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The late Joseph Papp had a dream which was to bring free Shakespeare to the communities. His legacy lives and the commitment, to bring free Shakespearean plays to the community, and to strengthen audience engagement with the arts, via The Public Theater’s Mobile Unit continues and it’s still free.
The spring the free three-week tour to the five boroughs will present Henry V, directed by Robert O’Hara marking the mobile units eighth year (March 29 – April 21) and will feature original music by Elisheba Ittoop. Making the tour mobile allows the team to literally bring the work to audiences who have limited or no access to the arts by visiting correctional facilities, homeless shelters, social service organizations, and other community venues. Part of The Public’s Astor Anniversary Season at their landmark downtown home on Lafayette Street, celebrating 50 years of new work at 425 Lafayette Street and the 50th Anniversary of HAIR, the three-week engagement at The Public Theater will also be free, running Monday, April 23 through Sunday, May 13 with an official press opening on Friday, April 27.
“The Mobile Unit is fueled by an unwavering belief in the power of a shared storytelling, and a commitment to meeting audiences where they are,” said Director of Special Artistic Projects Stephanie Ybarra. “I’m thrilled to welcome this company of artists to join The Public’s decades-old legacy of creating world-class theater for the city of New York.”
The casting of all the plays produced at the Public Theater is tremendous, and the Henry V cast includes Michael Bradley Cohen (Canterbury/Dauphin), Leland Fowler (Scroop/William-Bates), Patrice Johnson (Montjoy/Messengers), Carolyn Kettig (Katharine/Cambridge), Ariel Shafir (Westmoreland/Constable), David Ryan Smith (Exeter/Governor), Joe Tapper (French King/French Queen), Zenzi Williams (Henry), and Kim Wong (Alice/Grey).
Directed by Robert O’Hara the story is about the warring King and their band of brothers to communities all across New York with the Mobile Unit’s spring production of Henry V. Insulted by the regent of France, Britain’s King Henry V decide to wage war and claim the throne across the Channel. But Henry’s charm only distracts the soldiers for so long before the dire stakes of their task call into question the King’s true motives and direction. Resonating from across the centuries—wherever there may be a kingdom for a stage, and royalty to act—Shakespeare’s drama about an invasion, ego, and leadership delves into history’s thorniest questions: What makes a person worthy of wearing the crown, and what do they owe the people they lead?
All tour performances are free, and performances at The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center; Roy Wilkins Recreation Center; The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts; Brownsville Recreation Center; Williamsbridge Oval Recreation Center; St. Paul’s Chapel; Pelham Fritz Recreation Center; and Faber Park Field House, are also open to the general public via RSVP.
For more information, visit www.publictheater.org.
Production photographs by Jerry Dalia
Paper Mill Playhouse (22 Brookside Drive, Millburn, NJ) scores again – and with a side-splitting comedy of errors (and fun nonsense), The work is the East Coast premiere of Paul Slade Smith’s biting political satire The Outsider (running through February 18).
The Outsider premiered in 2015 at Peninsula Players, Milwaukee, where it won a Best Play award. The play is described as “a timely and hilarious send-up of modern American politics, in the midst of a political scandal” and “a razor-sharp satire and an inspirational tribute to democracy.” Smith’s comedy of errors surrounds a governor forced out of office in the midst of a sex scandal and how his lieutenant governor, Ned Newley is thrown into the spotlight. Though the brains behind the governor, he possesses no political instincts and a paralyzing fear of public speaking. At his swearing in, he can hardly repeat the oath of office. He’s quickly perceived as the worst candidate ever – one sure to lose a special election. He has to be made over. Arriving to the aid of his chief of staff are a smart political consultant and a once-powerful national candidate groomer. Add to the mix, the last-available temp to be a receptionist, a TV reporter who’s told to not to ask hard-ball questions, and her one-syllable speaking cameraman. Newley, unknowingly eventually becomes a powerful presence, but, and here’s the clever twist, he’s no longer the worst candidate ever.
