News: Performances Begin Tonight for “Now the Cats with Jewelled Claws”

I am proud to announce that the New York premiere of Now the Cats With Jewelled Claws by Tennessee Williams and directed by yours truly Jonathan Warman, will begin performances tonight  Thursday, October 27, at 10pm, at The Club at La MaMa, (74A E 4th Street between 2nd Avenue and Bowery). Direct from a sold-out run at the 2011 Provincetown Tennessee Williams Festival,  Now the Cats With Jewelled Claws will play October 27-November 13, 2011. Now the Cats With Jewelled Claws plays Thursday through Saturday at 10pm, with a Sunday performance at 5:30pm, at The Club at La MaMa, 74A East Fourth Street at Second Avenue.  General admission tickets are $18; student/senior tickets are $13. For tickets and information, visit or phone 212-475-7710.

Society matrons and street hustlers intent on enjoying a cocktail-laden lunch break into song-and-dance numbers as apocalypse approaches. The production features John Waters phenomenon Mink Stole, as society lady Madge, together with Everett Quinton, a core member of Charles Ludlam’s Ridiculous Theatrical Company, as a lecherous and prophetic restaurant manager.The remainder of the cast of Now the Cats With Jewelled Claws is Erin Markey (NIGHT MOTHER with Cole Escola and Kenny Mellman, Jeffery and Cole Casserole, and her solo musical, Puppy Love: A Stripper’s Tail); Regina Bartkoff (Love, Medea, Struck/Break); Joseph Keckler (Stuck Elevator at the Sundance Theater Lab, John Moran’s experimental opera Saori’s Birthday, You Will Experience Silence, Jobz, Human Jukebox, A Voice and Nothing More); Max Steele (You Will Experience Silence, Jeffery and Cole Casserole); and Charles Schick (The Strangest Kind of Romance, Back Bog Beast Bait , Humanity at The Living Theatre, Love, Medea).

Mink Stole’s career as an actor began nearly 45 years ago, when she was introduced to John Waters in Provincetown in the summer of 1966.  She has since appeared in 13 films directed by Mr. Waters, creating such roles as Connie Marble in Pink Flamingos, Taffy Davenport in Female Trouble, and Dottie Hinkle in Serial Mom.  Among her non-John Waters roles, she has played Natasha Lyonne’s mom in Jamie Babbit’s But I’m a Cheerleader, and a bible-addled death row inmate in Steve Balderson’s Stuck!  In last year’s All About Evil, directed by Joshua Grannell, she was Evelyn, the too-talkative librarian, and this year she continued her recurring role as Aunt Helen in installments Four and Five of the popular Eating Out film series by Q. Alan Brocka. On stage, Mink was lucky to have the chance to work on two shows with the late, great Charles Ludlam, Love’s Tangles Web, andSecret Lives of the Sexists.  She worked with the legendary Cockettes in the early 1970s.  More recently, she appeared as Autolycus in the L.A. Women’s Shakespeare Company’s production of The Winter’s Tale, a role which led her to her new passion, music.  With her Wonderful Band (West Coast and East Coast editions) for the last few years she has been performing a cabaret act, Do Re MiNK, and her Christmas show.  She is currently working on her first CD.

Everett Quinton has recently appeared in The Witch of Edmonton at Red Bull Theater, as FlorenceWexler in Devil Boys from Beyond at New World Stages, as Dr. Caius in The Merry Wives of Windsorat the Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, D.C., and as Jacob Marley in The McCarter Theatre’s A Christmas Carol. Everett is also a member of Cleveland State University’s Summer Stages where he appeared as Madam Rosepettle in O Dad, Poor Dad, Mama’s Hung You in the Closet and I’m Feeling So Sad. Everett previously appeared at Red Bull Theater in Women Beward Women (2008 CallawayAward, Best Actor). Everett was a member of The Ridiculous Theatrical Company and served as its Artistic Director from 1987-1997. He has appeared in Charles Ludlam’s MedeaThe Secret Lives of the SexistsSalammboGalasThe Artificial Jungle and the original production of The Mystery ofIrma Vep (Obie and Drama Desk Award). He was also seen in Georg Osterman’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Brother Truckers (Bessie Award); Richard and Michael Simon’s Murder at Minsing Manor(Drama League Award); as well as in his own plays: Carmen, Linda, MovielandA Tale of Two Cities(Obie Award), and Call Me Sarah Bernhardt. Everett has directed revivals of Charles Ludlam’s Big Hotel, Camille, Der Ring Gott Farblonjet and How to Write a Play. He also directed Brother Truckers(in New York, London and as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival), Carmen, Sebastian Stewart’sUnder the Kerosene Moon, as well as The Beaux Stratagem at the Yale Rep and Treasure Island at theOmaha Theatre for Young People. Film and TV credits include Natural Born KillersBig Business,Deadly IllusionForever Lulu, “Miami Vice” and “Law & Order.”

