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Writing Assist Of A Targeted Professional Formatting Essay

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2016

2. General formatting Tricks In Order To Get The Nice Grades In College

apa dissertation format

  • 2.1 Structure
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    The essay must be shown being a ongoing discussion – not in note-create. In a nutshell essays, loads of sub-headings are annoying and sometimes cause you to oversimplify your argument. Your case ought to have a unique form. Sentences must help the audience by expressing the method that you produce main concepts from sets of phrases addressing particular area of that subject.
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    Understand that your visitor will probably have been reading several other essays and may encourage the obvious term of any personal issue.
  • 2.3 Titles
    Italicise or underline titles of actually works of art and books. Use quotes markings for content articles, section headings from publications, unpublished theses and material.
  • 2.4 Estimates
    Quotatons of up to 3 collections ought not to be divided through the principal wording; they ought to be mentioned by individual quotation marks. Quotes of two to three or maybe more queues needs to be separated and indented (in individual-place in the event your essay is typed 2x-space or room). In such cases, will not use quote signifies,
    e. g.: Roberts mentioned he desires to depict ‘the fascination and delight of your good pastors lifetime and work’. He also painted the deep quiet space of nature; lingering where the wandering almost silent river bathes the feathery wattle-branches; sometimes on a hillside watching the sun setting over range and valley…
    These statements reveal that he was no longer as interested in the representation of urban life as he was when he first returned from England.
  • 2.5 Non-sexist Language
    Be careful not to use words in a way that implies only male authority and experience, or infers that general human types are men (for example do not automatically assume that an author or an artist is a ‘he’). When used appropriately, can be a useful corrective, though the ‘he/she’ or ‘s/he’ form is clumsy. Do not use they like a single pronoun.
  • 2.6 ‘Apparatus’ – footnotes or endnotes, bibliography listing of illustrations and appendices
    There are a lot of specialized devices designed to give expertise for your explanation, to make additional information, as well as show the resources for your informativequotations and material, and many more. These include a bibliography, footnotes and appendices. Inside the reputation of art form, provides of illustrations and captions to pictures take a especially vital function.
    This section spells out ideas for the ‘apparatus’ supporting essay or thesis delivery. There is no need to follow them in just about every unique (e.g. you could select the use Latinisms as well as checklist publishers in your remarks, but what you does one should be steady). The fantastic tip is by using the ‘apparatus’ just as one critical aid in your reader. It must as a result be promptly distinct. It is actually truly worth perfecting these devices as quickly as possible, so that you could arrived at employ them practically devoid of imagining.
    Be aware: essential develops can vary from publisher to publisher, country to country. The suggested listed below are pulled from normal fashionable perform in Australia.

Writers Sites – How To Obtain Your Way By Way Of The Producing Maze

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2016

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Intermission Talk

Sunday, January 24th, 2016

Turn All “Noises Off”

and Listen to the

“Fiddler on the Roof”




Some years ago, the Screen Actors Guild, in an effort [one supposes] at increasing its influence in the choice of the Best Picture Oscar, invented its own award for best ensemble acting in a motion picture.  Since movies are shot in small segments, out of order and practically never with the entire cast in any one scene, the idea that an ensemble sensibility even exists is questionable.  But there you are.  This is referenced because the place where a genuine ensemble effort does exist is on the stage.  And if ever there were to be a special Tony Award for Best Ensemble Acting by a Cast, its hands-down recipient this season would be the very game gang over at the American Airlines Theatre, turning in spectacular work in the Roundabout Theatre Company’s current revival of Michael Frayn’s by-now classic farce, “Noises Off.”

Simply stated, the premise follows a second-tier collection of British actors as they stumble through the final rehearsal of the comedy “Nothing On,” when practically nothing works.  We then see how it all looks in performance from backstage, and finally, how the finished product plays out near the end of its tour.  Under Jeremy Herrin’s razor-sharp direction, unfolding in the dual sets by design master Derek McLane, this randy collection of actors, director, stage manager and stagehand attempting to salvage a minimally viable performance generates enough smiles, giggles, laughs and guffaws to keep you warmed up for the rest of the winter.


The ‘marquee’ name they hope will attract an audience in the provinces belongs to the somewhat dotty Dotty Otley, late of a telly sitcom in the role of a lollipop lady [crossing-guardian].  And in the hands of veteran comic actress Andrea Martin, her every moment on and off stage rings true with fuzzy execution, muddled delivery and wide-eyed wonder.  And just as the producers of that fictional farce were wise to place Dotty center stage, so too were the producers of this revival, to entrust this key character to Ms. Martin.  Hers is a career that has been on an upward trajectory ever since I first visited her and fellow cast-members of Toronto’s Second City in 1978, when they were producing the now-fabled comedy series “SCTV.”  Along with Catherine O’Hara, Eugene Levy, Martin Short, Dave Thomas, John Candy, Harold Ramis, Joe Flaherty and a few others, they wrote and performed comedy gems, and earned their creds onstage at Toronto’s Old Firehouse, where improv routines spilled out every weekend.  And then as now, Martin’s quicksilver timing, fearless delivery, self-assured presence and generous spirit toward fellow cast-members sets the tone for the entire endeavor.

When the dim-bulb, sex kitten character recalling Diana Dors and Barbara Nichols, played by Megan Hilty makes her initial entrance onto the ‘Nothing On’ living room set, and proclaims  “All these DOORS !!,” she says it all.  Every good farce is fashioned around wrong entrances, and here, they’ve got [by my recollection] nine to choose from.  Hilty adds a touch of verisimilitude to her character by silently mouthing every other actor’s lines, trying to keep her place.  That practice is just one of many this cast carries out so splendidly.  As an insecure actor desperate to discover his motivation for every moment’s movement, Jeremy Shamos provides comic moments Buster Keaton fans would relish.  Rob McClure’s shattered-nerves stagehand can’t control his high-voltage shakes when pushed into any under-rehearsed understudy’s nightmare, going on at the last minute.  In fact, every cast member in either play fills out mildly lurid backstories and sadly misfiring romances, to perfection.


The entire midsection of the piece displays what’s happening backstage during a chaotic first act performance, which means very little dialogue is permitted.  This gives the section a silent-movie quality, when it’s all gestures and motions, and, as Norma Desmond would say, “Faces.”  Playing a mindless, memory-challenged housekeeper, Andrea Martin brings to mind some of the past female greats of this very difficult art, such as Britain’s  Hermione Baddeley, Joyce Grenfell and Gracie Fields, and America’s other beloved Gracie, Gracie Allen..  Her Dotty wrestles throughout with a disappearing, errant plate of sardines, which plague her every moment.  And anyone who seems intent on finding fault with this stunning production may be confusing sardines for carp.

Gestures play a silent role in the revival of “Fiddler on the Roof,” where the endlessly versatile Jessica Hecht displays the kind of heartfelt, loving care for her five daughters with her hands.  Watch as Momma Golde caresses their cheeks, smoothes down their hair, strokes shoulders, always in service of reassuring her offspring that God will provide, even when Poppa isn’t able to.  Hers is a story-teller’s art, showing when telling isn’t always enough.


And Poppa’s hands tell their own tale.  Five-time Tony Award nominee Danny Burstein gives his Tevye an Everyman quality, so eager not to offend his God when his hands rise up to heaven to plead for a little relief.  “Fiddler” remains one of Broadway’s most beloved musical creations, showcasing the brilliance of book-writer Joseph Stein, composer Jerry Bock and lyricist Sheldon Harnick.  Based on the Sholom Aleichem stories of life during the Russian upheavals that exiled Jews from their centuries-old homelands, it’s a plot-heavy work – when Burstein famously reminds God that he has ‘blessed’ him with five daughters to marry off, it foretells the challenge of keeping all their personalities and destinies distinct and still moving.  Director Bartlett Sher wisely assisted in guiding set designer Michael Yeargan’s vision for this revival, keeping stage pieces to a minimum, without creating a meager landscape.  The little village of Anatevka that we see reflects its simple, basic construct.  What Sher has used, to fill out the landscape, is people.   His cast of thirty-six townspeople, tavern owners, butchers, tailors, and the indomitable matchmaker Yente bring a real place to life.  There’s just enough variety in the browns and greys of Catherine Zuber’s costumes to indicate poverty, the abandonment of self-esteem.  And the fresh take on their dances by choreographer Hofesh Schecter does not diminish the memory of original director/choreographer Jerome Robbins.


This plain-folk sentiment is embodied so effectively by Burstein, an average-size man who struggles so movingly with the forces of tradition and change that threaten to shred the very fabric of their lives, and at the same time, to inform the to-their-parents almost shocking choices of the daughters.  Notice, for instance, how the behavior of second daughter Hodel [the luminous Samantha Massell] reflects the movements of the mother, a tribute to the performances of both women.  And among the tide of young men considering the daughters as potential mates, note especially how Adam Kantor’s timid tailor Motel, and Ben Rappaport’s determined student Perchik make every moment count, always aware that their very presence is enough to disrupt their hoped-for unions with two of the daughters.

Despite its revered place in Broadway history, “Fiddler on the Roof” remains a tricky business to put over – so many emotions, so many traditions, so many conflicts – and how to balance the serious, even somber cords that bind these multi-generational families, friends, neighbors, loved ones and enemies, all competing for the right to exist on their own terms.  Happily, this version finds that balance.  And the fiddler remains standing, sure-footed and steady, on the roof.


The clever Paper Canoe Theater Company initiates its new family-oriented production “A Sock’s Fables,” with apologies to Aesop, running from February 6 to March 13, and includes a special free puppet-making workshop.  Details of the Brooklyn-based endeavor are available at . . another family-based series is already underway via Theatreworks USA at The Kaye Playhouse, including shows featuring Curious George, Skippyjon Jones and Henry and Mudge.   Check it out at . . the Theatre Development Fund (TDF) has updated its popular TKTS App to simplify the purchase of the least expensive same-day tickets to Broadway and off-Broadway shows.  You may download the Official TKTS App free of charge at the iTunes app store, android store or at . . and the acclaimed Maly Drama Theatre of St. Petersburg returns to BAM with Chekhov’s final masterpiece, “The Cherry Orchard,” from for four performances in mid-February.  Contact, or phone 718-636-4129.

On Book

There’s an old show biz adage, that goes something like “Dying is easy.  Comedy is hard.”  Look no further than the American Airlines Theatre’s sparkling rendition of “Noises Off” to appreciate its message.  And a good deal of contemporary comedy owes its origins to those brave, hearty souls known as stand-up comedians.  Just close your eyes for ten seconds and imagine yourself in front of a marginally hostile room full of people who are determined to not laugh.  Okay, eyes open.  And cast them onto three very informative and educational books on the subject.  In one of the most comprehensive overview historical deliveries on any subject, Kliph Nesteroff’s superb chronicle, “The Comedians: Drunks, Thieves, Scoundrels and the History of American Comedy” from Grove Press, will keep you enthralled, with its wonderful mix of notes, quotes and anecdotes about where our world of comedy came from, how it rewarded some and punished others, and what to look for when trying to satisfy your own personal likes and dislikes when it comes to humor . . . to get behind the serious business of funny, Sophie Quirk’s “Why Stand-Up Matters – How Comedians Manipulate and Influence” from Bloomsbury Publishing, will enlighten and surprise you . . . and the man most often credited with shaping the style and sensibility of this generation of comics is revealed in the Harper Perennial book, “Becoming Richard Pryor,” by Scott Saul . . . and just in time for Black History Month, Square One Publishers has released Steward F. Lane’s remarkably comprehensive “Black Broadway: African-Americans on the Great White Way.”  From its origins in the nineteenth century, right up to landmark productions such as “The Color Purple,” Lane incorporates observations not only from marquee actors, but also from the producers, designers and directors who have been responsible for seeing that we all get to see these great accomplishments.



TONY VELLELA wrote and produced the PBS series on theatre, “Character Studies.”  His Best Play winner at the New York International Fringe Festival is published by Playscripts, and ‘Maisie and Grover Go to the Theatre” by Art Age Press.  He has written several other plays and musicals, countless magazine and newspaper articles about the performing arts for Parade, Dramatics Magazine, Rolling Stone, Theatre Week, Reader’s Digest and several other publications.  He has taught theatre courses at Columbia University Teacher’s College, the New School, HB Studio, Lehman College and other institutions and arts centers across the country.  Currently, his sessions on all aspects of theatre are offered at the 92nd St. Y – his next series, on every Tuesday morning in March, is titled “Let the Sons Shine In,” examining in detail the male central characters in “The Glass Menagerie,” The Seagull,” “The Rose Tattoo” and “Our Town.”  Visit for details.


CARMEL CAR & LIMOUSINE SERVICE, in business since 1978, has been selected as the official transportation company for Intermission Talk.  Its wide variety of services, including special theatre packages, and reservations, are available at, the Carmel App, or 212-666-6666.


