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.
The third and last in Musicals In Mufti’s Jule Styne series is 1961/62 Subways Are For Sleeping. Handicapped by initially negative reviews and the MTA’s unwillingness to post ads, producer David Merrick famously secured and printed laudatory quotes from ordinary people with the same names as New York critics. Though the stunt was discovered, publicity helped box office. Lyricist Adolph Green’s wife, Phyllis Newman, won the Tony Award that year for Best Supporting Actress. It’s easy to imagine her comic abilities in the role of kooky Martha Vail. I find it curious Subways hasn’t been revived before now. It has charm and more than a few worthy songs.
Eric William Morris and Alyse Alan Louis
Young magazine journalist Angie McKay (Alyse Alan Lewis) pitches an article to her editor Myra (Beth Glover) about an underground populous who dress like businessmen but are, in fact, homeless and without employment. The men gather daily at Grand Central Station where nominal leader, Tom Bailey (Eric William Morris), dispenses information on places to safely sleep and short term jobs. Bailey gets these tips from doormen and superintendents to whom he altruistically delivers coffee. Somehow the homeless eat and keep their suits clean, narrowly escaping vagrancy laws. They seem a fairly accepting lot – no drama here. Survival methodology is part cleverness, part fairytale.
David Josefsberg and Gina Milo
Angie and Tom naturally fall in love. Meanwhile, once wealthy underground denizen, Charlie (David Josefsberg), and sweet, dumb blonde, ex-pageant contestant Martha Vail (Gina Milo) – who spends almost the entire show in a towel (just shrug it off) – also become a couple. Angie gets a conscience, Charlie acquires ambition. It all works out in a way that helps street people as far as imagination reaches.
Alyse Alan Louis (Angie) has a lovely voice, but performs with so little expression we literally observe nothing but a smile at the end. Surely the character feels something else over the course of the story.
In contrast, Eric William Morris (Tom) is appealingly animated throughout. Immediately credible, we feel more sympathetic towards his character than the leading lady, not, I think what the show’s authors intended. Morris has a fine voice and moves with spirit.
Karl Joseph Co, Beth Glover, Kilty Reidy, David Engel, Kathryn McCreary, Gerry McIntrye, Alyse Alan Louis, Eric William Morris
Gina Milo plays Martha as if the part were written for her. She’s an excellent comedienne replete with southern accent, habitually flirty demeanor, smarter-than-she-seems innocence, and below-the-surface tenderness.
David Josefberg is adorable as the uber-sincere, completely smitten Charlie. His number “I Just Can’t Wait” (to see you with clothes on) is a comic highlight. An actor of multi-faceted talent.
The assembled cast is vivacious. Direction by Stuart Ross is zippy and evocative despite the minimalism of Mufti. Lacey Erb’s Projection Design splendidly substitutes for scenery. Many photos are so specific, they appear to have been shot for the piece.
Also featuring: David Engel, Kilty Reidy, Karl Josef Co, Gerry McIntyre, Beth Glover, Kathryn McCreary, Beth Glover
Photos by Ben Strothmann
Opening: Top row (left to right): Beth Glover, Kilty Reidy, Karl Joseph Co, Gerry McIntrye, David Engel, Kathryn McCreary. Seated (left to right): Eric William Morris, Alyse Alan Louis, Gina Milo, David Josefsberg
The York Theatre Company presents Musicals in Mufti Subways Are For Sleeping Book and Lyrics-Betty Comden and Adolph Green Suggested by the book by Edmund G. Love Music – Jule Styne Directed by Stuart Ross Music Direction/Piano-David Hancock Turner; George Farmer- Bass The York Theatre 619 Lexington Ave. in St. Peter’s Church Through March 4, 2018 NEXT: The Musical of Musicals -The Musical April 9, 2018
York Theatre’s 108th Musicals in Mufti, Hallelujah Baby!, was an attempt by its four liberal authors to put salve on race torn America. It won the Best Musical Tony Award in 1968 and made a star of young Leslie Uggams. In 2004, feeling its take on the black experience had been too soft, book writer Arthur Laurents endeavored to rectify this for a revival with changes in script and additional lyrics by Adolph Green’s daughter, Amanda Green. The story remains sketchy, but has perhaps removed its rose colored glasses.