Director Jonathan Warman’s New York theatre credits include Andru’s Head at NeoNeo Theatre  (new musical, featuring Brooke Elliott  from Lifetime’s “Drop Dead Diva”),  J. Stephen Brantley’sStruck / Break (Emerging Artists Theatre), American Fabulous (NeoNeo Theatre). International credits: Dreams Reoccurring (Clubul CFR, Iasi, Romania and Nu Festival, Timisoara, Romania),Break (Dublin Gay Theatre Festival). Regional: Murray Mednick’s Heads (Omaha Magic Theatre),The Strangest Kind of Romance (2009 Provincetown Tennessee Williams Festival, with national tour). Notable assistant credits: Stage Directors & Choreographers Society 50th Anniversary Gala (Assistant to SDC Board President Karen Azenberg), Three Sisters (La MaMa ETC, dir. Richard Schechner),Rosencrantz si Guildenstern sunt Morti (Teatru National Vasile Alecsandri, Iasi, Romania, dir. Ovidiu Lazar). He has served as Artistic Director of NeoNeo Theatre Company and Literary Manager for Access Theater, and is conceiver of White City, a new musical with music and lyrics by Pete Townshend of The Who, currently in development.Now the Cats With Jewelled Claws has choreography by Liz Piccoli (Erotic BroadwayCrazy Sexy Disco) and original music by Trystan Trazon (Here Come the Alligators, The Animal Cracker Box,  EDIT (Kafkafest @ Columbia University)).

The scenic design for Now the Cats With Jewelled Claws is by Jonathan Collins (GreenwoodAwesome Allie, associate set designer for Lysistrata Jones  and Everyday Rapture); costume design is by Karl Ruckdeschel (Vital Theatre’s The Country Wife, associate costume designer on Rock of Agesand Avenue Q); lighting design is by Yuriy Nayer (The Mire, Colored People’s Time, assistant designer on The Shaggs  and The Night Watcher).

The stage manager is Allison Carroll; dramaturg is Thomas Keith; assistant director is Jonathan Chang; production consultant is Adam Weinstock.

La MaMa’s 50th season has been titled “Homecomings” as it will be comprised of more 40 productions by a wide array of artists whose work has been performed at La MaMa through the years, along with resident and international companies, and emerging artists who will make La MaMa their ‘home’ for the first time.

La MaMa is a remarkable arts institution with a world-wide reputation for producing cutting-edge work in theater, dance, performance art, and music. Founded in 1961 by theater pioneer and legend, Ellen Stewart, La MaMa has produced and presented more than 3,000 theatrical productions to date and is a vital part of the fabric of cultural life in New York City and around the world.

La MaMa provides a supportive home for artists and takes risks on unknown work. Artists such as Sam Shepard, Lanford Wilson, Philip Glass, Robert Wilson, Harvey Fierstein, Blue Man Group, David and Amy Sedaris, -and others whose names you haven’t heard of yet – began their careers at La MaMa.

International artists introduced to America by La MaMa include Tadeusz Kantor, Andrei Serban, Kazuo Ohno and, more recently, the acclaimed Belarus Free Theatre.La MaMa has been honored with more than 30 OBIE Awards, dozens of Drama Desk and Bessie Awards, and, in 2006, Ellen Stewart was recognized with a special TONY Award for “Excellence in the Theatre.”

Now the Cats With Jewelled Claws plays Thursday through Saturday at 10pm, with a Sunday performance at 5:30pm, at The Club at La MaMa, 74A East Fourth Street at Second Avenue.  General admission tickets are $18; student/senior tickets are $13. For tickets and information, or phone 212-475-7710.

CD Review: Michael Feinstein – The Sinatra Project, Vol. II: The Good Life

Michael Feinstein opens The Sinatra Project, Vol. II: The Good Life with a surprising bang. He swings “Thirteen Women” a brazenly heterosexual, even male chauvinist fantasy about a man and his harem (it makes a little more sense if you know that Feinstein first discovered the song in a version by Ann-Margret called “Thirteen Men”). It’s a clear signal that the Sinatra Feinstein is paying tribute to here is the boozy, smug, Rat Pack Sinatra of the 1960s, rather than the sophisticated 1950s songster of the first volume. As with that first volume, Feinstein is once again paired with producer-arranger Bill Elliott who leads a 30-piece orchestra, and Elliot delivers a sound that is simultaneously lush and hard swinging. It’s all very Pan Am, very Mad Men, and a lot of fun in that vein.

