From Tallulah to Mae West
Stokes to Bierko

In a whirlwind trip to New York, thanks to the "Live Broadway" credit card, I caught 5 shows in 3 days. I started off with Tallulah Hallelujah! starring Tovah Feldshuh and then Dirty Blonde starring Claudia Shear. I also revisited Kiss Me, Kate and The Music Man to see how these revivals are holding up now that they've been playing awhile. To cap the trip off I attended Seth Rudetsky's Chatterbox at Don't Tell Mama. Seth's guest was Betty Buckley.

On Tuesday night we caught Tallulah Hallelujah!. I had been looking forward to seeing this simply because of the amazing Tovah Feldshuh. Another reason is that I was interested in the book, written by Feldshuh, which came under some criticism. After seeing it I don't understand the criticism, the book is just fine and a rather clever one at that. Tallulah is at a USO show and the star she is introducing fails to show so Tallulah wings it for 90 minutes. That being the set-up we get to see Tallulah in action with that smokey southern drawl which becomes slurred a bit as the drinks are consumed. She recalls her career, her childhood, and most notably, the night she opened as Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire, a night her fans turned on her.

Feldshuh is turning in a tour de force acting performance and she's not to be missed. Doing nice turns are Bob Goldstone on the piano as Meredith Willson and Mark Deklin as Corporal Chapman whom Tallulah flirts with. Feldshuh also adlibs quite a bit with the audience and she's lightning fast on her feet and quite funny. And what would a Tallulah show be without some of the famous Tallulah stories? Tovah delivers a nice share of them, particularly the one about the priest and the incense burner, however, I had heard it with a different twist. The story I heard supposedly took place in St. Patricks Cathedral and the priest was Cardinal Spellman which takes on another chuckle if you know anything about his Eminence! For any student of acting I recommend that you catch Tallulah Hallelujah and watch this pro in action. Tovah sings a few numbers: most notably touching was "The White Cliffs of Dover." Don't miss this show; Tovah is simply a remarkable singer and actress...and Tovah is Tallulah!

We caught the Wednesday matinee of The Music Man starring Craig Bierko and Mary Illes. It's been playing now for about 6 months so I was interested in seeing if it's still as fresh and sharp as the last time I saw it. And yes, it is. Bierko, in his Broadway debut, is still delivering Harold Hill, a role he'll probably be identified with for the rest of his life, just as if it were opening night. Rebecca Luker was on vacation, but Mary Illes, as Marian the librarian, is just fine. And what a gorgeous voice she possesses! The chorus is still sharp and one can hardly keep an eye off Clyde Alves who plays Tommy. His dancing is simply sensational. There was no mention of it in his bio, but didn't he win the Astaire Award this year? Great show which got a standing "O", and that finale is something else.

From the minute Dirty Blonde started I was thrown for a loop. From what I've read the private life of Mae West was nothing like her onstage personna, so I doubted the historical accuracy of the book. However, the audience ate it up and loved Claudia Shear's performance. Some things I thought were a little too vulgar for my taste, but again, the audience ate it up. The story within the story about the guy and the Mae West dress simply bored me. Who cares about his problem; get thee to a shrink! The entire cast, including Bob Stillman and Tom Riis Farrell can act and sing their way out of paper bags; so that was rewarding enough for me. Gotta give Shear credit for writing something new and different. Go see it and judge for yourself. My assessment is clearly in the minority.

Side note: The first 3 shows I caught had producer's credits with the name Chase Mishkin included. She's one busy gal!

Seth Rudetsky is truly a scream! He's just one funny guy on stage. His Chatterbox series plays every Thursday at 6 pm at Don't Tell Mama and each week he brings a Broadway personality or two to the stage for an interview. He'll trade barbs, show some video clips and perhaps ask a question or two which you'd never hear on Rosie. His guest last Thursday was none other than the incomparable Betty Buckley. Much has been written about Betty but one thing I never knew was that she has a wicked sense of humor. She told stories about how she made it in the business, some funny beauty pageant memories, and even showed a clip from Carrie. She had the audience aching with laughter. Normally, the chatterbox is over in an hour, but it was extended a bit as Betty asked the Don't Tell Mama staff if we could stay til 7:30. Of course the highlight was when Seth took to the 88's and Betty, sitting on a stool, sang "Memory", her signature song from Cats. When the big line came she stood and belted out "Touch Me! It's so easy...." and my goodness, I thought the roof was going to cave in! Betty received a thunderous ovation for her appearance at the Chatterbox, which, incidentally, was sold out with a waiting list of 25. Proceeds from ticket sales go to BC/EFA and it's only 10 bucks with a 2 drink minimum; making Seth's Chatterbox one of the best bargains in town. Where else could you spend an hour or so in an intimate setting with Betty Buckley?

While waiting in line at the TKTS booth for our tix to Dirty Blonde I heard a gal who walks the line say to a theatre patron, "any questions?" The patron asked something about Kiss Me, Kate and this patron was told, "I think Brian Stokes Mitchell is out on vocal rest." I quickly put my 2 cents in. I had just run into Brian on his way to the theatre.

Kiss Me, Kate has been playing for almost a year now so it was definitely time to revisit. I hadn't brought my glasses so I wasn't able to read the Playbill. Instead, I just yakked with my fellow theatre-goer, mentioning Brian and Marin as still being in the show but that Michael Berresse was out doing a few films, so it would be interesting to see David Elder.

What I didn't know was that Marin was out and so was David. I didn't recognize Marin as Lilli Vanessi/Katherine but that didn't surprise me. When I met her after Ragtime she didn't look anything like the role of Mother on that stage. And, of course, the voice was different. The understudy was on, dummy me! Linda Mugleston did a superb job and possesses a gorgeous voice. On for David Elder was Kevin Neil McCready as Bill Calhoun/Lucento and what a great voice he also has. Guy knows how to wear a pair of tights too! And yes, he does the acrobatics during "Bianca."

If Brian Stokes Mitchell needs vocal rest you could have fooled me. He was superb and on top of his performance. I noticed in the second act that when he was getting ready to sing the reprise of "So In Love" the orchestra conductor had his baton in the air, but there was a slight pause. Stokes, during this pause, was weaving his magic spell over the audience. He has that charismatic quality that other actors would kill for. One can clearly see why he took home the Tony Award.

On the plane home I read an interesting article called "Beyond Sondheim" by John Lahr in the Oct. 16 issue of The New Yorker. He mentions revivals and movie-inspired replicas of Broadway musicals abounding with little new musicals on the scene. He also mentions that Broadway is the only business that does no significant research on what audiences want. In short, today's writers are writing for art rather than Broadway. In the old days from Irving Berlin to Jerry Herman the writing of a musical was for Broadway, the hell with the art! And perhaps, there is a lesson here. If today's crop of new writers want to have their shows on Broadway, maybe, just maybe, they should stop writing for themselves, stop trying to emulate Sondheim (if any are), but write for the Broadway stage, then they just may find that elusive hit. A visit to Kiss Me, Kate or The Music Man clearly proves this is what the mass audience wants. The Full Monty certainly proved that this week as well. Nothing wrong with writing art, but that hit will be as elusive as a needle in a haystack. Is Mamma Mia just around the bend? And that sure as hell ain't art, but it's got hit written all over it!

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