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Broadway’s Two New Musicals: “Water for Elephants” & “The Outsiders” Fly Off the Pages and Screen With Different Splashs of Stage Water

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Directly across the street from one another on West 45th St in the heart of Broadway are two new musicals based on well-known movies adapted from well-known books. Not a surprising thing these days; to take such well-regarded base material and give it the ol’ Broadway musical treatment, and each fly forward as pretty solidly entertaining pieces of musical theatre, but in very different splashy ways. Both deliver forth casts of exceptional talent, with, to be honest, the malefactor being handsomely displayed throughout on both those stages, whether it’s shirtless and greased, or hanging magnificently from a slowly raised pole with the greatest of ease (I apologize in advance for using that turn of phrase probably more times than I should, but it is the circus…). The adaptations, unpacked with loving care and heart, find their way through the fire and a magnificent puppet stampede, each after a parental catastrophe that is at their emotional core, yet somehow each lingers differently; one in a more visually spectacular way; the other, more emotionally heartfelt and tender.

Paul Alexander Nolan (center, arms outstretched) with the cast of WATER FOR ELEPHANTS at the Imperial Theatre. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

A strumming banjo draws us inside the world of the infamous Benzini circus, riding into town on the back of the impressive Rosie the elephant, hurdling itself excitedly up into the air at the Imperial Theatre on Broadway. The memories wash over the older man wistfully standing center stage staring into the landscape as if he is watching a passing ghost train filled with acrobats and animals. We can almost hear the applause, as Water for Elephants, the musical based on the best-selling novel by Sara Gruen (At the Water’s Edge) and 2011 film directed by Francis Lawrence, swoops in on two paralleled death-defying levels. It lives where the past and the present collide, riding in on the back of a long-gone circus horse with a bad leg that only this old-timer circus vet can see. The memories and parallels find their way into the center ring, unleashed inside the mind of an older gentleman, played with earnestness and affability by Gregg Edelman (Broadway’s City of Angels), who has returned to the circus, sneaking out of his retirement, not as a man running from something, but to reconnect to the origins of his heart. And hers.

With music and lyrics by Pigpen Theatre Co. (The Old Man and the Old Moon), the first song on that circus train is as wobbly as that horse’s leg. It doesn’t exactly pull us hard into the big tent as it should, but it does lay down the straightforward tracks of this tale in quick simplistic tones. The younger version of this gentleman, Jacob Jankowski, played in the same earnest manner by a very engaging Grant Gustin (“The Flash“; “Glee“), materializes before us, after suffering a devastating shock to the system when his parents die just days before his finals at veterinarian school. Overcome with grief, he runs, desperate to leave his pain and grief behind as he leaps over the abyss onto a passing train. Little does he know that this leap of desperation, not faith, will end up taking him on a wild animal journey to a place he never could have imagined from the safety of his veterinarian classroom.

Grant Gustin, Stan Brown, and cast– Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Directed with skill and an eye for adventure by Jessica Stone (Broadway’s Kimberly Akimbo), Water for Elephants finally rolls out its handsome barker pullers to enthrall and excite, and we are off to the three-ringed circus and spectacle that is at the core of this dynamically astonishing big top. “I Choose the Ride” sing the bodies on stage, as the ever so talented and brave fly through the air with the greatest of ease, erecting the structural tent pole of this musical with all the circus magic one could hope for. Rick Elice (Jersey Boys; The Cher Show) does a fine job with the writing of the book for this energizing tale of love, jealousy, and revenge, but as we engage with both the older and the younger versions of the central figure, good-guy Jacob, the songs become the sideshow attraction to this circus of a show, with the acrobats taking over the central ring, tumbling and flying into the spotlight over and over again, even if their actions play little to no part in the story being told.

We welcome them regardless, as the acrobats and gymnasts, circus-designed by co-choreographer Shana Carroll (Cirque du Soleil’s Crystal) and co-choreographer Jesse Robb (Cameron Mackintosh’s Les Misérables), are the glue that holds this show together. And without their magic and death-defying acts, this memory play musical would rattle down the train tracks into the sunset, quickly forgotten and dismissed. The “Kinkers & Rousts” are the silver stars of the show: namely Antoine Boissereau, Paul Castree, Taylor Colleton, (the incredible) Gabriel Olivera de Paula Costa, Isabella Luisa Diaz, Keaton Hentoff-Killian, Nicolas Jelmoni, Caroline Kane, Michael Mendez, Samuel Renaud, Marissa Rosen, Alexandra Gaelle Royer, Charles South, Sean Stack, and Matthew Varvar, who never fail to captivate and entertain throughout, and should not be forgotten as we dive into the actual tale that this train is trying to tell.

