It’s the first day of the 15th annual New York International Fringe Festival, and already the air around 45 Bleecker Street (FringeCENTRAL) is thick with buzz. With over 200 shows from around the world performing up to six times between August 12 to 28, it’s physically impossible to see everything, so the intrepid Fringer must keep ears and eyes alert for overheard comments, unsolicited recommendations, patter from Fringe artists, and colorful posters and postcards that have already begun to proliferate the East Village like voracious tendrils of kudzu. Navigating the Byzantine program guide requires the mental gymnastics of a Sherlock Holmes and the future sight of a Nostradamus. How does one decipher the intention behind descriptors such as “Sometimes you have to meet a ‘Material Girl’ to appreciate ‘America’s Sweetheart’” (Donna/Madonna), “Our motivational seminar/rock opera will teach you to attain Hawkman” (The Power of the Crystals), “A hilarious Greek tragedy/Shakespearean drama/rock musical where everyone’s named Jan” (Greg Kotis’ already sold-out Yeast Nation)? With Fringe you never quite know what you’re getting until the lights go down—and sometimes not even after they’ve come back up again.
So why Fringe at all? What’s the appeal of a festival that seems as much designed to baffle the squares as to champion emerging artists and premiere new works? A long-time aficionado of Fringe, both as participant and patron, I like to equate its bounty as more of a cornucopia than a crapshoot. A world-wide phenomenon, Fringe festivals have taken root on every continent save Antarctica, and serve to introduce regional theater artists to an international audience as well as a platform for small companies with ambitions to propel themselves forward and upward. A successful Fringe run often leads directly to future success (Kotis being just one example, with his massively popular musical Urinetown), having already generated some press and cultivated an audience during it. Many groups that get their start in the Fringe, honing their craft on broken-shoestring budgets, go on to establish themselves permanently in the theatrical firmament. Others disappear into the obscurity where they were first formed. It’s a bit of a crapshoot after all, but one that simply can’t be dismissed. No lover of New York City theater ought to pass up the opportunity of discovering the “next big thing” in a back-alley or black-box venue during what is still the single largest, multi-arts festival in the US. So hie thee down to 45 Bleecker Street and grab yourself a festival guide. It’s Fringing time!
For on-the-go Fringe info, follow Nicole on Twitter @enkohl!
Over 200 theater companies from around the world will be unveiling shows in more than 20 venues when the New York International Fringe Festival commences August 12. Stage Rush is excited to welcome its first correspondent to cover this expansive theater event—Nicole Gluckstern. Through August 28, Nicole will post reviews, musings, and details of her Fringe adventures as she wades her way through the festival’s 1,200 performances. Get to know our correspondent before the festival coverage commences.
Nicole Gluckstern is an arts writer and theater critic in San Francisco and a die-hard Fringe Festival fanatic. In addition to working 10 years (and counting!) as a lighting technician for the San Francisco Fringe Festival, she spent one summer working at the Edinburgh Fringe, and two at the Montreal Fringe. She writes a weekly performing arts column—“The Performant”—for The San Francisco Bay Guardian, and has written for numerous other publications including TBA Magazine, BAYSTAGES, The Quarterly Conversation, and Other Magazine. In 2010 she was awarded a fellowship at the National Endowment for the Arts’ Arts Journalism Institute in Theatre and Musical Theatre. She’s never met a chocolate-covered espresso bean she didn’t like, especially while fringing.
Follow Nicole on Twitter @enkohl!
Chester Gregory has remained a steady Broadway fixture since making his debut in 2003 in Hairspray. A replacement in the role of Seaweed, the Gary, Indiana native began a streak of supporting principal roles that included Terk in Tarzan, Dupree in Cry-Baby, Donkey in the Seattle tryout of Shrek The Musical, and James “Thunder” Early in the Dreamgirls national tour. Now Gregory is back on Broadway playing (Sweaty) Eddie Souther in Sister Act—the noble police officer who sends lounge singer Dolores (Patina Miller) to hide in a convent from her thug pursuers.
