Sunday, November 28, 2010
WANT to see one of the most exciting, high-paced scenes on the New York stage at the moment? (Charles Isherwood called it "fiercely gripping" in The Times, and we couldn't agree more.) Catch the new drama at City Center, starring Jeremy Sisto, who ought to be a bigger name than he is. And probably will be soon.
CURRENT GIG "Spirit Control," starring as an air traffic controller who becomes traumatized -- some would say literally haunted -- by one horrible day at work.
BORN AND RAISED Grass Valley, Calif. (25 miles northeast of Sacramento). Raised in Chicago.
ALMA MATER U.C.L.A.
AVAILABILITY Married to Addie Lane.
MOVIE DEBUT "Grand Canyon" (1991), which he made at age 16. But he was even younger (10) when he appeared in Twisted Sister's "We're Not Gonna Take It" video.
BROADWAY DEBUT "Festen," a short-lived 2006 drama about a Danish family with a very naughty father. (He was one of the screwed-up kids.) But he appeared at the Goodman Theater in Chicago when he was 6.
YOU MIGHT REMEMBER HIM FROM NBC's "Law & Order." He was Detective Cyrus Lupo for the last three years of the series. Or HBO's "Six Feet Under." He played Rachel Griffith's troubled kid brother. Or the film "Thirteen." He was Holly Hunter's boyfriend.
CUTE QUOTE "When you're at your best both in baseball and in theater [he was appearing in Richard Greenberg's "Take Me Out" in Los Angeles] is when you're unaware of what you're doing."*
* "Jeremy Sisto Digs Deep for Complex Role," The Daily News of Los Angeles, Sept. 22, 2004.
"Spirit Control," by Beau Willimon, directed by Henry Wishcamper, City Center, 131 West 55th Street, Stage I, (212) 581-1212, nycitycenter.org. Opening night: Oct. 26, 2010.
WANT MORE THEATERGOSSIP? Then scroll on to read about Jennifer Coolidge, our Gossip Girl of the Week. And search to find posts about Hollywood types doing Broadway soon (Nicole Kidman and Robin Williams among them), Broadway and West End types like Cherry Jones and Mark Rylance, and even a few playwrights, including Edward Albee, Lynn Nottage and Sarah Ruhl.
Saturday, November 27, 2010
SO sad that the Broadway production of "Elling" closed this weekend, after such a short run. But at least it gave a lucky few of us a chance to see Jennifer Coolidge again.
CURRENT GIG The final performances of "Elling." She played a mental-hospital employee and a really helpful waitress as well as the drunk pregnant woman passed out on the stairs that Brendan Fraser's character falls in love with.
BORN AND RAISED Boston. Then Norwell, Mass.
ALMA MATER Emerson College dropout.
AVAILABILITY Longtime relationship with Banks McClintock.
BROADWAY DEBUT The 2001 revival of "The Women." She was absolutely hysterical as Edith, the perpetually pregnant Park Avenue wife who blithely drops cigarette ashes on her new baby.
MEMORABLE MOVIE ROLE Christopher Guest's ensemble comedy "Best in Show" (2000). Her scenes with Jane Lynch (now a TV star-of-stars as Sue Sylvester on "Glee") were the funniest thing in the movie, and that's saying a lot.
BUT YOU MIGHT ALSO HAVE SEEN HER IN "Legally Blonde" (as the manicurist) or "American Pie" (as the original MILF) or on the "Friends" spinoff "Joey" (which wasted her) or "The Secret Life of the American Teenager."
HOW SHE GOT INTO COMEDY "I thought I was on my way to being Meryl Streep, but it just didn't work out that way. . . . I was trying to be a dramatic actress for a really long time, and I couldn't get arrested," so a friend suggested her for the Groundlings, the Los Angeles improv troupe.*
*"The Morning, Noon and Night Show," a 2009 TV interview with Coolidge in Nantucket, Mass.
WANT MORE THEATERGOSSIP? Scroll to check out the Thanksgiving Day post about things theatergoers can be thankful for this season. Then search to read about "Elf" and "Gatz"; stars like Brian Stokes Mitchell, Robin Williams, Mark Rylance, Cherry Jones, Nicole Kidman and Elizabeth Ashley; and how we managed to turn "Mad Men" into a theater story.
Thursday, November 25, 2010
This week theatergossip.com suspends the Gossip Girl and Gossip Guy features to offer a special holiday list instead.
1.“Angels in America”
Nothing can bring back the hour of splendor when Tony Kushner’s “gay fantasia on national themes” first opened on Broadway, in 1993 (Part I: “Millennium Approaches”) and 1994 (Part II: “Perestroika”), but the Signature Theater Company’s revival comes astonishingly close. Christian Borle is the new Prior Walter, and Zachary Quinto is his cowardly lover, Louis. Dec. 1 (next Wednesday) is World AIDS Day.