Connecticut-native Smith’s play Unnecessary Farce, has received 250 productions worldwide. And get this: as an actor he’s appeared on Broadway in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Finding Neverland. In addition, he’s toured in Wicked and Phantom of the Opera and worked extensively in major regionals. In a program note about the difficulties of playwrights getting new works produced, he compliments Paper Mill for taking “a gamble” putting his play up and thanks “the incredibly talented cast.”
Good for him. Often we hear actors state, “It’s all on the page.” True, and especially here it’s how actors, collaborating with their director – in this case, the invaluable David Esbjornson, superbly interpret what’s on the page.Esbjornson, chair of the Rutgers Theater Conservatory and former artistic director, Classic Stage Company, had his deft hand behind the original Driving Miss Daisy, works by Albee and Miller, and the Public’s 2004 premiere of Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart. He was chosen by San Francisco’s Eureka Theatre artistic directors Oskar Eustis and Tony Taccone to helm the 1991 world premiere of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America: Millennium Approaches and Perestroika. Smith is doubly-blessed. There’s the gifted ensemble, headlined by Paper Mill favorite Lenny Wolpe, whose career has proven he can do anything. Bumbling comedy seems to be a new addition to his resume, and, here, he bumbles, mumbles, and stutters into one of the best and certainly memorable performances of his career.
Wolpe, in his sixth Paper Mill outing [which includes an acclaimed Herbie opposite Betty Buckley in Gypsy], originated Broadway roles in Bullets Over Broadway, The Drowsy Chaperone, and Mayor; and has a long-list of Off Broadway, regional, tour, and TV credits.
He and the play benefit from veteran regional actress [making her Paper Mill and, probably, her East Coast] debut, Erin Noel Grennan as the temp who’s never held down a position for more than a day. She’s highborn to the manor of scatterbrain comedy in the way of Judy Holiday in Born Yesterday and, when it comes to the phone and intercom, the ineptness of Carol Burnett’s Mrs. Wiggins.As the consultant, welcome back Julia Duffy (Golden Globe and multiple Emmy-nominated co-star of TV’s Newhart, whose last Broadway role was in the 1978 revival of Kaufman and Hart’s Once in a Lifetime). Wolpe and Grennan might get all the laughs, but Duffy, along with Tony nominee Manoel Felciano (Tobias, John Doyle’s 2005 Sweeney Todd revival) as the chief of staff provide the much-needed sensible backbone.Also in his return to area stages is Drama Desk nominee Burke Moses (Gaston, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast) as the eager-to-be powerful again candidate-maker. With his tall statue, bass voice, and swagger, he brings to mind young Orson Welles.
Smith throws in a whiff of romance between the chief of staff and the TV reporter who doesn’t like to be told what to do, tall and slinky (especially in ten-inch heels and body-hugging couture) Kelley Curran (who made her Broadway debut understudying the five female roles in last season’s Present Laughter); and, as the cameraman, Mike Watson (Lee Dixon on Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black; numerous film and TV roles), who in the play’s poignant coda, proves to be anything but the silent type.While not earth-shaking, The Outsider has many assets. It’s sassy, light, fluffy fun. A vast array of self-flagellating lines by Wolpe and every move by Grennan had the opening night audience in stitches and thunderous applause. With all that’s happening day-in-and-day out in American politics, we certainly can use laughs.
To learn more, go to: www.PaperMill.org
The Nightmare Before Christmas isn’t just a movie. It’s what you get when you open your mailbox and find one of those long, drawn out Christmas letters, sometimes even from someone you like, that go into great detail about what has transpired in their lives – month by month by month by month.
So, even though the holiday season got off to an early start just before Halloween, it’s really getting humbug crazy now. The perfect anecdote is Stomping Ground Theatre and Gwen Arment’s “holiday” gift to all the Scrooges out there: Not Another Christmas Letter! – by Laura Bergquist (music) and Paul Cozby (book, lyrics, additional music).
Performances run through December 20 at historic Metro Baptist Church (410 West 40th Street, between Ninth and Tenth Avenues – across from Port Authority Bus Terminal).
Cozby describes this anti-holiday romp as “an original musical comedy unfolding in a series of comic and poignant vignettes. Four actors bring 46 characters to life, celebrating everything that drives us crazy about Christmas . . . and why we love it anyway. It’s fun and, yes, actually, heartwarming.”
