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That True Phoenix: A Story Born from Little Known History

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Team Awesome Robot’s upbeat production of That True Phoenix chronicles the incredible, and relatively unknown, adventures of Lorenzo Da Ponte, Italian librettist for Mozart’s most famous operas. The story is relevant to our current conversations of privilege and discrimination.

Lorenzo Da Ponte starts as a poor man with a vision and a gift for words. Rising out of Italy, he uses his charm and talents to become a professor, and he is branded a revolutionary and exiled. He makes his way to Austria where he finds his way into the world of opera, where he writes for composers like Mozart, Martin y Soler, and Salieri. Somehow he continues to suffer small misfortunes but his sense of adventure and determined disposition never leave him. He marries and goes to London with his wife, where continues to write operas, however he falls into the shady business of money lending, causing his wife and children strife. To escape debtor’s prison, he journeys to America where he is reunited with his wife and children. For a while he treated as a novelty, then he works as a grocer, and then he becomes a professor at Columbia University. He continues to find misfortune until his death.

The play goes beyond his death, culminating in a posthumous talk with Mozart (Isaiah Tanenbaum). In this Mozart reveals himself as the footnote in Da Ponte’s story, whereas history as we know it has footnoted Da Ponte instead. Da Ponte laments history’s exclusion of him, and claims that if he didn’t tell his own story as loudly as he could, no one would know it. Da Ponte just wants to be known, he wants his story to be told in its truth and extravagance.

That True Phoenix featuring Samantha Fairfield Walsh, Curry Whitmire, and Isaiah Tanenbaum Photo Credit: Yvonne Hartung

Playwright Daniel John Kelly and director Christopher Dierksen do that for him. Kelly takes the interesting stories of Da Ponte’s life and weaves them all together in Da Ponte’s voice – which exaggerates the stories more often than not – then he smartly tells all of Da Ponte’s truths via the perspective of Da Ponte’s wife, Nancy. Nancy (Samantha Fairfield Walsh) serves to show us a side of Da Ponte (Curry Whitmire) that he is not so willing to share, thus giving us a more complete picture of his life and character.

The production feels and moves like an opera even though the stage is mostly bare. With a bench, a few chairs and props and simple projections, the actors create many cities in Europe and America. The repetition of the piece is key to many of the stories. The actors are quick, funny and talented. The comedic timing and repetition of the piece is incredibly charming and consistent. Samantha Fairfield Walsh, Kayla Jackmon, Siho Ellsmore, and Sarin Monae West portray several characters a piece, each character having a unique voice and physical presence. As Da Ponte, Curry Whitmire sets the quick pace of the show, though sometimes he talks so quickly it is difficult to understand him.

If the show has any faults they are in the second act. The second act is not at all consistent with the first act in terms of tone. Act II takes place in America, so I could understand doing something a little different, but adding dialogue in verse and a musical number seems too far. It redeems itself in the scene between Da Ponte and Mozart. This scene really pulls all the elements of the story together – the irony, the exaggerations, the idea that history often overlook significant contributors. Da Ponte is stripped to his soul and Whitmore does an excellent job of really breaking him to his core desire, while Tanenbaum gives Mozart voice, instead of standing silent.

That True Phoenix is witty and entertaining. Da Ponte’s story questions how we tell history, and demonstrates that if great people are overlooked others will find a way to tell their story.

That True Phoenix: Team Awesome Robot, Access Theatre, 380 Broadway between White and Walker Streets, 4th floor. Run April 21st – May 7th. Tickets may be purchased in advance at http://thattruephoenix.brownpapertickets.com/ or by calling 1-800-838-3006.

 

Virginia Jimenez is a writer, dancer and teaching artist in New York City. She teaches for various companies focusing on dancing for musical theatre, ballroom dancing, theatrical skills and story building. Bringing arts education to students in NYC is incredibly rewarding for her because she is passionate about arts integration and using the arts to facilitate an emotional education. As a writer, Virginia believes in the power of words and stories to challenge and encourage audiences to seek growth and modes of expression. She likes tequila and ice cream - though not necessarily together. www.vmjimenez.com

Cabaret

My View: SUMMERTIME Starring Norm Lewis Just Keeps Getting HOTTER!

