It all begins, under the broken neon red Torch Song sign, with the illusion of perfection with big dash of fabulousness, well, one that is under construction. A drag queen preparing in front of a mirror for her performance to come. Applying the layers of camouflage make-up, slinking into a glittery long dress, slipping on some high heels, and carefully donning a wig all the while engaging us in an intimate discourse about unrequited love and desire in a gay man’s world. The application is like preparation for a type of war that is going on in the world outside, a protective armor against the hate and misunderstanding of a gay man’s right to be who they are. All the attempts of love, false or otherwise, coupled with the adoration an audience will give is a tonic (gin perhaps) against what lies beyond in the early 1980’s in New York and America. And now in our present situation, come to think of it. All of that, wrapped up in the final “tragic Torch Song status” of heart break and pain that “ I admire so in others”, as the main character laments; the signature trademark of a true drag queen star. The ‘Lady Blues’ finale song that is destined to always bring down the house in the end. That’s what a drag performer aims for, and what this play wonderful and respectfully delivers.
Most people who saw the original production back in the early 1980’s remember it as if it was etched into their soul in the same way we talk about muscle memory. The play resides in the fibers of their hearts and anyone who was lucky enough to see it on stage will gladly tell you all the ways it affected them. I was not one of these lucky souls to have been witness to Harvey Fierstein’s devastating performance, described at the time by Mel Gussow (New York Times, Nov. 1, 1981) as “an act of compelling virtuosity”, but you can feel the historic emotionality in the air of this off-Broadway theater. It is thick, and heavy, yet devastatingly glorious.
Initially Torch Song, written by Harvey Fierstein (Kinky Boots, La Cage aux Folles, Casa Valentina) was presented as three separate one act plays, International Stud (first presented at La Mama on Feb. 2, 1978), Fugue in a Nursery (first presented at La Mama one year later on Feb. 1, 1979), and Widows and Children First! (first presented at La Mama on Oct. 25, 1979). These names are most wonderfully and proudly illuminated within David Zinn’s (PH’s Hir) perfect and inventive set design, with beautiful lighting by David Lander (Roundabout’s Love, Love, Love), concise costumes by Clint Ramos (Six Degrees of Separation), and distinct sound design by Fitz Patton (MTC’s The Little Foxes)currently at Second Stage.
Reworked back then, into a singular four-hour theatrical event, Torch Song Trilogy as it was called, opened at the uptown Richard Allen Center in October 1981, produced by The Glines, a nonprofit organization dedicated to forwarding gay-themed cultural endeavors. It transferred on January 15, 1982 to the Actors’ Playhouse in Greenwich Village, where it ran for 117 performances. The cast included Fierstein as Arnold, Joel Crothers as Ed, Paul Joynt as Alan, Matthew Broderick as David, and a star-making turn for Estelle Getty as Mrs. Beckoff. Subsequently, on June 10, 1982, Torch Song Trilogyopened spectacularly on Broadway at the Little Theatre, where it ran for a wondrous 1,222 performances. It won a Tony Award for Best Play (Fierstein) and Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play (Fierstein) and instantly became iconic. Fierstein, Joynt, and Getty remained, and were joined by Court Miller as Ed and Fisher Stevens as David. I wish that this had been one of the plays I saw during any of my numerous secret trips (don’t tell my Ma) to New York City when I was a teen. How it would have affected me, is beyond comprehension. I never had to deal with the parental drama that Fierstein wrote so vividly about, but it certainly still resonates to this very day. One thing I am sure of, had I seen Torch Song Trilogyin 1981, my worldview would have been altered, most likely for the better. In the same way I believe anyone seeing this play now at Second Stage will be altered forever as well.
The newly reworked and edited trilogy by Fierstien, now goes by the more succinct Torch Song. The three chapters remain, brightly claiming their presence over the individual scenarios, but shortened into two solid acts. The story remains centered on Arnold Beckoff, played impeccably by the magnificent Michael Urie (Shows for Days, Buyer & Cellar). He manages, with a thrilling expertise to both create his own clear version of this iconic Jewish gay man and drag queen performer while also paying tribute to the character created by Fierstein. It’s a loving and brave performance by an actor coming into his own, owning the stage at every moment with ease, letting us into Arnold’s heart and soul. His opening soliloquy is a master class in vulnerability and engagement, in which he explains his cynical disillusionment with love. It’s clear his heart yearns to hear someone he cares for say, “I love you”, while also admitting his weaknesses and his complexities with the giving of his own heart. The beautifully signed “not” “enough” says everything you need to know about Arnold, and Urie does him proud, embodying him purely and entirely. It’s a thorough and thoughtfully brilliant performance for the ages.