Gregory earned raves in 2000 when he starred in Chicago’s Black Ensemble Theater’s production of The Jackie Wilson Story. When the show toured in New York at the Apollo Theater, Hairspray creators Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman were taken by Gregory’s energetic performance and immediately cast him as Seaweed in their hit musical. Since making his Broadway debut, Gregory has earned an adoring fanbase, but his stage journey has had notable low points. Tarzan opened to terrible reviews, Cry-Baby only lasted 68 performances, and the industry buzzed when Gregory was not cast as Donkey in Shrek’s Broadway transfer, after creating the role in Seattle.
Despite these potential setbacks, Gregory plunged forward, giving a well-reviewed performance in the national tour of Dreamgirls and creating a slick R&B/soul solo career. Gregory sat down with Stage Rush in his dressing room at the Broadway Theatre (coincidentally, where the musical about the ogre played) to discuss Sister Act, his history with the Apollo, and what happened with Shrek.
How did Sister Act come into your life?
Sister Act came into my life by way of my son’s mother, Kimberly Herbert Gregory, who is an actress as well [last seen in By The Way, Meet Vera Stark]. She saw the production in London and recommended I audition for it. Read more
It only lasted two months on Broadway, but the cast of the new musical Wonderland was never without water-cooler material. Actors of the show, based on Lewis Carroll’s characters, were handed a drastically revamped script just weeks before preview performances began. The show opened to blushingly bad reviews. The production was completely shut out of the Tony Award nominations, which led to a closing notice. Then during the show’s final performance on May 15—finally some good news—Darren Ritchie proposed to his co-star Janet Dacal during the curtain call. The engagement was caught on YouTube and set fans’ hearts and the Internet ablaze.
Kate Shindle played the Mad Hatter, re-imagined as a villain who represents Alice’s inner demons. Clad in dominatrix-style costumes by Susan Hilferty, Shindle’s image was used in much of the show’s advertising and promotional materials. The former Miss America (1998) sat down with Stage Rush to discuss Wonderland’s rocky run, the much-talked-about proposal, and blowing out her vocal chords for the final performance.
It seems like Darren Ritchie’s proposal to Janet Dacal during the final curtain call closed the Wonderland experience for everyone on an unexpected high note.
I was really glad to have something to celebrate. I was really bummed that the show was closing. As [the show] evolved, I started to wish it was going in a different direction. But at the end of the day, my job as an actor is to look at the words on the page and try to make them work.
Is it difficult to act in a show where the material isn’t working?
In previews, there were times when sections had been rewritten, but they weren’t there yet. There’s an urge to turn to the audience and be like, ‘Guys, I know you know this doesn’t work yet. But I think it’s going to work.’ Yet we’re obliged as actors not to comment on it or wink at the audience. You have to commit to the world. Sometimes you might think something’s not going to work, but if you commit to it enough, sometimes you figure out how to make it work and it becomes your favorite thing in the show.
VIDEO: Kate Shindle on the surprise proposal of Darren Ritchie to Janet Dacal at the final performance of Wonderland.
When Rory O’Malley called his mother in Ohio to tell her the happy news that he had been nominated for a Tony Award for his performance in The Book of Mormon, she suggested that he double check. “She said, ‘Are you sure? How do you know?’” O’Malley recalled. “I said, ‘It was on TV, Mom.’” Despite the momentary disbelief, O’Malley cites sharing the news with his supportive mom as the highlight of his Tony journey. “She certainly worked just as hard, if not harder, on my dreams by being who she is and raising me.” Read more
Tuesday morning, Brad Fleischer woke up to a text message on his phone from a friend that said, “bleep the Tonys.” Fleischer thought, ‘What does that mean?’ Since it was the morning the Tony Award nominations were announced, Fleischer knew it couldn’t be good. Fleischer costars with Robin Williams in Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, which received three Tony nominations—Best Featured Actor in a Play for Arian Moayed, Lighting, and Sound Design. While the Bengal Tiger team is honored with the nominations, it was expected that the show, written by Rajiv Joseph, would be a contender in more competitive categories like Best Play, Best Direction, and also score a Best Leading Actor nomination for Williams. Fleischer, who seemed undaunted by the Tony news, said he was satisfied simply performing the show for its audiences, but noted a desire for the creative time to be recognized.
“I am on stage with the best young actors I’ve ever worked with, and Robin Williams—I have zero to complain about,” Fleischer said. “But it’s hard because we’re all a part of this play and we feel for Rajiv and Moises [Kaufman, the director]. This play wouldn’t exist without them.”
