Thursday, May 31, 2012

Martha Gellhorn -- Movie and Play

Fans of writer and foreign correspondent Martha Gellhorn (1908-1998) can get their fill of her these days. First, her tumultuous relationship with Ernest Hemingway is the subject of the HBO movie - Hemingway & Gellhorn. Next, Love Goes to Press, the WWII comedy in three acts she co-authored as a lark with Virginia Cowles (1910-1983), is being resurrected at the Mint Theater. According to Gellhorn: A Twentieth Century Life by Caroline Moorehead, Love Goes to Press (the only play written by the women) originally opened in 1946 in London to good reviews to audiences desperate for humor after the war. It later transferred to Broadway in 1947 but Americans (not as impacted by the war) were not as kind and it ran for five measly performances. 


Watching a recent preview performance of Love Goes to Press, one can easily tell that Gellhorn and Cowles were having a lot of fun with the script for this farce about Jane Mason and Annabelle Jones two driven female war correspondents in a male dominated press camp in Poggibonis Italy. The women will do anything for their story including crossing enemy lines while the male correspondents sit around playing cards complaining that the women “…run this lousy war on sex-appeal.” Eventually, the women’s romantic entanglements require them to decide whether to carry out their “duty” to write or give up being shot at to settle down with an ex or “…a house with ten bathrooms all full of hot water, and a husband who never tops saying ‘Are you comfortable, my sweet?’”


Both Hemingway & Gellhorn and Love Goes to Press have flaws. Hemingway & Gellhorn received mixed reviews with the NYT criticizing the movie for having “nothing new or interesting to tell us about Hemingway or Gellhorn or the times they lived in.”  And Love Goes to Press is not quite as hilarious as I thought it would be; furthermore, the ease with which the women fall in love simply is not credible for me. With that said, Martha Gellhorn is no doubt a fascinating subject and the movie as well as the play - which features intrepid career women in the 1940s - may be worth exploring. 


Thursday, May 24, 2012

How Many Seats are on Broadway?

If all 40 Broadway theaters were occupied and sold out to full houses on the same evening, approximately how many audience members would be at the theater?
(Choose the best answer to nearest 000s)

A. 15,000
B. 30,000
C. 35,000
D. 50,000

Clue: The Shubert Organization owns 17 houses with approximately 20,215 seats. The Nederlander owns 9 houses with another 13,661 seats. Jujamcyn owns 5 houses with 6,424 seats. Roundabout Theatre owns 3 with 2,717 seats. Second Stage, Live Nation, Walt Disney, Manhattan Theatre Club, Circle in the Square and Lincoln Center each own 1 house with a total of 6,758 seats. What is the grand total? Source of information: IBDB.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Stage Door: Cast Members From "The Best Man"

Some of the cast members from Gore Vidal's The Best Man on Broadway.

James Earl Jones as President Arthur Hockstader

Candice Bergen as Alice Russell

John Larroquette as Secretary William Russell

Eric McCormack as Senator Joseph Cantwell

Michael McKean as Dick Jensen

And walking away from the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre is Jeffersen Mays as Sheldon Marcus

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Quote from Margaret Edson's "Wit"

Spoken by Vivian Bearing PH.D in Margaret Edson's Wit:
There is cancer eating away at my goddamn bones, and I did not know there could be such pain on this earth.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Living in the Dark Experiences

Two Off Broadway productions currently explore the absence of a sense - Nina Raine's Tribes playing at Barrow Street Theatre and Paul Weitz's Lonely, I'm Not playing at Second Stage Theatre. In Tribes, we meet hearing impaired Billy forced to live in the shadows of his annoying, dysfunctional family. Billy's world opens up when he meets Sylvia, the daughter of deaf parents, who is now going deaf herself. In Lonely, I'm Not, we meet Heather a blind woman determined to make it in the business world on her own even if she has to work seven days a week to do so. 

Tribes recently won the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for Best Foreign Play of the 2011-2012 season. And Lonely, I'm Not has been fetching positive reviews by critics. Two very worthwhile plays about "living in the dark".

For those looking for other unique sensory experiences, Dialog in the Dark in Lower Manhattan and Dark Dining at Camaje in the West Village seem very interesting. In the Dialog in the Dark exhibition, a visually impaired guides takes you on a tour of NY - subway, Times Square and all. According to the website, it will forever change your perception of what it means to be blind or have low vision. And foodies may want to check out Dark Dining. Blindfolded, you let your remaining senses take over as you enjoy dinner and other entertainment at Camaje.

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Stage Door: Cast Members From "A Streetcar Named Desire"

Some of the actors from the multicultural cast of Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire on Broadway.

Nicole Ari Parker as Blanche

Daphne Rubin-Vega as Stella

Amelia Campbell as Eunice

Jacinto Taras Riddick as Pablo Gonzalez


Matthew Saldivar as Steve

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Leslie Uggams "Quiet Legend"

Recently, I spotted Leslie Uggams on the UWS. Three men laughed heartily as she delighted them with an anecdote. She looked absolutely radiant! Later that day, I googled why the famed 68 year old actress-singer was in town and noticed that she was appearing as Fauna in Encores! Pipe Dream, hosting Amateur Night Broadway at the Apollo Theatre (where she became a Board member last year), and appearing in a staged adaptation of Zora Neal Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God, which will broadcast on public radio in September. 

