April 04, 2010

On Sondheim, a season and the Carbonells

People_Stephen_Sondheim_NYET614Stephen Sondheim celebrated his 80th birthday on March 22, and because theaters like to celebrate significant birthdays of great artists, lots of Sondheim-centric productions, readings and events are happening this season.

Already in New York, the new revue Sondheim on Sondheim (starring Barbara Cook, Vanessa Williams and Tom Wopat) has opened at Studio 54, where it runs through June 13.  Catherine Zeta-Jones and Angela Lansbury are at Broadway's Walter Kerr Theatre starring in A Little Night Musicby Sonheim and Hugh Wheeler.  And on Thursday at Manhattan's City Center, an Encores! presentation of the Sondheim-Arthur Laurents musical Anyone Can Whistle(starring Miami's Raúl Esparza, Sutton Foster and Donna Murphy) starts performances through April 11.

South Florida isn't a place where Sondheim's work gets done often, but two Palm Beach County theaters are jumping on the birthday bandwagon.

A production of the Sondheim-John Weidman musical Assassins by the new Slow Burn Theatre Company will run April 29-May 5 at the West Boca Performing Arts Theatre (the place where New Vista Theatre performed before its economy-related demise).  Larry Buzzeo, James Carrey, Clay Cartland, Elijah Davis, Christina Groom, Matthew Korinko, Zachary Schwartz, Stephanie Simon and Rick Pena have key roles in the brilliant piece about presidential assassins.  Performances are April 29 and May 6 at 7:30 p.m., April 30-May 1 and May 7-8 at 8 p.m., May 2 and May 9 at 2 p.m., with tickets priced at $25 ($20 for seniors, $15 for students). The show goes on in the performing space at West Boca High, 12811 W. Glades Rd. Call 954-323-7884 or visit Slow Burn's web site for info.

Boca Raton's Caldwell Theatre Company, meanwhile, has just put out a casting call for its Broadway Concert Series presentation of Into the Woods, Sondheim and James Lapine's musical about the darker side of fairy-tales. Some major roles have already been cast, with Margery Lowe, Wayne LeGette, Elizabeth Dimon, Jim Ballard and Laura Hodos set to participate.  Equity auditions by appointment happen April 26, and the show will be performed May 21-23.  The Caldwell, where Lisa Loomer's Distracted opens in two weeks, is at 7901 N. Federal Hwy.


Palm Beach Dramaworkshas just revealed its 11th season lineup, a nicely balanced selection of challenging, entertaining plays.  The 2010-2011 season begins with George Bernard Shaw's Candida Oct. 6-Nov. 21.  Then comes Mark St. Germain's Freud's Last Session(Dec. 15-Feb. 6), about a contentious meeting between Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis on the day England enters World War II.  Donald Margulies' Pulitzer Prize-winning Dinner With Friendswill run Feb. 23-April 17.  The season winds up with Martin McDonagh's funny, horrific The Beauty Queen of Leenane May 4-June 19, 2011. Palm Beach Dramaworks is at 322 Banyan Blvd., West Palm Beach.  Call 561-514-4042 or visit the web site for info.


Just a little over a week to go until the 34th annual Carbonell Awards ceremony takes place in the Amaturo Theater at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale.  South Florida theater's biggest night begins at 7:30 p.m. Monday, April 12, with tickets priced at $25.  It will be followed by an after-party at Revolution Live, 200 W. Broward Blvd., from about 10 p.m. to midnight.  Anyone who goes to the Carbonells gets into the party free with an awards show ticket stub. Call the Broward Centerbox office at 965-462-0222 for tickets, or get more info at the Carbonell Awards site.

This year's ceremony will again be directed by Amy London, who was just elected president of the Carbonell board and hired as the organization's executive director and fund-raiser, thanks to a grant from producer Jay Harris. Harris and public relations executive Savannah Whaley, who played major roles in keeping the awards program going after the death of Sun-Sentinel critic/Carbonell executive director Jack Zink, will step down after this year's event.