2. Daniel Beaty
If you’ve seen him in “Through the Night” or in his earlier work, you know that Beaty is a true playwright-poet. His solo show about African-American men of all ages struggling for survival -- sometimes literal, sometimes metaphoric -- is a tour de force, to say the least.
3. The Belasco Theater
The side streets east and west of Broadway are lined with beautiful old theaters, but the Belasco, on 44th Street, has the highest ooh-aah factor around, especially since its recent $14.5 million renovation. Built in 1907 by the showman David Belasco, it now “makes for an enduring shrine to his skills,” Charles Isherwood wrote in The New York Times.
4. “Brief Encounter”
From England's Kneehigh Theater Company: Emma Rice's inspired tribute to David Lean’s romantic black-and-white movie “Brief Encounter” first opened at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn. This fall we found out that it could create just as much magic on Broadway, specifically on the stage of Studio 54. All about a man and a woman, both married to other people, who meet at a train station and get carried away. So do we.
5. Tracee Chimo
Technically, Chimo is a 2009 discovery. That’s when she stood out from the crowd (the Drama Desk Award-winning ensemble cast) in “Circle Mirror Transformation.” But this was the year she proved her versatility, first as a vengeful young maid of honor in “Bachelorette,” then in a dual role as a despicable TV interviewer and a prostitute who dresses up like a French maid in Neil LaBute’s otherwise off-target “Break of Noon.”
If you had eight hours to spare (and what busy New Yorker doesn’t?) this season, you could head down to the Public and have a nice man read “The Great Gatsby” to you, the entire novel, word for word. But that description doesn’t do justice to the miracle that is "Gatz." In The New York Times, Ben Brantley called it "one of the most exciting and improbably accomplishments in theater in recent years." Variety wrote, "Gatz creates its own dramatic universe." Theatergossip.com wrote that with this production, the Elevator Repair Company just might have created a whole new art form.
7. Denis O’Hare.
The Broadway production of “Elling” didn't really work, having discarded or just missed the mark on much of the charm of Petter Naess's 2001 Norwegian film on which it was based. (The show closes on Sunday.) But that wasn't the cast’s fault. Among them, Denis O'Hare stood out as the title character, an eccentric former mental patient trying to live in the real world with an equally strange roommate (played by Brendan Fraser). But then we already knew what a superlative actor O'Hare was and is, from "Take Me Out," "Sweet Charity," "Assassins" and, more recently, his TV role as the vampire king of Mississippi in HBO's "True Blood."
8. Political plays.
Could you not get enough of talking about the frightening state of American politics in real life? Then you could turn to the Off Broadway stage this season. Among the notable political plays: "After the Revolution," about a proudly leftist family dealing with an unsettling pre-McCarthy-era revelation; "That Hopey-Changey Thing," set at a Rhinebeck, N.Y., dinner party on Election Day 2010 (fast work, huh?); and "In the Wake," starring Marin Ireland as a blindly hopeful, energetic young woman guilty of unthinking behavior, who turns out to be a metaphor for the United States of America itself.
9. Lily Rabe.
Everyone came out to Shakespeare in the Park this summer to see Al Pacino as Shylock. But when the cast of “The Merchant of Venice” took its first curtain call, a second star had been born: Lily Rabe, who blew us all away as Portia. Then she moved with most of the rest of the cast to Broadway, dazzled new audiences and proved what a trouper she is, at age 28, returning to the show only two days after her mother, the beloved film and stage actress Jill Clayburgh, died.
10. Women who write.
There's a New York Times style rule (often violated) about sex and occupation. You don't use constructions like "woman doctor" or "woman lawyer" or "female engineers" because they suggest that the "normal" state of things is for doctors, lawyers and whatevers to be men. It's hard to believe that as recently as 2003 The Times could run an article headlined "The Season of the Female Playwright" and have it be news. This season would be a lot poorer without new works by Sarah Ruhl ("Orlando"), Julia Cho ("The Language Archive"), Lisa Kron ("In the Wake"), Amy Herzog ("After the Revolution") and Kim Rosenstock ("Tigers Be Still"). And although we haven't seen new plays by them this season, you can't make a list of today's most distinguished writers for the stage without putting Lynn Nottage, Paula Vogel, Theresa Rebeck and Yasmina Reza high on the list.
Signature Theater Company's Web site, with video, photos and general information on "Angels in America."
"Black Men in America as Stressed-Out Strivers," Anita Gates's New York Times review of "Through the Night."
