Tuesday, June 29, 2010
LIZA with a Z is the baby boom generation's only true class-A diva. And like many of her age group, she's looking for new, inventive ways to make a living.
CURRENT GIG Selling jewelry and clothing on cable TV (HSN). Check out the video. (The velvet halter jumpsuit is only $79.90.)
BORN AND RAISED Los Angeles.
AVAILABILITY Divorced. (From Peter Allen, Jack Haley, Mark Gero and David Gest.)
BEST KNOWN FOR Her Oscar-winning role as the divinely decadent Sally Bowles in the movie version of "Cabaret" (1972). Health and substance-abuse problems. Just being her own divinely eccentric, excitable self.
USED TO BE BEST KNOWN FOR Being Judy Garland and Vincente Minnelli's daughter.
BROADWAY DEBUT "Flora the Red Menace" (1965), a Kander and Ebb musical about a wide-eyed young department store employee who joins the Communist Party. She was 19. She won a Tony.
MOVIE DEBUT "In the Good Old Summertime" (1949). She was the cute baby.
WHAT SHE'S DONE LATELY An over-the-top musical cameo in "Sex and the City 2."
WHY WE SUSPECT SHE'S A NICE PERSON Several years ago, just past the security check at the Atlanta airport, the founder of theatergossip.com was having trouble getting her wriggly little dog back into its carrier. The only person who came over and offered to help was a total stranger: Ms. Minnelli herself.
HOW SHE SEES HER REPUTATION AS A TRAIN WRECK "The way the public look at celebrities, if you're in trouble it makes them feel lucky."*
(*From a 1996 interview with The Guardian of London.)
NOTE: An earlier version of this post suggested that Minnelli sold only jewelry on HSN. But oh my, there are lots of clothes.
WANT MORE THEATERGOSSIP? Scroll on or search to meet the hunky-handsome Bobby Steggert of "The Grand Manner" and to learn about some important Broadway-Connecticut connections.
YOUNG Bobby Steggert is New York theater's newest cute-boy heartthrob. And just to prove there is a God, he's wildly talented too.
CURRENT GIG "The Grand Manner," playing the playwright A. R. Gurney's younger self, a star-struck 1948 prep-school student, the day he went backstage and met the great Katharine Cornell (Kate Burton).
WHAT THE TIMES THOUGHT Loved him, hated the play.
BORN AND RAISED Frederick, Md. (Frederick High School valedictorian, class of '99.)
ALMA MATER N.Y.U.
WHAT A YEAR! He was Tony-nominated for "Ragtime" (he played Younger Brother, the budding turn-of-the-century terrorist) and Drama Desk-nominated for both "Ragtime" and "Yank!" (a musical about a gay romance between World War II soldiers).
HIS DATE FOR THE TONYS His mother.
BROADWAY ROLE HE REALLY, REALLY WANTED The lead in "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying," being revived again next spring. But Daniel Radcliffe, a k a Harry Potter, got the part.
MOVIES AND TV? Not much. For a while in 2005, he was Sam Grey, a difficult Pine Valley 15-year-old, on "All My Children."
CLUE TO WHAT HE'S REALLY LIKE "I'm interested in characters who are complex and troubled, who are working through things and realizing strengths they never knew they had."*
*As told to Kathy Henderson, broadway.com.
"The Grand Manner," by A. R. Gurney, directed by Mark Lamos, Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, Lincoln Center, 150 West 65th Street, (212) 239-6200, lct.org. Opening night: June 27, 2010.
WANT MORE THEATER GOSSIP? Scroll on or search and learn why Michael Wilson's next move matters to Broadway, plus what the people behind "Next to Normal," "Memphis" and "Yank!" had to say over lunch at Sardi's.
Sunday, June 27, 2010
THE news was in The New York Times and on all the major theater Web sites last week. Michael Wilson, the 45-year-old artistic director of Hartford Stage, had announced that he'd be leaving his job at the end of the coming season.
"So what?" you say with your New York snobbery. "Where is Hartford anyway?"
Well, if you saw the Off Broadway production of the remarkable Horton Foote trilogy "The Orphan's Home Cycle" last season, you should know that it all began in Connecticut, a long two-and-a-half-hour drive from Manhattan, at Hartford Stage, where Wilson and Foote worked closely together until Foote's death in March 2009. The New York production received a special Drama Desk Award last month.
