Saturday, June 19, 2010

Spring into Summer Theater Season

With summer around the bend, the vibrant spring theater season is coming to a close.
But you can still catch a few shows before the summer shows kick in (some have already begun:) ).
(One of the best listing resources continues to be the Boston Phoenix's Play by Play)
A few suggestions ...
The Great American Trailer Park Musical... closing this weekend
If you've yet to see The Great American Trailer Park Musical, you've got a few more chances this weekend. Now more than ever I personally needed a good long laugh and this cast and show provided many! Don't miss the trio of Kerry Dowling, Mary Callanan, and pint-sized newcomer Santina Umbach, the Trash-talking trio. Welcome David Benoit back to town, see Grant McDermot huffing his way to the park in pursuit of Caitlin Crosbie Doonan as a stripper with a heart of ... well, a heart, anyway, (and plenty of soul) and marvel at both the pathos and humor in Leigh Barrett's agoraphobic! Kudos to Paul Daigneault & company. The voices are fabulous, kitschy sets and costumes capture the mood, and the whole show is a hoot!

The Lady With All the Answers... closes June 26
Stephanie Clayman brings the familiar (to those of a certain age ...) midwest twang and earthy pragmatism of Eppie "Ann Landers" Lederer to life in her portrayal of The Lady With All the Answers, playing at the Central Sq. Theater. Though the script is a fairly standard "one-person bio/recreation", occuring on a "special night" (Ann/Eppie is toiling over writing "the most difficult column I have ever tried to put together. . ." ), with a reason for an intermission (Ann retires offstage to take a relaxing bath where she often did her letter-writing), it's Stephanie Clayman's fine performance, aided by Daniel Gidron's staging that makes great use of the lovely Central Square Theater space, that makes the evening so warm, funny and touching .

Friday, June 18, 2010


ART's The Donkey Show continues through the summer at "Club Oberon", 2 Arrow Street in Cambridge

Admittedly, I'm very late to The Donkey Show party. Though I lived in NYC from '87-'94, and spent the next three years shuttling between Boston and NYC, I never made it down to see the show where it premiered. And last fall, I was "deterred" by associates who pooh-poohed the event as "not really theater".
Boy, did I make a big mistake.
I had seen Best of Both Worlds and was totally taken with the show, and with seeing so many performers I didn't know on the Loeb stage. With a raucous and uplifting score, ranging from Blues to Rock to Gospel, the adaptation of Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale was my first taste of "the new" ART.
And when I was ready to drop my need for a stage and an audience separated by the fourth wall and visit Sleep No More, I was too late: all the subsequent performancs were sold out.
But I wasn't about to let the response of some others keep me from The Donkey Show.
A Midsummer Night's Dream is the Shakespeare play I am most intimate with. It was the first play I recall seeing, with my Mom, a production at Cambridge High and Latin School when I was a kid. And then later, as a student at the high school, I played Peter Quince in our director Bob Guest's musical adaptation called Into The Woods (no, not THAT Into the Woods ...), with "book by William Shakespeare". My favorite traditional performance was when Robert Brustein first established the ART. Mark Linn Baker was the Puck of my imagination: thrillingly malicious, enjoying every moment of toying with these foolish mortals. Among that cast was the unforgettable Titania of Carmen DeLavallade, John Bottoms' Bottom, and wonderful character turns by Richard Spore and Max Wright. And when the ART produced the show at the Wilbur Theater downtown, there was my friend/colleague Karen MacDonald, having been embraced by the new company, battling Robert Brustein in armor as Hippolyta to his Theseus.
So, armed with my knowledge of the play and turning a deaf ear to those who huffed "it's not Shakespeare", but buoyed on by the encouragement of so many others who believed I'd enjoy the experience, I got in line at Club Oberon and got my wristband.
The doorman (Steve DeMarco) looked at me, gestured toward my buttoned collar, and said "Another button, my man ... let it breathe!" and I obediently undid a few and walked on in.
And when I did, I walked into a 70's disco extravaganza in full swing! The lights, the music, the disco ball, the Go-Go Boys and other cast members working the crowd, brought me right back to the days of Donna Summer and Disco Inferno. I found myself falling immediately back into "Club Face": looking around the room, taking everyone in without betraying a blaise "seen-it-all, not-looking-at-you" demeanor.
By now everyone knows the premise: Shakespeare's basic plot of mismatched lovers encountering a magical world of fairies and love potions, with the low comedy of the Rustics and their play-within-a-play. As the "story" unfolds to disco anthems of the era, my need to define which character was who, and where the plot was, dropped away, and the parralels resonated more strongly. Once the two Vinnie's began Car Wash, I was hooked with them as the "replacement" for Bottom and the Rustics. The immersion into a disco fantasy was so complete that it carried me right on through the event. The whole evening was enormously clever (and I say clever in the best possible way, with no post-modern attitude).
And, as one who works in Casting and has been directing and acting in theater since childhood, I had what they call today an OMFG moment during the curtain call. Let's just say that a cast of 8, including two different same-sex quartet dance numbers, play the 12 characters in a dazzling feat of double-casting.
I thought the entire young cast was perfectly suited to their roles. Without diminishing any one else's contributions, I have to say that I was blown away by Aly Trasher, Lucille Duncan, and Rachael Hunt, and their versatility. And the Go-Go Boys are totally non-stop Dancing Machines. (Having seen the show twice now, I've seen at least 6 of the dancers who play the four roles: not all of them have to perform their 90 minute dance routine twice a night on Saturdays.)
There has been an undercurrent rumble in the acting community, that this is an all nonunion cast. But from what I know, they're all being paid quite well, are being treated wonderfully and appear to be having the time of their lives.
And on that note, I was thrilled to learn that the above mentioned Aly Trasher will return to the ART this fall, in Diane Paulus's production of Cabaret, in the same space, this time with an Actor's Equity card. I can't help but see a parralel in another actress, embraced between the first and second seasons of a former Artistic Director. Not a bad path to follow ...

