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It was the summer of 2015, when I found myself standing outside the Duke of York’s Theatre in London’s West End looking at the placard advertising Mark Rylance (Nice Fish, Jerusalem)  in the new play, Farinelli and the King. For whatever reason, (I don’t think it had started just yet) we were unable to see it then or there. Actually, now that I know more about this exquisite candle-lit production, I would have loved to see it at Shakespeare’s Globe before it transferred to the West End where it had originated. How beautiful it must have been in that setting, and although this is a new play, written by the often collaborator (and wife) of Rylance, Claire Van Kampen (director of Nice Fish), it feels like it was created by this first time playwright exactly for this type of historical old world setting.
FKSam Crane Farinelli (c) Joan Marcus 0049_preview
Everything about this production feels old fashioned, and I mean that in the best of possible ways. The design of the set by Jonathan Fensom (Broadway’s Journey’s End) feels straight out of a theatre history text book with a beautiful use of painted drops lowered down by visible thick ropes that look like they are from over a hundred years ago. The Belasco Theater stage has been basically converted from a beautifully old Broadway house to a pseudo-historical Globe-like setting, with audience members stationed on two levels of seating in both wings of the stage. The lighting, by self proclaimed candle- expert and designer, Paul Russell (Young Vic’s Romeo and Juliet) leans heavily on the soft flickering of the numerous candles that light the action. The wigs and makeup by Campbell Young (Hello, Dolly!) are gorgeous and perfectly period. The lush mood created by all these elements feels old world, as if we are watching an old film from a bygone era. The story is simple and charming, and even though it’s not captivating, it does truly engage. It has a glow and a quiet intimacy that is unquestionable and stunningly beautiful.
FKGarbiya Rylance Grove in Farinelli (c) Joan Marcus 0114_preview
Rylance himself gives off an old school actor vibe that is just as appealing and engaging as the play itself. He seems like just one of the team, rather than the award winning stage and film star name and above-the-title main draw. And his performance as Philippe V, King of Spain, grandson of France’s king Louis XIV, is beautifully funny and emotionally rich and textured. His hesitations, his meanderings, and his comical asides work its magic on us, drawing us in and creating a solid emotional bond between King and his ‘audience court’. It is sure to become another nominated performance for an actor who gives off the energy that awards are his least priority, but being part of something smart and special is really what it’s all about. And with Farinelli and the King, he truly is.
FKDavies Crane Farinelli (c) Joan Marcus 0291_previewFarinelli, the most celebrated Italian castrato singer of the 18th century is in some ways the real centerpiece of this play.  Portrayed by a pair of performers, the man, whose real name is Carlo Maria Michelangelo Nicola Broschi is played beautifully by Sam Crane (West End’s 1984, Netflix’s ‘The Crown‘), while the opera singer, the pseudo-twin and other half of his complicated personality, is sung by the astounding Iestyn Davies (New York City Opera’s production of Handel’s Partenope). Many audience members questioned that choice during the intermission of Farinelli and the King, wondering if Davies wasn’t up to the acting task of performing both sides of this fascinating man, but the answer is there in the dialogue of this smart play. Carlo Broschi, the simple man behind the voice, tells of his discomfort in the role of opera singing star or as a center-stage performer. In essence, Carlo separates himself mentally once Farinelli’s voice is needed in a performance. It’s almost like he is in the audience himself, listening to that stupendous voice, in awe as much as the rest of us, not entirely sure where that voice is coming from. It’s like ‘split-personality disorder’, an old term, but a good one for this character who is literally and figuratively split in two for our viewing and hearing pleasure, and for his own sanity.
FKIestyn Davies Farinelli (c) Joan Marcus 0321_preview
This modest soul, discovered in an opera house in London by the King’s second wife, the Italian-born Isabella Farnese, played with grace and deep charm by the glorious Melody Grove (Traverse’s Milk) is brought to Spain in hopes that his singing may be therapeutic to the mentally challenged King of Spain.  It is said now in the history books (well, in Wikipedia), that King Philippe V suffered from possible Bipolar Disorder, an interesting parallel with the dual personality of Farinelli.  It is also said that even though King Philippe magnificently reformed the Spanish tax code and restored Spanish influence in Italy, he was also known to lay in bed for weeks at a time, sleeping in his own excrement, refusing to dress or speak on his own behalf. Much of that is portrayed beautifully by Rylance with humor, grace, and delusional frustration.  His ability to radiate all those qualities (and more) within one breathtaking first scene between him and a tricky goldfish is truly astounding.  Music therapy, something both Isabella and Queen’s doctor, Dr. José Cervi, played by Huss Garbiya (Globe’s The Frontline) believe in, might be the cure to end his severe depression that cripples her husband and threatens their position. On 25 August 1737, Farinelli was named chamber musician to the king, and criado familiar, or servant to the royal family.
FKCrane Rylance Farinelli (c) Joan Marcus 0122_preview
Farinelli became a royal favorite to the King and also a very important person to the Queen. Within that threesome, Farinelli’s influence over the mental health of Philippe V and the royal house was profound and startlingly positive.  Within that very dynamic is where the essence of this play lies. The power of music on our soul, alongside nature and the cosmos reaches parts of our brain that can create a chemical response that will ultimately make us feel better. The idea is subtle and beautiful with the dialogue and the exquisite music (musical arranger: Claire Van Kampen) lifting us up in its magic. It’s a glorious evening at the Belasco Theater, one of my favorite Broadway houses. It glows with an intelligence and wit that exceeds this good but not great play. The vocals sing and fill the space with a wondrous emotional sound that might possibly bring a tear to your eye, especially within the last musical moment. Rylance, much like the history books that state that Farinelli was admired almost as much for his modesty, his intelligence, and his dedication to his work, as his voice. The real life Farinelli, like Rylance, was respected by his colleagues, composers and impresarios, often retaining their loyalty and friendship long after their professional engagements.  Farinelli was said to favor conveying emotion rather than dassle his audience with sheer technique.  This all could be said about Rylance and this play, the man and the project oozes dedication to craft and intelligence, alongside a low-key attitude towards the work.  It’s a pleasure to be in the audience of someone so talented and dedicated who is there to entertain. The complexities and depth he, and the company bring to Farinelli and the King is equal to the beauty that engulfs us leaving us feeling quenched and delighted by the exquisiteness of an evening of beautiful theatre making.
FKnoneRylance in Farinelli and the King (c) Joan Marcus 0015_preview
Mark Rylance, as King Philippe V, in Farinelli and the King. Photo by Joan Marcus.

