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Love Letters Will End Broadway Run On December 14

We all know the saying, “All good things must come to an end.”  Seems like that’s the case for Love Letters, the play will be ending its run earlier than its original end date of February 15.  In fact, the last performance is set for December 14.  Although it’s short notice, there’s still time to see one of the best plays this season.  Now I’m well aware that all things, good and bad, have their time, but if you ask me this is one good thing that has come to an end way too soon.

A national tour of the production will launch in fall 2015. Tour cities, dates and stars will be announced soon.

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Hollywood Legends Spread Love on Broadway in Love Letters

Once upon time people set pen to paper to express sentiments of passion, frustration, joy and sorrow.  They made announcements about the milestones in their life and created records that captured moments in their lives, but with the advent of Ma Bell, cell phones, text messaging, emoticons (I could go on here), writing letters have become an archaic endeavor.    Hardly anyone writes letters anymore, I would venture to bet that children don’t pass notes in class, which is where this American classic begins.

unnamed (1)Love Letters details the lives of Melissa Gardner and Andrew, “Andy”, Makepeace Ladd III.  Melissa is an honest-to-a-fault, defiant, possibly bratty, young girl from money.  Andy is a nice lad from a good, stable family with high morals who just happens to like to write letters.   Over the course of 50 years Melissa and Andy honestly share their lives through letters, notes and announcement cards.  They confide their hopes and regrets, victories and losses.  Through their letters they share a life that is intimate and separate from the lives they lead with their families.  And through all the disclosures they make over the years, they never share the one fact that binds them together – they love each other.  They are soul mates who never really get the opportunity to share in life what they express in the pages of correspondence they write.

Written by A. R. Gurney, Love Letters was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It first opened at the New York Public Library in 1988.  Following a successful seven month run off-Broadway at the Promenade Theatre, Love Letters premiered at the Edison Theatre on October 31, 1989 where it ran for 96 performances.  Since its initial run on Broadway, A. R. Gurney’s play has seen many incarnations including a December 2007 benefit performance starring Elizabeth Taylor and James Earl Jones, which raised money for Taylor’s AIDS foundation.

Love Letters has returned to Broadway opening September 18 at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre. Void of set and using epistolary form, the actors sit side by side as they recant Melissa and Andy’s complex relationship.  The play is a favored among busy actors as it doesn’t require a lot of time for preparation and the lines don’t need to be memorized. As in past incarnations of the show, there is a rotating cast of stars. So far Hollywood legends Carol Burnett and Mia Farrow have played the role of Melissa opposite Brian Dennehy as Andy.  Currently Alan Alda and Candice Bergen will take the stage for 35 performances ending their run on December 18, followed by Stacey Keach and Diana Rigg for 25 performances.  Love Letters ends its latest run the day after Valentine’s Day with Martin Sheen and Anjelica Houston taking on the roles of Andy and Melissa in show’s final 43 performances.

L letters Carol RoseggI was fortunate to witness Carol Burnett and Brian Dennehy last week.  I was totally enthralled.  The highs, lows and ultimate heartbreak of Melissa and Andy’s story were recited so passionately by Burnett and Dennehy that it engulfed the stage like tight embrace.  By the end of the play I was driven to tears.   The beauty of Broadway is a show is just like the moon, it reincarnates itself every night.  The audience is guaranteed to see a performance that is different from the night before, slight changes in gestures or cadence happens as the actors dive deeper into their characters. What makes Love Letters so special is this promise will be delivered to the audience double fold as the show rotates the cast.  Love Letters is a stripped down production that gets straight to the heart of amore and unrequited affection, feelings that we have all experienced a time, or two, in our lives.  It’s a brilliant show and a must see.  Just be sure you bring some Kleenex…you might need it.

 

Photos: Carol Rosegg, AKA NYC

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Walter Anderson’s Almost Home Is on Parade at the Acorn Theatre

If someone were to ask me the proverbial question, “Can you go home again?”  I would kindly reply, “Why yes.” But the real questions are home the same once you get there and are you the same person that left?  These themes are skillfully explored in Walter Anderson’s Almost Home, currently playing at the Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row, located at 410 42nd Street.

