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He Says: Broadway Flies Proud The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window as a Rally Cry To Us All

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Many told me that they didn’t quite understand what this play was trying to say or what its main focus was. What was its point of view, and what was it attempting to unpack today? But what I found myself immersed in was some kind of parallel process connecting to but not aligning itself directly with Lorraine Hansberry’s other signature play, A Raisin in the Sun. From the first visual, it appears they don’t share too much in common. The living space looks nothing like the other as it breathes a different spacial air, which might be the point of Hansberry’s The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window, but somewhere there is a connection. They said, at the time, that she was moving into a different lane in her writing, but as the play moves forward into the world of Iris and Sidney Brustein, the structuring and the types of people that wander into their home seem to me to elicit some similar themes, types, and ideals, although only abstractly, and without hitting the same marks.

Rachel Brosnahan and Oscar Isaac in The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window from the Brooklyn, NY production at BAM Harvey Theater. February 3, 2023. Photo Credit: Julieta Cervantes.

Both are spaces that don’t exactly fit, and change is needed and required in order to thrive, saddled with dysfunction, failure, but also determination. “Dance for me,” he pleads, and she does, reluctantly, wishing to also be seen for something more, desired for her opinions especially when he reaches, most desperately, for her. The complex engagement has been set on course, as Oscar Isaac (“Inside Llewyn Davis“; Public’s Hamlet) and Rachel Brosnahan (“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel“; NYTW’s Othello) unleash their Sidney Brustein and Iris Parodus Brustein, the two married idealists, into the world, colliding against one another with a charged chemistry. Living out their dreams, or at least trying to, in a Village apartment, Sidney’s failures fill the corners of the space, and even though the last was not a “nightclub“, the remains of its death can’t be denied or ignored.

But there is a bond that lives inside those walls, and it is just as powerful, even in its discomfort. Their connective tissue radiates with pent-up tension and friction that can and eventually will make or break a relationship apart. Sidney, filled with optimism and idealist energy, is trying to unpack his last disappointment and unroll his new, with a shrug and a shot, when Sidney enters the room, stripping down to her white stockings as if the clothes she is has on are burning her skin. Now that’s a sign of things to come. She practices a few pliés with a casual indifference that seems to stoke Sidney’s furnace, lighting a fire to his passion and his casual disrespect, that only grows with each passing minute of Hansberry’s The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window. It’s a tour de force, these two, folding themselves together while jabbing hard at one another as if to see who will break first. Sidney doesn’t seem to see how cruel he can be, treating his remarks with the same disrespect her treats his wife, but we feel the sharpness of the slap and know full well that he’s pushing her closer and closer to the edge. But we just don’t know what is on the other side of that cliff.

He has, unbeknownst to Iris, bought himself a local paper, and although he trumpets himself as an editor who will stay away from politics, this decree doesn’t last long, much like many of his other vows. This is a play that swirls in the world of politics and power though, and deceit, and as we side-watch a man up in the darkness above toil at a typewriter, we wonder where the writing of this play is going to take us, and why. It’s a hodge podge of ideas, crammed together in literal and emotional talk, etched in idealism and leftist reform, and as directed with a sharpness, most of the time, by a determined Anne Kauffman (ATC’s The Bedwetter), The Sign… mostly flies true, even in its overt wordiness as the winds shifts and occasionally blow weak and unclear throughout its almost three hour running time.

Julian De Niro and Miriam Silverman in The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window from the Brooklyn, NY production at BAM Harvey Theater. February 3, 2023. Photo Credit: Julieta Cervantes.

The analysis of Iris, and the carefully constructed abstractionism of herself, are a complicated mess of tireless action and desperation, with both putting so much energy into creating connection at all costs. It’s an uncomfortable dance to watch, especially when Sidney reverts to sharp slices of cruelty that are pointed directly at the softest most vulnerable parts of his wife. It’s a game that doesn’t sit well with any of us, especially these days, and with the cornucopia of characters that fly in and out of that apartment, designed meticulously by dots (RTC’s You Will Get Sick), with exacting lighting by John Torres (Public’s A Bright Room Called Day) and a precise sound design by Bray Poor (Broadway’s Take Me Out), the sharpness of the time and the frame feels problematic and disconcerting, but less dangerous as I’m sure it did when the play first appeared on stage in 1964.

