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Mime Time

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Bill Bowers is a mime … who talks … about his adventures … around the world, ALL OVER THE MAP. This is a featured event of the special Stonewall50 Fresh Fruit Festival, at The WILD Project 195 East 3rd Street (between Aves. A & B) New York City. Limited Engagement: Wednesday 7/10 @ 8:30 pm and Sunday 7/14 @ 2:30 pm. https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/cal/527

For a mime, Bill Bowers has a lot to say. He’s studied with the legendary Marcel Marceau; performed on and off Broadway; at the Kennedy Center, for the president (a different one) at the White House; throughout Europe and Asia; and in-between, at some of the finest grade school cafetoriums in America. In All Over the Map, Bill brings us to 50 states and 25 countries, where we get to share some of his more memorable moments over a 30 year career on the road. Powerful stories that will make you laugh and cry – and even gasp as Bill takes you places so unbelievable they could only be TRUE! Did we mention the hookers and the bunny? Bill’s indelible memories and characters will stay with you long after lights come up.

We took this rare chance to chat with a mime.

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Tell us about yourself.

I am a mime and actor, based in NYC.  I perform autobiographical solo plays.  Originally Montana, much of what I write about is inspired by growing up as a gay kid in the 60’s-70’s in a small western town.  

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What inspired you to create this unique autobiography?  

I have been touring my solo plays around the world for the last 20 years. As of now I have traveled to 35 countries and all 50 states.  I have had extraordinary experiences, some of them unbelievable.  I keep a journal, and decided to make a solo show about touring a solo show. 

bbpro.jpgIn terms of that, once the idea is there … what’s the creative process?

I work with an amazing director named Martha Banta, who has a great ability to hear the overarching story in my stories.  She keeps me honest, concise, and basically doesn’t like mime!

You’ve done this many times. What realizations or epiphanies (if any) did it give to you?

I have performed ALL OVER THE MAP all over the map, and I am continually struck with how similar we all are as human beings.

What will your audience take away from this?

I hope the audience will have some great laughs, and I hope they see themselves in the stories I share.

What’s next?

I have been commissioned to make a new solo play, with no words.  A true MIME play.  I have been working on it for a year so far, and hope to premiere it in 2020.  

 

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Robert Viagas @ Sleep At Your Own Risk

Sleep at Your Own Risk by Matthew Ethan Davis

Reviewed by Robert Viagas

 

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Cabaret and theatre artist Rick Skye plays a man whose nightly journeys to dreamland are full of terror and violence in the surprisingly comic solo show, Sleep at Your Own Risk.

His problem is that he sleepwalks. Did I say “sleepwalks”? I mean he sleep-sings, sleep-messes his apartment, sleep-relocates houseplants to his refrigerator, sleep-wanders the halls of his co-op, sleep-pees on computer equipment, sleep-chokes his lover Dan, and sometimes, in a terpsichorean mood, sleep-performs the choreography toWest Side Story.

Dan is endearingly patient with all this (including the choking) but urges his somnambulant sweetie that it may be time to get some professional help. The bulk of the play chronicles the resulting odyssey through the world of therapists and sleep specialists with wildly varying degrees of helpfulness and effectiveness. “Enchantingly,” he narrates at one point, “things get worse.

Skye, a winner of MAC and Bistro awards for his cabaret work, presents a high-strung, quaveringly nervous stage persona, characterized by persistently shaking his hands to illustrate his anecdotes. But he brings the his character’s chiaroscuro midnight misadventures to life, and vividly portrays how very much he loves Dan and wants to get better to save his relationship—and Dan’s life.

Sleep at Your Own Risk runs a brisk 50 minutes and treats a potentially serious affliction with gentle humor and a great deal of love.

Presented as part of the Queerly Festival 2019 during Pride Month, Sleep at Your Own Risk completed a limited run at the Kraine Theater in Manhattan’s East Village.

Robert Viagas says “There’s Much Ado at the Delacorte”

Much Ado About Nothing

By William Shakespeare

Director Kenny Leon fills the Delacorte Theater in Central Park with energy and laughter in his new all-African-American production of Shakespeare’s romantic comedy, Much Ado About Nothing, set in the American South in 2020.

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The first of two summer 2019 free Shakespeare in the park productions, Much Ado is the Bard’s story of several crisscrossed love stories that play themselves out at a country estate. Central to the plot is the relationship of Beatrice and Benedick, two sharp-tongued combatants who troll each other with witty insults, when it is clear to everyone around them that they are actually in love. Strategems to trick them into finally avowing their true hearts occupies much of the action of the play.

It’s not easy to steal a Shakespeare production, especially one likeMuch Adothat boasts a half dozen major characters, but The Color Purple Tony nominee and “Orange Is the New Black” TV star Danielle Brooks doesn’t just walk away with the production in the role of Beatrice, she struts away with it, like a princess showing off her crown. She delivers her sick burns with evil delight, making them sound like they’d been invented on the spot rather than 400 years ago. Grantham Coleman is an adorable Benedick, and does his best to keep up with Brooks.

