Category: Patrick Pacheco

'Stick Fly' playwright has a feel for the nuances of race and class

December 8, 2011 |  1:28 pm

 
Stickfly

The complications of class and race—and the gradations of such among African Americans—are among the themes in Lydia R. Diamond’s domestic comedy, "Stick Fly,"  directed by Kenny Leon with pop singer Alicia Keys as its above-the-title producer. It opens on Broadway Thursday night.

Ruben Santiago-Hudson plays Joseph LeVay, an affluent neurosurgeon who has married into one of Martha's Vineyard’s first black families unstained by the legacy of slavery. Despite his status as lord of Vineyard manse, the good doctor keeps true to his working-class roots. In the early moments of the play, he dives into a hidden stash of pickled pigs feet, which he relishes with hot sauce—a culinary treat looked upon with some disdain by his well-born wife and his ambitious sons, played by Dule Hill and Mekhi Phifer.

Other characters include Cheryl, the smart and sassy 18-year-old daughter of the LeVays’ maid, and the two sons' girlfriends: Taylor, a Johns Hopkins entomologist, and Kimberly, a wealthy WASP who works with inner-city children on achievement gap issues.      
 
When  Diamond is asked if the savvy Cheryl, like Dr. LeVay, at times chooses to use less-than-perfect English in her banter with the high-IQ household,  the playwright says, “Oh, you mean  ‘code switching’?”

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Two Broadway stars put Potter and Snape behind them

November 9, 2011 |  3:35 pm

Danalan
Alan Rickman had a special visitor to his dressing room at the Golden Theatre Monday night:  Daniel Radcliffe. 

The actors from the Harry Potter movies — Rickman played Severus Snape and Radcliffe was Potter himself — are appearing on Broadway concurrently. Radcliffe spent his night off from the revival of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” taking in a preview of “Seminar,” the new Theresa Rebeck play in which Rickman plays a once-famous novelist who mercilessly baits and badgers a group of aspiring writers. "Seminar" opens Nov. 20; Radcliffe is with "How to Succeed" until Jan. 1.

Radcliffe found the production to be inspiring, Rickman said.  “He told me, ‘This makes me want to do a play, I have to do a play,’ ” he recalled in his dressing room before a recent rehearsal.  “And I told him, ‘Daniel, you have years ahead of you ….'  And he not only has the time but the talent to accomplish  much on the stage.”

In fact,  Rickman had earlier seen Radcliffe as corporate climber J. Pierrepont Finch in “How to Succeed” and pronounced his singing and dancing in the role as “brilliant.”
 
What Radcliffe meant, of course, is that he yearned to get back to the nonmusical stage, having already made his Broadway debut in a 2008 revival of “Equus,” in which he played a disturbed young stable hand who in a psychosexual rage blinds six horses one night — a decided departure from his heroic young wizard on film.

Rickman says one reward of being in the movies made from J.K. Rowling’s seven-volume Harry Potter opus was the privilege of  “watching three kids turn into three adults, imperceptibly it seems, over 10 years. And now being able to sit in a café in New York with Daniel, talking about something loosely called ‘process.’ ”
 
Though he is a person who guards his privacy closely, the actor says his anonymity has not been much compromised by the enormous popularity of the Harry Potter movies.  “I don’t wander around in a black wig,” he said, deadpan.

RELATED:

Theater review: 'How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" on Broadway

Movie review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II

— Patrick Pacheco

Above: Daniel Radcliffe, left, stars on Broadway in the revival of 'How to Succeed Without Really Trying.' Alan Rickman, right, is about to open in the play 'Seminar.' Credits: Radcliffe, Cindy Ord/Getty Images. Rickman, Jemal Countess/Getty Images
 
 
 

Appealing to the 'South Park' demographic with free tickets to 'Book of Mormon'

July 1, 2011 |  3:54 pm

Mormonumber 
NEW YORK --“Free stuff! Sweeeeeeeeeet!”

That’s how So Cartman, the irreverent bad-boy of “South Park,” might have characterized the mood at a special free matinee performance Friday of “The Book of Mormon,” the hit Broadway musical, at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre.

“A fantastic idea, I feel really lucky,” said Lauren Portigiano, who came into the city from Long Island and who at 25 was the dominant age group in the line that snaked for blocks just before the theater opened for general seating.

