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Theatre News: #Cancel Hamilton, Mufti Songwriting Contest, TRU’s Speed Dates, Mini-Grants to Latinx Playwrights

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There is a #Cancel Hamilton that is growing by leaps and bounds after streaming the Broadway musical’s on Disney+. Created by Lin-Manuel Miranda, as a ‘young, scrappy, and hungry’ immigrant who was passionate about the abolition of slavery. Ajamu Baraka an international human rights activist, organizer, political analyst wrote: ‘The play & now movie Hamilton is racist buffoonery & revisionist history meant to make liberal white folks feel good about their collaboration with the colonial project know as the U.S. & its racist imperialist project abroad. Miranda should concentrate on feeing (sic) Puerto Rico.’ 

The tweets continue with “How is Hamilton not canceled? Alexander Hamilton owned and traded slaves. I think we need to cancel Hamilton.”

“Hamilton was a slave trader. Tear down the statues NOW and #CancelHamilton.”

“Can’t believe Disney is showing a show about a slave trader in times like this. Also the actors aren’t the same color as the people they are portraying. How dare they. #CancelHamilton.” 

Due to the Black Lives Matter protests, the story has come under greater scrutiny by the people who treated this show like a cult phenomenon. It has been pointed out that Hamilton was a slave trader.

Fair game: Miranda tweeted that 'All the criticism are valid' and said it was 'all fair game'

The theme of Round 6 of Songwriters in Mufti is: Hometown. Write about a hometown hero, your hometown or about your home after a long time away. The possibilities are endless. The idea here is to write a new song on a five-day Mufti rehearsal schedule (starting with the company meet and greet at 10 AM Monday and ending with final dress at 8 PM Friday). The tunes don’t have to be clever, and it doesn’t matter if you stick a couple extra syllables into a line. Send a recording of your song to songwritersinmufti@yorktheatre.org by 8:00 PM (EDT) on Friday, JULY 10th! We’d prefer video recordings, but if that’s not in the cards, we’ll accept audio recordings, too. If possible, please send files via Dropbox or similar service. Sheet music is not necessary, but if you can include a lyric sheet, please do—we’ve had a couple of requests from patrons to be able to read the lyrics. If you’ve got any further questions, email us at songwritersinmufti@yorktheatre.org and we’ll get back to you as quickly as possible. Also: don’t forget to check out the playlist for Round 5 on The York’s YouTube channel if you haven’t already. We’ll be posting the most-liked songs on our social media feeds over the course of this week—voting may be complete, but there’s still a lot of great work to enjoy.

Theatre Resources Unlimited announces the first virtual edition of its writer-producer Speed Dates, to occur on Sunday, July 19, 2020. This unique networking and educational opportunity for writers will now have more tech and less noise: each writer will be in an individual breakout room with each of our eleven producers. And since we have no venue costs, we’ve lowered the application fee by $10 (to $75 for non-members of TRU). The submission deadline is Wednesday, July 8, 2020. Session 1 offers coaching at 2:30pm, pitching at 5:30pm; Session 2 offers coaching at 5:30pm, pitching at 6:30pm. All times EDT. Tickets are $65 for TRU members, $75 for non-members, and $25 for each additional collaborator. Your spot in the lineup can be purchased upon acceptance starting July 11th, upon acceptance at https://truonline.org/events/virtual-speed-date/

Sunday, July 19, 2020
Submission Deadline: Wednesday, July 8, 2020
Session 1: coaching at 2:30pm, pitching at 4:30pm
Session 2: coaching at 3:30pm, pitching at 5:30pm
You meet a producer at a party and have two minutes to interest him in your work. Do you have the skill to sell yourself? Here’s a chance to practice your pitching with real producers who are open to and interested in meeting you. Okay, they probably won’t option you on the spot, but they’ll give you valuable feedback about your work and your ability to talk about it. And you’ll have the opportunity to start developing a relationship. And that’s what this business is all about: Relationships.

Founded by Darrel Alejandro Holnes, The Greater Good Commission offers mini-grants to Latinx playwrights to write short plays, innovative in form, that reflect the times. The commission’s inaugural round will focus on Afro/Black Latinx-identifying playwrights. 