They and the supporting cast deliver the Bard’s lines with wonderful clarity, wisdom and humor. High on the list are Chuck Cooper as Leonato, Billy Eugene Jones as Don Pedro, Tiffany Denise Hobbs as Ursula, and Lateefah Holder as the malaprop-plagued (and gender reversed) police chief Dogberry.

The gallivant across Tony Award-winner Beowulf Boritt’s elegant outdoor country manor set that only gets more beautiful at evening performances as the sun sinks and lights come on in the windows (courtesy of another Tony winner, Peter Kaczorowski).

The program states “Our modern-dress production in set in the near future, 2020, on the eve of the election, in the American South,”  but there is no reference to that premise (except in some of the costuming) anywhere in the show, except for a prominent poster reading “Stacey Abrams 2020” (a reference to the Georgia House minority leader who lost a hard-fought race for governor of that state in 2018). Despite the sign, it’s all backstory that doesn’t change the play’s many references to princes, dukes and other European royalty/nobility. Oddly, given its prominence, poster is never alluded to in the show.

Nevertheless, given its high fun level, this production would make a great first Shakespeare for audiences who may never have tried one before.

Much Ado About Nothing is playing a limited run at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. Admission is free.

נמרוד דנישמן שובר את הקירות בבורדר (Nimrod Danishman breaks down walls in BORDERS)

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Dirty Laundry Theatre opens its door with the inaugural showing of BORDERS premiering at the Hudson Guild Theatre and running June 25, 26, and 29. the play is written by international playwright Nimrod Danishman. Acclaimed actors Eli M Schoenfeld and Adrian Rifat, appear in this love story for the online age directed by Michael R. Piazza.

1936302_10153815642336032_8831037912178658118_n“We start with Israel,” says Founding Artistic Director, Maera Daniel Hagage. “Airing Israel’s ‘dirty laundry’ allows us to create a mosaic based on the less familiar perspective of day-to-day Israeli life, allowing us to overcome cultural differences and prejudice. The Israeli stories, very much like “Borders”, are both personal and universal. We invite our audience to open their minds and hearts and experience a new narrative that might be, surprisingly, more familiar than they expect.”

Boaz and George meet on Grindr. They are attracted to one another instantly and want to meet in person, but something prevents them from doing so. One lives in Israel, the other- in Lebanon. Will history and its prejudices prevent this union?

Nimrod Danishman has crafted an intriguing and timely drama about love in the 21st century. Danishman shows us the two worlds in which we exist – fantasy and reality – each containing its own set of “borders” governing love and tolerance.

Israeli Playwright, Nimrod Danishman, discussed the play, the players and world affairs with us briefly.

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Tell us about yourself.

Shalom 🙂 My name is Nimrod Danishman, and I am a theater director, playwright and teacher from Tel Aviv, Israel. I grew up in a kibbutz in the north of the country, to a single mother who came from an ultra-Orthodox home.

“Borders” is my first play. Since then I have written 2 more plays and another 2 in the development process, and I notice that so far the characters in all my plays are characters from the LGBT community. I was not going to be a gay playwright, but I try to write about things I can understand and imagine myself, and because I’m gay, so are my characters.

 

Tell us about this play … where do you get your inspirations? Is it just from life or do you have a “plan?”

I wrote the first scene of (what then was called) “The Wall” following a conversation I had with a guy from Lebanon on Grindr. I visited a friend who lives on a kibbutz by the border with Lebanon, and because the app shows men who are close to you, suddenly the physical border was breached through the virtual space. The first scene in the play is very similar to the original conversation we had.

I returned to the same scene at the end of my studies at the School of Performing Arts without a final project. I wanted to direct a play by my favorite Israeli playwright, Hanoch Levin, dealing with refugees, but I couldn’t get the rights for the play. When I looked for another play, I remembered that scene and decided to develop it for the play. In the process I tried to explore the life of gay men in Lebanon – not very successfully. Suddenly it was very difficult to communicate with people from Lebanon. When they heard that I was an Israeli, the talks suddenly stopped. Some claimed it might harm them in Lebanon. Some did not give reason. I understood that, of course. In the reality I grew up in, the person on the other side of the fence was a monster. But it was also disappointing, I wrote a play about the ability of people to connect even if they are defined as “enemies,” but in reality it didn’t work.

Apart from that conversation with the guy from Lebanon, another inspiration for the play was a relationship with my partner. It was a long- distant relationship, since he is Italian from Rome and I am in Israel. Despite the distance, we were able to meet many times, nevertheless, most of this relationship took place in the written space of WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. When I wrote the play, I understood that it makes sense to us, but apparently many relationships exist like this, even when the couple lives in the same house. We live in an age where most of our communication is paved and arranged in an endless dialogue. It’s as threatening as it’s amazingly shown in the Black Mirror series, but I chose to tell a different story about this written dialogue.

