Monday, August 3, 2015

Theater Review: I'll Eat You Last, A Chat with Sue Mengers

Karen Murphy. Photo: Courtesy of TheaterWorks
I’ll Eat You Last Doesn’t Whet the Appetite
By Lauren Yarger
Any idea of who Sue Mengers is, besides being the person with whom we are invited to chat during the presentation of I’ll Eat You Last at TheaterWorks?

She was one of the powerhouse talent agents in Hollywood during the 1960s, ’70s and early ’80s and represented names such as Julie Harris, Gene Hackman and Barbra Streisand.

Women weren’t a force in the agent industry back then (and arguably still aren’t), so the smart, funny, foul-mouthed Mengers was quite a sensation. Playwright John Logan (Red) fills 80 minutes with Mengers chatting away about her experiences with some of these star names while lamenting her decline in the industry as she awaits a call from Barbra who fired her that day.

Karen Murphy (who recently was seen in Goodspeed’s Guys and Dolls) plays the two-fisted-smoking, cursing “maker-of-stars” who jokes that the title of her memoir should be called “I’ll Eat You Last, A Cannibal Love Story.”

“If you can’t say something nice about someone . . . come sit by me,” the agent laughs.

The problem is that we don’t buy Murphy in the role. She seems too nice to convince us that she really would poach clients from other agents or block a producer in his driveway until he gives her client a shot at a big movie role. She was more convincing, and impressed a number of us, as the uptight Salvation Army general in Guys and Dolls.

Director Don Stephenson (who also directed that Goodspeed production of Guys and Dolls) never helps Murphy develop the necessary offensive, over-the-top personality which seems as uncomfortable for her as Costume Designer Gregory A. Poplyk’s loose-fitting kaftan which she constantly adjusts. When the play ran on Broadway in 2013, the main box office drive came from seeing Bette Midler in the role. If anyone can pull off over-the-top, it’s this actress and she got a lot of laughs, many of them just because of the way she delivered a line.

There are a few laughs here, to be sure. An  audience member is selected to come up onto John Coyne’s living room set highlighted by the Hollywood sign in the background and this generates some fun a couple of times too.

Truth is, though, that the play is most interesting if you know who the late Mengers was. Details about her personal life are few, though she does tell us about learning how to make friends as a young immigrant child who didn’t speak English and includes a few memories of her beginnings in the entertainment industry as a secretary. The offerings aren’t enough to give us a full picture of her motivations or how she was able to pick a star out of the crowd, however.

If you’re not a Sue Mengers’ fan, you still might find this play interesting if you really are excited about celebrity gossip from decades ago or tidbits about what life behind the scenes really were like in the heyday of Hollywood.  If not, I’ll Eat You Last likely will fail to whet your appetite.

Catch it through Aug, 23 at TheaterWorks, 233 Pearl St., Hartford. Performances are Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays: 7:30 pm; Fridays and Saturdays: 8 pm; Weekend Matinees at 2:30 pm. Tickets $15-$65; 860-527-7838; www.theaterworkshartford.org.

Special dates:
  • Pay What You Can Wednesday Aug. 5
  • Talk Back Tuesdays Aug 4, 11 and 18

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Big Events Coming Up at Mark Twain House

A Conversation with Author R. A Salvatore
Wednesday, Sept. 9, at 7:30 pm


As one of the fantasy genre's most successful authors, R.A. Salvatore enjoys an ever-expanding and tremendously loyal following.

His books regularly appear on best-seller lists and have sold more than 10,000,000 copies. He is the author of more than forty novels and more than a dozen New York Times best sellers, including "The Two Swords."

Salvatore's first published novel, "The Crystal Shard" in 1988, became the first volume of the acclaimed Icewind Dale Trilogy and introduced an enormously popular character, the dark elf Drizzt Do'Urden. Since that time, Salvatore has published numerous novels for each of his signature multi-volume series including The Dark Elf Trilogy, Paths of Darkness, The Hunter's Blades Trilogy and The Cleric Quintet. 


