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  • Birdie's back and in Broadway's first new theater in more than a decade. The facade of The Henry Miller's Theatre, opened in 1918, was saved by Bank of America, whose 55-story One Bryant Park [spanning 42nd to 43rd Streets on Sixth Avenue], towers above, and partners the Durst Organization and the Empire State Development Corporation.

    There's something new, and something old. The neo-Georgian facade, preserved and restored, still sits on West 43rd Street but now is the entrance to a state-of-the-green theatre. Architects Cook + Fox, working with Tishman Construction, historic preservationists Higgins & Quasebarth, and Fisher Dachs Associates theater consultants, incorporated salvaged artifacts such as doors, wrought iron, and decorative plasterwork into the 50,000-square-foot, 1,055-seat house.


    Theater's largest not-for-profit company just got a new showcase for their revival of Charles Strouse/Lee Adams/and the late Michael Stewart's 60s rock 'n roll musical Bye, Bye Birdie, which begins performances September 10 [opening October 15]. Robert Longbottom [Flower Drum Song revival, Side Show] will direct/choreograph John Stamos, Gina Gershon [in the role originated by Chita Rivera], Bill Irwin, Jayne Houdyshell, Dee Hoty, and as Birdie, Nolan Gerard Funk.

    RTC, founded in 1965, has a tradition of reclaiming and revitalizing theater spaces. It transformed the Selwyn from defunct movie grind house to the glories of its legit Broadway years in the heyday of The Duce and renamed it the American Airlines Theatre. The org has Studio 54 for its Broadway productions and, Off Broadway, the Laura Pels Theatre in the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Arts, where it also maintains Roundabout Underground, dedicated to the works of emerging playwrights.


    Writer/producer/actor Henry Miller planned the original theatre to include a second balcony because those were the only seats he could afford as a young man. By 1969, after being used as a Broadway house for 51 years, the HM was abandoned as a legit theatre. It went from stage to porn to disco night spot.

    Live theater returned briefly in 1983 with a revival of The Ritz, which closed opening night. It starred veteran comic Joey Faye, porn star Casey Donavan and Warhol groupie Holly Woodlawn. In 1998, Roundabout rechristened it the Kit Kat Club for their long-running revival of Cabaret. By late summer 2001, when Urinetown made its move from Off Bway to there, the auditorium was in great disrepair from years of neglect and provided a conceptual setting. In early 2004, it went dark.

    The theatre is the first in NYC to meet U.S. Green Building Council's LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards.

    "Henry Miller's Theatre is a perfect example of the type of transformational project that we can achieve when state, city, and business work together," said Marisa Lago, ESDC prez and CEO.

    The design creates the best possible environment for audiences, cast and production staff through 95% air filtration, carbon dioxide sensors which maximize fresh air supply, and low-emitting utility materials [including waterless urinals to reduce potable water consumption.

    The stagehouse has great depth and width and ample wing space. The theatre is fully handicapped-accessible with 20 wheelchair positions. Welcome news for women theatergoers, the new house breaks new ground in restrooms availability with 22 "cabins" in the women's room [which is three times code requirement]. The men are also gifted but not quite as well: 10 fixtures [one and a half times code].

    The mezz is street level and patrons go down one level to the orchestra, which has two-thirds of the seating. There's a large orchestra pit, fully functional fly-tower, and set-loading facilities. The orchestra-level lobby has a bar, with another on ground level. The mezz features a restaurant, which has not opened. It has a street entrance, which means it could be open to the public.

    The foundation was excavated to 70' to make room for back-of-house spaces, such as dressing rooms, and so the orchestra and mezz wouldn't project above the historic facade.

    For information on Bye, Bye, Birdie, go to www.byebyebirdieonbroadway.com.

    Chita Medaled

    President Obama will present America's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom today at the White House. Among the honorees are Tony and Drama Desk-winning Chita Rivera. The ceremony can be watched today at 3 P.M. via streaming video at www.whitehouse.gov/live.


    Receiving the Medal in her hometown makes her honor all the sweeter. "When my mother was a child, she rolled Easter eggs on the lawn of the White House,"
    recalled Rivera. "And now to receive the Medal of Freedom from our President is truly a dream. I am deeply honored to be in such distinguished company. I only wish my parents were here to share it with me. But they are!"

    The Medal is awarded to those making meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the U.S., world peace, cultural, and private endeavors.

