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For Celebrants of Literary Legend James Joyce, Bloomsday is a Day Like No Other

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James Joyce
James Joyce

James Joyce

If any literary figure seems synonymous with being Irish, the legendary author James Joyce fits the appellation. And, thanks to having written the 730+ pages of his intellectually unparalleled tome, “Ulysses,” (released as one complete book in 1922) with its incredibly complicated telling of one day in the life of Leopold Bloom, that date has led to the yearly celebration known as Bloomsday. The novel parallels the life and thoughts of Bloom and a host of other characters — real and fictional such as Stephen Dedalus — with the Greek story of the Odyssey which takes place from 8 am on June 16th, 1904, through to the early hours of the following morning.

James Joyce

James Joyce

In March 1914, Joyce had started writing “Ulysses” but put it aside to finish his play “Exiles.” On June 16th, 1915, he wrote his brother Stanislaus to say he had finished the first episode of it. After a long serialization, it was then was published as a full version in a very limited edition, and shortly after, Joyce’s friends began to mark June 16th as Bloomsday.

The first Bloomsday event celebrated in Ireland was in 1954, the 50th anniversary of the original Bloomsday, when writers Patrick Kavanagh and Flann O’Brien visited the Martello Tower at Sandycove, Davy Byrne’s pub, and 7 Eccles Street, drunkenly reading parts of “Ulysses” throughout a long day of imbibing. Today, it is celebrated by Joyceans across the globe with readings, performances, re-enactments, and many other events. In Ireland, a Bloomsday Festival runs from June 11 to the 16th.

Among those celebrations are several which take place in New York City. The day kicks off with the 5th annual immersive Bloomsday Breakfast hosted by Origin Theatre Company and Bloom’s Tavern in Midtown (208 East 58th Street).  Since the annual free event lands on a Saturday, it starts a little later at 11:30 am but will still fit in all the festivities such as readings from the book, musical interludes, and a juried costume contest. As New York’s only site-specific Bloomsday breakfast, it commemorates the Dublin summer morning chronicled in “Ulysses,” which takes place on that singular day.

The event also features the “Origin in Bloom” Literary Prize presentation, honoring an Irish or Irish-American author with a unique connection to New York. The beloved writer/activist Malachy McCourt won the inaugural prize last year — chosen by a nominating committee which includes the Irish Voice’s Cahir O’Doherty, Irish America Magazine’s Patricia Harty, and the Irish Echo’s Peter McDermott.

Among the performers, writers, and musicians taking part are Elmore James; David O’Hara; Charlotte Moore; Sean Gormley; Ciarán Sheehan; Paula Nance; Terry Donnolly; Fiona Walsh; Patrick Fitzgerald and The James Joyce Reading Group, and David O’Leary of Trí — The New Irish Tenors. the event’s music director Irish-folk-rock troubadour Alan Gogarty performs on guitar as well.

For the third year, the breakfast also features a costume competition for the “Best, or Most Creatively, Dressed Molly or Leopold Bloom.” The winner — man or woman — will be selected from among the guests by a blue-ribbon panel of judges led by the internationally recognized image strategist Margaret Molloy. A $1,000 Dinner and NYC fun package is offered to the grand-prize winner. Contestants are invited to come period-attired, or in a summer-festive outfit — a modern interpretation of that 1904 Dublin morning. Couples and individuals are eligible.

Later on, The 37th Bloomsday on Broadway starts at 7 pm in the Peter Norton Symphony Space (95th & Broadway), co-produced with the Irish Arts Center. Directed by Lisa Flanagan, Symphony Space’s celebration of Joyce’s masterpiece features a tour through the first 17 episodes hosted by beloved Bloomsday regular Mia Dillon, with musical interludes by violinist Dana Lyn, guitarist Kyle Sanna, piper Ivan Goff, vocalist Carrie Erving, and a chorus of Mollys performed by Valorie Curry, Kirsten Vangsness, and more. A cast which includes Keir Dullea, Barbara Feldon, Peter Halpin, Neil Hickey, Peter Francis James, Khris Lewin, Malachy McCourt, Terry Moran and Sam Underwood perform the readings until about 9:30 pm.

Festivities continue with an after-party in Bar Thalia where guitarist Matt Stapleton, Dylan Foley (four-time All-Ireland fiddle champion), and Isaac Alderson (2002 All-Ireland flute, tin whistle, and pipes champion) will perform.

