. Rather than having a building off in the distance be a mere piece of scenery, Graham will make a chart detailing events occurring on each floor as one of his characters looks on in the distance. He says he does this to stave off boredom while drawing. His art style is fluid, and he describes his colored work as resembling melted ice cream, but there is a clear sense of form and structure in his work. On Friday September 19, at the Society of Illustrators (128 E 63rd St, New York, NY 10065), Graham came to talk on the subject of censorship and how artists could overcome it.
Graham came to New York as part of his tour of the country with the comics podcast Inkstuds Radio, which is hosted by Robin McConnell. Graham and McConnell have been making their way from coast to coast talking to creators such as Rebecca Sugar, creator of the Cartoon Network show Steven Universe, Junko Mizuno, the author of bizarrely feminist comics like Little Fluffy Gigolo Pelu and Pure Trance, and Ed Brubaker, who’s run on Captain America laid the groundwork for the hugely successful Winter Solider film. During his talk, Graham recounted interviewing Rob Liefeld who’s 1990's action comic, Prophet, is now being re-imagined by Graham. Graham admired that even though Liefeld’s work is the butt of many jokes amongst comic fans today, Liefeld still creates, works hard, loves comics, and has a loving family. In attendance were myself, a young boy that was excited to hear that Graham recently worked on an episode of Adventure Time, your usual comic book store denizens, some artistic types, and students looking for advice or wisdom from someone who “made it.” While Graham did not offer much in the way of traditional Horatio Alger-esque advice, his observations on the artistic medium of comics were valuable.
Graham is tall to the point where once he was on the podium he had to stoop so he wouldn’t only see tops of our heads. His hair is blond and thinning, his eyes peaceful and almost languid. His voice is soft, belying a sharp tongue on Twitter and an eagle eye for talent. He has multiple tattoos, including one from his current book, Prophet, but his most prominent ink is an elephant’s head on his neck. Graham eschewed formality in his talk, and projected scenes from some of his favorite comics. Some were from his contemporaries, some from Europe, others from the States, some old some new, but all of it daring and imaginative work. Artists like Fil Barlow and Paul Pope emphasized Brandon’s love for strange cityscapes and environs full of life. Graham proudly wore his love of Japanese comics (manga) on his sleeve. Atsushi Kamijo’s To-Y, a 1980’s manga about a punk band was one of Graham’s favorite examples, showing the importance of a good character introduction. Akira Toriyama’s comically manic Dr. Slump has a character wielding an exclamation point from their own talk-bubble as a weapon. Graham spoke highly of the dream-like landscapes of Japanese girl’s comics that portray the world not as it is, but as the heroine perceives it. For Graham, there was no clear separation between manga and western comics. To him, both had valuable lessons on how to tell a story. Graham still hadn’t said anything on the subject of censorship, though.
Graham continuously showed work from two particular artists; Masamune Shirow, and Matt Howarth. Shirow is considered a big name among fans of Japanese animation and comics, where his hyper detailed machines and tough as nails heroines in works such as Appleseed and Ghost in the Shell have made him a vanguard for manga and anime outside Japan. Howarth is an underground comic artist known for Savage Henry and Those Annoying Post Bros., whose work is bizarre, rough and experimental, a hallmark of Heavy Metal era comics. One of Graham’s favorite examples of Howarth’s work was a time traveling comic that is meant to be cut and pasted onto a strip of paper and turned into a mobius strip. A knife fight from Shirow's Appleseed was deeply coveted by a young Graham for its fluid motion. Shirow’s work is elegant, precise, detailed, and displays keen technical prowess with a pen.
I was left wondering why Graham kept returning to these two artists. While he never said as much, I couldn’t help but think of how these two artistic polarities made Graham into the artist he is today. Shirow embodies Graham’s technical eye for composition and form, with the occasional jaunt into cheesecake territory, though Graham laments Shirow’s current work being nothing but cheesecake. Graham’s work ethic was described by a host at the Society as “workman,” but I see a more punk ethic that Graham has culled from work like Howarth’s. Graham gets pages done no matter what, even when he was fighting testicular cancer (Graham recounted making an editor back off on changing one of his covers by signing a letter of protest as “serious as cancer”), but also staying true to an artistic vision that is purely his own. There was still no mention of the subject of censorship.
Graham had no prophetic final world, no last grand sweeping statement. There was only a quiet and sincere appreciation for the storytelling possibilities of comics. What was advertised as a discussion about censorship became Graham simply giving an ode to comics. When Graham was asked during the Q&A to say a few words on censorship, he simply stated that the more like he felt he was going to get away with printing something, the more likely he would. At this point, it’d be fairly difficult to put any kind of fear of censorship or reprieval into a former graffiti artist and a cancer survivor. There is only the drive to create.
You can follow Renzo on Twitter @RenzoAdler or email at
James Franco cuddled with a kitty in Shubert Alley Saturday afternoon. “I’m a cat person,” he admitted, looking enamored of the adorable kitten he held gingerly. Franco co-hosted Broadway Barks, the annual pet adoption event that took place in the alley between 44th and 45 Streets in the heart of the theater district. Later Franco stroked a portly Shih Tzu while Jessie Mueller, the Tony winner for “Beautiful – The Carol King Musical,” sang “Chains of Love” surrounded by fluffy puppies.
The ubiquitous actor-writer-director-artist-professor, took a break from his starring role in “Of Mice and Men” to co-host the annual pet adoption event with theater legend Bernadette Peters, who founded the event with Mary Tyler Moore. And he did his hosting duties for the doggie/cat event with more energy and passion than when he hosted the Oscars with Anne Hathaway a few years back.
This was the 16th-anniversary of the organization, which has been successful in finding homes for rescue and shelter pets, most with very sad stories. This event attracts the hottest stars on Broadway, who cajole and plead with the crowd to take home a worthy pet.
Six-time Tony winner Audra McDonald, a big animal lover, who has a scene in “Lady Day at Emerson Bar & Grill” with an adorable mini-mix rescue pup, created major excitement when she made an appearance between her two shows. “How do you even do that?” Franco asked awed of the Broadway star. He meant how do you win that many Tonys.
It takes a lot to upstage the popular McDonald, but an adorable mutt with a sad story of being abandoned by his hard-hearted owner did just that.
The festivities began at 3 p.m. where all the adoptable dogs and cats were available for a meet and greet. Then from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Broadway celebrities took to the stage to introduce the adoptable animals from the various shelters and to encourage the audience to fill out application papers.
The Broadway stars who cuddled, cooed and smooched with the adoptable cuties included Zach Braff, Marin Mazzie (“Bullets Over Broadway”), Norm Lewis (“The Phantom of the Opera”), Danny Burstein, Linda Emond (“Cabaret”), Jessie Mueller (“Beautiful- The Carole King Musical”), Sarah Greene (“The Cripple of Inishmaan”), Bebe Neuwirth, Jim Norton (“Of Mice and Men”), Will Swenson ("Les Miserables”), Andy Karl and Margo Seibert (“Rocky”).
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