 

In terms of that, once the idea is there, how do you write … what’s the creative process?

So part of the answer is already in answer to the previous question. I can add that the process itself is light years away from the romantic image of the playwright writing into the night. To create a model of work rather than a hobby, I created a routine for writing. I read about writers and playwrights that I admire and discovered that they organize their day very well, so I imitated them: I woke up early in the morning, ate well, wrote, went out for an afternoon walk and then went back to writing until evening. I wrote a lot. I say in conversations after the show in Israel that the final play has almost 4000 words. The file in which I kept all the dialogues I chose to delete from the play has 25,000 words. I had the privilege of doing it because at the time, a play I was supposed to direct fell through. Nowadays I pray for such an opportunity, to allow myself to just sit and write.

 

Who do you feel is your “audience?”

I think the Y generation I’m part of is my first target audience. It’s true that this is a love story for two men, but I think my Y-generation friends will be able to see the story behind sexual orientation and geographical location. The story of the dating app, of a relationship in correspondence, of falling in love with a guy who is in a place I can not reach, and the only place we can meet at is online.

In a way that is perhaps not surprising, we see that many adults come to the show in Israel. I think there is such a great thirst for LGBT characters in the Israeli theatre that they are not the same ole’ type you see in musicals.

What’s next?

I’m very happy about the connection with the Dirty Laundry Theatre. They create a cultural bridge in the United States to the culture of a strong local community, and through it opens to a geographical area that attracts a lot of attention. I am very excited that they chose my play as the theatre’s first play, and I hope that this cooperation will produce new projects.

This year I wrote two other LGBT plays: the first about the relationship between a high school teacher and the student, the second about a group of Tel Aviv gays that goes from the bachelor stage full of parties and drugs to the stage of institutionalization and the desire for children. In Israel, we still gay marriage are still illegal, same as adoption. I felt that I had to make another voice in the community’s struggle.

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Tickets are $25 and available online at www.newyorktheaterfestival.com/borders/ or at the door. Performances take place at the Hudson Guild Theater, 441 W 26th St, NYC, between. 9th and 10th ave. Additional information can be found online at https://www.dirtylaundrytheatre.org/show/borders/

Viagas Views pre-TONYs

ArtsIndependent goes to Broadway with Robert Viagas.

 

The sage of the stage shares his thoughts on four powerhouse musicals currently gracing the boards.  As founding editor-in-chief of Playbill online for a quarter century,
Mr. Viagas knows a couple’a things about musical theatre.

Starting with the classics… 

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Oklahoma!

Music by Richard Rodgers, book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II,
directed by Daniel Fish.

Among the saddest carnage created by developments in politics and news in the last few years is the damage done to America’s image in the world, and the self-image in our hearts. We were the clean, noble, honest, open-hearted people of the world—the “good guys.”

The outlook today is very different from the early months of World War II when American freedom shone like a beacon in the fascist darkness, the time when Oscar Hammerstein II and Richard Rodgers wrote the groundbreaking musical Oklahoma! as a celebration of all good things American.

In many ways, that vision been replaced with a national image of angry cowboys addicted to guns and bloodshed, of broken race relations, and of powerful people’s ability to press their thumbs on the scales of justice. The new Broadway revival of  Oklahoma!has been reconceived by director Daniel Fish as a reflection of that new self-image. Not a word of the original Hammerstein book or lyrics has been changed (though a few added). The reinterpretation is all in the staging of the beloved cowboy musical. More accurately, he found the darkness that was already lurking in the corners of the story, just as it was already lurking in the nation in the 1940s.

As entertainment it is often startling; the familiar songs appear like old friends in sometimes alarming new costumes. As commentary the revival is as searing as the chili they cook on stage during Act I and dish up to the audience free at intermission. Not everyone will like it, but credit is due for boldness and imagination.

The story begins innocently enough, with and pretty farm girl named Laurie (Rebecca Naomi Jones) trying to decide who will take her to the town’s “box social”: the handsome cowboy Curly (Damon Daunno) or brooding farm hand Jud Fry (Patrick Vaill). But their rivalry darkens, and throws its shadow over the scene in which Curly tries to get Jud to kill himself to gain the sympathy of townsfolk who “treat him bad.” The scene is played almost entirely in literal pitch darkness.

The most sobering moment comes at the end, after poor Jud is really dead, shot by Curly for threatening Laurie on their wedding day. Their white formalwear spattered with Jud’s blood, the wedding party sings the grimmest version of the show’s bouncy title song you’re ever heard.

Daunno plays his own guitar and sweetly sings “Oh What a Beautiful Mornin’” and “Surrey With the Fringe on Top,” but his performance of Curly come off more like a kid wearing his dad’s cowboy boots. Jones is a tough tomboy of a Laurie, and Mary Testa is an authoritative Aunt Eller. But the breakout performance of this production is Ali Stroker as wheelchair using Ado Annie. Her lusty, country-flavored performance of “I Cain’t Say No” brings down the house.

