Happy Tony Day!

Technically it's probably "Happy Tonys Day," but that sounded rough on the ear, and I'm a stickler for arbitrary rules I make up for myself based on random fictions.

I saw exactly two nominees this year: The Band's Visit (best musical) and Travesties (best revival of a play). Both should win, because I chose them, but I suppose the world does not work that way. And what are prizes for artistic endeavors anyway? Darts on a pinboard. Yet both are worthy of audiences—smart and weird and unexpected, a little off balance, wise and world weary. Both felt resurrecting, somehow. A balm for the spirit.

It's no secret that I fell out of the habit of going to the theater over the past few years, or simply grew jaded and old and crabby. I could say that theater isn't what it used to be, but when has it ever been? And of course I mean Broadway, which is a very specific business venture, and not theater in toto. I saw a local production of Hairspray last night, and it was delightful. It was exactly what it needed to be, which is alive. Theater exists because we the people in the dark, and they the actors on the stage—not to mention the creators, the designers, the producers, the crew—keep saying yes. Only and always yes.

+ a few snaps from a previous Happy Tony Day party, flip phones at the ready:

Lastly, and just because, 2018 is the 45th anniversary of the Original Broadway Production of A Little Night Music, and you know how we feel about that. Never have I ever loved anything more than the cast of bumbling boobs who make up this glorious show. It is my shining star and guiding light. Pay heed!

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These daily posts are somewhat...unfocused, aren't they? THE END.

What we remember

We're having a snow day at work—l-i-t-e-r-a-l-l-y—and I'm tired of packing & thinking about leaving so I'll just post links to some of my important thoughts on the theater I've seen during my 11 years here and will remember dearly forever & always. THANK YOU FOR TAKING MY MONEY & GIVING ME RICHES, NEW YORK CITY! Thanks for making it worth the dream.

Liza's at the Palace!

Adding Machine - Minetta Lane

Follies - Encores!

Ruined at MTC

Eugene Onegin - Met

La Rondine - Met

The Mystery of Edwin Drood at Studio 54

A Small Fire at Playwrights Horizons

Dear Elizabeth at Women's Project Theater

Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris - Zipper Factory

God of Carnage @ the Jacobs

In the Next Room (or the vibrator play)

One of many (so many!) Betty Buckleys

Sunday in the Park with George at the Hudson

Passion at Classic Stage Company

Another Sondheim celebration

Sondheim: the birthday concert

And of course one to rule them all: Mary Stuart at the Broadhurst

What we keep

Let us never forget why I moved to New York.jpg

I wanted to toss these but can't do it. I firmly believe in not clinging to physical items for purely sentimental reasons but my heart is here, in all of them. My favorite times in this city, with my friends, are in the memories printed on these tickets.

CATS!

I went to see CATS tonight, then came home and fired up some pizza rolls, and now I want to share some thoughts.

a) Is it a common feature of CATS that the audience is invited onto the stage at intermission? Because that happened at these CATS. And while I’m not saying the stage is a sacred space, exactly, it is—to me—a space that holds, or should hold, at the very least, some reserve of magic, so I found this to be a frankly grotesque spectacle: a bunch of grubby lookers up there snapping selfies and pawing at Old Deuteronomy. I’d feel better if it were some famous CATS gimmick that only true CATS aficionados are informed of beforehand, I guess. If you are this CATS fan with underground info, do tell.

b) CATS is not a very good show. Empirically, I mean. And I say this as someone who adores Mamma Mia, which I will admit to you is also a bad show. But this was like 45 very loud, repetitive dream ballets strung together when one dream ballet is already too many. I really only liked Mr. Mistoffelees, which is akin to saying I like Santa Claus. Lame. But that CAT’s coat really sparkled.

c) They ain’t kidding with that title.

d) When they reached the 11 o’clock number (you know the one I mean), it 100% did not fail. The CAT who performed it (Mamie Parris) certainly did it justice but I kept thinking what it would have been like to sit up in the mezzanine at the Winter Garden all those years ago and hear Betty Buckley—whose voice can light your hair on fire on a slow day—lift that thing into the rafters. I did hear her sing it at City Center once, at a benefit concert that also featured Donna McKechnie and Deborah Gibson, so it’s not too far off. However, she did not come dressed as a CAT. Ah well.

