“Kinky Boots” won six Tony awards on Sunday including the top award of best musical and a prize for its composer, pop queen Cyndi Lauper, as Broadway presented its top honors.
Lauper won best score for her first Broadway musical, “Kinky Boots,” an adaptation of a British film about a struggling shoe factory reinventing itself by making boots for drag queens.
The hit musical topped the nominations with 13 and also won best actor in a musical for Billy Porter, best choreography, orchestrations and sound design.
A tearful Lauper said “I can’t say I wasn’t practicing in front of the shower curtain for the past couple of days,” and went on to “thank Broadway, for welcoming me.”
Porter, who as the strong, proud drag queen is at the show’s heart, said he first watched the Tony telecast at home at age 11, and recalled a performance from the musical “Dreamgirls” by saying “That moment has changed my life.”
The best play Tony was won by “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” a crowd-pleasing comic riff on Anton Chekhov’s work by veteran playwright Christopher Durang that stars Sigourney Weaver and David Hyde Pierce.
The original “Hairspray” (1988) was a weird little movie made by cult director John Waters about rock and roll and race relations in 1960s Baltimore. Then it became a smash musical on Broadway, then a 2007 film adaptation of that Broadway hit. Now, the show is coming to Jerusalem, with a community theater production featuring 32 Anglo-Israeli and Ethiopian-Israeli singers, dancers and actors who share the stage and the spotlight.
Hairspray’s local-girl-makes-good story was groundbreaking enough because of its main character, Tracy Turnblad, a non-willowy, self-confident dynamo who won’t be discouraged just because she looks like the real girl next door. But the narrative pushes two additional buttons as well: race relations — an issue which defined Baltimore in the 1960s, as integration swept through a still-adjusting nation — and women’s empowerment, which enables self-effacing housewife Edna Turnblad to reclaim her zest for life, and to transform herself into a civil rights activist her daughter can look up to.
With empowerment, freedom, confidence and racial equality as its thematic DNA, the production hits Jerusalem for six shows between March 5 and 21.
“Hairspray is almost more relevant here than it ever was in the States, since it was written at a time when segregation and institutionalized racism were mostly things of the past in America,” Director Eli Kaplan-Wildmann explained. “Our cast is made up of people who face these issues today in their own lives, and we hope to bring an awareness of that to Jerusalem.”
When my parents landed in New York in 1947 they were assigned a case worker. I’m not sure who did the assigning, but I remember my father saying how puzzled he was. “Case” was German for cheese, and he didn’t understand why he needed a cheese worker.
My parents didn’t tell many stories about their early lives, about crossing the border from Austria into Switzerland after the Anschluss or how they got to the goldene medina. Perhaps I didn’t ask the right questions.
But that particular anecdote stayed with me, because it was about their life at the precipice. They were starting a new life in a new land with a new language, one briefly filled with optimism and faith that life could and would be better.
Perhaps that is why I am such a fan of the new National Yiddish Theatre-Folksbiene production of “The Golden Land,” a joyous celebration of the turn-of-the-century Jewish immigrant experience.
“Scandalous,” the new Broadway musical about evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson, was written by Kathie Lee Gifford. No surprise there. Gifford is a well-known born-again Christian with, presumably, an interest in the work of a crusading missionary.
But in a fit of ecumenical irony (or common sense), the two guys she picked to supply the bouncy, gospel-infused music are two Davids, Pomeranz and Friedman, who are singers, composers and Jews who grew up in the New York City area.
Both Pomeranz and Friedman had worked individually on projects with Gifford, but they never worked together until 2005, when Gifford asked them to collaborate on the play, then called “Saving Aimee.” They spoke to The Arty Semite about growing up, why their work on the show isn’t really surprising, and why so much of the American songbook was composed by Jews.
Curt Schleier: What are two Jewish guys doing on this musical? Do either of you feel any Jewish guilt?
David Pomeranz: Not in the slightest, because what we’re talking about in this play is a great woman. None of us are writing a religious play. It’s about a fascinating life, a brave woman who followed her personal private relationship with God, did what was the right thing to do and ran into her own personal problems. Any great person has that dichotomy. They are inspired to do something great and the khazeray in their minds gives them a rough time. That’s what this story is about, a fascinating look into a very complex woman.
“Up From The Stacks” is musical theater, but like no other performance that you may have seen.
The show, which originally appeared in 2011 in New York and had its West Coast premiere February 23 at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, tells the story of college student Lincoln Cabinée, who has a part-time job as a page at the main building of the New York Public Library. As we watch Lincoln retrieve books from the stacks below, we encounter a cast of characters populating the catalogue and reading rooms above. Given that the play is set in 1975, decades before 42nd Street was made family friendly, it all takes place against a backdrop of seedy shops and porn palaces.
The offbeat stream-of-consciousness libretto, written by cartoonist Ben Katchor and sung by his collaborator, composer Mark Mulcahy, itself renders “Up From The Stacks” unusual. But what makes the libretto stunning is the perfectly timed projection of Katchor’s colorful panels onto a huge screen hanging above and to the right of Mulcahy and his three-member band. Although there is motion in some of the scenes, it’s not quite what you would call animation.
MacDougal Street today can hardly be described as paradise. Crammed with NYU students jostling for falafel, or the bridge-and-tunnel crowd fighting for a seat at Panchito’s, it’s difficult to picture the street as a hub of subversion and artistry. But once upon a time, it was.
In the 1920s, a Polish Jewish lesbian immigrant named Eve Adams (born Eva Kotchever) owned and operated a tearoom on the block that showcased the work of local writers, musicians and poets. Now Barbara Kahn’s musical, “Unreachable Eden,” which opened February 9 at Theater for the New City, tells the heartbreaking tale of Adams’ deportation from her adopted country, and her struggle to return in the years leading up to the Second World War.
