Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Perry Ojeda: Latin X Actor Tackles Theater's Virtual Reality in Wendy MacLeod's SLOW FOOD

 



Yes, it has been a long year without a podcast primarily because COVID-19 has forced everyone and everything to make changes in the ways things used to be done.  For some of us, it has been a personal challenge like you would not believe, and for others making some of those changes came easy. In any case, I am back.  At least monthly, until I can get the rest of my life on track.  I have missed talking to people about their work, and I honestly missed sharing it all with you.  

Perry Ojeda 


COVID-19 took the wind out of the sails for many people and institutions, and theater is not an exception.  LatinX  Actor, Perry Ojeda, has joined the virtual theater game in a production of Wendy MacLeod’s  SLOW FOOD, presented by the International City Theatre, directed by Marya Mazor. It also stars Stu James, Perry Ojeda, and Meredith Thomas, with Costume Design by Kim DeShazo, Sound Design by Dave Mickey, Props by Patty Briles,  and Video Editor Mike Bradecich


SLOW FOOD is a complicated tale of what is considered good service.  It is also the next step of creating theater.  Necessity is the mother of invention, and this play represents the magic of reimagining a genre.  Enjoy my conversation with Perry Ojeda about his life, career, and trying to make theater  pop in the new normal. 


Click Here For Tickets to Wendy MacLeod’s SLOW FOOD. Runs April 29 – May 16 , 2021 VIRTUAL PRODUCTION – Thursdays – Sundays only!




Saturday, December 5, 2020

THE PROM GOES HOLLYWOOD

 



With a little tea and just a hint of shade, I am truly excited that the NETFLIX adaptation of the (beloved but short lived) Broadway show, THE PROM, is almost here. Because the bottom line in Hollywood has always been dollars before any of our artistic feelings, stage to screen adaptations have always been risky.  There are many theater loving people who cannot make it to New York City to see a show, and the movie musical is their only ticket to that experience.  Many of us of a certain generation will also include Original Broadway Cast  (OBC) recordings and film soundtracks as our FIRST gateway to musical theater. I worry about what happens to the theater after this pandemic. 


YouTube has changed this for all of us, and outlets like Broadway HD and Netflix have stepped up the availability and quality of the content.  Of course, there are so many rumblings among the hard working members of the theatrical community about how THE PROM’s adaptation gives no real love to the original Broadway artisans who for 8 shows a week brought literal joy to us all. But remember, it’s dollars before your artistic feelings. 

From Top L to R: Caitlin Kinnunen, Christopher Sieber. Bottom L to R: Michael Potts, me, Beth Leavel 


Many fans of the show who had the great fortune of seeing the original cast, will not deny Beth Leavel, Brooks Ashmanskas, Christopher Seiber, Angie Schworer, and in her breakout, leading lady role, Caitlin Kinnunen their due.  Get the cast recording and see what I mean. I do not mean to begrudge or shade the celebrity casting, because they have all tread the boards at various points in their careers, and some to Tony Award© nominations and wins.  However, to those who have worked consistently as stage artists to the ceiling of notoriety and salary caps that only a Broadway career can comfortably provide, a starring role in a project this huge could make the difference of one of those hard working thespians to have THAT moment.


In the supporting roles in the film, Ariana Debose ( from Broadway’s HAMILTON, A BRONX TALE, SUMMER, Anita in Steven Spielberg’s upcoming film remake of WEST SIDE STORY), Andrew Rannells ( Broadway’s HAIRSPRAY, BOOK OF MORMON, FALSETTOS, BOYS IN THE BAND- Broadway and Netflix film, and plenty of TV credits), and Kevin Chamberlin (Broadway’s DISASTER, WICKED, SEUSSICAL, THE RITZ and consistent and varied TV creditsthe dream is coming true for these hardworking stage actors, as well.  


The 50’s and 60’s are years of cinematic precedent of OBC members getting screwed out of the roles in the transfer to screen for bigger names, Ethel Merman for Rosalind Russell in GYPSYBarbara Cook for Shirley Jones in THE MUSIC MAN, Chita Rivera for Rita Moreno in WEST SIDE STORY, Chita Rivera for Janet Leigh in BYE BYE BIRDIE , Julie Andrews for Audrey Hepburn in MY FAIR LADY, Mary Martin for Julie Andrews in SOUND OF MUSIC, Gwen Verdon for Shirley MacClaine in SWEET CHARITY, Carol Channing for Barbra Streisand  in HELLO DOLLY.  

From L to R: Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, Ted Ross (only one from OBC), and Nipsey Russell.

From the more contemporary musicals, Stephanie Mills for Diana Ross in THE WIZ (some black folks are STILL mad about that one), Cady Huffman for Uma Thurman in THE PRODUCERS, Bebe Neuwirth and Catherine Zeta Jones in CHICAGO, are all divas denied the ultimate reward of recording their creation from stage to cinematic glory.  Most people do not think about the men as deeply, but Robert Alda for Marlon Brando in GUYS AND DOLLS, and Harvey Fierstein for John Travolta in HAIRSPRAY, come to my mind quickly. Yul Brynner kept THE KING AND I, and Joel Grey kept CABARET, but at least Harvey got to do the Live TV version on NBC.


