Monday, May 9, 2022

Our 2022 Tony Award© Predictions

The Tony Award© nominations dropped yesterday, and there were a lot of cheers for shows that were struggling like, For Colored Girls Who Considered Suicide/When The Rainbow Is Enuf,* and a few snubs like Beanie Feldstein and most of Funny Girl.  However, this is a time to reflect on what was exciting: a bold return to the theater.  

Although COVID has changed the theater going experience entirely, it still has not stopped the shadiness, the nastiness, the joys, and the tears of those involved in storytelling, and the fans that love it.  I watched an instagram message from Tony Award© winner, Stephanie J. Block, and she paraphrased something that Savion Glover said to her: It’s our job to tell the story and not sell the story. Sadly, in this current incarnation of show business, storytellers are being forced to gin up their social media game and be herded like cattle to and fro to promote whatever project they happen to be representing. In addition to that, they are supposed to be en pointe and ready by curtain and the call of “places” 8 shows a week. 

The great Ossie Davis said that award shows are basically trade shows.  It is an opportunity to shed a light on industry, and give people something to look at and possibly engage with a ticket purchase.  In any case, the nominations and the show give us mere mortals an opportunity to peek into the world that we love and sometimes covet. It also makes some of us great armchair quarterbacks (only time a sporting reference will ever be used).  

After a 2 year hiatus, please enjoy my conversations with 2 of my favorite Tony Award armchair quarterbacks, Gregory Allen and Paul Winkler. Match your predictions with ours and maybe look for some light, because I know shade will be thrown. LOL.

*extension announced till June 5, 2022.

Sunday, March 20, 2022

GET YOUR LIFE



 Well, the Rialto is certainly buzzing now, thanks to City Center’s Encore series.   There seems to be a dividing line of opinion regarding their latest show, The Life.  The Life is a musical with a book by David Newman, Ira Gasman and Cy Coleman, music by Coleman, and lyrics by Gasman, with respectable runs in 1990 Off-Broadway, 1997 Broadway, and  2017 London.  The Broadway interpretation earned 12 Tony Award nominations and made award winning stars out of its featured actors, Lillias White and Chuck Cooper. The new musicals also nominated in that season for Tony Awards were: Titanic*,Juan Darien, Steel Pier. The Best Revival Musical nominees were:  Chicago*, Annie, Candide, Once Upon a Mattress.


When the announcement was made that The Life was finally being revived, there were so many cheers. The Tony Award winning revival of CHICAGO, came out of the Encores series. It transferred onto Broadway and has remained there ever since. Even after a successful movie adaptation, CHICAGO remains a staple on Broadway.  I guess that many are/were hoping that The Life would have momentum to get it to Broadway, especially in what has been such a  POC-infused season of new Broadway shows. The Life seemed like a show that could come back and fit into the cycle.  




This revival comes with a new adaptation of the book by the Tony, Grammy, and Emmy award winning Billy Porter, and it also includes a rearrangement of song placement, and the score by his longtime friend/collaborator, musical director, arranger, conductor, James Sampliner. In the original production of The Life, the grittiness of the period is present enough to remind people of the era, but somehow it still remained safe enough in the arms of the musical theater comedy framework. This new version has added to the grit, hard truths of a bygone era. The comedy that was infused into the original book came at the expense of the story and the characters, according to Mr. Porter.  He requested permission from the estate to make some changes. 


The Life had a recent revival in London’s Off West End, but it is such a unique American show, and set in a time and neighborhood that only longtime, theater going New Yorkers remember and many visitors feared.  Ms. Lena Horne during her Lady and the Music show that ran during the actual time period that The Life is based,  mentions that as she ‘sweats all over Jimmy Nederlander’s stage’…“this ain’t the greatest neighborhood in the world, neither.” 


Having not been able to see the original, I have lived with the cast recording ever since I purchased it some 25 years ago. I did get to see the women of The Life, including Lillias White and Pamela Isaacs, featured in the Actors Fund’s 30th anniversary concert presentation of another one of Cy Coleman’s beloved scores, Sweet Charity, a show that also exposed America to a seedier yet tame presentation of New York, too.