    The 16 recipients include theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking; Senator Edward M. Kennedy; Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman on the U.S. Supreme Court; anti-apartheid activist Archbishop Desmond Tutu; Mary Robinson, the first female President of Ireland; 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, a global leader in anti-poverty efforts; Oscar winner Sidney Poitier; and Billie Jean King.

    Of note to the Broadway community, especially those working with Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, another recipient will be breast cancer survivor and former Ambassador [to Hungary] Nancy Goodman Brinker, founder of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the organization, named in memory of her sister, in the forefront of bringing awareness to the fight against breast cancer. Brinker was U.S. Chief of Protocol during the Bush administration's last year and currently serves as WHO's Goodwill Ambassador for Cancer Control.

    Being honored posthumously are Harvey Milk, a pioneer of the gay civil rights movement; and former Republican Congressman, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and vice presidential nominee Jack Kemp.

    "These outstanding men and women represent an incredible diversity of backgrounds," observed the President, in announcing the honorees. "Their tremendous accomplishments span fields from science to sports and fine arts to foreign affairs. They share one overarching trait: Each has been an agent of change. Each saw an imperfect world and set about improving it, often overcoming great obstacles. Their relentless devotion to breaking down barriers and lifting up their fellow citizens sets a standard to which we all should strive."

    Sizzling Ballroom

    NYTimes critic Charles Isherwood termed Burn the Floor, the ballroom dancing spectacular now at the Longacre, "every bit as flashy and tacky as you would expect." WOW! Those two qualities, both of which are so alien to Broadway!, are perhaps what's making the Aussie production such a hit. That and the fact that thanks to smash TV shows such as Dancing with the Stars the world seems dance crazy.


    Though it's been playing around the world for 10 years, it's just making its NY debut. To a dance novice like me, the majority of dancing you experience to the hot, non-stop rhythms in Burn isn't ballroom per se - you know, the kind that was formerly regulated to PBS; but, heck, if that's what they want to call it, fine with me.

    The 20 dancers from around the world, all champion competive performers, will stun you with their wiggles, shimmys, speedy footwork, acrobatics, skimpy costumes and beauty and handsomeness. With a whole lot of shakin' goin' on, the show is also sexyyyyyy!

    "Believe it or not," claims the show's creative force, director/choreographer Jason Gilkison, "it wasn't intended that way; but, with the way these gals and guys move to the pounding rhythms, it just is sensual. It can't be helped."

    Though it would be foolhardy to single out one or two of the dancers as "the best," in the company are two extraordinary performers. Frisco native Giselle Peacock, the shortest female dancer, will instantly remind you of a very young Chita Rivera and Rita Moreno. She's not only good, but she's slick [watch how she very carefully selects a male audience member to often play to]. Then there's the company's striking, statuesque 23-year-old Aussie blonde Venus, Petra Murgatroyd, whose dream it was to be a ballerina and only discovered ballroom after breaking an ankle. She's mesmerizing to watch, and she can act, too.

    Gilkison, a former dance champ, reconceived the show four years ago for theatres. "We'd been playing arenas," he reports, "and I wanted to make the show much more up close and personal so the intensity of the dancing could really blow audiences out of their seats."

    Portions of the show take place all over the theatre, with some moments very up close and personal. When the dancers spin up and down the aisles, shaking their bods and heads to the Latin and Swing music, the perspiration flies.


    "It was my idea to break the fourth wall," Gilkison notes. "Ballroom dancing comes from the people so this is our way of brining our little social history of ballroom back to the people. Thanks to the popularity of dance on TV, people now know the difference between a tango and a waltz. They didn't 10 years ago."

    As much as the company, which includes four seasoned musicians [who play live, mostly on all manner of percussion, alongside music tracks] and two excellent singers, Rebecca Tapia and Ricky Rojas] was looking forward to playing Broadway, there's been a drawback.

    "There's not a lot of wing space at the Longacre," says Gilkinson, "so with all the speedy entrances and exits and quick costume changes everything is just as choreographed backstage as onstage."


    Seeing the dancers, who range in age from 20 to 33, go full steam for two hours, with only a 15-minute intermission, and doing what they do nightly and twice on Wednesday and Saturday, makes you realize how dedicated they are.

    Some cast members have been with the show for 10 years. "If you have your heart and soul in it, you can do it forever. Though I don't dance in the show anymore, I'm still dancing at 43."

