I saw Tiny Beautiful Things first, and then twice, at The Public Theater in the East Village of New York City. I remember as I went to the second viewing, solidifying myself in advance for all those upcoming emotional waves that I knew would be crashing in around me. The writing, adapted to the stage by the incredibly gifted Nia Vardalos from the book Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugarby Cheryl Strayed, was the intoxicating source for that symptomatic large tight lump that would develop, most assuredly in my throat when watching this play. It couldn’t be helped, as the energy and the empathy entwined in the ordinary miraculousness of the play intense would find its place inside my very being. This third time around the living room, while watching the George Street Playhouse‘s filmed production of “Tiny Beautiful Things” streaming through May 23rd, the engagement was as solid as it was before. Tugging at my heart and healing my soul, well, almost as good and strong as I had experienced it before.
Directed by David Saint (George Street’s American Son), with cinematography and editing by Michael Boylan (“Pixelated Heroes“), Cheryl Strayed’s writing continues to bubble up distinctly from this most personal and raw of places, giving a perspective that resonates clearly outwards and in. Vardalos, who co-conceived the play with Marshall Heyman and Thomas Kail and starred in The Public Theater‘s production, radiated the inner vulnerability with wide open arms, something I continue to aspire to as both a writer and a psychotherapist. Her connection to the material and to us was as deep and delicious as the stories that unfolded before us. This time round, with Laiona Michelle (Broadway’s Amazing Grace) in the lead role at the George Street Playhouse, the desire to be raw, open, and honest is as clearly defined as before. Her curious and engaging voice tenderly finds the broken parts within, while reaching for the desire to heal all of our collective wounds through an esoteric idea of love, that “puny word…[that] has the power to stand alone.”
The book, Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar, one that I have still not read, is a collection of letters compiled from Strayed’s “Dear Sugar” advice column, which she wrote anonymously for The Rumpus online literary magazine. Her writing comes from such a personal place that it’s almost impossible not to be woven into the fabric of her being. The intimate connecting perspectives wash over us like waves that are both complicated and intensely difficult to navigate clearly. She ‘advises’ by relating, unpacking a story from a similar emotional space inside herself, sometimes completely shame-inducing, yet somehow, in a most mysterious way, she finds her way back, circling around to a profound space that reconnects to the original plea for guidance. We sit with that feat, in utter amazement.
To experience Strayed in this piece and place of writing through Vardalos’ strong structuring, and in turn, Michelle’s attuned voice is an experience that continues to surprise, although it really shouldn’t. The engagements within this strange offering easily take us to those historical emotionally vivid connections where the ‘pleasure’ of being pulled into those tear-stained scenarios is ever so satisfying. The show packs that same spontaneous diad of connectivity, giving us an in to all those Tiny Beautiful Things with an ease and an open-armed sincerity that forever takes us over the edge, even during the third go-round.
Riding those big well-crafted waves made up of fear and longing, Michelle finds communion with her cast of three; Kally Duling (Broadway/National Tour’s Fun Home), John Bolger (George Street’s Good People), and the very connecting Ryan George (Paradise Factory’s Rush). They portray all sorts of characters with different levels of success, reaching out for “Sugar” through waves of distress for advice and support. They question “Dear Sugar” for her guidance, for her help, or sometimes demand to know more about her skills, her credentials, and even her name, – “WTF“, ya know? – all the while pulling us skillfully and honestly into their stories and predicaments with an intricate ease. It still shocks me how some of these stories dig in so quickly, bringing me to tears because of their high-stakes experiences and their honest conflict. They wander through her home environment as if in commune, solidly inhabiting the mind of Strayed while also hanging around drinking her wine and helping her with dinner.
It’s beautifully staged, open to the air, and full of light and attachment, thanks to some fine work by art director Helen Tewskbury and costume designer Lisa Zinni (George Street’s Bad Dates). It sometimes rings flat or forced, in quick cuts in time and space, and I do wish there were less literal nods and haphazard editing. The flow of the day into the evening could have deepened the dynamic, bringing more mystical renderings to the emotional canvas, but as is, I never got a sense of continuity or of some sort of visual emotional arc that could encompass and direct the entirety of the play. It jumps around, from light to dark and back again, feeling more like snippets than the continual building of thunderous waves crashing louder and louder onto the shore as night approaches. The original music and sound design by Scott Killian, with sound editing by Ryan Rumery, is generally enticing, although sometimes overwhelming, getting in the way of the quiet engagement, but the piece as a whole remains strong, even if the medium of film does not heighten or spice up the overall dynamic.