The reviews that I have read, including the New York Times, have been scathing.  Some of my theater circle of friends echoed many similar sentiments about the show. Terms and phrases like “hot mess”, “unnecessary changes”, “they put that song WHERE?”, “what happened to the Sam Harris character?”, and my favorite, “What did that arranger do to Use What You Got ?” were popular.   Honestly, you would have thought a serial killing murder spree had been committed on the stage by some of their tones and tenors.


The commonality that I saw amongst the comments is that they came mostly from white people who consider themselves well versed in their theater love. They really are, but Chile, there was no love from them or the press over this show. Please note that I am not accusing my friends of harboring any racial animus, yet I will say that I found their takes interesting. One of my friends stated that it was not because he was white and had seen the show on Broadway, but it just didn’t come across as good theater, which is totally valid, especially if you knew how much theater my friend consumes.   Mr. Porter says that he has chosen to tell “our” story. Many felt that the original book was already problematic, and those changes were upsetting, detrimental to the original tale, and just plain unnecessary.


In one exchange, a friend whose theatrical history includes directing a production of the show, disagreed with the changes biggly (that’s a nod for the folks that made it to the opening of Act 2). Another said that if the direction of the story was to depart from the original by introducing Trans energy without including a known or unknown Trans actor in one of the roles, then it is not consistent with the new agenda. However, it turns out that the actor is Trans, and you would have never known.  I think that is where I had to stop absorbing their criticism, because I recognized that all of these folks had seen the original production. This production ultimately challenges their memories, and no one wants to be challenged. I think that because of FX’s POSE and Mr. Porter’s connection to that show along with the popularity of Ru Paul’s Drag Race, the conversation of Trans energy has achieved a place in mainstream conversation and also a place in horrific legislation.  One of my biggest criticisms was that the gospel number, “You Can’t Get To Heaven '' was cut.  How are you gonna have all those AMAZING voices, like Ledisi, and not give us the gospel number?  I digress.


I happened to be with a friend who is a person of color who had never heard of The Life (until now),  seen a production, nor heard the score.  In fact, he was about 10 when it debuted.  He noted some structural issues, but overall, he liked the show. He saw the message as relevant, although it did at times feel heavy handed and forced. I’d blame that on the memory play device in the storytelling.  I talked to various people in the audience post show, mostly people of color, many of whom had not seen the original either. I soon sensed that is where the schism was, and I wanted to be sure of myself before I started yapping. 


With many of the criticisms echoed, they seemed to be tinged with a “How DARE you touch this show?” vibe, as well.  I do not want to speculate that it is racism, but it is really hard to not go there when you think of Daniel Fish’s take on the OKLAHOMA revival. Many of the same folks in my circle had a few problems with that show, too.  The changes to Laurie’s Ballet, homoerotic overtones between the two male characters, a black female lead, and the gal who couldn’t say “no” in a wheel chair,  did not sway it from winning the Tony Award for Best Revival and Best Featured Actress, Ali Stoker.  Those changes were okay enough, because the story was not tampered with that much.


I also asked them about their thoughts about casting Joshua Henry, a man of color, in the lead role of the wife-abusing Billy Bigelow in a recent revival of CAROUSEL, while leaving poor Jessie Mueller’s Julie Jordan, being beaten by a Black man in 1950’s America. The fact that it was the POC actor as the policeman dealing with Billy Bigelow versus a white actor seemed like an odd change, considering the climate of the country.  Somehow that discussion did not seem to make reviewers shy of the show and nearly as upset with that change primarily because the rest of the show remained the same, and Joshua Henry is an amazing talent.



The All Black casts of both Hello Dolly in the 60’s and later Guys and Dolls  in the 70’s did not receive this much vitriol, primarily because they did not vary far from their books.  Hello Dolly  even with Pearl Bailey and Cab Calloway, basically sounds the same.  Go back and listen to the score of GUYS AND DOLLS arranged by Danny Holgate and Horace Ott. It has a definite flavor. You can hear the basic melodies enhanced and “Bushel and a Peck”, “If I Were A Bell” and “Sit Down, You’re Rocking The Boat” still work me out to my core.  


