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Broadway’s Chicken & Biscuits Isn’t as Tasty a Meal as I was Craving

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Sorta looks fierce,” one might say, as the beginning of a long, very full, and exciting week of theatre-going gets going for this frontmezzjunkie. Being the first of seven shows, basically back to back, some Chicken & Biscuits just sounded too tasty and succulent to ignore. So I ordered a plate and sat down looking forward to a festive and filling feast on Broadway. The show was said to be serving up a chaotically hilarious comedy, certain to fill my tummy with deliciousness and laughter. But sadly, as directed with a fun but slow Louisiana-style saunter by Zhailon Levingston (Dixon Place’s Neptune), this Broadway play, currently playing at the intimate Circle in the Square, is half-baked at best. And we all know what happens when we chow down on some not-fully-cooked chicken, not to mention some half-baked biscuits. Yuck, and although the performers are giving it their all, trying to pull out every joke they can find in this somewhat stale sitcom-y script by Douglas Lyons (Apple TV’s “Fraggle Rock“; ATC’s Polkadots), the overly long play shuffles itself around that stage at the same speed as Baneatta, as she powders her nose in those first few precious moments of this two-hour, one-act comedy while cautiously circling this square peg of a play in earnest.

Jesus knows...” we are told, and as Baneatta Mabry fixes herself up so she’s “not the last Christian in the building” for her father’s funeral, the set-up feels solid, albeit standard and stereotypical. Strongly played by the excellent Cleo King (“Dreamgirls“), the chemistry with her husband, Reginald Mabry, tenderly played by the always impressive Norm Lewis (Broadway’s The Phantom of the Opera) feels true, kind, and passionate, with the framework registering as solid as those wooden church pews. But as the family assembles itself, including her sister, the high-camp, fierce Beverly, perfectly portrayed by Ebony Marshall-Oliver (Public’s Ain’t No Mo) alongside Beverly’s outspoken and hilariously engaging teenage daughter, La’Trice Franklin, deliciously and marvelously portrayed by Aigner Mizzelle (Ars Nova’s ANTIFEST), probably the best thing in this show, the tension gathers its steam, as this conflicted family gathers themselves together for this “It’s not a funeral. It’s a celebration!” The flames of sibling rivalry are fully in place, gathering together under those purple curtains and a painted portrait of Black Jesus in dreadlocks in order to celebrate the life of Grandpa Bernard. What could possibly go wrong?

Cleo King (center) and cast in Chicken & Biscuits. Photo by Emilio Madrid

There is also, as the good book (of Theatre) seems to require of stereotypical family get-together comedies, the gay son Kenny Mabry, solidly portrayed by Devere Rogers (RTC’s The Robber Bridegroom), also readies himself for what is in store at that funeral, with his nervous Jewish boyfriend, Logan Leibowitz, meticulously portrayed by Michael Urie (Broadway’s Torch Song) hopefully standing strongly at his side. It’s no wonder anxiety hangs in the air as we listen to Logan play out the day line by line in advance. We know he has a right to be scared. Both find solid authentic engagement with one another, and the jokes as well, but it’s not enough to keep this Becky boat afloat. We see that it’s gonna be a wild ride regardless, pushing forward with opposing characters setting out to penetrate a cultural institution that doesn’t usually embrace the likes of a man like Logan, namely a family funeral at a Black church. Once again, what could possibly go wrong?

There is also the sister of Kenny, the stoic Simone, solidly portrayed by Alana Raquel Bowers (“After Class“) who seems to be the hardest of the bunch to crack. Not because she’s as stereotypically rigid as her mother, but because she is carrying a few uncomfortable secrets of her own, packed tight inside that black dress. And in this type of comedy, we always need a few secrets, and a surprise guest to stand up and speak some truth at the tail end of a funeral. That spotlight role is given to the late-arriving Brianna Jenkins, tenderly portrayed by the talented Natasha Yvette Williams (Broadway’s Porgy and Bess) who throws this celebration into a Jerry Springer circus. At least for a few minutes of silliness, before the straightening out of things arrives, as it must be, to wrap this thing up. 