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

The Heart of Rock and Roll Meets The Press And Huey Lewis Sings For Me

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Yesterday morning The Heart of Rock and Roll, the new musical based on the soundtrack of Heuy Lewis’s mega hits, met the press corp. In the opening address’s I learned that Heuy Lewis, is now deaf.  In learning that, I wanted to know what soundtrack was now playing in his head. In getting to interview Mr. Lewis I was allowed one question and when I asked, not only did I learned the answer, I was sung to. 

For this video, we started off with that interaction and segue into what happened earlier. With director Gordon Greenberg, introducing John Dossett, McKenzie Kurtz and the cast Josh Breckenridge, F. Michael Haynie, Zoe Jensen, Tamika Lawrence, Raymond J. Lee, John-Michael Lyles, Orville Mendoza, Billy Harrigan Tighe, Mike Baerga, Tommy Bracco, TyNia René Brandon, Olivia Cece, Taylor Marie Daniel, Lindsay Joan, Ross Lekites, Robin Masella, Kara Menendez, Joe Moeller, Jennifer Noble, Fredric Rodriguez Odgaard, Michael Olaribigbe, Kevin Pariseau, Robert Pendilla and Leah Read singing the title song The Heart of Rock and Roll. 

The music supervision, arrangements, and orchestrations by Brian Usifer, musical direction by Will Van Dyke, and the innovative choreography by Lorin Latarro really stood out.

We then in this video interview director Gordon Greenberg, to learn more about what looks to be one fabulous show.

More tomorrow with Corey Cott and the cast and creatives.

The Heart of Rock and Roll, the new musical inspired by the iconic songs of Huey Lewis and The News, will open on Broadway at The James Earl Jones Theatre (138 W 48th St, New York, NY 10036) on Monday, April 22, 2024.

