What Would Clifford Odets Say?!

There’s some major title plagiarism on network TV these days. Oh, CBS…


Somewhere underground, Clifford Odets is pulling on his boxing gloves and shouting, “Strike! STRIKE!”

The theft is almost as galling as this one, committed by novelist Lauren Groff:

Arcadia Lauren Groff

We love you girl, but don’t go stepping on Tom Stoppard‘s toes.

It’s not as if these titles aren’t well known: Both plays have been recently revived to great acclaim on Broadway. Clearly, TV and books execs are counting on the ignorance of the general public. Such sadness!

Any other tales of stolen titles you can think of?

— SMASH: An Outsider’s Take
— #broadwayproblems


The Katharine McPhee Entrance

Yes, I enjoy entering Times Square at the “Katharine McPhee Subway Entrance” on 43rd, and yes, I quietly moan “Let Me Be Your Star” each time I ascend those steps.

Not weird at all.


So Many Plays!

Alright everybody, it’s go time! Tony noms are out, Broadway and Off-Broadway are humming with activity, and the rush to see everything is overwhelming. I’m right there with you, cramming it in as best I can. Here are some cliffs-notes, hodgepodge observations from the front lines:

1. Leap of Faith recently opened to some not-so-nice reviews (here’s lookin’ at you, Ben) but few folks mentioned what I found to be the most unusual part of the production, namely, the cameraman who runs around the stage filming the big numbers. (I thought the guy was shooting B-roll, but an usher at intermission set me straight.) The device presumably helps the entire audience see all parts of the sprawling set (video is broadcast on big monitors around the proscenium), or is meant as a kind of postmodern comment on media manipulation. But really… it’s just a guy running around a stage with a camera.

2. In the category of “unprintable titles” comes Cock, a British import now in residence at the Duke. The Times has taken to calling it ______, the Cockfight Playthat big blank is reminiscent of previous seasons’ The _________ With the Hat and ________ A (that would be The Motherfucker With the Hat and Fucking A, thank you very much). Can you think of any other censored titles?

3.  You know that awesome moment when you realize your apartment features the same piece of furniture used in a play’s design? I had said experience twice recently: I totally own the striped “Turkish” rug from Tribes (the Barrow Street), as well as the mounted coatrack from An Early History of Fire (the New Group). Both items came from… wait for it… IKEA. Glad to know that stage designers are as budget-conscious and Sweden-enamored as I am.

4. Smash observation: Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman’s songs are gorgeous and criminally hummable. For example…

And with that, I’m off to the theater. The April/May sprint continues…


Feeling blue? How about a Tuesday afternoon sing-a-long pick-me-up!

1. “Mr. and Mrs. Smith:” Sweet musical theater magic all the way. “Smash” really delivers on this one:

2. “And Eve Was Weak:” Betty Buckley is fabulously cracked out in this video from the original Broadway run of Carrie. #CRAZYAMAZING!

You’re welcome!

“Brothers and Sisters:” LIVE!

Rachel Griffiths and Matthew Rhys on "Brothers and Sisters"

Fans of TV’s “Brothers and Sisters”—yours truly included—now have a thrilling double shot at catching Matthew Rhys (“Scotty”) or Rachel Griffiths (“Sarah”) live and in the flesh. Rhys trades sweetness for sting in Look Back in Anger, at the Roundabout, while Griffiths rides a tell-all memoir to Broadway in Other Desert Cities. TV celebs don’t usually make good by their stage roles, but this situation is different. Why?

1- Griffiths and Rhys earned theater cred before going to Hollywood;
2- they’re perfect for their parts; and,
3- “Brothers and Sisters” was just that good. Sue me.

Griffiths had this to say about doing theater: “It really is our penance for taking the money in television. I’m a Roman Catholic, and [Rhys] is a Welsh Methodist. You must repent. Got to go kneel in the cathedral of the theater.” (NY Times, 1/19/12)

Repentance, then, involves a lot of fury and despair: Both Other Desert Cities and Look Back in Anger light huge fires under fraught family fracas, then bathe in the ensuing sparks. “Jimmy,” Rhys’ character, is cooped up in a 1950s London flat and endlessly condemns the world on personal and political levels. “Brooke” (Griffiths), a writer, is unsure about exposing the secrets of her Palm Springs family and dances around her right-wing parents like an anxious minesweeper. In both plays, tears are shed, papers are thrown, souls are burned. And yes, it’s all pretty wonderful.