The year’s commissioned plays will be presented at The 2020 Greater Good Plays Festival produced by the Latinx Playwrights Circle (LPC) and Pregones Theater/PRTT. The festival will be streamed online and the plays will later live in digital archives.

Eligibility 

  • No more than one fully-staged professional production (staged readings, workshops, college productions do not count as professional productions)
  • Must identify as Afro/Black Latinx 
  • Applicants can only apply solo; no writing teams permitted
  • Applicants must be over 18 years of age.

Submission Requirements

  • 1-page proposal for a short play; your short play should… 
    • Answer the question: What do you think the world may look like in a year?
    • Maximum of 5 actors 
    • Be innovative in form
    • Speak to the times 
    • Be a maximum of 15 pages in length
  • 10-page writing sample, preferably a short play but excerpts are accepted.
  • Resume (2-page max.)

Suzanna, co-owns and publishes the newspaper Times Square Chronicles or T2C. At one point a working actress, she has performed in numerous productions in film, TV, cabaret, opera and theatre. She has performed at The New Orleans Jazz festival, The United Nations and Carnegie Hall. She has a screenplay and a TV show in the works, which she developed with her mentor and friend the late Arthur Herzog. She is a proud member of the Drama Desk and the Outer Critics Circle and was a nominator. Email: suzanna@t2conline.com

Broadway

James Monroe Iglehart At The Drama Desk and A Rap For A Wonderful World: The Louis Armstrong Musical

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T2C was at the Drama Desk Awards and talked to our friend James Monroe Iglehart. Years ago I learned that James could make up raps instantaneously, so I had him do one at the Hamilton opening night for Lin Manuel Miranda. Since James is opening up in October in A Wonderful World: The Louis Armstrong Musical, I ask him to do a rap to pug his show. This is the result.

James’s new musical is about the life and loves of Louis Armstrong and Tony Award® winner James Monroe Iglehart is the legendary American icon. A Wonderful World charts Armstrong’s incredible journey from the birth of jazz in his native New Orleans through his international stardom. It features beloved songs recorded and made popular by Armstrong, including favorites like “What a Wonderful World” and “When You’re Smiling,” among many other standard favorites.

The show is conceived by Tony Award® nominee and Drama Desk Award winner Christopher Renshaw (Broadway’s The King and I, Taboo), and novelist Andrew Delaplaine. Book by Aurin Squire (“This is Us,” “The Good Fight”). Directed by Renshaw, with choreography by Rickey Tripp (Associate Choreographer for Broadway’s Hell’s Kitchen, Once on This Island, and Choir Boy). Featuring classic songs from Armstrong’s catalogue.

We look forward to seeing James and this new musical.

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Broadway

Who Should/Will/Did Win a 2024 Tony Award? Predictions and Actual Winners.

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Here’s my list of who I think will win, who I think should win, and who ended up winning on June 11th, Tony night, as I like to call it. There are a number of obvious choices, but a few races that are difficult to call. Like the Jessica Vs Sarah American Horror alumn battle, or the emotional contest of Best New Musical. Here are mine.

Below is the full list of winners (🏆), my predictions (⭐️), who I think should win (👍), and all of the nominations:

Here goes nothing.

⭐️= Who I think Will Win

👍= Who I Think Should Win

🏆= Who Did in the End Win (stay tuned Sunday, June 11th, 2023 from the United Palace Theatre in NYC)

Best Book of a Musical

Hell’s Kitchen – Kristoffer Diaz

The Notebook – Bekah Brunstetter

The Outsiders– Adam Rapp and Justin Levine

👍 ⭐️ Suffs – Shaina Taub

Water for Elephants – Rick Elice

Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre

Days of Wine and Roses – Music & Lyrics: Adam Guettel

Here Lies Love – Music: David Byrne and Fatboy Slim – Lyrics: David Byrne

👍 The Outsiders – Music & Lyrics: Jamestown Revival (Jonathan Clay and Zach Chance) and Justin Levine

Stereophonic – Music & Lyrics: Will Butler

⭐️ Suffs – Music & Lyrics: Shaina Taub

Jeremy Strong in An Enemy of the People – Photo by Emilio Madrid.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play