Now before I get catty, I would like to thank Ryan Murphy. GLEE captured the inner angst of so many teens, both gay and straight. He moved a whole new generation with choreography and a song in their heart.  He single-handedly restored honor and self-esteem to the high school band fags, drama queens, and choir geeks everywhere, in a way that not even FAME did for my generation. (Oops, I am giving away my age.) There is not a gay man that has not had a private moment with themselves to many of the shows helmed by this mogul.  I have 2 words for you, NIP/TUCK. Okay? His numerous TV projects have kept many noted stage thespians working, like Patti LuPone, Billy Porter, Sarah Paulson, Cheyenne Jackson, and Jessica Lange, to name a few.  So he has certainly opened the door and brought visibility to many theater notables.  

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What Ryan Murphy did by bringing BOYS IN THE BAND to Netflix with the original Broadway cast was inspired. Among the cast are some pretty high profile folks like Zachary Quinto, Jim Parsons, Andrew Rannells, Tuc Watkins, and Matt Bomer.  All of whom have super high Q ratings compared to their other supporting castmates, Michael Benjamin Washington, Charlie Carver, Brian Hutchison and Robin De Jesus,  but it was Robin De Jesus who garnered the Tony Award© nomination for the production. It was actually his third nomination. Now there are just that many more people that know who he is. My inner catty queen tells me that if Ricky Martin had expressed interest in De Jesus’ role, there might have been a dust up for sure. In any case, Ryan Murphy in one move went from not only being a godsend to television, but a new champion of theater.  

                                                 Me with 3x Tony Award© Nominee, Robin De Jesus

The streaming service, Broadway HD,  has a large library of live recordings of theatrical shows from both Broadway and The West End.  They also have a library of movie musicals, as well. Netflix, along with Ryan Murphy, has managed to add that cinematic “je ne sais quoi” that brings new dimensions to the original storytelling. 


THE PROM did not get any of that De Jesus magic for Beth Leavel, Brooks Ashmanskas, Christopher Seiber, nor Angie Schworer. Meryl Streep will be adopting Leavel’s Broadway baby, Dee Dee,  and putting her stamp on it. Nicole Kidman put the kibosh on Schworer’s Zazz. 2x Tony Award nominee, Andrew Rannells, takes the role from 2x Tony Award nominee, Christopher Sieber.  Brooks’ Barry character gets appropriated by James Corden, and word on the street is very shady about the performance.  Corden does respond to the backlash, but when you look at the list of people replaced, perhaps that role could have been given to Nathan Lane, if not the stage originator? Even after making her debut to the world with a same sex kiss on TV, along with her Broadway debut, Caitlin Kinnunen was taken out by another newcomer, Jo Ellen Pellman. Murphy could have thrown Caitlin a bone.


Top from L to R: Courtenay Collins, Josh Lamon, Christopher Sieber, Caitlin Kinnunen, Angie Schworer, and Beth Leavel 


(IMAGE Below) https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.movienewsnet.com%2F%3Fp%3D19985&psig=AOvVaw2oouT3n3UM7mm8oU_-WRQH&ust=1607270769341000&source=images&cd=vfe&ved=0CAIQjRxqFwoTCIjIpbKct-0CFQAAAAAdAAAAABAZ

          From L to R: Andrew Rannells, Meryl Streep, James Corden, Nicole Kidman 


I have my theories about casting, and I am always Team Beth Leavel. She does have to admit that when your agent tells you that you’ve lost your role to Meryl Streep, you can only get so angry. Let’s face it. It’s Meryl Streep. She can steal your husbands, use them, and send them back to you because she is Meryl Streep.  The universe did Miss Beth a solid favor by casting her in the upcoming musical adaptation of THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA karmically in the Meryl Streep role. Angie Schworer can get only so mad when Nicole Kidman wants your role.  Sorry Ange, but she’s got the legs and the Hollywood clout to get whatever she wants.  


Andrew Rannells already had a previous relationship with Ryan Murphy with BOYS IN THE BAND, so I could see how Christopher Sieber got the boot.  For the theater lovers out there, imagine Brooks Ashmanskas’ mannerisms and talents being shared with Netflix audiences, alongside these well-known and respected performers.  The world will never know now.  

 

Emmy Award winning producer, actress, Kerry Washington

They decided to open up the casting by putting in someone not known for her musical prowess as the seemingly intolerant, Mrs. Green. Emmy Award©  winning producer, actress, and television bad ass, Kerry Washington , has tread the boards of Broadway in David Mamet’s RACE.  She also has a relationship with Netflix after they turned her last moment on Broadway, AMERICAN SON,  into a multi-camera teleplay. However, I am sure Ms. Washington was called by Mr. Murphy when he couldn’t secure 6x Tony Award© winner, Audra McDonald, right?