So prepare yourself boys and girls, and all those who identify somewhere in between or beyond, for part three, Widows and Children First! is the segment that all earlier theatrical memories seem to circulate around. Estelle Getty seems to be the actor most remembered, second to Fierstein, and no wonder. It’s a part written to have the greatest impact. And here at the Second Stage Theater, the role of ‘Jewish Mother visiting her gay son’ is played miraculously by Mercedes Ruehl (Broadway’s Lost in Yonkers, The Shadowbox) who matches Urie’s Arnold as if they were truly related. Their entanglement is beyond explanation. It’s layered and deep, filled with tragedy, trauma, and a love that aches. It is the true Torch Song of the evening, clawing at our hearts, and pleading for compassion. For the lot of them. That includes the lovely and beautifully rendered performance by Jack DiFalco (Roundabout’s Marvin’s Room, MCC’s Yen) as foster son, David, and the touching return of Horton’s Ed. ‘Family’ is evident in the end, be it ever so humble and strange, and filled with love requited. “You hear that, Ma?“, as Big Maybelle sings, “I Will Never Turn My Back On You“.
The play’s true vulnerability lies in the honest depiction of its characters and their struggles with those others that hold that special place in their heart, courtesy of the exacting direction by Moisés Kaufman (33 Variations, I Am My Own Wife). No one is safe in Torch Song from pain, confusion, anger, and disappointment; not a mother, a lover, or a son, but the power of Torch Song lies in its balls. Figuratively speaking. It has guts and a drive to grab hold of some respect and dignity within the pain, against all odds, and it does so beautifully. The fight is ageless, as this play from the early 1980’s resonates as powerfully now as it did then. Maybe not in the same detailed way, as the culture of today has changed a bit here and there, advanced while staying the same (you’ll still hear the same gasps of recognition when certain old and negative comments are stated), but it remains, most definitely and defiantly, a profound, hilarious and deeply affecting experience. One that will be remembered for a lifetime.
“But that’s alright. It becomes part of you, like wearing a ring or a pair of glasses. You get used to it and it’s good [so good] because it makes sure you don’t forget. You don’t want to forget him, do you?” I sure don’t.
For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com
Theatre News: Wicked, The Wiz, Hypnotique, Female Troubles and Love In The Time Of Crazy
Broadway’s blockbuster Wicked, in partnership with National Day Calendar, has announced that October 30 will officially become National Wicked Day, in honor of the hit Broadway musical’s debut at the Gershwin Theatre (245 West 51st Street) on October 30, 2003.
This marks the first time that a Broadway show will have its own official day in the National Day Calendar. With this inclusion, Wicked joins some of the most recognizable National Day celebrations, including National Barbie Day, National Star Trek Day, National Scrabble Day, National Winnie the Pooh Day, and National Teacher Appreciate Day, among others.
Read the official announcement HERE.
Currently Wicked 4th longest-running show in Broadway history, and will celebrate its 20th Anniversary on Broadway this October 30th.
The Broadway production of Wicked currently features Alyssa Fox as Elphaba, McKenzie Kurtz as Glinda, John Dossett as The Wizard, Michele Pawk as Madame Morrible, Jordan Litz as Fiyero, Jake Pedersen as Boq, Kimber Elayne Sprawl as Nessarose, and William Youmans as Doctor Dillamond.
Emmy Award®-winning music director and Grammy Award®-winning writer, Adam Blackstone, joins the creative team as Dance Music Arranger for the revival of The Wiz. The Wiz will launch a national tour on September 23, 2023 in Baltimore, MD before returning to Broadway for a limited engagement in the 2023/24 season.
“Joining The Wiz’s creative team has been a very surreal moment. I remember watching the film on VHS daily for years, wondering how it sounded so incredible, how MJ transformed into the Scarecrow, and the score and orchestrations truly told a story all of its own. Fast forward to today, I get to musically partner with Terence Vaughn and reunite with my brother, super choreographer and creative director JaQuel Knight, and explore our own interpretation for a revival of this masterpiece. I am excited and look forward to this body of work changing lives, just like it did for me in the 80’s!” stated Adam Blackstone.