William Jackson Harper, Uncle Vanya
Leslie Odom, Jr., Purlie Victorious: A Non-Confederate Romp Through the Cotton Patch
Liev Schreiber, Doubt: A Parable
👍 ⭐️ Jeremy Strong, An Enemy of the People
Michael Stuhlbarg, Patriots

This is a hard one, but I’m leaning on the overall effect of the riveting An Enemy of the People leading Strong to a Tony victory. Stuhlbarg was excellent in the lesser excellent Patriots. Odom and Harper are two good actors who I believe underperformed, and I’m hoping their star-power doesn’t push them over the winning line.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play

Betsy Aidem, Prayer for the French Republic
Jessica Lange, Mother Play
Rachel McAdams, Mary Jane
👍 ⭐️ Sarah Paulson, Appropriate
Amy Ryan, Doubt: A Parable

Although everyone here excelled, particularly Aidem and Ryan, I do believe Paulson delivered something more profound and detailed than Lange, probably because the play gave her so many more complex opportunities which she gobbled up fantastically for our pleasure.

Sarah Paulson and Elle Fanning in 2ST’s Appropriate. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical

Brody Grant, The Outsiders
👍 ⭐️ Jonathan Groff, Merrily We Roll Along
Dorian Harewood, The Notebook
Brian d’Arcy James, Days of Wine and Roses
Eddie Redmayne, Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club

No shocker here. This is Groff’s moment, even though I loved Grant and Redmayne in their lesser received shows. James was also good, vocally, in a musical that I just didn’t connect to, so I wasn’t as connected to him or his performance. The same can be said of O’Hara. I just didn’t care, even within the dramatic ending.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical

👍 Eden Espinosa, Lempicka
⭐️ Maleah Joi Moon, Hell’s Kitchen
Kelli O’Hara, Days of Wine and Roses
👍 Maryann Plunkett, The Notebook
Gayle Rankin, Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club

I think the new kid on the block might take home the prize, although I would not be disappointed if either Espinosa or Plunkett jumped to the front of the Hell’s Kitchen train.

Eden Espinosa in Lempicka. Photo: MATTHEW MURPHY AND EVAN ZIMMERMAN

Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play

👍 Will Brill, Stereophonic
⭐️ Eli Gelb, Stereophonic
Jim Parsons, Mother Play
Tom Pecinka, Stereophonic
Corey Stoll, Appropriate

Such a hard call, but I fully believe that, as in many categories including this one, it will be a winning Stereophonic night. Some say Stoll might snatch it up, but I’d be very surprised.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play

Quincy Tyler Bernstine, Doubt: A Parable
👍 Juliana Canfield, Stereophonic
Celia Keenan-Bolger, Mother Play
👍 Sarah Pidgeon, Stereophonic
⭐️ Kara Young, Purlie Victorious: A Non-Confederate Romp Through the Cotton Patch

Gosh. Young was, for me, by far the best thing in this revival elevating it spectacularly leaving everyone, including the bland Odem, Jr. At the bottom of the hill.

Leslie Odom, Jr. and Kara Young in PURLIE VICTORIOUS – Photo by Marc J. Franklin.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical

Roger Bart, Back To The Future: The Musical
👍 Joshua Boone, The Outsiders
Brandon Victor Dixon, Hell’s Kitchen
Sky Lakota-Lynch, The Outsiders
👍 ⭐️ Daniel Radcliffe, Merrily We Roll Along
Steven Skybell, Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club

I’ll be cheering for Radcliffe when he wins the Tony for his performance in this stellar production, but I did love The Outsiders maybe more than most, and Boone really gave the new musical its solid emotional heart.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical

Shoshana Bean, Hell’s Kitchen
Amber Iman, Lempicka
Nikki M. James, Suffs
Leslie Rodriguez Kritzer, Monty Python’s Spamalot
👍 ⭐️ Kecia Lewis, Hell’s Kitchen
Lindsay Mendez, Merrily We Roll Along
👍 Bebe Neuwirth, Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club

What an amazing group, and I’d really be happy anyway this one went, but Neuwirth feels so damn perfect in the part, and Lewis made me cry, so there’s that….

Steven Skybell and Bebe Neuwirth in CABARET at the Kit Kat Club at the August Wilson Theatre. Photo by Marc Brenner.

