From Berlin to Tinseltown

"Three-named people are like three-legged dogs — stubborn and scrappy!" an Englishman declares upon meeting Ruth Alice Bennett.

His assessment is correct. After the young photographer's proper Yankee family and fiance disapprove of her nude self-portraits — this is 1930, by the way — her quest for a freer environment takes her to the international artists' colony centered in Berlin. There she earns acclaim for her films, and falls in love.

Off-Broadway's Ruthless! Extends as Two of Its Stars Take to the Cabaret Stage

A new block of seats for the Off Broadway revival of Joel Paley and Marvin Laird’s musical romp, Ruthless!, are on sale for the announced extension of the show through June 18, 2016.

New Oxford Companion to Shakespeare is a Must

Shakespeare lovers, want to impress with your knowledge of the Bard of Avon? Declaim lines from Othello? Be a Cleopatterer rapper? Learn more about Much Ado about Nothing? To be or not to be with Hamlet? Know when all’s well that ends well in dozens of comedies, tragedies, and sonnets?

Liza Minnelli, Celebrating a Milestone: Turning 70 and Still Doing What Comes Naturally

Who in the world had the clout to have the immortal George and Ira Gershwin and Gus Kahn song, "Liza," introduced by Ruby Keeler in a 1929 Ziegfeld show, pulled out of mothballs and sung by none other than Judy Garland to her newborn? None other than Miss Liza Minnelli. The tune not only became a Garland classic, but has been forever connected to Liza with a Z.

Hello Again Dolly! Jerry Herman's Classic to Return with Bette Midler

It’ll be so nice to have Bette back where she belongs! Legendary composer Jerry Herman and prodigious theater and film producer Scott Rudin have announced Bette Midler will return to Broadway in one of our most cherished musicals when she takes on the role of Dolly Gallagher Levi in Hello, Dolly! The revival—the fifth since the original’s January 1964 opening—will be directed by four-time Tony and five-time Drama Desk winner Jerry Zaks, with choreography by Tony and DD winner Warren Carlyle.

The Fiddler Story - as Told in Tradition

L’Chaim! To life! And what a life Fiddler on the Roof has had. Since its 1964 Broadway debut, more than a half-century of sunrises and sunsets have set on the musical by Jerry Bock (music) and Sheldon Harnick (lyrics), with book by Joseph Stein, based on Czarist Russia stories by Sholom Aleichem. It’s become one the most beloved musicals of all time, with its timeless score winning the hearts of millions the world over.

Winter Theater in Chicago 2016

Arrchie Theater Company at Angel Island, 731 W. Sheridan Rd. For its swan-song season, the 30-year-old company returns to its roots with a David Mamet play assembling the dream-team cast of Richard Cotovsky, Rudy Galvan and Stephen Walker. (Jan. 22-March 6; www.maryarrchie.com)

Star Tar Trivia: Facts About Dames at Sea

With the 1969 musical Dames at Sea making its Broadway debut in fall 2015, let’s take a fun look at some facts about the original staging:

The musical was originally a short sketch, based on the Warner Bros. Gold Diggers movies and the lavish production numbers staged by Busby Berkley—only on a tiny budget.

The part of Ruby was modeled—in a steal of a deal—after Ruby Keeler in 42nd Street and was suggested by the Ruby Keeler-type from those early movies.

The musical was lengthened to 50 minutes with Robert Dahdah directing.

Remembering Robin Miller, Co-Creator of Dames at Sea

“While in London in 1992, I had the great fortune to meet Robin Miller, then in his mid-60s. We struck up a friendship because of our mutual love of musical theater,” said West Coast-based writer/producer Ken Jillson. “When I discovered he'd written Dames at Sea, my jaw dropped because that tight little gem is one of my all-time favorite musicals since I first saw it at the Ivar Theatre in Hollywood in the early 70s.”

Dames at Sea Dances Back to Broadway

As soon as you enter the auditorium of the Helen Hayes Theater and see that stunning art deco red curtain, you know you're in for something fun. The curtain rises on a movie-theater screen, and the credits roll as if you're about to see a B&W RKO or Warner Bros. classic, starring the likes of Fred and Ginger and Ruby Keeler and directed by Busby Berkeley.

