Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.
John McKinney’s play is ½ Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit, ¼ Woody Allen’s Play It Again Sam and ¼ that of the playwright. Still, it zips along with contemporary spin offering ample whimsy, romance, a dash of darkness, and some clever literary dialogue. It’s not without entertainment value, has an attractive cast, and is likely very marketable.
Dana Watkins and Elizabeth Inghram
Aspiring writer Jeremy (Dana Watkins) lost his beloved wife Kate (Elizabeth Inghram) in a car crash three years ago…or at least her corporeal form. She regularly visits him (first in dreams, later waking) engaging in playful banter and apparently sex. A depressed hermit since her passing, he’s unable to work on his psychological/ fantasy novella and has no inclination to do much of anything else. As long as she’s “there…”
Impelled by good hearted, thoroughly dissipate brother Eddie (Christian Ryan) to get back out in the world, Jeremy joins an acting class. Assigned partner Chrissy (Charlotte Stoiber) is gung-ho about their doing a scene from Anton Chekhov’s Seagull, an author Jeremy abhors. Like many young actresses, she’s always wanted to play the ingénue Nina. Jeremy would be Boris Trigorin, a much older, famous writer with whom Nina becomes entangled. Enter the dandified spectre of Chekhov (Rik Walter) to advise and provoke. (Humphry Bogart – and later Sigmund Freud in the Woody Allen.)
Christian Ryan and Dana Watkins
Later, Kate will parallel Chekhov’s jealous Irina Arkadina, longtime lover of Trigorin. (In Blithe Spirit, dead wife Elvira is pitted against live love interest/wife Ruth.) Jeremy is confused and torn. Things come to a head too dramatically with too little incitement somewhat out of sync with the rest of the play.
Dana Watkins and Rik Walter
Dana Williams’s Jeremy often looks as innocently embarrassed as a Frank Capra character, especially where sexual innuendo is concerned. The playwright seems to have one foot in each of two eras. Williams is, however, all of a piece and sweetly appealing.
As Eddie, Christian Ryan plays indolent hedonist with low key gusto. He’s slick, wryly self aware, and palpably high with every word and move. Able performance, fun to watch.
Director Leslie Kincaid Burby employs the length and breadth of her stage with great naturalism. Playfulness and seduction are completely credible. Crissy’s squealing could be toned down – she’s a bit too adolescent. Her Seagull preparation, however, is priceless. Kate is lovely at the start, but grows increasingly irritating and obviously false as the play progresses. Charm would have made what occurs easier to swallow. Chekhov’s accent may be Hollywood Russian, but it works in context. The actor’s bearing and phrasing are grand.
Christina Giannini’s Costumes for Kate are uniformly awful. A succession of white dresses is old fashioned and unflattering, supposedly erotic apparel looks like a Rockette, her really cheap-looking Russian ensemble appears to feature a bath rug as cape and aluminum foil hat… Contemporary clothes are fine as is Chekhov’s suit.
Scott Aronow’s Scenic Design offers a winning, impressionistic dreamscape reminiscent of Chagall and apartment walls (with alas, little personality) that smoothly revolve between here and the afterlife.
Photos by Arin Sang-urai
Opening: Elizabeth Inghram, Dana Watkins, Charlotte Stoiber
The Chekhov Dreamsby John McKinney
Directed by Leslie Kincaid Burby
The Beckett Theater
410 West 42nd Street
Through February 17, 2018
Playwright/actor Ed Dixon first met George Rose when, as a callow youth, he was cast in a touring company of Sigmund Romberg’s operetta The Student Prince. “I was young, pretty and could hit the high notes.” The British performer, 30 years his senior, was a respected character actor and unabashed homosexual – rare in the day. Dixon’s first impression? Underwhelming. Then Rose took the stage as Lutz, a typically vaudevillian turn. “He was outrageous, ridiculous, hilarious…with an uncanny ability to break through the fourth wall…” Captivated but “wary he might put his hand on my knee,” the nascent performer visited Rose in his dressing room. No such attempt occurred.
This is Dixon’s intimate story of the powerful relationship that supported early endeavors and made his life more colorful while teaching him about both theater and life. It’s an illuminating, warts-and-all portrait of the talented artist that became Dixon’s idol, then fell from a great height with dire consequences to both men – as told, it should be noted, with love.
