Category Archives: Theater News, NYC

‘How to Load a Musket,’ a Striking Look at History by Talene Monahon at 59E59 Theaters

The Company, How to Load a Musket,ad am Chanler-Berat, 59E59 Theaters, Talene Monahon, Jaki Bradley

The Company, Adam Chanler-Berat in ‘How to Load a Musket,’ by Talene Monahon, directed by Jaki Bradley at 59E59 Theaters (Russ Rowland)

Why would anyone want to reenact  the most bloody battles of American History? In the World Premiere of How to Load a Musket, currently at 59E59 Theaters until 26 January (unless it is extended which it should be) playwright Talene Monahon examines the nature and viewpoints of American citizens who devote time, energy, money and passion to acting out various historical wartime confrontations that founded and preserved our United States of America.

The play that Monahon configured relates perspectives based upon her interviews with reenactors in Massachusetts, New York and Virginia. With exceptional actors portraying the individuals she interviewed, director Jaki Bradley brilliantly stages a production that is vibrant, humorous, at times chilling and always memorable.

Monahan interviewed individuals addicted to portraying historic events principally those occurring during the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. What she discovered turned out to be fascinating portraits of a unique group of impassioned citizens who “got the bug” to participate in reenactments, some for the past thirty years. In her interviews, she gleaned their demographics, their interest in American history and their views about our country, formed during and after their extensive research and their activities with others to conduct reenactments for an audience of history and battle lovers.

Lucy Taylor, How to Load a Musket, Talene Monahon, Jaki Bradley, 59E59 Theaters

Lucy Taylor in ‘How to Load a Musket,’ by Talene Monahon, directed by Jaki Bradley at 59E59 Theaters (Russ Rowland)

The production entertains us with these quirky, odd individuals, who put on battle dress and show us how to load and shoot a musket. In initial sequences related to the Revolutionary War, individuals familiarize us with this clannish hobby and identify the levels of those who engage in the fun of it. There are those who went out and did extensive research and are incredibly serious about “getting back into the past,” to the point of attempting to relive it with accuracy. These folks eat hardtack, sew their own outfits and starve themselves as happened because Congress didn’t allot enough provisions for our soldiers during the Revolutionary War. And then there are the “Farbies.” These folks are not authentic or historically accurate. So as Larry says, “For some of us, as we get older, we want a little more comforts of home; so when my ten flap is closed at night, it’s not 1776. It’s 2015.”

We learn about the typical positions of reenactors, from those who play fifes, to those who portray George and Martha Washington, British soldiers and even King George. The sheer fun of it is escapism, to remove oneself from the stresses of modernity and imagine a time when the air and water were cleaner. Of course, that is the male perspective. One of the women reenactors, the fifes-woman (Lucy Taylor) reminds us that women died in childbirth, oftentimes, and there were horrific childhood diseases that killed, “back in the day”. The beauty of reenactments is that one can imagine oneself living in a desired time and place as another individual for a few hours, and yet return to the comforts of one’s modern life.

Richard Topol, Nicole Villamil, How to Load a Musket, Talene Monahon, Jaki Bradley, 59E59 Theaters

(L to R): Richard Topol, Nicole Villamil, ‘How to Load a Musket,’ by Talene Monahon, directed by Jaki Bradley at 59E59 Theaters (Russ Rowland)

From these interviewed the playwright teases out reactions fomented from the political climate, and the increasing social and cultural divide, after the 2016 election shifted participants’ attitudes and feelings. Their notions reflect the deepening discourse about the nation’s founders as slaveholders, the increasing acts of white supremacy under this presidency, and the confluence of racism and symbols of the confederacy, i.e. the flag, once thought harmless, now viewed by many as egregious remnants of our nation’s inglorious and inhuman past. Naturally, there are those who find these sentiments appalling, as if to nullify a history that is painful but moving in the progressive direction of “freedom for all.” Without the Civil War, no slaves would have been freed until many years later. The price paid, of course, is incalculable.

During the production which spans the years from Fall of 2015 through July 2017, and up to 2019, those interviewed discuss the present divisions in the country that reveal their roots in the Civil War, including the events in Charlottesville and the white supremacist marchers opposed to the “tearing down” of Robert E. Lee’s statue. Interestingly, for the first time ever after another reenactment, there is a bomb incident. This threatened violence for what once was a fun, staged event and hobby, indicates that spirits are darkening in the country. Those who are interviewed, note these changes with alarm.

Andy Taylor, Ryan Spahn, How to Load a Musket, Jaki Bradley, Talene Monahon, 59E59 Theaters

(L to R): Andy Taylor, Ryan Spahn in ‘How to Load a Musket,’ by Talene Monahon, directed by Jaki Bradley at 59E59 Theaters (Russ Rowland)

Cleverly, Monahon uses issues to raise questions and reveal themes. Some of these concern our ideas about the formation of our nation to gain freedom. Others reveal divergent perspectives of citizens from the South and North. Interestingly, the interviewed (who are “characters”) point out, after a Revolutionary War enactment, the idea that America is an experiment which may or may not last. Throughout, issues related to slavery and its attendant racism are brought up stirring questions about what this means for us today. The actors portraying real people are reflected through the prism of changing trends based upon our social climate. Vitally, the playwright reveals the cultural shift in how these individuals view what the reenactments mean to them during the past five years.

Adam Chanler-Berat, How to Load a Musket, Jaki Bradley, Talene Monahon, 59E59 Theaters

Adam Chanler-Berat in ‘How to Load a Musket,’ by Talene Monahon, directed by Jaki Bradley (Russ Rowland)

Eight actors portray the individual reenactors, switching into various parts. These are a cross-section: old, young, male, female, black, Hispanic, mother-son, father-son, educated, working class. The dialogue is lightly edited from the interviews. Essentially, the playwright quotes individuals verbatim. Thus, the accents, the humor, the chilling commentary ring with authenticity to reveal what folks in our country believe and think. Importantly, without the exceptional and adroit acting by the ensemble (Carolyn Braver, Adam Chanler-Berat, David J. Cork, Ryan Spahn, Andy Taylor, Lucy Taylor, Richard Topol and Nicole Villamil) who bring this production to its sweet spot, none of the import and power of the themes would resound as fully or shine as vitally, especially the theme about the encroaching violence in our culture.

The production from its scenic design (Lawrence E. Moten III) costumes (Olivia Vaughn Hern) lighting (Stacey Derosier) sound design (Jim Petty) original music (Zoe Sarnak) to staging is superior. Artifacts from the various periods of history adorn two walls of the set, including the costumes and hats the actors use throughout. Actors take their entrances and exists from three different sides of the set, two of which the audience surrounds as two sides of a rectangle; This is minimalistic and smart. The intimate setting allows the audience to feel a part of the action as the actors, at times, interact and directly address comments to them.

Carolyn Braver, David J. Cork, How to Load a Musket, Jaki Bradley, Talene Monahon, 59E59 Theaters ,

Carolyn Braver, David J. Cork in ‘How to Load a Musket,’ by Talene Monahon, directed by Jaki Bradley at 59E59 Theaters (Russ Rowland)

As a capstone to the ideas that are presented, Monahon introduces TM, the playwright, as a character (portrayed by Carolyn Braver). On a subway, TM and artist Dread Scott (David J. Cork) discuss the idea of genocide. An Armenian, she discusses its meaning to her (the Turks conducted a genocide and expulsion campaign against the Armenians (1914-1923). Indeed, as a black man Dread understands the meaning of genocide related to what happened during the American institution of slavery. As an important part of American History, he invites her to his proposed 1811 Slave Rebellion reenactment in New Orleans which TM attends two months after their subway meeting.

This powerful conclusion is telling. As an Armenian, TM is struck by Jeffrey’s (Richard Topol) use of the word “genocide” to indicate how he feels about his southern ancestry being vitiated with the removal of the confederate flag and statues of confederate soldiers from parks and federal buildings in the south. The application of Jeffrey’s “genocide” in juxtaposition with Dread’s idea to reenact the rebellion which has been removed from US history books and the Armenian genocide which has been largely left out of the History of Western Civilization is ironic. In a weird confluence, all have understood what being “wiped out,” means, and there is a unity. Perhaps, as Dread states at the end, it is a portentous recognition that “heroes in seeking liberation, receive mercy.” This is especially so in reenactments.

The production that rings with great truth provides a jumping off point for us to consider what our country means to each of us and how we can reconcile that meaning. Above all, the playwright, director and actors inspire us to broaden our understanding of aspects of our society beyond the stereotypic “Red States” and “Blue States” that we may not have considered before. As we question attitudes that may not resonate with ours, nevertheless, we must stand in each other’s shoes, especially those that we may have previously disdained.

How to Load a Musket is a must-see for its originality, ingeniousness and wonderful performances shepherded beautifully by Jaki Bradley. It is running with no intermission at 59E59 Theaters until 26 January. For tickets and times CLICK HERE.

 

‘Maz and Bricks’ by Eva O’Connor at 59E59 Theaters

Eva O'Connor, Ciaran O'Brien, Maz and Brickss, Jim Culleton, 59E59 Theaters

(L to R): Eva O’Connor, Ciaran O’Brien in Fishamble’s ‘Maz and Bricks,’ by Eva O’Connor, directed by Jim Culleton, at 59E59 Theaters (Lunaria)

Maz and Bricks by Eva O’Connor takes place on a tram, and on the streets of Dublin over two days in 2017. Its setting is monumental because at this time, the campaign to repeal the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland was at its height. Because of the popular support, reflected in the protests to repeal the amendment which banned abortion, the amendment was repealed in 2018, and a women’s right to make decisions about her own body was solidified under the law.

During the campaign, Maz, who is on her way to a massive protest in Dublin to repeal the constitutional abortion ban, meets Bricks. Their initial meeting filled with conflict and humorous, verbal smackdowns becomes the linchpin that changes both of their lives.

The production presented by Fishamble, The New Play Company, won an Olivier Award and is in its US premiere at 59E59 Theaters, as part of Origin’s 1st Irish. Experiencing the 80 minute production which has no intermission, a minimal, spare set and fine staging, one can understand why it is an award-winner. First, it is directed with precision and sensitivity by Jim Culleton. Secondly, O’Connor’s titular characterizations lure us with their vitality, and surprise us with their raw likeability. The play is well crafted with continually dynamic interchanges by the characters and an unadorned, satisfying, character-driven plot development, with powerful themes that hold currency for our times.

Eva O'Connor, Ciaran O'Brien, Maz and Brickss, Jim Culleton, 59E59 Theaters

(L to R): Eva O’Connor, Ciaran O’Brien in Fishamble’s ‘Maz and Bricks,’ by Eva O’Connor, directed by Jim Culleton, at 59E59 Theaters (Lunaria)

Thanks to the superb performances by Eva O’Connor (playwright) who also performs Maz, and Ciaran O’Brien as Bricks, we are led on a journey that moves deeper into the minds and hearts of these individuals, as they become acquainted, gain interest in each other, bounce apart, then couple together in mutual respect and caring. By the conclusion of the production we note how “in the twinkling of an eye, at the last sound of the trumpet,” individuals can open up and help each other reach a place of authenticity and healing, that they did not realize they could reach in themselves alone.

Upon first meeting Maz and Bricks, we are struck by Bricks’ over-confidence, braggadocio and utterly loutish behavior during a phone conversation on a tram, which one needs ear plugs to ignore. When Maz calls Bricks out for his “wildly inappropriate behavior,” and reveals that she is finishing a placard about a nineteen-year-old who died because she couldn’t get a legal abortion, Bricks recoups himself, twits her and tries to smooth over Maz’s attitude by sharing details about his life. After this meeting where he discovers her name and tells her his, the characters, in open monologues to the audience, share their perspectives about the meeting and then describe the next steps as they make their way through their day’s events. Maz goes to the protest; Bricks goes to Lara’s (his X partner) to pick up Yas, his daughter, to take her to the zoo.

The monologues are in rhymes which rhythmically play out with vibrance and power, adding interest and keeping the audience focused at their novelty. Bricks describes how Lara prevents him from his seeing their daughter because she heard about his untoward behavior with her cousin. Bricks’ forthright manner, as he eventually tells the truth to Maz, is a turning point. The playwright exacts a shift in Bricks’ characterization from the lout to the individual underneath the mask. We note his vulnerability, insecurity and upset at not being allowed to be with his daughter, whom he loves. We understand that the cousin may have set him up, so that Lara might punish him using Yas, a cruel action. Desolate, Bricks ends up at the protest. He is just in time to stop Maz from getting into trouble throwing stones at the anti-abortion protesters.