“Do I forgive them, or stay safe?” The question cracks with solid honesty, arriving on the shores of our collective island with a crash. Welcoming the deepest of questions, Michelle’s portrayal unflinchingly responds to each character’s formulation with a look and edge of empathy and questioning. We see spark after spark of connection when each story that reaches her heart and table. Then, with barely a twist of her head, or some look in her eye, we instantly engage with her complete desire to be of use, to facilitate change and the mutual understanding of self. Sometimes the characterizations of the curious borders on simplistic or directorial overkill, but even in those brief moments of disconnect, there is power in the silence, especially when she is given the directorial space, to proceed with uncertainty. She searches her conscience for a real thing to say in response, struggling, while making a salad, to find the most true and pure thing that she can grab hold of from her life and her experiences. Sometimes in those quiet moments of discovery, she unwraps authenticity in something that is brilliant and possibly, counterintuitive. She finds parallels in those deep self-revealing stories of pain, grief, and shame, giving them out to these souls honestly and with weight. Completely generous-of-heart, she unpackes purposefully the small and capital “T” traumas with a wise, expert eye hoping for connection, deliverance, and intuitive relatability.
As a psychotherapist in the real world, I completely resonate with that epic quagmire of aloneness that we often feel and want to flee, and I have to give kudos to Strayed and Vardalos for discovering the delicate balance between revealing and withholding. In that astute mix, she discovers the beautiful poetry of radical sincerity, all in the pure hope to help another out of despair. It feels utterly genuine and sometimes profound. It’s a not-so-tiny beautiful piece of work Vardalos has created here, not insignificant or small in the least. The two writers together had me under their spell once again within minutes of beginning the stream. On the third viewing, I found myself trusted the piece more, knowing that it would deliver one wave after another, even if some moments felt too simple. This time I waited with bated breath for the letter that was more of a list. That moment, so beautifully performed at The Public Theater by Teddy Cañez, was the single most elegant and devastating moment in Tiny Beautiful Things. It’s the tenderest of tales told, and although it didn’t hit me as hard as I had hoped in this film, the tears of the reply floated strongly on the rippling unsteady water. This isn’t a tiny piece of theatre at all. It is an ocean of big powerful waves, beautiful and intense, crashing most stunningly onto our emotional shore. I was glad, once again, to sit and stream the waves coming in one after the other, even if the overall force didn’t match the storm that was on the stage. Yet. All one can and really should say, especially to those who have yet to experience these Tiny Beautiful Things, is “Yeah, I’m in.” So in. Signed, not confused or surprised in the slightest.
“The rich and layered comfort food which Sugar doles out to her readers questing for help is the perfect sustenance for the soul we all need right now”, said George Street Playhouse Artistic Director, David Saint. Strayed, Vardalos, and “Sugar” beautifully remind us to sit up and take in all of those Tiny Beautiful Things that wash up on our shores, and find their way to our communal table. So we can understand the ups and downs of life, which can be forever sad, confusing, or frustrating, with the hope that we can find recovery. Even when we are broken, we can be loved and embraced, finding the courage in that connection to ask the most difficult questions imaginable. And be open to the response.
Tickets for George Street Playhouse’s Tiny Beautiful Things are available for $33 per household at GeorgeStreetPlayhouse.org. Streaming will run through May 23, 2021. Don’t miss your chance.
Ken Fallin’s Broadway: Dracula: A Comedy Of Terrors
Dracula: A Comedy of Terrors, is now playing at New World Stage, 340 West 50th Street, until January 7, 2024 or beyond.
In this caricature you will find James Daly’s Dracula and clockwise: Andrew Keenan-Bolger, Arnie Burton, Ellen Harvey and Jordan Boatman who make up this amazingly talented cast.
You can read T2C’s mouth watering review here.
