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



 

Monday, June 21, 2021

A Conversation With Ricardo Khan

Legendary founder and Artistic Director of Crossroads Theatre , Ricardo Khan, sits and chats with me about his life,  career, AND he also gives me a sneak peak into what to expect as his company joins forces with theatre companies like Harlem’s New Heritage Theatre, The Market Theatre in Johannesburg, South Africa and more, bringing major productions and world premieres to the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center in New Brunswick, New Jersey. It really is so exciting to talk about the return of theater with all of its nuances to keep us entertained, edified, and SAFE.

Check out my conversation with Ricardo Khan from both the audio and video podcast. A Conversation with Ricardo Khan

         

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.  

https://occ-0-92-1723.1.nflxso.net/dnm/api/v6/X194eJsgWBDE2aQbaNdmCXGUP-Y/AAAABdm1M1v5hzOwa0QV0QG7tLIWRb4AG_YuRjQqgLoSQ47n8j4FVgY1BiJQEtTfKpU5loi1q6Dbap8l0gpWcZJuIt6vxjL_Xlazk-zqvlYNN51vbtpsSQjjheeLt668iQ.jpg?r=9a0 

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