Intermission Talk

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2015

The “China Doll,”

in “The Color Purple”

has “A View From The Bridge”

of “A Wilder Christmas”




Traditionally, the Christmas holidays are symbolized using the colors  red and green.  This year, it’s necessary to add the color purple.    Maybe the green has a second meaning: it could apply to the envy other musicals now opening may be feeling should they visit Broadway’s Jacobs Theatre.


“The Color Purple,” with book by Marsha Norman, and music and lyrics by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray, returns to Broadway following its initial premiere run in 2005.  This version, directed by John Doyle, originated at London’s Menier Chocolate Factory.


Set in various rural Georgia locales between 1909 and 1949, it’s the saga of one young black woman’s journey from near slavery conditions, to a fulfilled life of independence and creativity.  It is based on Alice Walker’s esteemed blockbuster novel of the same name, and the 1985 motion picture, helmed by Stephen Spielberg, starring Whoopi Goldberg, Danny Glover, Margaret Avery and Oprah Winfrey.


This time, there is a simplicity to the overall design of the musical, which can prove to be a benefit for those audience members not familiar with the intricacies of the story.  Doyle, as he has done in past Broadway productions of “Sweeney Todd,” “Company” and “A Catered Affair,” chose to strip away almost every set design detail that provides us with information about where we are.  If the intention was to laser-focus in on the individuals and the specifics of what’s happening to them at the moment, it can be called an apt choice.  There are those, however, who believe that less is not always more.  Because the director was also the set designer and the person responsible for the musical staging, one can fault a kind of obsession with a fixation on presenting only the barest of necessities.  At rise, all we see is a wall of slatted boards, mounted at various angles, and from them, an array of various kinds of bentwood chairs hanging like they would in an Amish homestead.  And the chairs stand in for every other kind of furniture, set piece or even bludgeoning instrument.  Added to this stage picture is the absence of every color except brown, and the oppression of the time and place becomes quite visceral.  Unfortunately, this relentless monochromatic environment affects not only the characters on stage, but  also the audience members, who can tire of the sameness, being lulled into inattentiveness.


At their peril.  From the first moments when the young, clumsy and plain-featured Celie suffers both physical and emotional abuse from her father, and then many others, the match is lit, and the long fuse that eventually burns toward the explosion that is her liberation, attention must be paid.  And the demands on us, to give ourselves over to witness the emerging realization of her identity, is made compelling because of Cynthia Erivo, in her startling Broadway debut.  As her young self withstands being pushed into a fixed marriage, a less-than-human servitude and finally, the entirely unexpected love connection that unlocks her passion and her soul, it is the specific choices the actor makes, and the unlimited ferocity she infuses those choices with, that make this breakout performance as thrilling to see as it was to witness Heather Hedley’s skyrocket trip to the stars in “Aida.”  She is that good, and then some.


The somewhat obvious costume choice in Act Two when Celie appears in a blood red dress lessens the continuing impact of a design palette that probably sounds good in a production meeting, but again, comes across as a one-note decision lacking in subtlety.  When, in Act Two, the women unwrap bolts of African fabric that shout out bold colors and patterns, there’s the real echo of a similar moment in Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun,” when the daughter Beneatha revels in the gift her African boyfriend has bestowed – authentic African costuming of the same patterns and colors.


What is not at all subtle, and that is meant as a compliment, is the Broadway debut performance of Oscar-winner Jennifer Hudson, cast against type as Shug Avery, the brash, sultry dance hall hostess who grabs the attention of everyone in any room she enters.  Hudson’s svelte appearance, sloe-eyed countenance and overall louche demeanor insists on being watched, and every time she has an opportunity to sing, it’s a bonus, especially in the rousing “Push da Button.”  And when she and Celie profess their tender bonding in “What About Love?” – tears.


Overall, “The Color Purple” has been built from a meaningful, heart-wrenching, intense and inspirational set of individual stories.   The production would have benefitted from a strong counter-point opinion cautioning Doyle that obsession with cutting away almost everything but the bare bones of any work can have unintended negative consequences.


Also adopting a ‘less-is-more’ approach in presenting another revival is “A View from the Bridge,” one of Arthur Miller’s most precisely-crafted plays, getting a fresh take on how it can be presented,  at the Lyceum Theatre.  The superlatives bank has been overdrawn from the time this production premiered, with much of the excitement centered on the work and future of Dutch director Ivo Van Hove, here in his Broadway debut.


One is reminded of a boxing ring – a large blank square playing space, backed up by a non-descript fourth wall sporting one doorway.  No furniture.  No set pieces or props.  And the stripped-down decision extends to the actors, who are almost always barefoot.  And the result: the ‘boxing ring’ area almost immediately becomes an invisible cage, with its inhabitants trapped inside its unseen walls.


It’s the mid-fifties. Longshoreman Eddie Carbone, his wife Beatrice and her niece Catherine live in a very modest apartment in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, a neighborhood overwhelmingly populated by families whose roots are in Sicily, and whose ties to the old country include assisting any newly-arrived immigrants as they attempt to assimilate.  Illegal arrivals, stowaways on boats coming in to the port, pose a dangerous real-world conundrum.  If they [nicknamed ‘submarines’] are caught, they are immediately deported.  But their Brooklyn hosts also face arrest and jail time.


The Carbone household already faces its own internal, private drama of personal interrelationships.  Young Catherine, who has lived with the Carbones ever since her mother, Beatrice’s sister, passed away, is now a fully-developed young woman.  The obvious, suppressed sexual energy that sparks between the girl and her uncle has become an unspoken point of stress for Beatrice, who sees how the girl still behaves as if she were ten years old, jumping up onto Eddie’s lap, wrapping her arms around his neck and nuzzling him when he comes home, and how he, in turn, seems unconsciously to stroke, pat, kiss and pet her whenever they’re together.    Add into this volatile mix the wife’s statement that she wants her husband to resume their love-making, which has been absent for months.


Enter: trouble.  Two distant cousins wash ashore, hidden among the crew of a ship that has just docked there, and without a second thought, the Carbones offer to put them up until they can find their own place to stay.  Eddie obliges by finding work on the dock for the two brothers, one older with a wife and children back in Sicily, the other younger, with a taste for adventure and fun.  And to Eddie’s horror, young Rodolpho and Catherine find a love connection.  Nothing good comes from any of this, as Eddie tries to elicit the aid of a lawyer, in breaking up the couple, only to learn that there’s no law against it.  Every possible conflict ensues.  And the worst possible consequences unfold.


This time, this revival does something no other one has managed to accomplish, and this is a play that has enjoyed a fair number of return visits down through the decades, each with its own highlights.  To assess the impact of any revival, one must first consider the author’s original intentions, and then, what past productions have given us.  Arthur Miller once told me that he had felt the story of the Carbones had elements of opera, and among all the ones I’ve ever seen, this is the one that comes closest to manifesting that ideal.  These are regular, everyday people hit hard by larger-than-life challenges.  And that is happening because of a perfect marriage of vivid performances and ultra-creative staging.


The guts-and-grit persona of Eddie pours forth in Mark Strong’s visceral portrayal, a man whose gut instincts always govern his behavior, and whose obsession with his nubile young niece cannot be tamped down.  Equally prone to following her natural instincts as Catherine, Phoebe Fox is careful not to project any secret lascivious intentions.  And the ideal match, to guilelessly seek to have a married relationship

with Catherine, is Russell Tovey’s  Rodolpho.  Last seen as Rudge in “The History Boys,” in all the versions, including on Broadway and in the television movie, Tovey scored an American hit on the HBO series about the gay lives of young men in San Francisco, “Looking.”  Tovey’s fresh-faced, innocently cocky Italian lad bowled over with the wonder of New York and America hits the just-right balance between sensitive lovelorn boy and rough-and-tumble street lad, ready to fight for what he sacrificed so much to finally achieve.


Paired with outstanding performances is van Hove’s smart direction.  It’s my view that the power of Miller’s story and the clear, meteoric arc of the story, come through in part, due to the director’s past work in opera.  He has ferreted out the basic truths and the searing lies that Miller has inter-woven.  Van Hove’s choice to leave his actors/characters barefoot is not, in my view, an arbitrary or stylistic decision.  Nothing can give an actor more of the ‘feel’ of being rooted in the basics of a story than the feel of the their skin in direct contact with the wood or canvas surface of the stage.   Van Hove’s removal of all set pieces means that Eddie and Catherine have just about nowhere else to put their hands but on each other, weaving an easy, constant tactile flow between the two, as he preens her, fixes her hair, strokes her bare legs.  Van Hove has worked closely with sound designer Tom Gibbons, who has composed a relentless, low-tone groaning underscoring that underlies the ominous mood that envelopes everyone.   Miller’s writing is clean, spare and vivid.  In the case of Eddie, he bears an uncanny resemblance to another of Miller’s iconic males, also one who is plagued by tangled sexual attractions inside a closed world of strict norms and rigid rules.  That is “The Crucible’s” John Proctor, also accused of behavior not accurately ascribed to him.  Listen to Carbone, cut down in the street after precipitating a deadly confrontation, when he cries out to his wife that “I want my name.”  He could be the great-great-great grandson of Proctor.   This is the production that all future productions will be measured against.  And good luck with that.


In order to apply it to David Mamet’s new play “China Doll,” at the Schoenfeld Theatre, starring Al Pacino, that old adage “The Emperor has no clothes” needs a modification:  this time, TWO Emperors are metaphorically naked.


This clumsy, ragged playscript, is another instance of Mamet believing [apparently correctly] that he has managed so successfully at turning himself into a ‘brand,’ that

he can cobble together just about anything, with his name attached, and get it produced.  One wonders if it was simple vanity that attracted Pacino to do the lead role.  His character, Mickey Ross, is on stage the entire time.  He appears to be a billionaire industrialist with international holdings and plenty of domestic political clout.  How do we know what we think we know?  Through one of the most overused, least credible forms of exposition: the one-sided telephone call.


You know the pattern, because you’ve seen it on millions of television shows and in B-movies going back to the addition of sound.  The person we see at first repeats, almost word for word, what the person on the phone has asked.  Then, gives a complete-sentence response.  “What do you mean you want to know when I arrived?  I arrived at ten o’clock, just like I said I would. [pause]  You want to meet me at midnight?  You already know I’ll be . . .” etc., etc. etc.  Amateur hour-writing.


And doubling the pain of sitting through this debacle, in which Ross seems to be trying to outsmart the people ready to level politically-charged criminal accusations, is a performance by Pacino that features all the worst aspects of this mega-talented, vital and often revered actor.  Pacino rants, squints, shouts, blusters, stammers, demands and through it all, gives orders to the play’s only other character, young Carson, working as an assistant to the mogul, because he wants to grow up to be just like him.  Or so he thought.  [Pacino’s performance rivals those irritating insurance television commercials starring a character named Flo, in a white uniform and scarlet lips, or that phone service-hawking couple who don’t seem to have anything else to talk about except who loves their phone company more.]  In one of the most strenuous, demanding performances unfolding anywhere in town [or elsewhere, for that matter], Christopher Denham serves as the perfect lackey, to be near his mentor.  Denham manages to carry off this second-banana role with great finesse. Guiding this up-and-coming fine actor’s performance  may be the only positive contribution from director Pam McKinnon, whose previous outings have included lending a masterful touch to the revival Steppenwolf production of Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and the Bruce Norris Pulitzer Prize-winner “Clybourne Park.”  Go figure.


There was a time back in the early days of literate theatre-productions that the #1 rule  the playwright was expected to honor is this: we need to care about someone.

Almost from the get-go, there’s no good reason to hope Ross succeeds in his threats and manipulations.  Denham’s character is very nearly a two-dimensional stereotype until the last moments of the play, which take way, way, way too long to arrive.


Incidentally, the title, “China Doll,” like the rest of this undertaking, has no meaning.  No ‘doll,’ human or toy, no ‘China’ reference.  Which fits the play.  Or maybe either one was mentioned when I nodded off.


To return to the Christmas theme, a great gift to give any friend, family member, young person new to theatre, older person ready to give up any hope of ever again experiencing the past joy of seeing great theatre, or most of all, to yourself, is the wonderfully satisfying, creative and lovingly rendered Peccadillo Theater Company’s “A Wilder Christmas.”  Yup – THAT Wilder – Thornton, of “Our Town,” “Matchmaker,” “Bridge of San Luis Rey” and “Skin of Our Teeth” fame.   This time, it’s two of his many one-act plays that have been paired, to make for a glorious evening of story-telling.  “The Long Christmas Dinner” and “Pullman Car Hiawatha” each exhibit features that show how Wilder was experimenting with various forms and formats.  “The Long Christmas Dinner,’ written in the late 1920s,  relates ninety years in the life of an American family, unfolding around a holiday dining room table, in a script that seems to lay the basic premise for A.R. Gurney’s 1981 “The Dining Room.”  Relatives come and go, marry and die, bicker  with and care for each other, as Wilder craftily demonstrates how certain behaviors skip generations and how blood lines can determine even the most obscure outcomes.