[Read more…]

“Smash:” An Outsider’s Take

Uh oh! Debra Messing’s character “hates everyone who writes theater blogs” on “Smash,” a new NBC series about the creation of  a Broadway musical. Here at theater-words, though, we’ve decided not to take that personally—after all, it’s none too often that our fabulous invalid hits network primetime, and with a parade of New York stage talent to boot. So: anti-blog sentiment and all, we loved the show.

But what about the world beyond Times Square? What will it make of “Smash” and Broadway? To find out, I recently watched the pilot (a free download on iTunes) with a theatrically disinclined friend. What was the reaction? Here’s what I found on the outside…

Q: Did you enjoy “Smash?”

A: Well, at first I thought it was going to be another “Will & Grace” rehash because the first scene is Grace [Debra Messing] in the kitchen with a Will look-alike [Christian Borle]. But then that sort of shifted when they were followed by a fierce Anjelica Huston and some catchy tunes!

Q: Catchy tunes?

A: Yes, the most memorable part of the show was the last song. To be honest, I was a little bored with the understory, namely the work that goes into a Broadway show.

Q: Um, you do know that that’s the entire premise of the show, right?

A: Yes, but you really just want to get to that final song with the passion and the glamour and the culmination!

Q: Right. So in the show two women are vying for a big Broadway role. There’s a chorus veteran and a newbie—

A: Yes, this voluptuous sexy blonde woman [Megan Hilty] and a frumpy no-name [Katharine McPhee].

Q: Katharine McPhee was a runner up on “American Idol.”

A: Well she doesn’t look like it!

Q: So she’s not going to win?

A: Obviously she’s going to win because she’s the underdog. You don’t want her to win, but she’s going to.

Q: What do you mean you don’t want her to win?

A: Well, she’s cast on the show to look like a trainwreck! Her parents make fun of her, she’s struggling to make it as a waitress… though, when she meets with the director at his apartment, she does show her true colors and reveal that she has some talent behind all those sad layers.

Q: You really don’t like her outfits, do you?

A:She was clearly shopping at the Salvation Army in Williamsburg.

[Read more…]

Sweet and Sad and Cheap

You know that wonderful relief you feel settling into a new episode of a favorite TV show? That’s the sensation I got at the Public’s Sweet and Sad, a real-time sequel to last year’s That Hopey Changey Thing. “It’s the Apple family!” you think with a smile. “My how I’ve missed them!” (Both plays are by Richard Nelson.)

Hopey Changey was “about” the 2010 midterm elections, Sweet is “about” the tenth 9/11 anniversary, but what makes the plays wonderful is the fully-realized characters and the episodic pleasure that comes with returning to them. Fortunately for us, the entire cast of these two “Apple Family Plays” has remained the same. Their super-naturalistic performances were great then, and they’re great now.

And all for $15? Who’s knows how the Public is managing that one, but their LAB series officially makes theatergoing cheaper than the movies.

Fingers crossed the Apples are back next year, too!

If You Loved Me You’d Vacuum: The Real Housewives of the French Riviera

The past five months have seen Kelsey and Camille Grammer engaging in a particularly juicy cross-pollinating, media hijinks.

Grammer recently wound up a Tony-nominated turn in Broadway’s “La Cage Aux Folles.” Swathed in sequins and silk, the “Frasier” star crooned mid-Atlantic through this tale of French Family Values.

Mrs. Grammer, meanwhile, was shooting the deliciously catty “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills,” the most fabulous iteration of Bravo’s endlessly fascinating “Real Housewives” empire. By turns “delusional” and “vindictive” (to quote her many “fans”), Camille gave this show its Botoxed, diamond-bedazzled heart.

Camille’s relationship to her star husband was always at the center of “Housewives:” “It’s time for me to break out of my husband’s shadow and shiiiine” went her weekly opener. But as revelations about the Grammers’ dying marriage elbowed their way into the “storyline,” this reality show took on a whole new dimension.

[Read more…]

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