Category Archives: Theater

Nyack’s Bill Irwin puts on his ‘Old Hats’ again

Bill Irwin in the world premiere run of "Old Hats" at Signature Theatre Company. (© 2013 Joan Marcus)

Bill Irwin in the world première run of “Old Hats” at Signature Theatre Company. (© 2013 Joan Marcus)

Scroll to the bottom of this post for access to a special 2-for-1 ticket deal for Bill Irwin’s “Old Hats,” which returns to Off-Broadway next week. Then click through to read the full story.

 

You know Bill Irwin.

Maybe you didn’t see him on Broadway, clowning around onstage in baggy pants in “Fool Moon” 1n 1993, or playing the comical Mr. McAfee in “Bye Bye Birdie” in 2011.

Maybe you didn’t grow up with him as Mr. Noodle on “Sesame Street.”

But if you watch “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” “Law and Order SVU,” or “Sleepy Hollow,”  you’ve probably seen him playing everything from psychologists to over-the-top villains.

Bill Irwin as the title character in "Uncle Vanya" at Lake Lucille, NY, in 2007. (©2007 Steven P. Marsh/willyoumissme.com)

Bill Irwin as the title character in “Uncle Vanya” on Lake Lucille in New City in 2007. (©2007 Steven P. Marsh/willyoumissme.com)

Or maybe you saw him locally, in some of the summer plays on Lake Lucille in northern New City. He appeared as the title character in Anton Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya” in 2007 and the clown Radish in Chekhov’s “Platonov” in 2008.

He’s a versatile actor who admits he works hard to stay that way for a practical reason: to pay the bills. (The Lake Lucille shows may be an exception since they’re labors of love for all involved!)

“It isn’t really an aesthetic choice as much as it is just trying to make the monthly nut,” he told me recently as we sat down for a chat for The Journal News/lohud.com.

He says he and wife Martha Roth take the need to pay the bills pretty seriously.

Bill Irwin clowns around as Radish in Chekhov's "Platonov" on Lake Lucille in New City in 2008. (©2008 Steven P. Marsh/willyoumissme.com)

Bill Irwin clowns around as Radish in Chekhov’s “Platonov” on Lake Lucille in New City in 2008. (©2008 Steven P. Marsh/willyoumissme.com)

“Everybody has a monthly nut, but we have a chant: Monthly nut, monthly nut!”

Irwin and David Shiner, his partner-in-clowning, are returning to the New York City stage next week for a return engagement of their 2013 revue “Old Hats” — with splendid young singer-songwriter Shaina Taub as their onstage foil, master of ceremonies, and music director, filling the shoes of quirky chanteuse Nellie McKay, who originated the part.

The show was a delight the first time around, and sounds like it’ll be just as much of a hoot this time — with some changes that’ll make it well worth seeing again.

Check out my FULL INTERVIEW by clicking here, or pick up this Sunday’s edition of The Journal News on your local newsstand.

GO HERE FOR INFORMATION ON HOW TO GET 2 TICKETS FOR THE PRICE OF 1.

Stew and Heidi celebrate Baldwin in the shadow of Bowie

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One of the numerous humorous videos projected during “Notes of a Native Song” at Joe’s Pub labels a silent clip of James Baldwin smoking a cigarette with: “Don’t blame any of this on me. These are Stew’s words not mine.”

How does any rock musician play a show — especially in New York City — on the day the world learned that David Bowie died?

With heart and soul.

Heidi Rodewald and Stew at Joe's Pub on Jan. 11, 2016. (Photo © 2016, Steven P. Marsh/willyoumissme.com)

Heidi Rodewald and Stew at Joe’s Pub on Jan. 11, 2016. (Photo © 2016, Steven P. Marsh/willyoumissme.com)

Stew and Heidi Rodewald played their “Notes of a Native Song” show at for a mixed crowd of friends, fans, and arts presenters (it was an APAP showcase gig) Joe’s Pub on Monday night as if it was the most important show they’d ever done.

It wasn’t until after taking the final bow that the pair returned to the cramped stage to sing a reverent rendition of Bowie’s “Be My Wife.” The song — never explained by Bowie but often perceived as Bowie’s  musical effort to save his marriage to Angela Bowie — was a beautiful and touching tribute to the chameleonic icon by a pair of artists who once were a couple themselves.

Stew (© 2016, Steven P. Marsh/willyoumissme.com)

Stew (© 2016, Steven P. Marsh/willyoumissme.com)

It has been just seven months since they premiered their James Baldwin-centric show at Harlem Stage as part of the 90th anniversary of the late literary icon’s birth.

It’s the same show I saw in Harlem, but it felt very different. I can’t — and wouldn’t even if I had kept detailed notes — do a song-by-song comparison of the two productions. But the show I saw Monday night felt like it had evolved and grown. Some of the songs seemed tweaked and rewritten.

Was there a new song or two in the mix?  Maybe. But it could simply be my memory playing tricks on me. If it matters, I’m sure Stew will explain.