War Paint @ the Nederlander

Picture it: New York City. Saturday, 9:30 a.m.. Me to Tucc & SarahB: Wanna see War Paint tonight? Tucc & SarahB: Sure why not.

Many biers/miles/hours later, in unison: OMIGOD WAR PAINT IS THE BEST.

I won't yank your chain & claim it's literally the greatest show there ever was (i.e., IT IS NOT) but come on, man. These two epic, extraordinary, stage-eating broads? I'll never doubt again.

Sunday in the Park with George @ the Hudson

It was nice that I could sigh and cry in unison with the bow-tied gentleman sitting beside me. I think we both felt the experience belonged to us individually (i.e., you can't possibly love Sondheim as much as I love Sondheim) yet needed to be shared with a sympathetic, like-minded stranger (i.e., there is no such competition). My Sondheim is as specific to me as his was to him and as yours is to you (if in fact you have a Sondheim?): they are one and the same person but we define that person by the singular meaning his work has for us. I have weighted mine down with the sum total of all my sense memories over decades and years and hours and dollars and tickets and miles, and he belongs to me alone. I couldn't share him with another soul if I wanted to. Which I do not, really.

Sunday in the Park with George is one of my top 3 favorite Sondheim shows but I did not care for the last Broadway revival, which seemed cold and pinched and brown, somehow. I was sad for all the wrong reasons. This is not a show that needs help being "serious": it needs flesh and blood and heat. Here we get all three from the scruffy puppy dog central presence of Jake Gyllenhaal (sorry, but it's in that beard, it's in those eyes), whose dreamy, far-off nature feels more innate than calculated: what he wants he cannot say; what he feels, he cannot give. It goes onto paper, it goes into canvas. Dot (Dot! DOT!) can only wait so long, and Annaleigh Ashford is everything too much all at once: too smart, too needy, too passionate, too pragmatic. She's delightful. She's also the second actress I've seen in the role who I preferred as Marie in the second act (the first would be Audra McDonald): that song "Children and Art" has become precious to me, and when she's being wheeled off the stage at the end of it, and she turns one last time and says "Goodbye, Mama" as she waves up at the painting, well... both my seatmate and I nearly collapsed into the aisle.

From the minimal staging to the overeager Celestes and the perfect pitch and glorious sway of the onstage orchestra, the whole thing felt loose and comfortable—maybe the fact that it's not competing for Tonys released them having to make it feel "Important." It's Sunday in the Park with George! It already is important! But how much better when it's filled with light and just allowed to sing.

Harriet Walter about town

Perhaps you're tired of hearing about Harriet Walter? That's okay, I'm tired of hearing about Tom Brady and Roger Federer and every sports team that has ever lived. Not that I begrudge human beings for loving sports or sports figures or balls of any kind (hey there, fella) but come on. Try counting the number of manly team logos you see the next time you walk down the street or hang out at the mall. If you come up with fewer than five I will pay you a million billion unicorn dollars and a thousand magic beans. My point is, the day people stop talking about Michael Jordan is the day I'll stop talking about Harriet Walter. Obviously neither of those things will ever happen, but somehow we'll all survive. Somehow life will go on.

Anyway, here are some pictures from an interview and book signing last night at the Drama Book Shop, starring Harriet Walter (ironically not pictured), who recently penned this tome about her long and varied Shakespeare career, which thanks to her collaboration with director Phyllida Lloyd now includes multiple male characters. Brava/o! Contrary to popular belief, Harriet Walter does not come to town all that often, so it's important to celebrate these events. "Americans are so effusive!" was her response to me shouting "Harriet Walter, we love it when you come to town!" across the signing table, and she was suitably impressed by the array of nonsensical nicknames we asked her to inscribe. She probably thought we were idiots. I cannot say she would be wrong.

At the end of the interview she read the book's epilogue, which is a "Dear Will" letter asking William Shakespeare to come back from the grave and correct his ladies. On getting the chance to finally be cast as the dudes (in Julius Caesar, Henry IV, and The Tempest), she writes: "My function in the story is no longer constrained by my gender, and I am freed up to play out the general political and moral dilemmas that concern us all." And later, vis-à-vis her frustration over the limited scope of the female roles, "Our stories matter not because of our relation to men but because we are members of the human race."

