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On a beautiful set draped in Upper East Side Manhattan Christmas elegance, Hershey Felder (Broadway’s George Gershwin Alone) saunters out into the living room of the great composer Irving Berlin (Holiday Inn) and speaks directly to us. It’s a dramatic opening set-up that is both charming and sweetly engaging. It speaks volumes to the stature of the man we are going to spend the next hour and half with, even though, to me, it doesn’t actually make all that much sense overall to the overall arch of the piece. It does though, based on historical fact, usher us into a strong partnership with the lead actor, a piano player that is overflowing with talent, who is also credited with writing the book for this ode to a legend, Hershey Felder As Irving Berlin.  It’s not the most creative of titles, but it is pretty darn obviously that the man has done his research, with stellar help from Maghan Maiya (credited with Historical & Biographical Research), painting a picture of one of the world’s finest composers and lyricist whom many consider to be one of the greatest songwriters in American history with warmth and clarity.

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Hershey Felder As Irving Berlin

As directed simply and efficiently by Trevor Hay (Abe Lincoln’s Piano), the snow falls delicately on Christmas Eve.  Felder tells an empty wheelchair that they are “singing your songs” outside, celebrating the holiday season with one of his classic tunes.  They “don’t deserve them”, says the man who will become the great Irving Berlin, as they don’t know why they exist, or what they mean.  And with that nod to history and a subtle light change by lighting designer Richard Norwood (Trap Door Theatre’s Cookie Play), we dive into the immigrant story that is Berlin’s.

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Irving Berlin.

His story is warmly told, simply and with a slight braggart’s charm as Felder begins this compelling tale with a slice of Jewish history right out of Fiddler on the Roof(oddly enough, I was watching the film on Amazon Prime the night before). Berlin was anything but a man of tradition, but over the years, we discover his complexities. He fell in love and suffered loss. What would he do without his Dorothy, his Ellen, and his Statue of Liberty, as ideas seem to “make eyes at him” throughout his career. He wrote hundreds of songs, many as gifts to those he loved, with some of them becoming major hits. He was a legend before he turned thirty, feeling thankful and in love with a country that he fought for, and would call his home, writing an estimated 1,500 songs over a career that lasted over sixty years, including the scores for 20 original Broadway shows and 15 original Hollywood films, with his songs being nominated eight times for an Academy Award.

 

It’s not so much an in-depth look at the man, as it is mostly glowing, but what Felder gives us is more a star-struck biography of his music. “Stay in a song”, he says, “so as not to be alone”, a theme that hangs over the solitary wheelchair on stage. Felder is a talented piano player and a compelling although not powerful singer, one that truly believes that “when you sing, you know you’re alive”. The video projections of the performances of his songs from old Fred Astaire films, and lovely family portraits projected on the wall, along with historical landscapes create a montage that does honor to the man and his music, thanks to the elegant and powerful projection design by Brian McMullen (Fingerlakes Musical Theatre Festival’s Treasure Island), and sound by Erik Carstensen (Old Globe’s Allegiance). It emotionalizes the experience, drawing us into his sweet life in a way that the book as written and told rarely does. We “count our blessings”, as we go through the catalogue of hits, recognizing song after song, and smiling with the warm joy of remembrance.  Be prepared to utilize your own vocal cords throughout as Felder coaxes us to become members of a Irving Berlin caroling choir, but I resisted. Not because of any disconnection to the story or the moment, because it was a fascinating and lovely tale that was being told, but I will say, with no ego what so ever, that no one sitting around me wants to hear this voice of mine do damage to his lovely tunes. I didn’t quite get the Christmas theme that envelopes the stage, as his biggest hit, “White Christmas” is mentioned and discussed, but is by no means a motivator or drive for the whole evening. It is the originator of the drama, but after that initial holiday setup, Christmas never really returns at the end to make the feeling circular (but maybe I like a nice neat circular themed present with a tidy bow on top a little too much). The beauty and the elegance of the presentation as a whole is the Christmas centerpiece, worthy of a charming visit, even if the grumpy old man in the wheelchair is not so inviting.

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Hershey Felder As Irving Berlin

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

Off Broadway

STILL at DR2 Compelling Theater Can Still be Found Off Broadway

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Two strong and vulnerable characters portrayed by two flawless actors, a script with wit, sentiment and realistic conflict, seamless well-paced directing in a set that is surprising for an Off Broadway production proves that great theater is STILL achievable in New York. STILL, a new play by Lia Romeo, opened April 18th at DR2, currently running through May 18th is a show that is worthy of a longer run.

The question raised in the first few minutes of the play paraphrased here, ‘as you keep replacing parts of a boat when does the boat become a new boat?’, also applies to a person or a relationship, as a person grows in life with various new ideas and experiences when is that person no longer the same?