Best Scenic Design of a Play

dots, Appropriate
dots, An Enemy of the People
Derek McLane, Purlie Victorious: A Non-Confederate Romp Through the Cotton Patch
David Zinn, Jaja’s African Hair Braiding
👍 ⭐️ David Zinn, Stereophonic

Conrad Ricamora (Ninoy Aquino – left), Arielle Jacobs (Imelda Marcos – right), and the cast of Here Lies Love in the Broadway Theatre.
Photo Credit: Billy Bustamante, Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman (2023)

Best Scenic Design of a Musical

AMP featuring Tatiana Kahvegian, The Outsiders
Robert Brill and Peter Nigrini, Hell’s Kitchen
Takeshi Kata, Water for Elephants
David Korins, Here Lies Love
Riccardo Hernández and Peter Nigrini, Lempicka
Tim Hatley and Finn Ross, Back To The Future: The Musical
👍 ⭐️ Tom Scutt, Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club

Best Costume Design of a Play

Dede Ayite, Appropriate
⭐️ Dede Ayite, Jaja’s African Hair Braiding
👍 Enver Chakartash, Stereophonic
Emilio Sosa, Purlie Victorious: A Non-Confederate Romp Through the Cotton Patch
David Zinn, An Enemy of the People


Eddie Redmayne (center) and the cast of CABARET at the Kit Kat Club at the August Wilson Theatre. Photo by Marc Brenner.

Best Costume Design of a Musical

Dede Ayite, Hell’s Kitchen
Linda Cho, The Great Gatsby
David Israel Reynoso, Water for Elephants
👍 Tom Scutt, Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club
⭐️ Paul Tazewell, Suffs

Best Lighting Design of a Play

Isabella Byrd, An Enemy of the People
Amith Chandrashaker, Prayer for the French Republic
👍 ⭐️ Jiyoun Chang, Stereophonic
Jane Cox, Appropriate
👍 Natasha Katz, Grey House

The cast of The Outsiders. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Best Lighting Design of a Musical

Brandon Stirling Baker, Illinoise
⭐️ Isabella Byrd, Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club
Natasha Katz, Hell’s Kitchen
Bradley King and David Bengali, Water for Elephants
👍 Brian MacDevitt and Hana S. Kim, The Outsiders

Best Sound Design of a Play

Justin Ellington and Stefania Bulbarella, Jaja’s African Hair Braiding
Leah Gelpe, Mary Jane
Tom Gibbons, Grey House
Bray Poor and Will Pickens, Appropriate
👍 ⭐️ Ryan Rumery, Stereophonic

The cast of Stereophonic on Broadway. Photo by Julieta Cervantes.

Best Sound Design of a Musical

M.L. Dogg and Cody Spencer, Here Lies Love
👍 Kai Harada, Merrily We Roll Along
Nick Lidster for Autograph, Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club
⭐️ Gareth Owen, Hell’s Kitchen
Cody Spencer, The Outsiders

Best Direction of a Play

👍 ⭐️ Daniel Aukin, Stereophonic
Anne Kauffman, Mary Jane
Kenny Leon, Purlie Victorious: A Non-Confederate Romp Through the Cotton Patch
Lila Neugebauer, Appropriate
Whitney White, Jaja’s African Hair Braiding

Gabriel Olivera de Paula Costa and Wade McCollum in WATER FOR ELEPHANTS – Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Best Direction of a Musical

👍 ⭐️ Maria Friedman, Merrily We Roll Along
Michael Greif, Hell’s Kitchen
Leigh Silverman, Suffs
👍 Jessica Stone, Water for Elephants
Danya Taymor, The Outsiders

Friedman, in a way, did the impossible with this formerly problematic musical so her win is well deserved. But Stone also delivered a spectacular worthy of the Water for Elephants story it told.

Best Choreography

Annie-B Parson, Here Lies Love
Camille A. Brown, Hell’s Kitchen
👍 Rick Kuperman and Jeff Kuperman, The Outsiders
⭐️ Justin Peck, Illinoise
Jesse Robb and Shana Carroll, Water for Elephants

Ricky Ubeda and Ben Cook of Broadway’s Illinoise. Photo by Liz Lauren.