The playwright is a terrific storyteller. We learn about Rose’s habit of calling all his dressers Lisette, attiring them in French maid’s aprons; of having mountain lions “in the second bedroom of an ordinary apartment on an ordinary street in Greenwich Village” and, later, after their harrowing demise, an ocelot. There are priceless quotes and song snippets enacted as if Rose whose comments knew no social boundaries and who used blue language like a truck driver queen. And oh, the alligator joke!
A roster of iconic British actors come briefly to life. Ralph Richardson leaned over Rose at the makeup table and advised, “When you’re all finished, look at yourself in the mirror and ask yourself, is it human?” We hear Noel Coward, Richard Burton, Peter Ustinov…
If Dixon looks at something not there, we see it. When words deny, while his body language does otherwise, we get it. Joy and surprise are infectious. Flamboyance is never quite over the top. Moving around the stage with grace, energy and precise gesture, now a character actor, he’s a pleasure to watch. “One by one I played all of George’s repertoire.”
The saga’s last chapter is empathetic horror. It’s as if something sat on our collective chests. Breathing slows as scenario becomes unspeakable. Dixon’s honesty not only about what he observed and felt but its personal aftermath is striking. We’ve been on his journey. The play ends with moving perspective.
Director Eric Shaeffer helms complete focus, visual variety, a sense of confiding, channeling rather than imitation, and excellent pace.
Dixon is simply wonderful. As is this play which is both entertaining and heart-rending.
“The British invasion” Eric Comstock and Barbara Fasano point out, did not, in fact, begin with the Beatles. Long before arrival of The Fab Four, songs from music halls and London’s West End found their way across the pond. This upbeat show is an appreciation of material that enriched our canon. Songs, Fasano says, for Lady Mary and her grandchildren. (Referring to Lady Mary Crawley in PBS’s Downton Abbey.)
A jaunty opening bookends past and present with Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile” and Eric Idle’s “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” One can practically feel the mood in the club improve. Comstock then offers “London By Night” (Carroll Coates): Most people say they love London by day/But lovers love London by night…painting with his voice and piano. Fasano’s “These Foolish Things” (Eric Maschwitz/Jack Strachey) arrives in an our song interpretation. The vocalist takes her time, allowing each warm emotion to expand into the air. Control is pristine.
A wry “Everything Stops for Tea” (Al Hoffman/Maurise Sigler/Al Goodhart) is cited as an example of the British Songbook seeing a lighter side to life. Songs that take that point of view about immigration, trade, depression, stalking, sexism, and alcoholism follow, a few apt lines each.
From The West End, we’re treated to Comstock’s tandem “Who Can I Turn To?” (Leslie Bricusse/Anthony Newley- The Roar of the Greasepaint, The Smell of the Crowd) and Lionel Bart’s “Where Is Love?” (Oliver.) The performer adds sweetness to melancholy in a splendid low key rendition.
Out of the pop world, Fasano delivers Tony Hatch’s “I Know a Place” (with a few lines from his “Downtown”) and “I Only Want to Be with You” (Mike Hawker/Ivor Raymonde). Hatch’s songs are accompanied by a practiced Frug. The Hawker/ Raymonde is treated without flippancy in a more sophisticated arrangement adding appeal.
“A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” (Eric Maschwitz/ Manning Sherwin) is wistful but not wispy in these skilled hands. Fasano shares the piano bench with her husband. Traditionally a solo, the lyric suddenly becomes shared nostalgia. Both vocalists had evidently recorded the song and decided after 12 years of marriage it was time to perform it together. The last verse floats down like a feather in the wind. He kisses her shoulder.
Pairing the eclectic “The Wind in the Willows” (Vivian Ellis/Desmond Carter) popularized by the great Leslie Hutchenson with Sting’s “Fields of Gold” is sheer Comstock/Fasano. Expect the unexpected. Comstock’s version of the first is lovely. Fasano sings the second shoulders back, a signature stance when she’s serious. Gestures come from further away gaining territory and importance. Fingers splay for emphasis. The “character” is stilled by overwhelming emotion. “We’ll Meet Again” (Ross Parker/ Hughie Charles) showcases the innately cool talent of jazz bassist Sean Smith. Oddly, Noel Coward’s iconic “London Pride” is arranged as a sashay robbing it of gravity.
In Billy Reid’s “It’s a Pity to Say Goodnight”: It’s a pity to say goodnight/Because I want you to hold me tight/But if gotta go home, you gotta go home/Give me a goodnight kiss…Fasano make’s “howzabout” a literate word. Flirting, she bounces, adding a bit of hip and shoulder action.
