THE HELEN HAYES NOMINEES NOSH AND SCHMOOZE and
INSIDE A READ THROUGH –TUNING OF THE MUSICAL OF MUSICALS.
Congratulations to all Helen Hayes nominees – 123 pictured here (Photo: Kip Pierson)
Lots of Talent In This Embassy!
The maple leaf flag is flapping in the wind. It’s 6 PM on March 19th as Lorraine Treanor and I climb up the marble steps of the Canadian Embassy to attend the Helen Hayes Awards Nominees’ reception. After signing in as members of the press, we enter the room, greeted by the Helen Hayes officers.
I’m also immediately bombarded by extremely friendly waiters and waitresses who have lovely trays of great Bar-Mitzvah food – huge shrimp, mussels, puff pastry filled delicacies and fois grois. I clam up and say “No thank you” over and over, and because I love working a room, I see that with all that foi grois floating around, I could be the life of the paté.
After welcomes by Ambassador Michael Wilson, Helen Hayes Executive Director Linda Levy Grossman and Chairman Victor Shargai, actor Leslie Nielson had the room in stitches with a hysterical series of stories and jokes, which I don’t think had anything to do with Washington theatre or The Helen Hayes Awards, but he is a consummate showman set the mood for an entertaining and light-hearted get together.
Their Generosity is Unlimited and Selfless
Gilbert and Jaylee Mead – Washington’s most theatre-loving and generous couple – are quietly sitting in a corner enjoying the festivities.
I wander over to thank them for their support of local theatre and their generous financial contributions to help Signature, Arena Stage and Studio Theatre and other theatres expand and grow. These are humble people. They tell me that they are glad to do it and are so proud that their work has helped make DC Theatre grow not only in the number of theatres, but also in the quality of theatre offered in our area.
I suggest to the Meads that the smaller stages and community theatres also need help and that a small contribution could help them survive, pay their bills and also grow. Gilbert and Jaylee tell me that they have enjoyed many productions in these smaller theatres and think it’s something to think about..
And as I bid them adieu and thank them one last time, they turn to me and say, “Thank you for the contributions that the Ushers and DCTR make to this community.” I was grateful and amazed at the same time.
God bless this wonderful, generous couple. Many, many happy theatergoing years to them!
Schmoozing With The Nominees
Seven-time Helen Hayes Award winning set designer James Kronzer (Return of the Herbert Bracewell at Olney Theatre in 1990, Lisbon Traviata at Studio Theatre in 1993, Dream of A Common Language for Theatre Of the First Amendment in 1995, Conversations With My Father at Studio Theatre in 1996, and for his set designs at Round House Theatre for Shakespeare, Moses, and Joe Papp in 2003, forThe Drawer Boy in 2004, and Diary of Anne Frank, in 2005) tells me that it never gets old being nominated for a Helen Hayes Award and winning never gets old either. I wonder where he keeps these awards and if they ever appear as a prop on one of his sets.
James Kronzer is nominated twice this year for his set designs of The Beaux Stratagem at Shakespeare Theatre Company and The Foreigner at Olney Theatre Center. I predict that James will win for The Beaux’ Stratagem. Move over #7 and make room for #8.
I gracefully danced up to Irina Tsikurishvilli, who is nominated three times this year for her frantic and visually stunning choreography for Synetic Theatre’s heated and monstrous productions of Faust and Frankenstein, as well as the joint mystical production (with Theater J) of The Dybbuk. I congratulated Irina and her husband Paata, who is nominated for Outstanding Director, Resident Play for Frankenstein, (He won for Best Director, Resident Play for Hamlet…The Rest Is Silence in 2003) and told Irina that I feel sorry for the other nominees in her category. She humbly stated, “Who knows what will happen?” Well, I wouldn’t worry so much Irina. I’d be shocked if another Helen Hayes Award wasn’t sitting next to the awards you won for The Idiot in 2000, Faust in 2002 and Hamlet.. The Rest Is Silence in 2003.