Gabriel Olivera de Paula Costa and Wade McCollum– Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Jacob, unaware that the train he has jumped upon is carrying his future, finds himself surrounded by circus performers and animals of all shapes and sizes. Almost thrown off by the always angry, and forever damaged Wade, played intensely by the impressive and imposing Wade McCollum (Broadway’s Wicked; Off-Broadway’s Make Me Gorgeous), Jacob manages to remain on board, thanks to the kindness and care of the side acts who take a liking to the young corn-fed man. Beautifully performed by the impressively gifted Sara Gettelfinger (Broadway’s Nine) as Barbara; Joe DePaul (Salto Natale-Zurich) as Walter; and the wonderful Stan Brown (Off-Broadway’s Open Heart) as the aging Camel, alongside a few other circus performers and acts, they draw him into the circle, seeing something inside him that Jacob (and the audience) can’t completely connect with. Yet.

But there, in the moment when he comes across the faltering star act; a beautiful white horse named Silver Star, majestically embodied in silks by Boissereau (graduate from the National Circus School of Montreal), and Star’s caring lovely leading lady rider, Marlena (also June), played tenderly by Isabelle McCalla (Broadway’s The Prom), the tables turn and he decides to stay, choosing the ride, regardless of what it may bring. Their chemistry is undeniable from the get-go, but somehow remains unnoticed by Marlena’s husband and owner of this traveling struggling circus, August (also Charlie), played to perfection by the incredible and focused Paul Alexander Nolan (Broadway’s Slave Play; Bright Star), until its too late. Nolan is outstanding, finding his way through the tangled rope of charming and dangerous with an undeniably electric force. It’s his formula and charisma, layered with distinct tones that are frightening, threatening, and enthralling, which hold the tent poles of this circus together, binding them tight and giving Water for Elephants its crackling dangerous energy.

Isabelle McCalla & Grant Gustin – Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Both McCalla and Nolan perform their dual acts of past and present circus performers seamlessly, delivering forth the wistful memory play that is at the heart of this musical pleasure ride. We can’t help but be engaged in Mr. Jankowski’s flight of fancy into his emotional past, even if this lion of a musical “…Has Got No Teeth“. Yet, the circus puppet animals enliven, especially in the well-crafted final showdown, thanks to the fine work by lighting designer Bradley King (Broadway’s Fat Ham), sound designer Walter Trarbach (Broadway’s SpongeBob…), and puppet designers Ray Wetmore & JR Goodman (Broadway’s Here Lies Love) on a stage meticulously designed with clever sparseness by Takeshi Kata (Broadway’s Clyde’s). But the music, supervised and arranged by Mary-Mitchell Campbell (Broadway’s Some Like It Hot) & Benedict Braxton-Smith (Carnegie Hall’s My Golden Age), is merely the background soundtrack to the more thrilling acts that come alive in the center ring. You won’t really remember a lyric or a note sung at the Imperial Theatre. But you will walk away enthralled by the impressive feats performed on stage and the sweet lump in your throat delivered by a man who ran away to the circus leaving his heartache and troubles behind him, only to find that love again, waiting patiently for him to return.

The cast of The Outsiders. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Over at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, another young man, this one going by the name Ponyboy Curtis, played fantastically true by the oh-so-talented Brody Grant (NYCC’s Parade), quietly sits and writes as we take our seats. He stares out, dreaming of the likes of movie star, Paul Newman and the personas he embodied on the big screen. He also ponders how he’s going to get home safely to the wrong side of the tracks in Tulsa, Oklahoma, 1967, back to his two older brothers who wait for him anxiously. Somehow, he has to navigate the dangerous streets on the wrong side of town carefully, as they are patrolled menacingly by those rich, and naturally mean and violent (privileged white) guys who like to terrorize poorer kids like himself from their shared high school. He knows, instinctually, that he has placed himself in a precarious situation, but ‘first things first‘, he sings, with that warm velvety and powerful caressing voice of his, a great introduction song, one of many by book, music & lyric writer, music supervisor, orchestrator, arranger, Justin Levine (Broadway’s Moulin Rouge!) and music and lyric writer, Jamestown Revival; an American band from Austin, TX; about the hardened hearts and aching souls of his chosen family, The Outsiders, and we can’t help but be pulled in by his swoon and intelligent swagger.