And the passengers on the “Pullman Car Hiawatha” possess an ability to ‘speak’ their thoughts, giving us the rare opportunity to hear what they’re thinking.  And in case there are conditions not readily apparent, Wilder has included a conductor character who doubles as a sort of Narrator, capable of speaking directly to us, the audience, a direct antecedent of the “Our Town” Stage Manager.  Remnants of Grover’s Corners and of the future television series “Outer Limits” tumble together with ease, in one of the year’s most enjoyable, satisfying and theatrical events.  Directing kudos to Dan Wackerman, Peccadillo’s Artistic Director, for excellent work with this uniformly excellent ensemble cast, and for orchestrating this fine production.




Two unique theatrical experiences are on offer for, and about teens, so if you’re wondering what else to come up with, to entertain your teens during the coming weeks, check these out:  [1] The Big Apple Circus, which has returned to the Big Top at Lincoln Center.  It’s their 38th season, and they’re premiering their all-new show “The Grand Tour.”  Audiences get transported to the Roaring ’20s, get introduced to the advent of modern transport vehicles, and get up-close to some of the world’s greatest circus acts, all within 50 feet of every audience member.  For details, visit . . . and the world premiere season of the new play “Prospect High: Brooklyn” is still underway.  It was written by Daniel Robert Sullivan and a talented team of New York City teenagers.  It spotlights four super-talented teen-agers and their less-than-enthusiastic teacher, and addresses a variety of important themes, including casual racism, self-harm, friendship issues, trans acceptance and more.  Performances are taking place in schools across the country, and return to home turf this coming spring.  Plus, scripts are available for schools to consider putting on their own production.  For details, visit


On Book


The backstory of how “A View from the Bridge” came to be written is one of the most important Broadway legends in the history of that Golden Age of Drama.  Arthur Miller had been very well-served by director Elia Kazan, who was responsible for bringing “Death of a Salesman” and “All My Sons” to life.  [It was also the era when Kazan was doing the same remarkable things for a still-emerging young playwright named Tennessee Williams, having helmed “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “Cat  on a Hot Tin Roof” and Robert Anderson’s tender “Tea and Sympathy”].  It was assumed Kazan would also direct “View,” but a serious, bitter rift drove an iron wedge between the two men, and the original production was directed instead by Martin Ritt, as a long one-act, and later, the full-length version, which premiered in London, had Peter Brook in the director’s chair.  The themes of the corruption that held dockworkers by the throat, and the devastating effect it had on their personal lives, is, of course, at the heart of “View;” Kazan could not let go of the theme.  It emerged, instead, in his collaboration with the brilliant writer Budd Schulberg, whose screenplay for “On the Waterfront,” which Kazan co-wrote, he famously directed.  To read about both sides of this saga, check out both men’s autobiographies: Arthur’s = “Timebends,” from Grove Press, and Kazan’s = “A Life,” from Knopf . . . an equally fascinating life story can be discovered in “Thornton Wilder – A Life,” written by Penelope Niven, from HarperCollins, with a foreword by Edward Albee.  Did you know that he wrote the screenplay for the picture Alfred Hitchcock believed to be his best – “Shadow of a Doubt?” . . . and to give yourself about two dozen or so treats, pick up the collections of Wilder’s short plays, in “The Collected Short Plays of Thornton Wilder – Volume I and Volume II,” from Theatre Communications Group.


TONY VELLELA wrote and produced the PBS series about theatre, “Character Studies.”  His play “Admissions” won the Best Play Award at the New York International Fringe Festival, and is published by Playscripts.  His one-act “Maisie and Grover Go to the Theatre” is published by ArtAge Press.  As a journalist, he has covered the performing arts for almost fifty years, in publications such as Parade, Dramatics Magazine, The Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, Rolling Stone, Crawdaddy and Reader’s Digest, among many others.  He teaches theatre-related sessions at the 92nd St. Y [visit for details on upcoming sessions].  His new play, “Labor Days,” is in pre-production.


CARMEL CAR & LIMOUSINE SERVICE, in business since 1978, has been selected as the official transportation company for Intermission Talk.  Its wide variety of services, including special theatre packages, and reservations, are available at, the Carmel App, or 212-666-6666.


Intermission Talk

Tuesday, December 1st, 2015

End Your ‘Misery.’

Get ‘On Your Feet’

with ‘Dames at Sea’





Don’t you wanna just disgorge when you read a column or commentary that purports to connect three separate items with some tenuous, credibility-stretching theme?  Some they-have-it-in-common element?  Some I’m-so-clever observation?  This is one of those.


Feet.  All three shows herein explored have ‘feet’ as an organizing factor.  Best to start with the most appropriate, which would be the new bio-musical about the life and career of Cuban pop singer Gloria Estefan: “On Your Feet!”


For those of you who may have spent the better part of the ’80s sequestered under a rock, the pulse-racing, blood-stirring beat of the musical group the Miami Sound Machine achieved record-breaking success when it accomplished the almost cliche-labeled feat [f-e-A-t] of crossing over.  This refers to any performer or group who manages to capture the attention and sustained following of an audience outside their original home base – think Dolly Parton skyrocketing herself out of the country music universe of Nashville, for instance.  For the Estefans, it’s a even more noteworthy achievement, because their original home base speaks, sings and dances in Spanish.  There are credible comparisons to the “Dreamgirls” saga – a ‘sound’ that defines the emotions of a particular culture, refined to its best level, and then promoted and marketed with super-human energies, until it begins to find a niche in the larger world of recorded music.


Most rags-to-riches stories have common chapters along the way to their ultimate, victorious conclusion, and in that respect, this one is no different.  When Emilio Estefan, the band’s organizer and Gloria’s husband, faces off with a reluctant record producer who is not convinced the Estafans will appeal to a wider [translation: whiter] following, Estefan goes nose-to-nose with him, stating with complete conviction: “You should look very closely at my face, because whether you know it or not . . . this is what an American looks like.”  This line needs no ‘Applause’ sign to trigger a riotous response from the house.   Gloria’s mother supplies the requisite opposition to the idea of having her daughter strike out as a singer, in part because her own dream was squashed by her mother.  When Gloria’s mother was a little girl in Cuba, her singing talents propelled her to the point where Hollywood came calling, to lure them to the movie capital of the world where she would become the Latin-dubbed voice of megastar Shirley Temple.  Her mama said ‘no,’ and now, she’s doing the same.


It is Gloria’s father, back from serving in Vietnam, and crippled with MS, who lets his daughter’s dream have a chance.  Despite a lack of any kind of formal training, Gloria’s talent convinces Emilio that she has the voice and the chemistry to front his MSM plans.  Their chart-topping hits, such as “Conga,” “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You,” “1-2-3,” “Reach,” and this show’s title hit “Get On Your Feet,” have sold more than 100 million records and earned two dozen Grammy Awards.


Like most bio-musicals of this genre, there is/was a major setback.  While on tour, the bus carrying Gloria, Emilio and the band, overturned on an ice-slicked highway in the Poconos.  Gloria suffered multiple injuries, among them a broken back and a broken voice.  Her fierce determination to regain all her abilities paid off, and sooner than doctors, family and friends expected or counseled.  She recovered fully, and resumed her dazzling career.  While the tale of an artist or athlete recovering so completely from a major accident is not unique, it is rare, and in this instance, even more compelling, since her health dictated whether all the people around her, professionally, could also continue to work.  [A similar occurrence, but without the added dimension of affecting so many careers,  happened seventy + years ago, when major singing star Jane Froman survived a plane crash in 1943, and most people in and out of show business wrote off her career.  With legendary fortitude, Froman fought her way back to health, and despite a leg amputation that left her permanently confined to a wheelchair, capped off her comeback  when she starred in the Broadway revue “Artists and Models.”  Her life story also received the bio-musical treatment – it was a movie, titled “With a Song in My Heart,” after one of her biggest hits, with Susan Hayward playing the lead.  Froman dubbed the singing.]


“On Your Feet!” benefits from deliberate production decisions that enhance the entire experience.  It would be easy to let the show ‘ride’ on the music alone, but this musical also features valuable design work, most critically, from SCK Sound Design, which means we can hear the lyrics!  This show also provides choreographer Sergio Trujillo his best chance yet to display his versatility.  And the by-now Broadway veteran, director Jerry Mitchell, keeps the pact clipping along, to match the forward-moving pace of the music.


Most significantly, like the producers of the Carole King bio-musical “Beautiful,” who struck gold by casting Jesse Meuller in the title role, this production also hit the jackpot, finding the multi-talented, energy-to-spare Ana Villafane to portray Gloria.  It’s hard to side-step the usual adjectives that describe young Latina performers:  spicy, firecracker, fiery, hot, etcetcetc.  But . . . they all fit!  She’s all those, and much much more, because her talent, like the woman she portrays, extends beyond the musical.  Villafane, making a stunning Broadway debut, brings out the emotional roller-coaster this young woman underwent, escaping her mother’s negativity, growing from her father’s watchful gaze, and the adoring attention of millions.


When romance novelist Paul Sheldon opens his eyes, he finds himself confined to bed in a homey little room in a modest little house, tucked away on a quiet little road, in the Colorado hills.  Victim of a serious auto accident that left him incapacitated, his fate rests in the caring hands of a quirky middle-aged former nurse, who describes herself as his ‘biggest fan.’  The serial heroine in Paul’s pot-boiler best-sellers is named Misery, and this mostly two-hander from William Goldman, who adapted it from the Stephen King thriller, also titled “Misery,” is so named as well.  More than a quarter century ago, James Caan and Kathy Bates starred in the feature film version, which earned Bates her Oscar.  Now, in residence at the Broadhurst Theatre, is Goldman’s stage adaptation, starring Bruce Willis and Laurie Metcalf in the lead roles.




To succeed as a thriller, on stage, a script must keep delivering unpredictable swerves, and quicksilver ricochets.  A listing of the better ones would include “Wait Until Dark,” “Deathtrap” and “Ten Little Indians.”  Sadly, that list will not include this “Misery.”  And why . . . ?  Simply put, not enough thrills.


Every good cat-and-mouse tale relies an equal pairing of participants.  If one is stronger, smarter, quicker or even more sympathetic than the other, the balance is tilted.  No contest.  In a brief description, and I’m told, in the novel, Paul and his ‘keeper,’ Annie, may appear to be evenly-matched.  He’s a worldly, able-bodied [until now], clever male; she’s an agile, thoughtful, single-minded, obsessive female.  What one lacks the other can benefit from.  In this case, the man’s obvious physical advantage is compromised because he’s bed-ridden.  And it soon becomes obvious that Annie ain’t about to let him recover, and return to the wider world.  She can hardly believe her luck – the one person she admires more than anyone, the person who created a fictional heroine who Annie dotes on, is confined to her care.  And as soon as it becomes clear that he plans to kill off the hapless Misery, the hapless Annie springs into action, resorting finally to a gruesome, brutal act that involved an axe and an action that renders useless Paul’s feet.


So, you say – isn’t that thriller material?  Could be.  What’s missing, is that balance.  And the inequality here lies in the acting.  Whether you like or don’t like Willis on the big screen, he can count himself among the group of cinema stars who haven’t been able to adjust to the rigors, the challenges, the nuances, the demands of stage acting.  The slightest flicker of emotion can be picked up by the camera.  On stage, that flicker is lost to all but those fortunate few in the first three rows, center.  And more than any other genre, the thriller banks on feeling, along with the protagonist, the sense of dread, of fear, of pending doom.  Willis’s performance at its best merely acknowledges these feelings, instead of making them real.


On the other hand, Laurie Metcalf’s Annie bristles with life.  Metcalf is saddled with the burden of being identified always with the Emmy-winning role of Jackie in the television sitcom “Roseanne,” despite numerous other instances that prove her versatility and skill.  Hers  is a career that I’ve followed since Metcalf first took to the stage, with fellow Steppenwolf players, in Chicago.  She once told me her introduction to theatre came as a kind of lark, when, as an office worker, she accompanied a friend to the early try-outs that John Malkovich, Gary Sinese and a few friends decided to form a theatre company, and performed in a converted bowling alley space.  Hers is a natural, visceral talent, one that instinctively finds the meter and rhythm in the writing, the humor in the situation, the heartbeat in the character.  Here, she manages one of the most difficult undertakings for any actor – re-visiting a character whose previous incarnation was so vivid, it could be capable of wiping any subsequent interpretation off the map, in this case, that of Bates as Annie.  However, Metcalf locates other life-giving moments in her Annie.  The problem lies with an audience that can’t shake the ‘funny lady’ association Metcalf created on television, which results in laughter at some critical plot points.   Even when she succeeds in drawing out the menace in Annie’s care-giving, her acting partner lets  her down.   Another case of ‘cast a famous screen name, and they will come.’  Well, I suppose they will.  And it’s possible her efforts will result in a Tony nomination.  Where are the adventurous producers who will locate a vehicle for her that doesn’t rely on the stunt casting for other roles, to boost box office?  How about a revival of William Inge’s “Dark at the Top of the Stairs?”  Imagine Metcalf as Rosemary in “Picnic,” another Inge classic.  Or Josie in O’Neill’s “Moon for the Misbegotten.”


