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Estelle Parsons, Ellen Burstyn

Ellen Burstyn, Estelle Parsons

The thrilling opening performance of The Last Days of Judas Iscariot (directed by Academy Award winner Estelle Parsons) celebrated multiple milestones. The evening honored the 55th anniversary of La MaMa, the Experimental Theater Club presenting the play and formed by Actors Studio members.  

The Last Days of Judas IscariotTo commemorate The Actors Studio’s 70th anniversary, Mayor DeBlasio declared March 13th “Actors Studio Day” in New York. Co-President (and Triple Crown) Ellen Burstyn graciously accepted the Mayor’s plaque along with esteemed board members. 

The twenty-eight member Studio cast creatively brought to life Pulitzer Prize winning author Stephen Adly Guirgis’s controversial appeal of Judas Iscariot- the disciple who betrayed Jesus for thirty silver pieces. 

The Last Days of Judas Iscariot

Freud (a believable Timothy Doyle), Pontus Pilate (a passionate LeLand Gantt), Mary Magdalene (the sexy Burnadair Lipscomb-Hunt) and a male Mother Theresa (the hilarious Bob Adrian) are among the gaggle of famous souls who juror and testify in purgatory’s courtroom. Jesus (a poignant Michael Billinglsey) was omnipresent.

Suzanne Di Donna was vulnerably tough as Cunningham, the bodacious defense attorney who hammers the facts. Daniel Grimaldi charmed with comedic, bisexual, smut as the prosecuting attorney.

The Last Days of Judas Iscariot

Satan, played by Javier Molina was seductively delicious as he smarmed his way through the courtroom with authentic street swagger. Saint Monica kicked up the first act with her passionate monologue.

Estelle Parsons

Kudos to the diverse casting and Ms. Parson’s direction- she encouraged  a modern tone and freedom for her actors to fly.

The audience delighted in the play which concisely filled in the gaps in all those Bible stories learned as a child. The three hour running time felt more like an hour and a half. 

www.lamama.org

Broadway

Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet Times Three

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It’s going to be some Shakespeare-heavy months ahead, especially around those famously doomed lovers named Romeo and Juliet, as I fly into the Stratford Festival (formally called the Stratford Shakespeare Festival) here in Ontario, Canada for their first big opening week of six shows. The week will start with Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night followed by the musical comedy about Shakespeare, Something Rotten, and then Shakespeare’s Cymbeline on night three. The fourth night will be the opening of Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler; the fifth, La Cage Aux Folles, followed by, lastly (at least for this coming week) the final opening of this particular opening week, show number six, Shakespeare’s ultimate romantic tragedy, Romeo and Juliet. (Much more follows over the summer of Canada’s fantastic Stratford Festival.)

As directed by Sam White, the founding Artistic & Executive Director at Shakespeare in Detroit, Shakespeare’s great romance Romeo and Juliet slides in at the Festival Theatre on Saturday, June 1st, 2024, starring Jonathan Mason (Stratford’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream) and Vanessa Sears  (CS/Obsidian/Necessary Angel’s Is God Is) as those starcrossed titular characters and lovers. As with the whole season, I’m hoping this production, and all the others, will live up to the festival’s high standards, and be just the beginning of a spectacular year of Shakespeare. And of these two young lovers.

Kit Connor and Rachel Zegler. Photo by Sam Levy.

After that jam-packed week in Stratford, Canada, it doesn’t end for this theatre junkie and his faithful companion. Jetting off soon after to London, England, we have another week of theatre planned. As scheduled, the two of us will see an onslaught of plays, including Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard at Donmar, two National Theatreproductions; Hills of California and the Olivier-winning Standing at the Sky’s Edge, as well as Ian McKellen in Player Kings (Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part 1 & 2), the Royal Court Theatre’s Bluets, and (of course) the much-talked-about production of Romeo & Juliet, directed and produced by Jamie Lloyd. It just opened this week at the Duke of York’s Theatre, running from Saturday, May 11 through Saturday, August 3, starring Tom Holland as Romeo and Francesca Amewudah-Rivers as Juliet.