Theatre News: Wicked, The Wiz, Hypnotique, Female Troubles and Love In The Time Of Crazy
Broadway’s blockbuster Wicked, in partnership with National Day Calendar, has announced that October 30 will officially become National Wicked Day, in honor of the hit Broadway musical’s debut at the Gershwin Theatre (245 West 51st Street) on October 30, 2003.
This marks the first time that a Broadway show will have its own official day in the National Day Calendar. With this inclusion, Wicked joins some of the most recognizable National Day celebrations, including National Barbie Day, National Star Trek Day, National Scrabble Day, National Winnie the Pooh Day, and National Teacher Appreciate Day, among others.
Read the official announcement HERE.
Currently Wicked 4th longest-running show in Broadway history, and will celebrate its 20th Anniversary on Broadway this October 30th.
The Broadway production of Wicked currently features Alyssa Fox as Elphaba, McKenzie Kurtz as Glinda, John Dossett as The Wizard, Michele Pawk as Madame Morrible, Jordan Litz as Fiyero, Jake Pedersen as Boq, Kimber Elayne Sprawl as Nessarose, and William Youmans as Doctor Dillamond.
Emmy Award®-winning music director and Grammy Award®-winning writer, Adam Blackstone, joins the creative team as Dance Music Arranger for the revival of The Wiz. The Wiz will launch a national tour on September 23, 2023 in Baltimore, MD before returning to Broadway for a limited engagement in the 2023/24 season.
“Joining The Wiz’s creative team has been a very surreal moment. I remember watching the film on VHS daily for years, wondering how it sounded so incredible, how MJ transformed into the Scarecrow, and the score and orchestrations truly told a story all of its own. Fast forward to today, I get to musically partner with Terence Vaughn and reunite with my brother, super choreographer and creative director JaQuel Knight, and explore our own interpretation for a revival of this masterpiece. I am excited and look forward to this body of work changing lives, just like it did for me in the 80’s!” stated Adam Blackstone.
The cast will include previously announced Wayne Brady to lead the production as the Wiz on Broadway in Spring of 2024, San Francisco (January 16 – February 11, 2024) at the Golden Gate Theatre, and Los Angeles (February 13 – March 3, 2024) at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre. Alan Mingo Jr. will star in the role of the Wiz in the following cities of The Wiz National Tour this fall, kicking off with the tour launch in Baltimore, including Cleveland, OH, Washington, DC, Pittsburgh, PA, Charlotte, NC, Atlanta, GA, Greenville, SC, Chicago, IL, Des Moines, IA, Tempe, AZ and San Diego, CA.
The cast will also feature Nichelle Lewis as Dorothy, Deborah Cox as Glinda and Melody A. Betts as Aunt Em and Evillene, Kyle Ramar Freeman as the Lion, Phillip Johnson Richardson as the Tinman, and Avery Wilson as the Scarecrow. The Wiz ensemble includes Maya Bowles, Shayla Alayre Caldwell, Jay Copeland, Allyson Kaye Daniel, Judith Franklin, George, Collin Heyward, Amber Jackson, Jackson, Jones, Jones, Kindle, Mariah Lyttle, Kareem Marsh, Anthony Murphy, Rae, Matthew Sims Jr, Avilon Trust Tate, Keenan D. Washington, and Timothy Wilson.
The production will include ‘Everybody Rejoice’ music and lyrics by Luther Vandross, as well as the ‘Emerald City Ballet’ with music by Timothy Graphenreed.
The McKittrick Hotel (530 West 27th Street, NYC), home of Sleep No More, announced the opening of Hypnotique – A Late Night Sultry Spectacle. Performances have been extended on Friday and Saturday nights through October 14, 2023. The all-new Hypnotique revue offers a unique after-dark experience that envelops you. Audiences are captivated by spontaneous performances and mesmerizing dancers, accompanied by daring sonic soundscapes in a surreal ambiance in The Club Car.
The cast features Chloé Lexia Worthington, Courtney Sauls, Fabricio Seraphin, Haley Bjorn, Jacob Nahor, Jesseca Scott, Maurice Ivy, Maya Kitayama, Samantha Greenlund, Victoria Edwards, and swings Alex Sturtevant, Cameron Arnold, Kennedy Adams, and Stacey Badgett Jr..