Up in Albany at the Irish American Heritage Museum (370 Broadway, Albany, NY) is the “Ulysses Seen”exhibit based on a comic adaptation of the 1922 edition of James Joyce’s epic by Robert Berry. Berry uses the visual aid of the graphic novel to foster understanding of public domain literary masterworks. He’s pointed out that “Ulysses Seen” isn’t meant to replace the original but rather it’s meant to be a visual companion to Joyce’s book. It uses the comic narrative to “cut through jungles of unfamiliar references” and to help readers “appreciate the subtlety and artistry” of Joyce’s text.

If you’ve wanted to read Ulysses, but have been intimidated by its size and density, this is a great new way to experience literature such as this. Original artwork in the form of bookmarks are available to buy. In addition, Bloomsday evening at the Museum begins at 6 pm and then continues on a local pub crawl, where participants receive one drink and will be regaled by extracts from the famous book and songs about Dublin. It costs $30.

Finally, the day continues into Sunday, the 17th, at a Post-Bloomsday Celebration in McNally Jackson Books at 52 Prince Street in New York’s Soho district. Starting 4 pm, Emmy-winning screenwriter, critic and novelist, Robert J. Seidman celebrates Leopold Bloom’s odyssey. Author of the novel “Moments Captured” he is also co-author, with Don Gifford, of “Ulysses Annotated” and thus has a bit to say about Joyce.

Obviously, the best was to celebrate Joyce is to grab a copy of the book and try to wend your way through it. Once done you can backtrack to his previous novel,”A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” (1916) and his even more obtuse and intellectually challenging re-definition of the novel, “Finnegans Wake” (1939).

Born on February 2nd, 1882, at 41 Brighton Square, Rathgar, Dublin, James Augustine Aloysius Joyce was the foremost purveyor of stream-of-consciousness writing and basically wrote in ways no one had ever written before and became undoubtably one of the 20th century’s most important authors. Though he’s been dead since January 13th, 1941, his impact still resonates. For some, reading Joyce is a life-long challenge, for other he’s worthy of a day’s drunken literary adventuring.

Broadway

Barry Manilow, Bruce Sussman and More At The Museum of Broadway As Harmony Is Honored

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On Thursday, April 18th Barry Manilow, Bruce Sussman, The Comedian Harmonists Sean Bell, Danny Kornfeld, Zal Owen, Eric Peters, Blake Roman and Steven Telsey, as well as Company members including Chip Zien, Kate Wesler, Kyla Stone, Matthew Mucha, Stuart Zagnit, Zak Edwards, and more TBA will be at The Museum of Broadway to unveil a brand-new window display dedicated to the Broadway musical Harmony. Barry Manilow and Bruce Sussman brought the long-forgotten story of The Comedian Harmonists, a German singing group of six young men whose fame was abruptly cut short by the rise of Nazism, to life in the 2023 hit Broadway musical Harmony.

The Museum of Broadway will honor their story with a dedicated window featuring exclusive items donated by Manilow and Sussman, and historical items dating back to the 1920s.

The program will include a special a cappella performance by the OBC Comedian Harmonists.

Harmony, featured an original new score by legendary Tony, Grammy, and Emmy Award® winner Barry Manilow with lyrics and book by Drama Desk Award Winner, Bruce Sussman. Directed and choreographed by Tony Award winner Warren Carlyle (The Music Man, Hello Dolly!), this timely and captivating rags-to-riches story lost to history came to dazzling life with a sensational cast of Broadway favorites.

Based on an unbelievable true story, the musical told the tale of the most successful entertainers you’ve never heard of. . . until Harmony. In the 1920s and 30s, The Comedian Harmonists sold millions of records, made dozens of films, and sold-out the biggest theaters around the world. Their heavenly harmonies and musical comedy antics catapulted these six talented young men from singing in the subway tunnels of Berlin to international superstardom.  What happened next was the story of Harmony.

The female-founded award-winning Museum of Broadway is the world’s first-ever permanent museum dedicated to the storied history and legendary artists, creators and stars of Broadway musicals and plays, past and present. Offering unrivaled “backstage” access, the Museum of Broadway goes behind-the-scenes to show guests of all ages how a Broadway show is made from conception to curtain call.  A one-of-its-kind entertaining and educational celebration of Broadway for the theatre enthusiast and insider alike, the Museum of Broadway transports visitors visually through centuries of time.  Experience a stunning, ever-evolving curation from the 1700s-present day one dazzling, unforgettable exhibit, costume, prop, rendering and rarity at a time. Through each piece, the Museum of Broadway honors the legacies of those who paved the way for today’s Broadway and the next generation of theatregoers and creators.

