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Broadway’s “Illinoise” Dances and Sings, Igniting a Fire of Storytellers, Both Dynamic and Distant.

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I never know how to start things,” reads the graphic journal that is stuffed inside the program of Broadway’s last-minute entry into the Tony Awards race, Illinoise. This dance show musical is meticulously based on Sufjan Stevens’2005 indie folk concept album “Illinois,” an album I must admit I never heard of until it opened earlier this year at Park Avenue Armory. The show is overflowing with talent, much like the journal, which is a captivating written celebration of the thought process behind this 90-minute dance and sung piece. It draws out the whimsical and earnest qualities that resonate throughout the album and the production, and is a welcome reminder of what makes this show tick, when it ticks well.

Directed and choreographed by the ingenious Justin Peck (Spielberg’s “West Side Story“; Broadway’s Carousel) and with a book written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Jackie Sibblies Drury (Fairview; Marys Seacole), Illinoise dives forward with clever light and energy. It is a celebration and a release of pent-up sorrowful energy. It delights in its own storytelling abstractionisms, brought forth gloriously on the vocal wings of three butterflies; Shara Nova, Tasha Viets-Vanlear, and Elijah Lyons, and delivered into our hearts by a crew of expert dancers; Ricky Ubeda, Ahmad Simmons, Christine Flores, Bryon Tittle, Kara Chan, Ben Cook, Gaby Diaz, Rachel Lockhart, Alejandro Vargas, Jeanette Delgado, Brandt Martinez, and Craig Salstein.

Ricky Ubeda (center) surrounded by company members Byron Tittle, Christine Flores, and Kara Chan of Broadway’s Illinoise. Photo by Liz Lauren.

Under a guiding billboard of epic informative dimensions, designed most beautifully by Adam Rigg (LCT/Broadway’s The Skin of Our Teeth), with dynamic lighting by Brandon Stirling Baker (New York City Ballet’s Dig the Say), and sound design by Garth MacAleavey (New York Philharmonic’s “Sound On: Leading Voices”), dancing fireflies gather around a lanterned fire pit to tell their stories, whether it’s about ghosts, UFO sightings, or zombies. We try to imagine what this is, these stars delivering signs emerging, quick and sharp, fast forwarding to the unveiling of their individual stories. “Are you writing from the heart?” they are asked, as we are guided through the entirety of Stevens’ album, with new arrangements by composer, pianist, and frequent Stevens collaborator Timo Andres (“The Blind Banister“).

The musical sounds range in style, dancing around the edges of folk, indie rock, and ambient electronic music, engagingly performed by an 11-member band, led by music director and supervisor Nathan Koci (Broadway’s Hadestown). It’s mysterious and captivating, tender and engaging, as the sound draws forth the exceptional dancers to explore the overwhelming condition of youth and “the sense of each other“. Finding emotional engagement within, on the road from childhood to adulthood, the dancers fly forward to the written word that hangs out center stage, and then leading us back to the tapping energy of Jacksonville, through the zombie nation, and the captivating unpacking tale of John Wayne Gracy Jr. “(or the damning cycle of exclusion borne of outcasts forced to sympathize with monsters).” The selections of journal entries are shared and engaged with, “in celebration of their memory and of our future.” And the allusions and feelings of shame and loss are not lost on me throughout.

Vocalists Shara Nova (at right) and Tasha Viets-VanLear of Broadway’s Illinoise. Photo by Liz Lauren.

The piece defies categorization, especially in the framing of “a new Broadway musical,” which is what the piece is being billed as. The entire show is sung by those butterfly-winged performers, costumed by Reid Bartelme & Harriet Jung (Broadway’s Dancin’). They feel forever disconnected from the movement, held up high like hummingbirds or fireflies looking for a place to land while watching those below engage in their storytelling with curiosity and admiration. They hover and sing most enchantingly, but the distance doesn’t bring forth a feeling of connection but rather emphasizes the opposite. Maybe I’ve been trained by the vast majority of musicals to find the song and the dance entwined within, but the separation of voice from the movement kept the piece removed from my soul, even when it occasionally connected to my heart. “It makes me want someone stronger to swoop in to save me from all of us.

It’s a dance show, packaged in the vein of Broadway’s Moving Out, delivered with gentle promise and determination. Peck’s choreography is as exciting as it is moving and captivating, sometimes spinning out the abstract, symbolic, gesture, while sometimes gripping itself to realism and straightforwardness. Combining almost all of the 22 tracks on “Illinois”, the narrative is delivered in a physical formulation, showcasing all the different ways we can tell our stories to others and the complicated ways we can make ourselves vulnerable in that “seductive fiction of the individual hero“. The central figure is Henry, delivered strongly by Ubeda (Broadway’s On the Town), who has gathered together this group of young people to allow them the space and permission to deliver their stories outward into the night air and to each other. The emotional release is evident, and as each story unfolds, we know a larger tale is on the brink of being unpacked, unwrapped, and discovered.

I know it will be easier for me, eventually, if I write it all down, but trying to put words to our whole…to put us to words, feels sort of impossible.” Those words aren’t exactly spoken out loud by Henry, but it is clearly present in his affect, as he begins to enter into the largest portion of the piece; his story, around his two deceased friends; Carl, portrayed tenderly by Ben Cook (Broadway’s Mean Girls), and Shelby, embodied by the wonderful Gaby Diaz (Off-Broadway’s Only Gold). And in their unveiling, we try to stay engaged. It is both easy, as it is well choreographed and emotionally delivered, yet also difficult as the structuring of the whole feels distant and detached.

I must admit that I’m not exactly the target audience, as I tend to veer away from dance and ballet shows and aim myself towards plays and musicals. That said, I’m always and totally astounded by the talent of bodies in motion, especially these dancers, and the intelligent way this particular show delivers on its desire to broadcast emotional and romantic ideals, matched most graphically to grief and sorrow. However, I have a harder time staying inside the piece, especially when there is a barrier between the voice and the body. All the dancers and singers are of the highest order, and even though I am sad that I missed Robbie Fairchild who danced the Henry role in the show’s previous run at the Park Avenue Armory, I was astounded by the effervescent energy and grace by each and every dancer of Illinoise, and the cathartic quality that floats out at the end of this show. If dance is your thing, I strongly suggest seeing this show. Even if dancing isn’t your vibe, it is still worth the introduction to the idea. “My heart keeps changing,” he writes. “I keep changing.” And isn’t that the point of theatre, to be forever curious and engage in something new to find change and enlightenment. Even if it isn’t your vibe, it will stay with you, opening yourself up to something truly unique and carefully constructed.

The company of Broadway’s Illinoise. Photo by Liz Lauren.

For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

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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