You should know that Wilson directed Foote's "Dividing the Estate" on Broadway, with a cast led by Elizabeth Ashley and Hallie Foote, then picked up the whole production and brought it to Hartford audiences just after its Broadway closing. (Ashley was the only major cast member who didn't come along, but God knows it's not that she thinks she's too good for regional theater. She's been a regular at Hartford Stage during Wilson's tenure.)
You should know that Wilson had already directed two other plays on Broadway: "Enchanted April," which also began life at Hartford Stage, and a revival of "Old Acquaintance." And that during his 12 years in Hartford, he mounted a major, decade-long Tennessee Williams retrospective.
And he's off to the big city again, doing Williams's drama "The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore," starring Olympia Dukakis, for the Roundabout Theater Company in January. Three guesses where that production began.*
*(See Sylviane Gold's New York Times review.)
WANT MORE THEATERGOSSIP? Scroll on or search and learn which star of "Memphis" goes around inventing words, what Douglas Hodge's private life is really like and where Katie Finneran and Angela Lansbury went to dinner together
Monday, June 21, 2010
A PRIVATE dining room full of theater critics and writers met on Friday to consider some serious topics: racism in the 1930s, racism in the 1950s, mental illness, gays in the military and gays cross-dressing for family dinners. As treated, that is, in "The Scottsboro Boys," "Memphis," "Next to Normal," "Yank!" and "La Cage aux Folles."
It was a Drama Desk luncheon and panel discussion, held in a fourth-floor room at Sardi's, the longtime theater industry hangout on West 44th Street. The official topic was "The Music Is the Message: Musicals on Topical Subjects." Scott Siegel, a critic for talkinbroadway.com and theatermania.com, moderated. As in most entertaining conversations, the participants often wandered off topic. Here are some of the things we heard.
1. "Jerry Herman's first question was 'Are they kissing at the end?' "
-- Christine Andreas, who plays Jacqueline in the current revival of "La Cage," talking about the greatest concern of the show's composer and lyricist about the first production (1983). Things have changed so much since then, she said. So when she speaks of the current production: "I say it's not a revival. It's kind of a revelation."
2. "Our stuff gets eaten up in a second by a good song."
-- David Thompson, who wrote the book of "The Scottsboro Boys," on the relative power of a political message as compared with a hummable tune.
3. "It doesn't sound like what lives in the mouth in the South."
-- Montego Glover, the Tennessee-born Drama Desk-award-winning star of "Memphis," on why she sometimes offered to help make the show's dialogue more authentic.
4. "The crazy idea of turning it into a minstrel show -- so awful. But Fred said that was the only way to go."
-- Thompson on his reaction and the late lyricist Fred Ebb's to a wild and crazy idea for staging the story of the Scottsboro Boys rape case in 1930s Alabama.
5. "New Jersey loves gay soldiers."
-- David Zellnik, who wrote the book and lyrics of "Yank!"
(Scott Siegel, the moderator, had just told an anecdote about another show that had been said to need "three audiences: the gay audience, the opera audience and all of New Jersey.")
6. "I loved the opening moment of 'Spamalot.' "
-- Tom Kitt, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "Next to Normal," proving that he's not serious all the time. But he was influenced, he said, by "Cabaret," "Hair," "Rent" and Stephen Sondheim, particularly "Follies."
7. "It's a better alternative to church."
-- Andreas, speaking of theater.
8. "Unless you grew up in a Baptist church."
-- Chad Kimball, the male star of "Memphis." (Of, by or having to do with producers or producing. He appeared to have coined the word that day.)
10. "Have we lost the David Merricks? Maybe we want to."
-- Jeffry Dunham, who choreographed "Yank" and played Artie, the newspaper guy, reflecting on the future of musical theater in general.
WANT MORE THEATERGOSSIP? Scroll on or search to check out the Tony winners Douglas Hodge, of "La Cage aux Folles," and Katie Finneran, of "Promises, Promises," our latest Gossip Guy and Girl of the Week.