Best Orchestrations

Timo Andres, Illinoise
👍 Will Butler and Justin Craig, Stereophonic
Justin Levine, Matt Hinkley and Jamestown Revival (Jonathan Clay and Zach Chance), The Outsiders
Tom Kitt and Adam Blackstone, Hell’s Kitchen
⭐️ Jonathan Tunick, Merrily We Roll Along

Best Play

Jaja’s African Hair Braiding – Author: Jocelyn Bioh

Mary Jane – Author: Amy Herzog

Mother Play – Author: Paula Vogel

Prayer for the French Republic – Author: Joshua Harmon

👍 ⭐️ Stereophonic – Author: David Adjmi

No contest. Really. And that’s no slight to the other wonderfully written plays in this group.

Kecia Lewis and Maleah Joi Moon in Hell’s Kitchen on Broadway. Photo by Marc J. Franklin.

Best Musical

⭐️ Hell’s Kitchen

Illinoise

👍 The Outsiders

Suffs

👍 Water for Elephants

This is a hard call cause none of them are perfect yet all deliver something pretty special. And unique. I loved The Outsiders, more than I imagined I would. Its heart beats the strongest for me, but I think Keys will triumph for expanding the genre and the audience up so many floors.

Natalie Gold, Alyssa Emily Marvin, Michael Esper, Sarah Paulson, and Corey Stoll in 2ST’s Appropriate. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Best Revival of a Play

⭐️ Appropriate – Author: Branden Jacobs-Jenkins

👍 An Enemy of the People – Author: Amy Herzog

Purlie Victorious: A Non-Confederate Romp Through the Cotton Patch

An Enemy of the People is solid and as strong as its Strong star, but Appropriatedelivers in so many unexpected ways it’s impossible not to be taken in completely, laughing in its uncomfortableness and its tense emotional turmoil.

Best Revival of a Musical

Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club

Gutenberg! The Musical!

👍 ⭐️ Merrily We Roll Along

The Who’s Tommy

Another no-contest win. But I also loved Cabaret far more than your average critic. And I’m still a little surprised by that.

Daniel Radcliffe, Jonathan Groff, and Natalie Wachen in Merrily We Roll Along. Photo by Mathew Murphy.

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Broadway

Tony Predictions: What Will Win, What Should Win and What Should Have Been Nominated

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Stereophonic, Illinoise, Sarah Paulson in Appropriate, and Jessica Lange in Mother Play, Julieta Cervantes; Matthew Murphy; Belasco Theatre; 2ndStage

There were 36 productions that included musicals, plays, and revivals, opening on Broadway this season. On Sunday the coveted statues will be given out at the 77th annual Tony Awards. Here is T2C’s predictions of what and who will win, what should win and what whould have been nominated.

BEST MUSICAL

What will win: Suffs, because Hillary Clinton is a producer and New York is a fan.

What Should Win: Hell’s Kitchen. This show shows New York in a fabulous light, unlike New York, New York of last year. Also Alicia Keys music will bring in a younger audience which will help Broadway survive.

What Should Have Been Nominated: Heart of Rock and Roll. This heartfelt musical was ignored by the critics, but is beloved by those who see it.

BEST MUSICAL REVIVAL

What will win, what should win: Merrily We Roll Along Hands down this is the chosen piece.

BEST ACTRESS (MUSICAL)

What will win, what should win: Maleah Joi Moon, They are going to want to honor Hell’s Kitchen and this is how they will do it.

BEST ACTOR (MUSICAL)
Who will win: Jonathan Groff, Merrily We Roll Along. Merrily is going to take every award it is nominated for.

Who Should Win: Brian d’Arcy James, Days of Wine and Roses. Brian has deserved this honor and his performance was layered and heartbreaking.

BEST FEATURED ACTRESS (MUSICAL)

Who will win: Lindsay Mendez, Merrily We Roll Along. Merrily is going to take every award it is nominated for.

Who Should Win: Bebe Neuwirth, Cabaret. It is a spectacular performance and Bebe has given a great deal to theatre.

BEST FEATURED ACTOR (MUSICAL)

Who will win: Daniel Radcliffe, Merrily We Roll Along. Merrily is going to take every award it is nominated for.