"A Temple of Drama, Burnished," Charles Isherwood's Times article about the Belasco Theater and its renovation.
"Brief Encounter," on the Roundabout Theater Company's site, with video.
"An Actress Wielding a Dancer's Intuition," Erik Piepenburg's Times article about Tracee Chimo.
"Borne Back Ceaselessly Into the Past," Ben Brantley's Times review of "Gatz."
denisohare.com, O'Hare's official site.
playwrightshorizons.org, information on "After the Revolution."
"The Family That Votes Together," Charles Isherwood's Times review of "That Hopey-Changey Thing."
"Pushing the Spotlight Away From Herself," Kate Taylor's Times interview with Lisa Kron about "In the Wake."
"Railing at a Money-Mad World," Ben Brantley's review of the Shakespeare in the Park production of "The Merchant of Venice, with Lily Rabe.
"The Season of the Female Playwright," Jason Zinoman's 2003 article about women who write for the stage.
WANT MORE THEATERGOSSIP? Scroll on to read all about “After the Revolution,” one of the aforementioned political plays. Then search to read about many of the topics in our list as well as shows from "Elf" to “Promises, Promises,” stars from Liza Minnelli to Boyd Gaines and thoughts on why tourists behave the way they do at the theater.
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
THEY'RE a fine Northeastern family of proud leftists. After all, Grandpa Joe, who died recently, was a victim of McCarthy-era blacklisting, a man who appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee and refused to name names.
At least that's how he has been seen for almost half a century. But now it's 1999, and Joe's loyally Marxist son learns that a book is about to be published, one that will reveal an awful truth: Joe spied for the Soviets during World War II.
So begins Amy Herzog's "After the Revolution," one of several fine Off Broadway plays this season that are set in the home and spend most of their time reflecting on politics. Here are a few of its many assets.
1. For starters, there's the eternally fabulous Lois Smith. Playing Joe's hard-of-hearing ("Louder!" she says at many key moments) but very clear-thinking ("I am not a rah-rah American") widow.
2. Joe's most intensely political son, Ben, is played by Peter Friedman, who was so good in "Circle Mirror Transformation."
3. Ben has a daughter, Emma (Katharine Powell), one of those perfect young people you see so many of these days. She's just graduated from law school and is already running a foundation named for her grandfather and fighting to free a former Black Panther.
4. But the old people in this play are much more interesting than the young people. David Margulies, for instance, gives an absolutely captivating performance as Morty, a 70-something supporter of the foundation who seems far more full of life than most 20-somethings And it's not just because he has $4 million lying around.
5. Mare Winningham radiates just as much warmth, humanity and sympathy here, as Emma's stepmom, as she did 25 years ago as Wendy the virginal college grad in "St. Elmo's Fire."
6. The playwright, Amy Herzog, knows how complicated family relationships can be. One character flips out when she learns that her father had known the truth about Joe for a long time but chose not to tell her.
7. Clint Ramos has designed a very handsome all-purpose set with a great wall of art and books and objets, and Ben Stanton's lighting does very clever things with it.
8. No character is perfect. Even Vera (the Lois Smith character) has some unfortunate attitudes, like being convinced that all gay people were sexually abused as children. Well, "almost all," she decides.
9. The critics liked the production. The Times declared it "smart, engrossing," "fine and fiercely well acted." Variety called it a "smart, funny, provocative play." Even New York Magazine, which gave the production a negative review, loved Smith, Friedman and Winningham.
10. You've got to cherish a script that includes a toast like Ben's. He lists all the things that are wrong with the world in 1999 (trouble in the Balkans, President Clinton's attitude toward big business) and ends with "It's hard to imagine things getting much worse."
"After the Revolution," by Amy Herzog, directed by Carolyn Cantor, Playwrights Horizons, Peter Jay Sharp Theater, 416 West 42nd Street, (212) 279-4200, ticketcentral.com. Opening night: Nov. 10, 2010.
"A Stain on Her Marxist Mantle," Charles Isherwood's review in The New York Times.
"After the Revolution's Hopeless Un-Hopefulness," New York Magazine's review.
Order tickets to "After the Revolution."
WANT MORE THEATERGOSSIP? Scroll on to discover all the great things about "Elf." Then search to read items on Robin Williams, Cherry Jones, Edward Albee, "Angels in America," "Tigers Be Still," "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown" and, God help us, "Spider-Man."
Thursday, November 18, 2010
SEPARATED AT BIRTH Sebastian Arcelus and North Pole co-workers in "Elf," at the Al Hirschfeld Theater.