Wise Moves: Tony-Winning Dancer Comes Back to Broadway

Scott Wise, three-time nominee and 1989 Tony winner as Featured Actor, Musical, two-time Drama Desk nominee, and winner of a coveted Astaire Award, had been absent from Broadway for nine years. He's back and playing a featured role and in the ensemble of Allegiance.Following a recent Saturday matinee, he instinctively knows what the first question will be: "What took so long?"

George Takei Pledges his Allegiance to America's Shameful History

Allegiance, the new musical by Marc Acitom with music and lyrics by Jay Kuo and which is inspired by stories of Japanese-Americans uprooted from their homes after the Pearl Harbor attack and sent to internment camps, finally arrives on Broadway Sunday. In development for seven years, the show has undergone numerous changes since its 2012 San Diego premiere. Shepherding it to the stage is Olivier Award nominee Stafford Arima (London's Ragtime, Off-Broadway's Bare, Carrie, Altar Boyz).

The New Razzle Dazzle

You know that famous Boston TV bar, Cheers, where everybody knows your name? In theater, that would be true of New York Post's theater gossip maven Michael Riedel. Everyone who's anyone and then some know his name. Some have praise for his gotcha journalism as long as it's in praise of them. Others -well, you know. Riedel wields enormous power - as much as and maybe more than top critics. Producers take his calls and have his ear for any morsel of an exclusive.

The Prime of Miss (er, Dame) Maggie Smith

"With a face like that," stated Meg, Margaret Smith's mom, no less, "how could you hope to be an actress? Go to secretarial school." Nat, her dad, didn't agree. Not that it mattered. Meg was stagestruck and the flames of desire to make a career there never extinguished.

A drama teacher, sensing something special, accepted her into her school and, with her instructor as Svengali, Meg, no surprise, soon was playing leads—and, at Oxford, as Maggie Smith won over audiences in several revues. The seed was not only planted but grew like the bean in Jack and the Beanstalk.

Hamilton's Burr, Leslie Odom, Discusses Lin Manuel Miranda's Hip Hopera

Leslie Odom plays Aaron Burr in the musical Hamilton. Giuliano photos. Our California colleague, theater critic and friend Jack Lyons, managed to score impossible-to-find tickets to Hamiltonby Lin-Manuel Miranda. The musical is sold out for the next year and likely beyond.

Sandy and Gerry on Broadway

The Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade evoked our recent visit to New York City for an American Theater Critics Association (ATCA) mini-meeting. Most enjoyable is the hour before giant balloons, super bands, fancy dance groups, and singers adorning fancy floats march down the parade route. It's when we get glimpses of the best of Broadway musicals.

The musical Something Rotten! was one of the best musicals we have seen in ages. It is so refreshing and original! It was thrilling to have a second chance to enjoy the singing and dancing of such talented performers.

The American Theater Critics Association at Sardi's

When the American Theater Critics Association meets in New York, a highlight of the conference tends to be lunch at Sardi’s restaurant with a stunning array of Broadway celebrities. This year, yet again co-organizers Sherry Eaker and Ira Bilowit drew upon a spectrum of actors, playwrights and directors who are currently active with Broadway productions. In several instances actors had to race from the restaurant to theaters in time for their 2 PM matinees.

ATCA in New York

The American Theater Critics Association, a national organization, hosts annual conferences in a rotation of cities. Since joining the organization, we have attended meetings in Chicago, Indianapolis, Louisville (Humana Festival), Shepherdstown, West Virginia (Contemporary American Theater Festival) and most recently in New Orleans. We are looking forward to April in Philadelphia. The following year we meet in San Francisco.

Creative Team Discusses the Comedy, A Confederacy of Dunces

From November 11 through December 13, 2015, Huntington Theatre Company will present a new play, A Confederacy of Dunces,adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher from the novel by John Kennedy Toole. It stars Nick Offerman as Ignatius and is directed by David Esbjornson.

Boston Theater: More Bad News

Days after the Huntington Theater Company severed ties with Boston University, the other shoe has dropped. As part of its expansion, Emerson College--in recent years a major presence in the Boston theater district—bought the historic Colonial Theater on Boylston Street. The performing-arts-based college manages the Majestic Theater.

The venerable Colonial thrived during an era of out-of-town tryouts for Broadway bound productions. The most successful of these shows returned to Boston during regional tours. Only the latter part of that formula remains, with ever more attrition.