Georgina (Stephanie Umoh) shepherds us through one African American woman’s history from 1910 to 1960 (with epilogue). Neither she nor other characters age outwardly (she’s 25), but all must deal with societal change affecting thoughts, feelings, and behavior.
Stephanie Umoh and Tally Sessions
Mamma was a slave. (Vivian Reed with attitude, spot-on timing and splendid vocals.) She accepts her role as a cleaning lady, even putting on exaggerated accent and obeisance to please those for whom she works. Rules are clear, expectations minimal. Her daughter neither “cringes nor shuffles” sufficiently. Georgina is a proud rebel. She wants her “own morning,” bed, man…Sweetheart Clem (a sincere Jarran Muse), puts weekly money towards a house whose price rises every time they almost have enough. Her life seems mapped.
Unexpectedly approached by a white man – Harvey (Tally Sessions) who’s putting on a play at the local Bijou Theater, Georgina finds herself ironically cast as exactly the kind of maid she’s refused to be in real life. Still, it’s a role, she’s earning her own money and, for the first time, perceives a way out. When the white theater owner (Michael Thomas Holmes, terrific as a wide variety of distinctively realized characters) objects to a black woman onstage, Harvey quits. Not only is he completely without prejudice, he’s sweet on her.
Tally Sessions, Vivian Reed, Jarran Muse
Through the years, Harvey and Clem move from profession to profession while competing for the feisty, ambitious Georgina – not the most likeable heroine you’ll ever meet. She puts vociferously them both off – Clem because he often doesn’t approve of her choices and never seems to offer enough, and the utterly selfless Harvey because she sees the impossibility of an interracial couple- and really, still loves Clem. Mamma, who tags along with her daughter’s upward mobility, never lets go of her own cynical views.
There’s bigotry/segregation, gambling, bootlegging, performing in feathers, squatting in an abandoned Chinese restaurant, entering theaters by the back door, the WPA – including musical Shakespeare, breadlines, Communism, USO work (still segregated), the first time someone address Georgina as “m’am”, an apartment with a river view, the Civil Rights Movement, performing at The White House…
In a larger sense, the musical is about realizing who your bretheren are and taking responsibility.
Also featuring Randy Donaldson, Bernard Dotson Jennifer Cody (who adds spark) and Latoya Edwards
Stephanie Umoh has a powerful, clear voice. The actress is convincingly frustrated, selfish and aggressive. She seems to add pith to the show that Uggams didn’t possess.
Tally Sessions’ Harvey is believable from the get-go. The actor brings authenticity to every speech, glance, and song. He has fine vocal style and is thoroughly appealing.
Director Gerry McIntyre is adept with both vivacity and gravitas. Choreography is appropriate and fun; emotional moments theatrically credible. Southern accents land.
Photos by Ben Strothmann Opening: Jarran Muse, Vivian Reed, Stephanie Umoh
Musicals in Mufti NEXT: February 10-18 Bar Mitzvah Boy Don Black/Jule Styne February 24-March 4 Subways Are For Sleeping Betty Comden/Adolph Green/ Jule Styne
The York Theatre Company’s Musicals in Mufti presents Hallelujah Baby! Music-Jule Style; Lyrics-Betty Comden, Adolph Green Additional Lyrics-Amanda Green Book- Arthur Laurents Directed by Gerry McIntyre Music Direction/Piano- David Hancock Turner; Bass- Richie Goods Through Sunday February 4, 2018 York Theatre 619 Lexington Avenue at St. Peter’s Church
“…Dear Ms. Fitzgerald…The first time I saw you was on tv…You were singing…clear and velvety smooth…like you were making a beautiful painting with your voice…” The daughter of two professional singers, Broadway denizen Andrea Frierson has felt an affinity with Ella Jane Fitzgerald (1917-1996) since childhood. Bookended by letters, this show parallels Frierson’s life (and that of her family) with Fitzgerald’s, not in terms of actual incidents, but rather professional experience and the icon’s influence. The author/performer wisely doesn’t try to imitate her heroine, she channels her.
Between vocals, Fitzgerald’s biography is peppered with four line poems written by Frierson: Hollywood came a-calling /I went!/Salary they paid me- three times my rent/Oh Chick…if only you could see/All the good you brung to me…This, as if by Fitzgerald, refers to Ella’s invitation to Hollywood because of popularity with Chick Webb’s band. A single reference to experienced prejudice elicits: A first-class ticket to a Jim Crow affair/The dress code is black and white/The misery’s private; inherited by birth/Enjoy your second-class flight…The novelty mostly works.