Bergquist music directed Allegiance, and Jane Eyre; Off Broadway’s Daddy Long Legs and Jane Austen’s: Emma, as well as Sense and Sensibility at Chicago Shakespeare and Old Globe.
Former journalist Cozby is communications director of production company Fellowship for Performing Arts. He was associate producer of Rooms: A Rock Romance (directed by Scott Schwartz) and worked with Bert Draesel and Nancy Leeds on The Dancing Princess, a musical based on Judith Gwyn Brown’s children's book -- a finalist for the Eugene O'Neill Center National Musical Theater Workshop. The actors are Laura Darrell (Vineyard/Signature’s OCC-nominated Kid Victory by John Kander and Greg Pierce); Rob Richardson (Clinton; Jekyll and Hyde, revival; A Tale of Two Cities); Bret Shuford (Cirque du Soleil’s Paramour; Amazing Grace, Disney’s The Little Mermaid); and Catherine Walker (a Phoebe in the Tony-winning Best Musical, A Gentleman ‘s Guide to Love and Murder, the Ragtime revival, Mary Poppins).
Nick Demos is director/choreographer, with music direction by Brett Kristofferson.
Stomping Ground is a non-profit “creating a home away from home for the socially conscious - the creative artist who wants to make the world a better place, the writer whose work needs to be heard; and the individual who faces discrimination because of skin color, gender, sexual identity, economic status or religion.” Arment has segued from a musical stage career to teaching master classes and co-producing (including the Tony-nominated Come from Away).
Tickets for Not Another Christmas Letter! are $25 and available at www.StompingGroundNYC.com, where you’ll find performance schedules and more information.
The 29th edition of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS’ annual Gypsy of the Year Competition, held December 4 and 5 at the historic New Amsterdam Theatre, home of Disney’s Aladdin, shattered even the wildest expectations. A mind-boggling record amount of $5,609,211 -- $379,545 more than last December’s record tally. Thanks go to the hundreds of tireless volunteers in the Bucket Brigade and casts of 56 Broadway, Off Broadway, and touring shows and their amazingly generous audiences during the six –week fundraising period.
"This event, like our annual Easter Bonnet and Broadway Bares shows, honors the tireless work of the ensemble singers and dancers in theater, known as ‘gypsies,’" says BC/EFA executive director Tom Viola. "For two performances, more than 200 of Broadway’s and touring shows’ gypsies and special guests perform in celebration of the donations raised. The annual largesse of theatergoers is truly awesome." This year’s show was a big as any Broadway must-see with a huge contingent of pit singers, dressers, and costume, hair, make-up teams, and stage managers.The grand total was announced at the end of Tuesday’s matinee performance by Meteor Shower’s Laura Benanti, Keegan-Michael Key, Amy Schumer and Jeremy Shamos, who put on a virtual 20-minute slapstick and comic “bitch fest” routine that could easily lead to the dynamic foursome starring in a TV sit-com. Obviously, from Schumer and Benanti’s backbiting antics and the deadpan cut-ups of Shamos and Key, this is one cast that really gets along. Schumer and Key are making their Broadway debuts.The quartet also presented the awards to the top fundraisers and for best original performance. Returning to host for his 10th consecutive year was musical theater rapid-fire speaking everyman Seth Rudestsky, who again kept the packed house in stitches with his “deconstructions” of big musical numbers and those that sang [or talked] them.