At one point in the musical “Soul Doctor,” an actor says, “There are two types of Jews. Those who have heard of Shlomo Carlebach and those who haven’t — yet.” For either type, “Soul Doctor: The Journey of a Rockstar-Rabbi” can be an enlightening experience.
During his lifetime, Carlebach was known as “The Singing Rabbi” for his use of joyous, Hasidic-inspired music to engage those he called “lost Jewish souls.” His unorthodox path put him in conflict with his mother and rabbi father, but ultimately made him the charismatic legend he became. If “Fiddler on the Roof” is about tradition, “Soul Doctor” is about breaking with tradition, even if that meant, as in Carlebach’s case, breaking his father’s heart.
After a five-week run in Miami and Ft. Lauderdale, the biographical show, which bills itself as “pre-Broadway,” could benefit from some judicious nipping-and-tucking. The play compresses Carlebach’s 69 years into a two-act play with 37 scenes, performed by a cast of 18 and featuring 30-plus musical numbers. The play’s co-creator and associate director, David Schechter, wrote some of the lyrics, but most of the songs are Carlebach’s.
Photo by Peter James Zielinski
There are times when a trip to the theater is more than just an evening out — times when there’s something in the air (fairy dust? a benevolent ghost?) that transforms a merely great performance into the kind that makes all your hairs stand on end. June 26, for those of us squeezed into folding chairs in a tiny brick room at the Manhattan Theatre Source, was one of those rare, goosebumpy nights.
It was two days after New York’s Marriage Equality Act had passed in the state legislature, and mere hours after the year’s particularly festive gay pride parade had sauntered past Washington Square. Bits of rainbow-colored confetti and stray streamers still littered the cobblestone streets. And there we were, in a funny old building on MacDougal Street — just blocks from the Stonewall Inn — watching a musical revue all about the history of Greenwich Village.
Courtesy lucetg.com/Centaur Theatre
In Montreal, not only can a musical about smoked meat be more than a gag, but “Schwartz’s: The Musical” is a $240,000 professional production. That’s around twice the usual cost of a play at the Centaur Theatre, where the show is playing until May 7.
Schwartz’s, a “Hebrew Delicatessen” founded in 1928, is a mecca for meat lovers, and its waiting line is as much of a trademark as the items on the menu. Clippings on the wall testify to the many celebrities who have passed through: Tina Turner, Celine Dion, Mick Jagger, and many sports and political figures (there’s even a running joke that eating at the diner ensures future Canadian prime ministers a majority government when they come into power — a pertinent theory seeing as Canadians are going to the polls on May 2).
The musical reads like a dream — albeit the dream you’d have falling asleep with the “Best of Broadway” playing on repeat after a night of beer and that smoked meat sandwich that seemed like a good idea at the time. Alternatively, it feels like a two-hour infomercial for the famed delicatessen.
Crossposted From Under the Fig Tree
Much has been written of late about the ways in which celebrated American musicals such as “Oklahoma” or “South Pacific” carry considerable Jewish freight. While most audiences come away humming rather than thinking, the American musical, many scholars suggest, is actually where American Jewish playwrights, lyricists, choreographers and designers set to rights their relationship to America.
But what of those on the other side of the footlights: the audience? I’ve always wondered what accounted for the longstanding affinity that so many American Jews, as well as their European counterparts, have had for the theater and the arts in general. Was this an accident of history? An artifact of demography? Or a deliberate strategy of modernization?
A recent article in the real estate section of The New York Times provides something of an answer.
Yesterday I was watching Nightly News with Brian Williams and was surprised to see that Sparky Anderson got a five-minute tribute but Jerry Bock, the beloved composer of “Fiddler on the Roof,” didn’t get a mention. I have a personal stake in this, as I write musicals and often worry about posterity. Mr. Bock leaves us 10 days after his collaborator, Joseph Stein, did, who wrote the book for “Fiddler,” based on Sholom Aleichem’s stories.
It’s hard now not to reflect a bit on this consummate Jewish musical, even if Brian Williams neglected to do so. In 2002 I served as a Steven Spielberg Fellow in Jewish Theatre Education, the goal of which, it was actually stated, was to move beyond “Fiddler on the Roof.” Ironically, I returned to the camp eight years later to direct the show. Thus I’m in the interesting position of first being sent in to destroy, and then to resurrect, “Fiddler” — not unlike Luke Skywalker with Darth Vader. And “Fiddler” was wheezing a bit when I held it this summer: My pre-teen cast didn’t know it since they hadn’t seen it on “Glee.”
Crossposted from Haaretz
This year marks the 80th birthday of Stephen Sondheim, the American lyricist and composer who with his own two hands changed the face of the stage musical in the second half of the 20th century. During his more than 50 years of activity he has created a huge variety of works, in terms of both genre and supply of roles. The fact that he is still around (he is Jewish, though this is not especially evident in his work) gives producers additional incentive to put on his work.
A theater visit to London this month has turned into a Sondheim celebration for me. Concert versions of his works are underway in the city (including “Company,” featuring Adrian Lester — who already played Bobby, the bachelor who studies the lives of his married friends, in an excellent London production). And the intimate Donmar Warehouse in Covent Garden — which for 17 years has consistently been putting on excellent productions that go on to conquer the West End, Broadway, Los Angeles, Australia and Brazil — is now staging a production of the musical “Passion,” which Sondheim adapted in 1984 from the film “Passione d’amore” by Italian director Ettore Scola. In honor of the production, Sondheim came to London and discussed his works before an audience in that same hall.
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