IT wasn't clear at first whether Donna McKechnie was enjoying "Elf" or not. There she was at Wednesday's matinee, Michael Bennett's original Cassie 35 years after "A Chorus Line," wearing something black and glittery, all made up -- complete with false eyelashes. (We suspected a performance of her own later in the day.) But was she laughing? By the end of Act II, thank goodness, she did seem to be having a good time.
But if McKechnie (or anybody in the audience) arrived with less than sky-high expectations, no wonder. Charles Isherwood of The New York Times had dismissed "Elf" as "instantly forgettable." David Rooney, writing for Reuters, called it "flavorless candy." In the same vein, Elisabeth Vincentelli of The New York Post described it as "a giant spoonful of uncut sugar." Thank heavens the New York Kids review in Time Out New York came through, calling the production a "winning holiday musical" and its star "silly and adorable." And Mark Kennedy of The Associated Press, praised the "great sets and design, a funny adapted script and a collection of hard-working actors." Now theatergossip.com wishes to add its four cents.
1. There's nothing wrong with a giant spoonful of sugar now and then.
It's a holiday entertainment, people. You think the Radio City Christmas Spectacular is Tom Stoppard? Or the version of "A Christmas Carol" that ran at Madison Square Garden for so long? (Well, it did have that one great song-and-dance number: "Mr. Fezziwig's Annual Christmas Ball." Rat-a-tat-tat.) "Elf," the story of Buddy the Elf, who travels to New York City to find his real father and a world where he might fit in, is supposed to be all-out sentimental, laced with childlike yearning. Anyway, the book has thrown in jokes about PETA, iPads and the revelation that the entire city of New York has been placed on the naughty list. My very favorite line is "Don't go all Charlie Sheen on me." And there's the great number with the gloomy department-store Santas having Christmas Eve dinner at a Chinese restaurant, then forming a chorus line and kicking their depression away. (Even Isherwood, who professes to hate every Christmas entertainment but "Meet Me in St. Louis," liked that part.)
2. "Elf" loves New York.
Yes, the book teases the city constantly, but in a loving way. David Rockwell's sets are like a sleek, thrilling pop-up book for grown-ups. You get the Empire State Building, Macy's Christmas corner, the Rockefeller Center tree and skating rink, a tasteful Manhattan apartment, a slice of Central Park and even a hint of Tavern on the Green, before it became a visitors' center.
3. The cast is a roundup of real pros.
Starting with George Wendt, his Norm-of-"Cheers" attitude intact, as Santa Claus, who accidentally brought a human baby back to the North Pole in his sack of toys. The baby grows up to be Buddy (the cute-as-a-button Sebastian Arcelus), who is 30 and 6-foot-2 before he learns that he's not an elf. Beth Leavel, who won a Tony for "The Drowsy Chaperone," is smart and crisp as Buddy's new human stepmother, who, upon meeting the real Santa, tells him, "I really, really love your work." Not to mention Mark Jacoby as Buddy's father, Matthew Gumley as the little brother Buddy never knew he had, Amy Spanger as Buddy's love interest and stand-out supporting players like Valerie Wright and Michael Mandell.
4. It feels like a classic already.
Some critics have called the music derivative. And it is. In terms of the songs and much of the choreography, "Elf" feels like a beloved 1950s musical that you just happen never to have seen before. (Maybe that's why they decided to make the office scenes look like something out of "Mad Men." For a long time, it looks as if only women sit in cubicles and get people coffee.) But to some of us, that familiar feel is a good thing. A great thing. And if you look carefully, you'll see that "Elf" is confidently, playfully, unapologetically aware of it in every scene, dance and song. Like "Nobody Cares About Santa." "Never Fall in Love (With an Elf)." Maybe even "Sparklejollytwinklejingley." Play 'em again, Sam.
"North Pole Naif Tries to Thaw Hearts," Charles Isherwood's New York Times review of "Elf."
"Things to Do: Elf," Time Out New York's Kids-section review.
"Onstage, Not His Old 'Elf,' "Elisabeth Vincentelli's New York Post review.
Order tickets for "Elf" from Telecharge.
"Elf," by Thomas Meehan, Bob Martin, Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin, directed by Casey Nicholaw, Al Hirschfeld Theater, 302 West 45th Street, (212) 239-6200, jujamcyn.com. Opening night: Nov. 14, 2010.
WANT MORE THEATERGOSSIP? Scroll on to read about Brian Stokes Mitchell, currently starring in "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown." Then search to read items about his co-star Laura Benanti and stage folk like Cherry Jones, Sean Hayes, Liza Minnelli, David Duchovny, Al Pacino and Lily Rabe.