3041Almost Home centers on Johnny Barnett, played by Jonny Orsini, a young marine returning home from Vietnam to his parents’ Bronx apartment.  No longer the good kid with a street edge, Jonny has trouble with coming to terms with events that happened in combat and his participation in it.  It is a parallel journey that has plagued his troubled, alcoholic father who served in World War II.  Uncertain about his future, Johnny has three roads he could take.  The first, accept the Marines offer to become a drill instructor.  The second is to go to college in California and the third is to become an internal affairs cop, an offer presented to him by the local police captain who wants to use Johnny’s hero status to his advantage. But before Johnny can  walk down the path of his destiny, he must first grapple with new and old demons that are creating roadblocks, namely his guilt over his best friend’s death in Vietnam, his poor relationship with his father and the police captain who has had his family under his thumb for years.  In the end Johnny makes peace with who he is and is free, in more ways than one, to choose the path he wants.

2896Playwright Walter Anderson crafts a sensitive tale about a boy coming into his manhood and creates the perfect balance of grace and the harsh realities of war and street life. With its autobiographical roots, Almost Home also is a coming home of sorts for Anderson.  Before becoming the editor of Parade Magazine for 20 years and the Chairman and CEO of Parade Publications, Anderson, a high school dropout, enlisted in the Marines attaining the rank of sergeant and serving in Vietnam.  During his time in the Marines, Anderson earned his GED.  Like Johnny, Anderson attended college after his discharge from the Marines attending Westchester Community College and Mercy College.

3045The cast of Almost Home bring you to the edge of your seat.  The audience becomes immediately enthralled with the complicated relationships between Johnny and his family and Captain Nick Pappas.  Neighbor Luisa Jones, Johnny’s elementary teacher, is a constant ray of hope that circles a cloud steeped in various shades of gray.  She, along with his mother, reminds Johnny that he is not limited by his circumstances or his past.  Johnny Barnett is played by Jonny Orsini.  I became familiar with Orsini when he appeared opposite Nathan Lane in The Nance.  I thought he was spectacular in that production and in Almost Home he is equally impressive.  James McCaffrey is masterful as the manipulative Nick Pappas.  His performance made me want to scream, “Where’s Serpico when you need him!”  Karen Ziemba and Joe Lisi bring heart and soul to the roles of Harry and Grace Barnett, and Brenda Pressley shimmers as the sassy teacher with a heart of gold.

3046The tension presented in Almost Home ends on an anticlimactic note, but the subtle ending is more realistic than some puffed out, melodramatic climax. It leaves the audience circling with questions about the future of Jonny and his family and a desire to want to see more, and leaving an audience salivating for more is never a bad thing.  If this show was part of the Bronx Bombers’ roster I would venture to say the boys in pinstripes would have no more worries.  Almost Home knocks it out of the theater. Anderson’s play is definitely a winner.

Photos: Carol Rosegg

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Top Five Reasons to Go See The Phantom of the Opera

The Phantom of the Opera is a Broadway staple.  It’s one of the productions that tourists come to New York City to see.  Last year it celebrated its 25th anniversary on Broadway making it the longest running show in the history of The Great White Way.  With grosses over $800 million, it’s the most financially successful theater production to date.  In May The Phantom of the Opera made history once again by adding the first Phantom of color, actor Norm Lewis.

The Phantom of the Opera began its epic run on Broadway in 1988 and after 26 years it still packs in the crowds.  One might think that after all this time this musical juggernaut might have lost its steam – what with all the new productions dealing with more modern issues – but there is a reason why classics never die.  If you haven’t seen The Phantom of the Opera, I’m here to tell you that you should and I have five good reasons to back me up.