Ebony Marshall-Oliver, Michael Urie, Devere Rogers, and Cleo King in Chicken & Biscuits. Photo by Emilio Madrid

So now that the pieces are in place for this game of family feud, “my chakra is sending an amber alert.” The characterizations that are being laid out before us, as over-the-top as they are, are being performed with some semblance of honesty and authenticity. But the holy structure that has been given, including the plain scenic design by Lawrence E. Moten III (EST’s Behind the Sheet) as well as the solidly comical costume design by Dede Ayite (Broadway’s Slave Play); lighting design by Adam Honoré (CSC’s Carmen Jones); sound design by Twi McCallum (DR2’s …Jingle for Regina Comet); and wig, hair, and makeup design by Nikiya Mathis (Ars Nova’s Rags Parkland), doesn’t find the solid pathway forward. The hymn that is being interpreted here is messy and out of tune, just like that rendition of “Amazing Grace.

That’s why the puppies are out,” Beverly tells us, and we understand completely. The play needs her bodacious-ness, because, without that, this feast is flat. Even with some of the softer more engaging moments (kudos to Mizzelle and Urie for finding some honest interactions that have meaning and depth), their beloved Grandpa B must be rolling around in his grave at the stereotypical, dated, groan-inducing jokes that are being thrown out with forced desperation at the most inauthentic of moments. It feels like someone is stepping in from the wings with a laugh track at their fingertips, reminding us all that this is supposed to be hilarious. The lines are funny, at times, but the insert feels forced and demanding of us. Are we laughing with them, or at them. Or maybe we are supposed to be laughing at ourselves. I’m not sure, but at certain times, it just didn’t connect intimately with my funny bone. To truly find hilarity, an authentic meal has to be served.

Aigner Mizzelle, Ebony Marshall-Oliver, and Alana Raquel Bowers in Chicken & Biscuits. Photo by Emilio Madrid

For more from Ross click here

My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my last...so far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

Broadway

Ken Fallin’s Broadway: Richard M. Sherman Songwriter for Mary Poppins and Jungle Book Passes On

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Richard M. Sherman, was a nine-time Academy Award nominee along with his brother Robert. The Sherman Brothers wrote more than 200 songs for some 27 films and 24 television productions. Their film credits include Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book, The Absent-Minded Professor, The Parent Trap, Summer Magic tv, The Sword in the Stone, That Darn Cat!, Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree, The Happiest Millionaire, The Aristocats, and Bedknobs and Broomsticks.

The won two Academy Awards for Mary Poppins, taking home the trophies for Best Score – Substantially Original and Best Original Song (for “Chim Chim Cher-ee”). They won three Grammy awards and received 24 gold and platinum albums and were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2005 and received the US National Medal of the Arts in 2008.

They also wrote the score on Broadway for Over Here.

The brothers were portrayed in the 2013 film Saving Mr. Banks, which told the story behind the making of Mary Poppins.

Sherman died of age-related illness at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Beverly Hills. His brother Robert died in 2012.

 

 

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The Outer Critics Circle (OCC) Awards And You Are There Part 2

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Yesterday we gave you part 1 of The Outer Critics Circle (OCC), awards ceremony held at the Bruno Walter Auditorium at Lincoln Center’s New York Public Library for The Performing Arts 111 Amsterdam Avenue, NYC).

In this part Steve Guttenberg gives the award to Outstanding Featured Performer in an Off-Broadway Play: Jay O. Sanders – Primary Trust


Outstanding Lead Performer in an Off-Broadway Musical:
 Andrew Durand  Dead Outlaw

Current President David Gordon introduced Andrea Martin who gave away the awards for Outstanding Direction of a Musical: Jessica Stone – Water for Elephants

A special award was given to Harry Haun longtime OCC member who served on the board as well.

