November 10, 2011

Big buzz on campus

Tommy Tune, Broadway superstar, has been working away quietly at the University of Miami, applying the talent and vision that helped win him nine Tony Awards to a new show about the heyday of Studio 54 .  IMG_Tommy_Tune.JPG_2_1_UP2KORPIWorking with playwright Mark Saltzman, the soft-spoken Tune has channeled personal memories and impressions of his one-time hangout into Fifty*Four*Forever, a disco-driven snapshot of the late-'70s club that was, for a time, the hottest see-and-be-seen place on the planet.

Tune, Saltzman and their collaborators workshopped the piece last January at UM's Department of Theatre Arts, where chairman Henry Fonte has busily forged alliances between the worlds of professional and educational theater since assuming his post last year.  Now, Fifty*Four*Forever has reached its second phase, as a fully produced musical at the Jerry Herman Ring Theatre.  Running for only 10 days,the piece is both a buzz-generating university event and (because Tune has invited theater pals to come south to see it) a flashy version of a backers' audition for a potential New York production.

54 Forever_4The UM show features an all-student cast, young actors who roamed the Ring before Wednesday's opening performance, chatting happily with audience members and saying just how much they have loved working with Tune.   In addition to what they've learned from their famous director and playwright Saltzman, they've watched as the production's other seasoned theater pros, including set designer Roger Hanna, costume designer Dona Granata, choreographer David Warren Gibson, musical director Greg Brown and lighting designer Eric Haugen, resurrected a place, a style and an era.

Undoubtedly, if Fifty*Four*Forever has a future life, it will continue to evolve.  The UM version runs just 70 minutes.  And as good as many of the students are, experienced professional actors would bring their own magic to the musical.  (Note that we don't review student performers unless, as in the recent Arsht Center-UM collaboration on The House of Bernarda Alba, they're being paid for their work.)

54 Forever_1The opening-night audience didn't just like the musical: They adored it. Lots of the Ring patrons, including smiling seniors (that's senior citizens, not college seniors), looked a little let down when the show ended.  The sexy musical's disco-song mix (including Hustle, Funkytown, Love to Love You Baby, YMCA) got them moving and grooving, and they didn't want to stop.

So what about a future for Fifty*Four*Forever?  Again, because this isn't a professional out-of-town tryout, we'll pass on a review.  But as the creative team goes forward, a few thoughts:  Saltzman has chosen to write Rubell's rise-and-fall story in verse, which presented a challenge for the young actors and led occasionally to awkward/clunky rhymes. Sticking with straightforward dialogue would work just fine.

The show's one original song, Lament for Three Jersey Girls (by composer Jeffrey Saver and lyricist Stephen Cole), is terrific, theatrical and funny. More like that, please.

Tune's inspired touch is all over the show.  I'm thinking particularly of the duet between the undercover FBI agent and his sexy blond boss, the two taking athletically seductive twirls around a pole as they sing.  Muy, muy caliente.

Fifty*Four*Forever is at the Ring, 1312 Miller Dr. on the UM campus, through Nov. 19. Remaining performances are 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday.  Tickets are $25 Friday-Saturday evening, $22 for other shows (discounts for UM faculty, staff, alumni and students).  For info, call 305-284-3355 or visit the Ring web site.

(Miami Herald photo of Tommy Tune and Mark Saltzman by Arkasha Stevenson; Fifty*Four*Forever photos by Kent Lantaff.)






August 26, 2011

Menzel, Esparza coming to Arsht Center

Idina photo A pair of Broadway stars, Idina Menzel and Raúl Esparza, will give concerts this season at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts.

First up is Menzel, the Tony Award-winning star of Wicked -- she was the complicated green heroine Elphaba in the original Broadway production.  And she played Rachel's lookalike mom on Fox's Glee

With a full orchestra, Menzel will perform at 8 p.m. Dec. 3 in the Knight Concert Hall, singing rock, pop, jazz and Broadway songs.  Last spring, her hubby (Practice star Taye Diggs, whom she met when the two were in the original cast of Rent) performed his nightclub show at the Arsht's Prelude by Barton G.  Now it's Menzel's turn.

Act07 Babalu Dade CWG Also headed to the Arsht is Esparza, the Miami-raised star who stole the show in Babalu and performed at the Arsht's five-year anniversary celebration.  At his 8 p.m. concert Feb. 11, 2012, the four-time Tony nominee will perform the show that won him raves at Lincoln Center this past season, singing everything from Cuban music to Broadway songs.