4.2018005. Unrequited Love

The Phantom of the Opera intertwines this theme into the beauty and the beast subplot.  The Phantom in all his grotesque glory loves Christine Daaé, a beautiful young soprano.  So much so that he will kill to ensure her success at the French opera house.  She is his muse and musically they do share a connection, but his disfigured face and criminal behavior prevents her from conceiving of the possibility of returning his love.  Another complication for The Phantom is the reemergence of Raoul, the Vicomte de Chagny, Christine’s childhood playmate and first love.  Everyone has their favorite fables about unrequited love.  Wuthering HeightsGone With the WindThe Phantom of the Opera definitely ranks up there with the greatest love stories told on stage or screen.

5.2018144. Norm Lewis

There is a new Phantom in town and his name is Norm Lewis.  Stepping into a role as iconic as the Phantom can be quite the undertaking, 25 years and several other Phantoms before you, and every die-hard Phantom fan has their favorite.  But Lewis holds true to magic and sinister nature of the Phantoms before him.  In fact, he adds another dimension to the story of a brilliant man forced to hide in the shadows of an opera house because of the way he looks and is driven mad by the isolation and rejection.

4.2018013.  Sierra Boggess

Sierra Boggess has been playing the role of Christine Daaé in various productions since 2006.  She first played the role in a production of The Phantom of the Opera in Las Vegas.  She played Christine in the sequel to Phantom, Love Never Dies.  On Broadway, she reprised the role in 2013 for a six-week engagement. In March, it was announced that she would return along with Norm Lewis.  As soon as Boggess utters the first note you can tell how familiar she is with the role.  Her voice fills the Majestic Theatre with a power and tenderness that can be felt from the orchestra to the mezzanine.  If you are not a fan of opera, Boggess will make you one or at the very least you will have a greater appreciation for the craft.

3.2017992.  Andrew Lloyd Webber and Charles Hart

The music of The Phantom of the Opera was composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber with lyrics written by Charles Hart and additions from Richard Stilgoe, who also wrote the book with Webber.  The music and lyrics are one of the reasons why The Phantom of the Opera is the most successful theater productions on Broadway and around the world.  Just hearing the entrancing number “The Music of the Night” is enough to fill seats or the beautiful exchange between Raoul and Christine in “All I Ask of You”; the music and lyrics captivates the audience from beginning to end and gloriously illuminates the genius of Andrew Lloyd Webber.

3.2018101.  It’s an authentic theater experience

From the lavish sets and costumes, the music and lyrics, to the performers, The Phantom of the Opera harkens back to a time when going to the theater was a complete transformation into another world and the audience felt lucky to be a part of it because it was happening live in front of them.  The pageantry and opulence of The Phantom of the Opera holds a mirror to the mediocre productions that somehow get backing and land on Broadway and says, “Tisk…tisk…tisk.  This is how you create theater.”  Simply put, they just don’t make ‘em like this anymore and no matter your age or generation quality is quality.  And the fuel that runs The Phantom of the Opera is excellence.

Photos by Matthew Murphy

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Holler If Ya Hear Me Adds to the Legacy of Tupac Shakur

It’s official kids… the force of nature that is hip hop has crashed down on the Great White Way.  The music and culture that was created in the Bronx has changed the course of music and pop culture and influenced the world.  Hip hop and I grew up together.  When it was still a burgeoning form of music, hip hop served as a medium to convey the joys and sorrows of one’s neighborhood.  It was through hip hop that I learned how folks got down in Cali, of Bloods and Crips and low riders.  I learned what it meant to be chopped and screwed.  Through the vivid stories of MCs nationwide, I got to see what made all impoverished areas different and the same.   No MC reported the tales of the streets and the ills of society more poetically than Tupac Shakur.  When Tupac passed away on September 13, 1996 of respiratory failure and cardiopulmonary arrest in connection with multiple gunshot wounds, a part of my heart and youth died.  Since his untimely death at the age of 25, Tupac rose to the heights of icon status.  His lyrics and life inspired college courses and he is considered one of the greatest artists and MCs of all time.  Now the music of Tupac Shakur is the driving force of a new musical, Holler If Ya Hear Me, playing at the Palace Theatre.

