Jun 022017
 

This past Wednesday night, I had the great pleasure of attending the Tony nominated musical, Dear Evan Hansen. It was an outstanding evening of theatre.

How can I convey how unusual this show is? Let’s start with the simplest element, the costumes. They are contemporary. The characters you see on stage, could just as easily be seen walking down the street. The set and lighting are clearly married as one element. We see moving projections on screens (which are, sometimes, also moving) completely evoking the internet and social media. But, I’m not doing justice to how these visual elements effect our view as an audience. A good deal of the time, what we see on stage is very cold and alienating. BUT then, the characters on stage are emotionally rich, in contrast to their “stage” environment. Perhaps you can understand that from the photo (below).

The music is contemporary, played by a small orchestra creating songs sung by actors on stage with excellent voices. Particularly, the title character, Evan Hansen, is brilliantly portrayed by 24-year-old Tony award-nominated, Ben Platt. He is Evan Hansen, totally inhabiting the character. He actually sweeps us up into the emotional rollercoaster that Evan Hansen is going through. Whew!

The cast of “Dear Evan Hansen” with Ben Platt center.

This is an extraordinarily difficult ticket to get on Broadway, but if you can find a way, it’s absolutely worth seeing!

May 152017
 

I want to share with you a fun evening I had on Saturday, May 13. Shelly and I went to see the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus presenting A Cardboard and Duck Tape Spectacular!.

Stephanie Monseu (L) and Keith Nelson (R)

This is terrific live entertainment! There are no weak members of the cast. Stephanie Monseu is her usual dazzling self as emcee and juggler. Keith Nelson is a true burlesque top banana. Ekaterina Skmarina a goofy aerialist and floor gymnast. Ivory Fox a very clever acrobat capable of doing a variety of things, she has wonderfully graceful movement with a touch of comedy. Jared Kuchler is a multi-talented juggler, his specialty is a cigar box routine.

All of this accompanied by Peter Bufano’s original music on accordion, with Jeff Morris and Nate Tucker. The production was directed by our good friend Joel Jeske who will star in the upcoming Big Apple Circus.

What’s my review? Bindlestiff is a very clever variety arts theatre.

So, if they’re ever in your town or mine, go see them!

May 032017
 

­I met Glenn Close when I worked on the Broadway musical “Barnum.” I had the task of teaching her (as Barnum’s wife) to juggle….while she was singing..in a special light. Years later, she volunteered to write the foreword to my book, Never Quote the Weather to a Sea Lion. She was a regular attendee at the Big Apple Circus and I never missed anything, movies or shows, in which she performed.

Last Friday, Shelley and I went to see Glenn star in Broadway’s Sunset Boulevard. Ben Brantley of the New York Times called it “One of the great performances of this century!” A powerful artist as I’ve always known her, Glenn gave an exquisite performance that evening. Her range as an actor is enormous as is her singing voice. We felt honored that she kindly invited us backstage after the show for a long overdue catch-up. I wouldn’t be talking out of class to reveal to you that this great star is a warm, open-hearted and generous person and I take great pride in calling her, friend.

Jul 232015
 

Tempest 2 - Classical Theatre of Harlem

It must be the summer of storms because I saw another production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest this past week.

The Classical Theatre of Harlem will soon be finishing up a run of their production in Marcus Garvey Park. Marcus Garvey is a beautiful park in the heart of Harlem at Fifth Avenue between 120th and 125th Streets. At one end of the park sits the large Richard Rodgers Amphitheater, where the Classical Theatre of Harlem hosts their free Shakespeare in the park for the third year.

This Tempest was a shortened version, performed without an intermission but still very effective. The entire acting ensemble, led by Ron Cephas Jones as Prospero, was strong. Among the cast, the clown, Trinculo, played by Anthony Vaughn Merchant was particularly funny, both physically and vocally. The other outstanding performer was Fedna Jacquet, who played the role of Ariel. The magical spirit was written for and played by a man (as all characters were during Shakespeare’s time), although there’s a long theatrical history of women appearing in the role. With the talented Fedna Jacquet cast in the part of Ariel, the scenes between Ariel and Prospero, bondservant and master, had a heightened intensity. The production also features some stunning spirit/sprite dancing who were also fabulously costumed.