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I don’t usually post multiple photo essays of the same show/event, but, in this case, I simply must or I wouldn’t be doing my job of “reporting” here in Times Square Chronicles. The fact of the matter is that my wife, Eda, and I have been to Norm Lewis’s new show SUMMERTIME (Special Tony Edition) 3 times now and it has been “delivering” on a nightly basis more thrills and excitement than any other run of a show we have previously witnessed. The show is beautifully directed by the gifted Richard Jay-Alexander, with musical direction and arrangements from the equally gifted Joseph Joubert. What Norm and his artistic posse have put together is so satisfying that you get drawn in and forget you’ve already seen it. Add to this unexplainable phenomenon the array of Broadway Guests and each night has been a delight for so many different reasons. Because I live conveniently close, I am able to capture historic pairings of creative giants and I had to put this together so you could witness the kind of history that has already been made each of these nights at 54 Below. Norm has 4 more shows and many more Special Guests on June 10, 11, 12 and 13 and I can only heartily recommend you go see this man who is so comfortable in his stardom, that he easily seduces you into his world of music and Broadway. You will not be disappointed. I must also note that there has been as much star power in his audiences as there are on stage, adding extra excitement to every night.

( I couldn’t catch all the celebs in the audience but here are a few photo highlights)

NORM LEWIS & LEN CARIOU

NORM LEWIS (Sweeny Todd)

LEN CARIOU

STEPHEN SCHWARTZ & WALTER MARKS

STEPHEN SCHWARTZ & NORM LEWIS

MARC SHAIMAN & NORM LEWIS

NORM LEWIS & MARC SHAIMAN

LEN CARIOU, NORM LEWIS, MARC SHAIMAN

MELBA MOORE & NORM LEWIS

MELBA MOORE & NORM LEWIS

MALBA MOORE & NORM LEWIS

MARILYN MAYE & NORM LEWIS

MARILYN MAYE

LEE ROY REAMS & MARILYN MAYE

WALTER MARKS, JENNIFER HALLIE DIAMOND, ROBERT DIAMOND, founder/owner BROADWAYWORLD, RICHARD JAY-ALEXANDER

NORM LEWIS, ROBERT DIAMOND, JENNIFER HALLIE DIAMOND

HUGH PANARO, EDA SOROKOFF, STEVEN REINEKE, music director/conductor The New York Pops, ERIC GABBARD

RICHARD JAY-ALEXANDER, EDA SOROKOFF, STEVEN REINEKE, ERIC GABBARD

LORNA DALLAS BROWN, LEE ROY REAMS, MARILYN MAYE

RICHARD JAY-ALEXANDER & NORM LEWIS

PASTOR BOBBY LEWIS (Norm’s cousin) & NORM LEWIS

JOSEPH JOUBERT, music director

RICHARD JAY-ALEXANDER, NORM LEWIS, CATHERINE ADLER

JENNIFER ASHLEY TEPPER & RICHARD JAY-ALEXANDER

MARK SENDROFF, RICHARD JAY-ALEXANDER, RICHARD SKIPPER

54 BELOW

MACON PRICKETT

CARLOS CLEMENZ & MARC SHAIMAN

NORM LEWIS

EDA SOROKOFF & CATHERINE ADLER

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Cabaret

My View: Norm Lewis Brings On The Summer Heat at 54 Below

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“The Heat is On” at 54 Below with a new show Norm Lewis is performing, called SUMMERTIME (Special TONY Edition). From his dazzling entrance to his beautiful “goodnight” the evening is wall-to wall Broadway treasure. Yes, summer arrived early ,last night, and whatever the kinship and connection between the star, his musical director Joseph Joubert and his director Richard Jay-Alexander, is, it bathed us in magic with stunning music, beautiful arrangements, humor, glamour, stories and vocals that are, quite honestly, beyond just having a powerful skill set. Norm is a sublime actor who happens to possess a magnificent voice and he uses every dimension of it.

During the run he will have special guests who are both friends and Broadway royalty. Last night, he “blew up” this concept by introducing us to the legendary TONY winner, Melba Moore. I don’t usually write about specific material, but when your brain can’t comprehend that Miss Moore tore into “Aquarius” and “Let The Sunshine In” from HAIR with Mr. Lewis, hearts were jumping and joy exploded in the room. Only to be followed by Melba singing “I Got Love” from PURLIE (wait for it) in the original key! The 3 piece band, led by Joubert, also consisted of Perry Cavari on drums and percussion and Dylan Shamat on both acoustic and electric bass. The sounds they made all night were as versatile as could be accomplished and have become a trademark, of sorts, for Norm. Don’t hesitate to get to 54 Below and start your summer early. This man brings the heat with him onto the stage. 