To purchase, click here.

Review: Freud’s Last Session

Mark St. Germain’s play imagines a meeting between Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis in September 1939 on the eve of WWII – and only two weeks before Freud chose to take his own life to end his battle with oral cancer. Freud’s Last Session is not the most innovative or sexy play, but it achieves a very rare and engaging mix of intellectual debate and wry humor.

St. Germain has given these men some fairly canned speeches systematically setting forth their opinions on the existence of God, love, sex, and the meaning of life. I don’t mind this, since I imagine that Freud and Lewis had crafted such speeches themselves, and if they did indeed have the meeting that the playwright imagines for them, they would have trotted them out in much the way he portrays.

Certainly, the debate St. Germain gives them is plenty meaty and rich. Lewis, expecting to be called on the carpet for satirizing Freud in a recent book, soon realizes Freud has a much more significant agenda. Freud, a convinced and thoughtful atheist, grills Lewis, a former atheist who converted to Christianity, about his views on God…and humor.

Freud and Lewis are committed to their ideas, but are agile enough debaters to treat their exchange like a fencing match, with all of the flash and unexpected reversals that suggests. While intellectually deep, there’s no gut-wrenching drama in their debates (that comes from the world outside as air raid sirens sound). This is academia as it should be, not a blood sport but an arena where opposing ideas are respected but reasons for disagreement are fully thought out.

You don’t need to have a doctoral degree to enjoy Freud’s Last Session; the playwright has laid things out clearly enough that any reasonably well-educated person can follow what’s going on. But there’s not doubt that the primary pleasure of this play is the way it provokes your own thoughts on the subjects that Lewis and Freud cover. Good, clean, smart fun.

For tickets, click here.

Review: The Mountaintop

Katori Hall is the kind of young playwright I love, and I love that this young fire-starter has a play on Broadway with movie stars and direction by Kenny Leon, a guy who has done tremendous work with August Wilson’s plays. With creative stuff like this on Broadway by a young playwright, the theatrical future looks a little brighter this season!

The Mountaintop is a kaleidoscopic look at Martin Luther King Jr. We find King (Samuel Jackson) on April 3, 1968, the night before he was assassinated. Exhausted, Dr. King retires to his room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis while a storm rages outside. Peculiar maid Camae (Angela Bassett), who is not what she at first appears, delivers room service, and forces King to confront both his past and his legacy.

Hall presents King in a very human light, with smelly feet and sinfully lusting eyes. However, after starting out in a realist vein that borders on docudrama, Hall introduces turn after turn of theatrical magic that puts King in a spiritual context which surprises even him. Sitcom-y one second and profoundly mystical the next, The Mountaintop plays with style with a very nearly reckless abandon. Sometimes this recklessness falls flat, as with anachronistic jokes about telephones that are neither funny nor insightful. More often, though, Hall takes exciting risks that pay off big time.

Bassett is more successful in the more dramatic and magical moments of The Mountaintop – while she hits the majority of her comic marks, she sometimes oversells a joke that would be funnier if delivered simply. Hall has written Dr. King somewhat more realistically, and Jackson plays him with a quiet dignity and unassumingly flawed humanity.

The Mountaintop exceeded my expectations (most of the time, anyway), which is not something that happens very often with plays on Broadway. Hall displays fantastic imagination and creativity here, and I can’t wait to see what she dreams up next!

For tickets, click here.

Review: Man & Boy

This one took me by surprise. British writer Terrence Rattigan was a closeted homosexual who was known for his well-constructed, understated and intelligent dramas. About half-way through Act I of Man & Boy the action takes a decidedly gay turn that comes out of left field (marvelously played by Frank Langella as ruthless financier Gregor Antonescu). This play, while full of subtleties, is far from understated – in fact it something of a gripping, suspenseful thriller.

Man & Boy is set in 1934 New York, at the height of the Great Depression (Rattigan wrote the play in 1963, which explains the explicitness of its gay twist). Antonescu’s finance business teeters on the brink of collapse. Gregor tracks down his estranged son Basil (Adam Driver) to use his Greenwich Village apartment to make a company-saving deal.

The play hits a number of nerves in these days of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement. I think it’s quite a good play, stronger and certainly more intelligent than many recent works, and encourages me to look more deeply into Rattigan’s plays (I had never read or seen one before). Frank Langella is always a compelling reason to see whatever he’s in, and that’s certainly true here, where he gives a thoughtful, measured – but still marvelously mannered – performance.