Sunday, November 14, 2010
CURRENT GIG "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown," the all-star musical based on Pedro Almodovar's 1988 film. He plays Ivan, the bad guy who has deserted our heroine, but when he opens his mouth to sing, the audience forgives him. It's a relatively small role, but we'll take what we can get.
BORN AND RAISED Seattle. Then the family moved to naval bases in Guam and the Philippines, before landing in San Diego when Mitchell was a teenager.
ALMA MATER He went into show business straight out of high school.
AVAILABILITY Married to Allyson Tucker, who appeared with him in "Man of La Mancha," "Ragtime" and "Oh, Kay!"
BROADWAY DEBUT "Mail" (1990), a terrible flop musical, which Frank Rich described in The New York Times as "to epistolary fiction what Hallmarks cards are to the poems of Robert Browning." Mitchell played the hero's best friend.
GETTING HIS START ON TV "Trapper John, M.D." (1979-86), the postwar "M*A*S*H" spinoff. He played the arrogant young intern Jackpot Jackson.
FINEST STAGE MOMENT CAPTURED ON SCREEN The 2005 Carnegie Hall concert performance of "South Pacific," taped by and broadcast on PBS the following year. When he sang "This Nearly Was Mine," strong women wept.
THEATERGOSSIP.COM'S BRUSH WITH GREATNESS Running into Mitchell, his wife and their tiny child (who was dressed as an alligator or something) at the outdoor tables at Mary Ann's, the Mexican restaurant on upper Broadway, one warm Halloween night. We gave him some trick-or-treat candy (it may have been a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup), and he flashed that fabulous smile and told us we had made his Halloween. (Au contraire!) And we didn't even know then that Oct. 31 was his birthday.
HOW A NICE GUY HANDLES SUCCESS "Now I can pick and choose what I want to do. What more can you ask for? It's been given to me on a plate and when life gives it to you on a plate, you eat. You know?"*
"Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown," by Jeffrey Lane and David Yazbek, directed by Bartlett Sher, Belasco Theater, 111 West 44th Street, telecharge.com. Opening night: Nov. 4, 2010.
*"The Last Leading Man?," Bruce Weber's 2002 New York Times Arts & Leisure profile of Mitchell.
"A 'South Pacific' Epiphany," Stephen Holden's glowing New York Times review of a 2006 Mitchell concert at the Allen Room.
"Impossible Dream," youtube video of Mitchell knocking his audience's socks off with this supposedly tired old anthem.
brianstokes.com, Mitchell's official Web site.
WANT MORE THEATERGOSSIP? Scroll on to read about Mitchell's "Women on the Verge" co-star Laura Benanti. Then search to read about the return of the AIDS plays (Part 1), the tragic pre-birth cancellation of HBO's Broadway series "The Miraculous Year" and items about stars from Nicole Kidman to James Earl Jones.
Saturday, November 13, 2010
CANDELA is a sexy young woman in 1980s Madrid who enjoys wearing skimpy clothes. If she seems excitable (her most fabulous musical number consists of a series of hysterical answering-machine messages), she has good reason. She has just learned that the hot guy she's been in bed with for days is a terrorist. (The ammunition belt was her first hint.) But Candela is a very lucky girl in one important way; she's played on Broadway by the extremely special Laura Benanti.
CURRENT GIG "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown," based on Pedro Almodovar's 1988 film. Stealing the show from Patti LuPone, Brian Stokes Mitchell and Sherie Rene Scott as Candela, the brokenhearted star's frazzled best friend, who has romantic problems of her own. See terrorist reference in intro, above.
WHAT THE TIMES THOUGHT "Only Ms. Benanti -- as the hyperkinetic Candela, a fashion model short on brains -- holds our attention, in an overcharged comic performance that might seem vulgar in another context."
BORN AND RAISED New York City. Then she moved with her mother and her stepfather to Kinnelon, N.J., a Morris County suburb.
ALMA MATER Kinnelon High School. She'd planned to go to N.Y.U., but her career was already in full swing.
AVAILABILITY Married to Steven Pasquale, who was in "Reasons to Be Pretty."
BROADWAY DEBUT "The Sound of Music" (1998). She played a postulant but eventually replaced Rebecca Luker as Maria.
REVIVALS HAVE BEEN VERY, VERY GOOD TO HER Cinderella in "Into the Woods" (2002 revival), Claudia in "Nine" (2003 revival), Louise in "Gypsy" (2008 revival, for which she won a Tony). Then she starred in an original Broadway production, Sarah Ruhl's "In the Next Room, or the Vibrator Play" (2009), as a Victorian doctor's wife who discovers the joys of the vibrator.