Signature numbers like “Honeysuckle Rose,” “A Tisket a Tasket,” “Goody, Goody,” “Lady Be Good,” “How High the Moon,” and “The Wee Small Hours of the Morning” arrive with confidence and style. Frierson is a fine singer. She has superb control, a classy swing, mellow scat, and a long note that never pushes. Ballads whisper and swell, be-bop feels effervescent. Phrasing is impeccable, gestures kept to a minimum.
Projected images of Fitzgerald and Frierson through the years are joined by photos of The Apollo Theater, streets of Harlem, album covers, and newspaper headlines adding atmosphere. Relevant sound effects are occasionally employed to create time and place.
The show is in development. At this point Frierson’s own story, especially in regard to that of her family, intrudes too often with tenuous analogy in order to include certain songs. A set of peripheral cousins, one boyfriend, and a Beatles number could be easily jettisoned. Though she sings George Gershwin’s “Porgy” beautifully, it doesn’t relate to Fitzgerald the way “Summertime”, a similar vocal opportunity, would. “Laura” is justified by a mention of Million Dollar Movie and “Get Out of Town” doesn’t work in response to bigotry experienced on American Airlines.
This is meant to be constructive criticism. Me & Ella is thoroughly entertaining. Fitzgerald’s story is well told. Much of Frierson’s history is charmingly related. The artist can clearly act and boy can she sing! Enthusiasm and affection are palpable.
Directors Murphy Cross & Paul Kreppel spotlight Frierson’s vocal appeal and storytelling.
Ron Abel’s excellent arrangements are engaging and evocative of Fitzgerald.
The band, featuring Abel on piano, Rex Benincasa- Percussion and Richie Goods-Bass, is first rate.
Photos by Ben Strothmann.
Photo of Ella Fitzgerald- Wikipedia
The York Theatre Company presents Me & Ella- Written and Performed by Andrea Frierson Music Direction & Arrangements by Ron Abel The Theater at St. Peter’s 618 Lexington Avenue Through July 23, 2017 NEXT: JERRY’S GIRLS August 8-15
Jerry Herman’s first (1961) Broadway effort has Israeli flavor (including Hebrew) without awkwardness or polemic. Herman and book writer Don Appell were sent abroad by producer Gerard Oestreicher to immerse themselves in the pioneer state about to celebrate its 13th Anniversary (a Bar Mitzvah). They created a sympathetic sketch steeped in traditional settlement values whose moral compass is in no way exclusively Jewish. Milk and Honey is full of (appreciatively cliché) humor. Its warm, primary relationships eschew rose colored glasses.
We first meet the busload of touring American widows on the streets of Jerusalem. Mrs. Kessler (Marcy DeGonge Manfredi), Mrs. Perlman (Joy Hermalyn), Mrs. Segal (Joanne Lessner), and Mrs. Weiss- Clara (Alix Korey) “tell me everything, don’t leave out a word” have come as much to find husbands as to broaden their horizons. Mrs. Stein-Ruth (Anne Runolfsson) joined the group to break a pattern of hen parties and memories.
Alix Korey, who plays Clara, a role originated by Molly Picon, is flat out terrific. Not only does the respected veteran remind us once again of vocal skill, but comic timing is impeccable, accent pitch perfect, and the actress segues to more serious moments with utter finesse. There are many reasons to enjoy this production, but Korey is a prime one. Her “Hymn to Hymie” (Clara’s deceased husband) is wonderful.
When a shepherd (Ari Axelrod in one of several roles) tries to drive his flock on a main thoroughfare (music stands tied together, each with a printed sign that says: SHEEP), American Phil Arkin (Mark Delevan) calms the crowd. Ruth asks him to translate. They connect. A retired businessman, Phil has skeptically come to visit his daughter Barbara (Jessica Fontana) and meet her new husband David, a Sabra. (A Jew born on Israeli territory.) The young people live in the Negev. “Give your daughter a European education and she brings home a farmer.”