Chicago Fall Theater Preview 2015

For the last two decades, I could boast seven theaters located within three blocks of my front door. After the end of this coming season, however, that number will be considerably reduced.

A massive makeover of the Ettleson building at Broadway and Sheridan is displacing a pair of loft spaces housing two of Chicago's foremost pioneering companies: the 28-year-old Strawdog Theater Company will move to as-yet-undecided new quarters in the summer of 2016, while its neighbor around the corner, the Mary-Arrchie Theater Company, will strike its sets after 30 years of operation.

The Starlite Players, Sarasota's Newest Theater, Debuts in July

Sarasota's newest theater company, The Starlite Players, tries to prove “The Customer Is Always Right” as it stages five new comedies under that rubric. They play July 15-16 and July 17-18, 2015, 7-9PM, at The Starlite Room, 1001 Cocoanut Street. Sets and seats are upstairs of the restaurant that can turn the venue into a dinner theater with its discount for ticket holders on performance dates.

The Larry Kramer Story

Post Pride Weekend, HBO will air Jean Carlomusto's “Larry Kramer in Love & Anger” on June 29, 2015 at 9 PM (Eastern). The 82-minute documentary features the trailblazing, often controversial and contentious gay-rights political firebrand and AIDS activist, author, and acclaimed playwright in "an intimate look at the inspiring and sometimes devastating measures taken by him that ultimately saved the lives of millions affected by HIV and AIDS." The telecast almost coincides with Kramer's June 25 80th birthday.

Take Home Broadway -- On Disc!

The Tony and Drama Desk Awards have come and gone; there've been winners and not-winners in the Musical categories. It was a season of great scores--one for the books with 10 musicals opening. Being avid theatergoers, you no doubt have seen all the shows. Now, you can take a few cast albums home to rekindle memories again and again. All are quite reasonably-priced, with a SRP of less than $20. In addition, there are Off Broadway cast albums and reissues of two long-out-print classics by two giants of the entertainment world - and news of more to come.

Ken Howard Wows `Em at the Lambs Club

From time to time, my occasional work as a performing arts critic in Texas causes me to miss some important event here in New York. That was never truer than on last March 9, 2015 when Marc Baron, the leader of America’ oldest theatrical club, The Lambs, hosted a memorable Shepherd’s Luncheon at the Club to honor the esteemed President of SAG-AFTRA, actor Ken Howard. But all was not lost when I learned that Mr. Howard’s important union would make available a full internet video of his fascinating remarks on that gala occasion.

Promised for the 2015 Tony Awards: Stars, Entertainment, and a Lot of Tweeting

Sunday's 69th annual Tony Awards, presented by the Broadway League and the American Theater Wing, will be more of a social event than usual. As Kristin Chenoweth and Alan Cumming co-host the live three-hour telecast from Radio City Music Hall from 8 -11 P.M. (ET/PT time delay) on CBS, there'll be live tweeting during the ceremony.

Chicago Summer Theater Special

A "revival" production, technically, is a show whose premiere run ended less than two years before its remount, the latter featuring all or most of the same cast. Nowadays, it can also refer to plays not yet old enough to be called "classics"—a term most often applied to plays over fifty years past their inception. What, then, are we to call new adaptations of venerable fixtures long assimilated into the dusty archives of "standard repertoire?"

A Chat with Williamstown Theater Festivals' New Artistic Director, Mandy Greenfield

Mandy Greenfield is in the midst of her first season as artistic director of the Williamstown Theater Festival. Sitting down to chat with her, I mentioned that, as a member of the American Theater Critics Association, I attended this summer’s Tennessee Williams Festival in New Orleans. I added that New Yorker critic John Lahr was a presenter there, since he’d recently authored the biography, “Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh.”

Autumn Classics and Revivals and How to Tell the Difference

The word "classic" is tossed around pretty casually these days—indeed, it's not uncommon for Baby Boom geezers to affix that appellation to anything recalled from their youth, regardless of lasting historical significance ("Yellow Submarine" might qualify as "classic" pop, but should "Mellow Yellow" share that status?)

