Sunday, October 23, 2022

Remembering Susan L. Schulman

 


Press Agent Susan L. Schulman

By Lauren Yarger

With the death of Broadway Publicist Susan L. Schulman, we have lost not only one of our best press agents and a trailblazer for women in the industry, but one of the most enthusiastic lovers and supporters that Broadway has ever known. Additionally, I have lost a good friend.

Born and raised in New York City, Susan was a graduate of New York University and Columbia. She began her career at Lincoln Center before beginning a career working with theatrical publicists Bill Doll, Mary Bryant, Arthur Cantor, Frank Goodman and Merle Debuskey. Among the shows she worked on in the 1970s were the original productions of ApplauseCompany Sly Fox, Follies and Dancin'.

In the late ’70s she decided to go out on her own and opened her own theatrical press office in the Paramount Building in Times Square. Her clients included Karen Akers, Jack Gilford, Carlin Glynn and Peter Masterson, Garrison Keillor and A Prairie Home Companion, Manhattan Theatre Club, the Broadway productions of Crazy For You and State Fair, as well as various national tours. As a member of the Association of Theatrical Press Agents and Managers since 1973, she trained a number of the press agents now handling Broadway and Off-Broadway shows.

She did publicity for television and film and represented individual clients as well, like Karen Ziemba, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Karen Mason, Kathleen Chalfant and Steve Cuden, all of whom she called friends and endlessly praised. In fact, I can’t think of anyone who wanted others to succeed more than Susan Schulman. She used to wait at stage doors, not for autographs, but to tell actors how they had enhanced her life. That’s a rare quality in this business.

Always a delightful storyteller, Susan shared memories of her experiences (both good and bad) in her book, “Backstage Pass to Broadway.” She tastefully recounted experiences dealing with artists like Lauren Bacall, David Merrick, Zero Mostel and the thrill of watching Yul Brynner perform. I was always kidding her that she had met everyone who was anyone in this industry, and for me, the most exciting of the stars she counted among her friends was John Cullum. I had fallen head-over-heels with the actor when he was in Shenandoah, where Susan met him while working the show’s press.

She enjoyed my weak knees and jellied brain any time I met my favorite star and made sure I had a chance to meet him whenever she could arrange it. Susan could work any room and made sure that everyone felt comfortable, had what they needed and that your good side was facing the camera. And for me, she made sure that I didn’t faint and make a fool of myself while in John’s company (and I mean she quite literally held me upright on one occasion all while carrying on a delightful conversation so that no one was the wiser that I was about to hit the deck). Attending shows with Susan in which John starred are some of my happiest theater memories.

We enjoyed each other’s company. She was a favorite plus-one whenever I attended any theater and she returned the favor, inviting me to many interesting events that she was publicizing or to join her when her friends were performing. When I wasn’t joining her, I was living vicariously through her as she did exciting things like attend a gala at the Downtown Abbey mansion with friend Susan Hampshire or chat with former boyfriend and still good friend, Henry Winkler.

She was a frequent speaker and panelist. She had a home up in Connecticut and was a former member of our Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women. Here she served on a panel for us and was always ready to help get the word onjut about any projects that the chapter, or I personally, had in the works.

We kept in touch via email and Zoom during the pandemic. Conversations became more serious, especially after she received a life-threatening diagnosis. It was a thrill when we reunited in person last February for what was her first re-entry to the theater post Covid: Broadway’s The Music Man. What a delightful time! She was like a schoolgirl, so delighted to be back at live theater and so complimentary of the performances of Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster, the set design, the costumes, the orchestra – as always, finding ways to praise and bring attention to every effort.

I recently remembered collaborating on a project together, but we just couldn’t get it off the ground. We laughed as we decided if the two of us couldn’t do it, it couldn’t be done. She was the kind of person who it was fun to be with even in failure. I am glad we spent the time together that we did. 

Our last show together was Company. I have a show coming up which I would have invited her to and we would have enjoyed discussing it after. Don’t take your friends for granted. Enjoy them while you can.

Oh, and one more thing you should know about Susan. She made the best chopped chicken liver according to anyone who ever ate it at any of her holiday open houses. They were always attended by many from the industry, all of whom were welcomed with a warm smile from Susan, who was genuinely glad to see them. She will be missed deeply by many. And by me, for a very long time.

