At Large Elsewhere: The Podcast Edition

I’ve done a lot of interesting things as a result of writing this blog. I’ve been interviewed by major newspapers and I’ve been seen on videos for Stage Rush and Patty and Emily, but until this past week I had never been on a podcast. My friend Kevin David Thomas his collaborator Robert W. Schneider invited me to be a guest on their essential podcast Behind the Curtain to celebrate the theatre luminaries we lost in 2016.

You can listen here at their website:

Or on iTunes, where you can also subscribe and rate.


At Large Elsewhere: Comedy Class

When asked if I wanted to take a physical comedy course, my gut instinct was to find an excuse to say no. I hadn’t attended a class of this sort in probably ten years and my memories of such things are not the happiest. However, starting some time in 2012 and continuing through this year I’ve been finding myself saying “Yes” a la Kander and Ebb a lot more than I used to. Finding no discernible reason why I couldn’t participate, I said yes to my buddy Zach Laks, and I’m glad I did.

The class I attended was part of Parallel Exit’s Comedy Academy, a teaching extension of the Drama Desk-nominated theatrical company. Frankly, I had no idea what to expect and was slightly apprehensive about the whole affair. However, the presence of friends in the class made it much easier for me to just show up and be in the spirit of things. I was even informed that I could just watch if I didn’t feel like participating, but I felt that I had come to be involved. This was one class out of eight in a single series they were offering through the first two weeks of April. I’m not sure how the other evenings progressed, but was told that you could attend any one or all and still manage to get a lot out of the experience. (Having taken just one course, I have to agree with this assessment).

Outside our room in Ripley-Grier, I was introduced to Parallel Exit artistic director Mark Lonergan and company member Joel Jeske, who would be running the class. Once inside, we had a relatively brief warm-up, mostly awareness exercises in which we were asked to picture our frame of mind (mine was a road and field somewhere in Oklahoma – make of that what you will) and then some eye contact and movement work, in which we had to connect with our classmates (with the exception of two, all complete strangers). Then came a sort of pep talk involving some basic principles. We were told not to think too much, that the Method need not apply, but to be clear and specific in the choices we make. We were encouraged to act on our impulses, but to be specific and direct – and to always think of what we were doing in terms of playing.

The first, and simplest, exercise involved walking in a room and making a clear action with an established but invisible prop.  Zach was the first to go and decided that the prop in question was a hula hoop. We all got up one by one as the impulse hit us, and each did something different and unique with this hoop that wasn’t there. (For the record, I lit it on fire and dove through it).

The second exercise is where we started to click more as an ensemble, even though we were once again working individually. Instead of finding something to do with a prop, we were asked to build on what the person before had done, in order to create an atmosphere and give the comedy a sense of space and dimension. The first classmate to go walked into a room, found a mirror and started hacking at her hair. From this, we as a class created an entire room – a frenzied, chaotic hair salon with specific, madcap characters all involved in specific business. (I was an annoyed man reading a newspaper while waiting).

Joel then stepped things up with a partner exercise. Half of the class created a scene as a waiter and customer, the other half created a scene involving a letter containing information about one of the individuals. (I was involved in the latter). I marveled watching these scenes come out of nowhere, all quite funny. Everyone tried something different and interesting. When it was my turn, I ended up playing a cheating boyfriend who has been found out by his ridiculously attractive girlfriend. It was a great opportunity to just go with my imagination and feed off of a scene partner. In our discussions, I found that many seemed to find leading a scene easier. For me, it was the opposite. I loved reacting, and seeing what my scene partner would lob at me.

The piece de resistance came in the fourth and final exercise, involving the entire group. Together, with Joel as a sort of silent film director off in the corner, we created a neighborhood scene involving three couples. For about thirty minutes we established a nonverbal world involving forbidden romance, intrigue, murder, kooks, drunks and puppies. This last exercise didn’t directly involve me all that much; I found that the story which we built out of thin air mostly involved the others in the class, but I marveled as I observed what was coming together in front of me.