    With dance partner Peta Roby, a BTF associate producer, they were Australia's most successful dance couple winning world and British ballroom competitions. In addition, he's appeared on the Australian and U.S. versions of So You Think You Can Dance and choreographed on the West End and Broadway and the closing ceremonies of the Sydney Olympic games.

    "Each and every one of them are very passionate about what they do," explains Gilkinson. "They don't do it just because it's a job. It's a lifestyle. Not only do they know technique and how to, well, put their best foot forward, they're always working, rehearsing." Amazingly, the company has gone for a year without an injury.

    Burn the Floor was intending to stay on Broadway through October 18, but, according to Gilkison, with the type of audience response the show is getting, "We'll be here a while longer."

    Guest artists Makism Chmerkovskiy and Karina Smirnoff of Dancing with the Stars fame, are just exiting the show. Joining the company are ballroom superstars Pasha Kovalev and Anya Garnis of TV's So You Think You Can Dance.

    Rude Theater Behavior

    Have you noticed that there are more doctors and RNs going to the theater than ever before. They're on call, evidently, and must constantly check their cell and i phones. Fines be damned, the use of electronic devices for chat and texting has become epidemic in theatres. The stories are legend of phones going off - always at the very quiestest or most intense moment. Talk about theatrical timing!

    And these abusers don't think they're doing anything wrong. In one recent incident, the actor onstage told the theatergoers who either wouldn't or didn't know how to turn off their phone to "Answer the damn phone!"

    It got worse at the Longacre the other night. Just as the lights were going down all hell broke loose when a theatergoer demanding the two young women in front of her stop texting and turn their phones off. They refused. At intermission the gentleman, and I use that term loosely here, with them attacked the theatergoer in the lobby, screaming four and five letter words at her, nose to nose. Shubert security and theatre management were slow on the scene. As the lights were flashing to indicate taking your seats, the two girls marched from the sidewalk, still texting. They were loudly told, "Shut off your phones." They refused.

    A young woman, part of a large group of theatergoers way down front, kept checking her messages throughout the first act. Confronted by a theatergoer three rows behind her at intermission, she didn't think she was doing anything wrong. In fact, she was overheard to say, "It was an emergency!" The reply came back, "If it was such an emergency, you should have gotten up and gone outside." A Shubert plainclothed security guard intervened.

    Has it become impossible to go two/two and half hours wwithout phone calls? Has this technology become so addictive that you can't even take a break from talking and texting to enjoy the show - and allow others to enjoy?

    In two other recent known incidents, it appears that dinner theater has come to Broadway. The actors in one musical saw patrons on the front row passing a bucket of Kentucky Fried among themselves. At another show, three women in town for a theater conference!!!! were eating and drinking, totally oblivious to those around them - one of whom was a seasoned actress who said nothing to them. When confronted at intermission, they replied, "We were hungry. We had meetings all day and haven't had a chance to eat."

    Check out this article by Newsday's Linda Winer

    [ ND ] Rude behavior plagues New York theater
    The announcement is as easy to ignore as the safety routine on airplanes. Turn off your cell phone. Put away all recording devises. Open all crinkly candy wrappers. To get our attention, some theaters add little jokes to the warnings. No phones, no texting, no photos, no video. No tweeting. No singing along. No buckets of chicken. No joke. As everyone except possibly the perpetrators already know, theater manners are changing fast--and, obviously, not for the better.

    [From BroadwayStars.com site owner James Marino: [This is] a must-read column, if one that's probably preaching to the BroadwayStars choir. Even within the past year I've noticed an appalling degradation of theatregoing manners. It really seems like a lot of people, even in many cases fairly experienced theatregoers, care about nothing except making themselves comfortable and happy even if it destroys the experience for everyone else. It's despicable, and it simply cannot be said often enough.]

    Theater etiquette will be the subject of an upcoming special edition of BroadwayRadio This Week on Broadway podcast.

    Can She Talk!

    She's filthy as all getout and drop dead hilarious. I mean, really hilarious! She's dishing the type of shock and awe hiilarity that has her packed-in-like-sardines audiences either howling, screaming or so shocked they're in somber silence.

    Who can that be? The one, the only, the foul-mouthed, the funny comedienne Joan Rivers.


    In her current stand at the Laurie Beechman Theatre at the West Bank Cafe, continuing tonight and next Wednesday at 8 P.M. and August 20 at 9 P.M., the stand-up pro offends just about everyone. Oddly, not The Donald. Wonder why? And there's something to offend just about everyone [but no one really gets too offended because they rolling on the floor in laughter].