Tickets for each concert range from $50 to $125.  They go on sale to Arsht Center members on Monday, to the public on Sept. 18.  The Arsht is located at 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami.  For information (starting Monday), phone the Arsht box office at 305-949-6722 or visit the center's web site.

April 26, 2011

'Memphis' moves from stage to screen

Memphis%2069 Memphis, with a book by Joe DiPietro and score by David Bryan, won the Tony Award as best musical almost a year ago.  It's still going strong on Broadway, and it will launch a national tour -- in Memphis, where else? -- in October.  But you don't have to go to New York or wait 'til the show makes its way to South Florida to see it.

National CineMedia Fathom and Broadway Worldwide are bringing four showings of an HD version of Memphis to more than 530 movie screens around the United States, starting this Thursday and ending May 3.  And many of those screens are in South Florida.

Much like the Metropolitan Opera's Fathom moviecasts, Memphis will bring its tale of a white DJ who falls in love with a powerful black singer in segregated 1950s Memphis to theater fans who don't mind paying $20 -- more than the price of a movie ticket, but considerably less than the charge for seeing the live show on Broadway -- for a visual experience that is a hybrid of film and theater.  And you'll get to see original stars Chad Kimball and Montego Glover do their dazzling thing.

Memphis is one of the earliest splashes in a gathering wave of stage-to-screen experiences.  This is not, it should be emphasized, a movie musical based on a Broadway hit, ala Chicago or Hairspray. Those are thoroughly reworked, recast and shot as movies. This Memphis is an HD version of the show as performed on Broadway.  Which raises the question:  Is it theater? A movie? Or that hybrid?

I vote hybrid.  Before writing a feature story on The House Theatre of Chicago's The Sparrow, which winds up its run in the Carnival Studio Theater at Miami's Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts this weekend, I watched a DVD of the piece shot during a Chicago performance.  Last Saturday, I went to see a live performance of it at the Arsht.  For me, that was a far superior experience -- more involving, more exciting, much more moving.  Part of the theatrical experience is the emotional give-and-take between actors and audiences, something that cannot happen in a movie theater, regardless of how strongly a moviegoer reacts to what he or she is watching.

But love it or not, the wave is coming, led by Memphis.  Screenings at various theaters are at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Saturday and May 3, and at 12:30 p.m. on Sunday.  For a list of theaters and to buy advance tickets, visit the Fathom Events web site.

March 09, 2011

Revues celebrate Herman, Gershwins

The sounds of great Broadway composers -- Jerry Herman and the Gershwin brothers, George and Ira -- will fill the Aventura Arts & Cultural Center and Fort Lauderdale's Parker Playhouse through Sunday.

III3UT0_Jerry_Herman_jpg_06-14-2009_2 First up is A Grand Tour: The Songs of Jerry Herman opening tonight at 8 in Aventura.  Part of the center's Melodies and Memories series, the show features Broadway performer Sal Viviano, guest starring alongside South Florida singer-actors.  The University of Miami grad and namesake of the school's Jerry Herman Ring Theatre is the only composer-lyricist to have had three musicals that ran more than 1,500 consecutive performances.  From his smash hits, which include Mame, La Cage aux Folles and Hello, Dolly, the cast will sing everything from the rousing Before the Parade Passes By and The Best of Times Is Now to the pensive If He Walked Into My Life and Time Heals Everything.

Performances of A Grand Tour are 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 7 p.m. Sunday and 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday.  Tickets are $32, and the center is located at 3385 NE 188th St., Aventura.  Call 954-462-0222 (the Broward Center's box office handles phone sales) or visit the center's web site.

SWonderful 2- credit Carol Rosegg Beginning Thursday, the national tour of S'Wonderful brings the music of George and Ira Gershwin to the stage of the Parker Playhouse.  Through five "mini-musicals," the revue takes theatergoers from New York in 1916 to Paris in the '30s, Hollywood in the '40s, New Orleans in the '50s to the present day.  Songs in the show include Someone To Watch Over Me, Rhapsody in Blue, Shall We Dance and Let's Call the Whole Thing Off.

Performances are 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday at the Parker, 707 NE Eighth St., Fort Lauderdale.  Tickets are $29-$49.  Call 954-462-0222 or visit the theater's web site.

(S'Wonderful photo by Carol Rosegg)

February 08, 2011

January 11, 2011

Tony winners coming

Two Tony Award-winning actresses are headed to South Florida next month, one for a play festival, the other to perform her solo show and conduct a master class.