What I think I enjoyed best about this experience as a student was the atmosphere in which we played. It was relaxed and open, everyone was encouraging and supportive of one other, enough so that anyone would be comfortable in Parallel Exit classroom.

And I gotta say, there are few things better than making a complete stranger laugh.

At Large Elsewhere: The “Leap of Faith” Unofficial Street Team Edition

April has been an incredibly busy month for me, but Patty and Emily asked if I would help them out with another video for their website and I dropped everything for the opportunity to work with them again. (I was a tourist on their Newsies walking tour about a month or so ago). This is the latest entry in their new series “Unofficial Street Team,” in which the girls become ebullient if somewhat overzealous champions for their favorite shows. In this latest entry, I play high-strung Jujamcyn executive Jacob Cohen who needs to correct some misinformation the girls are giving out about Leap of Faith.


I’m in London Again

It took eight years, but I have finally returned to England. It started in the fall when I couldn’t stop listening to the cast album of Matilda, and I found myself clamoring to see the show. I have usually waited for the West End smashes to arrive on Broadway in order to experience them. But given how much I appreciated this show, I figured it was time for me to stop waiting and just go. I bought my ticket in December and impatiently played the waiting game. As fate would turn out, for this weekend of theatre, Matilda would mark my first-ever experience seeing a West End show (all previous visits to England were, alas, bereft of theatre). More on that musical hit in another post, I’ll just say that I’m seeing it again tomorrow night.

I left JFK via Virgin Atlantic, but unfortunately was unable to get much sleep on the plane. I rarely can; I don’t sleep well sitting up, and can feel every bit of turbulence. I ended getting about 15 minutes of twilight sleep on what was a 7 hour flight. I took in My Week with Marilyn to pass the time. Michelle Williams was absolutely superb as Marilyn Monroe. Hell, most of the cast was (except Julia Ormond, who didn’t seem to have much of a grasp on Vivien Leigh). The script was a bit rote, but it held my interest throughout. Eddie Redmayne was good as Colin Clark, but Kenneth Branagh walked away with everything with his funny, brittle performance as Sir Laurence Olivier. Special kudos to Dame Judi Dench, whose performance as Dame Sybil Thorndike made me unreasonably happy.

Now, I’ve flown before, but I haven’t been on a train in England since 2000, when I visited by brother in Oxford. And I have never experienced the London Underground. After getting through customs, I made the trek to the tube. The first order of business was getting an Oyster card. I had researched it online several times, but that didn’t quite prep me for the menu options and my sleep deprived self just sort of stared glassy eyed at a screen for a long beat. Fortunately, they had a gentlemen there to assist me. I got on the Piccadilly line with a map of the underground and little knowledge except that I was to meet my hostess after reaching the Whitechapel region (Jack the Ripper’s old haunt).

I got on with my suitcase and laptop bag and sat down. I was in a fog so I failed to realize that it was a Thursday morning and there would be commuters heading into the city for work. It wasn’t long until the train was filled to what seemed to be beyond capacity. Being sleep deprived, I just sort of sat and observed everyone around me. Almost everyone was reading something: a book or newspaper. (One committed gent was deep in a game of Angry Birds). Rapidly, the subway car filled up to capacity, and were I claustrophobic I may have had a break down. Uncertain of what transfer to make, I asked a lovely young woman who was more than happy to help. I switched lines and got to Whitechapel with little incident, where I was handed keys to the house I was staying at.

The London rail system is a marvel of cleanliness and efficiency. And you pay for what you get. The rides are not cheap, especially when compared to the NY subway, but Then I had to get to a different line two blocks away. I am staying in a house in the Canary Wharf area thanks to my pal Vera Chok, actress, producer and artistic director of the London-based theatre company Saltpeter. The house is overlooking the Thames, and about 50 feet from the water itself with a most spectacular view. The O2 Arena is across the water, and in general it’s just a resplendent place. Getting to this house was really no problem, and I opened the door and settled in. After squaring away some minor details, I passed out for several hours.