The most handsome nominee in the room had to be Glenn Seven Allen, who is nominated for Outstanding Lead Actor, Resident Play for his performance as Cliff Bradshaw in Arena Stage’s production of Cabaret (which is nominated for 10 Helen Hayes Awards this year). Beside Glenn was his charming mom and she was glowing while people came up to Glenn to congratulate him.
I saw Glenn when he understudied the role of Fabrizio in The Light In The Piazza at Lincoln Center in NYC. He sang the role beautifully and his Italian accent was benne! We talked about his nomination for Cliff, and Glenn told me that the local critics didn’t say kind words about his performance and the show and for a while after the reviews came out, the attendance was low, but that morale was always high because the cast was very close and were quite proud of their performances and the production of Cabaret. “They (critics) didn’t understand how difficult it was to play Cliff.” His mom nodded in agreement.
Glenn had just been through a tough experience –he had been called back several times for a role in the upcoming Broadway musical LoveMusik. Tony Award winners Donna Murphy (Passion and The King and I) and Michael Cerveris (Assassins) portray Lotte Lenya and Kurt Weill. The show features songs by Kurt Weill. Alfred Uhry (the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Driving Miss Daisy and Parade), has penned the book. LoveMusik will be directed by Harold Prince, the 21-time Tony Award winner (for many shows that include The Phantom of the Opera, Cabaret, A Little Night Music, Follies, Evita and Sweeney Todd.) Manhattan Theatre Club presents the musical’s world premiere, which opens at the Biltmore Theatre on May 3rd.
Glenn thought he had the role, but David Pittu and John Scherer were hired to round out the cast. It was a big disappointment he said; because the book was brilliant, and that the show would be warmly received by the critics and theatre goers. I reassured Glenn that it was just not meant to be and that he had the talent and voice and personality and that other great roles would come his way. Again, his mom nodded.
Tony Award costume designer Catherine Zuber stopped by to say hi to Glenn. She created the gorgeous costumes forThe Light in The Piazza, and won the Tony for her work. I told her how much I loved the show and her costumes. She thanked me and said she had to leave quickly to catch a train back to NYC where she is working on an Opera. Ms. Zuber is nominated for a Helen Hayes Award for her gorgeous costumes for Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of Love’s Labor’s Lost. She has been nominated for four other Shakespeare Theatre Company productions – Merry Wives of Windsor in 1991, Hamlet in 1993, Much Ado About Nothing and Winter’s Tale, both in 2003. She has never won. Maybe this year she’ll get lucky.
N’Kenge, who I called a pistol in a podcast I recorded on July 15, 2006, cuddled up to Glenn and gave him a big hug and congrats. They have both known each other for years. N’Kenge and I reminisced about that podcast and she told Glenn and his Mom how we lost control during the recording and had to stop and restart it because we were laughing so hard.
What happened was that N’Kenge was reminiscing about a production that played in Amish country (Lancaster, PA). She told me, “And the Amish were flocking to the show,” And I remarked in my punny way, “Did they bring their sheep with them to the theatre?” Well, this short bundle of energy just lost it for about 10 minutes. I think I gave her the woolies. She left the cast of Three Mo’ Divas to pursue other musical opportunities after the Arena run. Maybe it was that insufferable Broadway Medley she was forced to sing that drove her away…
Does anyone remember the brilliant performance of Andy Browstein who played the crazy Samuel Byck in Signature’s production of Assassins this year? The Helen Hayes judges did and nominated Andy for Outstanding Supporting Actor, Resident Musical. Critic Jayne Blanchard said it best when she described his role and performance in her review of Assassins on June 9, 2006:
“Andy Brownstein is comically compelling as Samuel Byck, a schlub in a dirty Santa suit who expresses his frustrations in chummy, kvetching tapes he records and sends to Leonard Bernstein and Richard M. Nixon. Byck attempted to hijack a plane in 1974, which he planned to crash into the White House, an eerie portent of the events of September 11.” I agree with Jayne. Andy stole the show and hope he wins this year!