It may have been a miscalculation to entrust the adaptation chores to screenwriter William Goldman, because a theatre audience does not have the benefit of seeing a character in peril, in close-up.  Perhaps director Will Frears wasn’t able to master the challenge of presenting what is, in essence, a ‘small’ story in the cavernous Broadhurst Theatre, seating capacity 1,186, which was built in 1917 to accommodate both dramas and musicals.   In hindsight, it’s ironic that the character Willis portrays tells Annie ‘You have saved me.”  If only . . .


And finally, the happiest feet of all, the ones tap, tap, tapping away on the boards at the Helen Hayes Theatre, in service to “Dames at Sea.”  When this spunky little rhinestone first glistened downtown at the legendary Cafe Cino fifty years ago, the concept was fresh: marry the send-up style that takes aim at the gee-whiz movie musicals of the thirties, and the can-do-without spirit of summer stock.  Result: a six-person cast, a reinforced cardboard set, pastel-based costumes, and eight musicians in the pit.   And the book?  It’s about the girl [one of the ‘another hundred who got off of the train’] who wowed ’em back home in her high school revue, and zeroed in on the closest theatre in Times Square, the minute her time-stepping tootsies hit the pavement.  And as luck [or in this case, a gob named Lucky] would have it, our heroine Ruby [monikered in a tribute to Ruby Keeler], crosses paths with a couple of honest-to-goodness sailors, one of whom is Ruby’s love at first sight gag.


When Jim Wise [music] and the writing team of George Haimsohn and Robin Miller [book and lyrics] created “Dames at Sea,” the practice of milking Hollywood oldies was still new.  Today, it’s de rigueur for any collection of ambitious musicals-inclined group of kids with a piano, a barn and three summer months to play around in.  And some of the songs the show introduced have taken up permanent residence in the repertoires of songsters of a certain age, including “Broadway Baby,” “It’s You” and “That Mister Man of Mine.”


And when the show Ruby has been tapped to step into loses its lease on a theatre, Act Two finds the undaunted troupe on the deck of those sailors’ battleship, giving it all they’ve got, and then some.  All six cast members – John Bolton, Mara Davi, Danny Gardner, Eloise Kropp, Lesli Margherita and Cary Tedder – are proof that there is an ample supply of exceptional musical talent to be seen and heard within the eight square blocks around Times Square.  Visiting “Dames at Sea” may not offer any surprises, but, hey!  That’s the value, every now and again, of turning back the clock and settling in to a pastiche from the past.  These happy feet will put a smile on your face.




Switching gears to elite feet, ’tis the season to bask in the collective glories of Tschaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker Ballet.”  A filmed presentation of the George Balanchine interpretation will be screened in 27 metro-area movie houses on 12/5 (12:55 pm) and 12/10 (7 pm).  Visit for details.   And to see the New York city Ballet’s live production, which has begun its run, visit for details. . . . the 8Players theatre experience kicks off a limited engagement, now through January 23rd, at undisclosed locations in the Village and downtown Brooklyn.  This immersive, interactive adventure immerses only eight audience members per show, as ever-changing plots challenge even the most veteran of theatre-goers, in scenarios such as ‘Girls Boarding School Melodrama’ and ‘Erotic Thrillers from the ’80s.’  If you are up to being stimulated, shocked and generally mind-tossed, visit to find out the whys and wherefores . . . and a gentle reminder to readers coming to Town during the holidays: many shows have expanded or altered performing schedules through January 1st.  To find out about the weekly schedules for all shows, check out


On Book


To soak in all the atmosphere, antics and big-chorus production numbers of the ’30s that “Dames at Sea” cheerfully celebrates, here are three books that will let you peek behind those curtains.  Start with the easy, breezy memoirs of P.G.Wodehouse and Guy Bolton, two writers whose names graced numerous Great White Way playbills, such as “Sally” and “Very Good Eddie.”  It’s titled “Bring On The Girls! – The Improbable Story of Our Life in Musical Comedy, with Pictures to Prove It,” from the publisher Limelight . . . for the big, big, bigger chronicle, Stanley Green’s comprehensive “Broadway Musicals of the 30s,” a Da Capo large edition paperback, with an introduction by Brooks Atkinson, features dozens and dozens of production stills, rehearsal shots, posters, playbill covers and stories galore . . . and tracking the musicals that made their way West, the massive [but every page a treasure] Ted Sennett tome “Hollywood Musicals,” from Abrams Publishing, is hefty enough to replace rather than simply grace the coffee table.  You’ll get lost in its pages, and come out singing . . . and to take a closer look at the plays of William Inge mentioned as great properties for Laurie Metcalf, pick up “William Inge – Four Plays,” a Grove Press collection.  “Inge reveals the powerful mysteries in our lives.”  That’s Tennessee Williams talking.




TONY VELLELA wrote and produced the PBS documentary series about theatre, ‘Character Studies.’  His play “Admissions” won the Best Play award at the New York International Fringe Festival, and is published by Playscripts.  His play ‘Maisie and Grover Go to the Theatre” is published by ArtAge.  He has written about the performing arts in Parade, Dramatics Magazine, Life Magazine, Rolling Stone, USA Today, The Christian Science Monitor an dozens of other publications.  He currently teaches theatre sessions at the 92nd St. Y.  His new play “Labor Days” is in pre-production.




CARMEL CAR & LIMOUSINE SERVICE, in business since 1978,  has been selected as the official transportation company for Intermission Talk.  Its wide variety of services, including special theatre packages, and reservations, are available at or 212 – 666 – 6666.










Intermission Talk

Monday, November 16th, 2015

“Sylvia” Is Not

“Finding Neverland”

with “Therese  Raquin”






There’s a commendably hard-working cast of six currently presenting a very welcome production of A.R. Gurney’s adult farce, “Sylvia.”  Who are they?  They are Julie White, Matthew Broderick, Annaleigh Ashford, Robert Sella, Robert Sella and Robert Sella.  It’s a slightly wacky, off-center version of unexpected adultery, threatening to cause a staid, comfortable couple to uncouple, except that, in this tail tale, the third party is a dog, here named Sylvia, embodied [personalized] by a truly magnetic Annaleigh Ashford.  White, a schoolteacher, and Broderick, some sort of marketing type, have finally emptied the house of college-bound children, and their empty-nest syndrome generates entirely opposite reactions.  While she delights in the quiet, he is almost morose with his inconsequentiality.  A stray dog, brought home from the park, creates the wedge.

Sylvia Cort Theatre Robert Sella Matthew Broderick Julie White Annaleigh Ashford Production Credits: Daniel Sullivan (director) David Rockwell (scenic design) Ann Roth (costume design) Japhy Weideman (lighting design) Other Credits: Written by: A.R. Gurney - See more at:

But what of those other three?  While Ashford manages to frolic through every sort of doggie behavior to everyone’s sheer delight, and White makes perfect use of her comedic ‘exasperation’ talents, [I’m too polite to heap scorn on Broderick’s lazy, irritating, whiny-based performance – if you’ve seen him in his last couple of stage outings, enough said], it is Sella who deserves real adoration.  Working actors who turn in great, but brief renderings amidst scenes involving the primary characters rarely receive the major adjectives.  At first, Sella bounds onto the stage, into one of David Rockwell’s cheery pop-up book Central Park sets, tending to his own canine surrogate child, lending Broderick the kind of encouragement that leads to a home for the stray.  He then appears [in idealized drag], as an uptight friend of White, aghast at how the dog has so unnerved her dear friend.  And finally, Sella shines as a gender-bending therapist who provides no help at all in resolving the domestic distress.  A great play this ain’t.  A very funny execution of a pretty clever comedy sketch premise it surely is.   And it also serves to solidify Ashleigh’s emergence as the Judy Holliday of her generation, with minute-to-minute total discipline, making every twitch and yelp, every crotch-sniff and couch invasion, pay off with big big laughs.



Do not venture to Studio 54 if you’re seeking laughs.  But do make it your destination if it’s stirring, satisfying dramatic story-telling you’re craving, during a season when it’s in short supply.  In a dour representation of the consequences of real-world, nineteenth-century adultery and murder,  The Roundabout Theatre Company does itself proud with its 50th season production of Helen Edmundson’s adaptation of the Emile Zola novel “Therese Raquin.”  Set amid rather spare living conditions in a small French village on the River Seine, and in Paris, in 1868, the title heroine finds herself consigned to a life of marginal servitude, the wife in a loveless marriage to her gangly, graceless distant cousin, and helpmate to his manipulative mother.  And throughout the newly commissioned work’s first act, it is her near-silent evocation of intense but hopeless desperation, from versatile film actress Keira Knightley, [her stage debut], that rivets our attention.  She has mastered the kinds of wordless expressions that would have made her a silent films drama queen a century ago, with long stretches of fixed gazes, and unspoken longings..  Her only verbal confessions are expressed to her lone ‘friend,’ the river.  Ironically, it is the river who will provide the circumstances that free her from the marriage vows that seem to be strangling her.


When her husband [a pitifully bland Gabriel Ebert] and mother-in-law [another spot-on performance by Judith Light] decide to move to Paris, the emotionless Therese prays the new circumstances will finally give her a life.  And it does, in the person of Laurent [Matt Ryan, as an effortlessly sexy rogue family friend and struggling artist].  The death of her son seems to suck out all vitality from Light, who devolves into a skeletal shadow of her former self, in yet another remarkable transformation from this skillful, commanding actress.  And she welcomes Laurent into her home, unknowingly setting up the liaison that will curse all three.  When the two young people finally find themselves alone together, their pent-up volcano of passion explodes in unrestrained carnality.  The intensity of his sexual cravings for Therese are surprising, since someone as handsome as he is rarely experiences feelings of deprivation of any kind.  They have liberated each other, giving her the power to become expressive, and giving him the courage to admit his obsession with her.


How they plot to murder her inconvenient spouse, then carry it out, ticks off like plot points in a Hitchcock thriller. Director Cabnet, with an able assist from lighting designer Keith Parham, zones in on Knightley’s silent anguish by bringing down all the lights except for a cold spot on her [a trademark of film director Morton da Costa, who used it to great effect in “Auntie Mame” and “The Music Man”].  In a bizarre twist, it is her aggrieved mother-in-law, who generously worries about Therese’s widowhood, who suggests a marriage between her daughter-in-law and the friend who has taken to comforting the two women, his ploy to be near the object of his lust.  A kind of madness infects Therese, who ‘hears’ the spirit of her dead husband.  Therese can feel an accusing glare from the portrait of her husband, that Laurent painted, which has graced the dining room wall.  Slowly, relentlessly, the newlyweds’ love for each other turns to suspicions, as a kind of madness infests their relationship.  Are those ghostly aural emissions, and scratching noises at the window the accusatory moaning and sinister sounds of their murdered victim, determined to curse their happiness?  Has a vivid, morbid imagination finally condemned Therese to madness?  How it ends, and what it all stands for, can be counted on to deliver a jolt strong enough to last past the curtain calls.


The glories of a happy imagination give “Finding Neverland” what every child should enjoy, and what every adult should recapture,  As a re-telling of the life of J.M. Barrie, whose children’s books have delighted millions since they were written, this new musical, with a book by James Graham, and music and lyrics by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy, is a gift to parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts who are looking for that first Broadway musical to share with the child [or children] in their lives.


A chance encounter in London’s Kensington Park, with a young widowed mother, Sylvia, and her four gregarious sons, unleashes Barrie’s dormant imagination, helping him let go of the fears and obstacles that have lately prevented him from writing about the things he has deeply felt in his heart, since he was himself a child.  Broadway veteran [“South Pacific,” “A Light in the Piazza,” “Hairspray,” etc.] and T-V’s “Glee” alum Matthew Morrison gives Barrie an unexpected muscularity, coupled with his lilting vocal abilities.  A too-heavy Scottish accent hampers the early scenes of his performance, robbing us of the chance to hear the lilting lyrics.  Stuck in a loveless marriage, Barrie welcomes the creative and emotional outlet he finds whenever in the company of  Sylvia and her brood.   When Barrie finally realizes that the playfulness he enjoys with the children is in fact what his writings have lacked, a whole new world opens up for him.  In championing the virtues of letting loose all the possibilities your imagination can create, Barrie invents a fantasy world he calls Neverland, where growing up does not rob you of your dreams, and all good things last eternally.  And when the oldest boy, Peter, takes a stab at writing his own story/play, Barrie helps Peter, and in turn his brothers, recapture the joyfulness they lost with the death of their father.  [Barrie, as the vehicle for helping the young boys reclaim their lost innocence, has the distinct echo of Prof. Harold Hill’s positive effect on Marion’s brother Winthrop].  Morrison’s gentle Barrie lends non-judgmental support to young Peter [and even names the main character in his book after him], anointing a self-doubting Peter with the declaration “You ARE a writer, Peter.”