Speaking of the house, the show has been staged at Broadway’s most unusual playhouse, the in-the-round Circle in the Square. Lara Jellinek’s set includes raw wood planking with a spare number of chairs and tables that are rearranged to as needed to suggest the various locations in the story. Orchestrator Daniel Kluger has reduced Robert Russell Bennet’s lush original full orchestra down to a seven-piece virtual jug band that ably reflects the new interpretation while still cherishing Rodgers’ musical genius.

Amid the darkness of this production, there is a ray of light. It should be noted by fans of musical theatre that we are living in a time when classics My Fair LadyKiss Me, Kate; and now Oklahoma! are all playing on Broadway simultaneously. Maybe there’s hope after all.

Oklahoma! is scheduled to run through January 19, 2020 at the Circle in the Square Theatre on Broadway.

 

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Kiss Me, Kate

Music and lyrics by Cole Porter, book by Bella and Sam Spewack

There are certain shows which, by virtue of the classic scores, funny librettos, or sheer dramatic brio ought to be kept in revival on Broadway all the time. Kiss Me, Kate would be high on that list if it weren’t for one problem: its sometimes musty attitude toward women, especially in the #MeToo era. The show is built around Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, and the original production ended with the leading lady singing “I Am Ashamed That Women Are So Simple,” based on the Bard’s original final speech. Is she being serious, sarcastic, or just telling her husband what he wants to hear?

Roundabout Theatre Company’s high-energy current revival, starring Kelli O’Hara and Will Chase, gets around the latter problem by editing Shakespeare slightly, changing the lyric to “I Am Ashamed That PEOPLE Are So Simple,” but the uncomfortable woman “taming” issues manage to peek through.

And that’s really saying something because director Scott Ellis has mounted an otherwise joyous production, crowded with fun—especially from the lithe members of the dancing chorus, as choreographed by Warren Carlyle. Among the high points are the virtuosic acrobatics of “Tom, Dick or Harry” as performed by Will Burton, Rick Faugno and the show’s limber co-star Corbin Bleu. Bleu later flips himself over and begin tapping upside down and an overhang.

O’Hara is extremely talented and deserving of the many lead roles she has gotten in recent years. That said, she seemed to lack the world-weariness the role longtime stage veteran and divorcee Lilli Vanessi requires. She and Chase sometimes seemed like kids play-acting in their parents’ clothes.

Still, it’s great to hear them, and the rest of the cast, once again singing Cole Porter standards like “So in Love,” “Wonderbar,” “Too Darn Hot,” and “Another Op’nin, Another Show” back where they belong, on Broadway.

 Kiss Me, Kate is playing a limited run through June 30 at Studio 54.

Engaging in pop-culture… 

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Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations

Book by Dominique Morisseau, based on “The Temptations” by Otis Williams.  Music and lyrics by various composers.

We all connect certain songs with special events in our lives. Hearing the music can evoke a long-vanished person, place or activity. This phenomenon accounts for the popularity of so-called “jukebox musicals”—ones that celebrate the songbook of a particular performer, songwriter or group.

The backstage, onstage, and offstage story of the 1960s Motown superstars The Temptations is told in the latest jukebox biomusical Ain’t Too Proud, now on Broadway at the Imperial Theatre.

If you love the Temptations and have fond memories that spring to life when you hear their hits “My Girl,” “Papa Was a Rolling Stone,” “If You Don’t Know Me By Now,” “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me,” and more than two dozen other chart-climbers, you will also likely love this show.

Slickly and professionally done, with Sergio Trujillo’s loving recreations of the group’s signature choreography, plus lighting, costumes and even hair design that subtly guide the audience from the early 1960s through the mid 1970s.

Librettist Dominique Morisseau shows she learned the lessons of previous jukebox smashes like Jersey Boys and Beautiful: The Carole King Musical in showing the ups and downs of the artists while using their hit songs more or less like showtunes to comment on the action.

The story is narrated by Otis Williams (Derrick Baskin), who is credited as the group’s founder and captain as it navigates through the storms of politics, history, tangling with the juggernaut of Motown Records, boss Berry Gordy, and especially drug abuse among the group’s members. He is depicted as having personal failings: his marriage breaks up and he neglects his only son. The one constant is his single-minded devotion to The Temptations, which, by the way, he still leads in 2019 as it goes on touring forever with the latest lineup of singers.

The other characters tend to blur together, given little more than a verbal tic or a favorite piece of clothing to pass as character development.

It’s a fun, entertaining, skin-deep show, very much in the style of Jersey Boys, and depending on the same well of nostalgia and happy personal associations with the group’s catchy close-harmony tunes.

Ain’t Too Proud is playing an open-ended run at the Imperial Theatre on Broadway.