Andy thought it might be difficult finding more work after his turn as Byck but we’re happy to report he has been offered some new opportunities.
And there he was – David Turner – the man who I gave a huge hug backstage in NYC after In My Life – the worst musical I have ever seen in my life. The poor guy played a swishy angel called Winston in the critically ravaged musical.
I told him after the show that he had great talent and he needed to move on and that he’d be great in Spamalot as Sir Robin. Ironically, when I took the Ushers to see Spamalot at The National Theatre in July 2006, he was stealing the show, hamming it up as – you guessed it – Sir Robin. He was brilliant!
And here I am again with the talented Mr. Turner and he’s giving me a hug after I tell him how happy I am for him that he is nominated for Spamalot. I am praying that David wins!
David’s career continues to bloom. He is now in playing Bud Davenport in Guttenberg! The Musical! which is a big hit Off-Broadway at The Actors’ Playhouse.
Phoebe Rusch wrote ¾ of a Mass for Saint Vivian, which was produced at Theater Alliance, and the play is nominated for The Charles MacArthur Award for Outstanding New Play or Musical. Phoebe was only 15 when she wrote it. In August 2006, Theater Alliance mounted the production that received rave reviews.
And there she was, probably the youngest Helen Hayes nominee at the reception. just sucking it all up in her very humble way. She told me she is waiting for her new play to be “picked up,” and is so honored to be a Helen Hayes nominee. I told her how much I loved her play and she told me to thank DCTR for our great review.
The next day, I received an email from Phoebe which said, “Thanks for all your support and for being so nice at the party last night. Pleasure meeting you!”. The pleasure is all mine! I hope she wins The Charles MacArthur Award for this incredibly wonderful play. What a future she has!
There’s a new Helen Hayes Award for Best Ensemble – and there was no ensemble that was more enthusiastic as the ensemble of actors I met from Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye which was produced at Theater Alliance. What a bundle of energy and confidence these actors were to talk to – Lynn Chavis, Aakhu Freeman, Erika Rose, Jeorge Watson and Alfred Kemp. They are the future theatre stars. It was great joy listening to them enthusiastically explain to me how much they loved working together as a family in this production, and what it would mean to all of them to win the first Helen Hayes Award for Best Ensemble, Resident Play or Musical (Shockingly, there were no musical ensemble nominees). I hope the “eyes will have it” on April 16th.
I next bump into the double nominated scene-stealing J. Fred Shiffman, who is nominated for his bumbling waiter in She Loves Me and as the manipulating Jew-hating Ernst Ludwig, both performed at Arena Stage. I kid J. Fred that he was so convincing as the waiter that I left him a $3 tip on my seat after the show. J. Fred has been nominated 8 times for Helen Hayes Awards and has won twice for Falsettoland at Studio Theatre in 1993 and for Lovers and Executioners at Arena Stage in 1999. I can’t wait to see him in Souvenir at Studio Theatre in June where he will be playing Cosme McMoon, the very patient accompanist of the horrific singer Florence Foster Jenkins. My ears are already hurting!
“The party’s over. It’s time to call it a day…”
Best of luck to all the nominees! I’ll be there on April 16th to cheer you on! Tickets to DC theatre’s most glamorous event are still available. Visit www.helenhayes.org.
Putting It Together: A Musical Read-Through at Metro Stage.
There’s great enthusiasm, hope, and excitement at the first read-through of the new production of the Off-Broadway hit The Musical of Musicals at Metro Stage.
It’s Tuesday, March 20th at 4:30 PM. As I walk from the King Street Metro to 1201 North Royal Street, I remember the first time I saw the show in NYC where I laughed myself silly. The show was orgasmic for this musical theatre fanatic. Will local theatre goers enjoy this “Ode to Musical Lovers” as much as I did?
Well, with what I saw at the read-through, the show should be a blast and hopefully, a big hit. I’m expecting local theatre goers to howl loudly when they come to see the show at Metro Stage.