Founded in November 2022, the Museum of Broadway highlights more than 500 showstopping and hidden gem productions across three floors of exhibits.  Open seven days a week and welcoming thousands of guests weekly from all over the world, the museum also offers free educational programming, special events with your favorite Broadway casts and creatives, a membership program, merchandise from your favorite shows, and so much more. A portion of proceeds from every ticket sold is donated to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

Be sure to follow @MuseumofBroadway on all social channels for the latest artifact drops, special offers, events and happenings and visit themuseumofbroadway.com to complete your perfect day on Broadway.

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Out of Town

“Women of the Fur Trade” Soars (even with all those controlling men looking down on them)

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Portraits of distinguished men stare down at us, surprisingly, as we enter the space. I did not expect those domineering men’s faces peering at me, with three rocking chairs out front giving off a feeling of waiting and wanting, comfortably and leisurely, for movement without too much proactive action. It’s a captivating portrait highlight, filled with power dynamics and control, that ushers in the Women of the Fur Trade, presented strongly and dynamically by Native Earth Performing Arts. Rocking back and forth with a hypnotic clarity, the three emerging women play a quoting game with glee, one that I would definitely lose without a doubt. The ladies in fur and formal period form engage in a manner that makes us want to lean in with wonder and curiosity. We watch them prattle and dabble on with a modern air of compellingly fun dialogue and gossip, wondering where this is going, and how the essence and themes will be delivered.

With an eccentric electric energy, dropped and messaged in by a basket post, the play, written with a strong sense of self and history by Frances Končan (Space Girl), unleashes ideas and captive arguments about rebellion and colonialism that are drenched in historic fact and laced with symbolic fiction. The play intends to find meaning and understanding of that particular time and place in Canada’s dark treatment of the indigenous population, and the women, representing different fractions, find themselves, trapped, for reasons unknown, in a fort on the banks of the Reddish River in Treaty One. The dividing politics and approaching violence hang over their heads like those black and white male faces, pressing down and inflicting themselves in every engagement, as the three causally and with a modern vernacular that is impressively smart, unpack themes of racism, misogyny, and the challenge of remaining united while having differing views. Its comedic delivery and contemporary colloquialisms keep the space light, delivering empathy and care inside ideas without shame or defensiveness.

Jonathan Fisher and Jesse Gervais in Native Earth Performing Arts’ Women of the Fur Trade. Photo by Kate Dalton.

It’s quite a challenging premise, met with sharply constructed success by Končan, to find pathways through windows and disappearing doors without sounding preachy or heavy-handed. Yet, the playwright manages the space with perfect formulations and structure, giving an intelligent space on the banks of the Reddish River to discuss advancing British troops, confederation, and whether the hot nerd Louis Riel, played beautifully by Jonathan Fisher (VideoCabaret’s New France) is truly worthy of the undying adoration of a young Métis woman, Marie-Angelique, played brilliantly by Kelsey Kanatan Wavey (Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre’s The Rez Sisters). Or whether the momentarily pregnant Cecilia, portraying a nervous married settler woman to perfection by Cheri Maracle (Firehall’s White Noise), is correct to think that Riel’s assistant, Thomas Scott, played hilariously well by Jesse Gervais (MTC/Grand’s Clue), is the actual true heartthrob of the pair (I’m leaning towards Gervais, even if he is, ultimately, the bad guy of the lot). Their portraits hang above their heads proudly, setting up a battle of more than just one superficial dimension, while the free-spirited Ojibwe, Eugenia, perfectly and powerfully portrayed by Lisa Nasson (Stratford’s R+J), watches on with amazement, knowing that they both have a lot to learn and understand about these men. As do we.

The inescapable reaction to their history and predicament hangs heavy and true, like the watchful male oppression made clear within the subtle and wonderful set design by Lauchlin Johnston (RMTC’s The Secret to Good Tea), with strong lighting by Jeff Harrison (Arts Club’s Hand to God), a spot-on projection design by Candelario Andrade (Bard on the Beach’s Julius Caesar), and a clear sound design by composer MJ Dandeneau (RMTC’s YAGA). This lively historical satire of determined survival and cultural historical inheritance plays out like a romantic comedy with an untimely preference for twenty-first-century slang pulled through the dark waters of racism, oppression, and colonialism. The women speak of undying and unknown love of rebellious strangers and symbolic heroes. But out front, the two men travel and engage in a strong game of sideways Cyrano with rollie-bags, giving signals as to where they stand. They are a hypnotic pair, drenched in fascinating dynamics of conflictual power, which ultimately leads to one of the funniest and sharpest scenes of cross-haired love and mistaken admiration that I have seen for a long time, thanks to Wavey and Gervais’s impeccable timing, physicality, and perfect comic delivery.