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Broadway Theater Review: 1776

 

Elizabeth A. Davis, Patrena Murray, Crystal Lucas-Perry in Roundabout Theatre Company's 1776. Photo: Joan Marcus

1776

Music and Lyrics by Sherman Edwards
Book By Peter Stone, based on a concept by Sherman Edwards
Directed by Jeffrey L. Page and Diane Paulus
Choreography by Jeffrey L. Page
American Airlines Theatre
Through Jan. 8, 2023 

By Lauren Yarger
What if? What if all of the roles played by men in the musical 1776 could be played by women instead. No, make that women, transgender and non-binary (identifying as neither man nor woman) actors? What would happen?

Pretty much nothing new....  at least not in Roundabout Theatre's revival of 1776 which tells the tale of the Founding Fathers as they struggle with the heat, and the conflicting issues of freedom and slavery in the summer of 1776 in Philadelphia as the Declaration of Independence is drafted.

It takes (or at least it took me) some time to get used to the idea of anybody but a man playing characters who are men. For me, gender bending casting is fine if you don't notice it and if it doesn't detract from the storytelling. The script isn't changed and the characters are still men. There are no editorial moments where someone points out the obvious -- that no women were involved in forming the new nation --  save one moment that has a contemporary feel when Abigail Adams (Allyson Kaye Daniel) writes to her husband, John Adams (Crystal Lucas-Perry) that men won't be the only citizens of the new nation:

"By the way, in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice, or representation."

But that line is part of the original script, so having a non-male John Adams receive it didn't really change the thought. And Thomas Jefferson being played by an actress (a very talented, violin-playing Elizabeth A. Davis) who happens to be pregnant, kind of added to my inability to engage in that story for a while, especially when Jefferson, unable to write because he is missing the attentions of his young, new bride, gets a connubial visit from another actress playing Martha Jefferson (Eryn LeCroy).  Again, where gender or race manipulations take out  minds away from the story they are better not made.

After a while, I was able to just see actors playing roles, and actually, some seem well suited and step right into character, like Benjamin Franklin (Patrena Murray -- this interpretation is exactly how I imagine Franklin) and Rhode Island's delegate Stephen Hopkins (Joanna Glushak). I am an advocate for more women represented on and behind our theater stages, but I didn't feel a compelling enough reason to justify switching all of the genders in this production.

In Hamilton, for example, where the Founding Fathers and everyone except King George III is played by a person of color, the story of the nation's founding was the same. It just has a more inclusive feel to it -- that our nation's story is everyone's story. That we all are in this together. Changing genders -- and adding transgender and nonbinary actors -- in 1776 makes the statement that Broadway, not necessarily the country --  wants change. A better option would have been to commission an authorized rewrite of Peter Stone's book or to create a brand new musical focusing on the women who weren't in that room: Abigail Adams, Martha Jefferson, Martha Washington, Mrs. Benjamin Franklin, Sally Hemmings, etc. What they endured would make great drama and would make a strong statement about the importance of women in our nation.

There is a subtle message made about racism as some actors who are African American are on the receiving end of dialogue about slavery. But again, more of an impact could be made by putting the words of enslaved Americans to paper in a different story.

One place where the gender bending and staging do not work at all is in the typically compelling "Molasses to Rum" number, where Edward Rutledge (Sara Porkalob) tries point out to his northern anti-slavery constitutional colleagues that while the south uses slaves as part of its economy, the north benefits from it, so they are involved in the institution as well. Something about a person of color singing a song by a character who is supposed to be a white slave owner just didn't work for me. The staging and choreography by Directors Diane Paulus and Jeffrey L. Page suggested big production number instead of highlighting the hate and racism that reveal Rutledge and slavery to be repulsive by the end of the song (if you never have seen John Cullum perform this number, watch the film. It's amazing as he starts as a southern gentleman and builds to a lusty, frenzied, despicable man).

Other songs by Sherman Edwards still hold their own, like "Sit Down, John," He Plays the Violin," Momma, Look Sharp." The show plans a national tour beginning in February in Philadelphia.

1776 makes history at the American Airlines Theatre,  227 West 42nd St., NYC,  through Jan. 8, 2023. roundabouttheatre.org.

Cast:
Crystal Lucas-Perry as John Adams, Gisela Adisa as Robert Livingston, Nancy Anderson as George Read, Becca Ayers as Col. Thomas McKean, Tiffani Barbour as Andrew McNair, Carolee Carmello as John Dickinson, Allyson Kaye Daniel as Abigail Adams/Rev. Jonathan Witherspoon, Elizabeth A. Davis as Thomas Jefferson, Mehry Eslaminia as Charles Thomson, Joanna Glushak as Stephen Hopkins, Shawna Hamic as Richard Henry Lee, Eryn LeCroy as Martha Jefferson/Dr. Lyman Hall, Liz Mikel as John Hancock, Patrena Murray as Benjamin Franklin, Oneika Phillips as Joseph Hewes, Lulu Picart as Samuel Chase, Sara Porkalob as Edward Rutledge, Sushma Saha as Judge James Wilson, Brooke Simpson as Roger Sherman, Salome B. Smith as Courier, Sav Souza as Dr. Josiah Bartlett, Jill Vallery as Caesar Rodney, and Shelby Acosta, Ariella Serur, Grace Stockdale, Dawn L. Troupe and Imani Pearl Williams as Standbys.