Eva O'Connor, Fishamble, Maz and Bricks, Jim Culleton, 59E59 Theaters

Eva O’Connor in Fishamble’s ‘Maz and Bricks’ by Eva O’Connor, directed by Jim Culleton at 59E59 Theaters (Lunaria)

As they thrust and parry, with jibes and humor, O’Connor evolves the dialogue between these two flawed individuals. She heightens the monologues in a unique way so that the characters step away from the action, and with thoughtful, sometimes philosophical commentary, bring themselves to the next step in their relationship with each other. This is a clever device the playwright employs. It gives us the benefit of the characters’ inner thoughts to reveal their personalities and how their feelings relate to their resultant outer actions.

Thus, by degrees, we note the mystery of how Maz and Bricks, who appeared so antithetical to each other at the outset, find common ground with which to understand each other. They demonstrate that “opposites attract,” as Bricks indicates in his interest in Maz, who is unlike anyone he has ever known. However, once they find the raw and authentic centers of each other’s emotions, they realize they are not that different in their humanity and impulses toward decency.

The characters evolve in their relationship as they hang out with each other and spend the day. O’Connor uses their first interaction on the tram as a thematic prelude on a number of levels. She suggests that it is possible to compromise with others about political views, if one is open-minded and hopeful. That Bricks has an ulterior motive, turns into something deeper as Bricks tells us when he stops Maz’s stone throwing. He intuits that his interference, may lead to something between them. If not, he will crash and burn in humiliation. It is a risk he is willing to take.

Eva O'Connor, Ciaran O'Brien, Maz and Brickss, Jim Culleton, 59E59 Theaters

(L to R): Eva O’Connor, Ciaran O’Brien in Fishamble’s ‘Maz and Bricks,’ by Eva O’Connor, directed by Jim Culleton, at 59E59 Theaters (Lunaria)

O’Connor’s characters grow more likeable in their interest and acceptance of each other, driven by acute direction and nuanced, spot-on performances by the actors. We believe that Maz and Bricks might care for each other in a world that is chaotic and filled with pain for them, as we later learn. However, in spite of the problems and turmoil that they must confront and do confront with each other’s help, theirs is a relationship worth saving and deepening.

In its conclusion Maz and Bricks is refreshing, satisfying and real. O’Connor presents themes about prejudice, open-mindedness, truthfulness and human dignity in respecting one another’s viewpoint and in “standing in another’s shoes.” It is a behavior that we sorely need to reflect upon and practice in the current, divisive, political climate in the U.S. and elsewhere around the globe.

Kudos to the creative team: Maree Kearns (set and costume design) Sinéad McKenna (lighting designer) Carl Kennedy (sound designer) who, with director Jim Culleton and the actors, have made this a must-see production. Maz and Bricks runs until 23 February at 59E59 Theaters, Theater B. This is one you won’t want to miss. For tickets and times, go to their website by CLICKING HERE.

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Angela Lansbury in Conversation With Charlotte Moore, a LPTW Event at Bruno Walter Auditorium Lincoln Center

Angela Lansbury, Charlotte Moore, LPTW, Angela Lansbury in Conversation With Charlotte Moore, NYPL for the Performing Arts

(L to R): Angela Lansbury, Charlotte Moore, ‘Angela Lansbury in Conversation With Charlotte Moore,’ NYPL, LPTW, Bruno Walter Auditorium Lincoln Center (Carole Di Tosti)

Angela Lansbury is a phenomenon at 94-years-young. She’s still acting, still beaming, still working on her craft. What a pleasure for the The League of Professional Theatre Women and the New York Public Library of the Performing Arts to host an interview with Angela Lansbury conducted by friend, actress and Artistic Director of Irish Repertory Theatre in New York, Charlotte Moore. Both women have secured their place in the New York Theatre community and are a joy to know and work with.

The interview was held Thursday, 14 November at the Bruno Walter Auditorium, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts as a free event produced by Ludovica Villar-Hauser with LPTW members in attendance along with friends of Ms. Lansbury and Ms. Moore. All present were delighted to discover Ms. Lansbury’s wisdom and hear stories about her career which spans seventy-five years and includes performances on stage, in films and on television.

Angela Lansbury, Charlotte Moore, LPTW, Angela Lansbury in Conversation With Charlotte Moore, NYPL for the Performing Arts

(L to R): Angela Lansbury, Charlotte Moore, ‘Angela Lansbury in Conversation With Charlotte Moore,’ NYPL, LPTW, Bruno Walter Auditorium Lincoln Center (Carole Di Tosti)

A Tony Award winner for Mame (1966). Ms. Lansbury made her stage debut with Bert Lahr in Hotel Paradiso (1957) and was in her first musical Anyone Can Whistle in 1964. Since Mame, she has won four more Tonys for Dear World (1968) Gypsy (1974) Sweeney Todd (1979) and Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit for her portrayal of Madam Arcati (2009) which she played five years later at London’s Gielgud Theatre winning an Olivier Award. Other London performances range from the RSC production of Edward Albee’s All Over, to Hamlet co-starring Albert Finney at the National Theatre.

Angela Lansbury, Charlotte Moore, LPTW, Angela Lansbury in Conversation With Charlotte Moore, NYPL for the Performing Arts

Angela Lansbury, ‘Angela Lansbury in Conversation With Charlotte Moore,’ NYPL, LPTW, Bruno Walter Auditorium Lincoln Center (Carole Di Tosti)

You may have seen Ms. Lansbury in Deuce by Terrence McNally (2007) Madame Armfeldt in Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music (2010) or Gore Vidal’s The Best Man (2012), all on Broadway. And if you were in Australia in 2013 you might have been able to catch her on tour with James Earl Jones in the acclaimed production of Alfred Uhry’s Driving Miss Daisy.

Angela Lansbury, Charlotte Moore, LPTW, Angela Lansbury in Conversation With Charlotte Moore, NYPL for the Performing Arts

(L to R): Angela Lansbury, Charlotte Moore, ‘Angela Lansbury in Conversation With Charlotte Moore,’ NYPL, LPTW, Bruno Walter Auditorium Lincoln Center (Carole Di Tosti)

Appearing in over 70 films, Ms. Lansbury was a part of the Studio System. She began at age seventeen with Gaslight (1944) working with Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer whom she mentioned were kind to her as a youngster starting out. Her performance as Laurence Harvey’s mother in The Manchurian Candidate (1962) starring Frank Sinatra, Janet Leigh and Laurence  Harvey for which she is perhaps most noted, won her a nomination for Best Supporting Actress. That she was around the same age as Laurence Harvey and was able to convince theatergoers that she was his steely, cool, politically compromised mother is certainly a testament of her acting skills.

Angela Lansbury, Charlotte Moore, LPTW, Angela Lansbury in Conversation With Charlotte Moore, NYPL for the Performing Arts

(L to R): Angela Lansbury, Charlotte Moore, ‘Angela Lansbury in Conversation With Charlotte Moore,’ NYPL, LPTW, Bruno Walter Auditorium Lincoln Center (Carole Di Tosti)

As a side note, both Gaslight and The Manchurian Candidate are so striking as cult classics, they have produced memes that have been used with references to their dramatic plots. The memes are currently on Social media.”Gaslighting” has come to mean tricking or conniving to brainwash then victimize. (It references the husband’s nefarious plot to dupe his wife into thinking she is insane.)  “Manchurian Candidate” has come to mean an unwitting puppet groomed and compromised by an adversarial government. (It references a useless idiot brainwashed to believe an alternate reality for an adversarial government’s nefarious purposes to further their own agenda and destroy a nation from within.)

Angela Lansbury, Charlotte Moore, LPTW, Angela Lansbury in Conversation With Charlotte Moore, NYPL for the Performing Arts

(L to R): Angela Lansbury, Charlotte Moore, ‘Angela Lansbury in Conversation With Charlotte Moore,’ NYPL, LPTW, Bruno Walter Auditorium Lincoln Center (Carole Di Tosti)

In films Ms. Lansbury acted with Elizabeth Taylor in National Velvet and became friends with her and Richard Burton and many other Hollywood greats, for example Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracey. Recently, Ms. Lansbury has been in Nanny MPhee, Mary Poppins Returns and the animated The Grinch That Stole Christmas.

When she took the starring role as mystery writer and amateur detective Jessica Fletcher on Murder, She Wrote, it was a boon. She was so beloved, that the network kept the show running for 12 seasons, 264 performances from 1984-1996. It was the longest-running detective drama series in TV history. As a result she was either nominated or won the Golden Globe as Best Performance by an Actress in a TV series 10 out of the 12 years the series ran (5 Golden Globes). And she was nominated for a Prime Time Emmy 18 times.

The rest of her award list belies that Angela Lansbury is very charming and humble in person. She is a recipient of the National Medal of the Arts and the Kennedy Center Honors. She won 3 Oscars, a Silver Mask for Lifetime Achievement from  the British Academy, and an Oscar for Lifetime Achievement in Motion Pictures. In 2014 she was named a Dame of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II. But perhaps her greatest honor was her marriage to motion picture executive Peter Shaw for 53 years. In her discussion she noted the pleasure of raising her three children and looking forward to watching her three grandchildren grow up.

Charlotte Moore, LPTW, Angela Lansbury in Conversation With Charlotte Moore, NYPL for the Performing Arts

Charlotte Moore, ‘Angela Lansbury in Conversation With Charlotte Moore,’ NYPL, LPTW, Bruno Walter Auditorium Lincoln Center (Carole Di Tosti)

Charlotte Moore co-founded the award-winning Irish Repertory Theatre with Ciarán O’Reilly in 1988 after acting together and discussing Irish theater. It was an event of synchronicity for as they bonded, they decided to work together to form the successful Irish Repertory Theatre.

Charlotte Moore, LPTW, Angela Lansbury in Conversation With Charlotte Moore, NYPL for the Performing Arts

Charlotte Moore, ‘Angela Lansbury in Conversation With Charlotte Moore,’ NYPL, LPTW, Bruno Walter Auditorium Lincoln Center (Carole Di Tosti)

Before her fated discussions with Ciarán O’Reilly, Charlotte Moore appeared in A Perfect Ganesh, The Perfect Party and Private Lives on Broadway (with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton who became dear friends) to name a few productions. She also appeared in many performances with the New York Shakespeare Festival. During the thirty-one years at the Irish Repertory Theatre she has directed almost eighty productions, the most recent being The Plough and the Stars, part of the Sean O’Casey Season and On a Clear Day You Can See Forever. Ms. Moore has received two Tony Award nominations, the Outer Critics Circle Award, the Drama Desk Award, the Drama League Award, the Eugene O’Neill Lifetime Achievement Award and the 2008 Irish Women of the Year Award. In 2011 she was named “Director of the Year” by The Wall Street Journal. This year Charlotte Moore and Ciarán O’Reilly will receive Ireland’s Presidential Distinguished Service Award for the Irish Abroad.

Charlotte Moore asked Ms. Lansbury about her friendships with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, mutual friends. Ms. Lansbury mentioned that they came to see her perform and visited her backstage. And when they came, she made sure to have alcohol at the ready for the Burtons. This received much laughter. She noted the beauty of Elizabeth Taylor’s violet eyes. They were striking. One couldn’t help when one was in Ms. Taylor’s presence to not only listen to what she was saying but to note the stunning color of her eyes.

Angela Lansbury, Charlotte Moore, LPTW, Angela Lansbury in Conversation With Charlotte Moore, NYPL for the Performing Arts

(L to R): Angela Lansbury, Charlotte Moore, ‘Angela Lansbury in Conversation With Charlotte Moore,’ NYPL, LPTW, Bruno Walter Auditorium Lincoln Center (Carole Di Tosti)

Charlotte Moore asked Ms. Lansbury about her relationship with Katherine Hepburn who many knew that in her later years became rather prickly; she didn’t suffer fools gladly.  After rolling her eyes at the implication that Katherine Hepburn was a definitive personality, which got a laugh, Ms. Lansbury said that they were good friends and Katherine Hepburn was an interesting and lovely individual. Ms. Lansbury would visit at Katherine Hepburn’s home on Long Island. (Ms. Lansbury pronounced it as the natives unwittingly do running the guttural “g” into the “Island” to much laughter.) She referenced that Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracey were partners who would never be able to marry or go public with their relationship. However, she knew Tracey as well and she thought he was a superlative actor and lovely individual.