Tickets are $25, and $20 for members of The Mark Twain House and Museum. There will be a VIP reception at 6 pm for $65 which includes premium seating, food and beverages, and a meet-and-greet with the author.  Tickets: 860-280-3130 or click here.


A Spoken Word Performance 
by Henry Rollins
Tuesday, Sept. 15 at 7:30 pm

Henry Rollins is a multi-talented man--he's a musician, writer, journalist, publisher, actor, television and radio host, spoken word artist, comedian, and activist. At The Mark Twain House and Museum, he'll be performing a spoken word show.  It's sure to be topical, funny, thoughtful, and unforgettable. 

Plus, it will be one of only a few shows that he is doing this year and the only one east of Chicago.

After performing for the short-lived Washington DC-based band State of Alert in 1980, Rollins fronted the California hardcore punk band Black Flag from August 1981 until mid-1986. Since Black Flag disbanded, Rollins has hosted numerous radio and television shows. He had recurring dramatic roles in the second season of Sons of Anarchy, in the final seasons of the animated series The Legend of Korra as Zaheer, and has also had roles in several films. Rollins has also campaigned for various political causes in the United States, including promoting LGBT rights, World Hunger Relief and an end to war.  

Tickets are $45, and $40 for members of The Mark Twain House & Museum. Tickets: 860-280-3130 or click here.

A Conversation with Stuart Woods
Tuesday, Oct. 20, at 7 pm

Stuart Woods is the author of 54 novels, including the Stone Barrington and Holly Barker series. 
The last 39 of them have been New York Times best-sellers. 

He is an avid private pilot, flying his own jet on two book tours a year. His newest novel, "Foreign Affairs," will be released one week before his visit. Learn more about the author at www.stuartwoods.com.

Tickets are $30, and $25 for members of The Mark Twain House & Museum. There will be a VIP reception at 5:30 p.m. for $75 which includes premium seating, food and beverages, and a meet-and-greet with the author.  Tickets: 860- 280-3030 or click here.

The Mark Twain House and Museum goes into hyper drive with MARK MY WORDS V...IN A GALAXY FAR, FAR AWAY! In anticipation of the release of STAR WARS VII: THE FORCE AWAKENS, we have assembled a lineup of authors that write in the Star Wars Expanded Universe: novels, comics, reference books, children's books, and graphic novels.

With more then 100 Star Wars titles between them, JASON FRY, JOHN OSTRANDER, MARK STACKPOLE, RYDER WINDHAM and TIMOTHY ZAHN have staked out the farthest reaches of the Outer Rim with adventures and characters from the films and of their own. Join us for the MARK MY WORDS author panel and "Jabba-size" your experience with our VIP DEATH STAR DISCO and DESSERTS AFTER-PARTY at The Mark Twain House's Webster Museum Center. It's going to be more fun than an Ewok celebration!

With the Immanuel Congregational Church's beautiful neo-renaissance architecture serving as the backdrop for this unforgettable night, audiences will laugh, learn, and be inspired by these five men that have helped shape the face one of the greatest sci-fi franchises of all time.

Advance tickets are $35 through Nov. 1. After, tickets will be $45. There will be a VIP ticket available for $85 that includes premium seating at the event, a poster signed by authors, and the DEATH STAR DISCO and DESSERTS after-party in the Webster Bank Museum Center at the Mark Twain House and Museum. Call 860-280-3130 or click here.

Monday, July 20, 2015

La Cage aux Folles -- Goodspeed


James Lloyd Reynolds and Cedric Leiba, Jr. Photo: © Diane Sobolewski

The Best of Times Really is Now, Making the Plot of this Musical a Bit Dated
By Lauren Yarger

“Look over there
Look over there
Somebody cares that much

“I found a combination
That works like a charm
I'm simply a man
Who walks on the stars
Whenever it's Anne on my arm

“The best of times is now
As for tomorrow, well, who knows?
Who knows? Who knows?”

These parts of La Cage aux Folles’ music and lyrics have been running through my head nonstop since I saw the show at Goodspeed last week. It’s a testament to Jerry Herman’s skills as a music and lyrics writer and evidence of why the somewhat out-of-date show gets so many regular productions in theaters across the country every year. (Our last visit was a very good production at Ivoryton Playhouse last season.)