Perry Sherman, Jessica Fontana (David and Barbara)
Phil impulsively asks Ruth to join Barbara and him touring the city. They have a wonderful day. She’s then invited to the desert. Putting aside a lifetime of reservations, she goes, seamlessly pitching in and fitting in. The middle aged couple credibly fall in love, for the first time seeing options both thought were unavailable. Unfortunately Phil still has a much estranged, eventually revealed wife.
Jacob Heimer, Abby Goldfarb (Adi & Zipporah)
Secondarily, we watch Barbara and her husband David (Peter Sherman- warm presence, good accent, fine voice) deal with her adjustment from upper middle class city life to agronomy, and malcontent farmer Adi (Jacob Heimer- good accent, solid acting and vocal) negotiate pregnancy and marriage (in that order) with girlfriend Zipporah (Abby Goldfarb- ably spirited.)
Milk and Honey is about second chances, integrity, courage, and partnerships.
Joy Hermalyn, Alix Korey, John Little (Mrs. Perlman, Clara, Mr. Horowitz)
Anne Runolfsson has a strong, mid range soprano. The actress grows into her role before our eyes, at first less than natural, but gradually troubled and infectiously moved as a compelling Ruth Stein. Opera singer Mark Delavan lends not only deep, resonant vocals, but thoughtful rendering of dialogue (which gives us time to watch the character consider) and tenderness that makes Phil Arkin always believable. The two voices blend beautifully.
Mark Delavan, Anne Runolfsson
Director Michael Unger does a splendid job with both lively and touching numbers. His actors have a good sense of where and when they are. Intimacy is well played. Pacing is just right. Visuals appeal. Only a parenthesis where the widows involve audience members feels uncomfortable.
Choreography by Yehuda Hyman is cute (not cloying) and appropriately ethnic.
Also featuring: John Little
This is the land of Milk and Honey/ This is the land of sun and song and /
This is the world of good and plenty /Humble and proud and young and strong
Photos by Ben Strothmann Opening: Mark Delavan, Anne Runolfsson, Alix Korey (Phil, Ruth, Clara)
The York Theatre Company Musicals in Mufti! Milk and Honey Book-Don Appell; Music & Lyrics- Jerry Herman Directed by Michael Unger Music Direction- Jeffrey Saver Through February 5, 2017 The York Theatre at St. Clements 619 Lexington Avenue at 54th Street NEXT: February 11-19: Berlin to Broadway
Take your mother, your daughters, your nieces, your friends. What works in this piece sheds light on the lives of women as they first broke free of restraining traditions – through character, in song, not polemic.
It’s 1957. President Eisenhower is in The White House. We’re in the middle of The Cold War. On The Ed Sullivan Show, Elvis Presley is shown only from the waist up. American Bandstand premiers. Rock Hudson is the national heartthrob. Arkansas calls out the National Guard to prevent African-American students from enrolling in high school. The Civil Rights Commission is established. A first Vietnam casualty is sustained by the U.S. Military. Sputnik I is launched. Sex is not publicly discussed. The hula hoop is introduced.
We’re in Joan Smith’s Winnetka, Illinois kitchen at a meeting of the Betty Crocker inspired Wednesday Winnetka Women’s Cooking Club. “Betty” herself is briefly seen on a “television screen” that doubles as the picture window when not in use. “I guarantee a perfect cake every time you bake…Or write General Mills, Minneapolis, Minnesota and get your money back,” the sincere black and white figure assures America. (Use of vintage commercials and advertising is inspired.) This is the group’s 17th annual attempt at winning a national contest providing a loose reason to gather. Each has dreams of what to do with the prize.
The club: Joan (Paige Faure), contentedly married to a traveling salesman and taking a journalism course at night. “Don’t be silly, women aren’t journalists,” Dottie comments. No kids. Connie Olsen (Autumn Hurlburt), due to give birth to her first child in three days, is married to Thor who works at J.C. Penney in women’s shoes. There was somethin’ missin’ in his kissin’/But they said I’d look pretty in white…Dottie O’Farrell (Allison Guinn) a good natured “baby machine” with two sets of twins, more conservatively set in her beliefs than the others. Her spouse is a telephone repairman. And Agnes Crookshank (Janet Dacal), who, single, arrives in curlers so neighbors will think she has a date. Agnes aches to make a splash in the entertainment world. “An idea person,” she neither cooks nor sees the need.