Who Should Have Been Nominated:George Abud in Lempika and Paul Alexander Nolan Water for Elephants. Mr Nolan’s performance was my favorite of the season.

BEST DIRECTOR (MUSICAL)

Who will win: Maria Friedman, Merrily We Roll Along. Merrily is going to take every award it is nominated for.

Who Should Win: Jessica Stone, Water for Elephants. Her direction was like looking at slides from a view master.

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

What will win: Shaina Taub for Suffs. She is the darling of Broadway.

Who Should Win and should have been nominated: Music by Matt Gould, lyrics by Carson Kreitzer, for Lempicka. This was an exciting score and had songs that will last.

Who Should Have Been Nominated: Music by Barry Manilow and lyrics by Bruce Sussman for Harmony. This score is a classic and was ripped off.

BEST MUSICAL SCORE ( see my answers above)

What will win: Suffs

Who Should Win: Lempicka

Who Should Have Been Nominated: Harmony

BEST ORCHESTRATIONS

What will win: Jonathan Tunick, Merrily We Roll Along

Who Should Have Been Nominated: Music orchestrated by Cian McCarthy; Music arranged by Remy Kurs for Lempicka

BEST CHOREOGRAPHY

What will win: Justin Peck, IIinoise. This is a dance show so they will honor it.

Who should win: Rick and Jeff Kuperman, The Outsiders. The Kuperman’s have their cast flying and soaring and it is spectacular.

Who should have been nominated: Lorin Latarro  Heart Of Rock and Roll. Dancing on bubble wrap and cardboard is inventive and should have been reconized.

SCENIC DESIGN (MUSICAL)

What will win: David Korins, Here Lies Love 

Who Should Have Been Nominated: Paul Tate dePoo III, The Great Gatsby 

COSTUME DESIGN (MUSICAL)

Who will and should win: Linda Cho, The Great Gatsby 

LIGHTING DESIGN (MUSICAL)

What will win: Bradley King and David Bengali, Water for Elephants

SOUND DESIGN (MUSICAL)

What will win: Kai Harada, Merrily We Roll Along 

PLAYS

BEST PLAY

What will win: Stereophonic. It is the darling of the critics.

Who Should Win: Prayer for the French Republic. This play was so brilliantly done, but with the Pro-Palestinian conflict this show is being dismissed by the voters.

BEST PLAY REVIVAL
What will win: Appropriate 

BEST ACTRESS (PLAY)
Who will win: Sarah Paulson, Appropriate and Jessica Lange, Mother Play. This should be a tie, but if they give the award to one person it will go to Sarah Paulson

BEST ACTOR (PLAY)
Who Will Win: Leslie Odom Jr., Purlie Victorious

Who Should Win: Michael Stuhlbarg, Patriots

BEST FEATURED ACTRESS (PLAY)

Who will win: Kara Young, Purlie Victorious

Who Should Win: Celia Keenan-Bolger, Mother Play

BEST FEATURED ACTOR (PLAY)

Who will win: Corey Stoll, Appropriate

Who Should Win: Will Brill, Stereophonic, but the nominees will cancel each other out. This was one of the best performances of the year.

BEST DIRECTOR (PLAY)

Who will win: Daniel Aukin, Stereophonic

BEST SCENIC DESIGN (PLAY)

What will win: dots, Appropriate 

BEST COSTUME DESIGN (PLAY)

What will win: Dede Ayite, Jaja’s African Hair Braiding 

BEST LIGHTING DESIGN (PLAY)

What will win: Jiyoun Chang, Stereophonic 

BEST SOUND DESIGN (PLAY)

Who will win: Ryan Rumery, Stereophonic

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Out of Town

Hairspray – High Stepping in Houston

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Returning to the Broadway at the Hobby Center series for one week only, the high-stepping, toe-tapping, raucous romp good time known as Hairspray the musical. Join “The Nicest Kids In Town” for a three hour escapade through history, teenaged angst, a powerful message against the evils of segregation and the importance of inclusivity. With joy peppered in to its oh-so-beating, never ending, joy ride, heart, this Tony Award-winning musical comedy brings smiles to the faces, as well as a few well-earned tears of joy to the eyes, of every audience member.
Let’s quickly revisit the history of all things Hairspray. This material originated back in 1988, in John Waters and New Line Cinema’s cult classic movie of the same name. Launching the career of then newcomer, Ricki Lake, and featuring Water’s frequent onscreen collaborator, Divine, with Blondie’s Debbie Harry and Sonny Bono as the scheming baddies. Fast forward to 2002, Hairspray was brought to the stage as a full-fledged Broadway musical, winning eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical, as well as trophies for Marissa Jaret Winokur and Harvey Fierstein, as the dynamic mother/daughter act. The cast also and included a pre-Glee Matthew Morrison and a pre-Xanadu Kerry Butler.