5.201699Holler If Ya Hear Me uses Pac’s music to tell the story of urban plight, love and change.  John, played by the Saul Williams, has just returned to the neighborhood after serving a stint in prison.  With his hustling days behind him, he is hell-bent on changing his life for the better, but it’s hard to find change when the cycle of poverty keeps circling.  John’s friend Benny is murdered by a rival gang and the neighborhood is reeling.  Revenge weighs heavy on the heart of his brother Vertus and the homies that are left behind.  Violence seems imminent.  Even John has appeared to have discarded his plan of peace, until he is reminded there is a better way.  As John and Vertus decide to abandon any notions of retaliation, the neighborhood is rocked by another senseless death, which proves how the cycle of violence will only continue if strides aren’t made to break it.

5.201697The jukebox musical is a sure fire way of guaranteeing a successful theatre production.  The music and lyrics already have a legion of dedicated listeners, which promises at the very least the ability to recoup the monies invested in bringing a production to a Broadway stage.  One can almost argue that a jukebox musical is cheating because half the work has already been done.  The struggles of inner-city life and the desire to break away from its hopelessness isn’t a new theme.  In fact, one the most brilliant productions to ever explore this topic, A Raisin in the Sun, is currently enjoying another revival on Broadway.  Even the idea of hip hop isn’t entirely new.  Lin-Manuel Miranda introduced elements of the musical genre to the stage in In the Heights. But what is new is a jukebox musical based off of hip hop, and now rap has one with Holler If Ya Hear Me.

5.201700With the music of Tupac Shakur fueling this production, Holler If Ya Hear Me was poised to blow the roof off of the Palace Theatre.  However, there was one thing that stopped this production from rocketing off into the stratosphere, the book.   The neighborhood, which is set in the present day, could be any ghetto USA.  I’m in total agreement that Tupac’s lyrics are timeless, but the story could’ve benefitted by setting it in a specific city or region of the country.   One can argue that the story is clichéd taking cues from Menace to Society and Boyz in the Hood as well as West Side Story.  Maybe it’s my age or maybe it’s just challenging to create an original story in this century, but the book didn’t deliver on the dynamism reflected in Pac’s music making the production unbalanced.    The choreography wasn’t as explosive as I had hoped and the lack of a set left the actors drowning in on a half empty stage.  But even with these flaws, Holler If Ya Hear Me still shines because of Tupac’s music and the ability of Saul Williams to transcend past an overdone story to deliver a powerful performance.  Williams is no stranger to exuding passion on stage, after all he is one of the world’s most well-known slam poets.  Williams rage, sensitivity, charisma and presence were felt in every corner of the audience.

5.201701When it is all said and done, Holler If Ya Hear Me will join the long list of musical productions made during this millennium that teeters somewhere in the middle, not disastrous but not reaching the glorious spectacle of what musical theater used to be.  But I know very well that the people won’t come to this musical because they love musicals or Broadway.  They will come to pay homage to Tupac Shakur – a man who indeed was like a spark and through his ignition he succeeded in changing the face of hip hop and the world.  If nothing else this production shows how relevant Tupac still is. Holler If Ya Hear Me roars and I holler back, “Viva Tupac Amaru Shakur!”

Photos: Joan Marcus

THE OUTING

MEET THE CAST OF THE OUTING

headshot2Stone Hubbard (Salome) Stone is honored and grateful to play the role of Salome in the production of THE OUTING.  Stone is also known for his role as Bontemps in The Devil, Kerry in Damaged Goods, and Manolo in The Odd Couple.  Stone studied acting at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts before moving to Los Angeles to pursue his career. He is also a talented designer with a specialty in handbags. He loves live music and good company. Stone wishes to thank his Mom and Victoria for their unyielding love and guidance.

ChablisChablis Quarterman (Jizelle) Chablis is a freckly, 21-year-old, half Puerto Rican, half English native New Yorker. She studied Theater at LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, and has been performing stand-up comedy around the city for the past two years. She is excited to be a part of Manhattan Repertory Theatre Company’s festival.

