Thursday, June 20, 2013

After the ‘Cinderella’ Ball...

After the ‘Cinderella’ Ball,
Enjoy Your Vacation Off
and Way Off Broadway

by Tony Vellela
There are those who seek out a vacation destination based on how near it is to a great golf course.  Others want to be assured that an endless stretch of white, sandy beach will permit them to fry their skin on both sides at the same time.  We, however, cannot survive for too many nights without experiencing that special lift we get, from sharing that unique pleasure that comes during two magical hours in the dark.  No, it’s not gazing at the rings of Saturn, munching popcorn at a drive-in, or even sharing a hammock behind a cabin in the piney woods.



Gotta see a show.  So with that in mind, this time around, I’m offering a few leads that might help you choose where to head for when you get your reprieve from the time clock, the lunchroom, the car pool and the boss.

At the Barrington Stage in Pittsfield, MA, the captivating Annette O’Toole stars in ‘Southern Comfort,’ a new musical by Dan Collins [book & lyrics] and Julianne Wick-Davis [music], about transformation, love and redefining family.    It runs from July 19 through August 10.  Jeff McCarthy co-stars, in this production directed by Tom Caruso.

If your feet can move as fast as that master of fancy tap footwork Maurice Hines, you can catch his dazzling new tribute show ‘Tappin’ Thru Life,’ at the Cleveland Playhouse.  It’s only on until June 22, but it’s a great chance to see and hear Hines honoring many of the previous show biz greats who inspired his career, among them Duke Ellington, Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra.  Hines has ‘tapped’ Jeff Calhoun to helm the show. Tony-winner Mary Zimmerman both adapted and directed this premiere, family-friendly for Chicago’s Goodman Theatre.  Zimmerman has taken the original Rudyard Kipling stories, and the subsequent Disney film, and fashioned her own vision to create ‘The Jungle Book.’ using music and lyrics by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman.  The adventures of young Mowgli are a mainstay in the bedtime story hours of many children and hold a place of honor in the memories of their parents, teachers, aunts, uncles, and the rest of us.  Choreography by Christopher Gattelli adds to the lively event, which opens June 21 and will guide us through its colorful jungle until July 28.

While you’re in the Windy City, if you plan it carefully, you can also catch a new play directed by Pam MacKinnon, at the Steppenwolf Theatre Company.  If you missed the Tony-winning revival of  ’Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ this past season, you will now have an opportunity to witness why MacKinnon won a best director Tony for handling the same post she holds down here for the new Bruce Norris play, ‘The Qualms.’  This one also takes a jaundiced look at marital relationships, as a group of married couples gathers at an apartment complex by the beach, for yet another swinging soiree laced with food, drinks and drugs.  When they attempt to integrate a new twosome into the festivities, the mix’n'match-fest doesn’t quite gel. The fireworks go off July 3rd, and keep bursting forth until 8/31.



If you do find yourself in the city with the big shoulders, head north for a few days.  It doesn’t matter when, because from now until the fall, Ontario, Canada’s Shaw Festival, with its four performing spaces, guarantees that there will be something to your liking. A few examples: in the mood for a romantic tale?  There’s “A Light in the Piazza,” and “Enchanted April.”  Eager to be transported back about a century, to what seemed like simpler times?  Try “Major Barbara” or “Lady Windemere’s Fan.”  How about a classic toe-tapper that never fails to leave you humming – what better than “Guys and Dolls?”  And that’s truly only the half of it!  What gives the Shaw its ‘died and gone to theatre heaven’ quality, aside from the picturesque, small town environs that’s beautifully manicured and maintained, is its playing schedule.  You can take in three separate productions in one day, starting with an 11:30 AM performance, then a 2 PM matinee, followed by an 8 PM offering.  Type in shawfest.com to get the whole story.

If you like the fun of intrigue in the traditional noirish style, the Signature Theatre in Arlington, VA presents a cloak & dagger tuner titled, simply, ‘Cloak & Dagger.’  Written as an intermission-less 90 minute show, [a la Hollywood B pictures of mid last century], this new musical by Ed Dixon pits his luckless gumshoe Nick Cutter against all the usual suspects, especially the blonde femme type. 

This one opened already [in the dead of night?] and plays until 7/6.

Do not overlook or look past local, regional, senior or college productions when you’re visiting a new-to-you destination.  These are folks whose love of theatre is genuine, and if you willingly suspend your disbelief, you’ll find that they’ll got a lot to offer in the ‘jus

Finally, if you find yourself hankering for the lights of 14th street, the Goodspeed in East Haddam, Ct is happy to satisfy your hanker, with its gala revival of the Jerry Herman/Michael Stewart classic, ‘Hello, Dolly!’  One of the most acclaimed regional theatres in the world of musical revivals, the Goodspeed hosts Dolly Levi and company, directed by Daniel Goldstein, from June 28 through 9/8.
If your vacation looks more like a stay-cation [for those of us Big Applers], it WILL be the lights of 14th street, and environs, that can offer a rich, rewarding and memorable grab-bag of theatre treats.  For a start, you might finally check off a few shows that you were too distracted to take in when they were first on display on Broadway.   Two cases in point:  you can bask in the joy of both “Peter and the Starcatcher,”  and “Avenue Q” in the same day, because they’re both holding forth at the New World Stages complex, at 340 west 50th Street.

