Equity News: When grassroots organizing meets union negotiations #FairWageOnStage

Originally published in Equity News.

Members of Fair Wage On StageThe grassroots #FairWageOnstage (#FWOS) movement scored a major victory in November 2016 when Equity signed a new agreement with the Off-Broadway League. We asked some of the leaders behind the campaign to share with us how a two-year process of organizing and advocacy resulted in this historic win.

While the motivation to seek fair wages lies in everyone’s need to pay the bills from the work they do, the inspiration for the #FWOS campaign came at a January 2014 Equity Membership Meeting. Following a passionate discussion about the terms of touring contracts, members Carson D. Elrod and Nick Westrate found themselves in the elevator musing, “Why aren’t we New York actors doing what those touring actors are doing?” Continue reading

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It’s dlevy!: David’s Favorite 2015 Theater

Originally published on itsdlevy.net.

I’m not sure how many shows I saw this year, and I didn’t keep good enough record to count. Suffice it to say, I saw a lot, but not everything. Therefore, I’m not in a position to tumake a “best of” list or anything of the sort. Instead, I present to you a list of my favorite theater from 2015, in alphabetical order.

Last year, I listed a top 13, with one honorable mention plus three additional shows I had loved enough in previous years to see for a second time during 2014. This year’s list includes 15 shows, two of which were return trips, plus two honorable mentions, so I guess I have a fairly consistent amount of love in my heart available for great theater.  Continue reading

Flavorpill: Beware of Young Girls

Originally published on Flavorpill.

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Dory Previn was a fascinating figure as both an artist and a human being: weathering a childhood in which she was victimized by both her father and the Catholic Church, she emerged into an adulthood marked by tremendous creative output and marred by struggles with schizophrenia and the infidelity of her husband and songwriting partner, André Previn. It was André’s relationship with Mia Farrow, whom he impregnated while still married to Dory, that spurred the most significant break in Dory’s life and inspired the song “Beware of Young Girls” that gives this evening its name.

Kate Dimbleby, a British cabaret singer, fell in love with Previn’s music from a thrift-store LP. She first recorded an album of Previn tunes in 2012 before collaborating with playwright Amy Rosenthal on the stage version. The album, also called Beware of Young Girls, is a beautiful evocation of Dory Previn’s voice as both a writer and performer. So why then does the stage version feel like more of an impersonation than a performance?

One major difference is that on the album, the songs are allowed to be songs. On stage, they are introduced and interrupted by narration, sometimes in the voice of Kate herself, and sometimes with Kate taking on Dory’s voice in passages drawn from Previn’s two memoires. Part of what makes Previn’s songs so wonderful is their otherworldly poetry, keeping the autobiographical pathos just below the surface of divine metaphor. Literalizing these songs is like taking a dagger to them.

This show, dancing on the line between cabaret and theater, never quite settles on whether it’s showcasing Previn’s songbook or telling a story (either Dimbleby’s or Previn’s), so neither happens with great success. Dimbleby’s insistence on aping Previn’s phrasing and vocal technique – except when she instead invokes Dionne Warwick and Doris Day on songs those women introduced – further gets in the way of elevating Previn the songwriter to her rightful place in the pantheon. It would be a strong statement to hear Previn’s songs reinterpreted in Dimbleby’s own style, but apparently that was not to be. Given that the evening ends with something of a torch-passing moment from Previn’s widower to Dimbleby, this missed opportunity is keenly felt.

Dimbleby is joined on stage by musical director Naadia Sheriff, who plays piano and sings backup ably, but stumbles in her dialogue moments. The evening was directed by Cal McCrystal, better known for his work directing physical comedy in shows like One Man, Two Guvnors, and he is out of his element here. Dory Previn deserves to have her songs rediscovered and reinterpreted for both cabaret and theater, but in failing to decide which was the goal of Beware of Young Girls, it delivered neither.

Beware of Young Girls is at 59E59 Theaters through January 4, 2015.

Image: Kate Dimbleby, with Naadia Sheriff on piano. Photo by Carol Rosegg

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Flavorpill: Blank! The Musical!

Originally published on Flavorpill.

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There’s a foreboding program insert at Blank! The Musical with lots of instructions about how to use the show’s web app, peppered with reassurances that if you don’t have a phone, or if the app doesn’t work, or if you hate audience participation, you’ll be fine, you can just watch the show. You see, Blank! The Musical is an improvised musical, different each night, not unlike what you might see from any of the two-dozen groups showcased at last month’s New York Musical Improv Festival at the Magnet Theater. What sets Blank! apart is the app, a product of Livecube (“the world’s most engaging event app” according to its program bio), allowing the audience to offer suggestions and vote on everything from song titles to lines of dialog, unlike those other plebian improv shows that rely on the audience shouting and applauding to do the same. Well, that and the increased ticket prices ($29-$69) that come with the show’s Off-Broadway address at New World Stages. Continue reading

Jewschool: Making the Stars of David Sing

Originally published on Jewschool.com

Stars of David: Prominent Jews Talk About Being Jewish debuted in 2005 and has been a perennial bar mitzvah gift ever since. The book, which features interviews by Abigail Pogrebin with about five dozen celebrities about their Jewish identities, is now an off-Broadway musical. Pogrebin is no stranger to the musical stage; she chronicled her experience as an original cast member of the infamous Stephen Sondheim flop Merrily We Roll Along in her 2011 Kindle Single Showstopper. This morning I chatted with her about the experience of writing Stars of David, both book and musical, and how her evolving Jewish identity has shaped the project.

In the introduction to the book, she discusses that part of the impetus for the project was that Jewish identity had crept up on her. She was married to a Jewish man, had two children approaching the ages when they might want to know something about what being Jewish meant, and she realized that she didn’t have an answer to that question. “I wasn’t necessarily honest with myself about why I started the book in the sense that I didn’t know how at sea I was, in terms of my own Jewish identity, when I approached famous people,” Pogrebin said. “I think sometimes stories are generated by some subconscious impulse to understand something for yourself. And I don’t want to over-analyze my motivations in starting the book, but I would say that having these frank conversations with some of our highest achievers made me look much more candidly at myself, and I realized I hadn’t answered a lot of the questions I was asking, personally.”

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