EileenRyckman_Web1Eileen Ryckman (Jasmine) originally from Michigan, Eileen has performed on stage in such plays as 12 Angry Jurors and The Water Engine.  She has also worked on a number of short films and has an acting credit on Celebrity Ghost Stories.  She has studied acting at T. Schreiber Studio and NYU.  Eileen is also a marathon runner having officially completed three 26.2 mile races including the 2013 New York City Marathon.

ImanIman Ward (Robin) Iman is a Southern California girl now calling New York City her home. She is a recent graduate from the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in the Studio Acting program. During her training, she’s been blessed with the opportunity to play the roles of: Veronica in The Motherfucker With The Hat, Helena in Alls Well That Ends Well, Rose in Fences, and Young Laveer/Laveer in Long Time Since Yesterday.  Prior to her training at AMDA, she extensively studied improvisation at The Second City, which led to her own improv troupe playing on the theater’s main stage weekly. Iman is now currently studying at The Pearl Theatre by instructor Dan Daily.

Natalie Birriel (Train) Natalie is so excited and grateful to be working on such a significant and beautiful piece of theatre.   Theatre credits include: Christopher Ashley’s Dram of Drummhicit at La Jolla Playhouse, Three Sisters:Awake at New York Theatre Workshop,  Man Hat Wife, Baldwin New Play Festival, Marisol(ws) at Williamstown Theatre Festival. Natalie possesses a MFA from UC San Diego and sends infinite love and gratitude to my family.  

Luis Cardenas 8_20_07125 (2)Luis Reyes Cardenas (Director) Off-Broadway: Fools in Love; Manhattan Ensemble Theater/BAM. NY: Balm in Gilead, Barefoot Theatre Company, Tempest Toss’d,NYMF. Playwright: Last Exit in New York, Aint Gonna B E Z, Play the Papers for Lupe, Boys Like Me. Film: Shakespeare High, Executive Producer, Kevin Spacey. Regional: The Drowsy Chaperone, Evita, Tommy, Big River, Little Shop of Horrors, Angels in America. Producer:  FutureFest, FNAM, Co-Artistic Director/Founder of Open Hydrant Theater Company/Director of SNFI Individual Events at Stanford University. www.openhydrant.org and www.shakespearehigh.org.

THE OUTING

The Outing Is Coming OUT This Summer

Ten years ago playwright Afrika Brown decided to use an assignment to take a decade’s worth of experiences and combine them into a one-act play, thus THE OUTING was born.  After 10 years, THE OUTING made its premiere this spring at Open Hydrant Theater Company’s Urban Waves Spring 2014 Short Festival in the Bronx.   But the coming out party for this one-act drama hasn’t stopped there.   THE OUTING is taking Manhattan by storm, first playing at Manhattan Repertory Theatre’s Summerfest this month and in August THE OUTING will appear in the Strawberry One-Act Festival.

In THE OUTING Afrika Brown poses one question: What’s the “T”?

What is truth?  Everyone knows what the truth is, but when the truth is revealed….how easy is it to accept?  Can you accept your truth or someone else’s truth when it finally comes out?

THE OUTING is a captivating drama centering on three individuals who reveal a certain truth about themselves and the acceptance or nonacceptance of life outside the closet.   Brief yet penetrating, THE OUTING aims to hit the audience straight between the eyes with the speed and power of an Ali punch. As these characters learn to deal with the truth about themselves, the audience is also left to determine how the hidden truths of their life would affect the course of their life if they were to expose them.

Manhattan Repertory Theatre’s Summerfest is located at 303 West 42 Street, 6th Floor.  Performance Dates and Times for are as follows:  Wednesday June 18 at 7 pm, Friday June 20 at 7 pm, Saturday June 21 at 7 p.m.  Tickets are $20 and can be purchased at MRTRESERVE@GMAIL.COM.

The Strawberry Festival will play at the Theatre at St. Clement’s, 423 West 46 Street. Performance Date and Time for the festival is:  August 24 at 4:00 p.m. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased online at www.therianttheatre.com.