I walk into the theatre and am surrounded by lots of dust, chairs piled up on the sides of the aisles, electrical chords on the floor, cable wire strewn around, ladders and drills, lights and yellow and blue panels leaning on the stage, which will comprise part of the set.
There is a long rectangular table with chairs filled with the incredibly talented cast of Bobby Smith (who I loved this year in Caroline, or Change at Studio Theatre and Girl In The Goldfish Bowl here at Metro Stage), Donna Migliaccio (Helen Hayes Winner for her pie-making performance as Mrs. Lovett in Signature’s Sweeney Todd and a nominee this year for Assassins at Signature as Sarah Jane Moore) and Janine Gulisano-Sunday and her husband-singer extraordinaire Russell Sunday, (who I have seen perform in countless musicals at Toby’s – The Dinner Theatre of Columbia), and musical director, Dan Kazemi, who is sitting at the piano on the left side of the table.
With a cast like this, director Larry Kaye will have an enjoyable time mounting this production. They are all pros and extremely musical.
Larry Kaye begins the read through by introducing the cast, choreographer Nancy Harry, Set Designer Allison Campbell, Lighting Designer Terry Smith, Costume Designer Erin Nugent. (Sound Designer Steve Beano was not present). Larry asks the cast if they had reviewed the script and score, Janine, Donna and Russell nod “yes,” while funnyman Bobby Smith responds, “Yes, I looked at it once!”
Dan proceeds to lead the cast in vocalizing and warm up exercises. Hearing the cast warm up with “Meow-Meow-Meow-Meow-Meow-Meow” and “He-He-He-He-He-He’s” is, well, ear bending, but the beautiful tones that follow the “meows and He-Hes” by this vocally talented cast, brings shivers up and down my spine. I am so excited because I know then that this cast is going to be the best singing cast the show has ever had.
Larry next has the cast mark changes he has made to the script (which the creators have approved) and explains who would be saying and singing the changes. And then the singing of the very funny score and reading of the very funny book begins.
I’m not going to give the humor of the book away, but suffice it to say that this cast hits all the right notes and are superb comedians and comediennes. Donna thrills the attendees with some incredible vocal wonders. Carolyn and I applaud wildly and hoot when Donna hits these notes. Merman would have been proud!
The director explains to his cast his philosophy: “I will not put an actor in a scene where the actor isn’t comfortable,” and vows to “bring out every comic moment in this script.” (or else! Just kidding.) And I know that this cast will deliver because this show is perfectly tailored to their vocal and comic abilities and talents. They are perfectly cast.
After a quick dinner break in the lobby, where the cast munches on sandwich wraps and chicken wings and cookies, set designer Alisson Campbell shows a scaled down model of her set. “I am trying to find a surprise or a moment that has a surprise in every scene.” Some of these surprises are unveiled, but I won’t divulge them to you. Costume designer Erin Nugent shows sketches of her costumes and explains that there will be 15 second costume changes which will occur offstage. (Look for kimonos, bath robes, glasses, some pretty formal outfits to be worn by the cast).
It’s 8:30 PM and I have to leave to catch the metro. Of course, I get lost for a while until a patient and understanding pedestrian shows me the way and walks me to the Braddock Street Metro. I just miss a train and wait another 20 minutes when a Blue Line train gets me to Metro Center, where I transfer to The Shady Grove Red Line train and arrive back to my condo- The Gallery- one block from The White Flint Metro at 10:15 PM. I review and update the notes used for this article, and as I heat up some soup in the microwave, I happily recount the funny lines of The Musical of Musicals and smile at the great cast that will bring it to life at Metro Stage from April 12-June 3rd.
Alright! Alright! Here’s a snippet from the show’s parody of Rodgers and Hammerstein:
“That was a delicious clam dip
Eating it made us glad.
We know they were minced, but we’re convinced
That some of them clams were bad.
Our stomachs hurt, our bladders are full
We drank too much champagne.
That was delicious clam dip
But some of us got Ptomaine!”
To purchase tickets to The Musical of Musicals, go to www.metrostage.org