Gypsy of the Year got off to a rousing start with School of Rock’s growing-taller-by-the-minute dynamo belter Amadi Chapata, Lea DeLaria, Cady Huffman, Lacretta, and Shakina Nayback headlining an amazingly energetic ensemble of 20 dancers and 12 off-stage vocalists celebrating the centennial of women gaining the right to vote in New York. The number was directed by Tony-winner Huffman and choreographed by Lorna Ventura.Tony-nominee for Best Musical Come From Away company members took top honors for best onstage presentation with a self-deprecating journey through Tony-nominated choreographer Kelly Devine’s efforts to create choreography for actors who couldn’t dance. The zinger segue had standbys doppleganging for the cast members and doing choreographic acrobatics and high jinks. The sequence was written and directed by cast member Sharon Wheatley, with chorography by Richard J. Hinds.The true spirit of the Christmas season was evoked by runner-up Aladdin, led by cast members Major Attaway (the new genie), Juwan Crawley, swing Angelo Soriano, and Deonte Warren sharing “O Come All Ye Faithful,” from Carols for a Cure 2017, the community’s annual holiday CD benefiting BC/EFA [available with previous season’s CDs at www.BroadwayCares.com], a soul-stirring, Yule-inspired compilation, that had some in tears, by Soriano, with additional lyrics from Tony-winner James Monroe Iglehart (original Genie, now portraying Thomas Jefferson and Lafayette in Hamilton). Soriano also directed, music directed, and choreographed. Start-to-finish, there was spectacular dancing and one dazzling moment after another. Especially memorable were members of the Cats company lived far beyond their nine lives and transitioned into feline zombies. Jessica Hendy wrote and directed, with music and lyrics by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Rod Temperton (Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”), pianist Ming Aldrich-Gan, and Hendy. Who says you can’t dance and sing live? Certainly not two-time Tony-nominee Charlotte d’Amboise, in the top echelon of our great dancers, brought the house down with her tale of being in Chicago and Sweet Charity at the same time, the latter as stand-by for Christina Applegate, who she was assured would never miss a performance -- and then proceeded to break her foot. A large contingent of actors representing touring shows number knocked the audience out with a standout number, directed and choreographed by Chaz Wolcott, to Sammy Davis Jr.’s rendition of Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse’s “Gonna Build a Mountain” from Stop the World – I Want to Get Off.
Hamilton’s Donald Webber Jr., accompanied by six dancers and guitarist Nate Brown, led a stirring mashup of Tupac Shakur’s “Thugz Mansion” and Sam Cooke’s “Change Gonna Come,” which explored police brutality and poverty, and the hope for a peaceful tomorrow.
It wasn’t all razzle-dazzle. Attaway and Come from Away’s Chad Kimball, Caesar Samayoa, and Sharon Wheatley spoke on BC/EFA’s nearly three decades of harnessing the theatrical community’s innate ability to overcome obstacles to help all races, all faiths; and finding the strength in united opposition to bigotry, intolerance, and governmental indifference across the country.
They noted how the Broadway Cares and the Actors Fund collaboration provides a safety net of social services across the country for those in the entertainment industry.
BC/EFA has provided more than $90- million in support to the Actors Fund’s HIV/AIDS Initiative, the Phyllis Newman Women’s Health Initiative, the Dancers’ Resource, addiction and recovery services, Artists Health Insurance Resource Center, and the Friedman Health Center for the Performing Arts, the only health center in NYC designed to address the primary and specialty needs of those in the entertainment industry and performing arts.Hamilton’s Javier Muñoz recalled how the theater community came together for the first Gypsy competition in 1989, “The AIDS epidemic had taken a staggering number of people in our community alone. People infected and affected by the virus lived in fear and desperate sadness, too often isolated and alone. No one had not been deeply affected in some way. For those too young to know anything of the disease other than today’s medications and services, count yourselves lucky.
It was, indeed, worse than anything you can imagine.”
He noted the frustration and anger about the epidemic was so widespread that something was needed to “remember what brought us all together. So we observed a moment of silence.” For 29 years, that moment has been to reflect, said Muñoz “on those we love who cannot be here and those whose voices still cannot be heard – not just because of AIDS but for a multitude of challenges.” He stated that many would not be here today without the lifesaving, life-altering support of Broadway Cares; and that many of the most vulnerable are worried about their rights, access to social services, and family and community’s safety.
The moment of silence is in contemplation of lives lost to and affected by HIV/AIDS, is included in every BC/EFA event. Muñoz closed, stating, “Let us now, together, take a moment to recommit to reaching beyond ourselves. To stand with those who need us most – and with each other – able, willing, and as ever, be compelled to do our part, however small, to ensure that all are embraced in times of crisis, isolation and injustice. No one is alone.”
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