Angela Lansbury, Charlotte Moore, LPTW, Angela Lansbury in Conversation With Charlotte Moore, NYPL for the Performing Arts

Angela Lansbury, ‘Angela Lansbury in Conversation With Charlotte Moore,’ NYPL, LPTW, Bruno Walter Auditorium Lincoln Center (Carole Di Tosti)

When Charlotte Moore asked what it was like to work with Frank Sinatra, Ms. Lansbury was specific. He was a gentleman and they became good friends. It was not a romantic relationship. However, he took her under his wing and told her a lot about the Studios and Hollywood and a lot about the industry for which she was grateful and very appreciative. When asked about the nature of The Manchurian Candidate and the character she played. Ms. Lansbury was profound. Without being definitive and ruining it with one theory or another, she implied that The Manchurian Candidate was a complex film. There are no easy answers, especially with regard to the ending which cannot be framed as a thesis/antithesis, either “this” or “that.”

Angela Lansbury, Charlotte Moore, LPTW, Angela Lansbury in Conversation With Charlotte Moore, NYPL for the Performing Arts

Angela Lansbury, ‘Angela Lansbury in Conversation With Charlotte Moore,’ NYPL, LPTW, Bruno Walter Auditorium Lincoln Center (Carole Di Tosti)

One of the interesting tips that Angela Lansbury suggested for budding actors is to leave their personality and their identity at home. She always tries to do that, to put aside her thoughts and concerns about her own life and immerse herself in the character she is playing. And she quipped that the characters were always more interesting anyway and that reality and being oneself is rather boring. Again, the audience laughed.

The overarching impression one received from the interview was that Angela Lansbury enjoyed working. Familiar to acting, like second nature, she started acting when she was a child, coming from an acting family (her mother was an actress). When Ms. Lansbury commented that she is British-Irish (her father British and her mother Irish) Charlotte Moore indicated her great pleasure about the “Irish part,” and the two shared the joke, considering that Charlotte Moore has devoted a good part of her life to uplifting Irish culture.

Angela Lansbury, Charlotte Moore, LPTW, Angela Lansbury in Conversation With Charlotte Moore, NYPL for the Performing Arts

(L to R): Angela Lansbury, Charlotte Moore, ‘Angela Lansbury in Conversation With Charlotte Moore,’ NYPL, LPTW, Bruno Walter Auditorium Lincoln Center (Carole Di Tosti)

Angela Lansbury actually is British-Irish-American. In fact her family came over during WW II (1939-1940) to escape The Blitz. With her mother and two brothers, she moved permanently to the United States. She studied acting in New York City and then proceeded to Hollywood, Los Angeles in 1942 and signed with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. There she obtained her first film roles, Gaslight (1944) and The Portrait of Dorian Grey (1945). She struck gold right then and there with two Oscar nominations and a Golden Globe.

When Ms. Moore asked what it was like working with George Cukor, Ms. Lansbury said he was a very fine director and no nonsense. She learned a lot from him, other directors and her co-actors with whom she always got along. Her pleasant attitude seems to always have been about being professional and following the suggestions of the director to enhance her character portrayals.

The easy conversation between Ms. Lansbury and Ms. Moore flew by. The audience was sorry that it had to end. Members of LPTW, friends and patrons of Lincoln Center and the Irish Repertory Theatre gave Ms. Lansbury a standing ovation in celebration of her life and career spreading joy to millions.

 

 

‘for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf,’ by Ntozake Shange in revival at the Public Theater

For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When The Rainbow is Enuf, Ntozake shange, Leah C. gdiarner, Camille A. Brown

The company of ‘for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf,’ by Ntozake Shange, directed by Leah C. Gardiner, choreographed by Camille A. Brown (Joan Marcus)

You cannot watch for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf without your muscles vibrating in joy to the rhythms of the music of Ntozake Shange’s poetry. And when it is set to the dance with musicians pealing out the songs of multicultural generations with her choreopoem delivered enthusiastically in the personal languages of black women from various backgrounds using their unique words, gestures and dance movements, it is simply grand.

for colored girls... directed by Leah C. Gardner with choreography by Camille A. Brown is now in revival at the Public Theater. Originally, the work premiered on Broadway in 1976 and received a Tony nomination. Notably, it is the second play by a black woman to reach Broadway, preceded by Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun in 1959. Shange updated the original choreopoem in 2010. She included additional material, the poem “positive,” and added references to The Iraq War and PTSD.

For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When The Rainbow is Enuf, Ntozake shange, Leah C. gdiarner, Camille A. Brown

‘for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf,’ by Ntozake Shange, directed by Leah C. Gardiner, choreographed by Camille A. Brown (Joan Marcus)

This iteration in its maverick coolness is a celebration not only of black women. It is for women everywhere. The work recalls us to a time when women reveled in the identity and unity of being female. It was a time in the feminist wave when they rejoiced being in a community of sisters from around the nation and the world.  It was a time to become visible, be heard, speak truth to power, overcome, conquer. Considering the crisis and chaos the current WH administration attempts to breed in our culture in concert with a senate majority leader supportive of the white patriarchy who revel in misogyny, embrace white nationalism and leverage religion as a political tool, it is time to revisit the themes and messages of for colored girls… and view them through the lens of womenhood, including those who are most in bondage, white women.

Shange’s choreopoem as in other productions includes music and dance with some poems sung. It is performed by seven women each sporting a dress of a different color which combine to make up colors of the rainbow. As an ironic note, remember that all colors combine to create the color white representing what is sanctified and holy, if you will. Indeed, this “is enuf.”

for colored girls wwho have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf, Ntozake shange, Leah C. gdiarner, Camille A. Brown

(L to R): Jayme Lawson and Adrienne C. Moore and the company of ‘for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf,’ written by Ntozake Shange and directed by Leah C. Gardiner, with choreography by Camille A. Brown, running at The Public Theater (Joan Marcus)

The woman/actors depicted in Shange’s majestic choreopoem are as follows:  brown (Celia Chevalier), yellow Adrienne C. Moore) blue (Sasha Allen) red Jayme Lawson) purple (Alexandria Wailes) orange (Danaya Esperanza) and green (Okwui Okpok Wasili). Together and individually, they dance to express their identities throughout the work and also listen and partake in the community by sharing their wisdom and experience. At the outset of the production, each moves to center stage where via monologue, they contribute their personal message of womanhood.

As the various women play “tag, you’re it,” the first to begin, the woman in brown, steps into herself and with her own dialect, rhythms, gestures and carriage tells a story from her youth about her love fantasy Touissant. She first read about Touissant in the “forbidden” adult section of the library. Touissant was the black general who fought for France and ended up starting his own revolution reinforcing the Haitian slaves who ignited an insurrection against their bondage. Touissant continued their work and inspired a revolution against oppression which ended in a free Haiti.

The woman in brown’s love is metaphoric and symbolic. Touissant represents freedom from enforced bondage. In seeking him as her fantasy lover, the woman embraces the freedom to be herself in a culture that attempts to nullify her voice and identity. When she shares that she meets up with a boy named Touissant Jones, she realizes that one is similar to the other in not “taking any guff” from white people. She decides in her quest for escape from white supremacy’s mores (she had planned to to go Haiti) she will continue with the real Touissant Jones and become the freedom that Touissant metaphorically represents. She will make her own place regardless of whether “they” recognize her or not, for she has empowered herself to know who she is.

for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf, Ntozake shange, Leah C. gdiarner, Camille A. Brown

The company of ‘for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf,’ by Ntozake shange, directed by Leah C. Gardiner, choreographed by Camille A. Brown (Joan Marcus)

Each of the women relate their personal stories in choreopoems. Some are humorous. For example, the woman in yellow shares giving up her virginity in a buick on the night of her graduation. When queried about it by the woman in blue, she tells her, “It was wonderful!” Each of the women chime in about where they “lost it.” The effect is funny and the sharing brings the group together in community. Moving in a different direction, the woman in blue riffs on her experiences running off at sixteen to dance with Willie Colon in the Bronx where she feels sublime dancing the mambo, bomba and merengue all night. But when Colon doesn’t show, she goes to a bar where she learns the beauty and subtly of musicians playing the blues. Her time center stage ends with a song/poem to the power of music and life. Sasha Allen’s voice is incredible.

Sasha Allen, for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf, Ntozake shange, Leah C. gdiarner, Camille A. Brown

Shasha Allen (center) and the company of ‘for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf,’ written by Ntozake Shange and directed by Leah C. Gardiner, with choreography by Camille A. Brown, running at The Public Theater (Joan Marcus)

The woman in red gives a lament about throwing herself into the pursuit of a lover then ending the affair, a place all the women have been as they “dance to keep from” cryin’ and dyin.'” Then there is a transition; the light signals the emotional shift  which deepens into the harder subjects beginning with rape. But is it rape when you know your rapist who is a friend or close family member? Each of the women relate their wisdom and finish each other’s thoughts for all have experienced the “latent rapist’s bravado.” These are “men who know us…that we will submit and relinquish all rights in the presence of a man…especially if he has been considered a friend…”

This section is particularly powerful in light of the #metoo movement. The women in the beauty of Shange’s verse and the rhythms of their movements share how the “nature of rape has changed.” You “meet your rapist in coffeehouses sitting with friends.” We can “even have them over for dinner and get raped in our own houses by invitation, a friend.”

for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf, Ntozake shange, Leah C. gdiarner, Camille A. Brown

The company of ‘for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf,’ by Ntozake shange, directed by Leah C. Gardiner, choreographed by Camille A. Brown (Joan Marcus)

Sadly, these lines are even more salient today as we hear the statistics: one in three women are raped in their lifetimes and more than a few are raped more times by different men. One thinks of the power dynamic of the Harvey Weinsteins, the Matt Lauers, the Bill O’Reillys, the Roger Aileses, and all those invisible bosses or friends who laud their “latent rapist bravado” towering over subservient females while boasting about their conquests in gyms and lockers rooms, while showering together. Women reduced, vilified, hated, objectified, say little for fear of more abuse or loss of a job and career. Or they are PTSD frozen by the audacity that someone took what wasn’t theirs to take. The #metoo movement is a first step. When the “latent rapists” are in jail and the men and women they would trample over with their violence are in positions of power, this justice will indicate the culture is climbing to the mountaintop.

Celia Chevalier, for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf, Ntozake shange, Leah C. gdiarner, Camille A. Brown

Celia Chevalier (foreground) in for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf, written by Ntozake Shange and directed by Leah C. Gardiner, with choreography by Camille A. Brown, running at The Public Theater (Joan Marcus)

Whether latent or verbally harass raped or physically abused, rape is violence. There is nothing sexual about it. In the infantile man’s mind, his penis is a weapon to slay and conquer women. Nothing adult or masculine! A man’s sexuality and masculinity are expressed in tenderness, truth and soul giving as the various women point out in their comments about men and relationships. But who is mentoring these traits of grace? Certainly not the president, or Jeffrey Epstein or Bret Kavanaugh or the Republicans and others in positions of power in business, politics and elsewhere who have sexual abuse on their resumes, hidden by AMI’s “Catch and Kill” program. (Read Ronan Farrow’s titular book on this subject.)

From rape, the rainbow of women present choreopoems about abortion, domestic violence, abandonment, devastating relationships and seeking identity through sex and love. And in the sharing of their trials, hurts and losses, especially the loss of self-hood, there is a benefit. Healing comes with love and empowerment to resurrect a new self inspired by the community of women who understand and uplift.

One of the more powerful, humorous and profound presentations references how women give their self-hood and identity to men and or the culture/patriarchy. The audience responded with laughter at what the woman in green meant metaphorically and symbolically with the refrain, “somebody almost walked off wid alla my stuff…now why dont you put me back & let me hang out in my own self?” Okwui Okpokwasili as the woman in green is riotous in her portrayal and stance as a woman who has realized that she has been giving all of herself away to one or many who don’t really understand or want her being.