So with nothing to compare except a cast recording, I had to take in all of the “changes” of THE LIFE and allow the new story to speak to me.  I will admit that the memory play approach is a little jarring and hokey, because it takes you in and out of time, like constantly dunking a tea bag instead of just letting it seep.  I pictured the Memphis character, played by Antwayn Hopper, to be more like what I envisioned Chuck Cooper’s Memphis, and he wasn’t. I wish that the other character choices were more of what I imagined, but I was not consulted.  No matter what you might feel about the presentation, the reality that Mr. Porter included in this story is undeniable. It is a reflection of the true, ugly history of the era.  There are still sex workers of all gender expressions being exploited,  abused, and killed.  However, those well-meaning white men sat down over 25 years ago and tried to make a show with the best of their knowledge of a world that they may not have been aware of, or they did not have the courage to admit knowing of, and put a score under it. Because these were not like the taxi dancers of Sweet Charity, it was a task. 


Do I think that Mr. Porter may have bitten off more than he could chew? Maybe. He took what was a semi-cherished score with an alleged problem book (again, I did not see it), and remixed them.  Considering that he only had 8 days to put this show together, without any real time to be able to write and rewrite after the first table read, there needs to be a moment of grace before the dogpile of dissent.  I don’t know if there was someone who dramaturgically sat with him and tried to work with his vision and challenge some his choices. Perhaps,  it might have made a difference. Of the many critics who have chosen to be lethal with their words towards Mr. Porter, are they based totally on the merits of the show or is it an opportunity to shake the pedestal that Mr. Porter has been placed upon by the rest of the world? Look at what happened to Lin-Manuel Miranda after the In The Heights movie was released.  In any case, words can be powerful.  And the one thing that I do know about Billy Porter, he is an unstoppable force that can take way more hits than what is being hurled at him, but to paraphrase another cut song from the new production, why don’t they leave him alone? 

Saturday, February 26, 2022

ALIVE AND KICKING


When I freelance for other places and I do get a theater connection, I have to share it. My other place to talk about the arts is HeyXOrje.com. In my latest conversation, veteran actor and Artistic Freedom fighter, John Fleck, takes time to chat with me about his ongoing performances at Los Angeles’ ODYSSEY THEATER in his original work, “It’s Alive. IT’S ALIVE”He talks with me about his current work, his career, and what it was like to be a member of the infamous trial with the National Endowment of the Arts rescinding money to artists based on objections to the material.  


Watch my conversation here:




or just listen  here. 


Saturday, November 27, 2021

REST IN POWER, MR. SONDHEIM

 

R.I.P. Stephen Joshua Sondheim March 22, 1930 - November 26, 2021

Theater world has been hit with the loss of one of the greatest and highly decorated composers of American Musical Theater, Stephen Sondheim.  Every theater geek has opened up their catalog of their favorite Sondheim songs and have been belting with their favorite interpreters of his music, like me.   The tributes will be forthcoming, and I cannot help but join the fray. Google makes it easy to catch up on the life of the most famous name in the world of musical theater, so I will keep it brief and make it personal.


I’ll admit that it took me a long time to catch on to the genius of Sondheim.  I always thought of his work as something those “white kids” like.  I will own that my ignorance and naivete of it all as a black teenager growing up in Texas in the 70’s/80’s, may have contributed to not finding relatability to Mr. Sondheim.  As I matured, I stayed informed of his many other works,  but I truly connected with Sondheim at the pinnacle of what I thought was THE relationship.  Listen to LOSING MY MIND after he/she/they leave you and try not to cry. I promise that you will never really be able to drink coffee the same way again.   


On his 90th Birthday, I recalled my first introduction to his brilliance was unknowingly through his lyrics in WEST SIDE STORY and GYPSY.  His comedic charm also captured me in A FUNNY THING HAPPENED TO ME ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM, too. When you reach that age or sense of maturity that you really HEAR what the lyrics are saying, you will marvel at the fact that Mr. Sondheim captured emotions that all of us (gay, straight, black, white) are experiencing or will experience.  I will refer you to COMPANY, INTO THE WOODS, and FOLLIES.    


The thought that there will be future generations discovering his brilliance should satisfy not only his soul, but the souls of mourning musical theater fans everywhere.  Because this world has opened up and changed in a way that we all can truly enjoy his work without cultural stigma, you should hear interpreters like Billy Porter, Heather Headley, or Patina Miller tackle his music. Please enjoy some of my favorite songs and interpreters.  Rest in Power, Mr. Sondheim. 