Norm Lewis

NORM LEWIS

NORM LEWIS

NORM LEWIS

MELBA MOORE

MELBA MOORE & NORM LEWIS

MELBA MOORE

MELBA MOORE

54 BELOW

54 BELOW

NORM LEWIS

NORM LEWIS

NORM LEWIS

NAACP Lifetime Achievement Award

JOSEPH JOUBERT

54 BELOW

MELBA MOORE & NORM LEWIS

RICHARD JAY-ALEXANDER & NORM LEWIS

MELBA MOORE & NORM LEWIS

HUGH PANARO, EDA SOROKOFF, STEVEN REINEKE, ERIC GABBARD

STEVEN REINEKE, ERIC GABBARD, NORM LEWIS

RICHARD SKIPPER, RICHARD JAY-ALEXANDER, NORM LEWIS, MARK SENDROFF

CARLOS CLEMENZ & NORM LEWIS

RICHARD JAY-ALEXANDER & NORM LEWIS

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Broadway

My View:Times Square Moved A Bit North Last Night…Happy Belated Birthday Richard Jay-Alexander

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Happy to report that Times Square moved a little bit North, last night, to the Upper West Side and it was with good reason to celebrate a Broadway Baby’s Birthday.

Richard Jay-Alexander affects a room by filling it with excitement, creativity, artistry, humor, intelligence, along with love and respect, just by entering it.  And so it was, last night, as his friends and often time hosts while in New York, Lisa Sharkey and Paul Gleicher, hosted a birthday (actual was May 24th) party for him in their spectacular town home in Manhattan. Ms. Sharkey, who works at Harper Collins decided to call the gathering “71 on 71st Street,” filling its rooms with (as RJ emotionally put it) “ people who are important in my life and who I love dearly.” Richard, as Eda and I are more recent additions to his tribe of friends, have witnessed, many times, his kindness, authenticity and specific communication skills in a world of fake news and casual showbiz fraternity. He is truly a beacon of humanity and has always been a people person. Once he’s a true friend, it seems to last a lifetime and that’s what we observed last night and ever since we’ve known him, striking up “our” famous friendship, while living in Florida. Happy Birthday Richard Jay-Alexander and now on with the show……here are some photos of a special night for a special guy. I’m only sorry I was so distracted by everything that was going on, that I often forgot to pick up my camera. Forgive me. Maybe it was the BESPOKE JELL-O SHOTS?????

RICHARD JAY-ALEXANDER & LISA SHARKEY

LISA SHARKEY

RICHIE RIDGE, RJA, ROBERT DIAMOND, JENNIFER HALLEY DIAMOND

RJA & HUGH PANARO

RJA & MARK SENDROFF

MO ROCCA, LISA SHARKEY,

RJA & JULIE

RJA & CARLOS

BRUCE GLIKAS & RJA

RJA

CARLOS CLEMENZ

SSTEPHEN SOROKOFF, RJA, EDA SOROKOFF

JENNIFER HALLEY DIAMOND & RJA

RICHIE RIDGE & TOM VIOLA

RJA & TOM VIOLA

RJA, LISA SHARKEY, MO ROCCA

RJA & LISA SHARKEY

J

J

MARK SENDROFF & RJA

JENNIFER HALLEY DIAMOND & MO ROCCA

PAUL GLEICHER & LISA SHARKEY

HAPPY BIRTHDAY RJA

HAPPY BIRTHDAY

HAPPY BIRTHDAY RICHARD JAY-ALEXANDER

 

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Cabaret

My View: 54 Below At It’s Best…..The Staff Show

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I had no idea that 54 DOES 54 has been an annual event for many years, but I am so glad I was there on Sunday night to witness the range of talents and the performances from so many of the staff of the club and personnel from the offices upstairs of 54 Below. The legendary room was packed and you know it’s gonna be a big night when all 3 owners are there to cheer their “home team” on. The musical direction and the band were flying through all kinds of styles and tempos, never relenting in their power or rhythmic drive. That, alone, was truly amazing.

Now, I must say REMEMBER THESE NAMES: ALEX MARTINS, RU CABRALIS, KATIE O’DONNELL, SHANIA MUNDY, JAMES KLAPAK (their Executive Chef), DEJA-SIMONE CRUMPTON, GRETCHEN SCHNEIDER, GRACE FLAVIEN, ELIZABETH PRECIUS, HANNAH ROSE PICKLE, BRIANNA JUSTINE, MARK BEYER, ADELINA CORREA, GABRIEL GENERALLY, CASSI MIKAT,