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

BODY OF PROOF to shoot In Rhode Island

There's great news for Rhode Island.
The ABC series BODY OF PROOF will begin production soon, as announced by the Rhode Island Film Office. The show began as one of three pilots that shot in New England (the other two, Boston's Finest and The Quinn-tuplets, were both shot in Boston, but neither went to series).

"The Rhode Island Film & TV Office is pleased to announce that a new television series, BODY OF PROOF (formerly BODY OF EVIDENCE), has been picked up for ABC’s fall primetime schedule and will start filming episodes for its first season throughout the Ocean State in July 2010. Pre-production will commence immediately in the Warwick offices. The ABC Studios original television pilot was filmed in Rhode Island earlier this year."

This means another television series for Rhode Island, which was the setting for the Showtime series Brotherhood, and the NBC series Providence. Both of those shows provided weeks of work, each of their production years, for crew and talent throughout New England. Boston's Angela Peri of Boston Casting is doing the local casting, with extras casting by Rhode Island Casting Director Anne Mulhall of LDI Casting.

And on the topic of ABC series with a local connection, I'm proud to share that LA-based Casting Director David Rapaport, who interned and was an assistant for me in 1999/2000, is casting MY GENERATION, another new show from ABC, premiering this fall. A graduate of Emerson College, David has accrued quite a resume in film and television casting, including Gossip Girl, 90210, and MTV's new series The Hard Times of R J Berger, which premiered this week.
(David was interviewed for The Virtual Channel Network's series, "Inside Casting". The first of his six-part interview can be seen here.)

Monday, June 7, 2010

Johnny Baseball: Homo-what?who?where?

