This play floods me with very strong memories and emotions. It was one of the first plays I saw when I moved to New York City. I had seen Part One: Millennium Approaches in 1993 when I was visiting from Los Angeles where I was living at the time it opened. But I saw Part Two: Perestroika when I finally moved to New York City in the spring of 1994. Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes was something quite beyond belief. The original cast included Ron Leibman, Stephen Spinella, Kathleen Chalfant, (the spectacular) Marcia Gay Harden, Jeffrey Wright, Ellen McLaughlin, David Marshall Grant and Joe Mantello. It was a play about AIDS and homosexuality in America that demanded to be heard and taken seriously. It was revolutionary, theatrical, and dramatic while also being entirely human. It forced itself inside you and stayed. Anyone who saw it on Broadway can instantly bring forth the memory of that magnificent Angel descending from the heavens. That particular image will forever be embedded in our collective mind, with no possibility of escape. And why would anyone want to?
My fellow theatre-junkie and I were a bit cautious when we arrived at BAM Rose Cinemas on the 20th of July. We were there to see the National Theatre Live’s screening of Part One of Angels in America, the acclaimed production currently on stage at the National in London. Would the medium be able to transport us back to New York City, circa 1985/86 and into the minds and hearts of all those strange and wonderful characters? On stage, it is something to behold, but on staged show on a movie screen, I wasn’t so sure. The place it was always meant to be seen and heard is the stage, with all strings and mechanicals showing. On one very long Sunday in 2010 at the Signature Theatre, my same friend and I took in the marathon day of both parts of a revival. Tony Kushner’s play confirmed it’s place in my soul that day, with a stellar production and a talented cast that included: Christian Borle as Prior, Zachary Quinto as Louis, Billy Porter as Belize, Bill Heck as Joe, Zoe Kazan as Harper, Robin Bartlett as Hannah, Frank Wood as Roy, and Robin Weigert as the angel, directed by Michael Greif.
With the monumental HBO production, Angels in America could not be minimized or squashed, even on that small screen. It didn’t hurt that the cast was made up of super stars perfectly cast in their roles: Al Pacino, Meryl Streep, Emma Thompson, Jeffrey Wright (repeating his Tony-winning Broadway role), Justin Kirk, Ben Shenkman, Patrick Wilson, and Mary-Louise Parker. It was sublime and epic. A powerful piece of writing and a strong statement for the world to see. A statement that seems as relevant today as any time before it.
“History is about to crack wide open. Millennium Approaches.”
Angels in America Part One: Millennium Approaches
From a taping at the Lyttleton Theatre in London, Part One: Millennium Approaches is by far the most beautiful and far reaching introduction to a place and time representing the History of Gay America in the 1980’s. Magnificently directed by Marianne Elliott (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, War Horse), the opening monologue, a speech by an old Jewish rabbi, played effortlessly by Susan Brown (National Theatre’s Husbands & Sons) mysteriously tells us all we need to know. Not in terms of the old Jewish woman laying in the coffin, which he does do, but about the world and people we are about to embrace. It’s such a sly and wonderful piece of writing that sneaks into our soul, and sets us up on almost all levels for what is in store. It’s about death, love, life, but it’s also about pain, suffering, guilt, and abandonment. One thing you can say about Kushner and his writing of Part One, is that there isn’t a moment of excess or a wasted scene that could be edited out. Every word seems meaningful in this over three hour beginning.
Russell Tovey, who was masterful in Broadway’s The View from the Bridge, is sublime once again as the confused Morman, Joe. The battle that plays out inside his head ricochets throughout the theatre and into our hearts. Denise Gough (National Theatre’s People, Places and Things – a play I NEED to see with her in it – it’s coming to St. Ann’s Warehouse) as Joe’s tortured and torturing wife, Harper tackles maybe one of the hardest parts in this complex play and triumphs against all odds (Marcia Gay Harden and Mary Louise Parker must be giving her virtual standing ovations nightly). The scene when Harper and Prior connect for the first time is electric and emotionally engaging, making tears flow down my face before I knew what even was happening. The thin hair of connecting tissue between these two are what holds this piece together. The way they can see inside the other and know their pain, is what adds weight and meaning to the whole.