I then began look back at Ms. Uggams' career, taking notes about the TV star, recording artist, cabaret performer and Broadway actress. After perusing site after site for hours, I noted highlights such as the following: 
  • At the young age of 6, Leslie Uggams made her show business debut playing Ethel Waters’ niece on the Beulah TV show. The little singer and mimic would become a hit on several shows and Ella Fitzgerald would called her the “greatest kid performer I’ve ever seen.”  By the age of nine, she had over 50 TV appearances under her belt. 
  • In May 1958, Ms. Uggams would appear on Name That Tune and win $25K, which she planned to use to help with college costs. While watching the show, A&R man Mitch Miller (instrumental in grooming Johnny Matthis' sound) discovered Ms. Uggams. She would sign a recording contract with Columbia Records and become a regular on Sing Along with Mitch (1961-1964) which was seen each week by more than 50 million Americans. She would get more fan mail than any other on the show. At the time, there were no black stars on recurring shows on TV. She would become one of the few teenagers to achieve fame without the help of rock and roll.
  • In 1969, Ms.Uggams would become the first African American woman to host a variety show on network TV. The show was unfortunately cancelled mid season by CBS due to low ratings;  Ms. Uggams felt that it was not given a chance and was “set up to bomb” from the start. However, she hoped that another network would pick up the groundbreaking Sugar Hill segment featured on the show. It would never be picked up but years later, Sammy Davis Jr would commend Uggams for paving the way for black situation comedies such as Good Times, and The Jeffersons.  
  • She would win a Tony award for her 1968 Broadway debut in Hallelujah Baby!, a show originally written for Lena Horne. Time Magazine would write "Apart from being lovely to look at, Uggams has a shy sly smile that burgles the theater house. She can cradle a song with her voice or rifle it toward the night sky like a tracer bullet. At 23, she is a Broadway find with a future."  She would go on to do seven other Broadway shows including replacing Patti LuPone in Anything Goes and starring in On Golden Pond with James Earl Jones. She would also perform in three Off Broadway shows and many national/regional shows including Guys and Dolls and biographical musicals about Ethel Waters and Lena Horne.  
  • She would perform in a slew of TV show and movies purposely staying away from roles depicting Blacks in a negative light. Her most notable - playing Kizzy in the historic 12 hour TV miniseries Roots based on Alex Haley's bestseller - sealed her a dramatic actress for the first time. She also starred in another miniseries Backstairs at the White House about a maid who served several US presidents, and Sizzle. She would earn an Emmy for Fantasy, a show about making the dreams of ordinary people come true.
  • She would play nights clubs and theaters in NYC, Las Vegas and other cities across the country and abroad (she met her husband playing Chequers Night Club in Sydney during her first Australia tour). Throughout her career, she would hold recording contracts with MGM, Columbia, Atlantic, and Dionne Warwick's Sonday Records.

As I ruminated on the information gathered on Ms. Uggams, I wondered why the NYC native was not more famous. With the exception of a not unusual bankruptcy from the 70s and marrying a white man from Australia in 1965 a time when it was uncommon for a black woman to cross the color barrier and Australia had a non-white immigration policy some quipped compared to South Africa’s Apartheid laws, there were no improprieties or scandals I could find. In fact, she remains married to that same man some 47 years later. Character-wise, she has been described as charming, mild mannered, winsome, personable, lovely, and wholesome. Talent-wise, she is absolutely amazing and received a lot of love from the audience at the recent Encores! Pipe Dream performance I attended.

I also wondered how (for this profile) could I possibly encapsulate the career of this amazing woman, who Sammy Davis Jr said "captured every phase of our business." Then I discovered there was no need to; the late Bob McCann had already done so in his profile of Ms. Uggams in the Encyclopedia of African American Actresses in Film and Television. He writes:
Leslie Uggams might be described as a quiet legend. She has gone about excelling in every aspect of the entertainment industry, she has broken her share of racial barriers, and she has an outstanding Tony Award-winning Broadway career. However, her generally low-key demeanor and her ability to make her extraordinary talent seem almost effortless is perhaps why this woman is a ‘quiet’ legend. But a legend she is.
I honestly could not have said it any better. 

Ms. Uggams just released a CD of her musical autobiography Uptown Downtown and she is scheduled to appear at the new Broadway nightclub 54 Below in November 2012.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

2012 Tony Nominations

Forty-one productions opened on Broadway during the 2011-2012 season (i.e., April 29 - through April 26) according to a quick IBDB search - 14 musicals, 24 plays, and 3 specials/concerts.

Earlier today, the Tony Award nominations were announced. Excluding specials/concerts and 30 of the 38 productions or roughly 80% were recognized in one shape or the other. Once, The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess, Nice Work if You Can, and Peter and the Starcatcher lead the pack. 

Excluding solo shows and specials, the following received no recognition whatsoever. 

Hair (Ineligible for Tony)
The Mountaintop
Relatively Speaking
Private Lives

The 66th Annual Tony Awards will be held on Sunday June 10, 2012 at the Beacon Theatre

Random Happenings - April 2012

New York Post starts April Fool's Day off with funniest jokes. Here's one from Wayne Federman
I just saw “Midnight in Paris.” It really made me want to travel back in time. To the ’70s — so I could see a good Woody Allen movie. 
Shows scramble to make the Tony cutoff.  He's back - Neil Patrick Harris to host Tony show for third time. The Lion King not only rules the jungle but also Broadway after dethroning The Phantom of the Opera as the highest grossing Broadway show of all time. Easter "wilding" takes place in Hell's Kitchen. Men outnumber women at Magic/Bird. Where's Dexter; blood  splatters in Ninth and Joanie. Women drool over Blair Underwood in A Streetcar Named Desire. 30% of internet traffic is porn related. We remember the more than1500 lives lost during sinking of Titanic 100 years ago. Risk of fatal car accidents increase on tax day. Oops, glitch shuts down Ghost The Musical for 25 minutes. Earth Day brings rain to NYC. To close out the month, seven shows open on Broadway in five days. New Yorkers look up in the sky as space shuttle Enterprise soars above.