We've all read them. Reviews by a writer who can't understand the enthusiastic response an audience gives a show, a performer, a moment. Often there's a 'maybe it's just me' disclaimer, acknowledging this rapt or elated response elicited from others. And sometimes the review will pan the experience unfairly, deterring some from even going, and causing others to wonder, "What show is she/he talking about?"
But what does one do when a critic calls a show out for something that, on careful examination through multiple viewings with a fixed focus, isn't even there?
The reviews for "Johnny Baseball" are in, and the show is off and running, with quotes like "cleverly crafted and terrifically performed ... Helmer Diane Paulus hits a clean line drive straight into center field with a thoughtful, crowd-pleasing and deftly balanced show" (Variety). I've agreed and disagreed with this or that, but nothing confounded me like a comment in the Boston Globe.
In her "Johnny Baseball" review, critic Louise Kennedy wrote: "Ultimately, “Johnny Baseball’’ wants to teach a small part of a familiar lesson — we should all learn to get along, and people should be free to love whom they please — within a feel-good musical. Given the theme, it’s just wrong that some of the show’s jokes are cheaply homophobic, but that’s the only even remotely political remark that could be made about a show that celebrates baseball, multiculturalism, and the American way."
(Cue the "Excuuuuuuuuse me?" voice-over tape).
As I said, I've seen the show three times now, once before reading that review, and twice since.
To put it plainly, what show is she talking about?
I was hesitant to even reprint her comment, but though the Globe readership dwarfs an audience I might reach, I couldn't feel this way and not express it.
For example, about a dozen or so years ago, I helped cast a reading of a freshman screenplay for an up and coming writer. It was set in a Boston Irish inner city neighborhood, and I found the undercurrent of unaddressed homophobia to be an issue I had to bring up. Unfortunately, I was met by a very deaf ear. Instead of listening and discussing the problem I had with it, I was told I was wrong, that's how these guys are, sorry you feel that way, goodbye.
When it's there, I see it and I say it.
But in the case of the Globe review, I just don't see it.
In the comments that follow the review online, there are a few readers who question the remark. One of them, "btmitch", said it best:
"I saw this show on Friday, and like some other people, I didn't notice anything "homophobic." In fact, I thought the whole "it's legal in this state" discussion was a pretty clear reference to other marriages that are legal in this state."

Sunday, June 6, 2010

"JOHNNY BASEBALL": Take Me Out to the Theater

"Johnny Baseball" is a love song to two Great American Pastimes: Baseball and Old-Fashioned Musical Comedy

I grew up on musicals. Now, this wasn't an obsession, but more of an escape and an inspiration. I didn't, like a childhood friend, make an audio reel-to-reel recording on a portable tape recorder, IN the movie theater, of Barbra Streisand's cinema debut in "Funny Girl". (I did once produce a musical number in a friend's garage, lipsynching Connie Francis's "Lipstick On Your Collar" to the bewildered encouragement of family and friends.) And I was in awe, in the sixth grade, of the Asian girl in my class who was in a production of The King and I (By 9th grade, I spent a summer as Randolph MacAphee in "Bye Bye Birdie" in a summer stock theater in Olde Orchard Beach.)
So, with the world premiere of a new musical opening at the American Repertory Theater, I took advantage of every opportunity to see "Johnny Baseball" through the various ticket offers that were made available during final previews and opening week. I saw three performances: the final preview on Tuesday, and then a Saturday matinee and the Sunday evening show.
It just keeps getting stronger. As the show settles in, the powerhouse cast has continued to grow more and more confident, and by Sunday night everything soared. It's hard to single any one of them out. Every cast member has their individual shining moments, and together they create a stunning ensemble.
"Johnny Baseball" embraces the sentiments and structure of an old-fashioned musical. It's a beautifully produced show, and audiences love it. In her Boston Globe review, Louise Kennedy said that the fans would decide if it's a hit. I know, for sure, that they have: It is!!!
I've heard the questions, "Could it play in NY?" "Is it 'too Boston' ?"
I think it could, but I have an idea:
I'd love to see it develop into a long-running show, another "Shear Madness", with a Boston cast as strong and multi-talented as the originals. I'd put it on Lansdowne Street and make it a "destination show', let it sit and develop into a production audiences are drawn to Boston to see.
Whatever the future, see it now. Bring the family: I've seen how it works for a hugely wide and varied demographic of audiences, all ages and races.
And you know what? I've been going to the Loeb since 1970 (I recall seeing the late Christopher Reeve as MacHeath in a summer production of The Threepenny Opera, for you local theater historians, and was in a student-directed Most Happy Fella in 1971), and it's kinda fun eating hotdogs in the theater.

And, I love thinking about the possibilities: Just as I hope The Donkey Show can encourage its audience to come back to the theater, I wonder "what if Red Sox Nation not only embraced this show, but got hooked on going to others?"