The cast will include previously announced Wayne Brady to lead the production as the Wiz on Broadway in Spring of 2024, San Francisco (January 16 – February 11, 2024) at the Golden Gate Theatre, and Los Angeles (February 13 – March 3, 2024) at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre. Alan Mingo Jr. will star in the role of the Wiz in the following cities of The Wiz National Tour this fall, kicking off with the tour launch in Baltimore, including Cleveland, OH, Washington, DC, Pittsburgh, PA, Charlotte, NC, Atlanta, GA, Greenville, SC, Chicago, IL, Des Moines, IA, Tempe, AZ and San Diego, CA.
The cast will also feature Nichelle Lewis as Dorothy, Deborah Cox as Glinda and Melody A. Betts as Aunt Em and Evillene, Kyle Ramar Freeman as the Lion, Phillip Johnson Richardson as the Tinman, and Avery Wilson as the Scarecrow. The Wiz ensemble includes Maya Bowles, Shayla Alayre Caldwell, Jay Copeland, Allyson Kaye Daniel, Judith Franklin, George, Collin Heyward, Amber Jackson, Jackson, Jones, Jones, Kindle, Mariah Lyttle, Kareem Marsh, Anthony Murphy, Rae, Matthew Sims Jr, Avilon Trust Tate, Keenan D. Washington, and Timothy Wilson.
The production will include ‘Everybody Rejoice’ music and lyrics by Luther Vandross, as well as the ‘Emerald City Ballet’ with music by Timothy Graphenreed.
The McKittrick Hotel (530 West 27th Street, NYC), home of Sleep No More, announced the opening of Hypnotique – A Late Night Sultry Spectacle. Performances have been extended on Friday and Saturday nights through October 14, 2023. The all-new Hypnotique revue offers a unique after-dark experience that envelops you. Audiences are captivated by spontaneous performances and mesmerizing dancers, accompanied by daring sonic soundscapes in a surreal ambiance in The Club Car.
The cast features Chloé Lexia Worthington, Courtney Sauls, Fabricio Seraphin, Haley Bjorn, Jacob Nahor, Jesseca Scott, Maurice Ivy, Maya Kitayama, Samantha Greenlund, Victoria Edwards, and swings Alex Sturtevant, Cameron Arnold, Kennedy Adams, and Stacey Badgett Jr..
Cocktails inspired by the experience, including the signature Hypnotonique (an electrifying punch made with cucumber-infused vodka, elderflower liqueur, and grapefruit juice), are available from The Club Car’s bar.
Performances are offered on Fridays and Saturdays at 10:30PM. General Admission tickets with standing room are currently priced from $65 per person.
Two industry readings for Female Troubles, an original musical comedy, will happen next week at Open Jar Studios. Female Troubles is a completely original musical comedy featuring lyrics by two-time Tony Award nominated and Grammy Award nominated songwriter Amanda Green (Mr. Saturday Night, Hands On A Hardbody, Bring It On), music by three-time Emmy Award nominee Curtis Moore (“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”), book by Emmy Award-winning writers Gabrielle Allan and Jennifer Crittenden (“Veep,” “Arrested Development,” “Seinfeld,” “The Simpsons,” “HouseBroken”) and directed by Tony Award winner Christopher Gattelli (Disney’s Newsies, My Fair Lady, “Schmigadoon,” “Schmicago”).
The cast for the readings will includeKrystina Alabado, Kevin Del Aguila, Amanda Green, Lilli Cooper, Lillias White, Lesli Margherita, Ryann Redmond, Kate Rockwell, Matt Saldivar, Alanna Saunders, Trent Saunders, Jake Swain, Sav Souza, Rachel Stern and Frank Viveros.In Female Troubles, Elinor Benton finds herself surprisingly and undeniably “knocked up” — and, since she’s unmarried and this is 19th century England, she has a very big dilemma. Facing ruin, she and her girlfriends embark on a raucous journey to find the one notorious woman who can help them with their “female troubles.” Their misadventures change the course of each of their lives. This uproarious musical comedy asks the trenchant question “Can you believe this sh*t is still happening in 1810?”