March 30, 2010

'Mamma Mia!' -- here it comes again

MMPhotoFifteenSmall Some Broadway musicals -- Phantom of the Opera or Les Misérables or Wicked, for example -- are so popular that they can return again and again to the same market, powered by an enduring appeal that can apparently sell an endless number of tickets.  Mamma Mia!, which opens at 8 tonight at Miami's Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, is in a class of its own as a Bedazzled box office behemoth. But not so much for me.

Now, I love ABBA songs as much as the next person.  I remember when the Swedish pop group, newly inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, first recorded them.  I loved them in Muriel's Wedding.  Heck, I even love them in Mamma Mia!.  I defy anyone to sit absolutely still in a theater seat when the cast sings Dancing Queen.  But that plot.  Spare me.  Watching a trio of middle-aged "girls" cavort around an idyllic Greek island (is there any other kind, even with Greece's financial crisis?) as an about-to-be-wed daughter tries to figure out which of three strange guys was her daddy struck me as silly-absurd-stupid the first time I saw Mamma Mia!.  And I've seen the show at least four times.  Five if you count the movie musical version.

The fact that the film has grossed more than $600 million and is the most successful movie musical of all time proves I'm in a tiny minority when it comes to resisting Mamma Mia!.  So if watching actors in an escapist romantic musical sing and dance to ABBA tunes is your thing, here's what you need to know about seeing Mamma Mia! at the Arsht:  It runs through Suunday, with performances at 8 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 7:30 p.m. Sunday, 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday.  Tickets run $25 to $75. It's playing in the Sanford and Dolores Ziff Ballet Opera House, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami. For tickets or more info, call 305-949-6722 or visit the web site.

November 10, 2009

Through the looking glass to Tampa

New plays are born all over the United States, but new musicals -- particularly those with Broadway aspirations (and face it, almost all of them fit that category) -- can have a tougher time finding a place to incubate.  They have larger creative teams, tend to have larger casts and are more expensive to produce than most plays.  Florida has rarely been a proving ground for new musicals, but the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center and its president Judith Lisi are aiming to change all that something called the Broadway Genesis Project and a $3 million production of Wonderland: Alice's New Musical Adventure.

Janet Dacal in recording studio - photo by Jeremy RobertsWith a score by Frank Wildhorn, lyrics by Jack Murphy, and a book by Murphy and director Gregory Boyd, the musical follows a contemporary, grown-up Alice into a New York Wonderland searching for her young daughter.  Its star is South Florida girl-turned-Broadway star Janet Dacal, whose most recent gig was in the world premiere of the Tony Award-winning In the Heights on Broadway.

Dacal, who graduated from Coral Park High School and Florida International University, isn't the only Wonderland talent with South Florida ties.  Wildhorn, who had three musicals running on Broadway 10 years ago (Jekyll & Hyde, The Scarlet Pimpernel and The Civil War), went to Hollywood Hills High School and attended the University of Miami before moving to California.

As with his other shows, Wildhorn has already released a concept recording of Wonderland: Alice's New Musical.  It features Dacal on several cuts, along with fellow cast members Jose Llana, Darren Ritchie, Nikki Snelson and Karen Mason, the Broadway-cabaret veteran who plays the Queen of Hearts. You can hear the music or buy the CD at the show's web site.

And, of course, if you're up for a road trip, you can catch the show before it moves on to Houston's Alley Theatre (where Boyd is the artistic director) and, just maybe, to Broadway.

Wonderland: Alice's New Musical Adventure previews at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center Nov. 24-Dec. 4, then has a gala opening Dec. 5.  It will run through Jan. 3, then play the Alley Jan. 15-Feb. 14.  Performances in Tampa are Tuesday-Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 and 7:30 p.m.  Preview tickets range from $23.50 to $52.50, and gala tickets are $250-$450.  Regular ticket prices -- $31.50-$72.50 -- kick in on Dec. 6.

For information, call 1-800-955-1045 or check out that Wonderland web site.

May 27, 2009

"In the Heights" on TV and the road

Creator00_heights_wknd_JM Just a quick late-afternoon heads up, in case the rainy day has you thinking TV tonight:  In the Heights creator and star Lin-Manuel Miranda (and his Tony Award-winning show) will be featured from 8 to 9 p.m. on PBS's Great Performances (Ch. 2 in South Florida).  Watch as Miranda talks about the evolution of a hit show that began as a college project at Wesleyan University.

