Talkin' BroadwayV.J.

Gimme a Break!
by Nancy Rosati

Stephen Bogardus

Kevin Chamberlin

Kim Crosby

Transport Group is a new not-for-profit theatre company founded by Artistic Director, Jack Cummings III and Associate Artistic Director Robyn Hussa. In order to raise much needed startup funds, they're presenting a star-studded cabaret called Gimme A Break! on Monday, October 15th at 8:00 pm. I asked Jack to tell me how this theatre company came about.

"I founded Transport Group with fellow graduate students from the University of Virginia. I got my MFA in directing and they received their MFA in acting. We graduated in ‘96 and we've all lived in New York for about five years. I work with the Lark Theatre Company as their Associate Resident Director and I directed a staged reading of Our Town for a Christmas benefit the past two years. In my version, George and Emily were played by two actors in their late 60s. Everyone else in the play was around 30. The Stage Manager was played by a young girl. I had original music composed by my musical director Mary Mitchell Campbell and she took the Shaker melody "Simple Gifts" and underscored the entire play for piano and cello. It was a huge hit the two years that we did it.

There was something incredible about the play. Seeing it through the eyes of these two older actors was pretty phenomenal. It was after the second year that I decided I wanted to continue doing this. Of course, it is Our Town and at the very minimum it needs 18 people, so we realized that no one else was going to do it for us. We decided to start our own theatre company, in the beginning focusing on twentieth century American classics that feature large casts. The Roundabout is the only company that tackles these plays now. I have a resident company of designers that I've worked with for six years. We already had the makings of an informal company, so this was just a matter of forming it for real."

For the cabaret benefit, Jack invited Broadway musical performers who happened to be friends of his, or friends of his wife, Barbara Walsh, or even friends of friends to perform. Each singer was asked to sing the song that they felt put them "on the map" or gave them their break - hence the title of the show. The choices varied greatly from person to person. In some cases it was a song they sang in a high school show that gave them the bug to pursue it, or it was the song that got them their Tony nomination. One performer said that he's singing a song that he performed in a Broadway show, because when he sang that song, it was the first time people started regarding him as a real actor, instead of just a singer/performer. Jack has sprinkled a couple of unknowns into his line-up, but he testified that the group of performers represents over a dozen Tony nominations and 25 Drama Desk nominations collectively. He's guessing they've been in at least 100 Broadway shows. Asked if he would be including bios in the program, Jack laughingly said he didn't have that much paper!

Marc Kudisch

Sally Mayes

Jessica Molaskey

Since Jack's wife Barbara is a musical theatre performer, he assured me that he has a tremendous level of respect for what they do. "Even though I direct straight plays, I think that musical theater performers are the most extraordinary actors that we have. I really appreciated Donna McKechnie's article this summer about what a musical theater performer does and how it's extremely difficult. Because they make it look so easy, a lot of people don't think of it as being incredibly special, but it really is. Everyone's been unbelievably gracious and fantastic about coming to sing to get a new theatre company started."

Jack's still getting phone calls from all of the actors who will appear. These are his comments on the program so far: Barbara Walsh is going to sing "Holding to the Ground" from Falsettos. Lynn Wintersteller is going to sing "Life Story" from Closer Than Ever. She was nominated for a Drama Desk for that. Marc Kudisch will sing "Breezin' Through Another Day" but he's going to do the complete version from the previews of The Wild Party, before it was cut (and he'll explain why it was trimmed). Sara Ramierez is going to be singing "The Man That Got Away." She said that she always has good luck with that song when she sings it at auditions. Jessica Molaskey will sing "Stars and the Moon" from Songs For a New World. Heather Mac Rae's big Broadway break was when she replaced Diane Keaton as Sheila in Hair. Heather is going to sing "Easy to Be Hard."

Jenny Giering will sing a song that she hopes will create her big break. It's from her new musical called The Mistress Cycle and it's called "Poor Girls." A workshop of this show took place in Williamstown this summer and she's been collaborating on that. Mark Nadler has an entire routine built around "I Love a Piano." Julie Murney is going to sing a song from her Wild Party called "The Life of the Party." Idina Menzel sang it in the show but Julia's character originally sang it in workshop and then they switched it. Julia said she's always wanted to sing it. It's not her song but it is from the show that gave her her break. Kim Crosby and Chip Zien will sing "No One is Alone" from Into the Woods. Bryan Batt is singing "New Words" from a workshop he did of Maury Yeston's In the Beginning.

Diana Canova's first Broadway show was They're Playing Our Song back in 1981 and she replaced Lucie Arnaz. She's going to sing "I Still Believe in Love" from that. Rita Gardner is going to do a medley from The Fantasticks. She includes this in her one woman show and it's amazing. Steve Bogardus' first Broadway appearance was when he understudied Tony in the West Side Story revival with Debbie Allen. He's going to sing "Something's Coming." Sally Mayes will sing "Black Coffee" from Pete ‘n' Keely.