Portigiano was the beneficiary of an idea by the “Mormon” producers and creative team — including Matt Stone and Trey Parker, whose other franchise is “South Park” — to reach young people who can’t afford tickets that are going as high as $477 for premium orchestra seats. (Tickets bought through brokers can cost as much as $1,000). The show’s advance is reportedly well over $20 million. Some reports have it much higher.

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A big season for Tony Kushner

October 23, 2010 |  7:00 am

TonyAmong the many issues in "Angels in America," Tony Kushner's millennial epic about gay men coping with the AIDS pandemic in Ronald Reagan's America, is that overused word in the national lexicon: "Change."

The play offers an answer to the question: "How do people change?" -- from a talking "dummy," the mother figure in a western diorama: "God splits the skin with a jagged thumbnail from throat to belly and then plunges a huge, filthy hand in ..."


If that sounds painful. It's meant to.

Nearly two decades after writing the passage, Kushner says that change, personal or political, hasn't become any easier. On the eve of the first major revival of his Tony  Award- and Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, at New York's intimate off-Broadway Signature Theatre, the playwright adds that, if anything, progress seems more painful than ever.

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Broadway finds its Fela, thanks to Bill T. Jones, Jay-Z, et al.

November 23, 2009 |  5:00 am

Fela

Until the mid-1970s, the music and dance of Africa was largely “folkloric” to Bill T. Jones.

“It was beautiful people in the bush, dancing and singing," says the modern dance choreographer. “I was much more preoccupied with the rock counterculture at the time.”

That is, until Jones heard the music of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, the Nigerian human rights activist and recording star.

“Modern Africa hit me in the face with the music of Fela,” says Jones. “This was a man who was using horns and guitars from James Brown and Sly and the Family Stone, the drums were African, but also jazz sounds like the saxophone, of Max Roach and the drums of Africa."This was no maiden dance from some small village in Africa. Fela's music was an instant education.”

The Tony Award-winning choreographer (“Spring Awakening”) is now bringing that music to Broadway in “Fela!,” the part-concert, part-fever dream, for which Jones is also acting as director and co-librettist (with longtime collaborator Jim Lewis). The show received rave critical notices for its off-Broadway tryout run in September 2008, during which it attracted a number of celebrities. Three of them -- Jay-Z, Will Smith and wife Jada Pinkett-Smith -- have signed on as producers, bringing with them a sizable investment in the show.

But Jones says what really makes him excited about the project is the cast itself. “Everybody on that stage is either African, Carribbean or African-American, a first for me, and that in itself is an incredibly rich communal experience,” he says.

“All sorts of subconscious and psychological elements are at work because of this confluence of cultures and beliefs. And all that too goes into a work that is dreamlike in aspiration and yet, amazingly, of Africa and its people.”

Click here for the full story on "Fela."

-- Patrick Pacheco

*Updated: Because of a misplaced comma an earlier version of this story incorrectly quoted Jones as if he had said that Max Roach played saxophone. In fact Roach played drums and Jones' quote appears above.

Related story:

Bill T. Jones takes on Lincoln

Photo: "Fela." Credit: Monique Carboni.


How a party dance for Elton John made it to Broadway

August 2, 2009 |  8:00 am

Burn

Elton John was just turning 50 when "Burn the Floor," the dance show that opens at the Longacre Theatre today, began its meandering journey toward Broadway. He’s now 62.

The pop superstar’s gala birthday in 1997 in London included a 10-minute set by a group of ballroom dancers. That's when the idea for the show started germinating in the mind of  Australian producer Harley Medcalf. 

Two years later, the producer debuted a showcase of ballroom dancers at John’s mansion at Windsor for the singer’s annual AIDS fundraiser.

“The show went fantastically well,” says Medcalf, who had been the singer’s Australian promoter for 20 years. “Elton even took to the dance floor with one of our girls and with Baby Spice in tow.” 

Ten years and hundreds of performances in 29 countries later,  “Burn the Floor” arrives on Broadway in a substantially different guise than Medcalf had initially conceived it.

Having just presented a long Australian tour of dancer Michael Flatley (“Riverdance” “Lord of the Dance”),  Medcalf says that he first "threw everything he could into it,”  recruiting choreographer Anthony Van Laast (“Mamma Mia!”),  costume designer Bonita Bryg, and a group of dancers that included ballroom champions Jason Gilkison and Peta Roby. 

“It was the biggest ballroom dance show ever,” says Gilkison who, in 2001,  eventually took over as artistic director and choreographer when it became clear that “Burn the Floor” needed a major overhaul.