SUNDAY Billy Porter




Gotta Get A Gimmick-




AMERICA- Lyrics




Ladies Who Lunch from CAMP




I'M STILL HERE  





Losing My Mind/You Could Drive A Person Crazy




BROADWAY BABY



Everybody Ought Have a Maid



90th Birthday Tribute 




85th Red Concert



Sunday, August 15, 2021

Is Bad Publicity Really Better Than No Publicity?


Look at what happens when you Google. 

The answer to this age-old question is one that many great press agents and publicists have been wrestling with since the days of Hedda Hopper and Charlie Chaplin. Because almost every bad story about a client given to a great press agent offers an opportunity for redemption. It’s a challenge that many would rather not contend with, but that is why they make the big bucks.  I would venture to guess that this week Broadway fans are wondering what the camp of Tony Award© nominated actress, Laura Osnes, is doing right now.  


It was reported in Page Six, and the story has been picked up by many news outlets, including Newsweek, that Laura Osnes was released from an event in the Hamptons when it was revealed that she was not vaccinated, nor did she intend to get vaccinated.  For those of you not familiar with her, it doesn’t really matter.  Those who are familiar probably could care less, because the writing was on the wall the minute the vaccine became available. 


I have reached out to a few of the publicists that I know, and no one wanted to go on record, but my guess is that spinning any of this is dependent upon the client and their "Why?" Once that is sorted out, then the real work begins on trying to repair an image, career, and even a life.  Under normal ‘bad celebrity’ behavior, there almost seem to be protocols to resolving, restoring, and reviving one’s career. The Mea Culpa Tour, community service or charity endorsement, and 6-12 months of staying under the radar, are how career healing begins.  Somehow, I think Ms. Osnes will have a harder time recovering from this,  especially now that in addition to all of this, she is known for being a very strident, conservative Christian.  How someone can have those beliefs and still work in theatre is both fascinating and irritating.  Some of them are trying, but having a hard time doing it.  Ask Chad Kimball. He will not be in Apple TV’s filmed version of COME FROM AWAY, nor is he in the post pandemic, returning Broadway cast, too.


Because Ms. Osnes is an attractive and talented white woman in this country, she has been given all kinds of passes for her alleged backstage energy. The privilege to perform, especially in the Hamptons, is truly a gift. However, can we all be honest about something?  There is no shortage of talented white women in the pool of entertainment who would run her over with a car to get a third of the attention she has. 


If you ask any of them: stagehands, hair stylists, and costume assistants, then they will have a few pointed tales to tell, especially if you throw in a bottomless mimosa brunch. A few of my actor friends had a few choice words, too. Not to dogpile on what I am sure has been a shitty week for Ms. Osnes, it does lead to a bigger question: In an industry that requires an unusual amount of closeness in physical and emotional distance between its employees, is it wise to allow someone, unless for true medical reasons, to be unvaccinated in that environment?


According to a large number of ignorant and selfish people, it is their inherent right to walk around as a public health threat to the rest of us.  Alright that is how I see it, but I digress.  With the information that is available about COVID-19 vaccine development, it is hard to stomach the whinings of college educated adults, many of whom would not have their degrees now had it not been for the  measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine. 


But getting back to the Typhoid Marys and Martins of the world who want to bring their “anti-vaccine” stances to a workplace, there is an unspoken rule: If you don’t feel well, then don’t come to work.  When you say flu, chicken pox, or stomach “thing”,  people will flee from you with a quickness. Why? Because no one wants to get sick, and no one wants to get sick if it can be avoided.  


In the entertainment industry, especially theater, we are taught that the “show must go on” at almost any cost. This explains the certain safeguards that have been put in place, like understudies, 2nd and 3rd stand bys, or in the case of the many other departments like lighting, music, costuming, hair, and makeup that have an endless list of supplemental staff who can be called in, if things get crazy in a show. 