With a strong but often meandering book by Adam Rapp (The Sound Inside) that may (or may not) adhere too closely to the classic novel by S.E. Hinton (Tex; Rumblefish) and the landmark motion picture directed by Francis Ford Coppola starring a slew of young actors who became movie stars, The Outsiders finds itself planted firmly in the touching and emotionally bonding jungle bar tale of three young brothers trying to survive familial tragedy, wrapped up in the somewhat traditional and stereotypical street wars between the ‘haves and have-nots’ in small-town America. It’s “West Side Story“, mashed together with “Rebel Without a Cause” (as well as a number of other period films and shows) where caring, financially-challenged young men find themselves fighting battles too big and violent for their natures, against class and prejudice, trying to hold on to their sense of self in a world that may never accept them. Yet even as the comparisons fly through our collective heads as we watch the tensions rise on stage, impossible to ignore, The Outsiders easily wipes away those parallels and makes us focus our love and attention on these three orphaned brothers and their chosen family of ‘greasers’ and ‘outsiders’. They all are just too hard to resist. And why would we want to?

Brody Grant, Jason Schmidt, and Brent Comer. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Directed with a strong sense of conflict and tension by Danya Taymor (Broadway’s Pass Over), this gripping and tender musical charges forth a formula of two different worlds in one typical 1967 American town. Some are clean-cut but live cruelly in their privilege, while others, the ones we totally side with, roll with the punches in their smooth-like grease and shirtless, sharp stances. It’s a war, even before it is called out. And we feel the tension as it continually escalates, embodied most heart-racingly within the dynamic and creatively chaotic choreography of Rick & Jeff Kuperman (MCC’s Alice by Heart), highlighted majestically in the dynamic lighting by Brian MacDevitt (Broadway’s The Music Man), splashing forth on a stage ‘scenographically’ designed distinctly by AMP, featuring Tatiana Kahvegian (Trinity Rep’s A Christmas Carol).

The blood bond of brothers carries a strong emotional weight, laying heavy and clear on the shoulders of the oldest and most worn-down, pseudo-father-figured brother, Darrel Curtis, beautifully embodied by the powerful, earthy Brent Comer (Les Misérables tour), alongside the middle brother, the sexy, loyal, and forever shirtless Sodapop, played empathetically by the engaging Jason Schmidt (TUTS’s Cinderella), who supports in the only way he knows how. Grant’s Ponyboy is their touchstone, seen by these two as the one who might actually get out of this soul-crushing trap these two find themselves. He is the intellectually strong one, they believe, the one who dreams in words and phrases they can barely comprehend. And their love for each other runs deep, even inside of their internal frustration and despair. Comer’s Darrel handsomely ignites the heaviness of the household with a passion and physicality that emulates far beyond that kitchen table, clashing hard with the more shiny thrilling object that is Dallas Winston, embodied strong by Joshua Boone (Broadway’s Skeleton Crew), a ex-con rebel without a cause that represents more than just stereotypical old movie formula.

Jason Schmidt and Brody Grant Photo by Matthew Murphy.

But as the strongly framed songs keep rolling forward, dedicated to the familial desire for home, love, and dreams, the musical never fails to engage, particularly in the epic “Great Expectations,” pulled out from the Dickens’ novel that lives in Ponyboy’s back pocket. The Outsiders keep filling the air with righteous conflict and resignation, splashing bits of watery optimism forward with rebellious kicks by this crew. The musicality of the show soars, thanks to the fine work by music director Matt Hinkley (Broadway’s Bandstand), with a powerful assist from sound designer Cody Spencer (Broadway’s Gutenberg! The Musical), and a compelling projection design by Hana Kim (Broadway’s Summer, 1976). It’s an energizing drive-in framework that keeps working hard and true right up to the climax of conflict that stabs its way engagingly into our souls. There, in the beating heart of Johnny Cade, portrayed somewhat slightly and simply by Sky Lakota-Lynch (Broadway’s Dear Evan Hansen), is where the piece finds its ultimatum, and the war between the poor ‘greasers’ and the monied ‘socs’ boils up to overflowing.