The evening closes with a beautiful version of “If Love Were All” (Noel Coward). …Cares would be ended if I knew that he (pause)/Wanted (sigh) to have me near…
Photos by David Rosen
Downton Abbey Road: The Best of Britain
Barbara Fasano &, Eric Comstock with Sean Smith-Bass
Birdland 315 West 44th Street
December 20, 2016
The plot of George and Ira Gershwins’ 1927 show Funny Face bears no resemblance to that of the subsequent Fred Astaire/Audrey Hepburn film which centered on the sophisticated world of fashion. Originally, the musical was (and is) a romantic comedy featuring: Jimmy Reeve ( Patrick Graver) a young, wealthy man and his three attractive wards – Frankie (Jessica Ernest)- a ditsy blonde who congenitally lies, June (Whitney Winfield)- a sweet young woman impatiently waiting for Jimmy to propose, and Dora (Caitlin Wilayto), a comedienne type aggressively searching for a husband, the guardian’s best friend- Dugsie (Blake Spellacy), Peter (Seth Danner)- a handsome aviator who get caught up in misrepresented robbery, two bungling burglars (Herbert-Edward Tolve and Chester- Bill Bateman), impersonations, and a company of dancing/singing flappers with jaunty swains.
Caitlin Wilayto, Patrick Graver, Whitney Winfield
Producer and Creator of Musicals Tonight, Mel Miller, and his cohorts have put together a buoyant version of the piece helmed by Director/Choreographer Casey Colgan of whom I am now a serious fan. Having been loyal to this organization for a great many years, I’ve watched valuable presentations of rarely revived musicals get better and better, despite short rehearsal time, minimal trappings, and shoestring budget. With this production, the organization has reached a new high.
Opening at Jimmy Reeve’s birthday party, we see a line of long-limbed chorus girls who not only dance up a storm but kick like Rockettes. Watch that fringe fly! The boys are equally swell, not only partnering, but at one point ebulliently executing acrobatics. We’re treated to Charlestons, Waltzes, and Tap. Everyone is cute without being saccharine. This is a cohesive company accurately representing a period show while having an infectiously good time.
Seth Danner, Blake Spellacy
Songs like “Funny Face,” “S’Wonderful,” “He Loves and She Loves,” and “How Long Has This Been Going On?” are just a of few of the iconic numbers here. Vocal arrangement is excellent. Choreography is lively, attractive, fresh and perfectly suited to the small stage. I wish I could tell you to immediately secure tickets, but unfortunately I saw the piece at the end of its run. This review is partly for the record, partly to acknowledge fine work, and partly to make you more aware of the blooming Musicals Tonight.
Caitlin Wilayto and Blake Spellacy; Jessica Ernest and Seth Danner
Patrick Graver and Jessica Ernest as Jimmy and Frankie are dancers in song and dance roles. Both entertain tilting towards the former at which they’re thoroughly appealing. Ernest emulates her dizzy character with modest brio.
Caitlin Wilayto (Dora) and Whitney Winfield (June) are well cast. Wilayto has good comic timing and manages to be engagingly quirky without veering towards trite. Winfield has a superb voice and genuine presence.
Whitney Winfield and Patrick Graver
Seth Danner (Peter) and Blake Spellacy (Dugsie) are both skilled male ingénues. They sing, dance, and relate with natural charm. Spellacy reminds me of song and dance man Gene Nelson (check out such as the film Oklahoma!) – a high compliment.
As Maladroit burglars, Edward Tolve and Bill Bateman – the former especially – are amusing in their roles and excel at “The Babbitt and The Bromide.” Though the nifty vaudeville number has nothing to do with this story, it’s a hoot. Relevance might be easily supplied by a line or two of dialogue indicating the burglars are hiding from cops by substituting for the resort’s headliners.
Also featuring Doug Jabara who comically does what he can as the Sergeant.
Costumes. Wigs, and footwear, apparently acquired and ostensibly overseen by Casey Colgan are flat out terrific, especially the colorful, plaid suits for The Babbitt and The Bromide which it pains me not to be able to show you.
Bravo Resident Casting Director Holly Buczek.
Photos by Michael Portantiere
Opening Left to Right: Christian Brown, Kacie Burns, Caleb Dicke, Giulia Dunes, Kyle White, Briana Fallon, Parker Krug, Andrea Weinzierl
Musicals Tonight presents Funny Face
Music by George Gershwin; Lyrics by Ira Gershwin
Libretto- Fred Thompson & Paul Gerard Smith
Directed and Choreographed by Casey Colgan
Music Director/Vocal Arranger-James Stenborg
The Lion Theatre
410 West 42nd Street NEXT: The world premiere of Hoi Polloi by Noel Coward-November 1-13 Musicals Tonight website
Barry Day OBE, Literary Advisor to The Noel Coward Society, Author, and Truffle Hound for all things Coward, serendipitously got involved with the estate when he was an advertising executive. Vacationing with his wife on the north coast of Jamaica, he suggested they visit Firefly, Coward’s mountain top retreat. He expected to see a palatial estate. Instead, Day found a dilapidated bungalow, much of it open to the elements.