Amanda Lawrence and Susan Brown have the joy and the difficulty of playing numerous roles spanning from a nurse, a Mormon neighbor, a male doctor, Joe’s mother, a homeless woman, Ethel Rosenberg, to a Rabbi and an angel. Gough also has the opportunity to showcase her skills playing a smarmy male friend of Roy Cohn. All with an ease that makes it look effortless. Nathan Lane (Broadway’s The Front Page), as the closeted Roy Cohn is the biggest surprise of the evening. The comedian that has charmed us all and made us laugh in shows like The Producers has proven once again, that to be a brilliant and true comedian, one must almost also be a smart and intense actor. His Roy Cohn is as layered and fiery as one could hope for, funny but devastating, cruel but desperate for connection. It’s a magnificent performance and one I hope to witness again. He, and the others bring the humor to the front without distancing themselves from the pain and suffering that surrounds. I only hope that the rumor is true and that this production will be coming to Broadway next season.
“I want the voice, it’s wonderful. It’s all that’s keeping me alive.”
But Kushner spoke often about Angels in America‘s need to be seen as artificial in a theatrical manner, with all strings and artifice showing itself. And in that stance, the National Theatre’s grand and intimate production succeeds gloriously. The set by Ian MacNeil, with expert lighting by Paule Constable and perfect costuming by Nicky Gillibrand expands and highlights all aspects of this play (choreography and movement by Robby Graham, music by Adrian Sutton, sound by Ian Dickinson). It effortlessly transitions and blends from one moment to another, emotionally and visually. The intimacy is palpable, especially in the intricate revolves. It pulls us in to the tremendously engaging story of the AIDS crisis in America, a conservative Reagan administration doing nothing to help these strange and wonderful New Yorkers who are grappling with life and death, love and sex, and most importantly of all, heaven and hell. I look forward to what is next to come. I will prepare for the arrival.
“Greetings, Prophet. The Great Work Begins. The Messenger Has Arrived.”
And we are back. At the BAM Rose Cinemas to see the most theatrical of stage shows on screen, Angels in America Part Two: Perestroika, and I am thrilled. My nervousness and concern are no more after last week’s powerful and touching introduction to NTLive’s theatre presentation, and I’m ready for more.
One of the striking things about this tale is just how epic and large Kushner’s stroke is as he paints his canvas. He will open with the oldest living Russian Bolshevik (Susan Brown) give a speech about revolution, passion, and theory, and it’s captivating in its word play, but sometimes, it’s a bit difficult to see the point. In reflection though, it has deep psychological meaning about living life and moving forward. Not just for Russians, or persons with AIDS but for humanity as a whole. He spins words and ideas that are sometimes overwhelming in the moment but are never without passion and heavy meaning on the bigger canvas.
That being said, a lot of the real magic of the second half lies in the hands of the two women who feel like supporting roles in Part One. Brown is not only magnificent at the Mormon mother breaking the stereotypical mold, but is equally mesmerizing as the Bolshevik and as Ethel Rosenberg watching over the magnificent Lane on his death bed. Amanda Lawrence (Young Vic’s Government Inspector) also carries a ton of the weight of this colorful canvas on her magical wings. As the angel that descends from the heavens, the actress, and a fantastically assist from the team of players that manipulate the winged creature (puppetry designers: Nick Barnes, Finn Caldwell; puppetry director and movement: Finn Caldwell; illusions: Chris Fisher; aerial direction: Gwen Hales; fight director: Kate Waters) create something together that is stupendously theatrical and out-of-this-world. It’s beauty and it’s resplendent majesty resonates beyond the dramatics, especially when taken to the extremes with in the heavenly scene up above. It hits us deep, much deeper than one might expect.
There is that beautiful moment when Prior leaves Heaven for the real world, choosing life over freedom from suffering. It’s inexplicably emotional, resonating down into our animalistic urges for survival. The magic of the theatrical design is breathtaking in Prior’s Heavenly ascendancy and even more so in his descent, and the humor and care that is found upon his return makes the heart break more real and powerful than one can imagine.
“This disease will be the end of many of us, but not nearly all. And the dead will be commemorated, and will struggle on with the living and we are not going away.”