The fuse is violently lit thereafter, and the rivalry of ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ is ignited by an innocent romance across enemy lines. With Cherry Valance at the center of this showdown, talking sweet and engagingly with the wide-eyed puppy that is Ponyboy, that handholding, sweet, casual interaction ultimately power kegs itself into an intense cutting confrontation and a second-act rumble ripped right out of the “West Side Story” playbook. Portrayed well by Emma Pittman (Broadway’s Chicago), the female lead part flickers on the edges of meaningful and meaningless, being an important touchstone to the young Ponyboy, but not the focal point of his force – unlike the Maria (or Juliet) counterpart who has a lot more to say and do. This Outsiders conflict lives and breathes fully in the roughness of its Abercrombie & Fitch, pseudo-masculinity, set swirling and rolling in an erotically charged rainstorm battle that is as captivatingly majestic as it is violent.

Emma Pittman, Brody Grant (front), with the cast of The Outsiders. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Drenched in sweat, tears, and blood, the young men finally come together in community and defiance, costumed strongly by Sarafina Bush (Broadway’s Tommy). It’s a show, driven by the bonding of brothers, both chosen and of blood, brimming with poetic engagement and care. Its tender heart beats defiantly with determination and grit, heightened by the well-crafted rockabilly and blues songs, that are sometimes gentle and reflective, and deliver the framing, even when repetitive and overly self-narrative. The tenderest of moments enters in late, blossoming between Ponyboy and Lakota-Lynch’s Johnny on the hood of a car, that, in a way, resonates far beyond the sidebar destruction of ex-con and mentor Dally. It’s in the friends’ tragic poetic connection, sung in sideways through a letter, where The Outsiders unleashes its soul, hitting the mark solidly and beautifully. It’s a connection that the other book and movie epic turned Broadway musical, Water for Elephants never really discovers fully, even with all the silk-wrapped death-defying leaps of faith it contains. Neither show is perfect, but one quenches our thirst, both emotionally and musically, even if it is from the leftover puddle water kicked high into the air every chance those handsome boys can find.

The cast of The Outsiders at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

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

Broadway in Bryant Park And You Are There With Hell’s Kitchen, Water For Elephants, The Wiz and More

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July 11, 106.7 LITE FM’s Broadway in Bryant Park kicked off its 2024 program, bringing the best of Broadway back together for free performances, every Thursday in July.

From AMDA College of the Performing Arts-Kyle Taylor Parker

From AMDA College of the Performing Arts-Kyle Taylor Parker, Charity Arianna , Destiny David, Ailadis Hernandez De Leon, Nyjair Wilkerson and Jackson Bateman

This week’s performances included: a preshow featuring students from AMDA

Ali Louis Bourzgui

Bobby Conte and Ali Louis Bourzgui

Bobby Conte, Ali Louis Bourzgui and Adam Jacobs

Ali Louis Bourzgui, Bobby Conte,

Lily Kren, Alexandra Matteo, Daniel Quadrino, Jenna Nicole Schoen, Nathan Lucrezio, Reagan Pender, Bobby Conte, Tyler James Eisenreich, Mark Mitrano, Haley Gustafson, Afra Hines, Dee Tomasetta, Adam Jacobs, Ali Louis Bourzgui, David Paul Kidder, Jeremiah Alsop, Andrew Tufano and Ronnie Bowman, Jr.