Caroline Eiseman

In 2007, the movie-turned-musical, returned to cineplexes, this time starring A-list Hollywood royalty including John Travolta as Edna, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, Zac Efron and Queen Latifah. Almost a decade after that, NBC remounted a live television musical, including Tony Award-winner Kristin Chenoweth, EGOT Jennifer Hudson, pop princess Ariana Grande and Dancing With The Stars Emmy-winner, Derek Hough, in the cast. Today, however, the show has returned to the stage in a gloriously remastered national tour.

Caroline Eiseman, Greg Kalafatas

The story centered around plucky teenager, Tracy Turnblad, played with aplomb by Caroline Eiseman. We are under her delightful spell from the moment she began the opening number “Good Morning, Baltimore.” The spirited, zaftig teen has one ambition, to become a council member and dance on “The Corny Collins Show” an American Bandstand type program based in Baltimore. Her worried mother, Edna (a scene stealing Greg Kalafatas) frets they won’t put a girl as heavy as Tracy on air, and that her daughter is setting herself up for a massive disappointment. With best friend, delightfully dorky, Penny Pingleton (a dynamite Scarlett Jacques) by her side, Tracy headed to the studio where she came face to face with her onscreen crush, teenaged heartthrob, Link Larkin (Skyler Shields) an Elvis wannabe with dreams of stardom of his own. The roadblocks to her teenaged-dreams becoming a reality, racist television producer, the villainess, Velma Von Tussle (Sarah Haynes) and her daughter, and Link’s current girlfriend, Amber (Caroline Portner), both putting Turnblad squarely in their nefarious sights.

Josiah Thomas Randolph, Kalab Quinn, Gabriel Yarborough and Company

Frequently sent to after-school detention, Tracy met a slew of kids of color, and quickly befriended Seaweed J. Stubbs (an electrifying Josiah Rogers). His rendition of “Run and Tell That” paired with his precision dance moves, proved Rogers should have a long and celebrated career ahead of him. A little cultural appropriation later, Tracy “borrowed” all of Seawood’s singular sensational dance moves, and secured herself a spot on the show. Believing everyone should have the right to dance together, Tracy then started a movement for equality that set the racially-segregated Baltimore on its ear. Her student activism fueling the engine on this exciting train ride of a narrative. Seaweed’s mother, Motormouth Maybelle (standout Deidra Lang) delivered the emotionally impactful, gospel-tinged power ballad, “I Know Where I’ve Been” to thunderous applause.

Greg Kalafatas, Ralph Prentice Daniel

The talent team behind the show is a who’s who of Tony Award-winners and Broadway legends. The music and lyrics, written by Tony Award-winners, Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, is a combination of silly shenanigans and poignant prose that has stood the test of time. “Welcome to the 60s’, sung by The Dynamites (Ashia Collins, Leiah Lewis and Kynnedi Moryae Porter) is an act one standout, arguably the three strongest voices on the stage. The closing number “You Can’t Stop The Beat” is an anthem of equality and progressive momentum that will stay with you long after the curtain has dropped. William Ivey Long’s costume design is so well honored here, you would think they are all his Great White Way originals.

Greg Kalafatas, Caroline Eiseman

It wouldn’t be Hairspray, without the gravity defying wigs and hair design, credited to Paul Huntly and Bernie Ardia, with visual nods to the rock band The B-52’s, former first lady, Jackie O and the silhouettes of ancient Greek statuary. David Rockwell’s technicolor set proved the importance of coloring with every crayon in the box. Robbie Roby energetic choreography paid tribute to the original signature moves of Jerry Mitchell. The same Mitchell behind hits Kinky Boots, La Cage aux Folles, On Your Feet!, and Pretty Woman: The Musical fame, just to name a few. Finally, Jack O’Brien’s brisk direction has been wonderfully reproduced at the skilled hands of Matt Lenz.