Urban Waves Summer Shorts

Urban Waves Has The Bronx Simmering With It’s Summer Shorts

The unofficial start of summer is here and Urban Waves @ Open Hydrant is raising the temperature uptown with their Summer Short Play Festival. The three day festival begins on June 6 and ends on June 8.  The plays participating in this festival are  The Three Joys of Mary, Heat of the Moment, Last Exit in New York, Billboard’s Greatest Hits and Fire.

Founded by Luis Cardenas, Sarah Rosenberg (stars of the Showtime documentary Shakespeare High) and Deborah Pautler, Open Hydrant’s mission is to vitalize the Arts and Theater scene in the Bronx. Their wish is to create an ensemble based company of actors, directors, playwrights, producers and artists to better serve the cultural invigoration of the South Bronx. The creative spirit of New York City doesn’t just reside in Manhattan.  As the Bronx’s first professional AEA ensemble theater company, Open Hydrant is determined to make the BX a destination for citizens of all five boroughs and the tri-state area. Urban Waves, a subset of Open Hydrant, explores material that contain edgier themes.

Urban Waves @ Open Hydrant Summer Short Play Festival will be held at The Point, located at 940 Garrison Avenue.   Advance tickets can be purchased for$12 online at http://www.brownpapertickets.com.  The ticket price also includes one drink.  Don’t be afraid to haul your cookies to SoBro to view  good theater.  Open Hydrant and Urban Waves are the best thing to come out of the Bronx since hip hop!

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Under My Skin Provides A Healthy Dose of Laughter

I don’t think there is a person alive that hasn’t heard the phrase, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.”  As for myself, I prefer “Laughter is the best medicine.”  Laughter may not have the ability to cure all ailments, but it definitely heals the soul.  And a prescription filled with laughs is what the members of the audience at The Little Shubert Theatre will receive when they view Under My Skin. 

6.200106Taking cues from Switch, Big and Freaky Friday, Under My Skin adds a whole new chapter to the old body exchange tale. So here’s the story… Mr.  Harrison Badish III is the CEO of Amalgamated Healthcare, the nation’s leading healthcare provider.  He’s a cold, shrewd business man who cares more about making money for the company than making a difference or knowing his employees, one of whom is Melody Dent.  Melody is a single mom from Staten Island who works part-time at Amalgamated with her best friend Nanette.  Both she and Nanette had a problem being seen by Badish until one fateful day when a cup of coffee sets off a chain of events that leads to Melody and Harrison coming face to face with an angel.  The angel, compassionate to their pleas, decides to bring them back to life, but there is a catch, their souls are placed into the wrong bodies.   And while the pair waits for the angel to switch them back, they discover what life is really like for each other and learn more about the trials and tribulations of the opposite sex. By the time Melody and Harrison are themselves again, they realize they can’t live without each other.

6.200111Cheeky and chock full of humor, Under My Skin lodges itself directly into the marrow of the audience’s funny bone.  Husband and wife writing team Robert Sternin and Prudence Fraser harmoniously weave comedy and social commentary with this production.  The good ole “make ‘em laugh” approach is a tried and true method of slipping in points of view that require introspection.   Along with adding new layers to the age old battle of the sexes debate, they also weigh in on the state of healthcare, or lack thereof, in our nation and how it affects the everyday, working American.

6.200112The neon lights of Broadway do burn bright. But sometimes they shine even brighter Off-Broadway. Under My Skin is one of the most dynamic shows I’ve seen in a while.  If you find yourself on 42nd Street, take a walk down to The Little Shubert Theatre for an thoroughly enjoyable 90-minute laugh-fest.

Photos: Joan Marcus

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Under My Skin Ticket Giveaway

That’s right FAMERS, it’s contest time!

F.A.M.E NYC is giving away a pair of tickets for Under My Skin, the new comedy in previews at The Little Shubert Theatre.  This production takes the battle of the sexes to new heights.  And one of you FAMERS could be the lucky winner if you can answer this question…

What iconic blue-eyed singer from Hoboken N.J. recorded a rendition of “I’ve Got You under My Skin?”

 The winner will be announced on Good Friday at 5 p.m.

Happy spring and good luck!