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Hadestown

Music, lyrics and book by Anaïs Mitchell

When I first heard they were doing a musical based on the Orpheus legend, I was skeptical. But then I read it again and was reminded that Orpheus believes he can charm Hades, lord of the Underworld, because of the supernatural beauty of his voice. Now that’s a musical idea!

The classical Greek legend of the gods-touched musician Orpheus and his quest to retrieve his love Eurydice from the grip of Death itself is given fresh currency in the thrilling new Broadway musical Hadestown. Directed by Rachel Chavkin, the musical transforms one of Western Civilization’s oldest stories into one of its newest and freshest.

Set in an ancient Greece that looks and sounds like Depression-era New Orleans, Hadestown benefits from a Cajun-flavored score by rock singer and songwriter Anaïs Mitchell that is full of darkly brilliant music. In a bid for contemporary relevance, she has Hades sing a number called “Why We Build the Wall,” which includes the lyric, “Because we have and they have not!/Because they want what we have got!”

Not all the lyrics are that pointed. And way too many are just sloppily rhymed. In song after song we hear the likes of “rut” rhymed with “up,” “crave” with “days,” “down” with “ground”—and those examples were from just one number. It’s especially annoying in a show that is otherwise so good.

The show is anchored by performances from two cool, wicked old-timers: slick André De Shields as Hermes, who narrates and knowingly comments on the proceedings; and Broadway’s favorite villain, Patrick Page, deploying his foundation-shaking basso as Hades. Page once again plays nemesis to his Spider-Man co-star Reeve Carney as Orpheus. And if Carney’s voice doesn’t quite measure up to Page’s (ironically, in this story of a magical vocal cords), he lets his burning desire to reunite with his love Eurydice (Eva Noblezada, recently on Broadway in the title role of Miss Saigon) shine through the stygian darkness (lighting designed by Bradley King).

Among the younger cast members, the standout is Amber Grey as Hades’ slinky unstable wife, Persephone, who somehow loves her icy husband even though he forces her to spend half of each year in hell. She sees in Orpheus and Eurydice an echo of her own story, and, in the song “How Long?” she begs Hades to give Orpheus one chance. Hermes sings that even though we all know how the tragedy ends, we relive it again and again, hoping that one day it will turn out differently.

This one-of-a-kind show is new only to Broadway. It was developed in Vermont starting in 2006, earned a concept album that developed a cult following, and debuted in 2016 at Off-Broadway’s New York Theatre Workshopthat led to this production, which has some four dozen names above the title as producers. Though there are funny moments, Hadestown is clearly the serious  entry in this season’s lineup of musical comedies. It’s a grown-up theatre piece that does the most of all the shows to open this season to advance the musical theatre form.

Hadestown is playing an open-ended run at the Walter Kerr Theatre Broadway.

And now, from screen to scene… 

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Tootsie

Music and lyrics by David Yazbek, book by Robert Horn,
based on the film by Don McGuire and Larry Gelbart

Several things set Tootsie apart from the recent spate of Broadway musicals based on popular Hollywood movies.

Most importantly, its creators understood that a stage musical is more than just a movie script with a bunch of songs jammed in willy-nilly. A musical tells a story that requires music and dance in order to live, populated with characters who burst with emotions that demand to be sung.

The 1982 film comedy starred Dustin Hoffman as Michael Dorsey, a male actor whose diva behavior has gotten him blacklisted by every director in town. To escape his poisoned reputation, he disguises himself as a woman, whom he names Dorothy Michaels. Not only is his drag act convincing to casting directors, but Michael finds that by playing a woman, his whole attitude begins to evolve and mature. He finds that he’s actually a better person as a woman than as a man. He also becomes the star of a hit soap opera. But how long can he keep the façade from falling?

To make that story musical, songwriter David Yazbek and librettist Robert Horn changed its whole show-biz milieu, with strong results. Instead of trying to get a job in a TV soap opera, Dorothy now wants to be the star of a Broadway musical. This gives them lots of room to fill the script with witty Broadway jokes and allows characters to more naturally break into song.

And instead of trying to find an actor who looks and sounds like Dustin Hoffman (who won an Oscar in the role), they went with the talented Santino Fontana, who played the prince in Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella, and played the singing love interest on the TV series Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. He’s brilliant in the role, and creates his own idea of what Dorothy looks and sounds like. His head voice, often a stumbling block for male drag performers, is lovely and convincingly feminine.

The authors also wisely took 21stcentury feminist objections head-on by writing the objections into the show, and making the issues of oppressive patriarchy and the celebration of female identity central to the story.

Yazbek’s score sounds nothing like his Tony-winning score to 2018’s The Band’s Visit, but often echoes his lesser-known 2010 musical adaptation of another film, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. His showstoppingly zany patter number “What’s Gonna Happen” (a tour de force for Tony-nominated featured actress Sarah Stiles) is the sister of the Laura Benanti marathon “Model Behavior” in the earlier show. As leading lady Julie Nichols, Lilli Cooper is a little too supportive of Dorothy taking over the lead in her show, and allows herself to be elbowed out of the spotlight.