“The goal was to streamline it, make it more theatrical, reinvent it with the help of the dancers, who had their own ideas of how to make it more contemporary,” Gilkison adds. While the new version played well enough, more extensive revisions came in 2005 in an Australian workshop with the working title of  “Jason Gilkison’s Ballroom”.  And even more changes came earlier this year when the show was pared down to fit into the the 600-seat Post Theatre in San Francisco.

“This show is never frozen," Gilkison says. “We work more like a dance company. We leave no stone unturned.” Adds Medcalf, “We Australians are a determined people.”   

To read more about the show, which features "Dancing With the Stars" pros Maksim Chmerkovskiy and Karina Smirnoff, see my Sunday Calendar story here.

-- Patrick Pacheco


Tony's memorable moments (high and low)

June 7, 2009 | 10:53 pm

The 63rd Tony Awards may have been kicked off by Liza with a Z, but it was ultimately ruled by Billy with a B. The glittery ceremony at New York's Radio City Music Hall had more than its share of memorable moments:

Gandolfini A belly laugh: “For the record, Shrek and I are no relation,” said actor James Gandolfini, presenting the award for best performance by a featured actress in a play.

Tears of joy: Karen Olivo, who won best featured actress in a musical as Anita in “West Side Story,” was so overcome with emotion for her win that she could barely speak after thanking her cast mates and her husband. Olivo accomplished a feat that her predecessors, Chita Rivera and Debbie Allen, could not. Rivera, who originated the role on Broadway, in 1957, and Allen, who was nominated in the 1979 revival, lost out on the Tony. (Rita Moreno won an Oscar for the role in the film version.)

Best fish story: Host Neil Patrick Harris returned from one commercial break eating sushi. “This gives you so much energy,” he said smugly as he munched. “You could do show after show, night after night.” Broadway followers caught the clever dig at Jeremy Piven, who sparked an uproar when he abruptly departed the production of “Speed-the-Plow” after complaining he had gotten mercury poisoning from eating too much sushi.

For ladies of a certain age: “Who knew, who knew that at this time in my life I’d be presented with this lovely, lovely award,” said Angela Lansbury, 83, who won for best featured actress in a play (“Blithe Spirit”), just the second actress to win five Tony Awards (the first being Julie Harris). To be back among “you Broadwayites is the greatest gift I can imagine in my old age,” she said. “Thank you for having me back!”

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Broadway producer Jeffrey Richards is on the lookout for new audiences

June 6, 2009 |  8:00 am

Jeffrey-Richards 

Jeffrey Richards, a multiple Tony Award-winning Broadway producer, freely admits that he owes his career to Adolf Hitler.

Well, make that “The Adolf Hitler Revue,” a 1992 show he was checking out in London at the behest of  New York’s  Jewish Rep, then  a client of his theatrical PR agency. He fled the revue at intermission only to notice a crowd of young people outside another theater housing “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged).”  He was so enchanted with the show that it launched him on a theatrical producing path that would lead to his role this season behind no less than six productions: revivals of “Speed-the-Plow,”  “Desire Under the Elms,”  “Blithe Spirit” and “Hair” as well as the Broadway debuts of  playwright Neil LaBute (“Reasons to Be Pretty”) and actor Will Ferrell  (“You’re Welcome America: A Final Evening With George W. Bush”).

What attracted him to those productions is the same thing that attracted him to the Shakespeare revue: the prospect of enticing young or new audiences to Broadway. Richards, who captured that demographic earlier with such shows as “Spring Awakening” and “August: Osage County," says that's what's behind the smash-hit status of  “You’re Welcome America,” which ended its limited engagement in March, and “Hair.”

Transferring the '60s rock revival "Hair" to Broadway after its Public Theater run in Central Park last summer was, he says, a “no-brainer,” although  the move at first was considered  highly risky by Broadway insiders.  In fact, the initial financing for the Broadway production had fallen through until Richards and his group stepped in.

“The original run of ‘Hair’ never attracted  people over 55,” Richards says. “And 40 years later, we’re not only getting that generation, who was defined to some extent by the show, but also their kids who’ve heard about it all their lives.”

Read more about Jeffrey Richards in Sunday's Arts & Books section or click here.

-- Patrick Pacheco

Photo: Jeffrey Richards. Credit: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times.