Other credits:
Music Supervision by David Chase, Orchestrations by John Clancy, Vocal Design by AnnMarie Milazzo, Music Direction by Ryan Cantwell, Scott Pask (Sets), Emilio Sosa (Costumes), Jen Schriever (Lights), Jonathan Deans (Sound), David Bengali (Projections), Mia Neal (Hair & Wigs), Brisa Areli Muñoz (Associate Director)

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:
-- God's name taken in vain
-- minimal language

Covid Protocol:
Vaccine not required.
For all performances of 1776, all audience members seated in the first row of the orchestra will be required to wear approved masks provided by Roundabout. If you purchase tickets in these designated locations you will be required to wear an approved mask. Audience members not seated in this row are encouraged to wear their own masks.

Broadway Theater Review: Leopoldstadt

Joshua Satine. Photo: Joan Marcus

Leopoldstadt
By Tom Stoppard
Directed by Patrick Marber
Longacre Theatre (220 W 28th St, NYC).

By Lauren Yarger
One family's journey of love and endurance plays out against the backdrop of the Holocaust in what playwright Tom Stoppard says will be his last play, Leopoldstadt.

The work was inspired by some of Stoppard's family's experience, where Jewish roots were long again forgotten or buried firmly under ground. 

Set in Vienna, Leopoldstadt takes its title from the city's Jewish quarter. Stoppard stakes us on a more than half-century journey with the Merz and Jacobovicz families beginning in 1899 and ending in 1955. The family's extended genealogy tree is shown a few times thanks to Scenic, Lighting and Video Designers Neil Austin, Richard Hudson and Isaac Madge respectively (though given the complex story telling and huge cast of 38 a pull-out copy of it in the program might be helpful). Period images are shown between scenes, but we have no idea who the people are.

At the beginning of the saga, the extended family and friends celebrate December holidays in their opulent apartment. Gathered are Matriarch Grandma Emilia Merz (Betsy Aidem), her son
Hermann (David Krumholtz) and his wife (and a Gentile), Gretl (Faye Castlelow), and their son Jacob (Joshua Satine and Aaron Shuf) who is 8. 

Hermann’s sister, Eva (Caissie Levy) and her husband, Ludwig (Brandon Urbanowitz), their son, Pauli (Drew Squire) and their new baby girl, Nellie. Ludwig’s sister, Wilma (Jenna Augen), is married to Gentile Ernst (Aaron Neil). They have two daughters, Sally (Reese Bogin and Romy Fay) and Rosa (Pearl Scarlet Gold and Ava Michele Hyl). Rounding out the family portrait is Ludwig and Wilma’s unmarried younger sister, Hanna (Colleen Litchfield), who plays the piano.

There is laughter and fun, talk of romance for Hanna, who has met an attractive soldier named Fritz (Arty Froushan). Grandma shares stories and pictures from the family album, there is excitement as Gretl is having her portrait painted and a star of David is placed on top of a Christmas tree. All is harmony.

In 1924 the family is joined by Hermine (Eden Epstein), the daughter of Hanna and Kurt (Daniel Cantor), an older Rosa (Augen), Jacob (Seth Numrich), Nellie (Tedra Millan), Sally (Sara Topham) and her husband, Zac (Matt Harrington) as well as Aaron (Jesse Aaronson), Nellie's husband. Nellie sews an Austrian flag, Rosa has come from America for a bris, which gets more discussion that rising unrest against the Jews. The family and their circumstances change, but the photo album, a game of cat's cradle and that portrait of Gretl in her green shawl are constant ties that bind the family together.

In 1938, journalist Percy Chamberlain (Numrich) joins the family and tries to get them to understand that things in Vienna are deteriorating and that they must leave. The general attitude seems to be that the family has weathered similar situations in the past and that they can get exit visas later if necessary.

"It will pass, and something else will take its place," Eva says assuredly. An ominous visit from an official of the state (Cory Brill) and the sound of breaking glass prove Percy's words that "things will get worse . . . much worse," is the right prediction.

Finally, in 1955 there is a reunion of an older Nathan and Rosa and Nellie and Aaron's son Leo (Froushan), who does not remember any of his family roots.