#RomeoJulietLDN production photography by Marc Brenner

From the photos popping up on Facebook, Lloyd’s pulsating new vision of Shakespeare’s immortal tale of wordsmiths, rhymers, lovers, and fighters is sure to be something to see. It will definitely be talked about all over the world, yet it was truly disheartening to read about all the hateful postings around the casting choice of Lloyd’s Juliet. It says, sadly, so much about our world right now, but it seems to have quieted down some (although the sting and stink must still be lingering in the air for us all), and although the reviews of this West End production came out today, I will try to stay away from them until long after. Whether the production will follow the successful path of other Lloyd hits, including the pared-down stagings of A Doll’s House that starred the incredible Jessica Chastain or the phenomenal Betrayal with Tom Hiddleston, Charlie Cox, and Zawe Ashton, remains to be seen, but I am curious if it will also find its way across the pond to Broadway.

If it does, it will have some pretty fierce competition, as another Romeo & Juliet, this one starring Heartstopper‘s Kit Connor and West Side Story‘s Rachel Zegler will begin Broadway performances on Thursday, September 26, at Circle in the Square Theatre, with an official opening night set for Thursday, October 24. The run, directed by Sam Gold, is a strictly limited, 16-week engagement, and I can not wait to get in to see it as well. All three really. And I won’t have to ask the forever question, “O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?” I’ll just have to ask which Romeo are we looking for? And which Juliet.

See video here. 

Often called the greatest love story of all time, Romeo + Juliet has captivated audiences and artists for centuries and provided the inspiration for hundreds of films, ballets, operas, novels, including the iconic Broadway musical West Side Story.

Stratford Festival’s production of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet officially opens on June 1 and runs until October 26 at the Festival Theatre. Tickets are available at stratfordfestival.ca

The West End’s Romeo & Juliet officially opened on May 23rd at the Duke of York’s Theatre, London, and runs until Saturday, August 3. Tickets are available (although probably sold out) at https://www.thedukeofyorks.com/romeo-and-juliet

The Broadway production of Romeo + Juliet at Circle in the Square Theatre, with an official opening night set for Thursday, October 24, and running for a limited engagement of 16 weeks. Tickets will be available at https://romeoandjulietnyc.com/

For tickets and more information, click here.

 

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Off Broadway

The Lonely Few Rocks Big and True at MCC

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Diving into the emotionally turbulent world of rock and roll, courtesy of MCC Theater, The Lonely Few demands to be heard. It sings out loud and true with an immersive clarity, taking over the MCC space with its power and emotive energy. It’s destined to make us engage and fall in love with its guitar riffs and maddingly good vocals, as well as its two rock and roll lover leads. It carries a freshness and rawness within its more traditional power ballads and less traditional spins, and with music and lyrics by Zoe Sarnak (A Crossing; Galileo) and a book by Rachel Bonds (Roundabout’s Jonah), the achingly touching story strides and strums forward with fierce determination and a strong musical backbone, mainly because of the compelling force that lives, breaths, and sings out from the magnificent Lauren Patten (Broadway’s Jagged Little Pill) as its center stage star, Lila.

Helen J Shen and Damon Daunno in MCC’s The Lonely Few. Photos by Joan Marcus.

As the compelling lead of a mildly successful local rock band called The Lonely Few, Patten is astonishing, and the impact of the band’s musical rendering is intense and very satisfying. It’s powerfully driven and performed, with the exceptional cast giving it their all during their standing gig at Paul’s Juke Joint in their small Kentucky town. It’s a sharply defined space, courtesy of scenic designer Sibyl Wickersheimer (TFANA‘s The Tragedy of Julius Caesar) with solid costuming by Samantha C. Jones (The Gift Theatre’s Hamlet), captivating lighting by Adam Honoré (CSC’s Carmen Jones), and a solid sound design by Jonathan Deans & Mike Tracey (ATC’s Buena Vista Social Club), immersing many inside the world of the Juke Joint, and even when the space almost gets in the way of the unraveling, it lives and breaths an air of authenticity and connectivity. Backed by her loving bandmates, played engagingly by Damon Daunno (Broadway’s Oklahoma!) and Helen J Shen (Playwrights Horizons’ Teeth), making it hard to imagine they aren’t more successful, the band seems to carry the room and all of us inside with an open heart and a thrilling voice, like a well-tuned and lovingly regarded local band would, and we can’t help but join in adoringly.