“It was a shambles, original books damp and rotting, the piano in terrible shape…” The so-called caretaker, Miguel, offered anything for sale. “I was appalled.” Back in London, Day contacted the estate. The legatee was Coward’s former partner, Graham Payn. “I wrote, How the hell can you let this happen?! This is one of the greatest Englishmen in the arts-ever.”
“Graham responded, You have to understand. He left me the house. I haven’t got the heart to go back there, so I gifted the house to the Jamaican government to whom I send money.” Funds were clearly not used the way Payn intended. “What,” asked Day, “can we do?” He suggested aggressively lobbying the Jamaican government into repairing and maintaining the place, met with Payn in Switzerland and got involved. (Later, Day co-wrote Payn’s autobiography.)
Boxes and boxes of materials and first editions were gradually made available. To date, Day has written 12 books on Noel Coward and adapted a good many of his plays. “As the years go by, I’ve been trying to find what we haven’t used.”
Hoi Polloi (hoi pol·loi- the masses, common people)
Until 1945, Noel Coward enjoyed immense popularity. When the war ended, in light of continued austerity and rationing however, people felt they didn’t want to be reminded of the class consciousness of the 1930s. Having reinvented himself as one of the elite, fraternizing with the rich and titled, the part of Coward’s work that came readily to mind were light pieces depicting frivolous, leisure class people.
Curiously, audiences did not take into account such as Cavalcade, which followed the middle class Marryot family from 1900 to 1929 or This Happy Breed, observation of the working class Gibbons family between the end of World War I and the outbreak of World War II.
Hoi Polloi (1949) was the first piece Coward wrote after VE Day and something of an effort to show his sincere sympathy for the lower classes. It centers on a sailor with 24 hour leave who comes to London and meets Pinkie, the daughter of a grocer. They spend the day together and she takes him home to the family. Pinkie’s mother used to be on the music hall stage as Florence Follette, “a knock-out who never got to the West End.” She sings her signature number “Chase Me Charlie” (Over the Garden Wall.) Other undoubtedly familiar songs in the musical include “Sail Away,” “I Like America,” and “London Pride.” (When Coward stopped working on a musical, he often moved its better numbers elsewhere.)
The story of “London Pride” is that meeting someone at a bombed out station after a particularly bad blitz, Coward observed a little flower growing up between cracks in the pavement. Moved, he saw the defiant bloom as a key attribute of the British. “In times of stress, we get on with it,” Day explains. Then Coward recalled the flower’s name, London Pride. The song became a second national anthem during the war.
Outside Buckingham Palace, Pinky and her date find themselves talking to a decorated RAF Commander and his wife who invite them to a posh party that evening. The sailor would rather be alone with his new girl, but agrees to go. They have a good time. His leave is over, but he’ll see her weekends and they’ll get married. Of course.
Day tells me the musical offers perspective on a working class family by someone (a sailor) from outside the city and reflects the British people putting their lives back together. “It’s modest, but it’s classic Coward and fills a gap most people don’t know existed.”
Apparently, Coward felt Hoi Polloi was not sufficiently up-to-date and wrote a second version that made Pinky a singer in a dodgy cabaret called Ace of Clubs run by gangsters. The writer tried to depict a sleazy London he simply didn’t understand. This one was produced and ran-briefly. “Ironically, a year later in New York, he goes to see Guys and Dolls and realizes that’s how it should’ve been done.”
When Barry Day disinterred and adapted Hoi Polloi, he thought of Mel Miller’s venerable theater, Musicals Tonight which had presented two of Coward’s other shows. It will premiere at The Lion Theater November 1-13. A must at least for Coward fans, the piece will take us back to gentler and frankly pluckier times. Sounds like entertaining respite to me.
Photos and Drawing of Noel Coward and Original Show Music Courtesy of The Noel Coward Society
“I’ve gotten to an age when people say to me you’ve had an interesting life. Had?!”