As Sylvia, the comely Laura Michelle Kelly exudes the kind of naturalness that marks the best film performances of Kate Winslet, a wholesome beauty without a trace of any unseemly characteristics, at ease with the boundless energy of her four boys.  One can easily imagine what a perfect heroine Kelly’s “Mary Poppins” must have been,  in that show’s London production.


Spurring him on to write a new play – any new play – is his longtime producer, played with dutiful engagement by a silver-haired Terrence Mann.  When the producer’s pressure to generate a new work for him to present to the public, Barrie finally notes the obvious – it is his time with, and enjoyment of Sylvia’s sons that have given him the most pleasure to date.  What their imagination has unleashed, and what Barrie crafts into the familiar tale of an always-young Peter Pan, the twinkling fairy Tinkerbell, the Darling children, the infamous villain Captain Hook, and all the attendant young residents of Neverland, is the timeless ‘fairy play’ “Peter Pan, or the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up.”


And it is the central role of one’s imagination in keeping childhood alive in all of us that seems to have inspired director Diane Paulus.  Instead of relying heavily on all sorts of high-tech tricks, special effects and fancy theatrics, Paulus has kept things simple, which is not to say reality-infected, or lacking in great entertainment values.  One of the most effective, and moving sequences involves the boys imagining the freedom that flying would grant, as black-clad figures quietly enter, and each in turn lifts the boys into the air, legs rotating, arms flapping, their faces lighting up with the magic they are experiencing.  Paulus is no stranger to bringing fantastic tales to the stage, such as in the recent revivals of “Hair” and “Pippin,” so it is all to her credit that she keeps the special moments from being overburdened with technical underpinnings – a testament to the power of magic.



Yes, there is life, and great theatre, beyond the Broadway Theatre District!  Case in point: a new work by AUDELDO award-winner Cheryl Davis, titled “Carefully Taught,” being presented by the Astoria Performing Arts Center, at the Good Shepherd United Methodist Church, in Astoria Queens.  Her drama centers on two schoolteachers – one white and one black – and how their loyalty and friendship are shaken when one of them loses her job. Check out the details at . . . Primary Stages has expanded its Free Student Matinee program with the introduction of Tixteen, enabling NYC middle and high-school students to attend their productions free of charge.  Learn more at  . .  and another innovative undertaking focusing on high school students, “Prospect High: Brooklyn,” conceived by Daniel Robert Sullivan, is underway from Roundabout Theatre Company’s education director Jennifer DeBella, in partnership with the Fox Foundation Resident Actor Fellowships.  The powerful examination of serious contemporary issues will eventually be presented in 23 high school productions across the country, starting now in New York, and then across the country.  Details are available at, with the script available on Amazon and directly from Smith & Kraus.

On Book

If you’re new to discovering the magic of musical theatre, and would like to be more familiar with its language and history, a thoughtful compendium to guide you along is Robert Blumenfeld’s “Dictionary of Musical Theater,” a Limelight Editions volume from the Hal Leonard Corporation . . . and for more from the marvelous mind of  A.R. Gurney, check out the series of collections of his plays from Smith and Kraus, which contain such popular favorites as “Love Letters,” and “The Dining Room” . . . and if you’re too busy to tackle an entire book, pick up a wide-ranging collection of essays called “Joy Ride – Show People & Their Shows,” from author and critic John Lahr.  He casts a critical eye on three categories of subjects: playwrights, productions and directors, each one brimming with insight and wit.




TONY VELLELA wrote and produced the PBS series about theatre, “Character Studies.”  His play “Admissions,” a Best Play winner at the New York International Fringe Festival, is published by Playscripts, and his play “Maisie & Grover Go to the Theatre,” is published by ArtAge Press.  He has written about the performing arts since 1966, in dozens of publications, including Parade, USA Today, Rolling Stone, Dramatics Magazine, Life Magazine and many others.  He teaches theatre sessions at the 92nd St. Y, and other institutions.  His new play “Labor Days,” is in pre-production.




CARMEL CAR & LIMOUSINE SERVICE has been selected as the official transportation company for Intermission Talk, in business since 1978.  Its wide variety of services, including special theatre packages, and reservations, are available at or 212 – 666-6666.











Intermission Talk

Sunday, October 25th, 2015

A “Fool for Love”

Plays “The Gin Game,”

His “Spring Awakening”

Recalling “Old Times”



Perhaps someone brighter than I [translation: almost everyone] can explain what was in the zeitgeist in 1983. In that same year, John Patrick Shanley inflicted rough love from Roberta onto Danny in the Bronx, in “Danny and the Deep Blue Sea,” while Sam Shepard paired another tortured twosome, Eddie and May, on the edge of the Mojave Desert, in “Fool for Love.” In both mini-sagas, the undertakings are overshadowed by the menacing influences of the fabled Apache Dance. As their men withdraw attention, the women beat up on them, latch onto them and a fair amount of slapping around ensues.


Casting, as Arthur Miller was fond of saying, is 85% of the battle in determining whether a production will succeed.   Here, the quotient tops off at 100. Sam Rockwell inhabits Eddie with the unsettling intensity the role requires. Rockwell, another of the stand-out alumnae of John Ortiz and Philip Seymour Hoffman’s LAByrinth Theater Company, carries on the meticulous characterizations he’s become noted for, including in the Stephen Adly Guirgis classic “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot.” He could be the love child of James Dean and Bonnie Parker. And Nina Arianda continues to enhance her growing rep as one of her generation’s most important actors, displaying here the fearlessness that helped her explode onto the scene a few seasons back in “Venus in Fur.” For those who enjoy making these types of comparisons, Arianda closely follows in the hallowed footsteps of Bette Davis. Yes, there’s that dismissive squint of her eyes, from time to time, that lets you know there’s always something else going on behind them that you will not be permitted to understand fully.


At rise, May has perched herself on the edge of a ramshackle bed, along with two small tables, a couple of chairs and a coat rack, the only pieces in a desolate, stark southwest motel room where she has taken refuge. The two had been co-habiting in a tin-walled mobile home until something triggered her latest need to light out to anywhere where he was not. And, as has happened before, he has found her.


Rarely are a playwright’s stage directions executed in the way one imagines he had in mind. Here, though, when Shepard directs the actor playing his May to ” . . .erupt furiously, leaping off the bed and lashing out at him wild-eyed and angry,” Arianda more that delivers the goods.   If one draws from its environs, her behavior, her fury resembles those wild, never-broken stallions Gable, Wallach and Clift faced down in “The Misfits.”


Realities that are presented include how this pair of scorpions in a bottle first met as teen-agers, lovers and rebels, only to learn they shared the same father. The forbidden attraction only grew with time. Illusions that are presented include the dusty, weary old man seated just outside the stage frame [done perfectly shabbily and liquor-soaked by Gordon Joseph Weiss], that careless father who goads them from time to time, never making much of an impact. Rounding out the jagged ensemble is Martin, [Tom Pelphrey, in a clean characterization], a hopelessly clueless local whose bad timing has him arriving for a date with May at the worst possible time. And it all melds together via the whip-smart, raw, organic direction of Daniel Aukin.


“Fool for Love” remains one of Shepard’s more accessible accomplishments, with its welcome balance of the actual and the fantastic. It’s most like a world-class roller coaster – the dips and plunges, although fairly predictable as to when they will hit, still provide more thrills than most of the other rides in the amusement park. You don’t get on because you’re captivated by an uncertain ending. There is a definite certainty that this is one helluva journey. And with Rockwell and Arianda doing the driving . . . tremors galore.


Let’s get the obvious out of the way. James Earl Jones is 84. Cecily Tyson is 90. Together, their combined 174 eventful trips around the old running track of life constitute a commendable record of endurance and fortitude. Granted, happily.


It’s not just the fact that they are, alone and with only each other, carrying the nearly two hours of D.L. Coburn’s sturdy two-hander “The Gin Game.” They’ve infused their characters, Tyson’s Fonsia Dorsey and Jones’ Weller Martin, with specific traits that distinguish them from the couple’s previous ‘occupants.’ Having seen the original pair in 1976 [Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronin], and twenty years later, Julie Harris and Charles Durning, I can attest to how valuable the contribution is, of the current couple’s accumulated skills set, in bringing their roles to life with distinction.


Consigned to what commonly used to be labeled an Old-Age Home, they share the irritations and indignities inflicted on them, both from the far-less-than-luxe accommodations of this, their final residence, as well as how diminished their options have dwindled down to, when it comes to basic human companionship. Although they’ve each only been ensconced here a relatively short time [she: three weeks; he: a couple of months], they’ve concluded their waking hours are better spent in solitary self-confinement. So, when they each discover the welcome solace of the place’s rickety back porch, itself a repository of no-longer-needed or worn-out articles, they value their time there. At least, until they learn of the other’s similar discovery.


Using the card game as a sort of metaphor for how a person spends their life, Coburn weaves in exposition as skillfully as an award-winning embroiderer, life threads tatting in, out and around, to fashion a unique but somewhat familiar pattern. Weller’s sought-after respite from boredom, playing [and winning at] gin rummy loses its allure for him as Fonsia, gently goaded by him to engage in the cards, even while she pleads ignorance to its rules, chalks up victory after victory, always accompanied by a blue tirade from the man who fancied himself the master. An outwardly shy woman, she soon takes offense at his offensive language, which threatens to become a wedge them drives them apart.


As weeks pass, they discover hidden truths about each other, often revealed with an emotional display not usually part of their repertoire. With the able contributions of director Leonard Foglia, a few little behavioral embellishments seem to have been added for the twosome to perform – even though they are at once the feeblest of the Fonsias and Wellers Broadway has seen. Weller especially has been permitted a few surprising physical outbursts, almost to reaffirm how vital Jones still is – note the final moments when, in frustration at yet another defeat, he kicks in the always-locked back door.


Coburn has demonstrated a deceptively-simple type of playwriting. It’s tough enough keeping an audience’s attention when there’s very little actual moving about. But to attain that, with only basic life lessons the topic – a winning hand.


And if you miss seeing masses of movement on stage, the current revival of “Spring Awakening,” [book and lyrics by Steven Sater, music by Duncan Sheik], will more than satisfy that thirst. Both director Michael Arden, and choreographer Spencer Liff [in his Broadway debut as full-fledged choreographer] make certain this high-voltage tale of sexual arousal, youthful rebellion and societal repression never slows down. Why revive a [admittedly remarkable Tony-winning] musical only nine years after its premiere run? This time, it’s the stunning product of Los Angeles’s Deaf West Theatre, which has double-cast the principal roles, with both hearing and hearing-impaired performers, a device first welcomed with the ground-breaking “Big River,” in 2003.


In a uniformly-accomplished ensemble, the three principal teen-age roles are achingly created by five actors: as Wendla, the guileless girl, unaware of her emerging fecundity, deaf Sandra Mae Frank, shares the stage with her singing counterpart, Katie Boeck; as the hyper-emotional Moritz, deaf Daniel N. Durant makes us feel how ultra-sensitivity can almost cripple a boy, even as his singing voice comes from Alex Boniello; and golden boy Melchior is handled in every aspect by a fetching Austin P. McKenzie. And the two women who fill the distaff roles contribute greatly to the proceedings, without pulling focus from the main teen characters, despite being presented by two well-known women, Camryn Manheim, and Oscar-winner Marlee Matlin.


All this angst unfolds in late 19th century Germany, represented on a minimalistic skeletal set that allows separate vignettes to play out, again with a pace that insures no empty moments. And some jolting visual images to register, such as an interwoven mesh of young bodies that form a human oak tree, and a cemetery scene that recalls the ending of Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town,” a kind of mirror image of innocent young people in a small town, a hundred and a quarter years ago.   Among the most impactful visuals is the sight of Manheim’s anguish at the lethal result of her mishandling of her daughter’s transgression. And when the boys collectively rage in “The Bitch of Living,” the result recalls the same energy unleashed a generation ago in “Rent.”


While none of the themes are new, there is a special double-edged passion evoked here by the marriage of hearing and deaf performers in many of the same roles. Are there problems? Yes, of course, chief among them the momentary disorientation of needing to locate who among those up there are doing the actual talking/singing. But you know what? If you were able to overcome the issue of a voice coming from one place, and meant to be the voice of someone else, in “Avenue Q,” you can handle it here.


In the glorious Orson Welles classic “The Magnificent Ambersons,” the Joseph Cotton character admonishes someone else to stop romanticizing the past, proclaiming “Old times? Forget them. There ain’t no times but new times.”  As blasphemous as it feels to state it, the current revival of Harold Pinter’s “Old Times” belongs in the era of its premiere, in 1971.


