Category Archives: Theater

Naama Potok, Chaim Potok’s daughter, does his memory proud onstage

IMG_0063Actress Naama Potok recently completed a run as the female lead in Aaron Posner’s sympathetic stage adaptation of father Chaim Potok’s novel “My Name is Asher Lev.”

Her role at Rockland County’s Penguin Rep Theatre was a triumphant return to the stage after a hiatus. She recently reflected on her family heritage and her art with me in an interview for The Journal News/

Check out our conversation at

From left: Naama Potok (The Women), Max Wolkowitz (Asher Lev) and Howard Pinhasik (The Men) in “My Name is Asher Lev,” at Penguin Rep Theatre.

From left: Naama Potok (The Women) and Max Wolkowitz (Asher Lev) in “My Name is Asher Lev,” at Penguin Rep Theatre.

Get lost in Andi Stover’s new play ‘Noodles Astray’

"The Magical History Tour" (© 2012, Steven P. Marsh/

“The Magical History Tour” (© 2012, Steven P. Marsh/

You have only two more chances to see “Noodles Astray,” and I’d reccomend making sure to grab one of them.

“Noodles Astray” is the latest play by Andi Stover, the creative mind who pulled off (in association with LiveFeedNYC) site-specific pieces like “The Magical History Tour” on a clipper ship in New York Harbor and “Julie S. Caesar and The Real Housewives of Trevi” at the Ace Hotel, both in 2012. 

Stover’s latest work is a scrappy cautionary tale of creativity, control, and the modern human condition (think unaffordable rents intersecting with the drive to make it) set in New York City. Its DIY tone is comical, but its subject matter and treatment raise serious questions about family and ambition in a media-obsessed society. 

Pay close attention from the moment the bell rings to signal the start. There’s a delightful spoken-word overture that consisof a litany of lost New York, kicking off with CBGB. 

Check out A brief Q&A with Stover by tapping or clicking here.

The piece, directed as well as written by Stover, features six actors along with puppets created by Daniel Patrick Fay and a theme song written by Christian Gibbs. 

See it for yourself at The Club at LaMaMa, 74A East 4th Street, Manhattan. Remaining performances are Saturday (March 14) at 10 p.m. or Sunday at 6. Tickets are $20 and available by tapping or clicking here, or at the box office. 

Stew’s stoked about James Baldwin

Stew in the Harlem Stage theater, where his "Notes of a Native Song" premieres in June. (© 2015, Steven P. Marsh/

Stew in the Harlem Stage theater on March 11. His new show “Notes of a Native Song” premieres there in June. (© 2015, Steven P. Marsh/

‘Passing Strange’ creator to challenge and honor author in Harlem Stage commission

Stew rarely takes the predictable route — at least in public.

So when the pop-song writer and founder of The Negro Problem ook the floor at Harlem Stage on Wednesday night for “Behind the Curtain: Stew,” a talk about his upcoming show in the beautiful Gatehouse theater, I had few expectations.

Would he talk? Would he offer a cynical take on “Notes of a Native Song,” the piece he’s creating as part of the Year of James Baldwin, which celebrates the 90th anniversary of his birth? Would he read from the show in progress? Would he perform some of the songs?

He did a little of most of those thing — with remarkable engagement and not a touch of cynicism.

The Gatehouse, a Romanesque Revival former water pumping station that's home to Harlem Stage. (© 2015, Steven P. Marsh/

The Gatehouse, a Romanesque Revival former water pumping station that’s home to Harlem Stage. (© 2015, Steven P. Marsh/

Maybe the venue — in Harlem, in front of a crowd that seemed earnest and engaged, exhibiting little of the hipster affect often on display at the downtown and Brooklyn venues where Stew more often appears — had something to do with it.

But it was more than that.

“When artists talk, they, for the most part, lie,” Stew said at the outset of the evening.

I’m in no position to judge his truthfulness, but his presentation came across as warm, personable, and, honest, without a trace of pose or ennui. Stew appeared deeply engaged with his subject — his reaction to Baldwin, and Baldwin’s  relationship with mentor and impediment Richard Wright.