Dillie Keane and songwriting partner of 35 years, Adele Anderson (they both write lyrics, Keane writes the music) might be love children of Dorothy Fields and Noel Coward. As with Fields’ work, cleverness never obscures honesty or empathy. Like that of Coward, droll lyrics, even those with hat-and-cane music hall tunes, are basted by sophistication. Poignancy inevitably arrives with charm.
With this very personal show, Keane and Anderson tell stories of women/people of a certain vintage enmeshed in the vicissitudes of love and facsimiles thereof. “You know, my life is touring, chutney and gardening and it’s not going to make a great read really. So anybody wanting to look at my life will have to just look at the songs.” Hello Dillie! is scrappy, witty, and warm.
That the artist is also a respected theater actress is immediately apparent. Keane inhabits every song. Some are character turns, other mini one-acts. We open with “My Average Morning” in which, amid twittering birds, the singer faces another day as the butt of God’s great joke, literally falling back across the piano top with a moan.
Deeply hungover, she hears an unfamiliar snore, finds she’s not alone in bed and that the window isn’t where it ought to be. As if that weren’t sufficiently disconcerting, …Those certainly aren’t my handcuffs,/And I never wear red lace… not to mention the horse! An hysterical story recollected rather than related, with blithe melody and spot-on comic timing.
Three visits to clairvoyants are intermittently enacted, some fateful, others guff. What, after all, is one to do with time off touring in places like Canberra, Australia? The actress becomes a Hungarian tarot card reader, a Brighton seer, after whose session she thought, based on the sybil’s logic, her grandmother may have been Fats Waller, and a Blackpool psychic who described the view out her back window long before Keane found herself at the house.
“Single Again” and “Back With You” were written years apart, yet when the second was completed Keane and her collaborator felt they’d “finished the story.” The idea of being single at her age – embarrassed, awkward, remembering two toothbrushes, two robes, “frightened” the performer so much, she stayed in a bad relationship too long. While lyrics couldn’t be more genuine or distressed, piano accompaniment is jaunty; juxtaposition works wonderfully. The second number is delivered with a frustrated growl. Keane paces and rants, a self admitted fool, a slave to pheromones. I’m deranged/ To kid myself that you had really changed…Sound familiar?
Touching songs include such as “Out of Practice,” a conversation with her reticent self about risking love again, “Little Shadows” experienced from inside a long term relationship colored by … hidden grief;/Silent as a withered leaf;/… There are things, she suggests, one must never discuss, yet life goes on. And the tender, poetic “Love Late” which sounds for all the world like a traditional folk song handed down from generation to generation.
Keane packs more measured feeling into a phrase than that with which many vocalists imbue a whole song. She can be as delicate as snow in a snowglobe, broad-vaudeville funny, or incisively arch. Twice she ably replaces her excellent piano accompanist, Michael Roulston, whose light touch, intuitive timing, and theatrical flair buoy the show.
The well written piece has a vertebrae which serves. Stories bridge and introduce, each specific, none manufactured to fit. Keane creates the kind of genial intimacy one wants to take home to dinner. Direction by Simon Green, himself a first rate performer, is expressive and perfectly tailored.
“Pam,” about a woman confronting a husband’s mistress, communicates, in the sweetest, most polite tones, that though not ordinarily aggressive, she feels it only fair to warn the interloper her kneecaps are at present in danger. Should she continue pursuit, in fact, far worse consequences would ensue. Stop/start phrasing leaves ample time for the potential victim’s squirming. We can see Keane observe her. Most striking is that the song’s authors instill its lyrics with the wife’s experience and insight rather than merely describing revenge.
“Much More Married” is the episodic history of a burgeoning relationship whose every date reveals an aspect of circumstances not as first portrayed. The prologue is a gem. Keane got out of this one in time. “One More Campaign,” erupts as a drinking song, equating love with war. There are numbers describing literal and figurative illusions proffered by older romantics. “Everything,” as Nora Ephron famously said, “is copy.”
Except for a few more obviously concocted numbers, the show is sheer delight. An hour and a half with the multi-talented Dillie Keane will leave you feeling like uncorked bubbly. Go. Take friends. You’ll thank me.
Keane is best known to American audiences as one-third of Fascinating Aida with irreverent vocalists Adele Anderson and Liza Pullman. Her two previous solo shows, alas, never reached these shores.
Photos of Dillie Keane and Michael Roulston by Carol Rosegg.
Hello, Dillie! Dillie Keane With songs by Dillie Keane and Adele Anderson Michael Roulston at the piano Directed by Simon Green 59E59 Street Theatres 59 East 59th Street Through July 3. 2016