Outstanding Choreography (Broadway or Off-Broadway):Justin Peck —Illinoise

And the tie for Outstanding Lead Performer in an Off-Broadway Play: William Jackson Harper, Primary Trust

Outstanding New Off-Broadway Play: Primary Trust

Outstanding New Off-Broadway Musical: Dead Outlaw

Kelechi Watson presented the awards for Outstanding Featured Performer in a Broadway Musical: Kecia Lewis  Hell’s Kitchen

Outstanding Direction of a Play: Daniel Aukin – Stereophonic

Outstanding Lead Performer in a Broadway Musical: Kelli O’Hara  Days of Wine and Roses


Outstanding New Broadway Play:
 Stereophonic

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Outstanding New Broadway Musical: Suffs

Founded during the 1949-50 Broadway season by respected theater journalist John Gassner, The Outer Critics Circle is an esteemed association with members affiliated with more than ninety newspapers, magazines, broadcast stations, and online news organizations, in America and abroad. Led by its current President David Gordon, the OCC Board of Directors also includes Vice President Richard Ridge, Recording Secretary Joseph Cervelli, Corresponding Secretary Patrick Hoffman, Treasurer David Roberts, Cynthia Allen, Harry Haun, Dan Rubins, Janice Simpson and Doug Strassler. Simon Saltzman is President Emeritus & Board Member (Non-nominating) and Stanley L. Cohen serves as Financial Consultant & Board Member (Non-nominating). Lauren Yarger serves as the Outer Critics Circle Awards ceremony executive producer.

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The Stars Showed Up Michael Greif at The New Dramatists Luncheon

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The New Dramatists Annual Spring Luncheon at the New York Marriott Marquis honored Michael Greif, the acclaimed director of not one but three shows playing on Broadway, Days of Wine and Roses, The Notebook and Hell’s Kitchen. Tony Award-winning producers Kevin McCollum and Stacey Mindich served as honorary co-chairs.

Michael Greif

Michael Greif

Christie Brown, Michael Greif, Brian d’Arcy James and Emily Morse

Michael Greif, Brian d’Arcy James

Michael Greif, Brian d’Arcy James

New Dramatists also presented the inagural Konecky Award, named for New Dramatists’ beloved Board President Isobel Konecky and her husband, renowned entertainment attorney Ron Konecky, recognizes those in the theatre and entertainment industry, who serve the field with passion, dedication, excellence, and leadership. The inaugural Konecky Award will be presented to Concord Theatricals.

Attending were:

Ali Louis Bourzgui

Joy Woods

Jordan Tyson

John Cardoza

Betsy Aidem

Will Brill

Rick Elice

Brian d’Arcy James

Michael Greif, Hannah Greif and David Greif

Adam Pascal, Michael Greif and Daphne Rubin-Vega

Members and Creatives of Hell’s Kitchen that includes-Susan Oliveras, Lily Ling, Tom Kitt, Camille A. Brown, Michael Greif, Kecia Lewis, Desmond Sean Ellington, Badia Farha, Kristoffer Diaz, Aaron Nicholas Patterson and Oscar Whitney Jr.

Ryan Vasquez

Kecia Lewis

Camille A. Brown

Kristoffer Diaz

Schele Williams, John Cardoza, Victoria Navarro, Geoffrey Ko, Dorian Harewood, Michael Greif, Maryann Plunkett, Jordan Tyson, Bekah Brunstetter, Katie Spelman and Kurt Deutsch

Schele Williams and Michael Greif

Priscilla Lopez

Jennifer Whyte, Steven Skybell, Tom Scutt, Rebecca Frecknall, Julia Cheng and Henry Gottfried