But my favorite line was from the interview itself, when asked why she's never played Gertrude in Hamlet: "It's the most famous play in the world and it has two shitty roles for women!"

The one thing I know is this world needs more Harriet Walter in it.

The End (for now).

Some old dreams: watching “Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened”

Stephen Sondheim, Hal Prince... Who else could have been in that room? Christ and Moses?!
— Jason Alexander

The terribly titled but profoundly rewarding Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened is a study of anticipation and disappointment, youth and aging, triumph and loss. A documentary detailing the original Broadway production of Merrily We Roll Along, a notoriously troubled—and now much beloved—musical written by Stephen Sondheim and George Furth and directed by Hal Prince, it moves from conception to casting to rehearsals to previews to opening night and then closing night...after only 16 performances. In the course of months, lives were changed. Careers were shaken and thrown off track just as they were starting. Hopes died, partnerships ended. ET CETERA. That’s show business.

Director Lonny Price (who won the role of Charley Kringas at the ripe old age of 22) laces the film with behind-the-scenes footage and recent interviews with many of the principals (Furth died in 2008). We see the actors 35 years ago as children, some of them, on Broadway for the first time, and now in middle age, still touched by the luck of the lightning that struck them and then, in most cases, moved on—the primary exception being, obviously, Jason Alexander. They gather at the end on the same stage where the show ran (now the Neil Simon, then the Alvin), and wonder what might have been.

We see the show’s creators, veritable theater gods at the height of their power and fame, who had a long way to fall before rising again. (It's okay: there was Sunday in the Park with George for one and POTO for the other, and many more, although they never collaborated together again.)

And ultimately what we see is that everybody dreams and everybody fails—even our heroes, as one actress remarks of Sondheim and Prince. We reach and we stumble and then we stand up once more. What else is there to do? There are no perfect endings, even in art, but the joy born here lives on and on.

A Life @ Playwrights Horizons

I always used to think “turn the other cheek” was like, that it means basically “don’t get hit again.” But I think it really means, “Turn your cheek so you can see a different part of the world.
— Adam Bock

I saw the play A Life today, written by this fellow Adam Bock (who also wrote A Small Fire, which remains one of my maximal theatergoing experiences), and it ended in the middle of a sentence, with the words “Oh, and—.” Just "Oh, and—” the stage went black and the lights came up and everybody clapped. I brushed away a tear (9 times out of 10 I cry at the theater) and thought of my good buddy and coworker Kelly, who is no fan of ambiguous endings. Kelly would have been furious and would have said something like “If I’m paying for it, you owe me a whole story. Don’t expect me to make up the ending.” She thinks it’s lazy and, I guess, a cop-out. (She’s also anti-Mad Libs, btw, which I know because I asked.)

Hers is a valid opinion and all and she’s welcome to it, but I love making up the ending. A little ambiguity is good for the heart and the brain, I think. I love hanging my own peg on “Oh, and—” and having it reverberate as I bounce down the stairs and out into the sunlight and noise and mayhem of 42nd Street. You need something to distract you when you’re walking down 42nd Street. Otherwise you will murder someone, eventually.

The trick is that the character in A Life, played by David Hyde Pierce, is actually dead as he speaks this line, which I suppose is technically A SPOILER. He dies in the middle of the play and we see a friend find his body and we see the medical examiners show up and cart him off and we see him being prepped at the morgue and we see eulogies at his gravesite. We see life go on. The mourners leave and he walks back onstage and tells us what it’s like to be lowered into the ground, to be covered with the earth and to hear the birds, and it’s clear that he’s different from the person we saw earlier, that he’s learned something. “Oh, and—”

Oh, and nobody gets to fully tell their story. That’s what a life means.

The return of Janet McTeer

Janet McTeer and Liev Schreiber did a TimesTalks tonight [insert hyperlink here] to promote the soon-to-open Dangerous Liaisons [insert French title here] on Broadway. Harriet Walter did not appear, although it's possible she was hiding in the rafters [there were no rafters].

Janet McTeer on being told as a young actress that she'd have trouble getting parts because she's tall: "Make the fucking stage bigger!" [She's pretty tall.]

Liev Schreiber on what it's like to work with Janet McTeer: "Any road Janet takes me down is going to be better than the one I was on." [Liev Schreiber: also tall.]

Anyway: drama, costumes, wigs, looks smokin' hot. Attend, attend!