One man, his [current] wife, and her former female friend [roommate? lover?] drift about in the couple’s high-end, converted barn living space, as the relationships get hinted at, poked and shaken up, causing all concerned to question the reliability of memory, and the value of it at all, when it may not be true at all. Pinter, in one of his Strindberg-echo dramas that had thinking people thinking during the apex of that brilliant writer’s career, did it so well. But its greatest contribution was the continuation of the style that dissected, deconstructed and denuded reality scenarios. Even with the spot-on performances from Clive Owen, Eve Best and Kelly Reilly, director Douglas Hodge, hampered at the start by an abstract set that screams for some eye relief, can’t force us to care much about the proceedings. And this from someone who chose to write his senior thesis on Pinter.


On Book


Which is not to say that there’s not great enjoyment to be gained from reading Pinter, to savor his language dexterity. Pick up “The Essential Pinter – Selections from the Work of Harold Pinter,” from Grove Press. This fine collection even includes Pinter’s ‘Art, Truth & Politics’ Nobel Lecture . . . and while you’re collecting collections, grab “Sam Shepard: Fool for Love and Other Plays,” from Dial Press. Ross Wetzsten contributed a great introduction . . . and finally, as musical theatre evolves, [see “Spring Awakening,” “Fun Home,” etc.], it’s really instructive to study work of the dynamic duo, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein. The volume is called ‘Musical Scene Study: The Musicals of Rodgers & Hammerstein,” and delves into the true basics of the construction of scenes in ‘Carousel,” “Oklahoma!,” “The King and I,” “The Sound of Music” and “South Pacific,” among others.





Speaking of ‘Oklahoma!,” to commemorate the 60th anniversary of its feature film release, a partnership between BY Experience and Rodgers & Hammerstain, An Imagem Company, will release a fully-restored film to be shown during more than 1,300 screenings nationwide. A special bonus with Oklahoma native Kristin Chenoweth performing songs from the score accompanies the event. To learn where you can see all this, visit . . . and an ambitious new program offering free theater tickets to NYC’s middle and high-school students is being launched by Primary Stages, who will be invited to attend special matinee performances.   For details, visit




TONY VELLELA wrote and produced the PBS series “Character Studies,” about theatre. His play “Admissions,” won the Best Play Award at the New York International Fringe Festival, and is published by Playscripts. His play “Maisie and Grover Go to the Theatre” is published by ArtAge Press. His writings on the performing arts have appeared in Parade, Dramatics, Rolling Stone, The Christian Science Monitor and dozens of other publications. His new play, “Labor Days,” is currently in pre-production. Currently, he teaches special workshops and classes at the 92nd St. Y, with a session on “The Music Man” slated for Tuesday, November 3.






Intermission Talk

Thursday, September 10th, 2015

“Hamilton” Has Got

“Absolute Brightness.”

“Something Rotten!” It’s Not.




Great to be back.  Had some time to let this summer’s buzz dust settle.


Speaking of ‘back,’ back in 1959, the incomparable Sam Cooke, sang “Don’t know much about history; Don’t know much biology; Don’t know much about a science book; Don’t know much about the French I took.”  In those days, just about anyone under the age of nineteen nodded in recognition of that “Wonderful World.”  Today, it’s a good bet there’s still a very large slice of the American population on either side of nineteen who still don’t know much about history.  Also today, there ‘s a wonderful world performing its heart out eight times a week in a musical that does know about history.  It’s called “Hamilton,” and it does not expect you to know your history.


What it does expect is that you bring a kind of open-mindedness when you settle into your hard-won seats  at the Richard Rodgers Theatre.  This true gem of creative accomplishment packs more types of potential prejudice-prompting elements than anything else on Broadway, and that includes the rollickingly incendiary “Book of Mormon.”  Be prepared to re-assess your views on the legitimacy of rap and hip-hop as musical forms that can carry the burden of complex story-telling, the ascendancy of color-blind casting to its highest application yet, the mythologies surrounding the presumed sanctity of America’s Founding Fathers, whether a variety of street-based dance moves can be created to sustain an almost non-stop flow of a sung-through libretto and, well – just show up, shut up, watch and listen.


Lin-Manuel Miranda took on the same responsibility that a painter, a sculptor or a poet would, which is to say, he chose to do the whole thing.  Like creators of those other art forms, Miranda conceptualized his vision all of a piece – and it’s his words, his music, his lyrics, his vision and his performance in the title role that come together to give birth to this creation.  He was wise enough to gather round him superior, iconoclastic talents in the other areas needed to make a musical show, and it shows.


By now the tale of Miranda picking up Ron Chernow’s ginormous biography of Alexander Hamilton at an airport bookshop, and digesting the tome with fascination, has taken on the level of near mythological standing that the pained birth of “Rent” following the demise of its creator Jonathan Larsen has achieved.  It’s vital to imagine how all the distinct pieces it takes to make up a musical have emerged separate but equal, and in some cases, have been improved upon from their original appearances.  Those of us who did not grow up or try to grow hip listening to rap or hip hop can readily recall how we reflexively would recoil whenever an example of those musical styles would flow into our unwelcoming eardrums whenever someone younger than our, oh, favorite houseplant, would glide by us on the street.  Yet, throughout this show, the score has solid melody lines that recline without conflict, beneath the rap line.  A student since pre-teen years of Broadway standards and the internal structure of their story lines, where the lead character must belt out his/her “I Need. . .” song, Miranda accepts the importance of such a song in building his tale.  Here, Hamilton force-feeds us the declaration of his goals and objectives, in the chilling secular anthem “My Shot.”  The double meaning of the title in regard to Hamilton’s final moments of life, ended by a bullet in a duel with Aaron Burr, does not override the song’s power.  And he makes graceful use of hip hop’s inherent reliance on internal rhyme, a fading art that is resurrected.


[History of another sort lives on in this production.  Almost half a century ago, The Last Poets burst onto the musical scene, with their stinging rhymes recited to/with a percussive beat, a penetrating voice of the African-American civil rights movement.  Two versions of that group’s name emerged, drawing from the talents of Felipe Luciano, Gylan Kain, David Nelson, Jalaluddin Masur Nuriddin and Umar Bin Hassan.  Their insistent spoken-word poems are often cited as among the earliest, and certainly most legendary influences on the birth and growth of hip hop.  Miranda did his homework; he knows his history.]


Hamilton forces his presence and will on the canvas of the era with his canny talent for dropping himself into the center of the action, and then letting anyone within hearing distance take in all his verbal self-referential encomiums.   Meanwhile, a man who becomes at the same time a soul mate and an adversary, Aaron Burr, also wends his way into the place where core principles are being shaped and adopted.  It is mostly Burr’s POV that supplies the narrative through-line.


No musical theatre artist can do it all – all.  And champions in key areas layer their brilliant choices on top of the elegance of Miranda’s formulations.  The very real danger of a kind of stagnation could certainly have swallowed the story whole, what with the suggested interior of a wooden and iron tavern interior.  David Korins overcomes that threat with the simplest of set design choices – a large round turntable that can move people and things from place to place, silently yet decisively.  The action, like the story, ‘moves.’  The hip hop music provides, because of Miranda’s language[s] propensity, plenty of ‘room’ to pack in loads of information.  However, the other use for a musical’s music is to underlay the patterns for its choreography.


Anyone who has spent seven or eight minutes during the last couple of decades on the sidewalks of most major cities can attest to the dancers’ acrobatic dexterity.  By minute number nine, though, it begins to look like there are about ten or eleven ‘steps,’ at most – result: admiration, but boredom.  In one of the wisest decisions among so many that define this collaborative endeavor, the selection of choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler provides an almost miraculous accomplishment – his choreography, which ranges from his pairings and triplets of characters who come together and drift apart, to full-stage formal couples-making-stage patterns that illustrate special events, require fancy dress and honor strict movements.  And the miracle is that, during the show’s entire, lengthy two acts, nothing looks repeated.  And the greatest compliment any stage director can receive is for someone to note that the director’s work seems invisible.  That’s the case here, where Thomas Kail has kept all the balls in the air, all the stories happening organically, and every moment doing its part to lead us into the next one, which we anticipate eagerly.


What boldly overrides all the predictable chatter and slush about color-blind casting is the power of great performances.  All these people, these history-book names and models for oh-so-many statues, portraits,  paper currency likenesses and elementary school namesakes – all these people are up there, and what we should be taking in is not the color[s] of their skin.  What we notice, and then cannot not fixate on, is their facial expressions.  Who they are, what they are doing and undoing, feeling and inflicting – it is all there, behind the eyes.


This is truly a production that draws from American [and world] history, to forge its own historical theatrical event.  The night I attended, my seat was three rows behind Meryl Streep.  I couldn’t help fantasizing how, when Miranda ends his run in the title role, she might entertain the notion of replacing him.  It could happen.


Now that “Hamilton” assures the future of musical theatre [see also “Fun Home”], one ponders  its origins.  Fortunately, John O’Farrell and the Kirkpatrick brothers [Karey and Wayne] have graciously emerged with a most unlikely answer, being conveyed eight times a week at the St. James Theatre.  Under the dazzling direction of Casey Nicholaw, who did splendid double time devising the eye-popping choreography, “Something Rotten!” lifts the veil on the birth of the musical.


Seems another pair of fraternal literary practitioners, back in 1595 London, found themselves forever overshadowed by a grandiloquent gent name of William Shakespeare.  Try as they might, Nick and Nigel Bottom could not get a break having their plays produced or appreciated.  Then, as legend would have it, a conveniently-placed soothsayer [name of Thomas Nostradamus] foresaw the emergence of a new style of theatricality – the “musical.”   And we are all so much better off because he was right.


This rollicking romp asks very little of you, except a little patience, as it spills itself out over the footlights relentlessly, tirelessly, almost ceaselessly.  One can imagine the giddiness that must have pervaded the creative and rehearsal processes, as sly reference after blunt parody from great musicals of the last sixty or so years get dropped into dialogue, lyrics, and even dance moves, as “West Side Story” gang choreography hits you, cheek-by-jowl with echoes of “Les Miz.”  From the opening number, “Welcome to the Renaissance,” the exuberance levels of all concerned make for great good fun.  Familiar practitioners of the art of the musical fill out the cast beautifully, including Christian Borle, Brian d’Arcy James, Brad Oscar and David Hubbard.


Best of the best is Heidi Blinkenstaff, as Nick’s fierce spouse, spouting centuries-ahead-of-their-time feminist dictums, such as “This is the ’90s!  We’ve got a woman on the throne!”  Ever since she shook the rafters in [title of show,] Blickenstaff has delivered 110% in every role, including memorable turns in “The Little Mermaid” and “The Addams Family.”  If someone’s got a script with a mother-daughter pairing of two outrageous, fantastic dames, call Heidi and Debra Monk.


Throughout the telling, “Something Rotten!” benefits from its well-matched creative team.  The skill of the writers mining bits and bobs from Shakespeare, the glorious costume designs from Gregg Barnes [codpieces that house scraps of poetry], and above all, Casey Nicholaw’s inspired direction, come together to almost make you believe that it really happened this way.


Did it happen that way?  The question hangs like a dark cloud over “The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkay.”  Count me among those who felt confident they could recall many of the salient details of the gruesome homicide that claimed the life of an exuberant , effusive, gender-defiant fourteen-year-old New Jersey boy, whose missing persons case led to the discovery of his murder, and formed the basis for James Lecesne’s riveting solo piece “The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey.”  Then, after seeing the play at the off-Broadway Westside Theatre/Downstairs, include me among those audience members gob-smacked to learn that it’s a total work of fiction.


Lecesne has crafted a noteworthy career built on three elements: advocacy in the ever-present universe of LGBTQ youths facing serious obstacles from others and within their own minds; producer/writer of an Oscar-winning short film [“Trevor”] that exposed how prevalent suicides are among that population, and creating captivating multiple-character stories he brings to life, playing all the roles.  This latest project, which gestated from adapting his 2008 young-adult novel into a simple stage piece originally seen at the Dixon Place, showcases all of his talents, and still delivers the kind of unique theatrical entertainment those who cherish great theatre are grateful for.


The writer/actor presents this tale with only a small table littered with a handful of disparate props [a dirty sneaker built up from gluing the sole-pieces of colorful flip-flops to its bottom, a silver money clip, a tube of lipstick, and more], and backed up by thoughtful projections courtesy of designer Aaron Rhyne and animator/photographer Matthew Sandager.   The clever composer Duncan Sheik supplies spot-on incidental music. With just these elements to aid him,  Lecesne relates the heart-rending details of young Leonard’s life and death, the impact this fearless gay young man unknowingly had on those whose lives he touched and the soul-searching his brutal homicide prompted.  One-person shows that feature actors gliding in and out of various personae have burgeoned into a healthy category of theatrical event, but few practitioners equal Lecesne’s abilities.  Lily Tomlin’s masterful performance in Jane Wagner’s “Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe” comes to mind.   Perhaps the fact that here, the actor is also the writer accounts for how smoothly he makes all the transitions.  His finely-tuned ear for voices and life-lines also may come from the fact that another of his accomplishments was serving as executive producer of the documentary film “After the Storm,” which follows the lives of a dozen teen-agers struggling to survive in post-Katrina New Orleans.  Any good reporter takes in the rhythms, slang and cadences of how people talk, along with what it is they are saying.