While the family's saga is moving, most of the action takes place off stage and the characters spend most of their time telling us about it. The scene with the government official taking over the family's apartment and questioning them about their activities is  the most compelling, because we experience it with them. Most everything else is second hand with lots of exposition that can turn into a yawn fest. There's only so much Director Patrick Marber can do with so many moving parts.

My guess is that if the playwright's name was not Tom Stoppard, this play would have been sent back for some fine tuning and trimming before getting a staging (the run time is two hours and 10 minutes with no intermission). But because it is Tom Stoppard,  Leopoldstadt received the Olivier Award for Best New Play in October 2020 for its West End run. And because he has four other Tony Awards for best play under his belt (the most of any playwright), look for this, his 19th play on Broadway,  to  get another Tony nod in June.

Meanwhile, don't be off by the fact that you can't remember who's who or get confused by new actors in for aging characters or doubling roles. In the end, it's the collective family experience that matters. PS 23 of the 38 actors in this production are making their Broadway debuts.


Leopoldstadt plays at the Longacre Theatre, 220 W 28th St, NYC. leopoldstadtplay.com.


Additional credits:

Costume Design, Brigitte Reiffenstuel; sound and original music Adam Cork;  and movement by Emily Jane Boyle.

FAMILY-FREINDLY FACTORS:
-- No notes

Covid Protocol: 
Masks not required

Broadway Theater Review: Cost of Living

KatySullivan, David Zayas. Photo: Jeremy Daniel

Gregg Mozgala, Kara Young. Photo: Jeremy Daniel

Cost of Living
By Martyna Majok 
Directed by Jo Bonney
Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
Extended through Nov. 6

By Lauren Yarger
The bonds of love and friendship and just how far they will stretch are the themes behind Martyna Majok's moving play, Cost of Living, getting a Broadway run by Manhattan Theatre Club.

The drama, which focuses on two persons with special needs and their caretakers, won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize.

Jo Bonney ably directs on Wilson Chinn's stark set where a few key props define locale and mood, in harmony with lighting design by Jeff Croiter.

Eddie (David Zayas) and Ani (Katy Sullivan) are a separated married couple. Things are tense, as Ani is still bitter over the "other women" and Eddie struggles to offer help in the aftermath of an accident which has left Ani without the full use of one of her arms and without both her legs. (Sullivan, who was born without legs, is the first female amputee to star in a Broadway role). Ani needs the help and Eddie needs the money, so they proceed in what becomes an awkward dependence on each other and allows them to rekindle the friendship they shared in marriage.

The second story, told in alternating staging with the first, involves Jess (Kara Young), who seems desperate for a caretaking job despite having a degree from Princeton and practically begs John (Gregg Mozgala), for the opportunity to be the wheel-chair bound man's personal aide (both the character and the actor have Cerebral Palsy). John struggles with being vulnerable and dependent, but Jess is determined and a quick friendship -- and maybe more -- develops. We see the development of these two relationships over a four-month period.

The complexity of the situations is honed by Majok's even more developed characters -- all are flawed, but so real that we can't help but like them and root for them. When they don't live up to our expectations, we react with surprise and disappointment just as we would with real friends whom we thought we could trust. Majok interjects just the right amount of humor and human frailty into the script to balance the the depressing nature of the situations in which the characters find themselves during the one hour and 40 minutes without intermission.

In the end, the message is that people need people. And they need to be needed.
"If everything was perfect in yer life, no holes you had to fill, you wouldn’t be here," Ani tells Eddie. She's right. And we need more plays like this that tell stories about real people in the real world.

Cost of Living has been extended through Nov. 6 at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 W. 47th St.) 

Additional credits:
Jessica Pabst (costume design), Rob Kaplowitz (sound design), Mikaal Sulaiman (original music), Thomas Schall (movement consultant). 

FAMILY-FAMILY FACTORS:
-- Language
-- God's name taken in vain
-- Nudity (though discreet)

Covid Protocol:
Masks are required.

Gracewell Prodiuctions

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

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 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play concept, "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York. Shifting from reviewing to producing, Yarger owns Gracewell Productions, which produced the Table Reading Series at the Palace Theater in Waterbury, CT. She trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Intensive and other 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 wrote 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 Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She was a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com. She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women. She is a former vice president and voting member of The Drama Desk.

She is a freelance writer and playwright (member Dramatists Guild of America). She is a member if the The Outer Critics Circle (producer of the annual awards ceremony) and a member of The League of Professional Theatre Women, serving as Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter. Yarger was a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly 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.

Copyright

All material is copyright 2008- 2022 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women or people of a certain race are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide, or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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