ATCA at Sardi’s
Lunch with Broadway Stars
By: Charles Giuliano - Nov 10, 2017
A highlight of the American Theatre Critics Association’s New York conference is a now traditional lunch at Sardi’s with stars of current Broadway shows.
Yet again organizer, Sherry Eaker brought together a glittering array of performers. Seated at round tables they broke bread with critics. During lunch individual critics were selected by Eaker to interview performers formulating an introduction and a couple of pithy questions.
Cast members of seven shows were represented. While invited, J. Quinton Johnson of Hamilton, was the only no show.
There was a narrow window as following lunch the actors rushed off to prepare for Saturday matinee performances.
We are reporting on these encounters in alphabetical order by the titles of the plays.
The Band’s Visit
While still in previews the new musical The Band’s Visit was the talk of the town. At least among assembled scribes.
It was a chance to get up close and personal with a diva in the making, lead actress Katrina Lenk. She shared the mic with supporting actors John Cariani and Ari’el Stachel.
Lenk spoke of the wonder of the music and its challenges. Based on a slam dunk of eventual reviews she is an odds on favorite for a Tony award. There were comments on her feline sensuality all the more evident in person.
Cariani commented on the space constraints of the former Off Broadway production when he was just inches from the audience. He laughed saying that now he can really stretch his legs in a scene that has him seated on a couch.
Post 9/11 Stachel expressed the joy of being accepted as a Middle Eastern performer enjoying his debut on Broadway. In an anecdote he related that the unique spelling of his name Ari’el derived from seeing it on a sign by the road when visiting Israel for background on this musical. He and the producers have been reaching out to a potential Islamic audience. It is as much an Egyptian production as it is Israeli.
A Bronx Tale
The night before I had seen Bronx Tale and with other fans lingered at the stage door to take shots of the stars of the show, Nick Cordero as Sonny, and Richard H. Blake as Lorenzo, the father of Calgero who as a kid was taken under the wing of Sonny.
Chatting with Blake I asked if he was from the Bronx? “No” he answered “Providence, Rhode Island.”
There is a large Italian community and it was the locus of Raymond Patriaca the Don of the New England crime family. Actually, Patriaca resided in an armed fortress along the shore drive of nearby Newport.
I told him about a former roommate who dated Ray, Jr, when she was a student at RISD. It seems her pad was busted into and the stereo was boosted. She cried to her boyfriend and the next day someone again broke into her apartment but this time to return the stolen goods.
That got a laugh from Blake who conveyed that his family ran a successful Providence restaurant frequented by made men who in every sense were great patrons and perfect gentlemen. There was never any trouble he assured me.
“Although surely they preferred seats with their backs to the wall” I quipped.
During the intro it seems that he was a child star and the youngest ever to appear on Broadway with his name at the top of the marquee.
While in rehearsal he was offered a slot on TV’s Mickey Mouse Club. He turned it down to play Broadway in a show that folded after a few performances. He also appeared in a flop that closed Burt Reynolds’ Florida dinner theatre.
Blake, it seems, has suffered more show biz infamy than fame.
He is much enjoying the successful run of Bronx Tale. He remarked on lingering after shows to sign autographs and pose for selfies.
“People say ‘we don’t want to bother you. You must be tired and want to go home.’ Are you kidding? After a long night of performing it’s the best part of the day. It’s the fans that keep us going” he said graciously. What a great guy and paisan.
Come from Away
During 9/11 planes landed in Newfoundland. The population of rural Gander doubled to shelter 6,579 passengers and crew from planes diverted when U.S. air space was closed.
The musical which earned multiple Tony nominations, winning in several categories, tells the story of a community responding to an emergency and supporting so many strangers.
Representing the musical, Lee MacDougall and Sharon Wheatley, conveyed the joy of performing in such a humanistic and heart warming production. They told about a special benefit when the cast flew back for a performance in a hockey rink in Gander. There were wonderful exchanges between the performers and the community.
The husband and wife team of Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez won Academy Awards with the music and lyrics for the 2013, 3-D, animated Disney Studios film Frozen. Raising small children in New York meant long weekend Skype calls to Burbank. They recorded songs in their home studio.
Their hit “Let It Go,” performed by Idina Menzel, has prompted countless pop ups and a huge fan base with five-year-olds. So intensely that they commented on the scorn of neighbors stating “You ruined our life” when identified taking their kids for a stroll.
Disney executives flew in personally to persuade them to take on composing Frozen for stage. Essentially, you don’t turn down Disney when offered the chance to create a franchise Broadway musical. But it can put a crimp on privacy and family life.
The musical opens for previews at St. James Theatre on February 22. That’s smack dab in the middle of the annual Big Chill on Broadway.
A Sunday matinee of Junk at Lincoln Center was the last play of our busy week on Broadway.
It’s a tense, tight drama about junk bonds and hostile takeovers.
At the beginning of the play there is so much convoluted talk about the ins and outs of high financing and flipping corporate assets that you need an MBA to follow the plot points.
The actors Ito Aghayere and Micheal Sieberry were asked if they had to take a crash course in order to understand and convey the dynamic of their roles.
The play is written by Pulitzer winner Ayad Akhtar (Disgraced). It couldn’t be more different from that acclaimed work. While more complex and ambitious it stretches the limits for the actors as well as the audience. My broker would love it but I found it hard to follow or hunker up to.
While slick and technical it was oddly cold and distant. This was particularly true of the brilliant and brutal character performed by the hopelessly miscast Steven Pasquale. There is utterly no chemistry as he lies to his wife.
In answer to the question the actors conveyed that Akhtar had given them his reading list.
No good deed goes unpunished.
In his first performance on Broadway Jin Ha conveyed what that meant as an Asian performer in a revival of the iconic M. Butterfty. It is based on the true story of a love affair between a diplomat and a performer in the classic cross gendered Chinese opera.
Several ATCA members that we spoke with had just seen the play and were still sifting responses to a challenging experience. Some contrasted seeing the original and now the startling and subtle changes.
The Play That Goes Wrong
Originated by a British company that also performed in the farce The Play That Goes Wrong is the funniest evening of theatre that I have experienced. Most of us have never laughed so hard in our life.
Particularly in the finale, when, literally the walls come tumbling down. The show won awards for its amazing set.
It’s a multi-valent play within a play. It conveys a really dreadful amateur theatre company quite seriously trying to stage a perfectly silly murder mystery.
Ashley Bryant, who sat at our table with Jonathan Fielding, plays an inept techie who manages to be in the wrong place at the right times. She pulls this off with deadpan humor. Standing stark still that wall with a door opening come crashing down on her in a scene that is an homage to silent film genius Buster Keaton.
In the play Fielding plays the victim but as things unfold he may not be as stiff as we first assume.
They were asked if there were even any injuries in this madcap slapstick production.
Actually, it seems, there are glitches now and then and somebody gets banged up. The audience laughs assuming it is part of the show. Unlike Spiderman nobody has been taken away in an ambulance. But the original cast, which returned to England after a year, took the lumps.
Bryant who joined with the current cast in August remarked on the precision of the staging.
We have yet to see Waitress, the musical that originated at American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge before a successful run on Broadway.
Before taking on this role it seems that a struggling young actress Caitlin Houlahan had, you guessed, put in some time as a waitress. She conveyed the thrill and surprise of appearing for the first time on Broadway.
Concluding the event at Sardi’s, ATCA mermber Barbara Bannon and a representative of the Primus Foundation, presented the annual prize to a female playwright. ATCA members we spoke with who read her submission commented that Lauren Yee was a clear and spectacular recipient of the award.