Because of the ferocity and the tenacity of the latest strain of COVID and the randomness of how it affects an individual, no production can really afford to lose an entire company from top to bottom because of COVID.  Recently, the West End company of HAIRSPRAY had to halt performances for 2 weeks because of a potential outbreak in the cast.  What insurance company will insure a production that may have a willy-nilly policy of maintaining a protocol to keep the production safe?  COVID is already costing studios, film, and television producers a lot of money to produce anything.  


How do I know? I recently was booked to do some background work on television. Before stepping anywhere near the set, I had 4 COVID tests. The first one was to make sure that I wasn’t already infected. The second one was just to go to a costume fitting, and the third one was done 2 days BEFORE the shoot to ensure that I was still not infected.  Once on set with masks and the whole megillah, I had to have yet another test. All of this testing in the 7 days from booking to set, and I am vaccinated. The production company also has to pay each performer for their time to come in and take the COVID tests.    


All of that energy and money is being spent on Extra #4. Add to that everyone up the call sheet, including all of the folks in costumes, makeup and hair, lighting, camera, sound, etc. If there is just one unvaccinated (possibly asymptomatic or without medical exception) actor, camera person, hair stylist, or even a director, walking amongst the set, then it is pretty dangerous and costly. It totally makes sense now that Netflix requires that everyone working on their US shows must be vaccinated, and many of the studios are doing the same thing.     


2x Tony Award© Nominee, Pre-Pandemic, Laura Osnes. 

The word is out on Ms. Osnes, honey. More people will definitely learn more about her, thanks to NEWSWEEK’s headline: “ Who Is Laura Osnes? Broadway Actress Removed for Alleged Anti-Vaccine Stance”. The amount of press this has generated for her has not been favorable. In full disclosure, I have had the opportunity to interview Ms. Osnes on a few occasions.  She was absolutely pleasant, but when you are promoting something it behooves you to not irritate your interviewer, especially a queen like me, because the older that I get, the less I care about holding back how I feel. 


As many times as her name has been googled, it is safe to say that many people now know who she is.  Sadly, many of her major accomplishments will be overshadowed by this incident because of her belief system.  She is absolutely within her rights to feel as she does, and she can speak on the subject in any way that works for her. Is it worth it? Perhaps, she is seriously thinking about it now.   For those of us watching it unfold, we do enjoy the drama. Being an actress in this current climate with those beliefs, she might not be doing any acting or singing anytime soon, except maybe in Branson. Ms. Osnes has responded to the ISSUE:

However, people often forget that freedom of speech always comes with consequences, and in her case, she also gets publicity for it, good or bad.  

   


Monday, June 28, 2021

YOU CAN'T WIN , LIN!

  

Like every well-intentioned person from a marginalized community that has jumped through the zeitgeist hoop because of THEIR persistence and originality, the Pulitzer Prize winning, Tony©, Grammy©, and Emmy© award winning, producer, actor, writer, activist, philanthropist, and pop cultural phenom, Lin-Manuel Miranda, finally gets the taste of fierce public backlash. His movie, IN THE HEIGHTS, did not seem to reflect any Afro-Latino energy in the main characters except in the dance numbers and background, and the Afro-Latinos are not happy about it. That is what some folks told the New York Times. The sad part is that it comes from his own people,  and the whole color thing got picked up by white folks looking to divide us. Sometimes you just can’t win. 


Who decided that Mr. Miranda is the representative gatekeeper to the entire Latinx identity and artistic expression? Clearly the Afro-Latino community does. It’s totally unfair, because for every white man that “makes it”,  no one expects him to be a role model for all denominations of white men. It’s a win for ALL of them, as history has shown us.



The LGBTQ+ community does the same thing, because folks are already attaching themselves to recently out NFL player, Carl Nassib. He already thwarted the onset of "what are you going to do for the LGBTQ+ community?" questions by giving a huge contribution to the Trevor Project and saying that he is open to dialogue. He definitely will be a Grand Marshall at somebody's Pride event, especially when he explains this whole  “I’m a Republican'' kerfuffle. If he plays decent football and gets his mom a new house, then his responsibilities are done, AND he will accomplish what Michael Sam couldn't do, but I digress. 