And I’m pleased to report that during this production, there were no incidents with actual rain onstage as the bandshell has a roof over it. All hail (none of that either) the Bard.

Fedna Jacquet as Ariel and Ron Cephas Jones as Prospero, Photo by Jill Jones

Fedna Jacquet as Ariel and Ron Cephas Jones as Prospero,
Photo by Jill Jones

Jun 302015
 

Going to the Delacorte Theater to see Shakespeare in the Park is among my favorite performance events every summer. Last week I took my sweetheart Shelley to see The Tempest starring Sam Waterston, and we were certainly impressed.

The Tempest is one of Shakespeare’s best plays, and if you doubt such a statement, I refer you to Gail VanVoorhis, leader of the Lotos Club Theatre RoundTable, former teacher at Marymount Manhattan College, and an overall general goldmine of knowledge about all things Shakespearean一she might just change your mind. Likely the last play that Shakespeare wrote, The Tempest has has a sophisticated plot and beautiful language, as well as some of the Bard’s most complex characters (including Prospero and Caliban).

Sam Waterston as Prospero and Francesca Carpanini as Miranda, photo by Joan Marcus

Sam Waterston as Prospero and Francesca Carpanini as Miranda,
photo by Joan Marcus

Sam Waterston is a wonderful actor, but his performance as Prospero felt a bit uneven. Early in the play he was hard to follow, although I presume he was worried about the actual New York tempest that had left the Delacorte stage soaking wet.

To the Public Theater’s credit, performances of Shakespeare in the Park are never cancelled in advance, and the entire production staff does its best to handle inclement weather. Before the show began last week, there was a light summer shower. Shelley and I and our friends brought plastic ponchos, just in case there was more rain. Clever lady, that Shelley. (Umbrellas aren’t permitted in the theatre.) When the weather cleared up a bit, the show began, however not before stagehands could sufficiently dry off the stage. From our seats we could see the residual water glisten under the stage lights, and more than once we witnessed actors slip. Even as they momentarily lost their balance, I was worried someone would twist an ankle at the very least. At one point Louis Cancelmi who played Caliban lost his balance and was unable to regain stability. He fell flat onto the stage floor landing on his back, and the entire theatre gasped. The actors are all lucky to have walked away from the performance relatively unscathed.

My instinct was to question why the stagehands, who were fully costumed, were not sent out during the first act to wipe the stage with towels. When I checked with Gail VanVoorhis, she said absolutely at the Globe, whether the original or the modern one, the water would have been mopped up, and the actors probably would have commented about the weather and the wet floor in their dialogue. Perhaps contemporary U.S. American actors trained in the Method do not like changes during a performance that might pull them out of character, but safety concerns are an incredibly important aspect of putting on any show, whether circus or open-air theatre, and such concerns shouldn’t go by unnoticed.

A view of the entire stage with projection screens, photo by Joan Marcus

A view of the entire stage with projection screens,
photo by Joan Marcus

Even with the water hazards during the first half of the show, though, it was a glorious night at the theatre. The stage was wiped up at intermission, and during the second act, Sam Waterston was simply captivating. I’m sure that on dry nights, the production is solid from beginning to end.

Jun 122014
 
Lily Rabe and Hamish Linklater as Beatrice and Benedick Photo by Joan Marcus

Lily Rabe and Hamish Linklater as Beatrice and Benedick
Photo by Joan Marcus

If you have the opportunity to go see Much Ado About Nothing in Central Park, do it. And if you don’t have the time, consider making some. It’s a wonderful production well worth waiting in line for tickets (… or paying someone to wait in line for you).