Does the chubby girl get the guy in the end? Will the Corny Collins Show become fully integrated? Will the devilish Von Tussle’s be undone? Well, you have to see the show for answers to all of these questions and more. Well worth your time, the charms of this Hairspray continue to hold tighter than Aqua Net in a rainstorm. Consummately sung, skillfully danced and packed to the gills with scene stealing comedians, Hairspray the musical is a pre-summer Houston treat to beat the heat.

Stephen Best

Hairspray played Broadway at the Hobby Center in Houston from June 4-9, 2024

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Off Broadway

The Opposite Of Love A Devastating Look At Where We Are At Sexually

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Ashley Griffin (Trial)  new play The Opposite of Love, is an uncomfortable, truthful, devastating and brave play about sexual intimacy, trauma, sexual abuse, assault, suicide and the sexualized world we live in today. This piece shows how the misuse of sex has permeated our culture, our minds and our feeling. We no longer truly date or have relationships, but look to satisfy our needs with not love, but sex. When you have grown up sexually abused, without a solid family background how do you navigate this world, that your heart tells you is instinctively wrong? That is at the crux of The Opposite of Love.

Ashley Griffin and Danny Gardner Photo credit: Jeremy Varner

The play follows trust fund baby Eloise (Ashley Griffin) who has been sexually compromised since she was a small child by a relative. Though not penetrated in the true sense of the word, her boundaries and trust issues have been violated. Wanting a loving, intimate romantic relationship she is ill equipped to function. Enter Will ( Danny Gardner), a male prostitute she has hired to take away her virginity. Unable to connected in any way Eloise sends Will away, but Will seeing a potential cash cow, suggests that they meet weekly to just…talk.

Ashley Griffin and Danny Gardner Photo credit: Jeremy Varner

During the course of several weeks the two share the trauma’s of their lives until they finally connect and Eloise feels safe enough. We learn about both of their insecurities, their deepest wants and lies they tell the world until they both feel seen.

Intimacy director Crista Marie Jackson has allowed us to see just enough without crossing the line, but the real kudos goes to director Rachel Klein, who does not play down to us. She crafts this play with heart, soul and intelligence allowing us to go on this journey without falling completely apart with it’s honest look at where we have come to.

Ashley Griffin, as a writer has a wonderful way with words as she expresses what we all are feeling. She shows us that we are both Will and Eloise. Who we are depends on our financial circumstances and upbringing.

Griffin as an actress needs to slow down on her delivery. Her words have so much to say but we miss some of the text due to her rushing and projection. Her charactazation fares better as she takes us on the rollercoaster of this journey. You are never going to expect the ending and that is where she really shines.

Gardner’s Will is organic as we follow his transformation with anticipation. He goes from shallow cad to a broken man who has finally allowed himself to care. We see his mind work as he lies, then tells the horrors of his actions and his the trauma’s of his life, than are even more devastating than Eloise’s as he is told by society that he can not feel. In the end when he finally let’s his guard down we feel his pain and heartbreak.

Gardner, who is primarily known for his tap dancing work on Broadway’s in Dames at Sea and Flying Over Sunset, wow’s as a dramatic actor. I look forward to seeing him do more straight acting.

Griffin and Gardner have chemistry, which allows the play to go even deeper.

The scenic design by Brendan McCann and lighting by Zach Pizza, do well in such a small space and on a small budget

The Opposite of Love, could easily upset and anger those who have not come to terms with the shadows within, but if you are willing to face those devils you just might find a fabulous piece of theatre. I hope this show gets a longer run, where audiences will have a chance to experience this intimate look at the reality of where we are now. I know it is Tony season and there are only a few more performances but if you get a chance, I highly recommend this show.

The Opposite of Love: New York Rep at the Royal Family Theater (145 West 46th Street, until June 15th.

We did a Live From The Hotel Edison Times Square Chronicles Presents with Ashley Griffin and Danny Gardner. Click here to see this interview and learn even more about The Opposite of Love.

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