The Who’s Tommy (Ali Louis Bourzgui, Adam Jacobs, Bobby Conte, Haley Gustafson and more)

Isabelle McCalla and Ken Wulf Clark

Ken Wulf Clark

Joe De Paul and Asa Somers

Isabelle McCalla and Ken Wulf Clark

Isabelle McCalla and Ken Wulf Clark

Isabelle McCalla and Ken Wulf Clark

Joe De Paul, Asa Somers and Sara Gettelfinger

Joe De Paul, Asa Somers and Sara Gettelfinger

Joe De Paul, Asa Somers and Sara Gettelfinger

Joe De Paul, Asa Somers and Sara Gettelfinger

Ken Wulf Clark, Sara Gettelfinger, Joe De Paul and Asa Somers

Ken Wulf Clark, Sara Gettelfinger, Joe De Paul and Asa Somers

Ken Wulf Clark, Joe De Paul, Asa Somers and Isabella McCalla

Water for Elephants (Isabelle McCalla, Ken Wulf Clark, Asa Somers, Sara Gettelfinger, Joe De Paul)

Avery Wilson

Kyle Ramar Freeman and Nichelle Lewis

Kyle Ramar Freeman

Kyle Ramar Freeman

Melody A. Betts

Kyle Ramar Freeman

Nichelle Lewis

Nichelle Lewis, Kyle Ramar Freeman, Avery Wilson and Polanco Jones Jr.

Kyle Ramar Freeman, Avery Wilson and Polanco Jones Jr.

Kyle Ramar Freeman, Polanco Jones Jr., Nichelle Lewis, Melody A. Betts and Avery Wilson

The Wiz (Avery Wilson, Kyle Ramar Freeman, Melody A. Betts, Nichelle Lewis, Polanco Jones Jr.)

Jelani Remy

JJ Niemann

Evan Alexander Smith and JJ Niemann

Evan Alexander Smith and JJ Niemann

Evan Alexander Smith and JJ Niemann

Evan Alexander Smith and JJ Niemann

Jelani Remy and JJ Niemann

Jelani Remy and JJ Niemann

Jelani Remy and JJ Niemann

Evan Alexander Smith, Katie Laduca, JJ Niemann and Aaron Alcaraz

Hannah Kevitt and JJ Niemann

Evan Alexander Smith, JJ Niemann, Jelani Remy and The Cast of Back To The Future that includes Hannah Kevitt, Cixtoria Byrd, Kimberly Immanuel, Jessie Peltier, Gregory Carl Banks Jr., Katie Laduca, Joshua Kenneth Allen Johnson and Aaron Alcaraz

Evan Alexander Smith, JJ Niemann, Jelani Remy, Hannah Kevitt, Cixtoria Byrd, Kimberly Immanuel, Jessie Peltier, Gregory Carl Banks Jr., Katie Laduca, Joshua Kenneth Allen Johnson and Aaron Alcaraz

Back to the Future (Jelani Remy, JJ Niemann, Evan Alexander Smith)

Gianna Harris and Lamont Walker II

Lamont Walker II

Jade Milan, Jackie Leon and Gianna Harris

Jade Milan, Jackie Leon and Gianna Harris

Donna Vivino

Donna Vivino

Donna Vivino, Gianna Harris, Lamont Walker II, Jade Milan and Jackie Leon and Jackie Leon

and Hell’s Kitchen (Gianna Harris, Vanessa Ferguson, Jackie Leon, Donna Vivino, Lamont Walker II)

106.7 Lite FM’s Helen Little

106.7 Lite FM’s Helen Little is joined by Co Host Kyle Ramar Freeman

with host Helen Little and co-host Kyle Ramar Freeman.

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Broadway

Get Ready For Broadway in Bryant Park

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The most popular shows on and off Broadway will perform their biggest hits in the park starting this Thursday the 11th! Head to the the lawn at Bryant Park and enjoy Broadway for lunch. The performances will happen on four summer Thursdays, hosted and presented by LiteFM.

This week from 12:30pm-1:30pm 106.7 LITE FM Host: Helen Little will host. For the pre-show: A special performance by the students of AMDA College of the Performing Arts. Then get ready for performances by Back to the Future, Hell’s Kitchen, The Who’s TOMMY, The Wiz and
Water For Elephants.

In coming weeks look from The Outsiders, SIX: The Musical, Moulin Rouge! The Musical, Wicked, Chicago and & Juliet.