“i want my own things/ how i lived them/ & give me my memories/how I waz when I waz there/ you can’t have ’em or do nothin’ wit em/stealin’ my shit from me/dont make it yrs/makes it stolen”

Okwui Okpokwasili, for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf, Ntozake shange, Leah C. gdiarner, Camille A. Brown

Okwui Okpokwasili (foreground) in for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf, written by Ntozake Shange and directed by Leah C. Gardiner, with choreography by Camille A. Brown, running at The Public Theater (Joan Marcus)

Okpokwasili’s presentation resonated deeply not only with women but with men. Stealing is an analogy with the robbery of self and what one deems most valuable. In this instance, it also includes physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being that has been robbed by the culture and those brainwashed into theft. Just Wow!

The most poignant choreopoem concerns soul sickness and fear in men that converts to abuse and torment. The woman in red shares the dramatic events that encompass her children’s deaths at the hands of a former partner. The pain and torment from these experiences are related to the community of women who give a laying on of hands to bring on healing. And by the end of this section and the conclusion of the production, each of the women separately then in unity chant as a chorus whose vibrations go out into the audience, “I found god in myself & I loved her/ I loved her fiercely.” At this point the women though they may have considered suicide because of what they have experienced, in the companionship of sistahs have brought themselves and each other to the end of their own rainbows, “fiercely.”

This production is momentous. Shange’s poetry shimmers on the page. The creative team makes the director’s vision equally shine with brilliance. Kudos to Myung Hee Cho (scenic design) Toni-Leslie James (costume design) Jiiyoun Chang (lighting design) Megumi Katayama (sound design) Martha Redbone (original music) Deah Love Harriott (music director) Kristy Norter (music coordinator) Onudeah Nicolarakis (director of American Sign Language).

A caveat, however, is that some of the lyricism and the poetic language is lost in the exuberance of the performers’ actions, some more so than others. Specifically, the words, the expressions in all their glory are not always clear. Sometimes, these were garbled or faded as if on the wind. That is a fabulous conception, however, it doesn’t serve the themes that can resonate and should resonate with the audience, especially the men as they learn about women, a subject they often profess to know little about. Men above all need to know the “what” of women’s experiences.

Hamilton, Lin Manuel Miranda’s work is rapped quickly, exuberantly. However, each word is treated with “kid gloves,”  to add a simile, like a diamond, or precious ruby. Each word is articulated, pronounced clearly, enunciated. Why aren’t Shange’s words treated like such jewels? Every word is vital to our understanding.

I wasn’t the only one frustrated by the performers rushing over the poetry to make the production come in at a certain time. In my section of the audience, humorous segments were missed. Sitting in the round the audience opposite us laughed. The same occurred when we laughed, the audience on the opposite side were silent. Great, if that is a symbolic/thematic notion. I understand, but don’t agree if that is the intentional direction.

Shange’s poetic phrases and word choices are heady. The performers are there to tell a story, to act and be heard and understood. What Shange is saying we must understand. All of it! Okwui Okpokwasili’s “somebody almost walked off wid alla my stuff…” was hysterical and deep, and the audience around me laughed and enjoyed that choreopoem because she slowed down, enunciated, paused, articulated; the same occurred with Adrienne C. Moore. And Alexandria Wailes’ signing was excellent and powerful. But some of the other women at times didn’t completely come through to us. That disappointed me because I loved the production’s energy and profound themes. Despite that caveat, it is smashing!

for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf runs with no intermission at the Public Theater until 8th December. For tickets and times CLICK HERE.

 

 

 

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‘Games’ by Henry Naylor, Winner of the 2019 Adelaide’s Critic Circle Award

Renita Lewis, Lindsay Ryan, Henry Naylor, Darren Lee Cole, Soho Playhouse

(L to R): Renita Lewis, Lindsay Ryan in ‘Games,’ written by Henry Naylor, directed by Darren Lee Cole (courtesy of the production)

Games the multi-award winning play by Henry Naylor directed by Darren Lee Cole codifies a time in history that resonates with us today. The play exposes the noxious practices of discrimination, racism, injustice and inequity during the backdrop of the 1936 Berlin Olympics held in Germany.

At that time Hitler was in power and was establishing his Aryan race laws against Jews who were being discriminated against in every aspect of society and government, from civil service positions to university jobs and private businesses. Hitler’s destructive social policies led to untold misery and horrific genocide. The ultimate tragedy was in the loss of human talent, brilliance and genius that most probably would have added to music, culture, the arts, sports and scientific advancements for the betterment of the world.

To explore how the initial race laws could impact a particular arena, Naylor highlights the world of sports and the Third Reich in the early stages of Hitler’s rise before the conceptualization of the Final Solution (the organized conspiracy to exterminate “undesirables,” specifically Jews, Gypsies, communists, etc.). Naylor indicates how the race laws destroyed the careers of two Jewish women who were incredible athletes and deserved the glory they should have gotten if not for Hitler’s wickedness.

Lindsay Ryan, Renita Lewis, Games, Darren Lee Cole, Henry Naylor, Soho Playhouse

Lindsay Ryan in ‘Games,’ written by Henry Naylor, directed by Darren Lee Cole (courtesy of the production)

The play, currently running at the Soho Playhouse, explores the true story about world class athletes, one in fencing, Helene Mayer, and the other in the high jump, Gretel Bergmann. The fascinating production, through interchanging direct address narratives, familiarizes the audience with another example of how Nazism not only harmed others but nearly annihilated the once venerable German culture and society.

The minimalistic production briefly chronicles the exceptionalism of Mayer and Bergmann and reveals how they worked with assiduous effort to achieve a greatness in their chosen sports. Mayer portrayed by Lindsay Ryan and Bergmann depicted by Renita Lewis take turns sharing their stories engaging the audience as their confidantes. Each woman discusses how she endeavored to become the best. Both share salient details about their struggles to excel at a level not achieved before by women in their respective fields.

Lindsay Ryan, Games, Soho Playhouse, Darren Lee Cole Henry Naylor,

Lindsay Ryan in ‘Games,’ Soho Playhouse, directed by Darren Lee Cole, written by Henry Naylor (photo courtesy of the production)

Helene Mayer, a German Jew was a phenomenon at 10-years-old. She sparred with male fencing partners after she sneaked into an all-male fencing class and convinced the teacher that she could best whomever she went up against. Encouraged by her father who was a doctor, Mayer achieved such a mastery in her skills that she won awards in competitions across Germany. Eventually, she won an Olympic gold medal at 17 at the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam, representing Germany. She won 18 bouts and lost only 2, bringing glory to Germany and receiving accolades from President Hindenburg.

Mayer’s story dovetails with Bergmann’s who was younger and who looked up to Mayer as her hero and inspiration. Indeed, she had a Mayer doll and was overwhelmed when she had the opportunity to meet with Mayer at her school where Mayer encouraged her to continue to excel as a track and field athlete.

During her segments of the play, Mayer discusses how she is ready to secure the Olympic gold medal a second time. However, when she receives disturbing news, her dedication and focus blows up and she doesn’t fulfill get the Gold. Sadly, by the time she worked to compete in the 1936 Olympics, she was banned from being on the German team because she was Jewish. The only team the Third Reich allowed her to be on was the equivalent Jewish team. She could not mingle with the “Christian” team, though she was well liked and spoke to everyone.

During the Bergmann exchange in the production, we discover that the same happened with Bergmann. Encouraged by her parents, as Bergmann, Lewis declaims enthusiastically that she eventually went to London and studied at London Polytechnic, where she became the British high jump champion. She also discusses how she was brought back to Germany to compete in the Olympics and save face with the Western World who received condemnation for discriminating against Jews. It is when she was preparing for the 1936 Olympics that the climax of the production occurs, Bergmann meets Ryan once more. They hadn’t seen each other since Bergmann’s high school years and Mayer’s visit.

Renita Lewis, Games, Darren Lee Cole, Soho Playhouse, Henry Naylor

Renita Lewis in ‘Games,’ directed by Darren Lee Cole, written by Henry Naylor (courtesy of the production)

At the last minute, in fact two weeks before the Olympics, Bergmann was prevented from competing because of her religion, though it was given out that she had physical ailments that prevented her from competing. The irony is that the Third Reich was so rabid in its annihilating policies, the Nazi party gave up the advantage of a good chance to win a medal only in order not to have to accept a Jew onto their team. For the Third Reich, it would have been more of a disgrace to have a “Jew” be recognized as a great star athlete, a fact that would have disproved the Nazi FALSE FACT that Jews were an “inferior race.”

Things fared differently for Mayer. As a token gesture to mollify the United States, German authorities allowed the half-Jewish fencer to represent Germany in Berlin primarily because she was on record as having won an Olympic medal in 1928 and was venerated nationally. She had been studying at Mills College in California and returned for the games. No other athletes of Jewish ancestry competed for Germany, except Mayer who was forced to compromise and give the Nazi salute as did the other athletes. Interestingly, in the play, Naylor has Mayer affirm that she is apolitical and cannot be branded. Above all she swears that she is a fencer not supporting or working against Hitler. However, fact checking reveals that she was used by Hitler and that is why she saluted, a compromise for her to compete in her love of fencing.

Games is largely expositional with character actions of fencing moves and graceful running moves threaded in by the very fit actors. It may also be viewed as two largely solo performances for there is little interaction between Mayer and Bergmann which is why their meet up in Bergmann’s high school and at the Olympics preparation was dynamic. Ryan and Lewis do a fine job in relaying the angst that Mayer and Bergmann went through in their emotional trials to shore up their determination against the Third Reich and in their struggle to compete and be the best.

Lindsay Ryan, Renita Lewis, Games, Henry Naylor, Darren Lee Cole

Lindsay Ryan, Renita Lewis in ‘Games,’ written by Henry Naylor, directed by Darren Lee Cole (courtesy of the production)

The themes are exceptional. And Naylor rings out a siren call for us today in regard to holding on to the following tenets so as not to fall into the abyss that Germany fell into under Hitler’s Third Reich. We must strongly affirm our democratic values by upholding a free press, and upholding what makes our government strong- checks and balances. This is especially so against a current failing White House executive that smells of fascist-type dictatorship and one-man rule of the nightmare that led to Germany’s downfall, and can lead to the dissolution of our nation if allowed to go unchecked. Finally, Naylor decries that ultimately the discrimination meant to hurt the group discriminated against, ultimately destroys the discriminators.

Kudos goes to the actors, director and writer for capturing history for us and translating it into a vital remembrance that resonates for us today. Kudos also goes to the creative team of Jared Kirby (fight choreographer) Carter Ford (lighting design) Hayley Procacci (sound design) that helped bring Mayer’s and Bergmann’s stories into the present.

Games is a must-see if you enjoy learning about incredible world class athletes largely unknown today, but who should be recognized for their pluck, drive and accomplishments. Games runs at the Soho Playhouse (15 Van Dam Street) with no intermission. For tickets and times CLICK HERE.

 

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‘Broadway Blessing 2019,’ an Uplifting Celebration to Launch the New Theater Season

Broadway Blessing 2019, Actor's Chapel, St. Malachy's, Chita Rivera

Broadway Blessing 2019 poster outside St. Malachy’s, the Actor’s Chapel (Carole Di Tosti)

Each year, actors, directors, musicians, composers, producers, parishioners, singers, clergy and others gather for an evening in September in one accord. Their purpose is to bless, to anoint the entire theater community from producers and actors to critics and technicians to transmit the energy of joy and peace that will be felt by patrons from around the world who walk into a New York City theater looking to be stirred, engaged and enthralled with the wisdom and verve of live performance. Theater has its origins in religion. Social mavens in ancient Greece conceived that theatergoers/religious adherents, as receptors of the energy that flowed back and forth from live actors to audience members would walk away revitalized from playwrights’ tragedies and comedies.

According to Kathryn Fisher, co-producer of Broadway Blessing 2019, “Broadway Blessing started in 1997 as an evening of song, dance and story to celebrate and ask for blessings on the new Broadway season. For many years it rotated among churches – St. Malachy’s, St. Clements, St. Luke’s, St. John the Divine, and the Little Church Around the Corner – finally returning to St. Malachy’s in 2017, where it has been since.”

Stephen Fraser, The Broadway Blessing Choir, Broadway Blessing 2019

Stephen Fraser, Musical Director, The Broadway Blessing Choir, Broadway Blessing 2019 (Carole Di Tosti)

The celebration has burgeoned. New York City’s theater community has at its heart this finer impulse and in addition to seeking to make a profit, it follows the same high calling to enrich and redeem theatergoers from themselves, their work lives and the drudgery of daily routines. Indeed, theater’s mission seems more vital than ever in our divisive and stressful political climate. Broadway Blessing 2019, now in its 22nd year, is a reckoning to be thankful for the riches of the upcoming year of theater in renewal and refreshment.