I attended the reading of Love In The Time Of Crazy withbook and lyrics by Peter Kellogg (Outer Critics Winner for Desperate Measures), music by Stephen Weiner (two-time Richard Rodgers Award winner) and David Hancock Turner (orchestrator for Desperate Measures and Penelope), directed by Lauren Molina (Desperate Measures ). The cast stared Philippe Arroyo, Stephen DeRosa, Robin Dunavant, David Merino, Josh Lamon, Roe Hartrampf and Alexis Cofield .
Love in the Time of Crazy is a riot, but, you know, in a good way.
Arms and the Man Meet The Press
Gingold Theatrical Group next show is a new production of George Bernard Shaw’s Arms and the Man.
The cast of Arms and the Man will feature Shanel Bailey (“Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies”)
Delphi Borich (Camelot)
Ben Davis (New York New York)
Keshav Moodliar (Queen)
Evan Zes (The Kite Runner),
Tony Award winner Karen Ziemba (Prince of Broadway).
Understudies for this production are Mazvita Chanakira (Gap Year)
René Thornton Jr (The Tempest)
and Matthew Zimmerman (A Midsummer Night’s Dream).
Arms and the Man will be directed by David Staller.
The production will feature set design by Lindsay Genevieve Fuori
lighting design by Jamie Roderick
costume design by Tracy Christensen
and sound design by Julian Evans. Prop design is by Emmarose Campbell.
Production management is by Allie Posner. Hair design is by Cassie Williams, and Stephanie Yankwitt of tbd Casting Co. is the Casting Director.
Logan Gabrielle Schulman is the Assistant to the Director and Ariel Kregard is the Assistant to the Costume Designer.
The production stage manager is April Ann Kline and Jade Doina will serve as assistant stage manager.
Arms and the Man is one of Shaw’s most popular comedies. The plot follows a hunted soldier who, seeking refuge in a young lady’s boudoir, starts in motion a series of highly engaging and unlikely comedic events. His unusual philosophies about love, war and life in general open up a world of thought she’d never previously entertained–certainly not with her dashing war-hero fiancée who also arrives unexpectedly. This early work of Shaw’s is remarkably pithy.
The play’s title, Arms and the Man, references the first line of the epic Virgil poem, The Aeneid, in which we’re reminded of how foolish humans can be by fighting each other and struggling against the best of human nature: “Arms and the man I sing, who, forced by fate / And haughty Juno’s unrelenting hate, / Expelled and exiled, left the Trojan shore.”
Arms and the Man will play Theater Two at Theatre Row (410 W 42nd St, New York, NY 10036) from October 17 through November 18, 2023. Opening night is set for October 26. The performance schedule is Tuesday–Thursday at 7pm; Friday at 8pm; Saturday at 2pm & 8pm; Sunday at 3pm. Cast and guest-moderated talkbacks will take place after each Sunday performance.
“Relapse” Musically Releases Some Compelling Voices in Our Heads
By Dennis W
Vinny Celerio (as Intrusive), Nicole Lamb (as Intrusive), Mia Cherise Hall (as Melinda), Zummy Mohammed (as Intrusive), and Audree Hedequist (as Intrusive) Photos by Thomas Mundell.
Relapse: A New Musical is filling Theatre Row with the sound of music from voices patients in a psychiatric hospital hear only in their heads. The 100-minute production captures the audience and brings them into the foggy, erratic, self-destructive world of this group who have lost their grasp on reality. It’s a difficult feat to write a musical about mental illness and get it right. The approach J. Giachetti takes in the book and lyrics, with music supplied by Louis Josephson, is quite inventive and works. The play takes place in group therapy sessions for four patients. But the music is about what’s going on in the minds of these people as they struggle with their sanity. And there are four more players called, ‘The Intrusive’ (the voices in the patients’ heads) doing whatever they can to keep the people in the group from breaking through to reality.
Bryan is played by Randall Scott Carpenter and this is his Off-Broadway debut. Bryan has an eating disorder and Carpenter captures a man searching for control right down to the nervous tick of shaking his leg. The schizophrenic in the group is Melinda played by Mia Cherise Hall. She has just the right spin on the character’s detachment from reality while still being part of the group.