Video and picture by Magda Katz

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Broadway

Maria Friedman Wow’d in Legacy For Broadway Cares Equity Fights AIDS

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Last night was a night to remember, when three-time Olivier-winning actor Maria Friedman, gave a one-night-only benefit concert at the Hudson Theatre. The concert served as a benefit for Broadway Cares, The Stephen Sondheim Foundation, and The Marvin Hamlisch International Music Awards. Friedman is currently represented at that theatre as the director of the current revival of Merrily We Roll Along.

This was the kind of night you pray about. It was an exquisite pleasure watching someone who understands lyric, musicality and how to keep an audience in the palm of their hand. The performance, titled Legacy: An Evening With Maria Friedman and Friends, focused on the works of Stephen Sondheim, Marvin Hamlisch, and Michel Legrand, as Ms Friedman personally and professional had close relationships with all three artists. Craig Horsley will be writing a review of this outstanding musical night of nirvana.

As I watch enrapt in this performance I remembered six years ago I interviewed Ms. Friedman and saw her sing the definitive “Losing My Mind” from Follies, prior to last night, so I went in search of this. We discussed her show which was about to play at 54 Below, which had played a sold-out London run earlier that year. The show explored the work of composer-lyricist Stephen Sondheim and composer Leonard Bernstein. We also talked about her staging of the U.S. premiere of her acclaimed 2012 London revival of Merrily We Roll Along which was currently at the Huntington in Boston, MA starring Eden Espinoza, Damian Humbley and Mark Umbers and a production of Bernstein’s Mass which she had hoped was coming soon.

Friedman made her Broadway debut in 2005 starring in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Woman in White, but she’s spent the majority of her stage career in London’s West End. Among her major roles there was Dot in the first London Sunday in the Park With George, Mary in Merrily We Roll Along, Fosca in Passion (Olivier Award), Sukie in The Witches of Eastwick, Roxie in Chicago, Mother in Ragtime (Olivier Award), Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd, and Golde in Fiddler on the Roof. She also played the Narrator in the screen version of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Mother Abbess in the U.K.’s The Sound of Music Live!

Thank-you Ms Friedman for a night that will long stand in my memory.

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Broadway

Ken Fallin’s Broadway: Sarah Paulson in Appropriate

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Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ Appropriate not only got a second extension, but transferred  theatre. Slated to close March 3 at the Hayes Theater, Appropriate will now play a 13-week engagement at the Belasco Theatre, with performances beginning March 25. The strictly limited run will continue through June 23. The reason for the transfer was Paula Vogel’s Mother Play, was already slated to perform.

To read T2C’s review of Appropriate  click here and here.

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Broadway

Broadway To Honor Hinton Battle

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Broadway will honor the memory of Hinton Battle, the three-time Tony Award-winning singer/ actor/ phenomenal dancer who was trailblazing. Mr. Battle passed away on January 30, 2024, at the age of 67. On March 12, 2024, the Committee of Theatre Owners will dim all the lights of all the Broadway theatres in New York for one minute at exactly 6:45pm, in his honor.Hinton Battle won three Tony’s and made his Broadway debut at 18,  playing the original Scarecrow in The Wiz.

You can see our tribute here. He was one of the great ones.

 

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Broadway

Theatre News: Here We Are, Water For Elephants, Tuesdays with Morrie, The Tempest: A Surround Sound Odyssey, FIVE: The Parody Musical, Forbidden Broadway

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Producers Tom Kirdahy, Sue Wagner, John Johnson, and The Stephen Sondheim Trust announced today that the critically acclaimed world premiere production of Here We Are, the new musical from David Ives and Stephen Sondheim that debuted at The Shed’s Griffin Theater in 2023, was filmed by the Theatre on Film and Tape Archive (TOFT) at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, and added to its collection. The complete show was filmed by TOFT in December of 2023 and is now available and free to view by anyone with a library card.

 Here We Are is directed by two-time Tony Award winner Joe Mantello, and features Francois Battiste, Tracie Bennett, Bobby Cannavale, Micaela Diamond, Amber Gray, Jin Ha, Rachel Bay Jones, Denis O’Hare, Steven Pasquale, David Hyde Pierce, and Jeremy Shamos.

The musical features a book by Tony Award nominee David Ives, music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and is inspired by two films, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie and The Exterminating Angel, by Luis Buñuel.

Here We Are opened on October 22, 2023 at The Shed and performed its final show on January 21, 2024.