Fr. George Drance, SJ, Broadway Blessing 2019, St. Malachy's-The Actors' Chapel

Fr. George Drance, SJ (Emcee) Broadway Blessing 2019, St. Malachy’s-The Actors’ Chapel (Carole Di Tosti)

Broadway Blessing 2019 on Monday 16 September was produced by Kathryn Fisher and Co-Produced by Pat Addiss, with musical direction by Stephen Fraser and stage management by Mary Fran Loftus. Special thanks go to Retta Blaney, Founder, Fr. John Fraser, St. Malachy’s Church-The Actors’ Chapel, Fr. George Drance, SJ, Rabbi Jill Hausman, Congregation Ezrath Israel-Actors’ Temple with clergy from the theater district. The evening included Broadway and Off-Broadway performers, the Broadway Blessing Choir and Instrumentalists. Emceed by Fr. George Drance, SJ, who introduced the musical performers and guest presenters, Fr. George Drance, SJ’s pointed, informational commentary helped to make the evening flow seamlessly.

Katharine Heaton, West Side Story, Broadway Blessing 2019

Katharine Heaton singing “Somewhere” from ‘West Side Story’ (music by Leonard Bernstein & lyrics by Stephen Sondheim) at Broadway Blessing 2019 (Carole Di Tosti)

Musical numbers included songs from award-winning shows Oklahoma!  Gypsy, West Side Story, Desperate Measures, The Music Man, Hair, The Lion King, Fiddler on the Roof, and La Cage aux Folles. Soloists included Mae Roney, Paul T. Ryan, Nancy Simpson, Katharine Heaton, Conor Ryan, Alex Fraser, Jill O’Hara, Liseli Lugo, Stephen Carlile, Sidney Meyer and Adam Shapiro.

Conor Ryan, Broadway Blessing 2019, Desperate Measures

Conor Ryan singing “Good to be Alive” from Desperate Measures, (music by David Friedman & lyrics by Peter Kellogg) Broadway Blessing 2019 (Carole Di Tosti)

Chita Rivera, Hal Prince, Broadway Blessing 2019

Chita Rivera discussing Hal Prince’s Broadway legacy at Broadway Blessing 2019 (Carole Di Tosti)

Chita Rivera presented a lovely encomium about Hal Price who died on July 31, 2019. Chita Rivera is an incredible performer (actress, singer, dancer). It is fitting that Ms. Rivera, a two-time Tony Award winner with five Tony Award nominations and a special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in Theater should recall to our remembrance Hal Prince’s indelible contributions to theater in the twentieth and twenty-first century. She worked with him in award winning shows he either produced or directed. The most recent collaboration was Kiss of The Spider Women (music by John Kander and Fred Ebb with book by Terrence McNally) in which she starred and he directed, shepherding her toward TONY, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle wins for her performance. Ms. Rivera emphasized Prince’s exceptionalism which will probably never be equaled. She highlighted with a significant pause so we could “get it” (I still can’t) that he won 21 Tony Awards which she saw with lined up on his desk.

Stephanie J. Block, Roma Torre, Broadway Blessing 2019

(L to R): Stephanie J. Block (The Cher Show) and renowned, beloved theater critic Roma Torre, Broadway Blessing 2019 (Carole Di Tosti)

In another segment of the program two-time Emmy Award winner and popular theater critic Roma Torre briefly interviewed Stephanie J. Block who won a TONY, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Award for her performance in The Cher Show. Stephanie Block shared a humorous story of how she finally realized the speaking voice of Cher on vacation whitening her teeth with Oral B and Crest Whitening Strips. While she was using the strips she happened to speak to her husband who noted the transformation into Cher’s speaking voice. Stephanie J. Block’s teeth are stunning and the story of how she found Cher and received a TONY for it is priceless.

As a coda, Roma Torre is still with NY1, and the lawsuit continues encouraged by her fans and supporters, both men and women. They enjoy her experienced commentary and cogent reviews. Hopefully, her on air time will increase. It is completely understandable why Ms. Torre and five other female anchors are litigating against channel operator Charter Communications in an age- and gender-discrimination lawsuit. You may read the article about Roma Torre’s intrepid fight with her colleagues to stand up to gender/age discrimination by CLICKING HERE.

David Friedman, Broadway Blessing 2019

David Friedman discussing the backstory to his composition “Something Happened,” Broadway Blessing 2019 (Carole Di Tosti)

David Friedman is an award-winning composer of Desperate Measures (music David Friedman, book and lyrics Peter Kellogg). Through the years Friedman composed, conducted and arranged numerous songs, movies and Broadways shows. For Broadway Blessing 2019 he contributed his talent accompanying Sidney Myer in a special song Friedman composed via a request by Pat Addiss (co-producer of Desperate Measures with Mary Cossett).

Sidney Myer, Broadway Blessing 2019, "Something Happened" David Friedman

Sidney Meyer singing “Something Happened,” by David Friedman for Broadway Blessing 2019  (Carole Di Tosti)

However, before Sidney Myer sang, David Friedman discussed the song’s backstory. Pat Addiss had asked him to write a song about abuse of the type that one may have experienced as a child. The nature of the abuse she referenced was so egregious that the individual blocked it from memory. However, suppressed events from childhood impact the evolution of an individual into adulthood. Sometimes, upon hearing of another’s similar abuse, individuals have reactions and have even fainted because, as can happen with physical pain, their psyche shuts down because the trigger is too intense. Pat Addiss encouraged David Friedman to create a song about such abuse and he did entitling it, “Something Happened.” The profound song which Sidney Meyer performed with great feeling is about one’s inner cry to confront suppressed truths and bring them to the light to heal. It’s an incredible work and in keeping with an evening of blessings.

Liseli Lugo, Stephen Carlile, Broadway Blessing 2019

Stephen Carlile, Liseli Lugo singing “The Circle of Life” from The Lion King (music by Elton John & lyrics by Tim Rice) Broadway Blessing 2019 (Carole Di Tosti)

Broadway Blessing 2019

“Candle Lighting Ceremony,” the Broadway Blessing Choir sing “Sisi Ni Moja-We Are One,” (music & lyrics by Jacob Naverud) Broadway Blessing 2019 (Carole Di Tosti)

Broadway Blessing 2019 culminated with “The Broadway Blessing” by Rabbi Jill Hausman and The Actors’ Temple of the Clergy of the Theater District. During the “Candle Lighting Ceremony,” Adam Shapiro (who portrays the Rabbi from the current production of Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish) sang “The Sabbath Prayer” in Yiddish and the Broadway Blessing Choir sang it in English. After the candles were lit, the Broadway Blessing Choir sang “Sisi Ni Moja-We Are One” (music & lyrics by Jacob Naverud). As the evening closed those in attendance joined the choir to sing the rousing “The Best of Times” from La Cage aux Folles (music & lyrics by Jerry Herman).

The Broadway/Off Broadway/Off Off Broadway year has begun in earnest. There is much to look forward to. Be blessed when you come to New York City to enjoy the fruitfulness of what the theater community offers in their amazing musicals, dramas, hybrid shows, festivals and innovative theater offerings.

 

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‘Bat Out of Hell the Musical’ by Jim Steinman, Thunders Off Broadway

 

Andrew Polec, Jim Steinman, Meatloaf, Jay Scheib, New York City Center, Bat out of Hell the Musical

Andrew Polec in ‘Bat out of Hell the Musical,’ book, music & lyrics by Jim Steinman directed by Jay Scheib (Little Fang photo)

Jim Steinman’s Bat out of Hell the Musical is first and foremost a clangorous, booming  Hard Rock/Pop Concert on a small stage with operatic, bespectacled overtones. In other words, the production is an amazing hybrid not easily categorized. Replete with strobes, underground caves and fiery doomsday projections, intimate video hand-held captures which codify emotional moments and the blaring fantasmagoria of myriad-colored flashing lights with haze and fog, the musical numbers are loud and shattering and the unusual choreography evokes the strangeness of the futuristic setting. These are characters not of our time, but with emotional resonances we can feel and glory with.

William Branner, Andrew Polec, Tyrick Wiletz Jones , Bat out of Hell the Musical, Jim Steinman, Meatloaf

(L to R): William Branner, Andrew Polec and Tyrick Wiletz Jones ‘Bat out of Hell the Musical’ with music, book, lyrics by Jim Steinman (Little Fang Photo)

Based on bestselling Meat Loaf albums, Steinman wrote the book, music and lyrics. He has been working on this magnum opus for years and has managed to garner awards during his production tours which began in 2017 up to and after the London West End Tour which beamed its startrails to Off Broadway at the New York City Center where it ends on 8 September. Five days ago, Meatloaf showed up on stage to celebrate this vibrant, blasting out of the park musical production directed by Jay Scheib. With the cast he celebrated songs he made famous from the 1970s through his Grammy Award win in 1994 and beyond.

Jim Steinman, Andrew Polec, Christina Bennington, Meatloaf, Jay Scheib

Andrew Polec, Christina Bennington in ‘Bat out of Hell the Musical,’ book, music & lyrics by Jim Steinman, directed by Jay Scheib (Little Fang Photo)

Bat out of Hell’s sketchy story coheres to its slim plot points. These gyrate the action into a “world’s end” scenario that casts as enemies the haves like the Falcos, well placed elites with a pedigree living high above in the neo-gothish “Falco Towers” (slamming Trump Towers) and the have nots (The Lost Boys/Girls). The latter clan are Oliver Twist urchin-orphans, who live a hard scrabble existence in abandoned subway tunnels underground, making wild music, partying and ferreting out their existence with above ground raids. Their keyword is freedom and the innocence and wildness of reveling in being what the mainstream culture refers them to as “lost.” Indeed, it is the other way around. With their power and money, Sloane and Falco have become lost to what they once were and what they once enjoyed. The theme, sometimes you need to launch off and take a break from your own imprisoning fears and corrupted values (which Falco and Sloane eventually do) you can restore the passion and vitality of youth which is spiritual and never “lost.”

Andrew Polec, Bat out of Hell the Musical, Meatloaf, Jim Steinman

Andrew Polec in ‘Bat out of Hell the Musical (Little Fang Photo)

As perpetual teens (it’s a Peter Panish spin as their metabolic physical processes never age past 18-years-old), Strat and his band also attempt to stay one step ahead of cudgelings by autocratic Falco’s security forces who intend to eradicate them like the “vermin” they are. However, this street gang is poetic; their “vermin-state” is romantic as Strat proves to Raven (the sylph-like, melodically voiced Christina Bennington). Ignoring her parents’ dictum to stay away from the miscreants, she is lured by the sonorous, powerful Strat (Andrew Polec is mesmerizingly fabulous; you cannot take your eyes off him), attracted to his energy, resourcefulness and ever abundant enthusiasm. Like a super-hyped engine, he charges Raven’s curiosity, daring and love. Eventually, her boredom with privilege and oppression by her father lead her Juliet-like (there is even a balcony scene) to Strat’s emotional, heart-throbbing Romeo.

Christina Bennington, Bat out of Hell the Musical, Meatloaf, Jim Steinman

Christina Bennington in ‘Bat out of Hell the Musical’ (Little Fang Photo)

The character developments are primarily revealed through the dynamism of Steinman’s songs and the superb acting, dance-movements and singing talents of Andrew Polec (Strat) Bradley Dean (Falco) and Lena Hall (Sloane). Interestingly, unlike the others whose movements and actions remain purposeful, especially when delivering an intense, revved up song, Raven’s movements during the time she is influenced by her parents are like those of a jelly-fish with no backbone. Only after she leaves home for one night with Strat, does she gain strength and resolve and her movements become more directed.

During the course of the two act musical, we witness how wife Sloane (Lena Hall’s voice is unparalleled) resists Falco’s love and motivates him to change with her anger and remembrances of their love from the past (the fabulous “Paradise by the Dashboard Light”). Bradley Dean, like Andrew Polec, delivers his songs with incredible verve and realism (“What Part of My Body Hurts the Most,” “Who Needs the Young,” etc.) He is mesmerizing. The Dean and Hall duets are highpoints; balance, strength, power encapsulate their emotional potency in a unified whole. Wow!