Friday, June 18, 2010
WHAT HODGE THINKS ABOUT HIS CHARACTER "I was determined that no one would see my Albin as any kind of parody." He "shares the desperation and yearning of big Pinter characters." ("A Man of Pinter Sings in a Wig.")
WHAT THE TIMES THOUGHT "A bravura Broadway debut," Ben Brantley wrote. In the wake of numerous Albins on stage and screen, Hodge "brings a fluttery hyperintensity to the role that recharges it." ("Squint, and the World Is Beautiful.")
BORN AND RAISED England. Plymouth, in Devon, to be exact.
ALMA MATER RADA dropout. (Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.)
AVAILABILITY Long attached. He and Tessa Peake-Jones have two children and live near Oxford.
WHERE YOU MAY HAVE SEEN HIM The Russell Crowe "Robin Hood" this year (he was Sir Robert Loxley). The British TV "Middlemarch" shown here in 1994 (he was Dr. Tertius Lydgate).
WHAT HE'S DONE IN LONDON Lots of Harold Pinter, including "No Man's Land," "Moonlight" and "Betrayal," in the '90s. The same role in the West End's 2008 "La Cage aux Folles," for which he won an Olivier Award, the British equivalent of the Tony.
HOW HE GOT HIS START Celebrity impersonations. In his teens, he toured NATO bases doing them.
DEEP THOUGHTS ABOUT CROSS-DRESSING "At first the corset felt like an iron lung," he told vogue.com, "but now it keeps me anchored."*
"La Cage aux Folles," by Harvey Fierstein and Jerry Herman, based on a play by Jean Poiret, Longacre Theater, 220 West 48th Street, (212) 239-6200, telecharge.com. Opening night: April 18, 2010.
WANT MORE THEATERGOSSIP? Scroll on or search to see this week's eloquent Tony-winning Gossip Girl, to learn what some people don't like about Catherine Zeta-Jones's Desiree and ever so much more.
Thursday, June 17, 2010
CURRENT GIG "Promises, Promises," as Sean Hayes's very drunk and very eager bar pickup, Marge MacDougall. She won a Tony Award for it on Sunday night. (Best featured actress in a musical.)
WHAT THE TIMES THOUGHT In his review, Ben Brantley wrote, "A comic volcano named Katie Finneran erupts into molten hilarity."
WHAT THE TIMES THOUGHT, PART II In a follow-up item, Brantley wrote that Finneran "turns the state of being lonely, randy, sloppy and drunk into a precise comic ballet . . . [and] a show about the desperation of the swinging '60s come to full, uninhibited life for the first time."
BORN AND RAISED Chicago. Miami.
ALMA MATER Carnegie Mellon University dropout.
AVAILABILITY Freshly engaged.
BROADWAY DEBUT "Two Shakespearean Actors," a play set in 1849 New York City. She played an aspiring actress.
OTHER BROADWAY OUTINGS The nearsighted bimbo in "Noises Off" (2002), for which she won her first Tony. Cora, the prostitute with dreams, in "The Iceman Cometh" (1999). Sally Bowles in "Cabaret" (2000-01), right between Lea Thompson and Gina Gershon. And more.
IN THE MOVIES Maureen, the runaway lesbian nanny, in "You've Got Mail."
TONY-NIGHT THOUGHTS "Focus on what you love. It is the greatest passport, it's the greatest road map, to an extraordinarily blissful life."
WHAT'S JUST AS GOOD AS WINNING A TONY "Last week Darren Goldstein asked me to marry him. And the week before that, Angela Lansbury took me to Joe Allen for dinner. So I'm the luckiest girl in the world."
"Promises, Promises," by Neil Simon, Burt Bacharach and Hal David; directed by Rob Ashford, Broadway Theater, 1681 Broadway, (212) 239-6200, telecharge.com. Opening night: April 25, 2010.
WANT MORE THEATERGOSSIP? Scroll on or search and learn what some people think about Catherine Zeta-Jones's performance in "A Little Night Music."
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
OH, please. Yesterday I found myself part of a Facebook thread about just how awful Catherine Zeta-Jones's performance on the Tony Awards broadcast was. (Followed by her win as best actress in a musical. Good God.) When up popped a comment, which said, in essence: "You women are just jealous."
ISN'T IT RICH? Catherine Zeta-Jones with her husband, Michael Douglas, at the Tonys at Radio City Music Hall on Sunday night.