Water For Elephants is announcing their Tent Talkback Series with members of the creative team following selected Saturday matinees between March 2 through April 6, at the Imperial Theatre (249 West 45th Street).  Creative team members will include book writer Rick Elice and composers and lyricists PigPen Theatre Co.  The Water For Elephants Tent Talkback Series will be a moderated 15-minute discussion about the creative process and development of the show and commence at the conclusion of selected Saturday matinee performances.

Tent Talkback Series Schedule

Saturday, March 2, matinee performance

Saturday, March 9, matinee performance

Saturday, March 30, matinee performance

Saturday, April 6, matinee performance

Water For Elephants is based on the critically acclaimed and New York Times Bestselling novel by Sara Gruen. The new musical has a book by three-time Tony Award nominee Rick Elice (Jersey Boys, Peter and the Starcatcher), a soaring score by the acclaimed PigPen Theatre Co. (The Tale of Despereaux) and is directed by Tony Award nominee Jessica Stone (Kimberly Akimbo).

The cast stars Grant Gustin (“The Flash”, “Glee”) in his Broadway debut, Isabelle McCalla (The Prom, Shucked), four-time Tony Award nominee Gregg Edelman (City of Angels), Drama Desk and Outer Critic Circle Award nominee Paul Alexander Nolan (Slave Play), Stan Brown (“Homicide: Life in the Streets”), Joe De Paul (Cirque du Soleil’s Dralion), Sara Gettelfinger (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) and Wade McCollum(Wicked) and features Brandon Block, Antoine Boissereau, Rachael Boyd, Paul Castree, Ken Wulf Clark, Taylor Colleton, Gabriel Olivera de Paula Costa, Isabella Luisa Diaz, Samantha Gershman, Keaton Hentoff-Killian, Nicolas Jelmoni, Caroline Kane, Harley Ross Beckwith McLeish, Michael Mendez, Samuel Renaud, Marissa Rosen, Alexandra Gaelle Royer, Asa Somers, Charles South, Sean Stack, Matthew Varvar and Michelle West.

After losing what matters most, a young man jumps a moving train unsure of where the road will take him and finds a new home with the remarkable crew of a traveling circus, and a life—and love—beyond his wildest dreams. Seen through the eyes of his older self, his adventure becomes a poignant reminder that if you choose the ride, life can begin again at any age.

The award-winning Sea Dog Theater’s production of Mitch Albom’s Tuesdays with Morrie, by Jeffrey Hatcher and Mitch Albom, based on the book by Albom, directed by Erwin Maas (NY Times Critic’s Pick for Poison and A Kid Like Rishi), starring Tony Award winner and Emmy nominee Len Cariou (Sweeney Todd original cast, CBS’s “Blue Bloods”) and three-time NYIT “Best Actor” nominee Chris Domig.Tuesdays with Morrie runs March 1 – 23 in a limited engagement at St. George’s Episcopal Church (209 East 16 St.) Opening night is March 7.Two post-show talkbacks are scheduled during the run. On Monday, March 4, Len Cariou and Judy Kaye will discuss working with Stephen Sondheim. On Monday, March 18, Len and Abigail Hawk will discuss working on CBS’s “Blue Bloods.”Tuesdays with Morrie is the humorous and poignant story of career-obsessed journalist Mitch Albom, who sixteen years after graduation serendipitously learns that his former sociology professor Morrie is battling Lou Gehrig’s Disease. What starts as a simple visit, turns into a weekly pilgrimage and the last class in the meaning of life.Featuring vocalist Sally Shaw. Original music written and performed on piano by Chris Domig.

The Perelman Performing Arts Center (PAC NYC, Executive Director Khady Kamara Nunez and Artistic Director Bill Rauch) announces complete casting and creative team for An American Soldier at the new performing arts center at the World Trade Center site in Lower Manhattan.  An American Soldier will premiere in New York during AANHPI Heritage Month with performances starting May 12 through May 19, 2024.

An American Soldier will feature principal cast members Hannah Cho, Alex DeSocio, Nina Yoshida Nelsen and Brian Vu. Ensemble members include Ben Brady, Cierra Byrd, James C. Harris, Shelén Hughes, Joshua Sanders, Christian Simmons and understudies, Misoon Ghim, Luke Harnish and Angela Yam. Photos of the company are available here.