Bradley Dean, Lena Hall, Bat out of Hell the Musical, Jim Steinman, Meatloaf

Lena Hall, Bradley Dean in ‘Bat out of Hell the Musical,’ directed by Jay Scheib, book music & lyrics by Jim Steinman (Little Fang Photo)

Thankfully, all turns on love restored between Falco and Sloane. However, the poignance that Strat will never move past 18-years-old while Raven reaches her late forties is a reality not easily traversed. The ideal that love is the answer, if not the reality is one of the finest moments for the entire ensemble with solos by the protagonists in “I’d Do anything for Love (But I won’t Do That).” And somehow we let pass the hard distinctions of youthfulness and old age that Raven hits Strat with; this trope is easily forgotten and passed over by the rousing, gobsmacking finale.

Outstanding cast members who belt out their souls are the couple Jagwire (Tyrick Wiltez Jones) and Zahara (Danielle Steers). Like Sloane and Falco, this would-be couple remains apart until the end. And their performance together is nothing short of stunning as it melds with the other couples’ renditions into the iconic “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I won’t Do That).” Additionally, Avionce Hoyles’ (Tink, a Tinkerbell allusion to Peter Pan) and Andrew Polec’s number which both sing while Tink is dying is heartfelt and gut-wrenching. Polec and Hoyles are one’s to watch for their inherent star power.

Kudos go to the following creatives: Ryan Cantwell (musical director) Howard Joines (music coordinator) Edward Pierce Studio (design supervision) Steve Sidwell (orchestrator) Jon Bausor (set and costume designer) Meentje Nielsen (original costume designer) Finn Ross (video designer) Patrick Woodroffe (lighting designer) Gareth Owen (sound designer) Xena Gusthart (choreography adaptor) Michael Reed (musial supervisor and additional arrangements).

Presented at New York City Center, Bat out of Hell the Musical is at the end of its run, closing on 8 September unless it is extended which it should be. It is that phenomenal. It runs in two acts. You can purchase tickets online if you CLICK HERE.

 

‘Coriolanus’ by William Shakespeare, Pride Without Humility Breeds Self-Destruction

Coriolanus, William Shakespeare, Daniel Sullivan, Kate Burton, Teagle F. Bougere, Jonathan Cake, Louis Cancelmi, Chris Ghaffari, Enid Graham, Christopher Ryan Grant, Jonathan Hadary, Tom Nelis, Nneka Okafor

‘Coriolanus,’ by William Shakespeare, directed by Daniel Sullivan with Justin P. Armstrong (Ensemble), Teagle F. Bougere (Menenius Agrippa), Kate Burton (Volumnia), Jonathan Cake (Caius Martius Coriolanus), Louis Cancelmi (Tullus Aufidius), Katharine Chin (Ensemble), Gregory Connors (Ensemble), Darryl Gene Daughtry, Jr. (Ensemble), Biko Eisen-Martin (Ensemble), Bree Elrod (Ensemble), Nayib Felix (Ensemble), Josiah Gaffney (Ensemble), Chris Ghaffari (Titus Lartius), Enid Graham (Junius Brutus), Christopher Ryan Grant (Ensemble), Emeka Guindo (Young Martius), Jonathan Hadary (Sicinius Velutus), Suzannah Herschkowitz (Ensemble), Gemma Josephine (Ensemble), Thomas Kopache (First Senator), Tyler La Marr (Ensemble), L’Oreál Lampley (Ensemble), Jack LeGoff (Ensemble), Alejandra Mangini (Ensemble), Louis Reyes McWilliams (Ensemble), Max Gordon Moore (First Citizen), Tom Nelis (Cominius), Nneka Okafor (Virgilia), Donovan Price (Ensemble), Sebastian Roy (Ensemble), Ali Skamangas (Ensemble), Jason Paul Tate (Ensemble), and Amelia Workman (Valeria), (Joan Marcus

Coriolanus, Shakespeare’s apotheosis about a war monger who fires up for battle and yawns with boredom when he must live peaceably in the community brings to mind a ravaged soldier whose PTSD has so overcome him that he prefers living on the edge of death to energize himself to life. If he must choose between bloodshed, battle and calm, give Coriolanus carnage that he delivers, the gorier the better.

What does one do with such a Roman in a time of scarce resources on a planet ravaged by the doomsday scenario of global warming? Make him a politician to organize and straighten out issues in a time of great unrest in the most dire of conditions? Indeed, then watch him self destruct. For politicians must schmooze, flatter, promise, swallow crow, apologize and act with humanity and forbearance. Coriolanus is fit for battle, not for compromise, leader of his own personal autocracy which cannot be countermanded. Politics requires equanimity or the appearance of it. Of this he is incapable.

Shakespeare’s protagonist has a bit of the hero of The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow’s 2008 award winning film) without Jeremy Renner’s heartfelt agony and recognition of the mammoth loss of his former self before he signed up for war. Indeed, Coriolanus as portrayed by Jonathan Cake has much of the robotic machine killer with whom one has a devil of a time empathizing, especially as he rants and raves against those not born to a privileged background, from no fault of their own. Cake’s Coriolanus lacks interest, love or concern for others, except his wife (Nneka Okafor) son (Emeka Guindo) and mother (the wonderful Kate Burton). For his patrician friends he shows equal measure and latitude, for example Menenius Agrippa (Teagle F. Bougere) Cominius (Tom Nelis) and Titus Lartius (Chris Ghaffari) who advise him and fight with him. For his marvelously bellicose foes like Tullus Aufidius (Louis Canelmi) he bestows his complete veneration and worship.

Christopher Ryan Grant, Louis Cancelmi, 'Coriolanus,' Daniel Sullivan, Delacorte Theater

(L to R): Christopher Ryan Grant, Louis Cancelmi in ‘Coriolanus,’ directed by Daniel Sullivan, Delacorte Theater (Joan Marcus)

As for the hurting, starving crowds clamoring for grain while the patricians’ storehouses flow with plenty? Let them eat each other in a zombie apocalypse. Coriolanus will none of it. Indeed, at the outset of the production, director Daniel Sullivan has placed a locked up barrel holding water downstage which the plebeians attempt to break into.  But only Coriolanus holds the key to the lock and only he has access as he gives water to his son and denies his thirsty underlings. Charity stops first and last with self and family in a time of crisis such as that which confronts this deteriorating Rome, evocatively represented with a Mad Max scenic design by Beowulf Boritt of scattershot, burned out piles of garbage, remnants of the past, rather like Bob Ewell’s (To Kill a Mockingbird) scrummy playland hovel next to a massive town dump.

Because the rabble are deprived, there is civil unrest against the elites which if not quelled will threaten the security of the state, making it vulnerable to Rome’s enemies. However, Coriolanus answers the plebeians’ complaints with epithet and insult (they are curs and scabs) and argues that if he had the opportunity, he would slaughter them and create a mountain with their carcasses.

Jonathan Cake, Biko Eisen-Martin, Teagle F. Bougere, Coriolanus, Daniel Sullivan

(L to R): Jonathan Cake, Biko Eisen-Martin, and Teagle F. Bougere in the Free Shakespeare in the Park production of Coriolanus, directed by Daniel Sullivan (Joan Marcus)

Some explanation is given for his wrath against the fickle, unreliable lower classes. His is an elitist patrician nature roiled by his aggressive, assertive mother. When he was a child she encouraged him to abusive dominance exemplified when he attacked the most beautiful and delicate of nature’s creatures by chomping off the wings of butterflies. Being so schooled against softness and generosity, he  has no tolerance for the lazy, cowardly plebeians whose unmeritorious behaviors deserve no handouts. He states this to their faces in the opening scenes and we divine that his rancor is most grievous when he rails that he has provided the security of Rome while these poor and unfit do nothing to help him, but quailing in fear, flee even the thought of battle.

The situation is certainly egregious with the Volsces who come to attack. To get the corn they need to stem Rome’s hunger and murmurings, Coriolanus like a Titan hero single-handedly in “Incredible Hulk” fashion goes against these foes and delivers the goods without the help of the commons who slow him down. He emerges victorious from Beowulf Boritt’s ramshackle tin gates set, bloody and triumphant, but arrogant to the point of caricature!

Kate Burton, Tom Nelis, Teagle F. Bougere, Nneka Okafor, Coriolanus, Daniel Sullivan

(L to R): Kate Burton (downstage) Tom Nelis, Teagle F. Bougere, and Nneka Okafor in the Free Shakespeare in the Park production of ‘Coriolanus,’ directed by Daniel Sullivan (Joan Marcus)

Was ever there such a raging hero hewn from the trials of confronting daily doom as the populace struggles against diminishing resources in Sullivan’s fascinating, ominously foreboding vision? Never. And Shakespeare forges from his hyperbolic character the tragic flaw that caves in Coriolanus’ life, legacy and career: his overweening pride, and his fearsomeness in not being shy to express his superiority to those lowlife “deplorables” who hate him.

Coriolanus certainly is reminiscent of other leaders we know whose arrogance and inability to apologize runs before them. However, Coriolanus is intrepid, mighty and uber skilled in battle. In this he is admirable. The current arrogant and boastful who lead are 100% image and 0% substance, bullying, cowardly and shallow like those whom they represent. That both Coriolanus and the resident of the White House are unfit for politics is their only similarity. Coriolanus’ pride is based in fact and follows an important logic that is downright Puritan in a time of destitution. If one doesn’t contribute to the good of the society, then one is not worthy of the grain that others have supplied. Freeloaders are not welcome!

Emeka Guindo, Jonathan Cake, Nneka Okafor, 'Coriolanus,' Daniel Sullivan, Delacorte Theate, Free Shakespeare in the Parkr

(L to R): Emeka Guindo, Jonathan Cake, Nneka Okafor in Free Shakespeare in the Park,’Coriolanus,’ directed by Daniel Sullivan (Joan Marcus)

Shakespeare’s tragedy revolves around his protagonist being lured into the political sphere which he hates for he is not social. He is too “in your face” real to grovel in flowery phrases, alluring promises and imaginative disingenuousness to please the masses. He is direct, frank and authentic and cannot apologize or “fake it” to front those he despises.

However, he suppresses his best judgment and accepts a position which is offered to him. The conspiracy against him blows up when the Tribunes who despise him Sicinius (the excellent Jonathan Hadary) and Junius Brutus (the equal of the pair Enid Graham) incite the plebeians to revoke the offer of the position. This is upon condition that Coriolanus does not “bow” to the voice of the people. This untenable situation requires Coriolanus to be humble and compromising; this is an impossibility which results in his banishment by the Tribunes. Coriolanus counters with the statement that he banishes Rome from his presence and stature. With solemnity, he suggests that there is a place for him, away from Rome.

Jonathan Cake, Kate Burton, Coriolanus, Free Shakespeare in the Park, Daniel Sullivan

(L to R): Jonathan Cake, Kate Burton in ‘Coriolanus,’ directed by Daniel Sullivan (Joan Marcus)

But there is not. Though he joins Rome’s former enemy Tullus Aufidius of the Volsces intending to avenge his disgrace and dishonor of banishment by destroying Rome, it is a rush to judgment. The momentous decision means that he will destroy his mother, wife, son and friends who have not joined the Volsces. In the most insightful and powerful scene in the production (thanks to Kate Burton and Jonathan Cake’s whining “but mother” which reveals his enslavement to her dominance) Voluminia persuades him to betray Aufidius and fight for Rome not Volsces. It is Coriolanus’ act of sacrificial, stoic death. Aufidius will certainly kill him for his betrayal. That Voluminia has raised her son to war so that he can ultimately die to save her is unnatural and wicked for a mother. Doesn’t Voluminia and his family have other options? But their relationship as Cake and Burton portray it is fraught with issues of power dominance and abuse as the brute Coriolanus is reduced to a mewling weakling by his mother. He accedes to her wishes.

The production’s emphasis works at times and at other times is spotty. The rag-tag Costume Design by Kaye Voyce, Scenic Design by Beowulf Boritt,  the Lighting Design by Japhy Weideman (strongest at the conclusion) the Soudd Design by Jessica Paz, the Composer Dan Moses Schreier’s music all convey Sullivan’s vision and themes soundly to resonate for us today. What happens to the haves and have nots when the law of diminishing returns lets loose annihilation because of the willful negligence and stupifying greed of previous generations’ corporate elites? Sullivan’s answering backdrop for the play is acute and frightening.