First on my agenda was the evening’s performance of Matilda. After my nap, I got cleaned up and went out to discover the West End. I have never been through the area in any of my previous trips, so it was all going to be new for me. A couple of rides later, I was out at Leicester Square and wandered around, making my way to the Cambridge Theatre to pick up my seats. Nearby is the famed Dress Circle, so I made a pilgrimage and picked up a couple of London goodies before meeting my Twitter/Facebook friend Rebecca Caine for the first time, and folks she’s even more delightful and funny in person than she is online (and she is one of my favorite presences on Twitter). I was less than a day into my trip, and our meeting is already one of the happiest memories I’ll treasure from this trip. We grabbed a quick bite before the show, then Caine, a West End Eliza, giving me a fast tour of the Covent Garden area before we both went to see Matilda.

As for the show itself, that post is pending as jet lag has gotten the best of me…

At Large Elsewhere: The “Newsies” Walking Tour

Many of my blog and twitter friends have been quite abuzz with excitement for the stage adaptation of Newsies, which had its world premiere last fall at the Paper Mill Playhouse and will make its Broadway berth at the Nederlander Theatre later this month. The Disney show is currently scheduled as a 12 week limited engagement (and I’m Joseph Pulitzer) running through Tony Sunday, featuring much of the cast from the New Jersey run.

I must confess, I have never seen Newsies, nor have I ever heard an entire song from the score (film or stage). Apparently I was never home while the film was being shown on TV (where it apparently aired a lot) and we’ve somehow missed each other these last 20 years. The first time I saw Christian Bale onscreen was in American Psycho, so I was surprised to learn that he had headlined a musical, period. That being said, when my pals Patty and Emily put out a request for friends to help them film their latest project, the second in a series of Newsies related videos, I figured, “What the hell?”

I still know very little about Newsies, except that Patrick’s Mother is a Very Important Character. However, that didn’t curb my enjoyment of the four hours I spent roaming lower Manhattan with this motley crew.

Here is the Newsies walking tour (which, incidentally, costs $18.99. Cash only. Exact change). Enjoy.


Random Thoughts on This and That

Thus endeth the sabbatical. After five weeks away from writing, I have returned with cool head and a keen eye and am looking forward to a new theater season and many adventures with friends old and new.

This year’s Tony Awards came and went with the requisite flash and bang. The telecast was the best I’d seen since I started watching ten years ago (and a far cry from last year’s bomb). I was glad the awards weren’t held at Radio City Music Hall. The Beacon is still a big house,  but it allowed more intimacy in the numbers, making it easier for the songs to sell to the audiences in house and at home. I also loved that each show was given about two extra minutes to perform. The breathing room made all the difference; and far better than those hackneyed and dull medleys. I had a good time and one of the main reasons was that I didn’t really care who won. I seriously didn’t; it was mostly predictable who was going home with what so it was fun just to sit back with the crew at SarahB‘s annual party. It made for a ridiculous fun night, with ample laughs and Madame Arcati’s Cucumber Sandwiches. I do hope that the American Theatre Wing and Broadway League continue to host the ceremony at the Beacon (if they refuse to use one of our own Broadway houses).

I’ve recently started using Netflix again – and my first time with the streaming option. My goodness, is this fun! A time killer, yes, but I’ve been able to catch up on some wonderful things I’ve missed along the way, like Pushing Daisies and Party Down (two woefully short-lived and wonderful series), and also catch up on some old favorites (I recently watched The Dick Van Dyke Show from pilot to series finale). The amount of titles that are streaming amaze me, particularly the older and more obscure films. It’s kinda fun to have Gentlemen Prefer Blondes or The Pajama Game at your finger tips. I also watched the brilliant Downton Abbey for the umpteenth time.  (And if you haven’t seen any of these, add them to your queue immediately).