The message of THE PROM is truly so beautiful that if Ryan Murphy would have kept the original cast and filled in the rest with Broadway extras, it would still be just as highly anticipated as it is now with the star casting.  The story of how Ryan Murphy kept the production whole, like with BOYS IN THE BAND, would have made it legendary. 




On John Fugelsang’s Tell Me Everything, SiriusXM Progress, Channel 127


©Keith Price 2020


Friday, April 17, 2020

QUARANTINED MEMORIES #2: MY FIRST DREAMGIRL

So as the YouTube spiral continues during these quarantine times, another video has me in a nostalgic mood connecting threads of my theater loving life. I recently saw the clip from the Tony Awards© with Jennifer Holliday and the cast of Dreamgirls.   






I remember seeing it on TV at the time, processing its fabulosity, while the signature song from the show, And I’m Tellin’ You I'm Not Going, climbs the charts. It made Texas native, Jennifer Holliday, a breakout star.  While living in P.Y.T. Texas (Pre You Tube) , my theater experiences were very limited.  It wasn’t until I moved to Austin from Galveston that I felt comfortable enough to see and participate in more theater locally.  Since my Texas days, I have had many opportunities to meet and interview legends of the American theater and see their work on stage.  However, there are great performances that happen in places other than the Great White Way. They are just as compelling, riveting, and memorable, as if you were walking out of the Imperial Theater on a chilly winter night in 1982. 


For me, it was a Sunday matinee performance of DREAMGIRLS at the Zachary Scott Theater, Spring 1995. I, along with one of my dearest friends, Len, were volunteering as ushers so we could see the show. Another one of my dearest friends, Ms. Treens, was also the stage manager for the show and kept saying to me, “you are not gonna believe how good this show is!”  She also said “black folks are gonna lose their minds when they see this show.” She was right, because I did not know what was going to happen.   For a community theater, we were living with only having The Wiz, Bubblin’ Brown Sugar,  and Ain’t Misbehavin’ to fall back on as black musical theater performance options.  Once On This Island was performed in the previous seasons, but it was still new to us. It had not earned its current status in black musical theater history just yet. 


From the moment the house lights went down and those voices and music turned up, I lost my ever loving mind. Chile, Dave Steakley directed the *ish out of that show.  The gowns, the wigs, and the moving sets turned me OUT! Seeing people of color just sassing it up while singing their faces off was amazing, but I can not forget the performance of the actress who embodied my First Effie White, B. Iden Payne© Award Winner, Jacqui Cross. Honey, I had never seen anyone like her.  At that performance baby, she SLAYED!! She blew the roof off of that house.
With Emmy Award© Winning, Loretta Devine
 In that climactic moment near the end of Act One when everyone gangs up on Effie about her size, missing shows, etc., and Deena is acting all innocent knowing full well she’s been sleeping with Curtis right behind Effie’s back, stealing her place as lead, all while being careful enough to not get pregnant in her quest for fame.  As that scene started, I felt goosebumps because my empathy for Effie was growing. By the time the bells chimed in to start that famous anthem, I was a wreck. It was the first time that I cried in a live performance.

At that time, I was winding down my days in Austin, as I prepared to take the big leap and move to NYC.  I have always been in the battle of the bulge my entire adult life, and this quarantine is not helping. I knew then that moving to New York was the right thing to do. However on that day, the only questions marinating for me: where was Jacqui Cross in that moment, and who did she channel to find the character? Why? Because an angel came out of those vocal chords that day.  The lights came up, and there was not a dry eye in the house, except for my friend, Len. Not that he wasn’t moved, but theater is not his jam like that. I have never forgotten that moment. Don't even get me started with her costume change DURING the I'M CHANGING number. In the audience at that same show was one of Austin’s premier cabaret/piano bar goddesses and local celebrity, Margaret Wright, and even she was doing the Oprah ugly cry at her seat.
Tony© and Drama Desk© Award Nominee, Author, Activist, Sheryl Lee Ralph


At different times during my radio career, I have met and interviewed the 3 Original Dreamgirls, Tony© and Drama Desk© Award Nominee, Sheryl Lee Ralph (Deena), Emmy© Award Winning Loretta Devine (Lorel), and Tony© and Grammy© Award winning Jennifer Holiday (Effie). Each and every one of them could not have been kinder, more generous, and funnier. These sisters are still working on a screen or stage near you.
Tony© and Grammy© Award Winning, Jennifer Holliday
Looking back, I now know that I needed to experience that performance as a boost for my love of theater. It also reminds me that for every diva that I have seen grace a Broadway stage, there is a Jacqui Cross in their hometown bringing folks to tears, too.  Being blessed to see so many AMAZING performers and shows, I will never forget my first Dreamgirl. FYI, Ms. Cross is still turning it out in Austin, Texas. She still stays very active on the theater and music scene.  Her talent is a testament that great theater performances anywhere will stay with you forever.  Now go wash your hands.
©2020 Keith Price