by Mark G. Auerbach
Broadway composer and lyricist duo John Kander and Fred Ebb have made prolific contributions to the American musical theatre. Their musical Chicago is one of the longest running shows on Broadway. Their breakthrough musical, Cabaret, is landmark They’re often associated with Liza Minnelli. They wrote her big hit, “New York New York.” They wrote several musicals for her, including the film New York New York, The Act, and Flora the Red Menace, in which Liza made her Broadway debut, and won a Tony Award. Their many hits include Curtains, The Happy Time, Zorba, and Kiss of the Spider Woman. When Fred Ebb passed away, the large catalog of their works in progress ended up being brought to production, which contributed to The Scottsboro Boys.
Cabaret, their 1966 breakthrough musical, comes to the Connecticut Repertory Theater Nutmeg Summer series this summer. Based on Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin Stories, written while Isherwood was living in the 24/7 pre Nazi Berlin, was controversial, but became a major hit. Bob Fosse adapted Cabaret into a motion picture, and Kander and Ebb contributed some new songs to that. When the first Broadway revival of Cabaret was produced, the show featured music from both the original theater production, and the movie. Cabaret is still controversial, particularly in these political times, and the similarities between Weimar Berlin at the Make America Great Again periods is shocking. Laura Michelle Kelly, who was seen in the national tour of Finding Neverland, and in the Barrington Stage production The Royal Family of Broadway, takes on the role of Sally Bowles. That part was originated by Jill Howarth on Broadway, and Liza Minnelli won an Oscar for playing Sally on screen. Cabaret will be performed in Storrs. Cabaret opens July 4. For details: www.crt.uconn.edu
Meanwhile, Playhouse on Park in West Hartford is finishing its 10th anniversary season with a production of kander and Ebb’s The Scottsboro Boys. Written within the structure of a minstrel show, the musical tells the true story of the Scottsboro Boys, a group of black teens, who were falsely accused of rape in the Deep South. Their story, controversial in a non-musical version, is enhanced by the musical score , and the minstrel show setting. The Scottsboro Boys had a brief run on Broadway, staged by Susan Stroman. It’s getting better acclaim in regional theaters, where a serious theme, simple small cast show can thrive. Performances begin June 26.For details, http://playhouseonpark.org/
Hershey Felder brings “Irving Berlin” to Hartford Stage
Hartford Stage will present Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin, a celebration of one of America’s most beloved and prolific songwriters, written and performed by internationally-acclaimed pianist, actor and playwright Hershey Felder, for a limited one-week engagement June 21-30,
Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin marks Felder’s fifth show at Hartford Stage. He previously appeared at Hartford Stage in his one-man shows Our Great Tchaikovsky in 2017, George Gershwin Alone in 2004, and Monsieur Chopin in 2006. The pianist, actor, playwright, composer, producer, and director also adapted and directed The Pianist of Willesden Lane, which performed at Hartford Stage in 2015 and 2018.
Directed by longtime collaborator Trevor Hay (Our Great Tchaikovsky), Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin is the musical story of an immigrant boy who gave a country its voice. Reflecting upon Berlin’s humble beginnings as the child of immigrants to his rise as one of America’s iconic songwriters, the production features several of the composer’s most recognizable songs, including “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” “Always,” “Blue Skies,” “God Bless America,” “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” “There’s No Business like Show Business,” and “White Christmas.”
Felder has played nearly 5,000 performances of his self-created solo productions at some of the world’s most prestigious theatres and has consistently broken box office records. Maestro, Felder’s tribute to the life and work of composer-conductor Leonard Bernstein, was recognized as a Top 10 Play and Musical by TIME magazine. For details, www.hartfordstage.org.
Lucinda Kidder, co-founder and artistic director of the Silverthorne theater, currently based in Greenfield, has announced her retirement retirement at the end of the 2019 season. Kidder, a Northfield Mount Hermon graduate, and David Rowland, a a former theatre faculty member at the school, launched Silverthorne as a professional theatre company, in the school’s Rhodes Art Center in 2014. Silverthorne moved to Greenfield, where it produces plays, musicals, staged readings and other theatrical events, which attract people to Franklin County for Innovative theater.
Elizabeth Stanley, who originated the role of Claire in Barrington Stage’s revival of On The Town, which later moved to Broadway, will star on Broadway in a new musical, Jagged Little Pill, inspired by the music of Alanis Morissette. Jagged Little Pill premiered last summer at the ART Theater in Cambridge.
Magic Mike, a musical stage version of the movie, was scheduled to have its world premiere at the Colonial Theater in Boston this fall. Creative differences forced the producers to cancel the run.
James Barry, local musician, actor, and designer, has launched a new website. Barry starred in productions at Chester Theatre and Berkshire Theatre Group last summer. He returns to Berkshire Theatre Group as a director this season, staging the musical Working. He is also returning to Chester as an actor. For details: https://www.jamesbarrystuff.com/
Mark G. Auerbach studied theatre at American University and the Yale School of Drama. He’s worked for arts organizations and reported on theatre for newspapers and radio. Mark produces and hosts ArtsBeat Radio for 89.5fm/WSKB.