Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Intermission Talk: September 14, 2010

Autumn in NYC Theaters
by Tony Vellela

So you're planning to take in a few shows this fall. So you'll be getting to your theatres by subway, bus, train, car, taxi, bicycle, unicycle or shank's mare [for anyone not on the AARP mailing list, that means 'walking'].

So here's an overview of what to look forward to, and possibly order tickets for now.

Scottsboro Boys
Any musical that features the creative talents of John Kander and the late Fred Ebb, and boasts direction and choreography by Susan Stroman, earns a place on the 'must-see' list. "The Scottsboro Boys," which also has a book by David Thompson, chronicles the fates of nine young black men accused of raping two white women in 1931. The alleged crimes took place aboard a freight train headed for Memphis. The piece began its life last season at off-Broadway's Vineyard Theatre, and sold-out performances prompted its move Uptown. The final work of one of musical theatre's few truly great writing teams, it promises to become another Kander & Ebb classic.

A different kind of classic could help bridge the gap when two people are looking for a night out, and one of them favors spending it in a theatre, while the other is more at home in a stadium. In the football world, NFL Hall of Fame coach Vince Lombardi ranks as a classic example of how one man can inspire young men to give their all on the gridiron. The winning team at the Super Bowl is awarded the Lombardi Trophy. Based on the David Maraniss biography 'When Pride Still Mattered,' the new play "Lombardi" provides Dan Lauria with the role of a lifetime, as he growls, snarls, cajoles, shames and cheers on his guys, driving them on to victory after victory.

Driving Miss Daisy
Hoke returns to the boards to drive Miss Daisy once again, when Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones retell the Pulitzer Prize-winning saga of a fiercely independent Jewish retired schoolteacher and the fiercely understanding chauffeur her caring son hires, to carry her in that shiny new 1948 Packard, to errands around Atlanta. Having seen this touching tale told off Broadway [with Dana Ivey in the tiny Playwrights Horizons black box, on the night Katharine Hepburn was there to scope out the role], and all the way up to its Oscar-winning incarnation with Jessica Tandy and Morgan Freeman, it will take real star power to make it fresh. It's safe to say that this team, aided by the inimitable Boyd Gaines as Daisy's son Boolie, qualify.

Time Stands Still
Also making a return engagement is last season's "Time Stands Still," by Donald Margulies. This is a gripping and moving examination of how a committed battlefield photojournalist struggles with her own personal battles, when she takes a local Iraqi translator into her bed as well as her assignments. The revelation sets off an emotional IUD back at home, when she returns injured and scarred, and does not know how to handle the offers of assistance from her longtime boyfriend. Laura Linney's multi-dimensional performance will again by supported by holdover cast members Eric Bogosian and Brian d'Arcy James, with Christina Ricci replacing the focus-grabbing Alicia Silverstone.

The Pitmen Paiters

A new entry imported from London that has not grabbed much buzz focus to date, "The Pitmen Painters" unveils the moving, true story of Northumberland miners from early in the last century who learned to channel their pent-up frustrations and feelings on canvas. And lest you think this could be a dicey story to deliver a real theatrical punch, look no further than the resume of its author, Lee Hall. You remember Hall - he wrote the book for "Billy Elliott."

A Little Night Music
Of course, there's also the re-revival of "A Little Night Music," wherein Bernadette Peters and Elaine Stritch have taken over the roles of that naughty, gaudy, bawdy, sporty mother-daughter team. The production, which opened last season with Catherine Zeta-Jones [a questionable Tony winner] and Angela Lansbury [a notable Tony icon] at the top of the cast list, was listless, almost fading before your eyes. This new duo sparks up the proceedings enough to warrant a possible second look. Both of these dames have the wry sense of humor, and the vinegar in their bloodstreams that these roles require. And when Bernadette sings 'Send In the Clowns,' you'll think to yourself, somebody damn well better send IN those G-D CLOWNS! This lady MEANS it!

25th Anniversary of The Normal Heart

This column doesn't normally mention one-night-only events. But a 25th anniversary staged reading of Larry Kramer's "The Normal Heart" merits an exception. With a cast that includes John Benjamin Hickey, Victor Garber and Patrick Wilson, and Joel Grey in the director's chair, the October 18 production, at the Walter Kerr Theatre, benefits the Actors Fund and Friends in Deed, both devoted to HIV/AIDS care for those who cannot afford it. Information is available at www.oandmco.com.

A Letter to Elia
And finally, a tribute film from Martin Scorsese titled "A Letter to Elia" reviews Kazan's almost peerless stage and film career, which shaped the talents, fortunes and lives of some of the last century's greatest playwrights and actors. PBS will show the documentary as part of its 'American Masters' series, slated in most markets for October 4, with a theatrical release also in the planning stage.

With "Scottsboro Boys" and "Driving Miss Daisy" headed to Broadway from their original O-B launching pads, and all of David Margulies' previous work seen there only, it's definitely worth a look at the life of the woman who gave off-Broadway its juice, Lucille Lortel. Alexis Greene's loving yet comprehensive biography "Lucille Lortel: The Queen of Off Broadway" will keep you turning the pages, as Lortel grows through her early career as a dancer, into the producer of the now-famous White Barn summer theatre, to her landmark productions, including the stunning presentation of Brecht's "Threepenny Opera" in the Theatre de Lys in the Village, which in her bold fashion, she purchased and named after herself.

TONY VELLELA wrote and produced the PBS series 'Character Studies.' His award-winning play "Admissions" is published by Playscripts. Vellela teaches at HB Studio, does private coaching sessions, and has served as a theatre journalist and critic for dozens of publications, including The Christian Science Monitor, Dramatics, Theatre Week and Parade Magazine.


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