The chemistry of the two leads is palpable and unique, pushing the piece into the frame most powerfully, but it is magnified beyond compare when the uniquely different sister of Iris, the uptown rich Mavis, deftly portrayed by Miriam Silverman (LCT’s JUNK), makes her entrance with a dress and an attitude that at first seems at odds with the room. Silverman is electrifying as a presence, definitely deserving the Tony nomination she received for peeling off layers when required, before reapplying her facade to perfection. “How smug it is here in Bohemia“, she states, before we start to see and hear the lines of connection to what’s underneath her sister, even if Iris doesn’t want to see it herself. The dress does fit, eventually, but not to Sidney’s liking. I’m not sure he really wants to see his wife clearly to begin with. He just wants their creation of ideas played out to a soundtrack and dance for his personal enjoyment.

Rachel Brosnahan in The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window from the Brooklyn, NY production at BAM Harvey Theater. February 3, 2023. Photo Credit: Julieta Cervantes

Brosnahan delivers a character that is almost overflowing with an interior life that is epic and deeply felt. When she noticed that something has come in or gone out of their fighting, it fills in the asides with darkness and discomfort. She plunges deeper and harder into everything, and is sadly mostly absent as the play rolls towards its difficult end. It’s a strongly formed formula though, matched mostly by Isaac’s impulsive Sidney who just can’t help but attack her most vulnerable parts all too frequently and with such precision. The rest of the cast fills out the intellectually aligned space with due diligence that registers. As the gay playwright, David Ragin, played solidly by Glenn Fitzgerald (TNG’s The True), writing abstractionisms upstairs to a beat all on his own, the actor fills out David’s role as a reflective surface with a sure-footedness that slowly unravels as he gains more success than maybe he can handle.

Inside Sidney’s circle, there is the combustible Alton Scales, played true by Julian De Niro (Showtime’s “The First Lady“), where a more complicated ideological argument unravels around the idea of love and companionship with Iris’s other more wayward sister, Gloria Parodus. Portrayed by Gus Birney (59E59’s Connected), she shows up late to the party but manages to rachet up the drunken drama suddenly and spontaneously. It’s a devastating turn, and even though the two loverbirds never actually connect on that stage, their involvement pushes forth complex observations about America that leave you struggling to understand and process our deep emotional response to it all, on numerous levels of complications and assumptions.

But let’s not forget who and what The Sign… is promoting, all around the buying and the selling of America’s soul as personified by Wally O’Hara, wisely portrayed by Andy Grotelueschen (Broadway’s Tootsie), as the politician that asks Sidney for much more than he initially is willing to give. Yet somewhere in the play, it is given almost wholeheartedly to a sold man who doesn’t stand for what he first says. It’s a hard pill to swallow, causing the world to crack down the middle and crash in a way that everyone saw coming, except for Sidney. The chorus is always watching though, not changing anything, but laying it all out for us to see and digest, if willing.

Oscar Isaac and Glenn Fitzgerald in The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window from the Brooklyn, NY production at BAM Harvey Theater. February 3, 2023. Photo Credit: Julieta Cervantes.

In a fantastic historical Playbill insert, a testament to the theatrical movement that this play represented is reprinted. It’s a rallying cry, written by Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft, originally printed in The New York Times on November 24, 1964, to the theatrical community begging them to see this show now. It praises the play full stop: “We laughed, we cried, we thought.” Such powerful words for this fascinatingly timely play after being called “a sprawling contrast” to A Raisin in the Sun. When it first played on Broadway, The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window had an extraordinary run of 101 performances. Yet, the play, without its knowing, was performed for the last time on Sunday, January 10th, 1965. Two days later, Lorraine Hansberry died of pancreatic cancer and “in respect to the artist, the theater remained dark that night, never again to resume performances.”

It’s a stunningly well formed revival, drenched in grand performances with a true purpose. The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window flies proud over the James Earl Jones Theatre marquee, bringing us together to hear the rally cry for change and connection. But I wonder if the cast of politically charged characters, costumed most brilliantly by Brenda Abbandandolo (Signature’s Octet), brings forth a current formula that fully resonates. It definitely unpacks an idea that needs restoring, demanding more from all in regard to power, politics, and morality. It might not be as illuminating as what Brooks and Bancroft were talking about back in 1964, but this revival finds its mark and sticks to it. Mainly because of a handful of excellent performances, delivering on some principled ideology that maybe needs some reminding.

Oscar Isaac in The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window from the Brooklyn, NY production at BAM Harvey Theater. February 3, 2023. Photo Credit: Julieta Cervantes.

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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