Cheri Maracle and Lisa Nasson in Native Earth Performing Arts’ Women of the Fur Trade. Photo by Kate Dalton.

The irreverent and pointed humor is as clever as can be, finding empathy and care in their comic humanity, and timelessness. The three actors portraying these women are perfect in their rocking situation sometime in the year “eighteen hundred and something something.” They excel in all aspects, guided most wisely by the original direction of Renae Morriseau (“Angela’s Shadow“), with revival director Kevin Loring (Battle of the Birds/playwright) coming in to assist in the last month of this production. The energy of the well-crafted piece, with disarmingly clever costuming by Vanessa Imeson (A Company of Fools’ Hamlet), hilariously and wisely unpacks history, religion, and rebellion, inside a framework of teenage girl gossip and lust, and it works most mystically and spiritually in a manner I never expected.

This was one of the only shows I, unfortunately, missed at the Stratford Festival last summer, and I was so pleased to be given a second chance to take it all in. But I had no idea how funny and charming this play actually is, and how accomplished this production and its cast & crew would be. I’m not sure I was able to fully take on and take in every symbolic plot point or focused line. It’s clear that the three represent differing polarities that could cause a break in the camaraderie of these three women. Their coming together against overwhelming historical odds while being trapped and controlled by the men of the times is the contemporary point that needs to be taken. But some of the details and points of storyboard friction were lost on me. Or was I looking too deep within?

The written colonial representation of our history, including Louis Riel, Thomas Scott, and the unseen, but much-discussed John A. MacDonald, needs a whole lot of rewriting in our history books to even come close to the reality. Končan does a fantastic job trying to present forward an alternative with hopes of expanding our understanding of how our complicated Canadian history was not as neat and wholesome as we were taught in high school. Being a card-carrying status indigenous person, the platform that Končan has dutifully and skillfully created is a welcome wonder, filled with unquestionable laughter and sharply aimed shots, fired from weapons more powerful than a few random sticks in the woods. Women of the Fur Trade is as precise and clever as one could hope for, and a wonderfully clever, entertaining adventure into some dark Canadian history. Don’t try to resist. Just go if you can, even if it means climbing out a window, and join these well-crafted characters on the banks of the Reddish River in Treaty One Territory to laugh and fall hopelessly in mistaken love with a pretty perfect piece of theatre and enlightenment. Every dog will bark in support.

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Off Broadway

Gun & Powder is a Powerful Piece of Musical Theatre

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Over at Paper Mill Playhouse there is a new powerhouse musical that opened last night. Gun & Powder is the true story of Mary and Martha Clarke, African American twin sisters who, pass as white to settle their mother’s sharecropper debt. In the meantime they learn to love who they are, celebrate their history and bloodline.

The direction of this show by Stevie Walker-Webb features a superb cast, a compelling story, and possibly one of the best new scores to come along in awhile, sung to perfection.

Liisi LaFontaine Photo by Jeremy Daniel

Set in 1893 Texas the show is centered on the book writer and the lyricists Angelica Chéri great- great aunts Mary and Martha Clarke (the incomparable Ciara Rene and Liisi LaFontaine who sing and act these roles flawlessly). Born into slavery, their mother Tallulah Clarke (Jeannette Bayardelle) had the girls with a Caucasian man so they are light skinned. When they are penalized for not reaching their quota of cotton, they will lose everything unless they come up with $400. Mary and Martha decide to leave posing for white. Martha is given a gun by her mother and when she finds the power that gun affords her, the two ended up robbing to get ahead. They ended up in a saloon owned by Jesse (Hunter Parrish) and Mary falls in love and ends up marrying him, but that is when the real action begins.

Sonya Love and Aurelia Williams Photo by Jeremy Daniel

There are also the two housemaids of the Salon, Flo and Sissy (Sonya Love and Aurelia Williams) who almost steal the show with their attitude and killer vocals in “Dirty Shame”. Also standing out are Aaron James McKenzie as Elijah a black servant who falls in love with Martha and sings “Invisible”. His duet with LaFontaine “Under a Different Sun” is in a word, gorgeous. The fabulous Katie Thompson, plays Fannie Porter a white saloon singer who sings “Frenchman Father” and makes you really listen.

Katie Thompson Photo by Jeremy Daniel

The star of this show is Chéri’s lyrics and composer Ross Baum’s music. From Jazz, to Gospel, to Spirituals to blues, to Broadway, this score soars. It is like going to musical theatre church. From the “Prologue”, to “Wide Open Plains” until “All of Me,” this score captures you heart, mind and soul. The orchestrations by John Clancy, just enhance the whole experience.