With a book by Harvey Fierstein, based on Jean Poiret’s 1973 play of the same name, the original 1983 Broadway production won the Tonys for Best Musical, Best Score and Best Book. La Cage aux Folles is the only musical which has won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical twice. Here at Goodspeed, demand has extended the production with six additional performances through Sept. 10.

And it is the score that is the main attraction. The silly plot about hiding a gay relationship from people who might be offended by it hardly seems relevant following the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on same-sex marriage.

Georges (a somewhat awkward James Lloyd Reynolds) runs La Cage aux Folles (literally translated: Cage of Mad Women), a drag queen nightclub in St. Tropez with his partner, Albin (Jamison Stern) as Zaza, as the star attraction. George’s son, John Michel (dreamy baritone Conor Ryan), the result of a one-night stand, announces that Anne (Kristen Martin) is the love of his life and that he is getting married.  There is one problem, however. Anne is the daughter of Edouard Dindon (Mark Zimmerman), an ultra-conservative politician who heads the "Tradition, Family and Morality Party" and who has pledged to close down immoral clubs like La Cage.

John Michel doesn’t exactly approve of Albin’s flamboyant and transvestite lifestyle, so he asks Georges to “uninvite” him when Anne, her father and mother (Stacey Scotte) come to visit. He wants his birth mother to pose as Georges’ wife – a notion which hurts Albin, who has been a “mother” to John Michel since he was a young boy.

Unpersuaded by Georges’ pleas – the moving song “Look Over There” -- John Michel forges ahead with the deception, redecorating the couple’s apartment over the club (done in cardboard-looking, pink walls by designer Michael Schweikardt) with pictures of Jesus to win Dindon’s approval. John Michel also insists that their house help, Jacob (a very funny Cedric Leiba, Jr), who has hopes of being able to star in the drag-club act himself one day, dress and behave like a butler instead of the high-heel, flamboyant-female attired maid he usually embraces.

When Jon Michel’s birth mother bails at the last minute, Albin steps into a dress and assumes the role of George’s wife for the meeting with the Dindons at a chic restaurant run by Jacqueline (an excellent Sue Mathys who lights up the stage whenever she is on it). As you might guess, the deception is discovered with ensuing chaos.

This production, directed by Rob Ruggiero, drags a bit (no pun intended), especially at the start. The devotion between Georges and Albin isn’t evident. Stern seems the most comfortable in his role and particularly enjoys interacting with audience members as Zaza. He delivers on the Act-One closer “I Am What I Am.”

Also confusing is the final scene when the Dindons need to make an escape in disguise to avoid the press (the staging looks like they already have captured the politician with their cameras). There may be a little too much reliance here, on the assumption that we have seen this show numerous times and know what is going on.

The show kept feeling dated to me. With sweeping changing opinion about gay marriage, this whole plot seems irrelevant. Would anyone embracing this lifestyle feel the need to go out of his way to impress a conservative, anti same-sex-marriage politician these days? Unlikely. Dindon is the French word for turkey, after all. The meaning might have needed to be disguised back in the early 1980s, but not so much now, and I would think John Michel would just tell Dindon to get on board with what is considered politically correct or kiss his political career goodbye. Ah, but then there would be no show.

Choreography by Ralph Perkins ranges from tap to ballet and is well executed. It offers a few welcome surprises (for those of us who HAVE seen this show numerous times) even as he sends groups out in small numbers to accommodate the tiny Goodspeed stage. The costumes by Michael McDonald are colorful, glittery and clever. The rest of the entirely all-male production team:  John Lasiter (lighting design which loses some actors when they come into the house) Jay Hilton (sound design) and Mark Adam Rampmeye (hair and wig design). Michael O’Flaherty (with assistant F. Wade Russo) directs the catchy music with many refrains that keeps playing in your mind long after the final curtain.


Shining here are Mathys with her stage presence and Leiba, who has the audience in stitches when his character throws some attitude.