I saw Much Ado last night and was a joyous celebration of great theater. The Delacorte Theater in Central Park is a special and wonderful venue, and the free Shakespeare in the Park program has a reputation for putting on great productions. Much Ado is no exception. The direction is creative, the set is incredible, and the actors are all terrific.

If you have some doubts about how amazing the production looks, check out this promotional video put out by the Public Theater.

Brian Stokes Mitchell as Don Pedro with Steel Burkhardt Photo by Joan Marcus

Brian Stokes Mitchell as Don Pedro with Steel Burkhardt
Photo by Joan Marcus

I was actually in a production of Much Ado just out of college. At Dartmouth in the Summer of 1962 I was in the Hopkins Center Repertory Theater. Of the company, half of us were students and half professional Equity actors. I played Borachio who conspires with the villainous Don John in his plot against Claudio and Don Pedro. Borachio in Italian means “drunkard.” When I was in the play, though, my Italian was … how shall we say … a little rusty, so it never occurred to me to play the character as a drunk. Well, hindsight is 20/20, and I’m happy to say that the Borachio in Shakespeare in the Park’s production is a little better than I was at Italian. Go see him and the rest of the marvelous cast led by Hamish Linklater and Lily Rabe.

The show runs Tuesdays through Sundays until July 6, and on July 22 performances of King Lear starring John Lithgow will begin.

Hamish Linklater eavesdropping on John Glover, Brian Stokes Mitchell, and Jack Cutmore Photo by Joan Marcus

Hamish Linklater eavesdropping on John Glover, Brian Stokes Mitchell, and Jack Cutmore
Photo by Joan Marcus

Apr 212014
 

I love going to theatre. The circus is part of the larger category of performing arts, so I feel right at home in the theatre and I love attending shows and performances of all kinds. It’s a great way to spend a night in New York City.

I am fortunate to be an honorary member of New York’s prestigious arts and literary club, The Lotos Club. I participate in a small group there that meets once a month to discuss theatre.

Lotos Club - Twain Illustration

Illustration of Mark Twain, an early member, at the Lotos Club
By Pierre Brissaud from February 1937 “Country Life”

We are called the Theatre Round Table. The Lotos Club has many different literary-based groups, like the Poetry Talk Table and the Mystery Book Talk Table. As a group of theatre lovers, the Theatre Round Table focuses on plays — all kinds — comedy, drama, and musicals. There are about a dozen members in total. Some of us, including myself, have been involved in theatre and performance, while most of the others simply adore the art. The group is led by Gail VanVoorhis, an astounding and remarkable woman. She’s a graduate of Cal Arts and taught theatre at Manhattan Marymount College. Every month Gail wows me with her knowledge and passion for the performing arts, including the Big Apple Circus.

Tony Kushner

Tony Kushner

Tom Stoppard

Tom Stoppard

 

This past month we looked at two radio plays, one by the American playwright Tony Kushner (author of the critically acclaimed “Angels in America”) and the other by the British playwright Tom Stoppard (screenwriter of the Academy Award-winning “Shakespeare in Love”). The plays we looked at were Kushner’s “East Coast Ode to Howard Jarvis” and Stoppard’s “The Real Inspector Hound.” Short radio plays are still performed on the BBC.

 

The Round Table broke up into two groups, each group took one of the short plays, and we met and rehearsed in separate rooms. We then performed our radio play on open mikes for the group in the other room. It was both fun and challenging, trying to anticipate when I needed to move up towards the microphone to deliver my next line and then quickly slide back out of the way so the next line could be read by a fellow “actor.”

This Wednesday some members of the group will be getting together for lunch in honor of Shakespeare’s birthday. Widely acknowledged as the greatest English writer of all time, Shakespeare will turn 450 this year. That’s a lot of candles!

Mark Rylance as Olivia and Stephen Fry as Malvolio in “Twelfth Night,” the most recent Shakespeare play to be produced on Broadway, photo by Tristram Kenton

Mark Rylance as Olivia and Stephen Fry as Malvolio in “Twelfth Night,” the most recent Shakespeare play to be produced on Broadway
Photo by Tristram Kenton