    Though Rivers, a very spry 77 and looking damn good [but, Joan, please don't do any more p.s. because your skin will be so tight bones may pop out], is very fast on her feet, often departing from new, prepared material to wildly and hilariously ad lib with audience members, the show is probably not for anyone who's easily turned of by a constant drone of four and five letter words.

    It's my opinion that a good comic doesn't need four letter words to grab an audience; however, I might make an exception for Rivers. Still, without a single F-word, the show with her outrageous, caustic riffs on celebrity would be as funny. That's just not our Joan.

    Rivers hates everyone and everything. She comes down hard on Nadya Denise Doud-Suleman Gutierrez, a.k.a. Octomom, and renamed Condomom by Rivers. But she's in good company. Nuns, priests, gays [especially lesbians], straights, tourists, relatives, Babs, Liza, Mel, JulieA, SuzanneS, TomKat, NicoleK, Rosie, and sweet, thoughtful BrookeS ["Who's she kidding? The last time she saw Michael Jackson he was black!"] get bitten with venom.

    Even the dead aren't spared, as Rivers ferociously lights into MichaelJ, JackieO, and poor l'il unhappy Princess Di ["What did she have to be depressed about? What was wrong with her? She was beautiful, had everything money could buy, two beautiful sons, a crown and a husband who didn't want to sleep with her!"]. Since her death was trumped by the King of Pop's sudden demise, Rivers gives Farrah her due. If none of this already has you in stitches, just wait for Rivers' spin about the three so-called Wise Men, her redesign of the Nativity creech and plans to take [Blessed] Mary shopping.

    Speaking of the dead or thought to be dead, Rivers shows her psychic powers during the show. She points out that OliviaNJ's former bf didn't jump in water and drown, but that he's alive and well and hiding out. Not a day later, did news reports state that he was alive and well and, like Garbo, just wanted to be alone.

    For those who aren't easily offended and who just want to have a damn good time, Rivers is just the tonic to life your spirits during this time of stress and uncertainity. There's no better medicine than the gift of laughter and Rivers has spoonfuls of it.

    One of the things Rivers hates most, she says, is charity, but the net proceeds of the Beechman engagement go to two of her favorite charities, God's Love/We Deliver and Guide Dogs for the Blind.

    This preview of Rivers new show is a bargain, and you don't have to go to an expensive nightclub or do a casino junket. Tickets are $30, with a two-drink or food minimum [come early because dinner, from the Left Bank's excellent kitchen, is served], and available at www.sincyclenyc.com or by calling (212) 352-3101. Pianist Lance Cruce entertains until Rivers takes the stage.

    You can also catch Rivers on TV Land's How'd You Get So Rich? [www.tvland.com/prime] and repeats of her recent Comedy Central roast.

    Theater with the Fringe on Top

    The New York International Fringe Festival (FringeNYC), celebrating it's 13th Anniversary, is running through August 30, is the largest multi-arts festival in North America.

    It's offering plays, musicals, comedy, dance, performance art, and cabaret from all over the world, including New Jersey, in 20 venues [99% of them air-conditioned] all over downtown featuring performances by over 200 of the world's established and emerging theater troupes and dance companies.

    Fest theatres include the Minetta Lane, Actors' Playhouse, Cherry Lane, Players, the New School, Connelly, and SoHo Playhouse. FringeCentral, the fest's primary ticketing and information hub, is located at 54 Crosby Street, between Spring and Broome, and open noon - 8 P.M.

    FringeNYC is a production of the Present Company, under Producing A.D. Elena K. Holy. The festival has been the launching pad for numerous Off-Bway and Bway transfers, long-running downtown hits, and regional theater including Tony and DD-nominated Urinetown, Matt & Ben, Never Swim Alone, Debbie Does Dallas, Dog Sees God, 21 Dog Years, Dixie's Tupperware Party and the recent DD-nominated Off-Bway hit Krapp 39.

    FringeNYC shows run on various weekday, weekend and midnight skeds. Tickets are $15 and available at www.fringenyc.org, by calling (212) 279-4488 or, outside NYC, (888) FRINGENYC. Various discount packages are available for those seeing multiple shows ($70 Fiver Pass, $120 for a 19-show Flex Pass, and $500 for an all-you-can-see Lunatic Pass). For a complete listing of events and shows, venue locations, showtimes or more information, visit www.FringeNYC.org.