So let's make this clear. That is not true. I hate Scarlett Johansson because she's beautiful. But Johansson deserved her Tony (for best actress in a play). She knocked it out of the ballpark in the revival of Arthur Miller's "View From a Bridge" as a sweet Brooklyn teenager whose uncle (Liev Schreiber) may like her a little too much.
I hate Catherine Zeta-Jones because she massacres the work of the one true god, Stephen Sondheim. Yes, she's quite taken with herself, and yes, she's annoyingly good-looking. (Although even her incredible bone structure can't quite overcome those bangs.) But that was fine with me until the night last December when I saw the latest revival of "A Little Night Music," one of Sondheim's most-loved works.
I had been warned. Zeta-Jones received some positive reviews, but Ben Brantley's in The New York Times ("A Weekend in the Country With Eros and Thanatos") wasn't one of them. It started out politely. Zeta-Jones, he wrote, was lustrous, had a decent voice and made a "lively Broadway debut." But her Desiree, the aging actress who sings "Send In the Clowns," was "a tad vulgar." Plus she gave the character an "all-out emotionalism" that "didn't jibe with the character's amused urbanity." The whole thing, he said, was like "second-tier boulevard farce."
Sadly, when I saw the show not long afterward, I agreed completely. And when an out-of-town friend of a friend was asked what he had thought of the show, he answered, "That girl sure is good-looking."
But you can count on John Simon not to be taken in by mere beauty and never to hold back when he's displeased. He wrote in his Bloomberg review ("Zeta-Jones Clowns Around"), that Zeta-Jones was "all artifice," delivering her lines in "a stilted rubato, oozing with self-satisfaction, with affected facial expressions that are smug and patronizing."
rubato, noun: having certain notes arbitrarily lengthened while others are correspondingly shortened, or vice versa. (We looked it up for you.)
That's what I (and so many others) saw on Sunday night when she did "Send In the Clowns" for the Tonys audience. This was not a performance enhanced by cameras and close-ups. When Zeta-Jones's Desiree laments "losing my timing this late in my career," everything about the actress's voice, face and body tells us that of course an awful thing like that could never happen to her.
Some say the Tony voters who are producers wanted her to have the award so movie stars would feel welcome on Broadway and agree to do shows in the future. To be fair, Zeta-Jones received the Drama Desk Award this year too.
Zeta-Jones is a beauty, a perfectly good actress on film and, as far as I know, a fine, upstanding human being who might be lots of fun to have lunch with. In most cases, it isn't that women are horrified by her performance because she's gorgeous and sexy. It's more that women aren't blinded by her gorgeousness and sexiness as so many straight men are. So we can see the truth.
Accepting her Tony, Zeta-Jones made an offhand remark about the joys of being married to "a movie star," Michael Douglas: "I get to sleep with him every night." She later apologized for what she now felt was a crass remark. No, dear, that isn't what you should be apologizing for.
For more on the 2010 Tonys and the award's history, check out tonyawards.com.
WANT MORE THEATERGOSSIP? Scroll on and read our Tony night Top 10 list. Or search for the 2010 Commy Awards post and compare. Or go back and check out the many Tony winners who were Gossip Girls and Guys of the Week here first.
Sunday, June 13, 2010
THE date: June 13, 2010.
The place: Radio City Music Hall, New York City.
The event: The 64th Annual Tony Awards.
The host: Cute Sean Hayes, currently starring in "Promises, Promises."
O.K., "Red" and "Memphis" and "Fences" and "La Cage aux Folles" won the big awards. (No surprises there. I wrote this sentence at 8 p.m. and didn't have to go back and change it.) But here are the things we really enjoyed about the ceremony. Scarlett Johansson (above) didn't do any of them, but she did win best featured actress in a play. And didn't she look nice in her dress?
Note: Three of the 10 took place during the Creative Awards presentation, which was on NY1 at 7 p.m., before the CBS broadcast began at 8 o'clock.
1. The whole opening number! From Sean Hayes sitting down at the piano, soon joined by Levi Kreis in Jerry Lee Lewis mode, to "American Idiot" and the actual Green Day.
