Posts Tagged ‘theater’

Marie-SeverinNeil Simon was a writer whose work I appreciated in several media: He penned the screenplays of movies such as The Sunshine Boys, The Goodbye Girl, and California Suite I saw in the 1970s. His plays such as Brighton Beach Memoirs and Biloxi Blues in the 1980s I watched on local stages.

But it was the TV adaptation of the play Odd Couple (1970-1975), starring Tony Randall and Jack Klugman, that was my introduction to Simon. I only caught the 1968 movie considerably later. I even watched the short-lived 1982 TV remake with Ron Glass as Felix Unger and Demond Wilson as Oscar Madison.

Of course, the career of Neil Simon goes back to the early days of television. Simon’s hits on stage and screen made him the most commercially successfully playwright of the 20th century — and perhaps of all time.
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Marie Severin was a name I first knew as the main colorist at Marvel Comics in the 1960s while also doing the occasional penciling job. But she started as a colorist back in the late 1940s “when her older brother, comic book artist John Severin (1922-2012), asked her to color one of his stories for EC Comics.”

As a penciler, she also worked on Marvel’s parody comic book series, Not Brand Echh. And she co-created Spider-Woman in 1976, designing her iconic costume. Plus, everyone agreed that Marie Severin was one of the most delightful, funny and talented people who ever worked in comics.
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Russ Heath was one of the great comic book illustrators of the field. “Because he veered away from super-heroes and more ‘commercial’ genres, he often did not get the respect he deserved.”

Most people – my wife, for instance – know who Roy Lichtenstein was. Most folks who aren’t comic book fans don’t know Russ Heath. This This piece explains part of my loathing for Lichtenstein:

“One day in 1962, Lichtenstein walked down to the corner newsstand near his studio and bought a copy of DC Comics’ All-American Men at War #89, took it back to the studio, threw it on the overhead projector, and cranked out about a half-dozen paintings based on (swiped from) panels in that comic book, which he then sold for millions of dollars each.” Heath got nada.
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Gary Friedrich, best known as the co-creator of the motorcycle-riding Ghost Rider character for Marvel, died at the age of 75. He had been suffering from Parkinson’s Disease. He had a legal tussle with Marvel that was only partially satisfactory.
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Kofi Annan is dead at 80. He came to embody the United Nations’ deepest aspirations and most ingrained flaws.

For some reason, keeping track of UN Secretaries-General – there aren’t that many – has long fascinated me. And I wanted the first one from sub-Saharan Africa (Ghana) to do well, a subject of much debate, despite his Nobel Peace Prize.
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Every time I see that an older person of note dies, I read comments such as “Was he still alive?” They always seem astonished. For me, it’s totally the opposite. If I discover that a noteworthy person, in the realm of my interests, passed away in 2010, and I somehow missed it, THAT would surprise me.

Well intentioned white peopleWhen my wife’s family was staying at a timeshare in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts, my wife, my daughter, a brother-in-law, one of his daughters, and I went to see productions at the Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield.

More correctly, we went to the TWO theaters. On the Sunday, we went to the St. Germain to see the world premiere of the play Well Intentioned White People. It was written by Rachel Lynett, who gave an author talk before we’d gotten there.

Someone keyed Cass’ car with a racial epithet. The black professor, looking to make tenure, would just as soon let it go. But thanks to the well-meaning concern of her roommate Viv, it becomes public.

Soon Dean West from her university ends up wanting to make the incident a teachable moment, with Cass and another “minority”, Parker, having to do the heavy lifting to create an “appropriate” event in response.

Many of the characters are quite recognizable, especially the dean, if you’ve ever spent five minutes in the world of academia. You might be surprised to find that the story is often quite funny.

The production continues through September 8. I hope it will be considered for Cap Rep sometime in the future. Incidentally, Andrea Cirie, who plays the dean, has performed in the Albany theater.

The musical we, all but my BIL, saw on the following Wednesday on the Boyd-Quinson Mainstage, a couple blocks away from the St. Germain, was West Side Story.

I know this story extremely well, and it may be my favorite musical. I saw the movie when I was 10 or 11, I’ve seen a ballet, and several stage productions.

This may be the best. Here’s Steve Barnes’ review in the Albany Times Union. It is playing through September 1.

The Barrington Stage Company was founded in January 1995. The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee premiered on the St. Germain stage in 2004, ran on Broadway from 2005-2008, and then played on the Mainstage later in 2008.

My wife and I are considering going to Pittsfield to see The Glass Menageie on the Mainstage in October. It’s amazing that with our several trips to the area over the past couple decades, we discovered BSC only this year.

Hairspray Director Gregory Theodore Marsh, Annabelle Duffy , Theatre Ensemble Director Ward Dales

Back on Saturday, May 19, the family went to Proctors Theatre in Schenectady to attend the 2nd Annual High School Musical Theatre Awards for New York’s Capital Region in partnership with The Broadway League.

Albany High School was up for six awards in an event fashioned after Broadway’s Tony Awards®. The evening celebrated “the achievements of the region’s theatre students from 23 area high schools, highlighting the importance of arts and theatre education.”

The AHS March production of “Hairspray” won for best musical, best technical execution and best choreography execution. Moreover, “Albany High junior Annabelle Duffy won best actress for her portrayal of feisty Tracy Turnblad.”

She received an all expenses paid trip to New York City to receive training from working Broadway professionals. Annabelle and a young man from the area participated in the Jimmy Awards, the national stage in which high school performers across the nation acted and sang, on June 25.

At Proctors, our family applauded wildly for AHS and also my young niece’s high school; one of the supporting characters in their The Music Man was nominated, which somehow meant that the niece got to perform in the energetic opening and closing numbers.