(Still) A Gay Fantasia on National Themes both Past and Present
“We won’t die secret deaths anymore. The world only spins forward. We will be citizens. The time has come.”
Maybe it doesn’t feel as true as it did when I first heard those words thirty years ago. Or where I thought this nation was even one year ago, but we have to believe, I guess, in the bigger picture of civilization. We need to look beyond what we are stuck with now, just like these complex characters had to do. So we shall. We can’t stand still. We will #Resist and move forward.
“Bye now, you are fabulous each and every one and I bless you. More life, the great work begins.”
So for more, go to frontmezzjunkies.com
The Marvelous Marilyn Maye Received Twelve Standing Ovations At The New York Pops
Karen Akers, Jim Caruso, Tony Danza, Jamie deRoy, Max von Essen, Melissa Errico, Bob Mackie, Susie Mosher, Sidney Myer, Josh Prince, Lee Roy Reams, Rex Reed, Randy Roberts, Mo Rocca , Mark Sendroff, Lee Roy Reams, Brenda Vaccaro and David Zippel were there to see and honor Cabaret legend and Grammy nominee Marilyn Maye. Maye who turns 95 April 10th, made her at Carnegie Hall solo debut last night with The New York Pops, led by Music Director and Conductor Steven Reineke.
Maye is a highly praised singer, actress, director, arranger, educator, Grammy nominated recording artist and a musical treasure. Her entire life has been committed to the art of song and performance and it showed with the 12 standing ovations she received.
Maye appeared 76 times on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, she was “discovered” by Steve Allen and had a RCA recording contract, seven albums and 34 singles.
The evening started out with the superlative New York Pops Overture of Mame, which Maye had played the title role.
Next a Cole Porter Medley with “Looking at You,” Concentrate On You,” “I Get A Kick Out Of You,” It’s Alright With Me,””Just One of Those Things,” “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” and “All of You”. This was Marilyn’s second standing ovation. The first was when she stood on that stage for the first time and the audience was rapturous.
A terrific “It’s Today” from Mame with high flying kicks was the third ovation and wow can that woman kick.
A rainbow medley included “Look To The Rainbow” from Finnian’s Rainbow, the iconic “Somewhere Over The Rainbow,” the jazzy “Make Me Rainbows” and of course “The Rainbow Connection.” And with that another standing ovation.
“Put On A Happy Face” from Bye Bye Birdie.
Frank Loesser’s Joey, Joey, Joey brought on a fifth standing ovation. This song was a masterclass in acting and vocal nuance. For that matter every song that comes out of Ms. Maye’s mouth is perfection. Part of the brilliance of this night is her musical director, arranger, and pianist Ted Firth. That man is a genius.
Lerner and Loewe’s “On The Street Where You Live” from My Fair Lady ended the first act with a sixth standing ovation.
The overture from Hello Dolly! and then Cabaret shows Marilyn Maye also starred in opened the second act. The New York Pops sounded phenomenal as always.
“Your Gonna Hear From Me” from “Inside Daisy Clover was an appropriate starter for this next round as the audience got to its feet.
Maye’s most requested song “Guess Who I Saw Today” from New Faces of 1952 was followed by a show stopping “Fifty Percent” from Ballroom and of course another standing ovation.
Her next song was chosen by the Smithsonian Institute to be included in its permanent collection of recordings from the 20th century. Her recording of “Too Late Now” is considered by the Smithsonian to be one of the 110 Best American Compositions of the Twentieth Century and Ms. Maye showed us why and again another standing ovation.
A proclamation from The City of New York read by Steven Reineke to Marilyn Maye made this day Marilyn Maye Day. This treasure cried with joy as she sang Stephen Sondheim’s “I’m Still Here.” Though she forgot some of the lyric, Ms. Maye proved performing is all on the intent and connecting to the audience. Two more standing ovations were added here.
For encores, I was thrilled to hear James Taylor’s “Circle of Life” and “Here’s To Life,” which is my personal favorite, finally going back into “It’s Today” with those high kicks and a twelfth standing ovation. Bravo Ms. Maye!
If you are a singer and do not catch Ms. Maye live, you really do not care about your craft. Last night Ms. Maye made it clear why she’s been celebrated as one of America’s greatest jazz singers for more than 50 years and this was a night I will always remember. Thank-you New York Pops.