Priscilla Lopez and Michael Greif

Henry Gottfried

Tom Scuttt

Christine Ebersole and Michael Greif

Francis Benhamou

Steven Skybell

Jennifer Whyte

Julia Cheng

Michael Greif, Christine Ebersole, Priscilla Lopez and Doug Wright

Rebecca Frecknall

Eli Gelb

David Adjmi

Corey Stoll

Alison Luff

Isabelle McCalla

Amy Ryan

Amanda Green

Eden Espinosa

Sarah Pidgeon

Shoshana Bean

Quincy Tyler Bernstine

Michael Greif and Shoshana Bean

Justin Peck

Paula Vogel and Celia Keenan-Bolger

Juliana Margulies

Daryl Roth and Juliana Margulies

Jim Dale and Daryl Roth

Jim Dale, Daryl Roth and Juliana Margulies

Brody Grant

Lea Salonga

Lea Salonga

Sarah Paulson

Leslie Kritzer

Shaina Taub and Leigh Silverman

Amber Iman

Nikki M. James

John Weidner

Jessica Hecht

Andrew R. Butler

Casey Likes

Grant Gustin

Sean Patrick Flahaven

Doug Wright

Bradley King

Jamie deRoy

New Dramatists

 

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The Outer Critics Circle (OCC) Awards And You Are There Part 1

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The Outer Critics Circle (OCC), awards ceremony for the winners was held on Thursday, May 23, 2024, in the Bruno Walter Auditorium at Lincoln Center’s New York Public Library for The Performing Arts (111 Amsterdam Avenue, NYC).

Current President David Gordon and  Vice President Richard Ridge welcomed everyone. There were celebrity presenters and Tony Danza proved why he is a comedy star. The first award given out was to Outstanding Video/Projections: Peter Nigrini – The Who’s Tommy.

Danza also gave out the awards to Outstanding Orchestrations Marco Paguia – Buena Vista Social Club.

Outstanding Costume Design: Linda Cho – The Great Gatsby

Outstanding Lead Performer in a Broadway Play: Jessica Lange – Mother Play

Receiving the John Gassner Award for New American Play (preferably by a new playwright): Oh, Mary! and a tie for Outstanding Lead Performer in an Off-Broadway Play (tie): Cole Escola left a video message.


Next to present was Montego Glover who gave Outstanding Featured Performer in an Off-Broadway Musical (tie) Judy Kuhn – I Can Get It For You Wholesale

and to Thom Sesma – Dead Outlaw

Outstanding Book of a Musical and Outstanding Score Shaina Taub – Suffs

Outstanding Scenic Design (tie): Paul Tate dePoo III – The Great Gatsby

Outstanding Lighting Design: Brian MacDevitt  The Outsiders

Outstanding Featured Performer in a Broadway Play: Kara Young – Purlie Victorious

Next up Steve Gutenberg gave awards to Outstanding Revival of a Play: Appropriate

Outstanding Sound DesignRyan Rumery – Stereophonic

Outstanding Solo Performance: Patrick Page – All the Devils are Here

Founded during the 1949-50 Broadway season by respected theater journalist John Gassner, The Outer Critics Circle is an esteemed association with members affiliated with more than ninety newspapers, magazines, broadcast stations, and online news organizations, in America and abroad. Led by its current President David Gordon, the OCC Board of Directors also includes Vice President Richard Ridge, Recording Secretary Joseph Cervelli, Corresponding Secretary Patrick Hoffman, Treasurer David Roberts, Cynthia Allen, Harry Haun, Dan Rubins, Janice Simpson and Doug Strassler. Simon Saltzman is President Emeritus & Board Member (Non-nominating) and Stanley L. Cohen serves as Financial Consultant & Board Member (Non-nominating). Lauren Yarger serves as the Outer Critics Circle Awards ceremony executive producer.

Tomorrow Part 2.

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Ken Fallin’s Broadway: On The Town For Fleet Week

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Fleet Week is upon us, so, attached is a drawing I did of Channing Tatum a few years ago for The Los Angeles Times. This was done for Hail Caesar! choreographed by Christopher Gattelli.

Hail Caesar!  is by Joel and Ethan Coen (No Country for Old Men, Fargo), starring Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill, Scarlett Johansson, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, and Channing Tatum, Hail, Caesar! follows a single day in the life of a studio fixer who is presented with plenty of problems to fix.

Here is a video with Channing and the rest of the cast. Talk about a great Happy Memorial Day!

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