Carl Nassib and Michael Sam
Carl Nassib and Michael Sam

After reading Mr. Miranda’s apology, I felt so bad for him. With all of his efforts to be as inclusive as he is known to be while pursuing his OWN artistic choices to bring TO the masses,  it turns out that some of his choices are not good enough for all of the masses. 


From the Original Broadway Cast of  IN THE HEIGHTS

Far be it from me to point out that the original Broadway cast did not have Afro-Latinos in the lead roles, and Benny from the car service was African-American, played by Christopher Jackson. No tea, no shade, but Mr. Jackson is a beautiful, light-skinned African- American, and no one complained.   No one complained also when Corbin Bleu and Jordin Sparks did replacement work in those Latinx lead roles on Broadway.  If there were no major public grumblings about representation then, it is hard to watch the public evisceration over skin color now. 

Pulitzer Prize, Tony©, Emmy©,Grammy© Award winning Lin-Manuel Miranda

Does the man who single-handedly, with the stroke of a pen, saved the Drama Bookshop not get a pass? Does the man who took the images of our founding fathers and flipped the script on the meaning of non-traditional casting with HAMILTON, get no love from the Afro-Latino side of his family? Clearly not. If in response to the backlash, they traditionally re-cast HAMILTON with white folks that can rap and sing every lyric of that show (and you know they exist now), then there will be no one to blame but ourselves.


As for the film, the first time that I watched this beautiful piece of art, it did not even occur to me to be concerned with that level of representation. Honestly, I was so happy to just see the movie as a fan of musical theater. I remembered all of Mr. Miranda’s wrestling back and forth after the fall of Harvey Weinstein in order to get the rights back to his work.  Once he secured the rights, and word was out on the streets that the long awaited movie adaptation of the groundbreaking musical was finally gonna happen, people lost their minds with anticipation. Mr. Miranda probably was killing himself night and day to see his baby go the full distance, and most people would say that all babies are beautiful.  Yet sometimes in life, there are people who have no problem calling a newborn baby ugly right to the parents’ face.


I am sure that the Blatino people who live in Washington Heights were upset that they felt underrepresented in the film. In all fairness, this was not their story, just their neighborhood. Unless Mr. Miranda’s “black like me” side of the family was ever present in his life, then it might explain why they did not appear in the stage musical nor the film. The Latinx door has been opened wider by this newly energized call for recognition by the Afro-Latino community.  In spite of the infighting and dogpiling that is currently dominating the press cycle, now there is room for discussion about those new Afro-Latino stories to break through.


When you are from marginalized America and the public has finally handed you the Golden Microphone to the BIG SHOW, making you the “first” from that community to do it,  it is no longer about you anymore. It’s just like one of the characters in the film and her Stanford University realization.  How’s that for life imitating art?  


After spending the last few years kicking open doors for Latinx artists, Mr. Miranda almost escaped the artistic messianic curse that befalls every marginalized person who “makes it.”  You are already carrying your hopes and dreams and that of your friends and family. In this new arena, you now have to add the hopes and dreams of millions of people that you will never meet. So to Mr. Miranda, you simply can’t win them all while carrying that many people’s dreams on your shoulders.  Stop trying to do that.  Just do you.  Now that you are aware of this new deficiency within the confines of representation and if you choose to take on any Afro-Latinx storytelling moving forward, then just produce the work from a few amazing, up and coming, Afro-Latinx artists. 


The theater community still loves you, and the rest of the world will eventually forgive you. Not to be shady, but I would also invest in a few interns to look up as many of the OTHER cultural Latinx fusions seeking some artistic representation. Word on the street is that the Chino-Latinx community is looking at you now, too. I’m just sayin’.



A CONVERSATION WITH BILL BROCHTRUP


 As we continue to celebrate PRIDE and as I await the return of theater, there is something happening in the interim.  I recently had a chat with actor and Artistic Director of The ANTAEUS Theater Company, Bill Brochtrup.  One of the many things in his illustrious career, most notably is playing an out gay character while being an out gay actor on the major television show, NYPD BLUE,  for 10 seasons. His theater company is presenting the latest in audio theater with the second season of their Zip Code Series of new plays.

Bill sat and chatted with me about his life, career, and how his theater company is navigating the post-COVID waters.  Go to WWW.ANTAEUS.ORG for the latest on their upcoming season of events, too