Tim Daly and Jayne Atkinson Photo by Joey Moro

Two old friends/lovers, Helen and Mark effortlessly and naturally played by Jayne Atkinson and Tim Daly, meet in a hotel bar after 20 years. The conversation is one that brings them and us, as audience members, up to date on their lives. Both successful in their own professions and at a crossroads where a renewed spark is possible, they have humorous banter that leads to flirtation, despite each of them humbly admitting to the other and themselves that they are in their 60’s. The set, designed by Alexander Woodward, adds to the intimacy of the meeting and as the conversation was leading to a more amorous setting, I was wondering how on the DR2 stage where could these flirtations lead figuratively and literally. Mr Woodward answers this question and does not disappoint with his scenic design.

As polite conversation leads to the ultimate kiss and more we root for the two to find their lost love and are rewarded when they do have their night together. The conflict that arises after their lovemaking is one that all of us are experiencing in today’s world. The rewriting of our own histories, the different feelings people have while experiencing the same event and the divergent beliefs we develop after separate lives are lived all contribute to us not connecting. The question is – will these two overcome all these obstacles to finally be together – soulmates meeting again after decades?

While tempers flare and some attacks by the two protagonists could be classified as hitting below the belt, Ms Romeo throws in a few funny lines, as well as an avocado, to make those punches palatable so that we still like them both and despite our own personal views can relate to each.

Jayne Atkinson and Tim Daly Photo by Joey Moro

Neither the wonderful dialogue nor the compelling acting could have been actualized so well without the direction of Adrienne Campbell-Holt. The movement of the actors whether casually sipping wine, blissfully lying in bed or violently tossing items Is choreographed like a dance. Ms Campbell-Holt is an award winning director, a recipient of the Lucille Lortel Visionary Director Award and is the Artistic Director of the theater company Colt Coeur, which brought this show to stage. Her direction is well paced and thoughtful and I look forward to seeing more of her work in the future.

With relatable dialogue, spoken by two seasoned pros, directed seamlessly in an impressive set STILL is a proof that theater can still bring out our emotions and make us think about ourselves and those around us.

STILL: DR2, 103 E 15th Street until May 18th.

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Broadway

Vanessa Williams & Bebe Neuwirth Announce the 2024 Drama League Award Nominees

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This morning Vanessa Williams and Bebe Neuwirth announced the Drama League announced their  2024 award nominations honoring Broadway and off-Broadway productions for Outstanding Production of a Play, Outstanding Revival of a Play, Outstanding Production of a Musical, Outstanding Revival of a Musical, Outstanding Direction of a Play, Outstanding Direction of a Musical, and the much-coveted Distinguished Performance Award. Honoring Broadway and Off-Broadway achievements,

Bonnie Comely

President Bonnie Comely was on hand to introduce the two presenters at the official announcement held at Lincoln Center’s New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, which was streamed live online by BroadwayWorld.com.

And the nominees are:

Outstanding Production of a Play
The Comeuppance
Flex
Grief Hotel
The Hunt
Jaja’s African Hair Braiding
Mother Play
Oh, Mary!
Patriots
Prayer for the French Republic
Stereophonic
Wet Brain

Outstanding Revival of a Play
An Enemy of the People
Appropriate
Danny and the Deep Blue Sea
Doubt: A Parable
The Effect
Mary Jane
Our Class
Purlie Victorious
Uncle Vanya
The White Chip

Outstanding Production of a Musical
Buena Vista Social Club
Dead Outlaw
Harmony
The Heart of Rock and Roll
Hell’s Kitchen
Illinoise
Lempicka
The Notebook
The Outsiders
Suffs
Teeth
Water for Elephants

Outstanding Revival of a Musical
Cabaret
Gutenberg! The Musical
Here Lies Love
I Can Get It For You Wholesale
Merrily We Roll Along
Monty Python’s Spamalot
The Who’s Tommy
The Wiz

Outstanding Direction of a Play
Tara Ahmadinejad, Grief Hotel
Daniel Aukin, Stereophonic
Sam Gold, An Enemy of The People
Rupert Goold, The Hunt
Rupert Goold, Patriots
Jamie Lloyd, The Effect
Lila Neugebauer, Appropriate
Lila Neugebauer, Uncle Vanya
Sam Pinkleton, Oh, Mary!
Eric Ting, The Comeuppance
Whitney White, Jaja’s African Hair Braiding

Outstanding Direction of a Musical
Saheem Ali, Buena Vista Social Club
Sarah Benson, Teeth
David Cromer, Dead Outlaw
Rebecca Frecknall, Cabaret
Maria Friedman, Merrily We Roll Along
Des McAnuff, The Who’s Tommy
Leigh Silverman, Suffs
Alex Timbers, Gutenberg! The Musical!
Alex Timbers, Here Lies Love