According to sages at Windy City Times, a play can be called a "classic" only if it's more than 100 years old—otherwise, it's a "revival." With that definition in mind, here are some of both to see this fall:

UNDISPUTED CLASSICS

April is a Great Month for Disabled Actors in New York

I've been saying that someone should write an article about what an outstanding month April has been for actors who are differently abled. No one did, so I will endeavor to do my best here. But the three main theater companies that work with this under-represented group all had projects that either ended, began, or continued in the month of April. Thus, giving a lot of differently abled actors like myself the rare opportunity to do what I love; perform.

Actors' Equity Shakes Up Los Angeles Theater Scene

Despite opposition from the local Actors’ Equity Association and Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle, the national leaders of AE have voted to impose a $9 hourly minimum wage for members who perform in L.A. County theaters with fewer than 99 seats.

The Contentious and Fascinating John Patrick Shanley

Born October 3, 1950 and now middle aged and honored with a table-running Oscar, Tony and Pulitzer, John Patrick Shanley exudes the rough-edged persona of a Mick from the Bronx who can give and take a good punch. He grew up being pummeled with tough love by the Mom who shaped his aesthetic, as well as nuns and priests who knocked sense and atheism into him.

Cannibalizing Tennessee Williams

This year’s conference of the American Theater Critics Association overlapped and interacted with the 29th annual Tennessee Williams New Orleans Literary Festival. David Kaplan, curator of the ten-year-old Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival, was on hand to direct a co production of the Hotel Plays.

New Orleans Theater After Katrina

Organized by local member, Alan Smason, the annual general membership conference of the American Theater Critics Association met recently in New Orleans. The conference overlapped and interacted with the Tennessee Williams New Orleans Literary Festival, so there were many highlights and insights. This is our first of several planned reports of a lively encounter with The Big Easy.

The (Drag) Queen's Speech: Talking with Terence Boyle

Terence Boyle traces his ancestry to Protestant Northern Ireland, but he is, himself, Catholic and teaches at the Jesuit-affiliated Loyola University. The openly gay Boyle's play, allegedly based on the Biblical tale of Cain and Abel, is titled ”The Queen's Speech”—and that's "queen" as in "drag."

Spring Theater Preview in Chicago

Playgoers impatient for destination summer festivals in Spring Green, Bloomington or Ontario's Stratford can get in practice at currently running double- or even triple-feature "marathon" events. These would include the nine-hour “Hammer Trinity”—House Theater of Chicago's compilation of its 2012 The Iron Stag King, 2013 The Crownless King and now-concluding The Excelsior King—or Steppenwolf's Garage Repertory Series, featuring a revolving roster of plays presented by a trio of companies reflecting Chicago's prolific storefront circuit.

Exploring O'Neill with John Douglas Thompson

It was a Monday morning following a grueling weekend of five performances of Satchmo at the Waldorf at Shakespeare & Company. Compared to a norm of six weeks, there had been only three weeks of rehearsal before opening night. John commented that he had been averaging three hours of sleep. Asked why, he described restless nights running new lines and constant changes in the first play by the Wall Street Journal’s Terry Teachout. It is also his first experience of performing a one-man show.

John Douglas Thompson: Articulating the Journey

Chicago's Goodman Theater production of Eugene O'Neill's daunting The Iceman Cometh,directed by Robert Falls, has just opened to rave reviews at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Charles Isherwood in the New York Times states that "Mr. Falls’s magisterial staging of O’Neill’s harrowing drama, one of his very greatest, floored me when I first saw it at the Goodman Theater almost three years ago. Once again, at the conclusion of this blistering production, currently at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, I had to scrape myself up from my seat, with my innards churning."

Risk and Resurrection: A Winter Theater Special from Chicago

Plays drawn from the repertoire of Western drama are usually dismissed as "safe options" for theaters—what could be more reliable, after all, than a script arriving with a decades-long track record of pleasing audiences? This popular impression renders all the more astonishing the degree of daring reflected in this winter's selection of (at least) twice-told tales.

BIG RISKS

New Urbanite Theater Sets Sights on Downtown Sarasota

Two FSU/Asolo Conservatory grads are co-founding and co-artistic directing a new Urbanite Theater, bringing “contemporary playgoing opportunities” to downtown Sarasota . What makes Summer Wallace and Brendan Ragan's venture so different? A real estate developer is constructing a theater for them to show actor-driven exciting, fresh work.

By April 2015, the building should be up. The black box theater has been rented for $1 a year for 5 years. Fund-raising will equip it in time, it is hoped, for a fall 2015 opening.

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