2. Douglas Hodge in drag mingling with the audience in the "La Cage aux Folles" number "The Best of Times Is Now," flirting with Matthew Morrison of "Glee." (Morrison responded by slipping him some cash. Which Hodge, without missing a beat, tucked inside his lovely ladies' jacket.)
3. Hayes and Kristin Chenoweth's big open-mouthed kiss. "I know what you're thinking," he said afterward. "She's too short for me." (You had to know about the Newsweek article to appreciate it.)
4. Christine Jones, winning for scenic design of a musical and praising her "American Idiot" director, Michael Mayer: "You are the Jesus and the Judy of Broadway." (But you needed to have seen "Everyday Rapture" to understand it.)
5. Marian Seldes giving a completely silent acceptance speech for her lifetime achievement award. And knocking 'em dead.
6. Lea Michele doing "Don't Rain on My Parade" and being so much less likable than she is on "Glee."
7. Terry Johnson's opening line accepting his award for directing "La Cage": "I'd like to thank my fellow nominees, without whom I'd have prepared a speech."
8. Raquel Welch's hair!
9. Cate Blanchett, who gave the real best 2009-10 stage performance by an actress in BAM's "Streetcar Named Desire" (off Broadway and therefore not eligible for Tonys), presenting the awards for best play and best revival of a play, just standing there being classy.
10. Karen Olivo, presenting an award to the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center, explaining why she was on crutches: "This is what happens when you don't take a note from Arthur Laurents."
HONORABLE MENTION: Nathan Lane doing Bob Hope. (You had to remember Hope's classic Passover joke from old Oscar shows to get it. Or maybe you didn't.)
An earlier version of this post stated mistakenly that two of the items on the list took place during the Creative Awards portion of the program. In fact, three of them did.
WANT MORE THEATERGOSSIP? Scroll on and learn about a gorgeous 19-year-old actress who thinks she's being taken too seriously, a sexy Captain Hook and the best Off Broadway play you (probably) didn't see last year.
Thursday, June 10, 2010
CURRENT GIG Just cast as Spidey's wholesome girlfriend, Mary Jane Watson, in the long-awaited (that's putting it politely) Julie Taymor musical "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark." Whenever it arrives.
BUT MEANWHILE She's still in "Next to Normal," until July 18. And she's part of a Pride Week concert at Joe's Pub on June 23.
BORN AND RAISED White Plains, N.Y.
ALMA MATER White Plains High School.
BEST KNOWN AS The nervous teenage daughter in the Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway show "Next to Normal." She earned a 2009 Tony nomination for best featured actress in a musical.
BROADWAY DEBUT The rock musical "Spring Awakening," at age 15. She was part of the ensemble.
TV WORK One episode of "Gossip Girl" in 2008: "It's a Wonderful Lie," the one where Bart died.
MOVIE WORK None yet.
WHAT SHE THOUGHT OF HER TONY NOMINATION WHEN SHE WAS NOT QUITE 18 "It's like crazy to be taken seriously at that young an age."
WANT MORE THEATERGOSSIP? Scroll on. Or search. Find out what the Scarlet Pimpernel and Captain Hook have in common. Get valuable advice about theater ushers. Find out which playwright is married to a shrink and has a thing for Emily Dickinson's punctuation. Learn who won the Commy this year for best one-sided telephone conversation in a drama. And what a Commy is.
Monday, June 7, 2010
CURRENT GIG Rocking the suburbs as, of all things, an absolutely thrilling Captain Hook in "Peter Pan." It's at the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey.
WHAT THE TIMES THOUGHT "He looks fabulous in red and rhinestones. He moves like an arrogant movie star." He's "the most delicious Captain Hook in memory." ("A World of Eternal Childhood.")
BORN AND RAISED Detroit. Ann Arbor.
ALMA MATER University of Michigan.
BEST KNOWN AS The aristocratic 18th-century superhero title character in "The Scarlet Pimpernel" on Broadway. Was that really 13 years ago?
WHAT THE TIMES THOUGHT THEN Ben Brantley wrote that Sills had "a leading man's authority and a firm, expressive voice" plus "a boyish sense of game-for-anything anticipation, as if he is always eagerly waiting for the fun to begin." ("Two Faces, and Both in Trouble.")