0102156118Arriving first is Frances Sternhagen, who returns to Florida Stage, where she starred in The Exact Center of the Universe in 2001.  Sternhagen's will be the marquee name during the company's fifth annual 1st Stage New Works Festival Feb. 3-6.  She'll participate in a reading of Israel Horovitz's new play Beverley(about a love triangle involving folks over 70) at 8 p.m. Feb. 5, and she'll also be interviewed about her career by artistic director Louis Tyrrell at 7 p.m. Feb. 4.

Tickets to the festival range from $25 for a day pass to $100 for all festival events, which includes seven play readings, two panels, the Sternhagen interview and a party.  Florida Stage is in the Kravis Center, 701 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach.  For info, call 1-800-514-3837 or visit the theater's web site.

_BPS2066Also headed to South Florida is Tony winner Donna McKechnie, the dynamic actress and dancer who originated the star part of Cassie in A Chorus Line.  McKechnie will do three performances of her solo show, My Musical Comedy Life, at the PlayGround Theatre Feb. 12-13.  She'll also conduct a master class for students 15 and older at the theater from 4 to 7 p.m. Feb. 7.  Participation is limited, and there's a $35 fee.  McKechnie's director, part-time South Florida resident Richard Jay-Alexander, will also offer a pair of student workshops on Feb. 19 -- one from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. for students 7-13, the other from 2 to 5 p.m. for students 14-17.  The fee for those sessions is $30.

McKechnie will perform her show at 8 p.m. Feb. 12, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Feb. 13 at the PlayGround, 9806 NE Second Ave., Miami Shores.  Tickets are $50 and $100 for opening night (the higher price is for premium seating and an after party), $30 for the matinee, $45 for the Sunday night show.  For information, call 305-751-9550 or visit the PlayGround web site or Ticketmaster.

October 26, 2010

UM's Joshua Henry is a rising star

Henry 285 Joshua Henry hasn't been out of the University of Miami all that long -- he graduated in 2006 -- but the 26-year-old actor is forging an ascendant career.  He played the boyfriend of Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson in the first Sex and the City Movie, was part of the ensemble (and understudied the leading role of Benny) in the Tony Award-winning musical In the Heights, and got the showy role of the buff military recruiter in American Idiot

But on Sunday at Broadway's Lyceum Theatre, Henry's life in the theater jumps to a whole new level with the opening of The Scottsboro Boys, the final musical by the team that wrote the edgy scores for Cabaret and Chicago, John Kander and Fred Ebb.

Henry stars as Haywood Patterson, one of nine young black men falsely accused of raping two white women aboard a train in 1931.  The case of the "Scottsboro Boys," as the nine were called (Scottsboro was the Alabama town in which they were first tried, in front of an all-white jury after being held incommunicado), became both infamous and precedent-setting, reaching the U.S. Supreme Court.  Nonetheless, despite the fact that one of the defendants' two accusers recanted and said the rapes hadn't happened. Patterson was convicted in four separate trials, sentenced to death after each of the first three.

That's plenty of real-life drama, but Kander and Ebb (plus playwright David Thompson) take The Scottsboro Boys into another realm by styling the story as a minstrel show.  Tony Award winner Susan Stroman is the director and choreographer of a piece that composer Kander saw through to completion the 2004 death of his longtime lyricist-collaborator Ebb.

 Henry's grand opening night begins at 6:30 p.m. Sunday.  If you're New York-bound, you should know the show goes on at 8 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday-Sunday at the Lyceum, 149 W. 45th St.  Tickets are $39.50-$131.50.  Call 1-800-432-7250 or visit the Telecharge web site to order.  For more on the musical, visit the Scottsboro Boys site.



October 01, 2010

'Follies' at the Caldwell

FOLLIES POSTER PLAIN After great success with its concert versions of Stephen Sondheim's Sunday in the Park With George and Into the Woods -- presentations that have just earned it a Silver Palm Award, to be presented at the closing night party of this year's South Florida Theatre Festival Oct. 25 -- the Caldwell Theater Company is again exploring the Sondheim catalog with a concert version of Follies.

With a book by James Goldman, music and lyrics by Sondheim, and original direction by Harold Prince, the 1971 Follies takes place during the reunion of former follies performers, its flashbacks full of youthful dreams, its reunion scenes full of disillusionment and regret.  Its beautiful score includes Broadway Baby, I'm Still Here and the exquisite Losing My Mind.