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Broadway

Ken Fallin’s Broadway:​ Happy Birthday Audra McDonald

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On July 3rd, Audra McDonald celebrated her 54th birthday. The 1970 American Tony, Grammy and Emmy Award-winning theatrical and operatic singer, and stage and screen actress (Lady Day At Emerson’s Bar and Grill; Sweeney Todd; Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny; TV Private Practice, The Good Wife), was born in West Berlin, West Germany (now Berlin, Germany)

As been announced six-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald will return to Broadway this fall, as Mama Rose in Gypsy.

Performances begin Thursday, November 21st, at Broadway’s newly renovated Majestic Theatre. Happy Thanksgiving! The show will open on Thursday, December 19th. Merry Christmas and Happy Chanukah.

The last show to play the Majestic Theatre was The Phantom of the Opera, which concluded its 35 year-run on April 16, 2023.

This upcoming revival will be directed by the legendary five-time Tony Award-winning director George C. Wolfe. The choreography will be by four-time Tony Award nominated Camille A. Brown.  Additional casting and creative team members will be announced at a later date.

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Coming In August Broadway Barks Returns to Shubert Alley

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The 26th anniversary of the star-studded dog and cat adoption event, Broadway Barks returns to Shubert Alley on Saturday, August 3, 2024 to benefit New York City animal rescue groups. The event, co-founded by Bernadette Peters and Mary Tyler Moore, features Broadway celebrities who use their star power to help find loving homes for animals in need from 24 NYC area adoption and rescue groups.

Bernadette Peters and Sutton Foster. Photo courtesy of Broadway Barks.

Bernadette Peters and Sutton Foster will co-host this year’s festivities! Other celebrity participants to be announced soon.

Photo by Daniel Roberts, © Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

Barks begins at 3pm with a ‘meet and greet’ of all the adoptable pets; from 5–6:30pm, adoptees make their Broadway debut on stage alongside some of Broadway’s favorite stars for the celebrity presentations.Produced by Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, the adoption event takes place in Shubert Alley (located between 44th and 45th Streets, between Broadway and Eighth Avenues).

Photo by Daniel Roberts, © Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

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Shows to Keep Your Eyes On: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Death Becomes Her and The Queen of Versailles

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The new musical Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is based on John Berendt’s 1994 non-fiction book and makes its world premiere this summer at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre. The book is by  Taylor Mac and music and lyrics by Tony winner Jason Robert Brown, performances are scheduled for June 25–August 4 in the Albert Theatre. Tony winner Rob Ashford will direct the production with choreography by Tanya Birl.

Tony winner J. Harrison Ghee, is The Lady Chablis; Tony nominee Tom Hewitt as Jim Williams; and Olivier nominee Sierra Boggess as Emma Dawes.

The company also includes Lance Roberts (The Best Man) as Bobby Lewis, Austin Colby (The Great Gatsby) as Danny Hansford, Bailee Endebrock (Parade) as Corrine Strong, Shanel Bailey (The Book of Mormon) as Lavella Cole, Jessica Molaskey (Sunday in the Park with George) as Alma Knox Carter, Brianna Buckley (the ripple, the wave that carried me home) as Minerva, Mary Ernster (War Paint) as Serena Barnes/Dawn Avery, McKinley Carter (Turn of the Century) as Vera Strong, Maya Bowles (The Wiz) as Stacey Brown, DeMarius Copes (Some Like It Hot) as Jeremiah Jones, Sean Donovan as Luther Driggers, Jason Michael Evans (Anastasia tour) as Colonel Atwood/Burt, Christopher Kelley as Bubbles/Gregory, Andre Terrell Malcolm (Hamilton tour) as Josiah Domingo, Aaron James McKenzie (A Beautiful Noise) as Jethro Myles, Wes Olivier as Jack the One-Eyed Jill, Kayla Marie Shipman as Millicent/Mary, and Rory Shirley as Stefanie Davis.

The show tracks an antiques dealer through four trials for murdering a male prostitute in Savannah, Georgia. The story is modeled on the real-life shooting of Daniel Lewis  Hansford. The work won the 1995 Boeke Prize and was a finalist for the 1995 Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction. A film adaptation was released in 1997 starring John Cusack and Kevin Spacey.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil was a seminal book for me as a young queer person, coming out in the late 1980s and early ’90s,” added Mac. “The eccentricities of Savannah, and how they were celebrated by such a large readership, seemed to say, the things that made me odd and an outcast in the world were actually things I should cherish. Likewise, musical theatre has always had a similar effect on me. Singing our thoughts is such an eccentric way of expressing ourselves—yet so perfectly aligned with my personal liberation and joy. So turning Midnight into a musical, and with such master craftspeople as Jason, Rob, and Tanya is essentially an extension of celebrating the joy and liberation from exposing what’s hidden.”