We’ve got a plethora of musical revivals happening next season; and so many are tried and true classics. The biggest is the limited engagement of Follies coming in from the Kennedy Center, with most of its regional cast intact. Bernadette Peters is Sally and Jan Maxwell is Phyllis. Danny Burstein and Ron Raines will reprise their roles Buddy and Ben. West End legend Elaine Paige will be appearing on Broadway for the second time, and for the first time she is Tony eligible. Joining the cast for the Broadway run are Jayne Houdyshell (replacing Linda Lavin) and Mary Beth Peil (replacing Regine) as Hattie and Solange, respectively. I’m not entirely thrilled that the show is playing the Marriott (the theater itself is efficient, but its location and legacy are a major letdown).

Harry Connick Jr. will be playing Dr. Bruckner in the revised On a Clear Day You Can See Forever. Other Broadway casting hasn’t been finalized, but David Turner – who has participated in the Vassar reading last summer – will be playing David Gamble at the Vineyard workshop this month. (I’m assuming he’ll be doing the honors at the St. James, but we’ll wait for final casting). Whether it’s David or not, I feel sorry for the man who has to fill Barbara Harris’ shoes. I’m curious to see how they’ve reconceived it, even if it eviscerates what was once a great leading lady star turn, by splitting the role in half and making one of those halves male. The show itself was something of a trippy mess, as there was a lot of LSD involved in its writing, but script aside the score is an absolute treasure.

Plus, Audra McDonald, Norm Lewis, David Alan Grier and Josh Henry will be coming to the Richard Rodgers for a revised Porgy and Bess, with a new script by Suzan-Lori Parks and direction by Diane Paulus. It will be seen first at the ART, where Ms. Paulus is artistic director, in Cambridge, MA. There’ll be duelling Jesus’ as Ken Davenport’s production of Godspell comes to the Circle in the Square, while there are talks to bring the highly acclaimed Stratford Festival’s production of Jesus Christ Superstar to Broadway in the spring.

On the play front, Tyne Daly is currently wowing audiences in Master Class at MTC (and boy do I want to see that!) The revival of the Terrence McNally play will close in August to make way for the darling of the day, Nina Arianda, to reprise her off-Broadway triumph in Venus in Fur on Broadway. (I will see either leading lady in a bus and truck of The Phonebook). Kim Cattrall is importing her London revival of Privates Lives to Toronto then Broadway, starring opposite the brilliant Paul Gross (who dominated Slings & Arrows). I’m also still curious to see how the starry revival of The Best Man will shape up.

This week I attended the CD release celebration for Kate Baldwin’s She Loves Him, her tribute to lyricist Sheldon Harnick which was recorded live at Feinstein’s at the Regency. I was so taken with the show back in March that I saw it twice (not bad for a seven show run). Over the course of four of those shows (one of which I attended), the show was recorded live and was released this week by PS Classics. Kate and Sheldon appeared for an abridged set of favorites before a champagne reception, where they happily signed CDs.  I had a chance to meet Mr. Harnick and talk to him for a couple moments about his shows, particularly She Loves Me (my favorite musical comedy) and his lyrics. The album is a pure joy from start to finish; a must-have for any serious musical theatre fan.

Finally, I was At Large Elsewhere this week as I made my second appearance as guest co-host on Stage Rush TV, which is hosted by my good friend and fellow blogger Jesse North. The ladies of The Craptacular were on last week to talk about the upcoming season and he asked if I would come on to talk about what I was looking forward to on Broadway this season, as well as Sister Act, Broadway in Bryant Park, among some other fun things. One of the life lessons learned in this week’s episode is never to bring up Sex and the City in my presence. Throughout the rest of the summer, Jess will be featuring other bloggers on his weekly episode (which is always fun to watch) so be sure to keep checking in for more hilarity and banter.

And I’ll be here, as always, to bring on the Weissman Girls.