On the other hand, the empathy that we could feel for the plight of Coriolanus struggling against his own character wobbles perhaps because his character portrayal is one-note, at times cartoonish and lacking in depth. In the scenes with Burton’s Voluminia the depth of Cake’s Coriolanus shines, however. Shakespeare’s characterization reveals a character caught by his own ego between a rock and a hard place. He is betrayed by the Tribunes (his mother’s rant in their faces is largely ineffective) who capitalize on his arrogant weak character, lure him then back him into a humble pie corner from which he implodes.

And when he decides to punish Rome by depriving the society of the one way he has greatly benefited it by delivering death to its door? Once again he is thwarted, this time by his mother. And yet, there is no solace, nor sorrow nor identification at the conclusion that one might feel with Cake’s portrayal of a man who has undone himself. This is a weakness of the production which in all else especially Sullivan’s vision of the future is pointed.

Coriolanus is enjoying its last presentation today, 11 August. Performances have been sold out. However, there may be  seats released if you are lucky and able to get to the Delacorte Theater well before curtain time at 8:00 pm.

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‘Octet,’ by Dave Malloy, Rehabbing With Vibrant Song Circles

Ensemble, Octet, Dave Malloy, Annie Tippe, Pershing Square Signature Center

The cast of ‘Octet,’ by Dave Malloy, directed by Annie Tippe, presented by the Signature Theatre (Joan Marcus)

Addicted to your phone, via Instagram? Text? Candy Crush? Reddit? 4Chan? World of Warcraft? In Octet by Dave Malloy directed by Annie Tippe, eight individuals who drop in to no-show Saul’s rehab in a homely church basement, find another hosting the weekly session. Thankfully, group leader Paula (the singer, songwriter Starr Busby) is nurturing and responsive to their cavernous disabling confessions. There, in a harmonious, ever fluid, richly sonorous song circle, they discuss their digital urges and expurgate them via the occult, each governed by a Tarot card designed for them and them alone. And sometimes the chorus joins in inspired by a soul hymn, encouraging the beauty of sharing in a non-judgmental like-mindedness.

What are they sharing? That which is maligned, misunderstood and apotheoiszed, the intimate, digital, hand-held which opens up their personal world like a hallucinogen and entraps them with their own emotional frailties. By the end of their epiphany-yielding, tonal and atonal harmonies (sung a capella and sometimes performed with pitch pipes, batons and other make-shift percussion items) they are lifted spiritually out of this world and “out of themselves.” They’ve achieved a healing peace in the community of others and the audience responds with a standing ovation for they, too, have been enlivened and awakened, having stayed off their phones for almost two hours.

Octet, Kucho Verma, Starr Busby, Octet, Annie Tippe, Dave Malloy

(L to R): Kuchoo Verma, Starr Busby in ‘Octet,’ directed by Annie Tippe, by Dave Malloy (Joan Marcus)

Dave Malloy, the progenitor of this innovative, exceptional and robust musical has created a masterwork with little theatrical spectacle, certainly nowhere near the breadth of Natasha Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812, his signature work. In Octet for which Malloy has deftly created the music, lyrics, book and vocal arrangements, he takes a complex and intricate subject of great currency and couches it within a simplistic, minimalistic structure so that the powerful message of community and our need for live interaction resonates. With the seating in the “round,” and featuring a one-walled back set which reveals community bulletins, community ads, a coffee pot, announcements, etc., we get the sense we are in a basement which by the end infuses the sanctity of each of us which must not be underestimated. Above all Octet is like a soul injection to promote our awareness of each other’s value and worth more than an $1000 phone.

Into the choir circle of healing comes various debilitated, physically whole, but spiritually wounded internet adherents. When all are gathered, they begin the refreshment and comfort of unity so that they eventually will be released to express their hearts in solo song. The “Hymn: The Forest” reflects The Moon Tarot card which represents “Intuition.” Indeed, each of the individuals are misaligned spiritually and need to be “made upright” especially with firing up and being guided by their own wisdom and not the addictive distractions of the world.

Ensemble, Octet, Dave Malloy, Annie Tippe, Pershing Square Signature Center, Dave Malloy, Annie Tippe

The cast of ‘Octet,’ by Dave Malloy, directed by Annie Tippe, presented by the Signature Theatre (Joan Marcus)

In the first solo, we learn that Jessica in “Refresh” has put herself out there on “YouTube” and has gotten a huge response for it by those who comment. Though controversy gets clicks and likes and dislikes, it is also obsessive and must be followed by more “rants,” which Margo Seibert’s Jessica is addicted to creating for the comments. Henry (Alex Gibson) sings about his addiction to video games, and Paula (Starr Busby) sings about her distraction from her marriage and her losing her interest or attentiveness to making it work.

Distraction, dislocation from the most important relationships in one’s life is one theme of this production. Of course, viewing a screen is easy. Relationships take time, effort, pain and suffering along with the joy and good times. To stay dynamically involved with friends and spouses, one often must work through the underlying reasons and foundations for why one chooses the particular individuals one does to populate one’s life. It’s much easier to click on one’s phone and be taken away from problems by video games and escape introspection with “rants” which Jessica, Henry and Paula seek to do.

In the representative songs of what being “plugged in” digitally means to these individuals, we understand that in the “Hymn: Monster” which everyone sings, they project their inner “devil” outward and ascribe that the internet is their addiction. “Being connected online” has become the monster that has destroyed and eaten up their lives. Of course the irony is that the monster was always there within, waiting to manifest. But the way to get rid of it which will have to be a continual process, first is the realization that they have a “devil” within, and second that it is a devourer.

Ensemble, Octet, Dave Malloy, Annie Tippe, Pershing Square Signature Center, Dave Malloy, Annie Tippe

The cast of ‘Octet,’ by Dave Malloy, directed by Annie Tippe, presented by the Signature Theatre (Joan Marcus)

Karly (Kim Blanck) and Ed (the deep-voiced Adam Bashian) sing “Solo” about love and hunger for love. Ed is an Incel, a nonconformist. He riffs about Stacys and Chads (which is funny/drop dead serious Incelspeak) and they both sing about internet porn and online sexual addiction and the narcissism of having a ton of males (Karly) on her apps. In “Actually,” sung by Toby (Justin Gregory Lopez) whose Tarot card is The Magician, we note how far one must go to achieve one’s destiny, arriving at their potential. Toby has been waylaid in any pursuit of fulfillment.

In Marvin’s “Little God,” there is an intersection of spirituality and science which I found engaging in the tensions posited. J.D. Mollison is humorous in his visualizing that God is an 11-year-old dressed or looking like a Mermaid. In this song Malloy throws in ideas from Alan Watts’ The Book, and moves with gyrations into Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, and Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” and concepts from wherever. This he does throughout this intriguing, rich musical referencing games, podcasts, film, theater and books which he lists in the show’s Playbill insert.

Kuchoo Verma, Octet, Dave Malloy, Annie Tippe, Pershing Square Signature Center

Kuchoo Verma, ‘Octet,’ by Dave Malloy, directed by Annie Tippe, presented by the Signature Theatre (Joan Marcus)

However, as a cleanse from the confusion of the myriad voices that try to persuade, convince and entrap us online, Paula conducts a wonderful ceremonial tea (“Tower Tea Ceremony”). It is then all sit, savor, become present, become located within themselves and prosper in their souls with the help of a drug that takes them deep within, but only for a few minutes. The ceremony yields humorous and beautiful moments. As a justification that there is something good about the online delusion that has swept their souls from beyond their easy grasp of themselves, it takes a song circle and tea ceremony to bring them back to a healing.

It is after the tea ceremony that Velma  (Kucho Verma) courageously sings of her angst. It is she who brings an interesting justification of the global reach of the internet. In all the world, online,she has found someone to love who loves her back and makes her feel accepted and not such an ugly freak. The song “Beautiful,” governed by the Tarot card of The Fool, magnetizes all the concepts that have gone before and represents “new beginnings” and faith. This, Velma encourages and with moderation, as with everything, we understand that the “monster” can be conquered.

Ensemble, Octet, Dave Malloy

The cast of ‘Octet,’ by Dave Malloy, directed by Annie Tippe, presented by the Signature Theatre (Joan Marcus)

The evening comes to a close with “Hymn: The Field,” which the ensemble sings. Aligned through restoration and staying off their phones for almost two hours, the “chamber choir” has melded into an illustrious community. They have displayed their sterling singing gifts with measured ease, enthusiasm and a lovely grace which the audience finds absolutely delicious.

Octet’s superb director is Annie Tippe. Or Matias brings the majesty of Dave Malloy’s music to life through his adroit music supervision and music direction. Octet has been extended a number of times and is scheduled to close on 30 June. However, it may extend again. It runs 1 hour 40 minutes with no intermission at The Pershing Square Signature Center (42nd St. between 9th and 10th). For tickets and times go to their website by CLICKING HERE.

‘Tovah Feldshuh in Conversation With Linda Winer’ (a LPTW, NYPL for the Performing Arts Oral History Event)

Linda Winer, Tovah Feldshuh, NYPL for the Performing Arts, Lincoln Center, LPTW

(L to R): Linda Winer, Tovah Feldshuh in NYPL for the Performing Arts and LPTW ‘Tovah Feldshuh in Conversation With Linda Winer (Carole Di Tosti)

Monday evening, 6 May the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts and the League of Professional Theatre Women presented Tovah Feldshuh in Conversation With Linda Winer. The event produced by Ludovica Villar-Hauser with Sophia Romma was held at the Bruno Walter Auditorium at Lincoln Center.

Linda Winer was chief theater critic and arts columnist of Newsday (1987-2017). She has taught critical writing at Columbia University’s School of the Arts since 1992 and hosted the “Women in Theatre” series on CUNY-TV from 2002-2007. Recently (2018) she was given a special award from the League of Professional Theatre Women for her contributions to women and theater.

Tovah Feldshuh’s illustrious career spans decades. She is a six-time Emmy and Tony nominee. She has been awarded three honorary Doctorates of Humane Letters. Her prodigious career in theater has garnered her four Drama Desks, four Outer Critics Circle awards, three Dramalogues, the Obie, the Theatre World and the Helen Hayes and Lucille Lortel Awards for Best Actress. Noted Broadway performances include Yentl, Cyrano, Rodgers & Hart, Dreyfus in Rehearsal, Saraval, Lend Me a Tenor, Golda’s Balcony, Irena’s Vow and Pippin (the show stopping trapeze artist, Berthe).

Here are a few excerpts from the conversation Linda Winer held with Tovah Feldshuh who entertained the audience throughout the conversation by performing the role of her grandmother and her mother and others with heavy Bronx or European accents, while discussing her life and career. The piece has been generally edited to remove infelicities in grammar.

Linda Winer, Tovah Feldshuh, NYPL for the Performing Arts, Lincoln Center, LPTW

(L to R): Linda Winer, Tovah Feldshuh in NYPL for the Performing Arts and LPTW ‘Tovah Feldshuh in Conversation With Linda Winer’ (Carole Di Tosti)

Linda Winer: So you’re a serious actress, with a life-time career, a cabaret star, wife, mother of two. You climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, you hung from  a trapeze without a net in Pippin. You appeared in a lot of my favorite Law and Order Episodes. You’ve appeared in Walking Dead and in lots of TV and movies. You’ve said your career reflects your personality. Which one? (audience laughter)

The greatest advantage about growing older is the wisdom and perspective it gives you about life. And it’s taken me into my 60s to recognize and deal with the general existential fear of death…or dwelling on the idea that one day I won’t be here. The most important word in a successful career is the word “yes.” So when people ask me if I can do it?  If it interests me, I say, “yes.”

I’m much pickier than I used to be because time has shortened. My mother lived until over 103. I’m in the last third of my life. But nonetheless, I’m clearer about what I want to do. I see it and I grab it when it comes my way. And if it doesn’t come my way, I’ve learned from my betters to create it. Dustin Hoffman didn’t just get Tootsie, he produced Tootsie. Jane Fonda didn’t just do her workouts she couldn’t get hired because she was considered a traitor by the U.S. congress and she created the workout program because she was physically fit. I did the pregnancy workout and was most grateful that I worked out up to the day that I delivered.