Cocktails inspired by the experience, including the signature Hypnotonique (an electrifying punch made with cucumber-infused vodka, elderflower liqueur, and grapefruit juice), are available from The Club Car’s bar.
Performances are offered on Fridays and Saturdays at 10:30PM. General Admission tickets with standing room are currently priced from $65 per person.
Two industry readings for Female Troubles, an original musical comedy, will happen next week at Open Jar Studios. Female Troubles is a completely original musical comedy featuring lyrics by two-time Tony Award nominated and Grammy Award nominated songwriter Amanda Green (Mr. Saturday Night, Hands On A Hardbody, Bring It On), music by three-time Emmy Award nominee Curtis Moore (“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”), book by Emmy Award-winning writers Gabrielle Allan and Jennifer Crittenden (“Veep,” “Arrested Development,” “Seinfeld,” “The Simpsons,” “HouseBroken”) and directed by Tony Award winner Christopher Gattelli (Disney’s Newsies, My Fair Lady, “Schmigadoon,” “Schmicago”).
The cast for the readings will includeKrystina Alabado, Kevin Del Aguila, Amanda Green, Lilli Cooper, Lillias White, Lesli Margherita, Ryann Redmond, Kate Rockwell, Matt Saldivar, Alanna Saunders, Trent Saunders, Jake Swain, Sav Souza, Rachel Stern and Frank Viveros.In Female Troubles, Elinor Benton finds herself surprisingly and undeniably “knocked up” — and, since she’s unmarried and this is 19th century England, she has a very big dilemma. Facing ruin, she and her girlfriends embark on a raucous journey to find the one notorious woman who can help them with their “female troubles.” Their misadventures change the course of each of their lives. This uproarious musical comedy asks the trenchant question “Can you believe this sh*t is still happening in 1810?”
I attended the reading of Love In The Time Of Crazy withbook and lyrics by Peter Kellogg (Outer Critics Winner for Desperate Measures), music by Stephen Weiner (two-time Richard Rodgers Award winner) and David Hancock Turner (orchestrator for Desperate Measures and Penelope), directed by Lauren Molina (Desperate Measures ). The cast stared Philippe Arroyo, Stephen DeRosa, Robin Dunavant, David Merino, Josh Lamon, Roe Hartrampf and Alexis Cofield .
Love in the Time of Crazy is a riot, but, you know, in a good way.
Arms and the Man Meet The Press
Gingold Theatrical Group next show is a new production of George Bernard Shaw’s Arms and the Man.
The cast of Arms and the Man will feature Shanel Bailey (“Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies”)
Delphi Borich (Camelot)
Ben Davis (New York New York)
Keshav Moodliar (Queen)
Evan Zes (The Kite Runner),
Tony Award winner Karen Ziemba (Prince of Broadway).
Understudies for this production are Mazvita Chanakira (Gap Year)
René Thornton Jr (The Tempest)
and Matthew Zimmerman (A Midsummer Night’s Dream).
Arms and the Man will be directed by David Staller.
The production will feature set design by Lindsay Genevieve Fuori
lighting design by Jamie Roderick
costume design by Tracy Christensen
and sound design by Julian Evans. Prop design is by Emmarose Campbell.
Production management is by Allie Posner. Hair design is by Cassie Williams, and Stephanie Yankwitt of tbd Casting Co. is the Casting Director.
Logan Gabrielle Schulman is the Assistant to the Director and Ariel Kregard is the Assistant to the Costume Designer.
The production stage manager is April Ann Kline and Jade Doina will serve as assistant stage manager.
Arms and the Man is one of Shaw’s most popular comedies. The plot follows a hunted soldier who, seeking refuge in a young lady’s boudoir, starts in motion a series of highly engaging and unlikely comedic events. His unusual philosophies about love, war and life in general open up a world of thought she’d never previously entertained–certainly not with her dashing war-hero fiancée who also arrives unexpectedly. This early work of Shaw’s is remarkably pithy.
The play’s title, Arms and the Man, references the first line of the epic Virgil poem, The Aeneid, in which we’re reminded of how foolish humans can be by fighting each other and struggling against the best of human nature: “Arms and the man I sing, who, forced by fate / And haughty Juno’s unrelenting hate, / Expelled and exiled, left the Trojan shore.”