Bengal Tiger, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2010, premiered at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City, California in 2009 with the same cast (minus Williams). It moved to the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles before announcing its Broadway run with the A-list Hollywood star in the title role. Fleischer called the experience a thrilling ride with no regrets. “The Tonys are that weird feeling that makes it seem like a hitch, but if the crowds keep coming, that’s all that matters,” Fleischer said. “We’re doing this for the audience.”
The Tony nominations were not the only significant event to impact the cast of Bengal Tiger this week. The play takes place during U.S. combat in Iraq in 2003. Not surprisingly, when the news broke Sunday night that Osama bin Laden had been killed in Pakistan, like the rest of the world, Fleischer was floored. “Whatever your reaction is to bin Laden’s death, as you start talking about it with your friends, you just start remembering the moments of the war,” Fleischer said. “My first thought was that I am so proud to be a part of this production at this time. You do theater to hopefully be moved by things. I am beyond interested to see how this news is going to affect our performances this week.”
VIDEO: Brad Fleischer talks about working with Robin Williams, the excitement (and reality) of Broadway, and stage stunts going awry.
Nick Adams nearly didn’t play Felicia in Priscilla: Queen of the Desert, the role that has made him a fan favorite on Broadway. Casting directors originally planned to make Adams an understudy for the role of the young, mischievous drag queen. But then Facebook lent a hand.
Fans of Adams created a Facebook group, lobbying for his casting in the role, a la the social media campaign to get Betty White to host Saturday Night Live last year. “The producers actually noticed that people were pushing for me and they paid attention to it,” Adams said. “It’s amazing that the people who have been supportive are able to come celebrate this triumph with me.” It seems the celebration has turned into a never-ending party. Adams has over five thousand followers on Twitter and Priscilla enjoys repeat ticket buyers who have seen the show dozens of times since it opened in March.
Since making his Broadway debut in Chicago in 2006, Adams, 27, has hit the Great White Way running. His second role as Larry in the revival of A Chorus Line in 2008 got him massive attention, although unintended. Michael Riedel of The New York Post reported that TV star Mario Lopez felt upstaged by Adams’ muscular physique, so producers put him in a less revealing costume and moved him to the back of the dance line. The story was harped on in the gossip columns and tabloids for weeks, but soon all Broadway enthusiasts knew Adams’ name. (Adams and Lopez have since laughed off the incident and are reportedly friends.) A brief stint in the ensemble of the critically acclaimed La Cage aux Folles last spring followed, and then Priscilla’s stiletto heels were ready to be filled.
Video: Nick Adams on his emotional connection to Priscilla and award season nerves
Margaret Colin might currently be on hiatus from playing Blair Waldorf’s mother, Eleanor, on Gossip Girl, but not from portraying a sharp-tongued commander of an estate. As Lady Croom in the current Broadway revival of Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia, Colin sheds the Prada wardrobe for a corset as a member of the show’s 19th-century group of ensemble characters. Colin is a native New Yorker who has been a consistent presence on stage and screen since she made her TV debut in 1979 in the soap opera The Edge of Night. In addition to the bossy Eleanor Waldorf, her major work has included Independence Day, The Devil’s Own, and Three Men and a Baby. Colin sat down with Stage Rush to talk about making sense of Arcadia, gasping for breath in her costume, and how Gossip Girl is influencing her performance.
Tom Stoppard was present during your rehearsals for Arcadia. What is he like?
He’s tall, dresses really well, and he’s much more European than he is British. He’s a genius that likes to show off, so what better place for him to be in but the theater? He’s a gentleman. He has a generosity in spirit, and the way he treats women is delicious. We spoke for two days for five hours at a time, and normally with a room full of actors, you’d want to kill yourself, because we want to talk.
While becoming involved in this project, did you find any of it intimidating?
I did not have the sense of being intimidated when we started, but once we got on our feet and rolling, I was very grounded for doing the work. Once more elements were added and we had to do it up to speed, make the connections and try to find the life of the play apart from individual exchanges, then yeah. Lady Croom is kind of outside of that world. She’s really just concerned with her garden and trying to keep control of her world. I just had to jump in and swim as fast as I could. I was not intimidated by that. I was just eager to do the work and find it. The first time I saw this play, I adored Billy [Crudup]. I had a girlfriend, Haviland Morris who played Chloe, and I came to support her. I didn’t have a clue what the play was about. I remembered the turtle, the waltzing at the end, and somebody saying something about underwear—drawers! That’s all I remembered. After reading it, the idea that it was so dense and funny turned me on. It was something I could commit to for all these months and stay intrigued. Read more
For some people, spring means a time of cleaning, rain boots, and preparation for warm weather. For Stephen Kunken, spring means a role in a hot-button, new Broadway play. In April 2007, Kunken had a supporting role in Frost/Nixon, and last April, he starred in Enron, for which his performance earned him a Tony nomination. A year after that rollercoaster run in Enron (the day Kunken received his Tony nomination was the same day the show posted its closing notice), he is starring alongside Kathleen Turner in the new drama High, opening April 19.
As Father Michael Delpapp, Kunken assigns Turner, an ex-alcoholic nun, to council a troubled teenager, played by newcomer Evan Jonigkeit, suffering from intense drug addiction and abuse. The three characters hurdle down a volatile road of secret connections, painful memories, and religious doubt. While Kunken’s character is more reserved than in his Tony-nominated Andy Fastow role from Enron, Father Michael equally pushes the plot with his secrets and questionable actions.
“A play like this is challenging, because when all the other horses are running, I have to do my job, and this guy’s job is to keep it together for as long as possible,” Kunken said. “His part of the story comes out and you see that he’s in free fall in his own way.”
Kunken noted that he had to “catch up” with Turner and Jonigkeit, who had been involved with earlier incarnations of High in Hartford, Cincinnati, and St. Louis. The role of Father Michael had previously been played by [title of show] director Michael Berresse. “I didn’t want to rush my understanding of the play,” Kunken said. “Sometimes, plays are examined like an automobile. ‘Do you the lights work? Check.’ But with this show, we opened the hood and looked at the whole thing. Now we get from points A to B in a much better way.” Read more
Heidi Blickenstaff had planned to be a Mormon this Broadway season. For the past two and a half years, she had been playing Mother Price—Andrew Rannells’ character’s mother—in production workshops of The Book of Mormon. Yet the role that had started out with two songs gradually diminished as the show evolved. A torn calf muscle that sidelined Blickenstaff during the final workshop didn’t help. Soon after, Blickenstaff received a phone call from one of the show’s producers saying that the role was being made even smaller—Blickenstaff amicably decided to bow out. However, another maternal role was unexpectedly around the corner.
“I’m sure that had I been in my early twenties, I would have been devastated,” Blickenstaff said. “It worked out the way it was supposed to. I’ve learned to let go of that stuff. There’s a plan, there’s a road; just walk on it.” That road led to a last minute audition for the replacement cast in The Addams Family for the role of Alice Beineke—the mother of Wednesday’s love interest.
“Oddly, it was not on my radar at all,” Blickenstaff said. “I hadn’t seen the show. My agent said [the casting directors] had seen a lot of people for Alice Beineke and they couldn’t seem to find what they wanted. I knew Carolee Carmello had done the role, and we’re very different vocal types. I thought, ‘This probably isn’t going to go my way, but I’ll go in, say hi, and do my best.’” Fifteen seconds into the audition, Blickenstaff knew it was going well. Director Jerry Zaks walked her out and 20 minutes later, she received a phone call with the offer. “I had no plans to do this, but I was so thrilled for the job,” Blickenstaff said. “You know, times is tough right now [sic]. I couldn’t be more grateful to be here. It was the most wonderful surprise. I’m having a really good time. It’s a really fun role.”
In the show, Alice Beineke, a tightly wound conservative, visits the Addams mansion with her husband from Ohio to meet the family of the daughter with whom their son has fallen in love. Although appalled at what she sees upon her arrival, over the course of her stay, Alice loosens up—although the Addams’ make that decision for her. At the end of Act I, Alice sings a showcasing, belty number called “Waiting.” “It’s all over the place—it’s got everything from opera, to smoky jazz, to really standard musical theater. It’s super schizophrenic.” Read more