“The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey” offers an opportunity to see and hear, up close, one of the masters of this performance style, because Lecesne has joined that very small coterie of talented folk who can seamlessly segue from one story to another, weaving the chronicle of a crime resulting in one young man’s death, that forced others to call into question their own lives.




Whether you’re a Manhattan Baby, or plan to be in town for a stage-happy weekend, check out the return of the Off Broadway Alliance’s bi-annual celebration of all things O-B’way, with the return of its popular 20at20 program.  Between September 14th and October 4th, the Alliance will make available $20 tickets [cash only] to more than forty [40!] plays and musicals, twenty minutes before curtain.  The list is too extensive to, well, list, but the range and variety = impressive indeed, from, “MotherStruck,”  the next addition to Cynthia Nixon’s directorial career, and “The Berenstein Bears,” to a pair made for each other: “In Bed with Roy Cohn” and “Naked Boys Singing.”  Visit for the whole story . . .   not to be outdone, The Broadway League, partnering with about a dozen other organizations, is still running its two-for-one Broadway Week event, until September 20th.  Two dozen Main Stem tuners, plus “Old times,” “Hand to God” and “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time”  are part of this line-up, from A [“Aladdin”] to, not exactly Z, but W [“Wicked”].   Details for this fest are at  . . .  and musical theatre phenom director/choreographer Susan Stroman gives puts the orchestra on hiatus when she returns to the Vineyard Theatre to helm her first straight play, Colman Domingo’s “Dot,” later in their 2015-2016 season.


On Book


If you’re determined to best the Bottom boys from “Something Rotten!” and take your own swipe at the Big Bad Bard, check out a marvelous entry in the Helm Information Ltd.’s Icons of Modern Culture series titled “That Man Shakespeare.”  This comprehensive edition walks you through Will’s life and career, and then zeroes in on each of his styles.  For a different view, purloin your own copy of Ken Ludwig’s “How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare”  from your middle school kid’s backpack.  It’s a thoughtful, thorough-going overview that makes those speeches accessible . . . And if acting in one of his comedies is on the horizon, Janet Suzman’s four decades of experience performing the classic female roles has given her the best perspective on how to tackle some of those grand dames.  She authored “Acting with Shakespeare: Three Comedies,” one of the superb editions in the Applause Books Acting Series.  Maria Aitken served as general editor . . . Now that all eyes [and ears] have turned to “Hamilton” for the foreseeable future, let’s take a few moments to re-examine the past.  If you’d like to understand where all that finely-honed craftsmanship came from, you can see where it was nurtured in “In the Heights: The Complete Book and Lyrics of the Broadway Musical,” also from Applause, its Libretto Library series.  There’s so much to uncover, so much to marvel at, when you slow-walk yourself through the pages of this compendium of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s christening,



TONY VELLELA wrote and produced the PBS series about theatre, “Character Studies.”  His play “Admissions” received three New York productions, concluding with its win as Best Play at the New York International Fringe Festival.  He has covered the performing arts for nearly fifty years, in a variety of publications, including Dramatics Magazine, the Christian Science Monitor, Parade, Rolling Stone and Readers’ Digest.  He currently teaches theatre-related sessions at the 92nd St. Y, and will next conduct his “Tony Vellela Talks Theatre with . . ” series there, interviewing James Naughton, on Monday, October 12.

Intermission Talk

Wednesday, July 29th, 2015

“Shows for Days”

Need “Amazing Grace”

Notes as “Preludes”


by Tony Vellela


From knowledge of Moss Hart’s achingly sentimental chronicle of his entry into the world of Broadway in “Act One,” to the homage to the vaudeville lives of closeted gay men he wrote about in “The Nance,” Douglas Carter Beane is in familiar, comfortable territory in his new comedy “Shows for Days,” now at Lincoln Center’s Mitzi Newhouse Theatre. Beane has both the skills and the anecdotes to deliver a minor gem of a play about a young [still questioning] gay boy/man’s entry into the whirling world of theatre. In “Shows for Days,” the central character/narrator subconsciously brings himself to volunteer at his local community theatre, and with little resistance, finds himself both on stage speaking lines, and offstage, writing them.


Beane’s real-life adolescent coming-of-stage took place in Reading, in southeastern Pennsylvania, a small town struggling to stay viable, in 1973.   The tale is told by the mid-teens Car, [short for Carter?], as he ignores the fourth wall to explain to the audience the backstories of the circumstances, and in particular the emotions, as they unfold. The Newhouse thrust stage enhances a casual informality. Beane, with the able assistance of director Jerry Zaks, has found in Michael Urie the ideal candidate to step into that pivotal role. Urie, all jutting elbows, levitating eyebrows and toothy grins, [and liberated from his star-making turn in la Streisand’s basement mall in “Buyers and Cellars”], provides just enough angular physicality to convincingly represent a fourteen-year-old’s un-tethered life challenges. Car, as has happened with a handful of other art-driven Reading thespians, has been pulled into the orbit of the magnetic Irene, a mesmerizing, organizing, dramatizing life force brought to full-measure life by our real-life life force, Patti LuPone.   Her persona magna is given the full visual measure of spark and fire, and then some, by costumer extraordinaire William Ivey Long, missing no opportunity to dress her in gold-lame, shiny satin-esque outfits.


The basics in “Shows for Days” will ring true to anyone who has done time in community or summer theatre. Aspirations and expectations far exceed possibilities and actualities. What makes the enterprise so captivating is the genuine dedication of those devoted souls, to deliver ‘culture’ to the masses, whether they like it or not. [I spent a few summers in that realm in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains, and know whereof I speak. I once produced a season of summer theatre at the ambitious, naive, and blindly determined age of 22, opening our season with Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” in its unedited, stark entirety. Without fail, at every performance, when Martha calls George a prick, about a third of the offended, shocked house would stand up and indignantly march out. And, no, they did not get a refund.]


The Prometheus Players’ doyenne Irene is also not one to be deterred. What Beane has done so charmingly is marry the facts [or their reasonable facsimiles] to invented events, yielding a comedy that would make Hart, George S. Kaufman, et al, proud of their incidental protege.


This is not high drama, but it is also not low comedy. Beane has structured the telling in a rehearsal-room sized space, with the floor marked out in various colors of masking tape, and then given Car/Beane permission to guide us through the antics. Along with its natural flow and easy presentation, Beane has fashioned a piece that itself becomes a prime candidate for any community, summer or university theatre to captivate its audience, as the players pull from their own resources, reflect on their own ambitions and along with their audience, have lots and lots of fun.


The real “Shows for Days” doyenne could certainly be credited with discovering Beane. There’s something special about ‘discovering’ new talent. I’m reminded of my first opportunity to see Michael Shannon, in the off-Broadway production of Tracy Letts’ “Bug,” at the Barrow Street Theatre. Similar good memories accompany my recollection of seeing the incandescent Lily Rabe, in Shaw’s “Heartbreak House,” at the Roundabout. Doesn’t matter whether you are late to the ‘discovery’ party. When you personally experience a talent like those, and others such as Patricia Clarkson, or Dana Ivey – you remember. So it was, seeing Gabriel Ebert as Jonathon/Miranda in Harvey Fierstein’s tender “Casa Valentina.” Finding out that he was heading the cast of Dave Malloy’s “Preludes,” about a complex, troubled period in the life of composer Sergei Rachmaninoff, [1873-1943] provided the push I needed to see a play about a subject very unfamiliar to me.


It paid off. Ebert inhabits the volatile Russian with every ounce of his energy, pumping up every nerve ending to the max, while all the while paying rapt attention to each moment’s tensions, splayed out across the footlights. His is indeed an historic performance. Set, according to the Playbill, ‘in the hypnotized mind of Sergei Rachmaninoff, in Moscow, 1900,’ this piece shakes out the demons, confronts [or attempts to] the terrors that great artists of any persuasion must face, before they overtake him. His listless behavior threatens to rob him of the vitality needed to do the creating he was meant to give the world.


With the exception of one piece by Mussorgsky and Golenishchev-Kutuzov, and one by Beethoven, all the music is either by Rachmaninoff, or original work by Malloy.  What he has done is construct a rhapsody for the stage. He uses a narrative device employing three different individuals, to explain the actual, tormented, psychologically-battered three-year period Rachmaninoff survived. He was, after all, recognized as being in possession of great gifts, and counted among his personal mentors from the age of ten, the legendary Tchaikovsky. When we join Rachmaninoff’s story, he is in his early twenties, and had been primed for a breakout concert, when it all fell apart. Chief among the explainers of this lamentable period is the hypnotherapist Nikolai Dahl, summoned by the composer’s wife Natalya Satina, to cure her husband of the deep doldrums he had fallen into. This nightmare period seized him when, at age 24, his Symphony no. 1 in D minor, op. 13, premiered in St. Petersburg, under the drunken baton of conductor Alexander Glazunov. The concert was a shambles. Result: the young composer’s reputation spiraled downward, and the disastrous performance very nearly could have resulted in a suicide.


Instead, Dahl forced him to confront every demon and fear. Rach, as he is called here, is abetted by his alter ego dubbed the full Rachmaninoff, who is tasked with doing the actual piano-playing, portrayed perfectly by Or Matias.   Malloy, and his dexterous director Rachel Chavkin, escort us through the labyrinthine chambers of Rach’s mind, with drop-in visits from Tchaikovsky, Tolstoy, Chekhov and Czar Nicholas II, among others, all courtesy of excellent portrayals by Chris Sarandon, with no apologies for anachronisms and fanciful fictions woven into the facts of Rach’s life and times. This eclectic, eccentric melding of styles bears strong echoes of the legendary “Dr. Selavy’s Magical Theatre,” Richard Foreman’s 1972 creation wherein a hapless Ben undergoes various musical ‘treatments’ to cure his madness, drawing from lyrical folk music, Tin Pan Alley and “Hair,” all of it decked out in a riot of disparate objects, textures, colors and sounds. Malloy and Chavkin make maximum use of the unbridled talents of their creative team [Mimi Lien’s sets, Paloma Young’s costuming, Bradley King’s lighting, Matt Hubbs’ sound design, synthesizer musicians Wiley DeWeese and Emily Marshall, and musical director Matias].

But Foreman invented Ben. Malloy is ‘honoring’ the very real Rach. And if there’s a ‘rub,’ it is that ‘Preludes” promises to reveal an understanding of the submergence and subsequent re-emergence of the state of mind of a genius. Tantalizing as it is, the masterful piece concludes with some unfilled expectations. Case in point: the taunting query near the close of act two, about why a piece with four sharps is so difficult to play. As it happens, the real-life Rach was known to have large hands, a wide ‘spread’ of fingers and thumbs. Four sharps are difficult to play because it involves four black notes on the keyboard. In a key with flats or sharps [flats being certain white notes lowered, and sharps being white notes raised, the position of the hand is different, requiring a reach to keys farther apart. That’s why the C-major scale [on the piano = all white notes] is the easiest to play.


And in case you’re still wary of witnessing this glorious piece, based on the life of a Russian composer you think you don’t know, recall, please: the haunting melody behind Frank Sinatra’s mega-hit “Full Moon and Empty Arms” is a direct lift from Rach; the Geoffrey Rush character in “Shine” performed a Rach piece before suffering his breakdown; Tom Ewell plays Rach’s 2nd piano concerto for Marilyn Monroe in “Seven-Year Itch;” NASA named the 290 K-wide impact basin on Mercury after Rach; his influences can be heard in Muse’s “Space Dementia” et al – need I go on?


My recommendations: [1] see this remarkable achievement that provides a dazzlingly well-written role for Gabriel Ebert, and nearly explodes the musical theatre form, and [2] if possible, bring an accomplished musician as your guest.



A different kind of musical creation story is being told in “Amazing Grace,” the new show at the Nederlander Theatre, featuring music and lyrics by Christopher Smith, and book by Smith and Arthur Giron. Musical director Joseph Church also supplied incidental music.


Just about everyone, from President Obama to the very occasional visitor to any Christian ceremony, will recognize the title song. Its message of hope, inspiration and devotion can be heard thousands of times every day, everywhere. Its composition is the product of John Newton, an 18th-century British slave-trader, who was for a time caught up in his father’s business of the trafficking in human beings, kidnapped from Africa, or in some cases, bought outright from the native rulers in the countries of their origin. All the elements of this saga, despite some shifting of the real particulars, strike deep, as much or more now, in light of our recent infestation of racist occurrences. Newton, played and sung with ringing conviction by Josh Young, finally cut his ties to the trade, and to his father, only reconciling when the senior Newton himself saw light. As Newton’s sorely-tested fiancee Mary, Erin Mackey lends a silvery soprano voice that puts her squarely in the company of Kelli and Kristin.   And the towering Chuck Cooper provides another kind of ballast to the proceedings, as Newton’s paternal-substitute slave, Thomas.