Taylor Iman Jones and Thomas Silcott in MCC’s The Lonely Few. Photos by Joan Marcus.

The narrative is pretty straightforward, wrapped in musical performances built on a conventional landscape with a slight twist around a push and pull. This is a tenderly told woman-meets-woman love story, played out on stage, off stage, and somewhere out on the road, that plays its first chords when a far more famous rockstar and songwriter by the name of Amy, played strong and true by Taylor Iman Jones (Broadway’s Head Over Heels) stops by Paul’s Juke Joint. She’s there mainly to say hello to an old friend, musician, and bar owner, played lovingly by Thomas Silcott (Signature’s Boesman and Lena), and it is a tender unpacking that exists in their history, unveiled in song and storytelling. But the real sparks fly when Amy hears Lila take over the stage, the club, and the microphone with such power and emotional energy. It’s hard not to be swept up by Patten’s vocal performance and captivating presence, and Amy is smitten. As are we.

Granting us with a sharply tuned glimpse inside the lives of rock musicians living somewhat large on the road, playing the stage and their world straight from their hearts, this exquisite cast finds momentum and connection within a book that digs deep, even as it holds on to a few wrinkles in its outstretched hands that need to be ironed out. The love story is pure and connecting, even if it needs fleshing out, but we are totally forgiving and determined to believe in them as we feel the power of attraction almost as soon as they do. It’s as hypnotic as the songs and vocals we are being gifted with, courtesy of music supervisor Bryan Perri (Broadway’s Jagged Little Pill) and music director Myrna Conn (Broadway’s Pretty Woman), taking us on an emotional journey and tour of the backroads of America while navigating the music industry that these tender souls want to experience life within.

Lauren Patten and Peter Mark Kendall in MCC’s The Lonely Few. Photos by Joan Marcus.

Adding to the emotional heart is the disturbing sad arc that has Lila leaving her older and troubled brother, played well and true by Peter Mark Kendall (ATC’s Blue Ridge), to follow her dream and heart on the road with Amy. There is an ache that feels so complicated and authentic in their unpacking, thanks to the fine work done by director Trip Cullman (Broadway’s Lobby HeroSix Degrees of Separation) and director/choreographer Ellenore Scott (Off-Broadway’s Titanique), and even in the quick harshness of how it plays into the story, we stay tuned in to the engagement and complications that are thrown their way.

There is conventionality in the story, and an unconventionally in its unraveling, with emotional heartstrings pulling hard by each of the character’s dreams and fears. There is clarity and compassion in this rock musical that is getting its NYC premiere off-Broadway at MCC Theatre with some compelling back stories and attachment figures that make The Lonely Few even more powerful and electric than the performances and their songs. There is quiet engagement, even in the musical’s loudest moments, taking us in and holding us tight throughout.

Taylor Iman Jones and Lauren Patten in MCC’s The Lonely Few. Photos by Joan Marcus.

For tickets and more information, click here.
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Broadway

Summer Listening: Here We Are, Water for Elephants, Days of Wine and Roses, Harmony, How to Dance in Ohio, The Great Gatsby, Lempicka, The Outsiders, Stereophonic and Suffs  

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Today Concord Theatricals Recordings released the original cast recording of Here We Are, on CD and digital platforms worldwide. The album will be available on 2-LP, 180g baby blue vinyl on Friday, September 6. Here We Are (Original Cast Recording) has music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick, and music supervision and additional arrangements by Alexander Gemignani, conducting a 14-piece orchestra. The album was recorded and mixed by Ian Kagey and mastered by Oscar Zambrano. The album packaging was designed by Derek Bishop. Complete production credits can be found in the album booklet available for free download HERE.