If the artist was lying, it was a beautiful lie.

Stew held forth with only his guitar to accompany him as he opened the program with his laugh-inducing song “Black Men Ski.” While it wasn’t clear that he intends to include that song in the June show, it set the tone for the fun to follow.

He performed four other songs and fragments that apparently are part of the show, at least as it stands at this point in its development. Based on lyrical fragments, I’ll dub the three fleshed-out numbers “Brave, Suffering, Beautiful,” “Me, and You, and Jimmy,” and “Don’t Pray for the Boy Preacher” (with music, he said, by his longtime collaborator Heidi Rodewald). The fourth, of which he sang just a fragment — with some help from the audience with a spaghetti Western backing vocalization — cast Baldwin and Wright as gunslingers at High Noon in “Paris town.”

Given Stew’s position as a Tony-winning writer of rock musicals and other musical plays, such as “Passing Strange,”  you might expect “Notes of a Native Song” will be another of those, given that it will have its premiere in a respected theater.

But, based on Stew’s description, that’s not the case. He said it’ll feature “some musicians” performing the songs with scripted rants between them, because he’s comfortable with the structure of a concert.

And don’t expect the “Ken Burns, PBS James Baldwin” in this show, either. Stew promises the unexpurgated Baldwin — a detail he underscored with his unrestrained language throughout the evening — including a declaration of love for speaking all of the names that used to label African Americans over the years.

Stew seems as engaged and exited by this project as anything I’ve seen him do in years. So by that measure, it’s a safe bet that “Notes of a Native Song” will be a gem.

Get your tickets now, because it’s a short run in a small theater (just 200 seats) and it will sell out quickly.

“Notes of a Native Song” will receive six performances (fours shows at 7:30 p.m., plus two 2 p.m. matinees) from Jun 3-7, at Harlem Stage, 150 Convent Avenue, Manhattan. Tickets for the show, featuring cabaret-style seating, are $55 and available by tapping or clicking here. Call 212-281-9240 or tap or click here for more information Harlem Stage and its offerings.

Stew pulls back the (figurative) curtain on James Baldwin

Stew at Joe's Pub (© 2012 Steven P. Marsh/

Stew at Joe’s Pub (© 2012 Steven P. Marsh/

Stew says he’s not using a curtain, so the title of  “Behind the Curtain: Stew” at Harlem Stage on Wednesday, March 11, may be a bit of a misnomer.

But I won’t quibble, since the program will give the audience a peek at the influences and creative process of the pop-song master who founded The Negro Problem and won a Tony for the musical “Passing Strange”

The program is a prelude to Harlem Stage’s world premiere presentation of Stew’s “Notes of a Native Song,” described as ” a collage of songs, text and video inspired by [James] Baldwin’s brave and visionary proclivity for airing uncomfortable truths as celebratory events of poetry and beauty.”

Stew, a Los Angeles native, has long been inspired by Baldwin, and name checks him prominently in “Passing Strange” as “Little Jimmy Baldwin.”

You might expect that Stew is going to offer a preview of the piece. But anything can happen,.

Here’s a Facebook post in which Stew describes Wednesday’s gig:

It’ll be more than a discussion – I’m going to preview some tunes from the Baldwin show – talk about JB’s influence on me and Passing Strange and start making people mad with my views on so-called “socially-engaged art.” It will be fun and then we’ll eat.

It will without a doubt be entertaining and insightful. But best to arrive without too many preconceptions. Anything could happen.

Harlem Stage commissioned “Notes” as part of The Year of James Baldwin celebration that began last Aug.2, the 90th anniversary of Baldwin’s birth.

“Behind the Curtain: Stew” is at 7:30 p.m. at Harlem Stage, 150 Convent Ave. in Manhattan. Tickets are $10 and available by tapping or clicking here. Call 212-281-9240 for more information.

Attending the preview event gets you a 20 percent discount on the show, which runs June 3-7. Just use code DDOHS to get the reduced price on as many as four tickets.