While there is certainly room to criticize this daring undertaking, there are stellar moments that generate chills. They include the depiction of young, black bodies being branded like cattle, an image that is not easily forgotten, and should not.


“Amazing Grace” easily fulfills its promise to captivate the senses, and at the same time explore serious issues. The story line is clean and clear – a blessing when, at times, plot lines seem often to spin out of control in other undertakings. Discovering these in a well-presented combination, especially for those who seek out the chance to introduce their children to the joys of A-list performances and stagecraft, in service of a meaningful, moral tale – that’s a real gift.


On Book


Another of my fond ‘discovery’ memories happened back in ’69. I’d gone to see a friend of mine, Margo Sappington, in her Broadway debut, in the chorus/ensemble of ‘Promises, Promises.”   There was a real spark-plug little performance in a bar scene; the character was called Marge; the actor was Mary Louise Wilson. So now, unless I’ve got two broken legs and an outbreak of hives, I wouldn’t miss anything she’s in. And it’s great to share the news that her so-easy-to-read autobiography “My First Hundred Years in Show Business” is out, from Overlook Press. Her writing talents have been honed via pieces in The New York Times and The New Yorker, and along with Mark Hampton, she co-authored her stunning off-Broadway hit “Full Gallop,” about fashion icon Diana Vreeland.


Mary Louise played the title role in the solo piece, garnering a Drama Desk Award. And if you were lucky enough to see her as Big Edie in “Grey Gardens,” you’ll have enjoyed a landmark performance . . . from Douglas Carter Beane’s local life-story to the world-class sagas of Rachmaninoff and John Newton, the story-telling aspect makes or breaks any ambitious piece. And one of the most acclaimed story-tellers of the big screen was Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Now in paperback, Kenneth L. Geist’s “Pictures Will Talk” traces the endeavors of Mankiewicz as he weaves the fascinating adventures and misadventures of his characters in such landmark pictures as “All About Eve” and “Letter to Three Wives.” If the creative process fascinates you, as it does me, this book, from Da Capo Press, will satisfy your craving for another story well-told. . . and the first-person telling of the story of John Newton can be found in his autobiography “Out of the Depths,” in which he relates his own personal struggles with the perils of confronting slavery, and turning his life around.




TONY VELLELA wrote and produced the PBS documentary series about theatre “Character Studies.” His Best Play Award-winning “Admissions,” at the New York International Fringe Festival, is published by Playscripts. His comedy “Maisie and Grover Go to the Theatre” is published by ArtAge Press. He wrote the CableAce Award-winning “The Test of time” for Lifetime Television. He has written about the performing arts for dozens of publications, including Parade, Dramatics Magazine, The Christian Science Monitor, Rolling Stone, and others. Vellela teaches theatre-related sessions at the 92nd St. Y. His new play “Labor Days” is currently in development.


Intermission Talk 6/20/15

Saturday, June 20th, 2015

Is “Wolf Hall, I & II”

“An Act of God,” or

. . . something else?




If you listen very, very closely, you may be able to hear the sounds of

someone [that would be yours truly] going ‘against the grain,’ as they say.

One of Broadway’s most eagerly-anticipated theatrical events of this or any other season, the importing of the Royal Shakespeare Company Production of “Wolf Hall: Parts One & Two,” has settled in at the Winter Garden. Based on Hilary Mantel’s multi-award-winning pair of novels “Wolf Hall” and “Bring Up the Bodies,” the plays are running in rep, with Mantel listed as the playwright, and Mike Poulton credited with the adaptation.


An energetic ensemble cast of twenty-three inhabits the scabrous environs of 16th century Britain’s royal court. The ever-imposing King Henry VIII [an imposing Nathaniel Parker] is in an almost constant state of bereavement because his Queen has not supplied a male heir to his Tudor throne. And the ever-watchful, ever-scheming lawyer-at-court Thomas Cromwell [Ben Miles, with easy confidence serving the role well] seems to pop up everywhere necessary, like a whack-a-mole in cape and leggings, to attempt to remedy the situation and at the same time, maintain his envied position as the one man who can always gain access to His Majesty’s ear.


The grand sweep of the interwoven personal and political tales, stretching as they do from the fall from grace of Queen Katherine of Aragon, [Lucy Briers, showing touchingly her character’s resignation tempering the cursed hand she’s been dealt] to the rise and bloody descent of her wily successor, Anne Boleyn, [Lydia Leonard, snarky before there was such an adjective] fills both plays to overflowing, clocking in together at nearly six-and-a-half hours. Others have noted in commentary better written than I am capable of generating, that a great deal of the dialogue starts with “I hear,” or “they say.” And there’s the rub. For a very large portion of the time spent in attendance at both parts, what ‘they’ said was something that I could not hear.


Carefully combing through all the emotions and agendas, the seductions and the confessions, the taunting and the appeasements, adapter Poulton has applied the surgeon’s scalpel and the calligrapher’s quill to all this information, a task only a very few writers would have the skill and the courage to attempt. And he has, it would seem, managed to retain not just the headlines, but the complete accounts, including sidebars, of these stories, a dutiful court reporter, if you will. And he is not without a sense of dry humor – one of his best moments slides in very unobtrusively when, at the close of Part One’s first act, an unimposing little slip of a thing responds to a question of her identity by responding modestly “Oh, I’m nobody. I’m only Jane Seymour.” The lady will be the next to occupy the throne to Henry’s right.


The production’s design elements adhere faithfully to the less-is-more school of theatrical presentation: all but bare stage, except for the occasional piece of furniture required when someone needs to sit, or something needs to rest upon a surface; attention-focusing lighting [expertly delivered by Part One: Paule Constable, Part Two: David Plater] that assists in telling you where to look and who is speaking, and a dazzling display of the greatest array of heavy-brocade, silky-fabric, fur-trimmed, jewel-encrusted costuming [compliments of Christopher Oram, who also designed the sets – less there to distract from the costumes?] ever seen in a production that does not include singing and an eleven o’clock number.


The promise of the chance to bathe in the gossipy-style revelations of this historically critical period in western civilization, the expectation that we will witness lethal clashes between the low-born and the highly-placed, the anticipation ginned up with the sterling credentials of its creators on and off stage – all that, held out to theatre-goers hungry for what all that could satisfy . . . and then, what happens? Clearly, obviously, certainly, all the stories have been honored. There are twenty-three named court members, from King Henry VIII down to a musician, Mark, each of whom can lay claim to being a Duke, a Lord, a Lady, an Earl, a member of the Boleyn family, or one of their servants. Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, a prime mover in Henry’s clash with the Pope over the subject of divorce, and half a dozen other clergy or officers of state, constitute another dozen or so characters with roles to play and words to say. And at the epicenter of all the intrigue, active or passive, is Thomas Cromwell [and his family and staff]. One begins to ache – really, ache – when the difficulties of trying to follow the machinations unfolding on the cavernous set begin to take their toll. This issue may not receive much attention in polite discourse, but how is it that director Jeremy Herrin, a much-honored member of London and West End A-listers, would not realize that language so well-sculpted, delivered anywhere but straight-on and loud, will just not be able to be heard well enough to be understood?   This failing, coupled with the near absence of visual cues as to who’s who [all we have are costumes] means we have been left outside the action. We can see compelling confrontations, we can hear inflections that indicate anger or jealousy or lust or compliance, but we [at least not yours truly] were not able to match emotion to situation, or speaker to listener. This results in lots of loss. Rich language dissipates. And more seriously, facts are also lost. Taking one of the most basic: why did the house of Boleyn hold such a privileged position that gave them an E-Z pass to the King’s short list of prospective brides? Not an avid student of history myself, the assumption that an audience member would blindly accept that condition, at the core of the dynamics this vast drama depicts, suggests a kind of elitist attitude that poisons the proceedings.


This glossing-over of primary conditions, or the idea that they are not able to create a dynasty or cause a regent-pretender to part company with her head, is not inherent in the tales being told. There is an crucial difference between these stage adaptations, and the recent television and feature film versions of roughly the same tales [notably the BBC Two television series top-lining Mark Rylance as Cromwell, and the 2008 picture “The Other Boleyn Girl,” also with Rylance, and Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson as the sisters Boleyn]. Film/video cameras show us where to look, who is speaking, and with necessary visual detail, where we are. Is theatre different? Of course. And it should be. But not at the expense of experiencing the real rewards of powerful, compelling story-telling. It’s not enough to know that they are telling the story. We must be able to hear it.


What does Dr. Sheldon Cooper have in common with Dolly Gallagher Levi and the King of Siam? Like that Empress of the Harmonia Gardens and the ruler of a proud southeast Asian monarchy, the mega-watt-brained physicist Cooper is also the central character in a work of popular culture [the funniest, modern-ist television sitcom “The Big Bang Theory.” Dolly lives in the Jerry Herman musical “Hello, Dolly!” and the King in the Rodgers & Hammerstein classic “The King & I”].


And like the other two larger-than-life characters, Cooper’s real-life counterpart is identified with one actor. Cooper’s real person is actor Jim Parsons, who has received four Emmy Awards for playing the role, just like the much-awarded Carol Channing and Yul Brynner for their career-defining performances as the above-mentioned.


And now, that beloved and exasperating physicist has landed on the East Coast – at Studio 54 to be precise – as the central stand-in for the Almighty in David Javerbaum’s delightful new comedy “An Act of God.” The Big Guy has chosen to revisit our home planet in the guise of this sitcom star, and we’re the better for that choice. Who are we to argue with BG?


Director Joe Mantello, wisely assisted by set designer Scott Pask with production design chores from Peter Nigrini, makes it very easy for us to bask in His revelations, even when they are less than revealing. God did, however, reveal Himself to be a savvy Superior Being with his choice of Parsons to be his human host. Parsons [could that ecclesiastical-sounding last name have given the actor an advantage?] possesses that rare combination of stage-friendly qualities: a measure of self-confidence that does not tip the balance over into arrogance; a firm, direct ability to master the task of having his voice reach to the back of the house; the invisible wink to the audience that lets us know we’re all in this together, and finally, he’s cute as a baby’s belly button.


Turns out God’s got some unburdening to do. He’s not happy with how we’re doing as the resident population of this particular planet. He’s also very not happy with all those myths and mysteries attributed to him and his contemporaries. And one by one, and even two by two [he corrects that Big One about a wooden boat and a pair of every known type of living thing crammed on it], he dissects and corrects. He’s also gracious enough, due to precise comedy timing, to give us time to laugh ourselves silly between pronouncements.


Gabriel and Michael, his angelic pair of wing-men [get it? angels? wings?] assist, when necessary. Tim Kazurinsky’s Gabriel keeps watch over the Bible, with God acknowledging that, ever since Guttenberg ran it off, it’s been downhill for publishing ever since.   And Christopher Fitzgerald’s Michael proves to be almost too frisky and contrarian as the bad boy brat, sewing a few too many seeds of discontent that leaves God with no choice but to clip his wing.


In what may be the consequence of the popularity of Letterman’s ‘Top Ten’ lists, God unveils His new set of commandments. Not enumerated but definitely apparent, this one: Thou Shalt Not Miss This Show.


On Book


Technically not a theatre book, “The Science of TV’s ‘the Big Bang Theory’ – Explanations Even Penny Would Understand,” by Dave Zobel, walks us through the actual science behind all those formulas on the white boards in Sheldon and Leonard’s apartment. Dotted with dialogue from various episodes, from ECW Press, it’s a rousing browser of a book, that will make you appreciate just how smart this show is, and marvel at how it can be that, and also be so damn funny . . . and lest you be discouraged about not seeing [or hearing] the “Wolf Hall” plays on stage, you would certainly do well to pick up the print versions of the playscripts penned by Hilary Mantel, from her pair of award-winning novels “Wolf Hall,” and “Bring Up the Bodies.”   A Nick Hern book from Fourth Estate, London, the stage version from adaptor Mike Poulton proves to be compelling reading, in large part because the front of the book includes five pages of detailed descriptions of who the players are


. . . and finally, it was sad news indeed to learn of the passing of actor/playwright/comedy icon Anne Meara. With a smile and a wit as dazzling as her bright red hair, Anne instinctively, naturally made you feel comfortable. My visits with her were always enjoyable, always laced with laughter. To share that legacy, pick up her husband of sixty-plus years Jerry Stiller’s “Married to Laughter – A Love Story Featuring Anne Meara,” from Simon & Schuster.




TONY VELLELA wrote and produced the PBS series on theatre, “Character Studies.” His New York International Fringe Festival Best Play “Admissions” is published by Playscripts. His comedy “Maisie and Grover Go to the Theatre” is published by Art Age Press. He has covered theatre and the performing arts for dozens of publications, including Dramatics Magazine, the Christian Science Monitor, Parade, Rolling Stone, etc. His new play “Labor Days” is on track for a production in the fall.