Roberto Benigni makes his New York stage debut

June 1, 2009 |  3:25 pm


Roberto Benigni Roberto Benigni made his New York stage debut in a one-person show, “Tutto Dante,” Saturday night in front of a sold-out audience that, not surprisingly, drew a number of celebrities whose last names end in vowels: Isabella Rossellini, John Turturro, Steve Buscemi and Elvis Costello, as well as Jim Jarmusch, and Julie Taymor with longtime partner, composer Elliot Goldenthal.

Those who were expecting the giddy clown of  his Oscar-winning 1997 film "Life Is Beautiful" would have been largely disappointed, although there were glimpses of that persona  in the first part of the two-hour show, a poetic analysis of Canto V of Dante's "Inferno."  

“I want to wag my tail like a dog and kiss each and every one of you for coming,” he said as he took to the stage, apologizing for his poor English and acknowledging his chutzpah for taking on the task.  “It is like if Jim Carrey would be talking about Walt Whitman in Rome in Italian.”  

As the text for the evening was Dante’s meditation on the circle of hell reserved for the lustful, the small-framed Italian took the opportunity first to skewer Italian culture and politics. Wielding a microphone in front of a giant white screen that later would be used to project the English translation of the Canto, the leftist Benigni made mincemeat of Italian Prime Minster Silvio Berlusconi. For those who haven't been following media reports, Berlusconi has been the subject of his own opera buffo involving “barely legal” teens and a wife out to publicly humiliate and divorce him.  “His is a barely legal government,” Benigni quipped.  

All of this was a preface of sorts to the lecture, through which Benigni conveyed not only the poem’s revolutionary status (the invention of dozens of words, the first use in literature of “I,” the modernity of style and content) but also the empathy of the humanist author for the poor trapped souls, especially the star-crossed Paolo and Francesca. Imagine your favorite college professor vivifying a class of world lit with passion, wit and intelligence.

Benigni, who is in the midst of a short world tour -- which will include stops in Boston and Chicago and conclude in Buenos Aires this month -- ended with a coup de grace.  He hauntingly recited the poem by heart in its original medieval Italian with so much emotion that he seemed on the verge of breaking down. 

 The capacity crowd in New York rewarded Benigni with an enthusiastic standing ovation. He tours the show in his native country -- in his native language -- throughout next fall.

-- Patrick Pacheco

Caption: Roberto Benigni in an earlier performance of his one-man show. Credit: European Pressphoto Agency.

The hells of acting in film and on the stage

May 24, 2009 |  6:15 am

Julia Stiles and Bill Pullman 

During a recent joint interview, Julia Stiles and Bill Pullman extolled the particular challenges and joys of trodding the boards as they prepared for their upcoming stint in David Mamet's “Oleanna” at the Mark Taper Forum next month.

Both actors move easily between film and theater: in movies, she's known best for the “Bourne” series and he for playing the president of the United States in “Independence Day.” That doesn't mean, however, that the actors necessarily prefer one discipline over the other.

 “Yeah, film and theater have their own special heaven and hells,"  joked Pullman, as Stiles murmured her assent. When asked to define her take on the differences, Stiles said she's in theatrical heaven when a total lack of self-consciousness takes over for the stage role. “You get so wrapped up in the experience for those two hours and, unfortunately, that doesn't happen with movies that much,” she said.

On the other hand, she added, “You can work on a play that isn't so rich and you have to do that over and over and over again. And in a movie, there can be that moment on the set where everybody comes together and it's this group of people working together for that same vision."

Pullman quoted actor Anthony Hopkins' definition: “Theatrical hell is playing in some very uninspired production of a Shakespearean play at the Old Vic on a rainy Wednesday afternoon.”

He added that “movie hell is where the incompetency is multiplied exponentially, and you're not sure when the movie is going to end, the food is terrible and the hotel has bed bugs.

"But I think the hell of theater can be a whole lot worse than the hell of movies. I've been in hellish movies but theater can be very humbling. Sometimes you go and think, 'This is a great play' and you invest deeply in it, and you run into a glass ceiling and, try as you might, you just can't crack it. And you're reminded of that day after day.”

Stiles agreed. “There's no filter between you and audience in theater and so it feels much riskier. You're not in control. And that can be thrilling — and really scary.”'

For more about Pullman and Stiles, check out Sunday's Arts & Books section or click here.

--Patrick Pacheco

Photo: Julia Stiles and Bill Pullman during a rehearsal break in New York. Credit: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times
 

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