OTHER BROADWAY FUN "Little Shop of Horrors" (2003).
WHERE YOU MIGHT HAVE SEEN HIM Doing guest spots on TV series from "Murphy Brown" to "The Closer." He also had a role in the forgettable 2005 movie "Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo."
WHAT HE REALLY THINKS OF ACTING "It's not brain surgery, but it is an exact science."*
"Peter Pan," by Carolyn Leigh and Mark Charlap, based on the play by James M. Barrie, directed by Mark S. Hoebee, Paper Mill Playhouse, 22 Brookside Drive, Millburn, N.J., (973) 376-4343 or papermill.org. June 2-27, 2010.
*As reported in The Daily News of Los Angeles, "Red Hot! Douglas Sills," May 5, 2000.
WANT MORE THEATERGOSSIP? Scroll on or search, and read about a cult-hit Off Broadway play ("Circle Mirror Transformation"), the young guy from Yonkers who wrote that play about professional wrestlers, the hot Off Broadway star who's marrying Meryl Streep's daughter and so much more.
Friday, June 4, 2010
WHEN they asked me to review "Circle Mirror Transformation" last October, I'd never heard of it. Or of its playwright, Annie Baker. But things changed fast.
This spring, "Circle," a play about some pathetic participants in the kind of small-town acting class you'd never be caught dead in, won:
*The New York Film Critics' Circle "emerging talent" commendation (to Baker).
But those are mere prizes. A hint of even bigger success to come? When I was in New Jersey a few weeks ago, reviewing at the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick, there it was on George Street's fall schedule: "Circle Mirror Transformation." Which means it may be coming soon to a regional theater near you too.
In my review in The New York Times ("Quick There, Actor, Make Like a Tree" -- a headline that kind of missed the point), I called it "absorbing, unblinking and sharply funny" and drew these life lessons: "People know you better than you may think. Many truths are unspoken. Everything will be fine."
A few weeks later, Charles Isherwood wrote a feature article about it ("Some Plays Can Twinkle Without Stars") in The Times's Arts & Leisure section. He proclaimed the play an "unheralded gem" and "an absolute feast" for theater lovers.
If you missed it, don't despair. With a cast of five and one (inexpensive) set, it's a sure thing for small theater companies everywhere. So here are a few things you should know about "Circle Mirror Transformation":
1. It takes place at a "creative drama" class in a community center in a small Vermont town.
2. One student (Heidi Schreck) is a former actress who has just moved to Vermont from New York City. She's probably hoping to find a touch of what she left behind.
3. One student (Reed Birney) is recently divorced and lives in a lonely-guy condo complex. He probably just doesn't have anything better to do.
4. One student (Tracee Chimo) is a teenager who hopes to go into theater when she grows up. Or become a veterinarian. She occasionally seems to vanish into her hoodie.
5. One student (Peter Friedman) is the teacher's husband. He was probably forced to sign up, just to make the class seem bigger.
6. The teacher (Deirdre O'Connell) probably doesn't know much about acting. Maybe that's why the class spends so much time doing dopey exercises.
7. In fact, everybody's favorite line seems to be the teenager's question "Are we ever going to do any real acting?" The answer: Uh, no, probably not.
8. Annie Baker, the playwright, is 29; grew up in Amherst, Mass.; and went to N.Y.U.
9. Her latest play, "Nocturama," had a reading at Manhattan Theater Club last month.
Scroll on, and read about the two Scotts (Ellis and Elliott), Kristoffer Diaz, Claudia Shear, a Drama Desk furor and an open letter to tourists who don't know how to behave at the theater.
Wednesday, June 2, 2010
IF you haven't been checking into theatergossip.com over the last week or so, you may not know the answers to these questions:
1. How can you tell the difference between Scott Ellis and Scott Elliott? How is it possible that both of them directed "Curtains"?
2. Who's the native New Yorker who wrote the strange new Off Broadway play about professional wrestling?
3. Did Ben Brantley really call Claudia Shear (above) "frumpy and dumpy"?
4. Why does Tom O'Neil hate Drama Desk members? (And vice versa?)
5. What makes tourists stand in line for Broadway shows and how can we stop them?
Scroll on. (Or, for the links, click on "May" at right.) Enlightenment awaits you.