I’m fairly sure that my sense that the show felt much tighter and even more energized than it was in Harlem is not based on a faulty memory. Freed from the confines of Theater-with-a-capital-T in Harlem, Stew, Heidi (wearing clericals), and their seasoned crew of Mike McGinnis (in a tux and a rather large yarmulke) on winds, Marty Beller (in a bright orange plaid shirt) on drums, and Art Terry (in a choir robe open to his breastbone) on keyboards really rocked.

"The Good Swimmer," with music by Heidi Rodewald, libretto/lyrics by Donna Di Novelli, music co-direction by Marc Doten and Rodewald, direction by Kevin Newbury, is part of the 2016 Prototype festival through Jan. 17.

“The Good Swimmer,” with music by Heidi Rodewald, libretto/lyrics by Donna Di Novelli, music co-direction by Marc Doten and Rodewald, direction by Kevin Newbury, is part of the 2016 Prototype festival through Jan. 17.

Stew made a point to mention from time to time that they were doing a New York version of the show — pointing out the parts that weren’t really in the show that they were peddling to the APAP crowd. But with a show like this — warm, personal, and loosely structured — there’s room for variations to accommodate location and other temporal factors. I expect it’ll be slightly different everywhere it’s performed.

Who knows when this show will reappear in New York?

But if you have a craving for more of this team’s creative output, check out Heidi’s show “The Good Swimmer,” which runs through Jan. 17 as part of the Prototype Festival at HERE arts center, 145 Sixth Avenue. Order tickets online by tapping or clicking here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Suzanne Vega keeps Carson McCullers alive

Suzanne Vega onstate as novelist Carson McCullers.

Suzanne Vega onstage as novelist Carson McCullers.

New York singer-songwriter Vega has ‘rewritten’ her intimate one-woman portrait of the novelist and is recording the songs

Good news: New York singer-songwriter Suzanne Vega’s one-woman musical play about Southern writer Carson McCullers is getting a second life.

I’ve rewritten the entire play. Recording the songs today,” she told me Wednesday in response to a Facebook inquire about the show. The album is expected to come out in the Spring. 

That’s just the latest fantastic news about Vegas efforts to push her talent into the world of theater — efforts that I feared she might have abandoned.

Vega showed the world a new face in 2011 with her one-woman play “Carson McCullers Talks About Love.” She wrote and starred in the play, which featured music co-written with pop artist and “Spring Awakening” composer Duncan Sheik.

Someone who knows Vega well told me she was urged to do an out-of-town tryout before staging it in New York. But she apparently ignored the advice and launched it at the small, well-worn Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre in downtown Manhattan.

As predicted, didn’t get the results or critical response she had hoped for.

Charles Isherwood of The New York Times described the show as a “funky ramble through the life of that Southern writer,” but assessed it as a “messy” project.

Joe Dziemianowicz, the longtime New York Daily News theater critic who was unceremoniously dumped by the tabloid earlier this year, was a bit kinder, but didin’t offer glowing praise:

Vega traces McCullers’ life with great warmth, but at times the play’s matter-of-factness chafes. Vega isn’t fully comfortable acting a role, which is also an issue.

I saw the spare production and was delighted by Vega’s transformation into McCullers — who was only 50 years old (a couple of years younger than Vega was during the Rattlestick run) when she died in 1967 in Nyack, where had lived off and on for 30 years.

The story was fascinating and the music was full of life and told the story of the writer quite well.

Vega’s not the only artist inspired at least in part by McCullers at the  time. Gabriel Kahane’s well-received musical “February House,”  staged in 2012 at The Public Theater, was based an the book of the same name that featured McCullers and a cast of early 20th century arts icons — from Gypsy Rose Lee to W.H.Auden — who lived in a house in Brooklyn Heights for a short, intense time in the 1940s.

But Vega’s show seemed to vanish when the run ended.

While it dropped off the radar, I certainly didn’t forget about it.

I rarely respond to calls for audience requests at concerts, but even have to admit I called out for “anything from the Carson McCullers show” when Vega asked for requests at The Bell House a few years later.

She laughed and politely declined. I figured she just wanted to forget about it.

But it seems I was wrong.

Vega is performing some of the songs from the show  in concert Jan. 15 at Joe’s Pub on Jan. 15.

She rewrote the title, too, while reworking the play. It’s now called “Unjoined: An Evening With Carson McCullers.” — a title that appears to be influenced by the final moments of the writer’s 1946 novel, “The Member of the Wedding,” which describes 13-year-old motherless character Frankie Addams feeling like “an unjoined person who hung around in doorways, and she was afraid.”

For a little more from Vega about the show, check out this interview with Richmond Magazine.

“Unjoined: An Evening With Carson McCullers” is on track to return to the stage in 2016. I, for one, can hardly wait to see what Vega’s done with it.

 

 

 

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/lohud.com.

Check out our conversation at lohud.com.

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/willyoumissme.com)

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

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/willyoumissme.com)

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/willyoumissme.com)

‘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 took 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/willyoumissme.com)

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

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/willyoumissme.com)

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

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.