Langella is ably aided by the supporting cast, Driver in particular, as well Zach Grenier as a business partner with a secret or two up his own sleeve. Director Maria Aitken (best known on these shores for The 39 Steps) manages the play’s intricate action deftly. Based on everything I knew about Rattigan, I was prepared to dismiss him without a second thought – this fine production of this intriguing play has completely changed my mind.

For tickets, click here.

Review: Clint Holmes

I know almost nothing about Clint Holmes, aside from a passing familiarity with his 1973 hit “Playground in My Mind”. I was very pleased to find, seeing his show “Remembering Bobby Short” at the Cafe Carlyle, that Holmes combines a rich, warm truly muscular voice with casual elegance.

Holmes has been a Las Vegas performer for some time, but exhibits none of the negative qualities you associate with Vegas. He only has the good Vegas stuff: He is nothing if not sincere and authentic, and possesses a magnetic stage presence and a practiced but subtle showmanship that underlines what’s important in the show without overselling it.

The show itself is a heartfelt and well-researched musical tribute to Bobby Short, who appeared at the Carlyle for over thirty-five years (1968-2004), in the process becoming synonymous with New York sophistication. Holmes intersperses his song interpretations – which are reminiscent of Short without merely impersonating him – with the story of Short’s amazing life.

Holmes captures the full range of qualities that made Short a New York legend, from his roots as a “saloon singer” (best represented by Holmes’s raucous medley of the trashier side of Short’s repetoire: “Gimme a Pigfoot (And a Bottle of Beer)” and “Truckin’”), to his more storied championship of the Great American Songbook (mostly represented with generous helpings of Cole Porter, a personal favorite of mine).

Short received wide fame in the late 1970s for singing in a TV ad (that also featured “Charlie’s Angels” star Shelly Hack) for the Revlon perfume “Charlie”. Holmes, tongue firmly in cheek, gives a rousing rendition of the jingle, that he then turns into a touching witty tribute to Short himself. At the other end of the spectrum Holmes finds the heartbreak in Rodgers & Hart’s “It Never Entered My Mind” more than any other singer I’ve heard before.

Holmes is backed by a group of crack musicians, some of whom had worked with Short. All in all, a class act, and first-rate cabaret.

For tickets, click here.

CD Review: Death Takes A Holiday

Death Takes a Holiday (music and lyrics by Maury Yeston) draws on Albert Casella’s 1924 Italian play La Morte in Vacanza about the Grim Reaper (Kevin Early) taking human form to spend a weekend at a lakeside villa where he falls in love with one Grazia Lamberti (Jill Paice). Yeston’s lyrics are smart, his pop-operatic music lush, especially enrobed as it is in Larry Hochman’s luxuriant orchestrations. I didn’t see the show in its Off-Broadway run, but I heard that it was beautiful but somewhat static. I can hear that from the score – beauty by no means guarantees dramatic power, in fact it often gets in the way. That’s less of a problem when you enjoy a score’s purely musical charm, which Death Takes A Holiday has in abundance. On CD it’s a delicious, somewhat relaxing experience, full of melody and musical intelligence. Not totally to my own taste, but undeniably a pleasurable listen.

To purchase, click here.

Review: Betty Buckley

Betty Buckley’s newest cabaret act “Ah Men! The Boys of Broadway” is a well balanced and pleasing evening, that just gets better as it goes along. On opening night, when I saw it, Betty Lynn complained that it’s a bit unfair that the first night of a cabaret run is the night all the critics come – it’s also the performer’s first time performing it in front of an audience of any kind.

Betty needn’t have been concerned, though. She’s in very strong voice, and this evening of men’s songs from Broadway shows is a lot of fun. This sort of showtune gender-bending has become somewhat commonplace after the runaway success of Broadway Backwards, but Buckley goes a bit beyond the usual conceit, making a good case for actual gender-blind casting.

Buckley and her pianist/arranger Christian Jacob have done a terrific job of balancing ballads and uptempo numbers. However, somewhat unusually for Buckley, who can be one of the most profound and searching song interpreters around, not all of her interpretations are revelatory.

She plays Leonard Bernstein’s “Maria” very straight, singing it beautifully, but barely scratching the surface of what the song means. This from a woman who found shades and meanings in the Beatles’ “Blackbird” that not even Sir Paul McCartney himself could have imagined.

A little over halfway though the show, though, she sings a whip-smart, very funny specialty number about cross-gender casting called “A Hymn to Her”. From that point onward, she knocks every song out of the ballpark. Jacob’s arrangement of “Hey There” is truly dramatic and luscious, and Betty brings out the tender longing at the song’s heart like no-one before her. In general, Buckley’s return engagement at Feinstein’s finds her in fine frisky fettle!

For tickets, click here.