Jennifer Piech

Emily Skinner

Mary Testa

After hearing this line-up, I asked Jack if they thought of recording this show for a CD or a video. He said, "I would have loved that but at this point we're so overwhelmed with everything. I don't have the time to devote to the logistics and the legalities." That's a shame.

Gimme a Break! will take place at The Culture Project, 45 Bleecker Street which seats about 300 people. There's a champagne dessert reception after the performance that will be catered by a top pastry chef and is open to everyone with a ticket. If you buy tickets at the $250 level ($400 per couple) you get special reserved seating, a poster signed by all of the performers, and tickets to the production of Our Town in February. If you spend $1,000 ($1,500 per couple) you get front row seating, the signed poster, some autographed CDs from cast members, and tickets to the Gala Opening of Our Town along with the party afterwards. Transport Group is a non-profit organization so tickets are tax deductible.

Finally, I asked Jack to tell me about their first production, which will be Thornton Wilder's Our Town in February, 2002. "I don't know how well people know Our Town. Some people have heard of it or they read it years ago. If you go back and read it now, especially after all that happened on September 11th, it's a very powerful piece. I consider it the greatest American play ever written. It's very important right now. In the last act, Emily asks the Stage Manager, ‘Do any human beings ever realize life as they live it, every every minute?' The Stage Manager says, ‘No. Saints and poets maybe. They do some.' It's all about struggling to appreciate life and to have that ability. I think it's the perfect play to do after all that's happened. As for Gimme A Break!, I'm really excited about it. I'd love to fill the house because it should be an amazing evening."

Gimme a Break!
A cabaret featuring over 30 award-winning performers to benefit Transport Group a new not-for-profit theatre company.

Monday, October 15th 2001 at 8PM
45 Bleecker Street

Cast: Bryan Batt (Beauty and the Beast, Forbidden Broadway); Stephen Bogardus (Love! Valor! Compassion!); Sherry Boone (Marie Christine); Diana Canova ("Soap"); Kevin Chamberlin (Dirty Blonde, Suessical); Veanne Cox (Company); Kim Crosby (Into The Woods); John Dossett (Assassins); Robert DuSold (Les Miserables, The Kiss of the Spider Woman, Jekyll & Hyde); Beth Fowler (Sweeney Todd); Rita Gardner (original Fantasticks); Malcolm Gets (A New Brain); Jenny Giering (composer); Kristin Lee Kelly (Rent, Rocky Horror); Marc Kudisch (The Wild Party); Jeremy Kushnier (Footloose); Florence Lacey (Hello Dolly); Antoinette LeVecchia (Macaroni Requiem); Kim Lindsay (Showboat, Les Miserables); Heather Mac Rae (Falsettos, Coastal Disturbances); Sally Mayes (She Loves Me); Jessica Molaskey (Dream, Parade, Chess); Maureen Moore (A Little Night Music); Julia Murney (The Wild Party); Mark Nadler (Gershwin's American Rhapsody); Christina Norrup (The Producers); Brad Oscar (The Producers); Evan Pappas (My Favorite Year, Parade); Michele Pawk (Crazy for You, Cabaret); Mary Beth Peil (1986 The King & I, "Dawson's Creek); Jennifer Piech (Titanic); Sara Ramierez (Class Act); Marla Schaffel (Jane Eyre); Emily Skinner (Side Show, The Full Monty); Cheryl Stern (The Women); Mary Testa (On The Town, 42nd Street); Barbara Walsh (Falsettos); Lynn Wintersteller (Closer Than Ever); Chip Zien (Isn't It Romantic, A New Brain, Into The Woods)

Ticket info: $75 ($125 per couple); $250 ($400 per couple); $1000 ($1500 per couple). For Reservations Call (212) 560-4372

Transport Group (Co-founded by Jack Cummings III, Artistic Director and Robyn Hussa, Associate Artistic Director) is a not-for-profit theatre company striving to create thought provoking theatre that simultaneously pays homage to the traditions of the 20th century while exploring new forms of story telling that will lead us fervently through the 21st century. Charitable and outreach programs include collaborations with animal rescue leagues (having one animal at every performance available for adoption), one charity per production (donating certain performance revenues to the selected entity), and multiple drama workshops free of charge to chosen groups of students using the current script in production as the focus of study.

Transport Group's first production will be Thornton Wilder's Our Town in February of 2002.

Wanna' talk to others about this column or anything else theatre related? Check out All That Chat!

Past Rialto Columns

Search What's New on the Rialto

Privacy Policy