“When I am deciding to start a new show, the two most important questions I ask myself are: 1) Does it sing? and 2) Do I get to work with fun people? With Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, I knew the answers to both questions immediately,” stated Brown. “The book’s milieu, so rich with mystery and romance and history, sings with every sentence, deeply passionate, slyly comic, emotions threatening to boil over on every page. And to work with Rob Ashford, whose transformative production of Parade at the Donmar Warehouse in 2007 reinvigorated not only the show’s reputation but my creative process, was a no-brainer. But then add to that the brilliant, joyful, radically inclusive mind of Taylor Mac, and there was no way I could resist. Creating this world with these mad geniuses is, in true Savannah tradition, a grand and great party. I can’t wait for the world to join in.”

Madeline Ashton (Tony Award® nominees Megan Hilty (Wicked, “Smash”)) is the most beautiful actress (just ask her) ever to grace the stage and screen. Helen Sharp (Jennifer Simard (Company, Disaster!)) is the long-suffering author (just ask her) who lives in her shadow. They have always been the best of frenemies…until Madeline steals Helen’s fiancé (Christopher Sieber (Spamalot, Company)) away. As Helen plots revenge and Madeline clings to her rapidly fading star, their world is suddenly turned upside down by Viola Van Horn, a mysterious woman with a secret that’s to die for.

After one sip of Viola’s (Grammy® Award winner Michelle Williams (Destiny’s Child, Chicago)) magical potion, Madeline and Helen begin a new era of life (and death) with their youth and beauty restored…and a grudge to last eternity.

Death Becomes Her, based on the classic 1992 film, is a drop-dead hilarious new musical comedy about friendship, love, and burying the hatchet…again, and again, and again.

Life’s a bitch and then you die. Or not!

Death Becomes Her is coming to the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre on October 23, 2024, ahead of an opening night on November 21, 2024.

The Queen of Versailles, the new Stephen Schwartz musical starring Kristin Chenoweth and F. Murray Abraham as billionarie-couple Jackie and David Siegel, begins performances at Boston’s Emerson Colonial Theatre on July 16 and will now run through August 25.

The cast will feature Stephen DeRosa (Boardwalk Empire) as John, Greg Hildreth (Company) as Gary, Tatum Grace Hopkins as Jonquil, Tony Award nominee Isabel Keating (The Boy from Oz) as Debbie, Melody Butiu as Sofia Flores and Nina White as Victoria Siegel.

The company will also include Anna Bakun, Stacie Bono, Yeman Brown, Amanda Jane Cooper, David Aron Damane, Drew Elhamalawy, Sara Esty, K.J. Hippensteel, Diana Huey, Cassondra James, Andrew Kober, Jesse Kovarsky, Pablo David Laucerica, Travis Murad Leland, Michael Mulheren, Michael McCorry Rose and Grace Slear.

The Queen of Versailles is an adaptation of the 2012 documentary of the same name about socialite Jacqueline “Jackie” Siegel, the book is by Lindsey Ferrentino (Ugly Lies the Bone) and direction by Tony winner Michael Arden (Parade).

From computer engineer to Mrs. Florida to billionairess, Jackie Siegel sees herself as the embodiment of the American Dream. Now, as the wife of David “The Timeshare King” Siegel and mother of their eight children, they invite us to behold their most grandiose venture yet: They’re building the largest private home in America in Orlando, Florida—a $100 million house big enough for her dreams and inspired by the Palace of Versailles. But with the Great Recession of 2008 looming, Jackie and David’s dreams begin to crumble, along with their lavish lifestyle. The Queen of Versailles explores the true cost of fame, fortune and family.

The production will feature choreography by Lauren Yalango-Grant and Christopher Cree Grant, music supervision by Mary-Mitchell Campbell, scenic design by Dane Laffrey, lighting design by Natasha Katz and sound design by Peter Hylenski, as well as costume design by fashion designer Christian Cowan.

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