Don’t miss the Pop’s 40th Birthday Gala: This One’s For You: The Music Of Barry Manilow on Monday, May 1st. The gala will star Sean Bell, Erich Bergen, Betty Buckley, Charo, Deborah Cox, Danny Kornfeld, Norm Lewis, Melissa Manchester, Zal Owen, Eric Peters, Blake Roman, Billy Stritch, Steven Telsey, Max von Essen, Dionne Warwick, and more to be announced. This will be yet another New York Pop’s Night not to miss.
The Mayor of Times Square Meets One of the World’s Oldest Holocaust Survivors
I arrived to a packed lecture room at a Library in South Florida. This lecture caught my eye weeks prior and I made sure to have it in my calendar. After all, how many more times will I get a chance to hear a 99 year old survivor tell his remarkable story of inconceivable hell, survival and ultimately impressive success? What I heard in the room that day was hard to fathom it wasn’t part of a Spielberg movie with some creative liberty thrown in to embellish an already unbelievable true story. This was the real deal. A vivid description of hell on earth. What I couldn’t understand is how did this survivor go on to create a vibrant family and a very successful business career and not be bitter every day of his life? Equally remarkable is how someone his age could tell a story from 85 years ago as if it happened yesterday and with energy and charisma of someone half his age. He spoke for 45 minutes without a break. Little did anyone in the audience know that, just prior to arriving at the Library, he fell and injured himself, making his perseverance in even making it to the Library even more heroic. This is no ordinary man. I approached the stage after the lecture, patiently awaited my turn to speak with him and asked if I could interview him for my podcast. I am pretty sure he knew little to nothing of what a podcast was, but he agreed as you are about to learn why telling his story over and over is his divine mission.
Sam Ron bears personal witness to the greatest atrocity in human history. He is one of the only remaining Holocaust Survivors his age who survived four concentration camps…and a Death March. He turns 99 in July. His story is remarkable…and he himself is equally as remarkable.
Here’s what you will learn when listening to this World Exclusive interview on The Motivation Show podcast:
-Where did Sam grow up and what was life like before the Germans invaded his country
-How life changed once the Germans invaded and how long did the changes take
-Why and when did Sam and his family decide to go into hiding and where did he hide
-How did Sam end up in the Krakow Ghetto, how was it different than the infamous Warsaw Ghetto, and what took place in the Ghetto
-When did Sam first realize that the Germans were not just transporting Jews to what they disguised as labor camps, but were actually killing them.
-How many times was Sam transported in cattle cars and what was that like
-Which concentration camps was Sam in & what were they like
-What was life like in the concentration camps and why did they move Sam around to different camps
-What is a Death March, why and how did that happen and how did Sam survive it
-What lessons should listeners take away from Sam’s experience
-What does Never Again mean to Sam and why is it so important for him to share this and other Holocaust lessons
You can listen to this interview on any podcast listening app or use this Spotify link: https://open.spotify.com/episode/3KBPe9jhTdYw1iA9UN7UiK WARNING: This interview is GUARANTEED to move you to tears!!!
The Olivier Awards Return
Celebrate the very best in British theatre in a star-studded evening as the Olivier Awards return to the Royal Albert Hall on April 2nd.
Three-time Olivier Award nominee & Primetime Emmy winner, Hannah Waddingham will be hosting the awards for the first time.
The event will feature performances from all of the Best New Musical nominees, including The Band’s Visit, Standing At The Sky’s Edge, Sylvia and Tammy Faye. Also performing will be Oklahoma! and Sister Act, both nominated for the Best Musical Revival award, as well as Disney’s Newsies, which has been nominated for Matt Cole’s choreography.
The multi-Olivier Award winner The Book of Mormon, will be performing to mark its ten-year anniversary in the West End. Additionally, special award winner Arlene Philips will be honored with a tribute from the cast of Grease.
The ceremony will be broadcast live on Magic Radio from 6pm with Ruthie Henshall and Alice Arnold hosting.
The highlights program will also be aired on ITV1 and ITVX at 10:15 pm in the UK and via Official London Theatre’s YouTube channel elsewhere.
And the nominees are:
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