In more Heights-related news, two South Florida actors have been cast in the show's touring company, which begins its journey around the country in Tampa in October.  Both Natalie Caruncho (who will understudy the young female leads) and Oscar Cheda (he'll fill in as the dad/car service owner and the piragua vendor) will be be part of a cast that will play Fort Lauderdale's Broward Center for the Performing Arts March 16-28, 2010.  The two will deepen South Florida's already strong connections to the show:  Musical director/arranger Alex Lacamoire won a Tony for his work on In the Heights, and former Miamians Janet Dacal, Andrea Burns, Carlos Gomez, Nina Lafarga, Tony Chiroldes, Joshua Henry and Afra Hines were all part of the original Broadway cast.

May 14, 2009

Raúl Esparza ties a Tony record

I'm in New York this week, seeing seven of the shows vying for various Tony Awards; taking the train out to the McCarter Theater in Princeton, N.J., to see Miami playwright Tarell McCraney's "Brother/Sister Plays" trilogy; doing various interviews (including chats with former South Floridian Marc Kudisch, Tony nominee for 9 to 5: The Musical, and Colombian hottie Sofia Vergara, soon to open in Miami in Chicago).  I'm alsoceleb-spotting:  In addition to the famous folks I'm watching onstage (Marcia Gay Harden, James Gandolfini, Jeff Daniels and Hope Davis, all Tony nominees for their work in Yasmina Reza's God of Carnage; a radiant if dance-challenged Allison Janney, another Tony contender, in 9 to 5), I saw former Alias star and Broadway veteran Victor Garber when I had dinner at Bond 45 last night.

Raul I also caught up with Raúl Esparza, the former Miamian who has become a Broadway star and frequent Tony nominee.  He's in contention again this year, this time for the leading actor in a play Tony for his searing performance in the now-closed revival of David Mamet's Speed-the-Plow.  And with that nomination, Esparzaties a record held by Boyd Gaines:  The two are the only actors to be nominated in every Tony category for which a male actor is eligible.  But Esparza did it faster.

Gaines, who has won four Tonys and was nominated for a fifth, won his first in 1989 for his featured performance in the play The Heidi Chronicles.  He won again in 1994, for his leading work in the revival of the musical She Loves Me; again in 2000, for his featured performance in the musical Contact; was nominated as lead actor in a play in 2007 for Journey's End; and won again in 2008 for his featured performance in the revival of the musical Gypsy.

Esparza has yet to take home a Tony, though it seems inevitable that, sooner or later, he will. He tied Gaines' record in just six rounds of Tony nominations:  in 2004, as featured actor in a musical for Taboo; in 2007, as leading actor in a musical for Company; in 2008, as featured actor in a play for The Homecoming; and this year as leading actor in a play for Speed-the-Plow, which got loads of press for Jeremy Piven's controversial early exit from the show (he said his docs said the mercury level in his blood was dangerously high).

Esparza and costar Elisabeth Moss (of TV's Mad Men) finished out the limited run, first opposite Norbert Leo Butz, then with Mamet veteran William H. Macy in Piven's role.  But Esparza got the stellar reviews and yet another Tony nomination.  He's not expecting to win -- he thinks the voters will go for Geoffrey Rush in Exit the King -- though of course he'd love to hear his name called when the winner is announced at Radio City Music Hall June 7.  He's already in rehearsals for his next show, the production of William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night at Central Park 's Delacorte Theater June 10-July 12 (he'll play Orsino to Anne Hathaway's Viola).

But no matter how it goes at this year's Tony ceremony, the versatile Esparza has every reason to savor his record-tying nomination.

May 04, 2009

Jerry Herman wins another Tony

Tny_nv_00000g1Nominations for the 63rd annual Tony Awards will be announced bright and early Tuesday morning by Sex and the City star Cynthia Nixon and In the Heights creator Lin-Manuel Miranda.  You can bet that the two former Tony winners (she got it for Rabbit Hole, he for Heights, which will hit South Florida next season) will look impossibly perky that ungodly hour when most normal theater folk are still fast asleep.