Master comedian Michael McGrath also has far too little to do as the on-again off-again agent Stan Fields, but he gets one great memorable moment, performing one of the longest and funniest slow-burns (from behind a close door yet) in recent stage history.

Side note: Tootsie seems to follow the same basic plot as another Broadway musical hit, Dear Evan Hansen: an outcast makes himself the center of attention by creating a false story about his life that delights everyone around him for a while, but eventually gets uncovered, with calamitous results. Why does this story hold such audience appeal?

Another side note: Thank you, Tootsie creators, for calling your show not Tootsie: The Musical or David Yazbek’s Tootsie, but simply and straightforwardly Tootsie.

Tootsie is playing an open-ended run at the Marquis Theatre on Broadway.

 

Stephen Miller on THE GREEN ROOM

IMG_8781Tiz the season for new musical plays and events. The advent of Stonewall at 50 brings  exciting projects: The Fresh Fruit Festival will present the new HARVEY MILK musical, HERE TO RECRUIT YOU, as part of their summer fest. Robert Hofmann comes to America for the first time with his hilarious tour-de-force WHAT THE FANDANGO as a benefit performance in the West Village. AND … opening the fall 2019 season is the much-heralded musical reminiscent of “Merrily We Roll Along” but tempered and fashioned for the 21st century millennial artist and audience. THE GREEN ROOM brings good old musical comedy into a more mature and mindful light. It’s the story of four friends who want to NOT be on Broadway – but want to take the more intellectual OFF-Broadway by storm.

THE GREEN ROOM make its New York Premiere SEPTEMBER 25th – OCTOBER 27th at one of the original theaters that brought about the storied off-off Broadway movement, THE AMERICAN THEATRE OF ACTORS (314 West 54th Street, New York, NY 10019). Director Jessica Jennings brings a new level of clever staging and character chemistry to this long-awaited piece that scored mondo-kudos in California. THE GREEN ROOM premiered in Los Angeles to standing ovations, shortly after the show’s premiere at the Hermosa Beach Playhouse as part of their Civic Light Opera Season. Since this production, the show has played around the United States, Canada and as far as Ireland.

55929381_10157297873948708_2530566985314467840_nThe visionary Miller-Coffman Productions serves as producer of the NY bow. Ai had the good fortune to speak with producer, Stephen Miller, about guiding this musical ship into New York. 

Tell us about you and M-C Prod.

Miller-Coffman Productions exists to produce professional theater works in New York City, and to share the joys of theater with everyone, including but not limited to atypical students who may be excluded from mainstream outings and theatre opportunities. The vision is to deeply impact our audiences in a way that cultivates empathy and fellowship for all humans. To make the world a kinder place, and more welcoming for anyone who feels they are unwelcome or relegated to the outskirts of society. To produce accessible theater works at the higher level of artistry, with incredible detail to sets, costumes, props and historical accuracy. Miller-Coffman productions is a producer of both known and new work, both plays and musical, surreal and naturalistic. We create artistic opportunities and collaborations throughout our field, from Off-Off-Broadway to Off-Broadway. The through-line is always compelling stories about a character in crisis who surmounts their circumstances; produced with highly detailed sets, props and costumes. Miller-Coffman Productions serve the general public and reach teen groups through the High 5 ticketing program. We have many new opportunities coming to fruition of creating performances for Autism-friendly performances. Our first induction into this aspect is planned for the 2019 season with The Green Room – A New Off-Broadway Musical. Our future goal is to produce on Broadway. 

To date we have fulfilled upon the company vision by staging five shows that cover a range of characters and circumstances of struggle, from sexual repression, to women’s issues, to racial oppression. Three of our productions have been based on true stories: “Blood Boundary,” about racism in America; “The Cover of Life” about women left home during racism in America “The Cover of Life” about women left home during WWII; and “The Belle of Amherst” about Emily Dickinson. The NYC debut of the comedic musical The Green Room (book by C. Stephen Foster and Rod Damer, Music and Lyrics by Chuck Pelletier is going to be our sixth production and second musical. The Green Room is a comedy about the struggle of actors and socio-economic: young thespians reaching for their dreams and even questioning their sexuality.

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Miller in front of the Sargent Theatre, the New York landing place for THE GREEN ROOM

What first drew you to GREEN ROOM?

The Green Room was a musical that had something that can be found in musicals out there, but it has so much more than the other musicals that I have seen in our existence. It explores that aspect of the millennial generation that seems to be using us into a world where sexual orientation or the questioning of one’s gender seem fluid in the exploration that is presented. Questioning future plans of life and being handed opportunities that go against your belief, and making a decision that could change the entire course of ones life. Finding love, but is this the love that one is going to be This is all set to songs that tell a story that ties into the aspect of coming together with those in our lives, and creating an accepting community that goes above the rest. This show is for everyone from theater people to people who have never been to the theater before. There is something for everyone in The Green Room. The show opens with the first day of school and ends as the four characters go to the extremes to make their dreams come true. But this is not done without acceptance from everyone, but also the close friendship of the four.