Hunter Parrish Photo by Jeremy Daniel

Tiffany Rea-Fisher’s choreography keeps the show in a profound transformation.

The scenic design by Beowulf Boritt is simple yet effective. The lighting design by Adam Honor really makes the set come to life and the costume design by Emilio Sosa keeps us in the period.

Gun & Powder and Chéri and Baum are a show and a team of writers to keep your eye on. I predict big things for both.

This musical is fresh and exciting and if it doesn’t make it to Broadway next year I would be surprised.

Make sure you get your tickets. You will not be disappointed.

Gun & Powder: Paper Mill Playhouse, 22 Brookside Dr, Millburn, NJ until May 5th.

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Broadway

Lempicka Brings An Artist Work Back To Life

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In 1984, I saw the interactive show Tamara based on the life of the artist Tamara de Lempicka in LA and fell in love with it, so much so that it has stayed one of my favorites to this day. Lempicka is a new musical based more on her sexual choices than her stylized Art Deco portraits that changed and inspired generations. She was one of the first feminists, as Tamara choose art, sexual freedom and a lifestyle in a time of war and destruction.


The musical starts out on a park bench in LA as an older Tamara (Eden Espinosa) reflects on her life. Flash back to Warsaw, Poland as Tamara is to be wed to Lempicka (Andrew Samonsky) an aristocrat and is to live a life of luxury. Then the Bolshevik’s in prison her husband, she uses sexual favors to free him and they flee to Paris with their daughter. When her husband is unwilling to work she becomes a painter and uses the name Lempicka. There she is befriended by a wealthy art patron (Nathaniel Stampley) and his wife (Beth Leavel), is influenced by Marinetti (George Abu), the founder of the Futurist art movement, and is inspired and in love with Rafaela (Amber Iman). Both Lempicka and the musical come alive at this point. Tamara finds friendship and solace with a nightclub owner, Suzy (Natalie Joy Johnson), who gives her and others like her a refuge, until the Nazi’s invade. In the end, while breaking ground Lempicka’s life style becomes rather self centered or should I say one of self preservation as she loses her husband, her daughter and her lover.

Amber Iman, Eden Espinosa Photo by Matthew Murphy/Evan Zimmerman

Matt Gould’s music and Carson Kreitzer’s lyrics are well sung and the show sounds glorious. This is a new take on pop music. The problem here is the minor characters get the songs that make the show come alive. Iman, Abu and Johnson almost steal the show with their numbers. Level gets the 11 O’Clock number and breaks our hearts. Though Espinoza has some good numbers and sells them, none of them really stand out.

George Abud photo by Matthew Murphy/Evan Zimmerman)

Kreitzer also conceived the book and wrote it with Gould. Again the show does and doesn’t work. Instead of focusing on Lempicka’s art, the changing world around her and the fact that she was one of the first feminists, the story is more focused on lesbian repression. The show is billed as a triangle of love, but her husband once they get to Paris is in his own world until she gets together with Rafaela a prostitute. Rachel Chavkin’s direction makes the scenes between Rafaela and Lempicka beautiful and in a strange sense if feels a little like Indecent, however the show as a whole doesn’t jell.

Photo by Matthew Murphy/Evan Zimmerman

I did like Raja Feather Kelly’s choreography that seemed to evoke the changing world around.

Riccardo Hernández’s set of steel, seems like the world is on the verge of collapse and rebuilding. The lighting by Bradley King and projections by Peter Hylenski and Justin Stasi added to that effect. Paloma Young’s costumes missed the mark and seemed like they were in two different stories.

The reason to see Lempicka is it is sung and acted gloriously.

Once you see Lempicka, you will realize how much Tamara de Lempicka’s art change and influenced the world of art. This was a woman who survived at all costs and that should always be admired.

Lempicka: Longacre Theatre, 220 West 48th Street.
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Broadway

Ken Fallin’s Broadway: The Outsiders

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These boys are taking Broadway by storm Jason Schmidt, Sky Lakota-Lynch, and Brody Grant. In Tulsa, Oklahoma, 1967, the hardened hearts and aching souls of Ponyboy Curtis, Johnny Cade and their chosen family of “outsiders” are in a fight for survival and a quest for purpose in a world that may never accept them. A story of the bonds that brothers share and the hopes we all hold on to, this gripping new musical reinvigorates the timeless tale of “haves and have nots”, of protecting what’s yours and fighting for what could be.

The Outsiders opened on Broadway at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, 242 W 45th Street.

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