Jerry_Herman Jumping the gun in several non-competitive categories, the Tony folks on Monday announced the winners of four special awards.  The prestigious 2009 Tony for Lifetime Achievement goes to the University of Miami's own Jerry Herman, whose string of Broadway hits as a composer-lyricist includes Hello, Dolly! and Mame and La Cage aux Folles.  Herman, for whom UM's Ring Theatre is now named, is a member of the Theatre Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and he has already collected Tonys for Dolly! and La Cage. But this one has to be special.

EricEach year, the American Theatre Critics' Association offers the Tony committee a recommendation for the Regional Theatre Tony Award.  This year's winner is the Signature Theatre of Arlington, Va.  Under the artistic leadership of Eric Schaeffer, the 20-year-old company has turned its suburban Washington D.C. home into a place where new musicals are developed and where established musicals are freshly interpreted -- the work of Stephen Sondheim in particular. 

Also being honored at this year's Tonys is actress Phyllis Newman, who receives the new Isabelle Stevenson Award for her work raising more than $3.5 million for the Phyllis Newman Women's Health Initiative of the Actor's Fund of America.  And press agent Shirley Herz, a theater publicist for more than half a century, receives the Tony Honor for Excellence in the Theatre.

The Tonys will be broadcast from Radio City Music Hall on CBS-TV from 8 to 11 p.m. June 7.  For more information on the awards and nominations, visit the Tony Awards web site.

April 24, 2009

Seasons announced, altered; UM does "Dolly"

 The Raymond F. Kravis Center in West Palm Beach books its own Broadway series, and its big 2009-2010 lure is the same show that has been a sold-out bonanza for the Broward Center this season -- the Tony Award-winning Jersey Boys.

Four00_jerseyboys_wknd_JMThe Kravis on Broadway series begins Nov. 10-15 with the revival of Grease featuring American Idol winner Taylor Hicks.  Next comes the lavish, Tony-winning revival of South Pacific Jan. 5-10, followed by A Chorus Line Feb. 2-7, Jersey Boys March 10-28 and the dance show Burn the Floor May 4-9, 2010. 

Subscriptions range from $146 to $420, but sales to the general public don't begin until July 27.  Call 1-800-572-8471 or visit the Kravis web site.


Manalapan's Florida Stage has announced its summer musical, a theatrical concert titled Some Kind of Wonderful!by Bill Castellino and Christopher McGovern, the team behind the theater's recent hit Cagney!.  It's a collection of songs from the "Camelot" years of 1960-63, music made popular by Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Barbra Streisand, The Beatles, The Tempations, The Supremes, Connie Francis, Wilson Pickett, the Drifters, the Four Seasons and others.  The show runs July 1-Aug. 30, with previews at 8 p.m. July 1-2, 2 p.m. July 2.  Performances are 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Wednesday and Saturday-Sunday.  Tickets are $45 for matinees and week nights, $48 other shows (previews $38).  Call 1-800-514-3837 or visit the Florida Stage web site.

Florida Stage has also delayed next season's production of Deborah Zoe Laufer's Sirens;instead, the company will present Seth Rozin's new play Two Jews Walk into a War..., one of four world premires on its 2009-2010 lineup.  The company's next season begins with Rozin's play Oct. 21-Nov. 29, followed by Carter W. Lewis' The Storytelling Ability of a BoyDec. 9-Jan. 17, Israel Horovitz's Sins of the Mother Jan. 27-March 7, Dr. Radioby Castellino and McGovern March 24-May 2, and Christopher Demos-Brown's When the Sun Shone Brighter May 12-June 20, 2010.


HelloDollyRingPress The University of Miami is doing its big spring musical -- Hello, Dolly! -- at the theater named for UM grad and Dollycomposer Jerry Herman.  Leah Costello, Kaitlyn O'Neill and Gianmarco Soresi play Irene, Dolly and Cornelius in the show, which is at the Jerry Herman Ring Theatre, 1312 Miller Dr. on UM's Coral Gables campus, through May 2.