Share with us, your “process.” Meetings, funding, supervision, contracts, etc. 

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Miller with director, Jessica Jennings

The process behind finding and choosing a script that we’ll sell to the world is a very detailed process. We receive many scripts, and we are very selective behind this because we want the attention to detail needs to be considered. Many shows are incredible, but there is not always that attention to detail. Once the script is chosen, we choose our director, in this case we have chosen world renowned director Jessica Jennings who has been part of our group for the past couple of years. For the purpose of a musical this entails hiring a musical director, which is a process in itself, because we want to have not only the best, but someone who’s personality who matches the musical that we are working with. This is a mistake that many people make, and it can affect the show. We were very lucky in this process when hiring David Fletcher because he is that incredible person, who not only adores the show, but brings something special to the show through his personality and expressive behavior. The casting process is another story all together, because with a show like The Green Room having only four characters, its so difficult in a city like New York City, because there are so many incredibly talented people, and we want to cast everyone, but this is simply not able to be done. With The Green Room is one of those musicals that does not have a huge chorus, huge choreography, the show is focused on the characters and the stories focused within. So, choosing a cast that is able to be able to present a show of this magnitude was a challenge, but we were very happy when we minimized it down to the four fabulous actors that will be featured — Our heart throb jock – Ryan Farnsworth as John Radford, Our princess – Sami Staitman as Anna Kearns, our geek Eli Douglas LaCroix as Cliff Kearns and our Queen Diva Ariana Valdes as Divonne Bruder. Miller-Coffman production is not a nitpicking type of producer, but we do require to have the team work together, because its very important to us that everyone is very happy. This is part of the attention to detail, because this detail is so important for having a team that is happy, makes the show happier. 

You’re opening at an auspicious time… what does your show  contribute   to the festivities?

With the aspect of Stonewall@50, it brings up a very special piece to why we are doing The Green Room. In 1969, our executive producer’s uncle was on location during this process of the Gay Rights Movement. He was the writer of the acclaimed “The Cover of Life” that we produced last spring in honor of Woman’s History Month. R.T. Robinson (The Cover of Life) died of AIDS in 1994 after the opening of his life dream show that he wrote, which was presented by the Shubert Organization, at the American Theater of Actors. The Green Room brings to life a world of opportunity that can be found within the theater world, and the portrait of characters creating dreams, and working towards the goals of taking those dreams and turning them into reality.

Give us your take on New York theater … with a  focus toward indie art. 

New York Theater, specifically in the world of Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway brings to life theater that is more of a “Risk taking” style which is found in London’s main stage theaters. What makes a great show in this world, is creating a show that is not completely based on tourism to survive, but rather the New York Theater Lifestyle and gives a chance for people to see the smaller budget shows that bring such a level of “chance” taking, because it allows the creators of the show the more artistic side of themselves, with limited resources, while presenting a professional piece of work, and to allow the show to be developed into a more main stream show. But in the world of Off-Broadway many shows are top notch and sometimes outdo Broadway. Because many shows don’t need a huge budget to be presented when the artistic points of view can be presented. Theater is about art and loving what you do, so taking the chance to try something new in the aspect of theater, even without a huge budget is being done for the love of the arts, while making a little bit of money along the way.

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Personally, what does the show mean to you?

The Green Room is a personal show to Miller-Coffman Productions because it tells a story that many of us have lived by participating in the theater department of high school, college and beyond. But it also shows the deal love for why we do what we do to present shows, the effort that it takes as an actor to present oneself in a manner that may not match our own personality. Also, the aspect of the LGBTQ community aspect with questioning one’s sexuality and/or gender that is questioned in a tasteful way. But the most important message that this show offers, is the millennial outlook on acceptance in our lives.

What’s next?

Miller-Coffman Productions is currently researching and selecting options for the 2020 season for our MainStage production.. Submissions are being accepted.

Alex sees Pod-Possibilities

Ps in a Pod, a new web series, created by and starring Alex Pires, and co-starring Stephanie Windland and executive produced by Richard Wingert starts on a blind date between Pete (Pires) and Polly (Windland) at a bar in Brooklyn. At first, they seem to be “two peas in a [neurotic] pod” but something is off. After a ton of awkward fumbling – including an uproarious attempt at sex – they simultaneously realize they are perfect as friends. As luck would have it, Polly is looking for a room and Pete needs a room-mate. A best friendship is born! “Pod follows how funny and real it is to have a close, platonic friendship between a man and a woman,” says executive producer, Richard Wingert.