La Cage entertains through Sept. 10 at Goodspeed Opera House, 6 Main St., East Haddam. Performances are Wednesday at 2 and 7:30 pm; Thursday at 7:30 pm. (with select performances at 2 pm), Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 3 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm (with select performances at 6:30 pm. Tickets $27-$78.50  860 873-8668; www.goodspeed.org.

The ensemble:
Chris Heitikko, Darius Barnes, Michael Bullard,  Alexander Cruz, Wade Dooley, Barbara McCulloh, Erin M. Kernion,  Alex Ringler, Nick Silverio, Nic Thompson , Brett-Marco Glauser and Emily Grace Tucker.

Events:
  • Lady Katharine Lunch Cruise: Enjoy summer on the Connecticut River on Wednesday, July 29. Add a leisurely cruise and sumptuous buffet aboard the Lady Katharine to your theater ticket. Choose 11:30 am lunch cruise ($42) or a 5 pm dinner cruise ($47) to pair with either the 2 pm or 7:30 pm performance. 
  • Meet the Cast: Take part in a lively discussion with the cast after the Thursday evening performances on July 23, Aug. 6 and 20. Meet the Cast events are free with a ticket to that evening’s performance. 
  • Friday Dinner Theatre Package: Includes dinner at the Gelston House (located next door to the Opera House) and a ticket to the 8 pm performance for $82.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Connecticut Arts Connections

Trolley Tour of Historic Federal Hill, Bristol, CT
Tour Bristol’s Historic Federal Hill Sunday, Aug. 30. A 90-minute trolley driving tour, presented by the American Clock and  Watch Museum, Bristol Historical Society, and Bristol Federal Hill Association, will be a fully narrated trip around one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods. 
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this area was home to many of the city’s important clockmakers, industrialists, and civic leaders. Hear stories of the individuals who owned these homes as well as the architect responsible for many of the homes’ designs, Joel Tiffany Case. 

After the tour, stay for a free concert on the Federal Hill Green, featuring the classic rock band Cajun Ray and the Steamers. The trolley tour will be conducted rain or shine, but in case of inclement weather, updates for the concert will be posted on bristolfederalhill.org

Tours begin in the parking lot of the First Congregational Church on Maple Street and will be offered at 1, 2:15, and 3:30 pm. Reservations are required. To purchase tickets ($25 each non-refundable), call the American Clock and Watch Museum at 860-583-6070. For additional information, consult the museum’s website clockandwatchmuseum.org.

Hello! Book of Mormon Rings the Doorbell at the Shubert

National Tour Company. (c) Joan Marcus, 2014
Single tickets for The Book of Mormon, winner of nine Tony Awards® including Best Musical, at the Shubert Theatre, New Haven, go on sale Friday, July 24 at 9:30 am.

Tickets can be purchased at www.shubert.com; 203-562-5666, Box Office, 247 College St., New Haven.

The Book of Mormon features book, music and lyrics by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone. Parker and Stone are the four-time Emmy Award-winning creators of the landmark animated series, “South Park.” Tony Award-winner Lopez is co-creator of the long-running hit musical comedy, Avenue Q.  The musical is choreographed by Tony Award-winner Casey Nicholaw (Monty Python’s Spamalot, The Drowsy Chaperone) and is directed by Nicholaw and Parker. 

The Book of Mormon

DATE:            Oct. 13–18

DAY/TIME:   Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday 7:30pm; Friday 8 pm; Saturday 2 and 8 pm’ Sunday 1 and 6:30 pm

PRICES:         $34 – $126

LOCATION:  Shubert Theatre, 247 College Street, New Haven

For Group Sales and information call the Shubert Box Office at 203-562-5666

For more information, visit www.BookofMormonTheMusical.com
C O N N E C T I C U T
--- A R T S ---
C O N N E C T I O N

Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced
numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont
Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.”

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway
League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway
run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill
Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/. She
is editor of The award-winning Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com),

She is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Contributing Editor for BroadwayWorld.com, Connecticut theater editor
for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web. Yarger is a book reviewer and writer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented
by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle (awards committee).

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts,
the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

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All contents are copyrighted © Lauren Yarger 2009, 2010, 2011,2012, 2013, 2014. All rights reserved.