Distinguished Performance
Betsy Aidem, Prayer for the French Republic
Shoshana Bean, Hell’s Kitchen
Gabby Beans, Jonah
Joshua Boone, The Outsiders
Ali Louis Bourzgui, The Who’s Tommy
Steve Carell, Uncle Vanya
Jenn Colella, Suffs
Danny DeVito, I Need That
Caleb Eberhardt, The Comeuppance and An Enemy of the People
Alex Edelman, Just for Us
Cole Escola, Oh, Mary!
Eden Espinosa, The Gardens of Anuncia and Lempicka
Paapa Essiedu, The Effect
Melissa Etheridge, Melissa Etheridge: My Window
Laurence Fishburne, Like They Do in the Movies
Josh Gad, Gutenberg! The Musical!
Eli Gelb, Stereophonic
Brody Grant, The Outsiders
Jonathan Groff, Merrily We Roll Along
Dorian Harewood, The Notebook
Willam Jackson Harper, Primary Trust and Uncle Vanya
Amber Iman, Lempicka
Eddie Izzard, Hamlet
Nikki M. James, Suffs
Leslie Rodriguez Kritzer, Spamalot
Jessica Lange, Mother Play
Kecia Lewis, Hell’s Kitchen
Nichelle Lewis, The Wiz
Maribel Martinez, Bees and Honey
Rachel McAdams, Mary Jane
Lindsay Mendez, Merrily We Roll Along
Tobias Menzies, The Hunt
Cynthia Nixon, The Seven Year Disappear
Eva Noblezada, The Great Gatsby
Kelli O’Hara, Days of Wine and Roses
Leslie Odom, Jr., Purlie Victorious, A Non-Confederate Romp Through The Cotton Patch
Patrick Page, All the Devils Are Here: How Shakespeare Invented The Villain
Nicole Ari Parker, The Refuge Plays
Jim Parsons, Mother Play
Sarah Paulson, Appropriate
Sarah Pidgeon, Stereophonic
Aubrey Plaza, Danny and The Deep Blue Sea
Maryann Plunkett, The Notebook
Daniel Radcliffe, Merrily We Roll Along
Gayle Rankin, Cabaret
Andrew Rannells, Gutenberg! The Musical!
Eddie Redmayne, Cabaret
Conrad Ricamora, Here Lies Love and Oh, Mary!
Corey Stoll, Appropriate
Michael Stuhlbarg, Patriots
Jeremy Strong, An Enemy of the People
Zenzi Williams, Jaja’s African Hair Braiding
Kara Young, Purlie Victorious: A Non-Confederate Romp Through The Cotton Patch
Jehan O. Young, The Cotillion

Special Awards
Distinguished Achievement in Musical Theater – Jonathan Groff
Founders Award for Excellence in Directing – Schele Williams
Contribution to the Theater – Jessica Lange
Gratitude Award – Kandi Burruss

The nominations announcement begins a month of celebrations leading up to the 90th Annual Drama League Awards, which will be held at the Ziegfeld Ballroom (141 West 54th Street, New York City) on Friday, May 17, 2023 at 12:00PM. Tickets and tables to the star-studded luncheon are available for purchase at dramaleague.org/2024-awards or by calling The Drama League event office at 212.625.1025.

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Broadway

Live From The Hotel Edison Times Square Chronicles Presents Pat Addiss and Dan Lauria

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I am so pleased to announce our guests for next Wednesday’s show on April 24th are Producer Pat Addiss and Dan Lauria.

Pat Flicker Addiss has been a producer on the following shows: Little Women​, Chita Rivera: A Dancer’s Life, Bridge & Tunnel, Spring Awakening, Passing Strange, 39 Steps, Vanya, Sonia, Masha & Spike, Promises, Promises, Gigi, Love Letters, Eclipsed, War Horse, A Christmas Story ​and Harmony on Broadway. Off-Broadway she produced Jane Anger and Buyer and Cellar starring Michael Urieher show, Dinner With The Boys with Dan Lauria and Desperate Measures, is currently playing around the country. A native New Yorker, Pat was a child model and actress. Went to Finch College where she majored and graduated in honors in Costume Design and Merchandising. She started her own Company Pat Addiss Enterprises which designed and manufactured all items and widgets with Corporate names and logos. For her work she was honored by the LPTW Oral History that was filmed for the archives of Lincoln Center Performing Arts Library. She was also given the Woman of Purpose Award by the “Three Tomatoes.”. With colleague, Magda Katz, she has initiated a formula to connect women through YaYa lunches, dinners and now the addition of upscale tea. She loves to speak to women over 50 “How to Reinvent Yourself.”