A rousing “Cooking” is followed by “Dear Abby” in which each woman asks a revealing question… Abby I need you, Shoop Shoop Doo Wah…This may be the first choreography that neatly utilizes rolling pins like burlesque props. A song about gossip (an integral part of weekly meetings), finds the ladies in trench coats and shades. Potential scandals are marvelously credible… I was under the dryer, when…(the dryer is a large, overturned, aluminum mixing bowl.) Brava. Songs employ melodic genres of the time.
Joe Bonomo’s manuals of behavior for women (these existed “right next to the gum and mints at the checkout counter”), which three of the women live by, include Ten Easy Steps to the Altar: “1. Be mentally prepared. 2. Sometimes you have to put on an act…” At 23, Agnes is considered a spinster. (Age should be raised a bit to support the cast.) Connie calls Sidney Poitier, a negro, handsome. The word “breast” elicits literal screams of shock and embarrassment.
Images in The Kinsey Report (it’s Joan’s copy) are turned this way and that with wariness and curiosity. The women mourn lack of a bar at which they can congregate like men. “Happy Hour” is ersatz Polynesian. (And fun.) When Connie’s water breaks, the room panics. We find out there’s a really good reason she doesn’t want to call Thor. Unexpected judgments arise. All this may sound comprehensive, but I assure you, there’s much more to learn and enjoy about the ladies.
Act II opens ten years later. The friends haven’t seen one another since Connie’s baby was born. Joan organizes a reunion with an ulterior motive. Dottie and she still live in Winnetka, the others have traveled to be there. New jobs, different partners and fresh perspectives abound.
There’s a son in Saigon, a biracial coupling, marijuana, women’s lib…lyrics are a bit more cliché: …we put our dreams on layaway; I can flyhigher than the stars… a bit less clever, somewhat less musically diverse. Still, there are a few really good songs – Dottie has an hysterical hot mama turn centering on food – everything is directed with imagination and skill, choreography continues zesty and engaging. Joan shares her reason for bringing them together.
Oh, and they cook. “Swedish Meatballs?…The sauce is easy. A jar of grape jelly and a bottle of ketchup.”
All four actresses, cast to reflect different physical types, move and sing well. Additionally: Allison Guinn (Dottie) is a skilled comedienne with both verbal timing and physical mishap. Janet Dacal makes Agnes’s sexuality and ersatz transformation entirely believable. Autumn Hurlbert (Connie) imbues her character with the groundwork for gradual revelation and wears maternity with appealing humor. Paige Faure (Joan) handles narration with tongue ably in cheek and is a particularly graceful dancer.
Director/Choreographer Lorin Latarro seamlessly integrates movement/dance with kitchen chores and character exposition. Evidence of when and where we are is well planted. Furniture and unlikely props add ample amusement. Every woman appears whole in her attitudes and bearing. A superb job.
The wonderful Set by Steven C. Kemp is a turquoise, yellow and white, component kitchen with checkered linoleum floor. Its back wall features a montage of period advertisements. From starburst clock to chrome and vinyl breakfast set, every detail suits the period in its cheeriest form. The window/video screen is ingenious. Act II, set in 1967, is a smidgen less successful. Not that the change in furniture (and attitude) isn’t spot on, but during a time of breaking out, colors and style oddly grow more, not less conservative. A new back wall of hubcap-like disco lights is jarring.
Dana Burkhart’s Costumes are terrific in Act I, each individual expressed in outfits that work well together on stage. In Act II, however, though apparel is appropriate, the four ensembles look visually dissonant side by side.
The Taste of Things to Come was inspired by the experiences and recipes of Hollye Levin’s mother. Do not fail to read actual recipes of the period posted on a wall at The York. You never know when a tuna and jello mold or bananas hollandaise (with ham) might come in handy.
Photos by Carol Rosegg Opening: Autumn Hurlbert, Allison Guinn, Paige Faure, Janet Dacal
The York Theatre Company in association with Staci Levine and What’s Cookin’ LLC. presents A Taste of Things to Come Book, Music, and Lyrics: Debra Barsha and Hollye Levin Music Direction: Gillian Berkowitz Direction and Choreography: Lorin Latarro The York Theatre at St. Peter’s 619 Lexington Avenue Through December 11. 2016