Stream, download or purchase the album HERE.

The album features the cast of Joe Mantello’s celebrated world premiere production: Francois Battiste, Tracie Bennett, Bobby Cannaval

Ghostlight Records has announced that Water for Elephants: Original Broadway Cast Recording, which preserves the show’s soaring score by the acclaimed PigPen Theatre Co., is available in streaming and digital formats today, Friday, May 17. A CD is being planned for this summer. The show has been nominated for seven 2024 Tony Awards, including “Best Musical.” Produced by Peter Schneider, Jennifer Costello, Grove Entertainment, Frank Marshall, Isaac Robert Hurwitz, and Seth A. Goldstein, Water for Elephants is currently running at the Imperial Theatre (249 West 45th Street). 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 four-time Tony Award nominee Rick Elice (Jersey Boys, Peter and the Starcatcher) and is directed by two-time Tony Award nominee Jessica Stone (Kimberly Akimbo). The album is produced by Mary-Mitchell Campbell and Ian Kagey. Stream or download the album at ghostlightrecords.lnk.to/WaterForElephants

Water for Elephants is currently running at the Imperial Theatre (249 West 45th Street). 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 McLeish, Michael Mendez, Samuel Renaud, Marissa Rosen, Alexandra Gaelle Royer, Asa Somers, Charles South, Sean Stack, Matthew Varvar, and Michelle West.

Days of Wine and Roses written by Adam Guettel, features powerful songs like “Forgiveness” and “There Go I”, performed by Kelli O’Hara and Brian d’Arcy James. Stream the Tony Award-nominated score here.

Harmony has a score by Barry Manilow and Bruce Sussman. The cast recording was released last August. You can still stream the cast recording here.

How to Dance in Ohio released an original Broadway cast recording on January 19, 2024. To stream the album, which features “Building Momentum,” click here.

The Great Gatsby has a new score by Jason Howland and Nathan Tysen, they will release a cast album digitally on June 21, 2024. Ahead of the album’s release, hear a sneak preview of tunes “For Her” and “My Green Light”performed by Jeremy Jordan and Eva Noblezada.

Lempicka has songs that were fabulously sung by Eden Espinosa, Amber Iman, Andrew Samonsky, George Abud, Natalie Joy Johnson and Beth Leavel. The new score from Matt Gould and Carson Kreitzer will be available to stream on May 29, 2024.

The Outsiders new score by Jamestown Revival (Jonathan Clay & Zach Chance) and Justin Levine will be available to stream on May 22, 2024. The songs were written by Academy Award nominee and Grammy Award winner Will Butler. You can get a sneak preview of the song “Masquerade” here.


Well Suffs is the show that will win the Tony for Best Musical and Score. The book, composer, lyricist, and star is Broadway darling Shaina Taub. The cast recording, produced by Atlantic Records, will be available to stream on June 14, 2024.

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Events

Live From The Hotel Edison Times Square Chronicles Presents Jana Robbins and Tim Tuttle

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“Live From The Hotel Edison Times Square Chronicles Presents”, is  filmed live every Wednesday from 5 – 6 now in the conference room at the Hotel Edison.

In this episode T2C’s publisher and owner Suzanna Bowling talks with Jana Robbins and Tim Tuttle. Jana Robbins is starring in A Final Toast, which opens at The Chain Theatre, 312 West 36th Street #3rd Floor, this Friday. Her performance this Thursday, which is an invited dress is dedicated to the memory of her beloved mother Edythe Elaine Eisenberg May 16, 1922 – Oct. 24, 2022.