Truth is that some of the Albany High School rooting was a bit of chip on the collective shoulders of the city dwellers. On the standardized tests, the urban schools don’t fare nearly as well as the ones in the suburban districts. But as someone wrote on a Facebook listserv:

“What I do know is my children will have experiences like many others won’t. They are exposed to the world thanks to classmates, teachers, and courses not available in many locations… Remember money talks and those districts with most living in poverty are underfunded and inundated with unfunded state mandates.”

Not incidentally:

Grammy-nominated jazz artist Stefon Harris (Albany High School ’91) was named a recipient of a 2018 Doris Duke Artist Award – “one of the most prestigious arts grants in the country – for his continuing contribution to jazz.

“Harris is one of seven performing artists that will receive $250,000 in flexible funding, along with up to an additional $25,000 to encourage contribution to his retirement account.”

For ABC Wednesday

We go to the theater a fair amount, but the first half of April 2017 was quite the outlier.

Sunday, April 2: The Little Mermaid – Catskill High School (three of us)

One of my nieces was in her fifth production, and the three of us have seen them all. This was her largest role yet, playing Flounder. She was quite good, actually, and I say this not out of familial loyalty.

In general the girls were better singers than the boys. Ariel’s sisters were fine as were Ursula’s assistants. But the hits were Sebastian (Edward Donahue), Ariel (Ade Spencer) and especially Ursula (Anna White).

Thursday, April 6: The Sound of Music – Proctors Theatre, Schenectady (three of us)

Proctors has had Broadway-quality productions for a number of years, and this was no exception. The trick with the musical is that the movie is so imprinted in the brain. My Favorite Thing is sung at the abbey, Do-Re-Mi at the Trapp villa, and The Lonely Goatherd in Maria’s bedroom, when she calms the children freaked out by the thunderstorm.

While the two leads (Charlotte Maltby, Nicholas Rodriguez) are fine, and the children are amazingly good, the largest applause went to Melody Betts as Mother Superior after she sang Climb Ev’ry Mountain.

We bought tickets for next season’s shows, including Fun Home, The Color Purple, Finding Neverland and On Your Feet! (the Gloria Estafan story). Buying a subscription THIS year will mean getting dibs on buying toicxkets for Hamilton in 2018-2019.

(Only somewhat off topic: Alison Bechdel is Vermont’s cartoonist laureate. She created Fun Home.)

Saturday, April 8, 2017: They Built America: The Workers of the Erie Canal – local school (two of us)

This is a Capital Rep show commemorating the 200th anniversary of the groundbreaking of the engineering feat that went from Albany to Buffalo. “Meet the real men, women and children, the politicians, farmers, merchants and laborers who…[built] the Erie Canal.” There are four actors, and three of them, the two men and one of the women, play multiple parts. It was quite good, about an hour long and suitable for children.

The Daughter should have come.

Sunday, April 9: Oliver! – Albany High School (two of us)

This was, aside from some occasional sound problems, extraordinarily good. I was’t familiar with the story, though I sang Consider Yourself in glee club in high school. It’s a dark, sordid, violent tale.

The standout were the terrifying Bill Sykes (Ackazemas Myers), the show-stopping singer Nancy (Williemae Fiddemon), and the shifty Fagen (Raphael Cohen), who had a fun bit with the violinist in the orchestra. Oliver was played by sixth-grader Hassan Laing who was good, but occasionally miked badly.

Saturday, April 15: Beautiful: the Carole King Story – Proctors Theatre, Schenectady (two of us)

I saw this on the calendar months ago and said, Who scheduled this for Holy Week?” It’s only on the Wednesday through Sunday. I have to sing or rehearse or travel the other days. Based on the packed house for this matinee, many folks wee in the same boat.

Just from casual conversation with the folks around the Wife and me, it was clear that almost everyone knew the Tapestry album from 1971 but few were familiar with the songwriting of Carole King (the wonderful Julia Knitel) with husband Gerry Goffin (Liam Tobin) well before that, competing to get their songs pitched to the right singer or group that might make their songs #1.

As Greg Haymes noted in Nippertown: “‘Beautiful’ could have easily been nothing more than another cliched jukebox musical gathering together the hits by songwriters of the Brill Building era, i.e., ‘Smokey Joe’s Cafe’ (Leiber and Stoller) or ‘Leader of the Pack’ (Ellie Greenwich). But thanks to some smart, comic dialogue by Douglas McGrath, deft direction by Marc Bruni and strong, all-around performances by the cast, ‘Beautiful’ is a snappy musical that rises above the level of the usual jukebox musical expectations.

“But it’s not all about King, and the title of the show is something of a misnomer. The secondary couple – portraying the songwriting team of Cynthia Weil (Erika Olson) and Barry Mann (Ben Fankhauser) – and their music is crucial.”

Yes, it wasn’t just a Kingfest, as the early “1650 Broadway Medley” had songs from Neil Sedaka (singer of “Oh, Carol”), Leiber and Stoller, Phil Spector and many others. The Mann/Weil hit You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling was a standout.

But Act 2 belonged to the former Carole Klein. I LOVED this show.

curious-incident-dogThe family went to the Wednesday, November 23, 8 p.m. showing of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time at Proctors Theatre in Schenectady. It won the 2015 Tony Award for Best New Play, and is now on its first North American tour. Simon Stephens has adapted Mark Haddon’s best-selling novel.

Fifteen-year-old Christopher is extraordinarily intelligent, but has difficulty with everyday life. “When he falls under suspicion for killing his neighbor’s dog, he sets out to identify the true culprit, which leads to an earth-shattering discovery and a journey that will change his life forever.”

Though the words Read the rest of this entry »

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