Arms and the Man will play Theater Two at Theatre Row (410 W 42nd St, New York, NY 10036) from October 17 through November 18, 2023. Opening night is set for October 26. The performance schedule is Tuesday–Thursday at 7pm; Friday at 8pm; Saturday at 2pm & 8pm; Sunday at 3pm. Cast and guest-moderated talkbacks will take place after each Sunday performance.
“Relapse” Musically Releases Some Compelling Voices in Our Heads
By Dennis W
Vinny Celerio (as Intrusive), Nicole Lamb (as Intrusive), Mia Cherise Hall (as Melinda), Zummy Mohammed (as Intrusive), and Audree Hedequist (as Intrusive) Photos by Thomas Mundell.
Relapse: A New Musical is filling Theatre Row with the sound of music from voices patients in a psychiatric hospital hear only in their heads. The 100-minute production captures the audience and brings them into the foggy, erratic, self-destructive world of this group who have lost their grasp on reality. It’s a difficult feat to write a musical about mental illness and get it right. The approach J. Giachetti takes in the book and lyrics, with music supplied by Louis Josephson, is quite inventive and works. The play takes place in group therapy sessions for four patients. But the music is about what’s going on in the minds of these people as they struggle with their sanity. And there are four more players called, ‘The Intrusive’ (the voices in the patients’ heads) doing whatever they can to keep the people in the group from breaking through to reality.
Bryan is played by Randall Scott Carpenter and this is his Off-Broadway debut. Bryan has an eating disorder and Carpenter captures a man searching for control right down to the nervous tick of shaking his leg. The schizophrenic in the group is Melinda played by Mia Cherise Hall. She has just the right spin on the character’s detachment from reality while still being part of the group.
Kendra is played by Becca Suskauer (Pretty Woman, National Tour) making her Off-Broadway debut. Kendra is a sociopath who torched her home and killed her father. Rounding out the cast is Adam played by Jacob Ryan Smith (Lizard Boy, Off-Broadway) who is new to the group. He’s an alcoholic and this is his fourth relapse. All the characters have a singular goal: to get out. They are joined by ‘The Intrusive’ played by Vinny Clear, Audree Hedequist, Nicole Lamb, and Yummy Mohammed. They swarm around the patients blocking their way to progress, as well as, filling the void as a well-voiced chorus.
The lyrics by J Giachetti do the job of filling out the characters with titles like Psych 101, Outta Here, Shattered Brain, and What Would You Do. The rock edge to the music by Josephson (Composer, Additional Lyrics, Orchestrations, Julliard) adds to the chaos nicely.
Dr. Carlisle and Margot, the nurse, are played respectively by Troy Valjean Rucker (Romeo and Bernadette, Off-Broadway) and Ashley Alexandra (Tootsie – National Tour) who have a kind of antagonistic relationship. Margot is not completely happy with the doctor’s handling of the group and is not shy about speaking out. They also talk about how funding for the group session may be cut off. This is where the plot begins to wander somewhat unnecessarily.
Director and Choreographer Joey McKneely (West Side Story, Broadway) keeps all the characters moving to highlight their stories in the ensemble musical using all of the stage space. The eerie swarming of ‘The Intrusive’ works but as the show progresses their movements become somewhat repetitive.
The scenic design by Sheryl Liu (The Memorial, A.R.T.) is adequate, with six blue chairs in a semi-circle as you would expect. It’s easily moved around as needed. Liu, as costume designer, dresses the patients in simple scubs-like tops and pants. Except for Bryan who has a slouching muddy brown cardigan that he uses to his advantage as he nervously rubs it between his fingers hinting at his lack of control and obsessive-compulsive behavior.
This ensemble production of Relapse: A New Musical takes us inside mental illness. The problem comes within the optimistic ending. We really have mostly seen how the characters deal with their specific problems and how the voices in their heads keep holding them back. The doctor says he is moving a patient to the next level facility even though he isn’t ready just to show some progress on paper. Relapse isn’t perfect but it is definitely an evening of entertainment that will give you a lot to talk about when you leave the theater.
For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com
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