There is another destination that’s located right in the heart of little ole New York, at the Broadway Theatre.  It’s a vacation not in a geographic place [although the locale is certainly distinctive]. It’s Rodgers & Hammerstein-land.  Their “Cinderella” will transport you back into that special world of bachelor princes, fairy godmothers, passenger pumpkins and breakable footwear.  Even if you are not familiar with its original television incarnation [Julie Andrews, and my God! Kaye Ballard!], even if it’s all new to you, you will luxuriate in the hallmark R&H elements, chief among them, a signature waltz.  Recall: the Carousel waltz, or ‘Shall We Dance?’ from ‘The King and I.’  This time it’s ‘Ten Minutes Ago,’ and it could be the sweetest of them all. Cinderella & Company do justice to the original tale, with a few noteworthy adjustments, compliments of its adult-friendly new libretto [book] by Douglas Carter Beane.  This version has laughs for the designated escort.  With apologies to Prince Santino Fontana, this time the Bachelor fits the contemporary mold – real handsome but not drop-dead gorgeous.  He’s from the Dustin Hoffman school.

But he is still quite a catch.



Most of all, for me, it’s another chance to hear that gorgeous voice of Victoria Clark.  She does have echoes of Mary Martin, but with the corners sanded off.  [Oh, and the wicked ogre-woman who keeps Cindy chained to the sooty hearth?  In a role she was born to play - Harriet Harris.  A very big bonus.]  Now if only the management will keep the line for the disabled rest room [I'm in that category] clear of doting mommas with cute-as-a-button little princesses too precious to be walked down a flight of stairs to the ladies’...



Finally, here’s an off-Broadway development that will have long-range echoes for years to come. Sometimes all the parts seem to come together with such ease that it appears to have been pre-ordained.  So it is with the announcement that the Culture Project, which has operated from 45 Bleecker Street for many years, will produce its Women Center Stage 2013 Festival for one month, starting July 8, at that venue, which was recently renamed in honor of a great lady of the theatre, and a great human being in life, Lynn Redgrave.  The Festival’s mission is to promote the work of women artists, especially those that have proven to be inspirational through their life and work.  No one fits that description better than Lynn.



Claimed by a cancer that she beat back vigorously for years, Lynn was always a woman who shied away from trading on her family name, a family that produced three generations of truly remarkable, estimable and individually unique theatre artists, whose talents shone on stage, on film and in television roles, starting with her grandfather, Roy Redgrave, a leading man in silent films, followed by her parents, Michael Redgrave and Rachel Kempson, siblings Vanessa and Michael, and nieces Natasha Richardson and Jenna Redgrave.  A friend for more than thirty years, one of my fondest memories centers around the happy discovery of how modestly she kept things, chief among them her simple little flat on west 57th street, just down the block from Carnegie Hall.  One might think it was the residence of a starting-out musician toiling to appear on that great  stage, instead of the woman who garnered dozens of honors, and along with her signal acting skills, was also an accomplished playwright.  She used that side of her creative self to honor her parents in two separate works, “Shakespeare for my Father,” and “Nightingale.”  To many, including myself, the highest honor that can be bestowed on a person whose life was dedicated to the theatre, is to have a theater named in their honor.

On Book

Continuing with recommendations of books to tote to the beach, the cottage,the deck of a cruise ship or the back porch, here are more titles to consider. ‘Actors at Work,’  a collection edited by Rosemarie Tichler and Barry Jay Kaplan, for Faber & Faber; ‘The Mystic in the Theatre – The Life of Eleanora Duse,’ by Eva Le Gallienne, Southern Illinois University Press; ‘Working in American Theatre,’ by Jim Volz, Metheun Press; ‘Introduction to Theatre Design,’ Stephen Di Benedetto, Routledge Press, and ‘Anne Bogart – Conversations with Anne,’ Theatre Communications Group.’

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TONY VELLELA wrote and produced the PBS series about theatre, ‘Character Studies.’  His play ‘Admissions’ was performed three times in New York, each time directed by Austin Pendleton.  It won Best Play at the New York International Fringe Festival, and is published by Playscripts.  His play ‘Maisie and Grover Go to the Theatre,’ is published by ArtAge Press.  His feature articles about the performing arts have appeared in dozens of publications, including The Christian Science Monitor, Dramatics, Parade, Rolling Stone, the Robb Report, Reader’s Digest and Saturday Review.  His ‘Test of Time’ won a CableACE Award for Lifetime Television Network.  He has taught theatre-related classes at the New School, HB Studio, Columbia University’s Teachers College, and several other institutions.  He conducts small-group sessions and private tutoring from his home -get latest information by contacting him at tvellela@nyc.rr.com.

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