WHY SHE LOVES WHAT SHE DOES "There's just something incredibly beautiful in musical theater about the idea that when you can no longer express yourself in words, you can sing or dance it."*
"Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown," by Jeffrey Lane and David Yazbek, directed by Bartlett Sher, Belasco Theater, 111 West 44th Street, telecharge.com. Opening night: Nov. 4, 2010.
"Here's Your Valium, What's Your Hurry?," Ben Brantley's New York Times review of "Women on the Verge."
*"Sing Out, Laura, It's Your Turn," Celia McGee's 2008 New York Times Arts & Leisure section article about Benanti.
"Fresh Face: Laura Benanti," Paul Wontorek's 1998 interview with Benanti on broadway.com
laurabenanti.com, Benanti's offiicial Web site, with links to lots of interesting interviews.
lct.org, Lincoln Center Theater's official site.
Buy tickets for "Women on the Verge" on telecharge.com.
WANT MORE THEATERGOSSIP?
Did you see our last post, about the sudden tragic death of HBO's Broadway-themed series "The Miraculous Year"? If not, scroll on and weep.
Then search for items about the return of the AIDS plays; Christian Borle, who plays Prior Walter in "Angels in America"; Lily Rabe the breakout star of "The Merchant of Venice" (and Jill Clayburgh's daughter); James Earl Jones of "Driving Miss Daisy"; and bunches more.
Thursday, November 11, 2010
O.K., everybody said it.
There was a starry, starry cast (led by Norbert Leo Butz, left, as the composer). It was being written by John Logan, who did "Red" and the film "Gladiator," a guy who can re-create a disturbed 20th-century artist or an Ancient Roman hunk at will. And directed by Kathryn Bigelow, who took home the best director Oscar for "The Hurt Locker." (Wartime bomb removal and Broadway-musical production? Yeah, there's a parallel.)
It was called "The Miraculous Year." It was coming soon, with Frank Langella, Patti LuPone, Hope Davis, Eddie Redmayne, Linus Roache, Stark Sands and Daniel Davis (don't blame him for playing a butler on a sitcom ["The Nanny"] -- I've seen his "Lear" and it was outstanding). Adam Guettel was doing the music. Susan Sarandon had signed on as the guest star in the pilot.
And then it was gone. Deadline.com broke the news this week: HBO had decided not to go ahead with the show, reportedly because it was expected to have too narrow an audience. An HBO spokeswoman, asked about the news, told theatergossip.com on Thursday that there was really nothing more to say than what had already been published. (But there had been talk about Sondheim's objections to the show, and some biographical details of the character's life had reportedly been changed as a result.)
Is anybody at Showtime taking notice of this? God knows it's saved controversial programming before. Back in 1998, when PBS decided doing a sequel to Armistead Maupin's "Tales of the City" with its gay and transgendered San Francisco marijuana smokers might upset some viewers, Showtime stepped right up and produced "More Tales of the City." (Which, among other things, made Laura Linney a star.) In 1996, when "Bastard Out of Carolina," Dorothy Allison's brutal story of sexual and physical child abuse in the South, was dropped like a hot potato by Ted Turner, whose channel TNT had been scheduled to air it, Showtime courageously picked it up. When no American film distributor would take Adrian Lyne's 1998 remake of "Lolita," with Jeremy Irons, Showtime put it on the air with great fanfare. (And naturally, after that, the film made it into movie theaters.)
We could go on. This is the network that has series about pot dealers ("Weeds"), mass murderers ("Dexter"), terminal illness ("The Big C"), pill-popping health care professionals ("Nurse Jackie") and lesbians willing to be on a reality show ("The Real L Word"). So: Showtime, are you listening?
And if not: Hello? AMC?
"Miraculous Year Not Going Forward at HBO," the announcement on deadline.com (and comments on the news).
"HBO Rejects Broadway-Inspired Pilot," the announcement on broadway.com.
" 'Miraculous' Resemblance," Michael Riedel's July column in The New York Post about the striking similarities between the lead character and Sondheim.
" 'Lolita' Reaches a U.S. Audience," Bill Carter's New York Times news story about Showtime's rescue of the Adrian Lyne film.
"A Harsh Story Finally Avoids a Harsh Fate," Warren Berger's Times feature article about the bumpy road "Bastard Out of Carolina" took to Showtime.
WANT MORE THEATERGOSSIP? Scroll on to read about the return of AIDS plays, including "Angels in America" and "The Normal Heart." Then scroll on to read about Jules Feiffer's fabulous daughter Halley, Robin Williams playing a dead tiger on Broadway, James Earl Jones in "Driving Miss Daisy" and Judith Light in "Lombardi," plus posts on "Tigers Be Still," "The Little Foxes" and "Gatz."