“By eliminating the “Will they? Won’t they?” dynamic we make room for a ton of very funny and very touching situations that audiences have been deprived of in an episodic sitcom format,” creator and star, Alex Pires, exuberantly exclaimed; while co-star, Stephanie Windland chimed in with “The world is going through a paradigm shift in terms of the roles men and women play separately – this series shows how they come together under this new way of thinking,” she said regarding the evolving friendship the series depicts.

Pod follows the characters through semi-story lined episodes “a day in the life” style. We see them struggle – both comedic and realistic – with germaphobia, stereotypes, cultural-diversity, identity, romanticizing the past, relationships, depression and so much more.

We learn something new about the Ps – Pete & Polly – every episode. Things that we know or will learn about ourselves as well. It seems the stronger their friendship, the wilder things get. They just want to be happy and healthy but between self-sabotage and the universe who knows what will happen!

DSCF7525_R.jpgThat tall, broad-grinned fellow in the picture is the creator and star, Alex Pires. Aside from being a really strong actor, he is an imaginative articulate man. Ai spoke with him briefly on career and Pods.

Tell us about yourself.

I’m an Actor first and foremost. I created this web series to work on something I was really excited about and to have complete creative freedom. Wearing all these hats is just a means to an end but it’s been a very enriching experience. I grew up in New Bedford Massachusetts. After a lot of soul searching and taking a 180 from the Physician Assistant career I was on, I decided to pursue acting professionally. I booked some cool jobs in the small Boston market, saved enough money to move and came to NYC in the summer of 2015. I’ve been lucky enough to work on some really interesting projects: Altered Hours, Texture and Filling In, all available on Amazon. I worked on an episode of Netflix’s The Punisher season 2. I also recently had a Capital One commercial air nationally. Now I’m deep in the making of Ps in a Pod.

What inspired you to create Ps in a POD?

I’ve been working on some version of this show for about three and a half years. In late 2015, I ran into a colleague I did a web series with back in New England and we decided to write a “Roommates Shenanigans” type sketch show. I didn’t have much writing experience but I had a lot of excitement and not much else going on so I decided to at least try. Within a month I wrote several “sketches” and received extremely positive feedback. Unfortunately the collaboration sort of faded with that colleague, as they tend to do, and not much happened with those scripts for a while. I burned through two more creative partners in 2016/2017 before landing on Stephanie Windland in 2018. Within that time the show began to really take form and I discovered an angle that I felt strongly about: what if the male and female leads of the show were just friends…? No “Will they? Won’t they?”, no easily explainable excuse like someone is gay or put in the friendzone. They both decided to be friends and they just really hit it off in that way. I’ve never seen that before and yet it’s such a real thing. I started thinking of all the comedic opportunities that would come from that dynamic and I began to get excited again. From there I started really thinking about the type of show I’d want to make and how I’d fit everything I had already written into this new concept. I decided I wanted to make a show that had a nice blend of comedy and drama. I wanted to pay homage to all the shows, movies and actors that inspire me. I wanted to make a show that celebrated women and minorities. A show that has a tangible message or lesson in every episode. I wrote what became the pilot with a wonderful Actor/Writer, Tory Flack. Then Stephanie agreed to co star and co produce the show. Those sketches I initially wrote became full episodes of the show. We deliberated on a title for a while and landed on “Ps in a Pod” because of the sort of play on the phrase. Our characters names are Pete and Polly so we thought it was cute. Stephanie and I just went on from there.

Share with us, your creative process. Collaboration, delegation, storyboards, brainstorming, moral/message, etc.  

In terms of writing, I would write the first draft of the script after we landed on the idea of the episode. Once I felt I couldn’t do more with it on my own, I’d ask Stephanie for notes/feedback, I’d make adjustments as needed and we’d repeat that until they were “finished”. But we all know it’s never really finished. In terms of acting I feel very connected to the character because I created it from scratch. Pete is really just an extreme version of myself in a lot of ways. It’s my comedy though so I don’t really struggle with that aspect. I’m someone who always strives for excellence in my work which includes this. I’m trying to create the best quality web series I can with the resources I have. It’s also been great to assemble a team that’s so skilled and diverse. I let everyone do their jobs and we come together to make sure it all supports the vision of the show. I assume the way we’re doing it is very different from how it’s done on bigger sets but on ours most people are wearing multiple hats. We’re all doing what we can so that way when we see our name in the credits we can be proud.

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Tell us about your vision for the future in terms of TV, sitcoms, programming, networks, etc.

I think the future is bright. I’m not sure what it looks like exactly but the streaming platforms seem to really appeal to people. I know it does for me. I think Ps in a Pod could definitely fit in on one of the major streaming platforms. That being said a lot of people watch cable/network TV so it comes down to what the best offer at the time is.

What’s next? 

We have shot three out of our eight episode season. The first episode is already available on YouTube and Vimeo. A show is nothing without an audience so we’re trying to get as many people as possible to watch the pilot. They’ll obviously love it and become followers. Then after the rest of the season comes out and we’re the talk of the town the studios and production companies will be lining up to make this happen!….. best case scenario.

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