Fuck Yeah Stephen Sondheim: When I Was In The Fifth Grade…

Originally published on Fuck Yeah Stephen Sondheim.

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Letter to Sondheim 1991

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Letter to Sondheim 1991_0002

Letter to Sondheim 1991_0003

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When I was in the fifth grade, I found Stephen Sondheim’s home address in a reference book at the public library. This armed me with all I needed to begin a years-long correspondence with my hero. While I have kept most of his letters to me, I believe this is the only letter to him that survives. It was written when I was 13, several years into this project of mine.

Looking back, I am so embarrassed but also a little bit charmed by my 13-year-old self. And of course, Steve’s response is perfect, treating me with consideration and taking me seriously on my own terms. (Of course, I don’t remember writing songs, definitely never started the theater company, and very quickly purchased the albums in question. And 20+ years later I finally got my hands on the songs from A Pray by Blecht.)

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The Craptacular: Remedial Queens: The REAL Curse of the Bambino

Originally published on The Craptacular.

So from what I understand, there are these things called sports which are like musicals in that the performers rehearse for a long time and then perform in front of an audience but unlike musicals they don’t have production numbers and you never know the end until you get there, which I guess is like The Mystery of Edwin Drood but with less sparkly costumes. And apparently one of those sports is called baseball, which you may be familiar with from its supporting role in Damn Yankees.

Okay, okay, I’m kidding, I was totally forced to play a year of Little League before I was old enough to self-advocate for theater camp, and also I live in the world, so I know all about baseball and could even debate the wisdom of the designated hitter rule if it would keep a cute boy talking to me a bit longer.

“Why is this relevant?” I hear you cry. Continue reading

The Craptacular: Remedial Queens: One Touch of Venus

Originally published on The Craptacular.

A couple of weeks ago, you may have felt a disturbance in The (Broadway) Force — the sound of a thousand queens suddenly squealing with a mixture of delight and disbelief. The momentous occasion? The long-delayed complete recording of One Touch of Venus was finally released on iTunes, a mere fourteen years after it was first announced.

Did you feel that? This time I’m pretty sure the disturbance is the sound of several thousand Craptacular readers asking “What the fuck is One Touch of Venus?Continue reading

The Craptacular: Introducing Remedial Queens

Originally published on The Craptacular.

Have you ever seen Twitter blow up with excitement about some older star appearing at 54 Below only to find yourself asking, “Who?” Does the annual announcement of the Encores! season send you running to Google to figure out WTF is even going on? Did you get really excited about theater by way of Wicked or Next to Normal or Phantom and then stare down the gauntlet of theater’s 100 (+++++) year history and wonder what on earth you should check out? Friends, you are in the right place.

Think of REMEDIAL QUEENS as The Craptacular’s community service project, helping Broadway fans climb higher up the mountain of Broadway wonderfulness. Think of me as your sherpa on this journey. You may know me from my guest appearance on The Craptacular talking about Pipe Dream, or perhaps you’ve encountered some of my other projects, like Fuck Yeah Stephen Sondheim or Sondheim LOLCats. As you’ve probably guessed, I’m a super-big Broadway nerd. Like, in high school I co-wrote the internet’s first (!) Stephen Sondheim FAQ. And just this past August I was part of the winning team at 54 Below’s inaugural Broadway Trivia Night. In between I’ve amassed a collection of thousands of cast albums (including a couple dozen I helped birth as part of the late, lamented Fynsworth Alley), seen hundreds of shows, read the scripts of hundreds more, and, well, you get the idea. So I’m really excited/ beyond tickled to share this all with you.

What can you expect in this column? Some weeks I’ll focus on the work of a particular person or team, sharing my love for the likes of Mary Martin, Wright & Forrest, and Goddard Lieberson (duh). Other weeks might feature primers on older shows currently on the boards (or in the works) as revivals. Sometimes we’ll go thematic, with playlists (“15 Favorite Codependent Love Songs from the 50s!”) or other kinds of silliness (Ethel Merman Power Hour anyone?). And I take requests, so if there’s something you’re dying to know more about, leave a comment or hit me up on Twitter (@itsdlevy, natch).

Don’t worry. I’m not the kind of guy who thinks that nothing new will live up to the past, and you won’t find me crapping on things you love to make the things I love seem better. Frankly, they don’t need my help, and either way, that sucks. If there’s one thing The Craptacular believes, it’s that things don’t have to be “good” to be amazing. REMEDIAL QUEENS is all about sharing things I love — whether earnestly, ironically, or more often than not, with a foot on either side of that line — and hoping you love them too.

And now, as Irving Berlin once wrote, let’s go on with the show!

Jewschool: Bad Jews, Great Performances

Originally published on Jewschool.com

Tracee Chimo, Michael Zegen and Molly Ranson in Bad Jews. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Tracee Chimo, Michael Zegen and Molly Ranson in Bad Jews. Photo by Joan Marcus.

As the organized Jewish community debates the changing nature of Jewish identity in America uncovered by the recent Pew study, theatergoers in New York are engaging in a similar debate spurred on by Bad Jews, a new play by Josh Harmon being presented off-Broadway by the Roundabout Theatre Company, following a developmental production last fall at the Roundabout Underground Black Box.

On its surface, Bad Jews is a dark comedy about cousins reuniting at their grandfather’s shiva, butting heads about who should inherit a chai necklace their beloved Poppy had managed to hold on to through his time in a concentration camp. But Bad Jews is really a play of ideas, offering one hundred minutes of debate about what Jewish identity means for the grandchildren of survivors and contemporary twenty-something American Jews. Representing the “religion matters most” camp is Daphna (Tracee Chimo), a strident senior at Vassar who hopes to marry the Israeli soldier she slept with on Birthright, make aliyah, and attend rabbinical school. Taking the opposing view is Liam (Michael Zegen), her elder cousin who has little to no interest in Judaism or Jewishness, but feels a deep familial connection to what the chai necklace represents. Liam’s younger brother Jonah (Philip Ettinger) just wants to be left out of the argument. The ensuing battle, which is further intensified by the presence of Liam’s perky, privileged, non-Jewish girlfriend Melody (Molly Ranson), will either fascinate or exhaust you, depending on how many times you’ve had this conversation yourself. Continue reading