Sunday, November 7, 2010
Thus spake a celestial creature with wings making a long-awaited personal appearance. Far, far west on 42nd Street these days, at the Peter Norton Space, the angel (Robin Weigert) in the Signature Theater Company's revival of "Angels in America" is bursting through a New York apartment ceiling and scaring the bejesus out of the apartment's inhabitant, Prior Walter (Christian Borle).
Prior has been through enough already, God knows. He has full-blown AIDS, as we used to call it, his chest and back spotted with Kaposi's Sarcoma lesions, his mouth fuzzy with thrush, his control of basic bodily functions going fast. And in the middle of this medical nightmare, his lover, Louis Ironson (Zachary Quinto), has decided that he can't handle this kind of thing and has moved out.
Wouldn't it be great to pretend that there was some larger purpose to this modern plague? Wouldn't it be a little less heartbreaking if we could find some new way to process the deaths of thousands upon thousands of smart, funny, educated, sophisticated, life-loving young men, cut down in the prime of their lives? That's how it felt in and around New York back in 1993 when Part 1 ("Millennium Approaches") of Tony Kushner's "Angels in America" opened on Broadway. And the next year, when Part II ("Perestroika") opened. And even back in 1985, when Larry Kramer's play "The Normal Heart," the first big mainstream stage work about AIDS, and its less political counterpart, William M. Hoffman's "As Is," appeared.
And then, little by little, it all faded away. Awareness, education, behavior change, better treatments. We grieved our friends and family members and wore red ribbons to black-tie events for the longest time. And then we got cellphones and laptops and iPods and learned to live in a strange universe called "online." Then terrorists blew up the tallest buildings in New York. And the American economy collapsed. And while we weren't paying attention, everything that happened in the 1980s and early '90s slipped into Retro Land.
Now someone has decided that 2010-11 is the time to refresh our memories. And it's not just the return of "Angels." "The Normal Heart" was given an all-star (Glenn Close, Joe Mantello and others) benefit reading in New York last month, directed by Joel Grey, leading to talk about a Broadway run.
"As Is" turned up at an Off Broadway theater last month (and looked pretty shabby, but it could have just been an inept production). And now, if Michael Riedel of The New York Post is to be believed, even Jonathan Larson's "Rent" is on its way back to New York, even though its 12-year Broadway run ended just two years ago. People may not think of "Rent" as an AIDS play per se, but you can't deny the fact that four of the main characters (Roger, Tom and Angel, as well as Mimi) are H.I.V. positive.
So why are all these stage works returning at the same time? In the case of "The Normal Heart," there's the excuse of a 25th anniversary. But that doesn't explain the others. Was the epidemic's devastation of the gay community just long ago enough now to feel like history? Is it that a new generation of gay men and the people who love them have come of age and want to know what that strange, surreal time was like? For those of us who lived through it, is it a celebration of relief, since AIDS didn't turn out to destroy the entire planet, as we were beginning to think it would? Or is it just because New York theater productions with gay themes are so big now ("The Kid," "The Pride," "Next Fall," "The Temperamentals") and these oldies were just lying around?
"Embracing All Possibilities in Art and Life," Frank Rich's original 1993 New York Times review of "Angels in America: Millennium Approaches."
"The Normal Heart, by Larry Kramer," Rich's original review of the 1985 Public Theater production.
" 'As Is,' About AIDS, Opens," Rich's review of the original 1985 Circle Rep production.
"Rock Opera, a la 'Boheme' and 'Hair,' ", Ben Brantley's original 1996 Times review of the New York Theater Workshop production of "Rent."
"New Gay Theater Has More Love Than Politics," Patrick Healy's 2010 Times article explaining why new gay plays aren't like old gay plays.
"Broadway's New Lease on 'Rent,' " Michael Riedel's recent New York Post column about the return of Jonathan Larson's East Village musical.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post began incorrectly with the quotation "The great work has begun." It has now been corrected to reflect the actual line from "Angels in America": "The great work begins." This proves that Tony Kushner is much smarter than we are. An earlier version also used the words "Thus sprach." With apologies to Richard Strauss, they have been changed to "thus spake." Because if paying homage to "Also Sprach Zarathustra," one should either use two German words or two English words, not one of each.
WANT MORE THEATERGOSSIP? Scroll on to read about Christian Borle, who plays Prior Walter in the "Angels in America" revival. Then search to read about dozens of stage stars, including Lily Rabe, Robin Williams, Cherry Jones, James Earl Jones, Katie Finneran and Al Pacino.