Stew & Heidi Rodewald’s ‘Family Album’ conquers Oregon Shakespeare Festival (video)

Family_746x420If you find yourself in Oregon before the end of August, be sure to set aside a few hours to check out the world premiere of the latest musical play by Stew and Heidi Rodewald of The Negro Problem at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland.

For fans, “Family Album” will seem familiar, as they’ve incorporated songs fans have heard TNP play in concert or in other, less-structured, theater pieces over the years. And charismatic guitarist Christian Gibbs, who was a linchpin in Stew and Heidi’s breakthrough show, “Passing Strange,” steps forward to take a larger role in this show.

You’ll see what I mean by the familiarity when you watch the show’s video trailer and read the review in the Los Angeles Times. After you’ve had a look, go here for more information and  to buy tickets.

The show was created with director Joanna Settle, a longtime Stew-and-Heidi collaborator who now heads the theater school at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts.

Tickets have been selling well, but as of today, there are 16 performance dates for which seats are still available. Prices range from $25 to $99. Go here now for more information and tickets. The run ends Aug. 31.


Mary Bridget Davies: More than a Janis Joplin tribute artist

Mary Bridget Davies does Janis Joplin and a whole lot more at B.B. King's Blues Club in Manhattan. (© 2014 Steven P. Marsh/

Mary Bridget Davies does Janis Joplin and a whole lot more at B.B. King’s Blues Club in Manhattan. (© 2014 Steven P. Marsh/

If you go to see Mary Bridget Davies‘ show at B.B. King’s Blues Club in Manhattan, don’t count on an evening of Janis Joplin.

If you do, you’ll be setting yourself up for disappointment, like the woman standing near me at the bar on Monday night. She was wearing a muumuu and a multicolored headband, which made her look like she was ready for a psychedelic Sixties sort of evening.

But when Davies kicked into a set that was heavier on non-Joplin songs, including some massive versions of some Amy Winehouse hits, the woman started getting antsy, asking people around her if they knew whether Davies would be doing “songs from the show” at some point. Continue reading

Jonathan Larson’s lasting impact honored in song (video)

The crowd gathers to hear Jonathan Larson's dad and sister talk about the late composer in the Grand Tier lobby at New York City Center on June 25, 2014. (© 2014 Steven P. Marsh/

The crowd gathers to hear Jonathan Larson’s dad and sister talk about the late composer in the Grand Tier lobby at New York City Center on June 25, 2014. (© 2014 Steven P. Marsh/

New York City Center Encores! Off-Center (whose website is offline at this writing) revived “Rent” creator Jonathan Larson’s autobiographical show, “tick, tick … BOOM!” last week.

It was important enough that it lured Karen Olivo, a Broadway star (an alum of “Rent” and “In the Heights”) who has otherwise abandoned New York in favor of a life in Wisconsin, back to town.

And it really got actor and “In The Heights” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda fired up to write some reflections on Larson for The New York Times.

Leslie Odom Jr., of “Rent” and TV’s “Smash” fame, rounded out the cast.

If you missed it, that’s a terrible shame. But you can read the New York Daily News review here and check out the Times review here.

I saw the first performance, on Wednesday, and made a point to arrive early for the pre-show “Lobby Project” event in the hot-as-Hades Grand Tier lobby featuring Larson’s dad and sister talking about their late relative and promoting awareness of Marfan syndrome, the genetic disorder that contributed to his untimely death.

When “Rent” became a big hit after Larson’s death, his family and friends set up the Jonathan Larson Performing Arts Foundation to provide grants for composers, lyricists, and book writers in musical theater. The grants program is now run by the American Theatre Wing as Jonathan Larson Grants.

After Larson’s relatives spoke about him, the subject of the grants program came up, and it was announced that 107 people had received money from it so far  — and that many of those people were in the packed lobby.

That’s when people pulled out sheet music or opened it on their mobile devices and broke into a serenade, performing Larson’s iconic “Rent” tune “Season of Love.”

It was a grand moment.

I managed to catch much of it on video. Check it out: