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Your passport to life behind the curtain!

His Rage Is My Rage Too

Gretchen Mol & Hari Dhillon

Gretchen Mol & Hari Dhillon

How Hari Dhillon channels the anger and revelations in Broadway’s Disgraced

Welcome to Building Character, our ongoing look at performers and how they create their roles

It’s clearly been a very bad day. Amir (Hari Dhillon) doesn’t so much enter his dusk-lit apartment as storm it, quickly loosening his tight corporate-lawyer tie and pouring himself a stiff drink. His wife Emily (Gretchen Mol) isn’t home, and somehow, that only intensifies his anxious, angry pacing. He stomps out onto the terrace, sips his drink… then hurls his cocktail glass against the wall, shattering it to pieces. He comes back and pours himself another round.

Soon enough, Emily, a visual artist, arrives with some last-minute groceries, reminding Amir that a couple of friends are on their way over for a significant soiree. The guests are Amir’s co-workers and her curator husband, who may have big news about Emily’s inclusion in a new Whitney exhibit. And thus the table is set for a familiar theatrical battle scene: The Dinner Party From Hell. No more glasses will be smashed, but the lives of all the diners will be significantly dented.

Though all four share some blame for the collision, Amir’s rage is the engine that drives the long, volatile third scene of Ayad Akhtar’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Disgraced, now at the Lyceum Theatre. So one obvious question for Dhillon would be: What does he do as an actor to psych himself up before coming onstage?

“The writing is so tight, there’s never a point where I have to stand off to the side and rev up my own personal motives,” says Dhillon, who, though American-born-and-raised, is better known in England as heartthrob doctor Michael Spence on the BBC series Holby City. “The train ride feels kind of inexorable. I never feel like, ‘On Line X, I have to do this.’ ”

In any case, much of the fuel for the evening’s conflict is buried, Dhillon explains. [Read more →]

October 21, 2014   No Comments

What Exactly Is Queens-Style Dance?

A piece by Neville Dance Theatre

A piece by Neville Dance Theatre

The Queensboro Dance Festival celebrates dance companies from across the borough

In dance reputation terms, Manhattan has made its mark with stalwart institutions like American Ballet Theatre and Lincoln Center, as well as 1960s-bred, avant-garde downtown companies. Brooklyn’s dancescape is known for Mark Morris, BAM, and even more experimental flavors. But do audiences ever think of—or even recognize—what could be called “Queens-style” dance?

Karesia Batan thought not, and she decided this was a problem she needed to address. That’s why she’s developed the Queensboro Dance Festival, where from October 20 to 26, audiences from all boroughs can enjoy 18 diverse, Queens-based dance troupes in a rotating bill at The Secret Theatre in Long Island City.

“My inspiration for creating [Queensboro Dance Festival] was the absence of a physical dance community in our borough,” says the Flushing-born and current Long Island City resident. “I knew from programs I’ve seen around Queens, and also from a ton of dancers I’ve worked with, that a lot of us live in Queens. But oddly, we don’t have a cohesive identity like Manhattan or Brooklyn.”

She continues, “In Queens, we don’t have anything that really connects us all. Queens is so, so diverse, from the culture to the food, and because it’s so large it tends to be disjointed and people stay in their own pockets. But a lot of artists live here, and it’s really an artistic hive. So this is my attempt to bring the Queens dance community together and discover: Who else is out there? What does dance from Queens look like? How can we create a platform for Queens dance?” [Read more →]

October 20, 2014   No Comments

Which Tony Awards Performances Do You Watch Over and Over?

Neil Patrick Harris at the 2014 Tony Awards

Neil Patrick Harris at the 2014 Tony Awards

Welcome to Geek Out/Freak Out, where theatre fans get super enthusiastic about things.

This week, Stages editor Mark Blankenship geeks out (via Gchat) with Mark Peikert, executive editor of Backstage

Today’s Topic: Which performances from the Tony Awards do you watch the most on YouTube?

Mark Blankenship: Hey there Mark! I’m glad you could sneak away from your editorial desk at Backstage to spend a few minutes discussing what really matters. Namely, the Tony performances we love watching over and over on YouTube.

Mark Peikert: It doesn’t really take any sneaking away; I’d be watching the Tony Awards on YouTube regardless of whether I was speaking to you or not. What did we DO before YouTube? Well, actually, I know: I taped every Tony Awards telecast and rewatched my favorite numbers over and over again.

Mark B.: Same here! It was a miraculous day when I learned you could set the VCR to SLP and squeeze even more stuff onto a tape. But now that we have the Internet, which performances do you find yourself revisiting?

Mark P.: I think the one I rewatch the most frequently is Bernadette Peters singing “Rose’s Turn”—just before she lost to Hairspray‘s Marissa Jaret Winokur.

Mark B.: An upset that reverberated through my graduate school, I can assure you.

Mark P.: Because when she comes out and sings-screams, “And I’ve got it!” she’s not just in character; she’s telling Michael Riedel and all the other gossip vultures who basically destroyed her in the press that she was up to the challenges of the role. And then she PROVED IT and got a standing ovation AT THE TONY AWARDS.

Mark B.: Oh man. Clearly, this entire conversation is going to result in me spending three hours watching clips later.

Mark P.: Also, I know it’s blasphemy, but I vastly preferred Peters’ Mama Rose to Patti LuPone’s. There I SAID IT!

Mark B.: Be brave! Walk in your truth! I liked them both, but I never saw Peters live. So I feel like I can’t really compare. Meanwhile, I’ve got two performances that tie for my most-viewed ribbon.

The first is Fantasia singing “I’m Here” from The Color Purple.

There really was no good reason for her to perform, since the show wasn’t even eligible that year, but within two seconds, it’s clear that rules and timing do not matter. You can feel her teaching everyone in the room a lesson. The depth of raw feeling in that performance, with the emphatic grunts in especially emotional moments, is sensational. And I loved LaChanze in the role, too, but clearly, Fantasia had her own story to tell. And it seems like she’s wearing braces? Which just makes it better.

Mark P.: Now I’m the one who’s going to lose my day down a rabbit hole!

Mark B.: Oh, if you do… PLEASE watch this clip of Fantasia’s final performance of “I’m Here” on Broadway. The audience basically sets up a tent and has a revival.

I’m wondering if you’ve seen my other selection, which is Michael Jeter and Brent Barrett performing their “drunks at the bar” dance from Grand Hotel? [Read more →]

October 17, 2014   2 Comments

22 Years of John Lennon

John R. Waters channels John Lennon

John R. Waters channels John Lennon

Actor-musician John R. Waters keeps finding ways to investigate Lennon’s legacy

John R. Waters performs differently depending on his mood. He has, after all, been touring his show, Lennon: Through a Glass Onion, on and off since 1992, and he’s got to keep things interesting.

“I’ve been able to do a really nice, friendly show or an angry show or a slightly standoffish show,” says the actor-musician, who captures John Lennon’s essence in the musical, which is currently at the Union Square Theatre. “I can do different moods of a show. That’s a good thing. Live performances are always fluid.”

It helps, too, that Waters isn’t doing an exact imitation. Instead, he aims to provide a lens into Lennon and who he was for the audience.

This sets Through a Glass Onion somewhere between the impressionistic Broadway musical Lennon, which featured a mix of men and women sharing the title role, and straight-ahead Beatles tributes like Rain and Let It Be.

“It’s not the kind of show that I wanted to do,” Waters says of the impersonation-based performances. “I really felt I had to make it an expression of me and my John Lennon, and I’m asking the audience to see their own John Lennon through me. I never met John Lennon, but together the audience and I are exploring John Lennon and what he means.” [Read more →]

October 16, 2014   No Comments

Debt-setting Around the Country

Ben Rimalower in Bad with Money

Ben Rimalower in Bad with Money

Solo artist Ben Rimalower uses his lifelong financial problems for laughs and insight in Bad with Money

In the age of oversharing in life and online, it’s not surprising that many autobiographical solo shows take a no-holds-barred approach. Yet while there are countless one-person pieces about a writer/performer’s struggles with sex, substance abuse, food, or alcohol, there’s one major issue that’s rarely explored: crippling debt. Now chronic confessionalist Ben Rimalower is breaking that taboo by putting his overspending issues in the spotlight in his new solo show Bad with Money.

Best known for his hit 2012 solo play Patti Issues—about his complicated relationships with his gay father and two-time Tony Award-winner Patti LuPone—Bad with Money has a similar, casually comedic vibe with super-serious undertones. Born with what he calls an “addiction to more,” the charming chatterbox admits to some astonishingly reckless behavior in his quest to acquire, including borrowing, embezzling, and even prostitution. Though he had no personal qualms about divulging his unsavory secrets—”I’m really into exposing my garbage to the world in an almost compulsive way,” he says—he was concerned about tackling an ongoing problem. “Everything I talked about in Patti Issues had been resolved in my life,” he explains. “I felt a safe distance from all that strife. In Bad with Money I don’t at all; I’m still in the throes of it. In a way that’s the point of the show, that money issues are tough to fix, but I wanted to make sure I gave the audience a sense of a journey with an ending of some sort.”

Bad with Money, which performs at the Duplex Cabaret Theatre, actually grew out of Patti Issues. “At one point while developing the first show, I was calling it Patti/Daddy/Money because there was a lot of financial stuff in there,” he remembers. “But as I worked on it, I realized that wasn’t what that show was about, and I was left with all this writing about money. Aaron [Mark, the director of both shows] kept asking, ‘So when are we going to do the ‘money show’?”

As Rimalower began working on Bad with Money in earnest, he felt the need to try to contact some of the folks who were negatively impacted by his behavior—especially the ones name-checked in the show. “I know some of the edgier stuff might be difficult for my family and close friends and people I had financial dealings with,” he says. “I’ve tried to do it in a way that feels respectful of their privacy. It’s been stressful figuring out how to navigate all that in the most conscientious moral way, but also making sure I was writing the show I wanted.”
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October 14, 2014   No Comments