An American Soldier features scenic design by Daniel Ostling, costume design by Linda Cho, lighting design by Jeanette Yew and multi-media design by Nick Hussong, joining the previously announced creative team members Huang Ruo (composer), David Henry Hwang (libretto), Carolyn Kuan (conductor), and Chay Yew (director).

On October 3, 2011, Chinese-American Army Pvt. Danny Chen was found dead in a guard tower at his base in Afghanistan. Based on his story and the ensuing courts-martial of Chen’s fellow soldiers, this New York City premiere opera tells the powerful true story of a young soldier from Manhattan’s Chinatown who sought to serve his country, only to find his biggest threat was the very people who swore to protect him.

Told through the multidimensional music of Huang Ruo (M. Butterfly, Book of Mountains and Seas) with libretto by Tony and Grammy winner David Henry Hwang (M. Butterfly, Soft Power), and directed by Obie Award winner Chay Yew (Cambodian Rock Band, Sweatshop Overlord), An American Soldier is a powerful and unforgettable experience.

Due to popular demand, Knock at the Gate producers Joseph Discher and Sean Hudock announced a two-week extension of their audio immersive streaming production of The Tempest: A Surround Sound Odyssey, now available to stream virtually through Saturday, March 16.

Tickets for the stream are $9.99 and are available for purchase at KnockattheGate.com. The broadcast is available worldwide on all internet connected devices with a dimmable screen and a pair of headphones. Audiences will receive a link and password to access the listening portal prior to the broadcast.

The cast includes Hale Appleman (SyFy’s “The Magicians,” FX’s “American Horror Story”) as ‘Ariel,’ Tony® and Grammy® Award nominee Emily Skeggs (Broadway’s Fun Home) as ‘Miranda,’ Joel de la Fuente (Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle) as ‘Prospero,’ and Derek Wilson (Amazon’s “Gen V,” Hulu’s “Future Man”) as ‘Caliban.’ Rounding out the cast are Michael Daly, Sean Hudock, Greg Jackson, Maurice Jones, Raphael Nash Thomspon, Shane Taylor, Patrick Toon.

Due to popular demand, producers of FIVE: The Parody Musical have put a new block of tickets on sale through April 21. The world-premiere production, initially announced as a limited four-week engagement, will now play an additional 6 weeks Off-Broadway at Theater 555 (555 W 42nd St, NYC). For tickets and further information, visit www.FiveTheMusical.com.

Look out SIX, here comes FIVE: The Parody Musical. Henry VIII and his six wives had nothing on Donald, the 45th, and these five ladies. Poised to make America laugh again, FIVE is an 80-minute, irreverent musical comedy revue starring some of the women in the life of America’s past President. Ivana, Marla, and Melania are joined by crowd favorite Stormy and daddy’s girl Ivanka as they each take the spotlight and sing their hearts out for your vote.

Presented by Five Musical LLC, FIVE: The Parody Musical features a book and lyrics by Shimmy Braun & Moshiel Newman Daphna, music and lyrics by Billy Recce (A Musical About Star Wars, Little Black Book), and direction and choreography by Jen Wineman (Dog Man: The Musical, F#%king Up Everything).

FIVE: The Parody Musical features Anyae Anasia as Ivana, Gabriella Joy Rodriguez (The Color Purple Tour) as Marla, Jaime Lyn Beatty (Stranger Sings! The Parody Musical, Starkid Founding Member) as Melania, Gabi Garcia as Stormy, and Hannah Bonnett (Legally Blonde National Tour) as Ivanka, with a special appearance by drag legend Jasmine Rice LaBeija as Hillary Clinton.

Forbidden Broadway will open on Broadway titled Forbidden Broadway on Broadway: Merrily We Stole a Song. It will begin previews on July 29 and open August 15 at the Hayes Theater. Creator Gerard Alessandrini, a Tony honoree for the musical’s Off-Broadway stagings, will direct the Broadway production and it will play a limited run through November 1.The musical revue will feature a five-person cast, who will be joined weekly by guest stars. The production will parody Back to the Future, Company, The Great Gatsby, Hell’s Kitchen, Into the Woods, Merrily We Roll Along, The Notebook, Sweeney Todd and Water for Elephants. Forbidden Broadway on Broadway is produced by Broadway & Beyond Theatricals (Ryan Bogner, Victoria Lang and Tracey Stroock McFarland) in association with John Freedson and Harriet Yellin.”

 

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