Again helmed by Caldwell artistic director Clive Cholerton, the concert features some of the region's finest musical theater talent: Laura Hodos, Wayne LeGette, Melissa Minyard, Stephen G. Anthony, Meghan Colleen Moroney, Jeanne Bennett, Lourelene Snedeker, Nicole Niefeld, John Debkowski, Kevin Healey, Colleen Amaya, Melanie Leibner and Joey Zangardi.

There are just four performances of Follies at the Caldwell, 7901 N. Federal Hwy. in Boca Raton.  See it at 8 p.m. tonight or Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday or Sunday.  Tickets are $25 and $35 ($10 for students).  Call 1-877-245-7432 or visit the Caldwell web site for info.

(Follies poster by Michael McKeever)

May 24, 2010

Lights to dim for a critic

Michael_Kuchwara Michael Kuchwara, the Associated Press drama critic for the past 26 years, died late Saturday at the age of 63.  Complications from a lung disease claimed his life, though he kept working until a few weeks ago, when his review of the Off-Broadway musical The Kid became the last of the hundreds -- actually, make that thousands -- he wrote.

Broadway will dim its lights in Kuchwara's memory for one minute at 7 p.m. Tuesday.  Theaters honoring a critic? Not so unusual, at least in this case:  Kuchwara, whose criticism was read all over the United States, was a smart, fair-minded writer.  Even Pulitzer Prize winner Edward Albee, generally no fan of critics, thought so, telling the AP:  "There's so little good in a theater predominantly involved with commerce and popularity as opposed to excellence, that the loss of an intelligent and perceptive critic like Michael Kuchwara is an especially sad note.''

I ran into Kuchwara a few times in the course of covering Broadway over the years. He was always warm, encouraging, interested in talking about theater.  He was a fine critic -- and a fine man.

May 21, 2010

Starry Broadway

It's a balmy spring in New York, and as the flowers pop up along Fifth Avenue, celebrities are turing out for Broadway shows in the run-up to the Tony Awards on June 13.  I'm in Manhattan seeing shows, doing interviews -- and, like every other Broadway-crazy tourist, doing some star-gazing.

The hot Broadway revival of August Wilson's Fences (with Denzel Washington giving a powerful, charismatic performance as a flawed husband and father), has been open since April 26.  But Washington's star power and the show's limited run are drawing star-filled sellout crowds to the Cort Theatre.  At Wednesday night's performance, everyone got a crazy mini-opening night experience.  Jorge Garcia of Lost and Matthew Morrison of Glee occupied aisle seats, as did rocker-actor Lenny Kravitz and daughter Zoe. Just before showtime, the crowd started screaming, turning into cell phone paparazzi. First, music legend Aretha Franklin arrived.  Then things got even crazier as Will Smith and wife Jada Pinkett-Smith(accompanied by XXXL-sized bodyguards) showed up. That the Tony-nominated Washington, costar Viola Davisand the rest of a superb cast could still deliver an electric performance of Wilson's Pulitzer Prize-winning play -- and to a largely silent, rapt crowd -- was a miracle.  I've been to several celeb-packed Broadway opening nights, but I've never experienced anything like Wednesday night at Fences.

Thursday was a little less celebrity-intensive, but not by much.  I had lunch with Raul Esparza and Lucie Arnaz, to chat about Babalu, the show celebrating the music of Lucie's dad, TV legend Desi Arnaz.  It comes to Miami's Arsht Center in July.  Later, I interviewed Miamians (and best pals) Katie Finneran (Tony-nominated for Promises, Promises) and Andrea Burns (still in the Tony-winning Broadway smash In the Heights).

Walking to the John Golden Theater to see John Logan's Tony-nominated play Red (with Alfred Molina giving an intense, dazzling performance as artist Mark Rothko), I passed Sex and the City star Cynthia Nixon and her education-activist partner, Christine Marinoni. At Red, Jason Sudeikis of Saturday Night Live slid into the row in front of me.  Then I went over to a party celebrating the Tony-nominated show Fela! (which I'm seeing tonight), and after a bit, Will Smith, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Jay-Z and Beyonce showed up.  Dance legend Bill T. Jones, Tony-nominated as best director and choreographer for Fela!, was there too.  But the out-of-town Tony voters who were guests at the party mostly stood around gawking as the super celebs (again protected by XXXL bodyguards) chatted with each other.

Now I'm headed out to the annual Drama League luncheon, to which Scarlett Johansson, Hugh Jackman, Daniel Craig, Nathan Lane, Christopher Walken -- and, well, a few dozen other bold-faced names are invited. If they all show up, I may go into a celebrity coma.