Kendra is played by Becca Suskauer (Pretty Woman, National Tour) making her Off-Broadway debut. Kendra is a sociopath who torched her home and killed her father. Rounding out the cast is Adam played by Jacob Ryan Smith (Lizard Boy, Off-Broadway) who is new to the group. He’s an alcoholic and this is his fourth relapse. All the characters have a singular goal: to get out. They are joined by ‘The Intrusive’ played by Vinny Clear, Audree Hedequist, Nicole Lamb, and Yummy Mohammed. They swarm around the patients blocking their way to progress, as well as, filling the void as a well-voiced chorus.
The lyrics by J Giachetti do the job of filling out the characters with titles like Psych 101, Outta Here, Shattered Brain, and What Would You Do. The rock edge to the music by Josephson (Composer, Additional Lyrics, Orchestrations, Julliard) adds to the chaos nicely.
Dr. Carlisle and Margot, the nurse, are played respectively by Troy Valjean Rucker (Romeo and Bernadette, Off-Broadway) and Ashley Alexandra (Tootsie – National Tour) who have a kind of antagonistic relationship. Margot is not completely happy with the doctor’s handling of the group and is not shy about speaking out. They also talk about how funding for the group session may be cut off. This is where the plot begins to wander somewhat unnecessarily.
Director and Choreographer Joey McKneely (West Side Story, Broadway) keeps all the characters moving to highlight their stories in the ensemble musical using all of the stage space. The eerie swarming of ‘The Intrusive’ works but as the show progresses their movements become somewhat repetitive.
The scenic design by Sheryl Liu (The Memorial, A.R.T.) is adequate, with six blue chairs in a semi-circle as you would expect. It’s easily moved around as needed. Liu, as costume designer, dresses the patients in simple scubs-like tops and pants. Except for Bryan who has a slouching muddy brown cardigan that he uses to his advantage as he nervously rubs it between his fingers hinting at his lack of control and obsessive-compulsive behavior.
This ensemble production of Relapse: A New Musical takes us inside mental illness. The problem comes within the optimistic ending. We really have mostly seen how the characters deal with their specific problems and how the voices in their heads keep holding them back. The doctor says he is moving a patient to the next level facility even though he isn’t ready just to show some progress on paper. Relapse isn’t perfect but it is definitely an evening of entertainment that will give you a lot to talk about when you leave the theater.
For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com
On The Red Carpet at Dracula Comedy of Terrors
Dracula: A Comedy Of Terror Will Suck You In With Its Wit
Dracula: A Comedy of Terrors, opened tonight at New World Stage and it is sure to wrap you in its spell. The script by Gordon Greenberg (also the director) and Steven Rosen, takes on Bram Stoker’s 1897 horror classic and spins it into a delightful, intelligent, 90 minutes of sheer delight. This version is more along the lines of Mel Brooks, Rocky Horror, Monty Python and The 39 Steps.
We start of course in Transylvania, this Dracula (James Daly) is smoking HOT! taking off his black-lace vest to the delight of the audience. He is tall, blonde, muscular and wears tight leather pants, but he is also hilarious. He is an equal opportunity bloodsucker, perfect for this day and age. When Jonathan Harker (Andrew Keenan-Bolger), a meek and germ-a-phob, brings to the count his new real estate contracts to be signed, he also shows him his fiancé Lucy (Jordan Boatman), and the count is in lust with her neck.
Headed across the sea to meet Lucy, he arrives at her father’s Dr. Westfeldt (Ellen Harvey), who runs the asylum where Renfield also lives and is also played with break neck speed by Harvey. Lucy’s sister Mina, is a lustful Arnie Burton who also plays the German Dr. Van Helsing as Cloris Leachman in “Frankenstein.” Harvey and Burton are consulate actors who make any show they are in perfection. Both play roles that cross genders in drag and take them to the hilt.
The direction by Greenberg is fast paced and well thought out. He brings the best out of this uber talented ensemble, that is a director’s and audience’s dream. There is nothing I can fault here, nor would I want to.
Not only is the play fabulous but the scenic and puppet design by Tijana Bjelajac, the costumes by Tristan Raines and wigs by Ashley Rae Callahan, lighting design by Rob Denton, original music and sound design by Victoria Deiorio are done to perfection.
If you want to laugh, be entertained and feel like life is care free for at least 90 minutes, go and see Dracula: A Comedy of Terrors, you’ll be thrilled you did.
Dracula: A Comedy of Terrors: New World Stages, 340 West 50th Street, until January 7, 2024 or beyond draculacomedy.com
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