LUIS PALOMINO, MACON PRICKETT and MANDISA BOXILL. On any given night, at 54 Below, this fantastic family of individuals are your Servers, Bartenders, Hosts, Guest Relations folks, Marketing Managers, Digital Marketing Associates, Back Servers, Guest Relations Managers, Maitre D’s, Assistant Programming Directors and, of course, General Manager. Also spotted in the room were the club’s Jennifer Ashley Tepper (with her mom) and Nella Vera, as well as drop-in regulars who work at 54 quite a bit – Mr. Lee Roy Reams, Mr. Richard Jay-Alexander and Mr. Ron Abel. On lights and sound, we saw Amanda Raymond & KJ Hardy, who are absolutely beloved by everyone who plays that room. Friends, family and fans brought the club, repeatedly, to a fever pitch, and the warmth, love and good will in the room were palpable. Plenty of showstoppers, plenty of surprises and some “specialties” that were unexpected. The room was so alive and it was a thrill to be there. But, I wouldn’t be fairly representing, with just my photos, if I didn’t tell you that they saved General Manager of 54 Below, Mandisa Boxill, for last, and it was no surprise why. Macon Prickett put the evening together and he told us everyone really worked hard over the month it took to put the show together, but, nothing could have prepared us for Ms. Boxill killing it with Beyoncés “Crazy In Love.” The place just exploded, like the finale in a fireworks display, when you know “this is it” you have hit the zenith. I am happy to share with you many photos here to “take you there” and this may have been my first time, but you can rest assured, I will be there next year, too! Congratulations to all! You should be really, really proud.

LOUIS PALOMNO, server

MACON PRICKETT, host/producer

ALEX MARTINS

RU CABRALIS

KATIE O’DONNELL

SHANIA MUNDY

JAMES KLAPAK

DEJA-SIMONE CRUMPTON

GRETCHEN SCHNEIDER

GRACE FLAVIEN

ELIZABETH PRECIUS

HANNAH ROSE PICKLE

BRIANNA JUSTINE

MARK BEYER

ADELINA CORREA

GABRIEL GENERALLY

CASSI MIKAT

LOUIS PALOMINO

MACON PRICKETT

MANDISA BOXILL

MANDISA BOXILL

MANDISA BOXILL

RICHARD JAY-ALEXANDER

JENNIFER ASHLEY TEPPER

STEVE BARUCH, EDA BARUCH, RICHARD FRANKEL

RON ABEL, EDA SOROKOFF, RICHARD FRANKEL

MANDISA BOXILL

RICHARD JAY-ALEXANDER & MANDISA BOXILL

STEPHEN SOROKOFF, EDA SOROKOFF, JENNIFER ASHLEY TEPPPER, MOM, RON ABEL

 

54 DOES 54

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Cabaret

My View: Jimmie Herrod….America’s Got Talent!

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Our table of four “judges” at 54 Below (Steven Reineke, Eric Gabbard, Storm Large, Eda Sorokoff) didn’t have a Golden Buzzer to ring for “America’s Got Talent” winner Jimmie Herrod last night, but we all gave this super singer a standing ovation and a thumbs up at the conclusion of his solo Cabaret debut in Broadway’s Supper Club.

Jimmie’s tonal dexterity, vocal chords that have no limits, and imaginative jazz interpretations of Broadway and Pop standards  thrilled a room full of music lovers.

Not everyone in America has talent, but Jimmie Herrod sure has!

From blowing the judges away as a finalist on “America’s Got Talent” to playing Angel in the symphonic version of Rent at The Kennedy Center, and touring the world as a member of Pink Martini, Jimmie shared his favorite songs and stories in an unforgettable intimate and personal show. 

Alex Boniello (Dear Evan Hansen, Deaf West Spring Awakening) was Jimmie’s special guest

About Jimmie Herrod

Jimmie is a vocalist who brings singular power an expressivity to his global career as a singer, songwriter, and entertainer on stage and screen. As a solo artist with a uniquely high vocal range, Jimmie has appeared to critical and audience acclaim multiple times with the National Symphony Orchestra at The Kennedy Center, including on the nationally broadcast “Joni Mitchell Songbook,” and alongside luminaries such as Renee Fleming and Raul Midon.

Recent appearances include solo debuts with the St. Louis, Nashville, and Houston Symphony Orchestras, starring alongside vocalist Storm Large in a weekend of concerts with the Oregon Symphony, and touring the globe as a member of the band Pink Martini.  Herrod first came to worldwide prominence as a finalist on the NBC nationally broadcast television show, “America’s Got Talent,” earning the rare “Golden Buzzer recognition from actress Sofia Vergara and returning the following year on the AGT All-Star series. IN 2024 Jimmie launches his first national tour as a solo artist, in support of his forthcoming full-length album.

JIMMIE HERROD, STEVEN REINEKE, The New York Pops, ERIC GABBARD

JIMMIE HERROD

JIMMIE HERROD

JIMMIE HERROD

JIMMIE HERROD

ALEX BONIELLO

JIMMIE HERROD & ALEX BONIELLO

STANDING OVATION

EDA SOROKOFF, STEVEN REINEKE, STORM LARGE, ERIC GABBARD

STORM LARGE & EDA SOROKOFF

STORM LARGE & STEPHEN SOROKOFF

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