    Film Fest Slate

    The Film Society of Lincoln Center announced the slate of the 17-day 2009 New York Film Festival. The 47th edition will open with the U.S. premiere of Alain Resnais's Wild Grass (Les herbes folles) and close with Pedro Almodóvar's Broken Embraces (Los abrazos rotos). The Fest Centerpiece will be Lee Daniels' Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire.

    With renovations completed, the Festival returns to its home, Alice Tully Hall, beautifully restored and renovated with superb, state-of-the-art sound and projection.

    The Selection Committee has chosen 29 films from 17 countries by established and celebrated filmmakers and independent directors. The Spotlight Retrospective will be a 70th Anniversary presentation of Victor Fleming's classic The Wizard of Oz, in a new high definition restoration print. Among this year's speical attractions will be two Masterworks series from China and India, Re-Inventing China: A New Cinema for a New Society, 1949-1966 and A Heart as Big as the World: The Films of Guru Dutt.

    "This year's slate is diverse, fresh and compelling", says Film Society Program Director Richard Peña, who's also chair of the Selection Committee. "It's been a great year for many directors who have already achieved acclaim. You can see that in some of the works of masters returning to the Festival. But the slate also launches several new voices, who we believe will become major filmmakers deserving of world attention."

    Last Chance

    After several extensions, Alchemy Theatre and LAByrinth Theater Company production of Scott Hudson's Sweet Storm will close on Sunday at Theatre Row's Kirk. Hudson is the recipient of the 2009 Daryl Roth Creative Spirit Award winner. As an actor, you may remember him in Our Lady of 121st Street when it upped to Off Bway. The play is filled with downhome humor, and some very bright one-liners. Director Padraic Lillis is to be credited with developing so much character in only 75 minues in the two-hander set in 1960 Florida and starring Eric T. Miller as a young preacher expecting to live happily ever after with his new bride, Jamie Dunn. The honeymoon and the bride come with some built in obstacles. The main reason to catch Sweet Storm is Miller, who gives one of the most exceptionally authentic and gifted performances in recent seasons. Tickets are $25, $15 for students, seniors, and rush $15 plus a $1.25 "Theatre Row" surcharge, and available at the box office; through Ticket Central, (212) 279-4200; or www.ticketcentral.com.


    Vincenta Pages, a.k.a. The Lady with the Tigers, is one of the prime reasons to do a beach outing to Coney Island for Ringling Bros.' one-ring Boom A Ring up close and personal circus. The beautiful 23-year-old of American/Cuban descent hails from circus dynasty performers on both sides of her family. She has raised her equally gorgeous six white tigers from birth. The well-staged act shows the bond between Pages and her animals. Through miking, we hear her address each by name and get them to do things that they don't really seem to want to do. The high-five is a hoot. When Pages comes out of the cage, she segues into a most revealing costume for an aerial routine on the hoops. Get your seats now, as the show closes Labor Day, September 7. Tickets are $10-$65 and available, along with showtimes, at www.ringling.com or by calling (201) 507-8900. The circus, which usually plays small arenas, is making it's tent debut at Coney. Seating is comfortable and there's A/C. And, within a stone's throw, there's Nathan's, the Cyclone, the Wonder Wheel and the Atlantic.

    Opera on DVD

    How about some Puccini to wile away the dog days of summer? Washington National Opera's acclaimed 1998 production of La Rondine, which was televised on PBS, is finally available on DVD [Decca; 117 minutes; single disc; SRP $30]. The sumptuous production features the controversial "third ending" which Puccini completed in 1921.

    After extensive research, director Marta Domingo [Mrs. Placido, now retired from her singing career] reconstructed the tragic opera. Now, in the finale, rather than having Magda, played by soprano Ainhoa Arteta, fly off like a swallow, she takes her life.

    Co-headling the excellent cast are Inva Mula, Marcus Haddock, Richard Troxell and Emmanuel Villaume. Brian Large was video director. Placido Domingo is A.D. of the WNO.

    Link to a preview clip of WNO's La Rondine:

    Ellis Nassour is an international media journalist, and author of Honky Tonk Angel: The Intimate Story of Patsy Cline, which he has adapted into a musical for the stage. Visit www.patsyclinehta.com.

    He can be reached at [email protected]

    Why are you looking all the way down here?
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