Saturday, November 6, 2010
CURRENT GIG "Angels in America," the Signature Theater Company's revival of Tony Kushner's AIDS-era masterpiece. He plays Prior Walter, the scion of a back-to-the-Bayeux Tapestry family whose battle with AIDS is made infinitely more difficult when his lover deserts him.
WHAT THE TIMES THOUGHT A "warm embrace of a revival . . . glowingly acted." "Mr. Borle's Prior is less ravaged and more conspicuously comic" than Stephen Spinella's in the original.
BORN AND RAISED Pittsburgh.
ALMA MATER Carnegie-Mellon.
AVAILABILITY Divorced from Sutton Foster.
BROADWAY DEBUT "Footloose" (1998). He replaced Tom Plotkin as Willard Hewitt, the "Let's Hear It for the Boy" boy.
FIRST BIG ROLE At age 14, he was Ebenezer Scrooge in "A Christmas Carol" at St. Edmund's Academy in Pennsylvania.
MOST IMPORTANT ELEMENT IN HIS LONG-TERM CAREER PLAN "I never want not to be in New York doing theater."
"Angels in America, Part I: Millennium Approaches," by Tony Kushner, directed by Michael Greif, Peter Norton Space, 555 West 42nd Street, (212) 244-7529, signaturetheatre.org/angels. Opening night: Oct. 28, 2010.
"This Time the Angel Is in the Details," Ben Brantley's New York Times review of "Part I: Millennium Approaches."
"Angels in America," Joe Dziemianowicz's review in The Daily News.
Playbill audio interview with Christian Borle, recorded at Sardi's.
Photo Gallery from "Angels in America" on playbill.com.
WANT MORE THEATERGOSSIP? Scroll on to read about Halley Feiffer, this week's 25-year-old Gossip Girl. Then search to read the latest on stars like James Earl Jones and Cherry Jones (no known relation), Mark Rylance, Robin Williams and all about a long-lost Sondheim musical.
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
THE first step toward conquering a problem is admitting it, right? So theatergossip.com would like to acknowledge its obsession with second- or third-generation theater people. (Zoe Kazan, Lily Rabe, Zosia Mamet, et al.) We'll try to quit.
But just one more: the adorable young Halley Feiffer.
CURRENT GIG "Tigers Be Still," Kim Rosenstock's dark and delicious Off Broadway comedy about a young art teacher/art therapist surrounded by grieving or rejected people who won't leave the house or like to sit alone in shoe closets or still have their high school prom-king crowns 30 years later.
WHAT THE TIMES THOUGHT "Despite awkwardly flapping arms, nerd-girl glasses and prim ponytail, Ms. Feiffer's sweetly gawky portrayal never tips into caricature."
AGE 25. She turns 26 later this month.
BORN AND RAISED New York City. Upper West Side. Her bedroom was the former maid's room.
ALMA MATER Wesleyan. Before that, both Brearley and Horace Mann. (This is what you have to understand about New York. You can grow up affluent with a famous parent and go to the best schools all your life and still sleep in the maid's room. Space is very tight here.)
FAMOUS FATHER Jules Feiffer, the Pulitzer Prize-winning satirist, dramatist and cartoonist.
SHE'S A PLAYWRIGHT TOO Halley's comedy "Easter Candy" won a Young Playwrights Festival award in 2005. It was about two gal pals, one of whom had decided to eat the other. In a cannibal sense.
INDIE-FILM HISTORY "You Can Count on Me" (2000, film debut, age 15), "The Squid and the Whale" (2005, as Jesse Eisenberg's girlfriend), "Margot at the Wedding" (2007, as the baby sitter) and many more.
DEEP DARK SECRET "I have a really dirty sense of humor."
"Tigers Be Still," by Kim Rosenstock, directed by Sam Gold, Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theater/Black Box Theater, 111 West 46th Street, (212) 719-1300, roundabouttheatre.org. Opening night: Oct. 6, 2010.
"Escaped Predator? What Else Is New?," Charles Isherwood's New York Times review of "Tigers Be Still."
"Halley Feiffer," Kathy Henderson's 2007 interview with Feiffer, broadway.com.
"The Insider: Halley Feiffer," Rebecca Willa Davis's recent interview with Feiffer on nylonmag.com.
WANT MORE THEATERGOSSIP? Scroll on to learn lots more about "Tigers Be Still." Then search to find items on stars from Nicole Kidman to Hamish Linklater. Some recent posts: James Earl Jones in "Driving Miss Daisy," Judith Light in "Lombardi," Robin Williams's forthcoming Broadway debut (he plays a dead tiger), Mark Rylance in "La Bete," Cherry Jones in "Mrs. Warren's Profession," Elizabeth Marvel in "The Little Foxes," a long-lost Sondheim musical and everything about the great "Gatz."