Tim Tuttle, wrote the book, music and lyrics for 44 Lights: The Musical that opened last night at the AMT Theatre, 354 W 45th StreetTuttle worked as a trader on Wall Street, until September 11th, 2001. He turned to music to heal. 44 Lights is a chance for Tim to tell his story, to remember the many who didn’t come home, and find a way to keep their memories alive forever.

We are so proud because the show and our guests are now featured on the TV screens in the lobby and the hotel rooms.
I am so grateful to my guests Jana Robbins and Tim Tuttle.

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

We are so proud and thrilled that Variety Entertainment News just named us one of Summer’s Best Picks in the category of Best Television, Radio, PodcastsThe company we are in, has made us so humbled, grateful and motivated to continue.

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

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Off Broadway

TBTB’s I Ought to Be in Pictures Zings Out One Liners Solidly

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When you think of snappy one-liners or biting comebacks, there is one playwright that comes to mind. That is the one and only Neil Simon who has a writing credit of almost 50 plays. Probably his most well-known is The Odd Couple. It was revived recently on Broadway with an all-star cast. Now one of Simon’s plays that has not been seen on or off Broadway since the early eighties is back. I Ought to Be in Pictures, produced by Theater Breaking Through Barriers, is playing at Theater Row on 42nd Street starring Makenzie Morgan Gomez (Off-Broadway Debut) as Libby, Pamela Sabaugh (Off-Broadway’s Richard III) as Steffy and Chris Thorn (Off-Broadway’s Pride and Prejudice) as Herb.

Makenzie Morgan Gomez and Chris Thorn Photo credit: Carol Rosegg

The play begins as aspiring actress Libby shows up at screenwriter Herb’s door and announces that she is his daughter whom he abandoned 16 years ago and she wants him to help her get into “pictures.” Hair/make-up artist Steffy is Herb’s one-night-a-week girlfriend for the past two years.

Makenzie Morgan Gomez, Pamela Sabaugh, and Chris Thorn Photo credit: Carol Rosegg

Thorn seems to embody Herb, the talented and once successful writer, mired in the lonely world of self-doubt who can’t trust his craft, his ideas, or his ability to keep pushing in the competitive “younger” world of the entertainment business. His anger has turned to resignation as his confidence has faded. Thorn can join in the quick and cutting war of words in the Simon script and still carry that heavy weight of failure that’s dragging him down. As Libby, Gomez is like a haboob that has swirled into Herb’s life. Her rapid-fire delivery gives the daughter the edge keeping anyone from reeling her in or rearranging her plan.

Gomez plays Libby a bit young for someone who has crossed the country traveling with a bus ticket and the rest with her thumb (think the 1970s) to get into the “pictures”, an industry she knows nothing about. But Gomez is up to the task.  Her monologues are spot on even though she can get a bit high-pitched in the excitement and her scenes with Herb ring true. Pamela Sabaugh’s Steffy is right on point. You can see her affection for both Libby and Herb and you can feel her desire to see her relationship with Herb grow. Having Libby meet Herb’s “girlfriend on Tuesdays” at the door gives Steffy some added weight in the plot and Sabaugh takes it in and runs with it.

Directed by Nicholas Vitelli (TBTB’s God of Carnage)I Ought to Be in Pictureshas a real feel for its characters and their environment, moving them around the drab living space of the dad’s small West Hollywood apartment in the late 1970s. Scenic and lighting designer Bert Scott (TBTB’s Brecht on Brecht) gives the tired apartment touches that show how Herb sees himself, tumbling on the way down; old appliances, and smudges around cabinet pulls and light switches emphasize the decline.

Theater Breaking Through Barriers (TBTB) production of  I Ought to Be in Pictures is a funny and touching comedy, hitting all the right notes with a cast that fits together seamlessly. What we have here is vintage Neil Simon giving us his classic verbal sparing that has the audience continually holding their breath waiting for the next one to zing in. TBTB is “dedicated to advancing and celebrating the work of professional artists with disabilities.” The performance included an audio description of the set and characters before the performance began and script text during the play.

For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

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