Welcome to today’s edition of ShentonSTAGE Daily that is e-mailed to subscribers every morning (to subscribe, send message to ShentonStageMailingList@gmail.com), and is also available online here.
Apologies for its non-appearance yesterday, but I arrived in New York the day before, and had a (VERY) full first day yesterday: a double-show day, after a morning press preview at Broadway’s “living room” nightclub 54 Below in the morning, one of my absolutely favourite spots in town that hosts the best cabaret in town, in the now long-ago tradition of such treasured former spots like Rainbow and Stars atop Rockefeller Centre, the Algonquin Hotel’s Oak Room, the Metropolitan Room in Chelsea, Arci’s Place on Park Avenue, and Feinstein’s at the Regency on Madison Avenue.
COME (BACK) TO THE CABARET, OLD CHUM….
After musicals, cabaret is probably my favourite art form, and of course is intimately and inextricably linked with it, as it mostly draws on the Great American songbook — past and present — for its material, as well as its principal artists, who are most often drawn from the stage.
Sometimes it produces stand-alone stars, like Michael Feinstein — a musical archivist of the age who has become his own leading exponent of its art and craft, and is now virtually the genre’s official ambassador. His name is even above the title of the venue’s name: it is now called Feinstein’s’/ 54 Below, and he performs annual residencies there. He’ll be back on and around Christmas, staging a two-part tribute to Judy Garland (from December 15-26), in the room.
Also at yesterday’s press event, pictured left to right above: David Sabella, who played Mary Sunshine in the original company of the current Broadway reboot of Chicago (now its 25th year at the Ambassadors), and will be performing a personal tribute to Chicago’s writer creators Kander and Ebb, subtitled 25CHICAGO25, on November 17; Lisa Howard, a shimmeringly voiced new leading lady of musicals who reminded me of the great Maureen McGovern, appearing here on December 12; Melissa Errico, one of my favourite singers of all whose intelligently crafted shows are full of wit and wisdom (and I can’t wait to see here on November 21 at the end of my current trip) and Paulo Szot, a Brazilian-born opera and theatre star who appeared in Broadway’s last revival of South Pacific at Lincoln Center and can currently be found as Billy Flynn in Chicago, before he returns here November 24-27.
If I lived in New York, I’d probably be at 54 Below every night…..
CAROLINE, OR CHANGE RETURNS TO BROADWAY (VIA CHICHESTER)
I went from 54 Below (in the bowels of the former Studio 54 nightclub) directly to the main house upstairs, now restored as a Broadway house, to see the transfer of Jeanine Tesori and Tony Kushner’s CAROLINE, OR CHANGE, in Michael Longhurst’s production that was first seen at Chichester Festival Theatre’s Minerva in 2017, before moving to London’s Hampstead Theatre then the West End’s Playhouse. I saw it at each of those venues — including twice at the last one — so yesterday afternoon was my fifth time round with this glorious production, the timing of whose Broadway return couldn’t be more appropriate.
This fierce and uncompromising musical, about a black domestic maid fighting to maintain her own dignity amongst a well-meaning Southern white Jewish family family dealing with its own grief and difficulties, is raw and painful; with a confederacy statue dominating the stage before the show begins, that is revealed to have been cut down at the start of the second act, it pre-figures more recent removals of such symbols.
The show is galvanised again by Sharon D Clarke’s ferociously unsentimental & contained Caroline. This is truly one of the great performances — and it is wonderful indeed that NYC is finally getting to see what some of us in Britain have known for years: she is an unforgettable presence in everything she does, from plays at the National and pantos at Hackney Empire to musicals. (Just please don’t steal her, New York — we want her back!)
But this isn’t a one-woman show: it was also wonderful to see Caissie Levy as Caroline’s employer Rose (pictured above left) and the glorious Broadway vet Chip Zien as Rose’s father (the original Baker in INTO THE WOODS).
Caroline, or Change has music by Jeanine Tesori, one of Broadway’s few female composers and one of its most eclectic working today: she can write serious stuff like this but also commercial fun like Shrek and Thoroughly Modern Millie. She also currently has another new musical Kimberley Akimbo now in previews at off-Broadway’s Atlantic Theatre, co-written with her Shrek collaborator David Lindsay-Abaire, that I’m seeing next week.
Another composer whose work I love is Tom Kitt (whose Next to Normal is one of my favourite shows of the century so far, as yet unseen in London); he, too, has two shows in New York right now, The Visitor (that has already opened at the Public, co-written with Brian Yorkey, his Next to Normal collaborator, and Kwame Kweir-Armah) and Flying Over Sunset that begins previews at Lincoln Center’s Beaumont tonight.
I’m seeing both in the next week and will be reviewing them here.
CORRECT REVIEWS LINK
Talking of reviews, here’s the correct link to my last reviews column (incorrectly posted in my Tuesday newsletter) is here: http://shentonstage.com/my-reviews-round-up-of-last-week/
In it, I review JENNA RUSSELL in concert at Cadogan Hall, student productions of LES MISERABLES at Mountview (whose company are pictured with Cameron Mackintosh when he attended a performance last Thursday, above) and BANDSTAND at ArtsEd, ‘NIGHT MOTHER at @Hampstead Theatre, Beckett’s FOOTFALLS/ROCKABYE at Jermyn Street Theatre, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (SORT OF) at the Criterion and THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE at the Duke of York’s.
ADOPT A PLAYWRIGHT
Last Friday saw Isabel Dixon – the latest winning playwright of the ADOPT A PLAYWRIGHT AWARD who has been waiting a year and a half for this moment — getting a staged reading of her new play at the West End’s Criterion Theatre, with Simon Callow presenting her with this much-postponed (for obvious reasons!) honour!
The award has been presented annually since 2009; Dixon is the twelfth playwright to win it.
TODAY’S THEATRE BIRTHDAYS