Performances are 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday.  Tickets are $18-$22 (seniors, faculty, staff and alumni pay $16-$18; students pay $8-$10).  For information, call 305-284-3355 or visit the Ring web site.

April 06, 2009

Spidey does Broadway

Spider man If Shrek can do it, so can Spider-Man.  The guy best known from comic books and mega-hit movies is coming to Broadway in January 2010.  And the cred of its creative team is pretty major --  music and lyrics by Bono and The Edge of U2 fame, direction by Tony Award winner Julie Taymor, script by Taymor and playwright Glen Berger.

On their to-do list:  find a cast.  To that end, Telsey + Company is doing casting calls in Orlando, New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago and Austin.  And Orlando's up first, this Thursday, April 9, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Orlando Marriott World Center, 8701 World Center Dr.

The team is looking for someone to play Peter Parker, aka Spider-Man; his girlfriend Mary Jane; and the lead female villain.  The first two should be 16 to 20-something, the bad gal from 25 to 35.  All need powerful rock voices.

For info, e-mail  SpiderManCasting@gmail.com or visit the show's web site.

March 24, 2009

For big bucks, big stars

Recession? What recession?  For New York's Roundabout Theatre Company, a glamorous and star-studded spring fundraiser dubbed "Take Me Back to Manhattan" is the only way to go -- especially with tickets priced from $1,500 (the evening's cheap seat) to $5,000.

Nathan lane The glitzy get-together, which takes place at 7 p.m. April 6, is hosted by Tony Award winner and former Producers star Nathan Lane (one of the stars of Roundabout's Waiting for Godotrevival), whose way with a quip guarantees many an unscripted zinger.  The company's well-heeled supporters will gather at the Roseland Ballroom, transformed into a nightclub circa 1940.

Tony-winning director Kathleen Marshall has created an original revue featuring the songs of Richard Rodgers, Cole Porter, Harold Arlen, Irving Berlin, Duke Ellington, George Gershwin and others.  And the talent scheduled to perform is, if you have the bucks, certainly worthy of $1,500 and up per person:  Audra McDonald, Boyd Gaines, Bill Irwin, Matthew Broderick, Cynthia Nixon, Richard Thomas, Michael Cerveris, Kelli O'Hara, Martha Plimpton, Jane Krakowski, Brooke Shields, Margaret Colin, Alec Baldwin, Mario Cantone, Denis O'Hare and South Florida's own Katie Finneran.

If you can be in New York that night, want to support the not-for-profit Roundabout and find the idea of an elegant throwback of an evening appealing, call Ashley Firestone at 212-719-9393 or visit the gala section of Roundabout's web site.

March 19, 2009

Losing Natasha Richardson

Natasha A sad story came to a tragic end on Wednesday when Natasha Richardson, a luminous actress who came from a distinguished family of actors, died after what at first seemed to be a minor tumble on a Montreal ski slope two days earlier.

Richardson -- granddaughter of Sir Michael Redgrave, daughter of Vanessa Redgrave and director Tony Richardson, niece of Lynn Redgrave and Corin Redgrave, sister of Nip/Tuck's Joely Richardson, wife of Liam Neeson and mother of two boys -- was 45, a woman with so much life and work ahead of her.  Her sudden passing is shattering for her family, a loss for anyone who had the pleasure of watching her work.

Richardson was rumored to be planning a return to Broadway in a revival of A Little Night Music next season.  She and her famous mother had done a benefit performance of the Stephen Sondheim musical in January, and that got the buzz going. 

I was fortunate enough to see three of the four New York shows in which Richardson starred:  1993's revival of Eugene O'Neill's Anna Christie, the show that brought Neeson into her life; 1998's revival of Cabaret, which brought her a Tony Award for her portrayal of a beautiful, plucky, ruined Sally Bowles; and Patrick Marber's Closer in 1999.  She made movies too, of course, everything from the fluff of The Parent Trap and Maid in Manhattan to the intensity of Suddenly, Last Summer and Asylum.

But above all (at least in her working life), Richardson was third-generation theater royalty.  Watching her on a stage was illuminating, absorbing, special.  And forever memorable.