Dan Lauria is best known for playing the dad Jack Arnold on the TV series The Wonder Years. He also played NASA Administrator James Webb in the 1998 TV miniseries From the Earth to the Moon and Commanding Officer, USA in 1996’s Independence Day. More recently he has appeared as Police Commissioner Eustace Dolan in The Spirit. He appeared as Coach Hamstrung in The Three Stooges N.Y.U.K. on AMC in 2000. Lauria appeared on stage in New York in the summer of 2006 in an off-Broadway production of A Stone Carver by William Mastrosimone with Jim Iorio and Elizabeth Rossa. Lauria also had a small role in a season two episode of Army Wives, as well as a season one episode of The Mentalist. In 2009, Lauria has appeared as General Lee Whitworth, M.D. in Criminal Minds season 4. He has also appeared in an episode of Boy Meets World. In late 2009, Lauria returned to the off-Broadway stage, appearing as Jimmy Hoffa in Brian Lee Franklin’s Good Bobby, a fictionalized account of Robert F. Kennedy’s rise.

Dan is also a very familiar face to the off-off, off and regional theatre scene having performed, written or directed over 50 professional stage productions.  He has appeared as a guest star in over seventy television episodic programs and more than twenty ‘Movie Of The Week’ productions plus a score of motion picture credits.  

In 2010-11 Dan was seen on Broadway in the long running production of Lombardi as the legendary coach Vince Lombardi with the beautiful and talented Judith Light, directed by Thomas Kail of Hamilton fame and returned again in the 2013-14 productions of the Tony nominated A Christmas Story: The Musical, directed by John Rando. 

Dan and dear friend, the lovely and talented Ms. Wendie Malick have performed the play The Guys by Anne Nelson (about our first responders) for numerous theatre and fire departments, around the country. Wendie and Dan also perform Love Letters as a fundraiser for regional theatres, for the development of new plays.  

Dan has now wrote and starred in the off Broadway production of Dinner With The Boys produced by the one and only Pat Addiss and the NJ Rep. This was followed by a off Broadway production of The Stone Witch  and the upcoming Regional production of Lee Blessings new play; Tea With The Boss with Gwenn and Wendie Malick.  

He is about to star in Just Another Day written by Lauria. The show will run May 3-June 30 at Theater555 and also stars Patty McCormack (The Bad Seed). Between them, Lauria and McCormack have over 100 years of live theatrical experience, as well as over 150 television shows and films.

“Live From The Hotel Edison Times Square Chronicles Presents ”, is a new show filmed in the lobby of the iconic Hotel Edison, before a live audience. To see our first episode click here second episode click here,  third episode click here, fourth episode click here, fifth episode here, six episode here, seventh episode here, eight episode here and ninth episode here.

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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

Live From The Hotel Edison Times Square Chronicles Presents Pascale Roger-McKeever and Tony Award nominee Austin Pendleton

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“Live From The Hotel Edison Times Square Chronicles Presents”, is  filmed live every Wednesday from 5 – 6 in the lobby of the iconic Hotel Edison, before a live audience. This particular episode was filmed in two parts at different times due to the weather and extenuating circumstances.

In this episode T2C’s publisher and owner Suzanna Bowling talks with Pascale Roger-McKeever and Tony Award nominee Austin Pendleton.
We are so proud because the show and our guests are now featured on the TV screens in the lobby and the hotel rooms.

Austin Pendleton, Suzanna Bowling

Suzanna Bowling, Pascale Roger-McKeever

I am so grateful to my guests Pascale Roger-McKeever and Austin Pendleton. for joining me.

Austin Pendleton, Rommel Gopez, Suzanna Bowling

Rommel Gopez, Suzanna Bowling, Pascale Roger-McKeever

Thank-you Magda Katz for videoing and creating the content to go live, the audience who showed up to support us, Rommel Gopez and The Hotel Edison for their kindness and hospitality.

Austin Pendleton

Suzanna Bowling, Pascale Roger-McKeever, Craig J Horsley

Suzanna Bowling

Pascale Roger-McKeever will be starring in Fingers and Spoons directed by Tony Award nominee Austin Pendleton. Soho Playhouse 15 Vandam Street. starting on April 25th.

Roger Sichel, Austin Pendleton, Rommel Gopez, Suzanna Bowling

You can catch us on the following platforms:

Pandora:

https://www.pandora.com/podcast/live-from-the-edison-hotel-times-square-chronicles-presents/PC:1001084740

Stitcher:

https://www.stitcher.com/show/1084740

Spotify:

Amazon:

https://music.amazon.com/podcasts/e3ac5922-ada8-4868-b531-12d06e0576d3

Apple Podcasts:

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/live-from-the-edison-hotel-times-square-chronicles-presents/id1731059092

We hope to see you there on April 17th. We will be announcing our guests tonight.

All photo’s except for the picture with Roger are by Roger Sichel.

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