Linda Winer, Tovah Feldshuh, NYPL for the Performing Arts, Lincoln Center, LPTW

Tovah Feldshuh, NYPL for the Performing Arts and LPTW in ‘Tovah Feldshuh in Conversation With Linda Winer’ (Carole Di Tosti)

That is the explanation for a lot of the work you do?

I write and collaborate with various individuals. (An example of this would be her one-woman show Tovah is LEONA!) I went into one-woman show business for a reason, not only to fulfill my dreams. One of my children didn’t learn to read and I was so involved with my career, I didn’t catch it. My beloved sister-in-law said, “This child is not reading.” My sister-in-law is a reading therapist. I said, “What are you talking about, of course this child is reading.”  “No!
she said. “This child is memorizing the sounds. He’s not coding right.”

Don’t worry. The child went to Harvard. So when I didn’t catch it, I stopped doing Broadway for 13 years. When one child went to Switzerland, and the other was accepted to the college of his choice, then I went back. There’s no free lunch here. People came up to me and would say, “How are you? Where’ve you been?” There’s no understudy for a parent. Here we’re supposed to be talking about theater. But when you bring human life onto the planet, it’s your responsibility to  nurture those lives.

You like great titles. I have these scribbled down and they all have your name. You were smart about branding before it became the thing.

Well people had to know what they were coming to see.

A Touch of Tovah, Tovah Out of her Mind. Tovah Crossovah! Aging is Optional.

The roles I choose, particularly the one-woman shows I construct, I love playing multiple characters. And even when I don’t write the piece, for example, William Gibson wrote Golda’s Balcony, there was still the decision to work on it. The playwright gave us permission to put in all the verbs in the present tense, so we could retain the reportage which it was and turn it into an experience which it is. And that’s why the piece has persevered. The version of the piece that we do is not published.

I’m doing The Prompter now by Wade Dooley directed by Scott Schwartz (May 28–June 16 at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor). When I was in my 50s I was cast as Golda who was 80. I’m in my 60s now, I am playing Irene Young in The Prompter who is 90. So if I keep going when I’m 80 or 85 I’ll probably play Methuselah.

Linda Winer, Tovah Feldshuh, NYPL for the Performing Arts, Lincoln Center, LPTW

Tovah Feldshuh, NYPL for the Performing Arts and LPTW in ‘Tovah Feldshuh in Conversation With Linda Winer (Carole Di Tosti)

How about your grandmother? Was she in shows.

Grandma Ada. She’s the jewel in my crown. Ada is actually a compendium of my family. It was my father who said, “Reach for the stars, you may land onto the roof. If you reach for the roof, you’ll never get off the ground.” My  grandmother wanted to be an actress and she had this career in the Music Hall in London. So when she tried out, they said “Ada, show us your ankles.” She showed them her ankles. They asked, “Ada show us your knees.” She said, “Nobody sees my knees except Grandpa, and then not so often. (Tovah Feldshuh lays on a thick accent as she says these lines.)

So it’s a compilation of all my beloved forebears. They came across the waters from England in 1902. They came from England, Russia Germany Austria. I’m a real American mutt. Relating to Austria and Germany, if you say Feldshuh, it’s as familiar as Smith. When you were in Napoleonic times before we had last names, you were “Samuel, son of David.” But they needed last names for taxes. If you paid, you were Montifiore, “Mountain of Roses.” If you didn’t pay, you were named Feldshuh, “field boots.” That’s my proud name.

Linda Winer, Tovah Feldshuh, NYPL for the Performing Arts, Lincoln Center, LPTW

Tovah Feldshuh, NYPL for the Performing Arts and LPTW in ‘Tovah Feldshuh in Conversation With Linda Winer (Carole Di Tosti)

You were Terri Sue.

So I fell in love with a boy who was not of my tribe, not of my religion. He encouraged me to change my name. And he said what kind of a name is “Terri Sue?” You’re from the North. What else were you called? I said I was called Tovah in “Sunday School.” Actually, it was Hebrew School. I used to say “Sunday School” to fit in. I was embarrassed to say Hebrew School. By the way in Hebrew School, they give you a prayer book, it’s exhaustive, like Suzuki Judaism. In this prayer book, you can pray wherever you are in the world.

I was called Tovah in “Sunday School.” This was the 1950s. Jews were assimilating. There were no Mercedes in Scarsdale. To assimilate Jewish men men were going to Brooks Brothers to get their blazers and beige pants. These were the boys that made it, the GIs that came home from the war. They were Jewish. To get back to how I changed the assimilation name to Tovah, it was because of Michael Fairchild. May he go down for the ages. He became a photographer for National Geographic. On his encouragement, I changed my name from Terri Sue to Tovah. And I didn’t know the entire state of Israel would fall on my head. I had no sense of what would happen.

Linda Winer, Tovah Feldshuh, NYPL for the Performing Arts, Lincoln Center, LPTW

(L to R): Linda Winer, Tovah Feldshuh in NYPL for the Performing Arts and LPTW ‘Tovah Feldshuh in Conversation With Linda Winer’ (Carole Di Tosti)

So what was the consequence?

It changed the whole landscape of my life. Juliet says what’s in a name. A rose by any other name is as sweet. Not necessarily so. A name characterizes. “Tovah” characterized me. Bobby De Niro is immediately characterized as Italian. Dustin Hoffman is something else. So a Tovah Feldshuh is a Danish name. So in Minneapolis when I worked at the Guthrie, they thought I was Danish (she imitates a Danish/Swedish accent). That was the one place in Europe that saved the Jewish community. So when I got to New York, my name, Austrian Jew, from Vienna? They said to me, “It’s a ridiculous name! You must change your name! (heavy accent). And 18 months later my name Tovah Feldshuh was on the marquee (applause).

Your parents in Scarsdale sent you to Sarah Lawrence. You were a philosophy major. You studied languages…and were/are a pianist. Did your parents think that changing your name to Tovah and becoming an actress was a mistake?

They thought being an actress was a mistake. When I told my mother I wanted to go to Julliard, my mother said, “You’re not going to a trade school.” (laughter) My older brother who is an MD, Ph.D. Dr. Dr. David Feldshuh, my mother called him Doc. My older brother went into the theater first. He went to Dartmouth and was a Reynolds scholar and was a McKnight Fellow at the Guthrie. He was the one who said, “Don’t go to law school. Why don’t you apply for a McKnight Fellowship in Acting?”

So I applied to law school, got on the wait list, got the McKnight Fellowship and went to study at Guthrie. And again, this changed my life. Sarah Lawrence was fabulous. My mother came to see Renard the Fox by Stravinsky. I think I had green hair and purple feet. She took one look at me and said, “Why didn’t you go to Vassar?” (Tovah Feldshuh imitates her mother with an accent) I applied and got in to Vassar but was encouraged to go to Sarah Lawrence by my mother. What I didn’t know at the time was that the Taconic Parkway had the highest mortality rate for car accidents. The road to Poughkeepsie was a long, dangerous road and she was preserving and protecting her young. I guess she wanted me near home. Then they sent me abroad. When I went abroad, I finally did my own laundry, otherwise I brought my laundry home to Scarsdale.

Linda Winer, Tovah Feldshuh, NYPL for the Performing Arts, Lincoln Center, LPTW

Tovah Feldshuh, NYPL for the Performing Arts and LPTW in ‘Tovah Feldshuh in Conversation With Linda Winer (Carole Di Tosti)

I was sent to Paris. At 13, I was sent to the Cote d’Azur. My father’s client was in Lyon. All their children spoke French and they had a summer home in the South of France. My brother and I were sent to the South of France for the summer. My mother said, “She’s not going.” My father said, “She’s getting on the plane, Lillian.” I had one parent who spoke like he was always in a courtroom. He dressed with the winged tipped shoes and the whole nine yards with the Paul Stewart suit. So I would ask, “Dad, was this the way you spoke when you were a baby?” (laughter) On the other hand, my mother was born in the Bronx on the dining room table, 1534 Charlotte Street (Tovah Feldshuh imitates where and how her mother was born). She had elocution lessons. The immigrants gave their children elocution lessons.

I had elocution lessons and it didn’t do me a bit of good. How is it that, not to use a cliche, how is it you have it all? I was at a women’s journalism luncheon. Barbara Walters said, “Women, you can’t have it all. You can have two of the three.” It’s very unusual to have three. You can have children or a husband or a career, but you can’t have all three. The thought she conveyed was if you try to “do it all,”you will suffer.

That must have been her experience. And I’m sorry it was. I never think of having it all. There are people in this audience who know darn well there are two sides to every coin. I have a great mate. Andrew Harris Levy who did originate Tovah Out of Her Mind. He’s very clever and he’s clean and I don’t just mean in the shower. I got the right mate. His mother was a concert level pianist who gave up her ultimate dream to marry Arnold Levy. She became a piano teacher. I was a classical pianist because my mother was shy and quiet and a classical pianist. And I wanted to be near my mommy. So I took piano; interesting we never did a four-handed piece. That was a bit of a heartbreak for me.

You were going to be a concert pianist.

I couldn’t do the concertos. I could only get to the Finals. I even played for Van Cliburn. It was very hard for me. “Mozart in D Minor,” “Rhapsody in Blue.” And I thought to myself, “You’re going to be an also ran. You better try out for something else.” So I did plays with music and I was immediately cast as Cousin Hebe in H.M.S Pinafore. I thought then…there are three girls singing in this operetta, and I am one of them. So that gave me hope. The next year I got Little Mary Sunshine in Little Mary Sunshine. And I thought to myself, hey maybe this might be something that I can do really well.

But the man I married and I were brought up on the exact same music, the same love of opera. (Tovah imitates her mother.) “If you’re gonna marry someone, marry someone of your race, your religion and your social class. You wanna fight? Fight at the opera.” The woman’s speech patterns that were fancy, devolved as she got older.

Tovah Feldshuh, LPTW, Catherine Porter

Tovah Feldshuh, LPTW Co-President, Catherine Porter, Empire Hotel Rooftop, after ‘Tovah Feldshuh in Conversation With Linda Winer,’ (Xanthe Elbrick)

I have a certain sized bosom. You really can’t see it because there isn’t a breast pad left in Manhattan that isn’t in this bra. Anyway, I have a very small chest. My mother and my beloved daughter have a very ample chest. My mother looks at my daughter and looks at me and she says, “Well, I guess it skips a generation.” (laughter)

So why do I have it all? I had great parents, but I had the great luck of choosing a man who didn’t begrudge me my work. And his love for me had to do with him not stopping me. We’ve been married 40 years and it’s taken me decades to realize that. There’s times he comes in and he’s working on his law. He’s a fantastic lawyer, the head of a department of huge law firm and now he’s an accountant for the biggest law firm in the world. I will not let him retire. I do not believe in retiring, so I can go to Florida and do my nightclub act.  Tovah Feldshuh segues to a joke. So I’m down there and I tell them. I’ll change the opening. I’ll change the closing. And they say to me, “Ms. Feldshuh, you don’t have to change anything. They’re all dead.”  About retirement? No. In my experience you have to live for a purpose that is beyond yourself. Children are usually the easiest solution to that.

Linda Winer, Tovah Feldshuh, NYPL for the Performing Arts, Lincoln Center, LPTW

(L to R): Linda Winer, Tovah Feldshuh in NYPL for the Performing Arts and LPTW ‘Tovah Feldshuh in Conversation With Linda Winer (Carole Di Tosti)

So I had these good parents. I loved my father deeply. He was a Harvard lawyer. I married a Harvard lawyer. My father-in-law was a Harvard Lawyer. My mother-in-law was a classical pianist. My mother was a classical pianist. I was a classical pianist. So we had enough synchronistic coincidences, that had nothing to do with each other until will met each other. That made vast areas of the marriage easy. And that’s why it was possible in my life, to “have it all.”

Tovah Feldshuh in Conversation With Linda Winer was a delightful presentation. Though I didn’t include all of the lengthy conversation here, you may find it is at the NYPL for the Performing Arts. Tovah Feldshuh, did mention that she wanted to get this “on the record.” She has not had any plastic surgery!

I would credit her youthful appearance to her peace inside, her brilliance, cleverness and her luck in choosing the right partner, and of course, her obvious joie de vivre!

You can see Tovah Feldshuh in The Prompter May 28–June 16 at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor. Tovah is LEONA! is on its way to San Francisco’s Feinstein’s at the Nikko from September 20-21. You can find her on https://www.tovahfeldshuh.com/

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