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By Marit Shuman

There’s a fountain in the Piazza Trilussa, in the Trastevere, where people can sit and watch live performance. 

The fountain is called fontana di Ponte Sisto, which refers to the bridge right across from the piazza.



Generally, there is music being played at all hours or events like this one, which was filmed on Sunday, June 18, 2017.


The story of Persephone is being reenacted, using dancers on stilts and plenty of pyrotechnics.


The ancient story tells how Persephone is abducted by Pluto, the god of the Underworld.  


Her mother, Demeter, the goddess of agriculture, heartbroken at the loss of her daughter, plunges the world into darkness. 


Finally, Persephone is found and allowed to resurface on earth, bringing spring. 

But, because she has eaten the food of Hades, pomegranate seeds, she must return again every year, as the seasons change to winter.



Photos:  Fountain: Starhotels; Ponte Sisto: Wikipedia.




(Rachel Shukert’s article appeared on, 6/8; via Pam Green.)

What is the modern American musical theater? What are its best songs? When does it even most properly begin? Must we now divide everything into “Before Hamilton and “After Hamilton,” as with the birth of Jesus Christ himself? Phantom of the Opera is still running — would “Before Phantom” and After Phantom” be more appropriate? Is there even one genuinely good song in Phantom? How much Sondheim can you cram into a listicle before even your most dedicated base gets restless? And were there more than three good new musicals on Broadway in the whole of the 1990s? These questions, along with many others, were the ones I asked myself as I sat down to write this list.

Why only the past 40 years? Why not the best show tunes of all time? Well, first of all, because Broadway has been around since the late 19th century, and I’m only one small human being (no matter what Eric Trump might say) and human beings tend to function best within fathomable limits. And also, the past 40 years encapsulate the post-Vietnam era, on Broadway no less than in America itself, and have brought us to our present state of societal and emotional collapse: the cynical Weimar-like decadence of the late ’70s (and also, Annie); the greed, bombast, and conservatism of the ’80s (and the quiet intellectual resistance that sprung up in reaction to it); the AIDS crisis, which devastated New York City, and the Broadway community in particular; the wholesome commercialism of the ’90s and the Disneyfication of Times Square (a cultural phenomenon that, while for many regrettable, is nonetheless important enough that I decided to make eligible songs that originated in Disney movies before turning up on the Great White Way); the confusion and vague paranoia of the early aughts, in a city still reeling in the aftermath of 9/11, and the optimistic, tolerant multiculturalism of the Obama years, which now feels as though it was all an impossible dream, the way it must have to listen to the original soundtrack of Camelot during the Nixon administration.

So that seemed like plenty, and what eventually came out is a list that is deeply personal, probably idiosyncratic, and certainly may not please everyone. I don’t apologize for this (although I do apologize for having never seen, or even listened to, The Light in the Piazza. I’m sure I’ll hear about that, and I know exactly from whom). Because that’s what the musical theater is: a deeply personal, deeply ingrained identification that is often formed early in childhood and never lets go. Different songs mean different things to you at different times in your life; other songs drive you crazy but you find yourself powerless to deny their greatness (and still know every single word. And cry at them, sometimes, when it’s late and you’ve had a couple drinks).

So here are the 30 songs from a few more years than I’ve been around that have meant something to me. And because each of our own realities is finite and definitive, I will say: They are unquestioningly the Greatest 30 Show Tunes of the Past 40 Years. Enjoy, and tell me why I’m wrong in the comments!

  1. “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist”(Avenue Q; 2003)

A lot of people are a whole lot racist, is my main takeaway from the past year. But that doesn’t detract from the appeal of this plucky charmer about the ubiquity of microaggressions, in that nostalgic time when America actually had the decency to hide its latent bigotry behind a veneer of shame or at least politesse, and if you wanted to say something really outrageous, it was better to have a big fuzzy orange puppet do it for you. (And it still is, come to think of it, except we were all better off when it was John Tartaglia’s hand up his ass instead of Vladimir Putin’s.)

  1. “Defying Gravity” (Wicked, 2003)

The Venn diagram of Idina Menzel fans and aspiring YouTube tween stars is not so much a diagram as a single solid circle, and without Stephen Schwartz’s (literally) uplifting and defiant ballad of female empowerment, what would they do? (Be stuck singing “Omigod, You Guys” from Legally Blonde over and over again, that’s what.) But what makes “Defying Gravity” such a watershed moment onstage and in song isn’t just the sunny, “You Go Girl #WomenWhoWork” message that women, if they put their minds to it, are unstoppable; it’s the not-so-veiled threat that women, when they put their minds to it, are unstoppable. Wizards everywhere should be very afraid.

  1. “Take Me or Leave Me” (Rent; 1996)

Female duets are few and far between on the Broadway stage (“Every Day a Little Death?” “Marry the Man Today?” “If Mama Was Married”? “I Will Never Leave You”? “Defying Gravity,” sort of? Am I disproving my own point?) Anyway. Girls still tend to outnumber boys in any given Broadway-themed voice class, so whenever there’s something great they can sing together, it deserves recognition. Particularly when it’s a number as fierce and feisty as Maureen and Joanne’s unapologetic lovers’ quarrel from Rent. Other songs in the show are more ubiquitous, more sentimental, more imbued with their own sense of grandeur and tragedy and importance — but none of them are this much fun. All this, and it passes the Bechdel test! And, speaking of Bechdel …

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Sherman Yellen was nominated for a Tony Award for his book for the 1970 musical The Rothschilds, with a score by Fiddler on the Roof songwriters Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, which he and Harnick have recently reimagined as Rothschild & Sons. Sherman wrote the libretto for the Will Holt and Gary William Friedman musical Treasure Island, winner of the Broadway World Best Regional Musical Award (2012). Among his many theater works is his satirical sketch “Delicious Indignities,” which appeared in the New York and London revue Oh! Calcutta! His straight plays on and off Broadway include New Gods for LoversStrangers, and December Fools.  

Sherman was librettist and lyricist for Josephine Tonight, an original musical he wrote with the late composer Wally Harper, about the early life of Josephine Baker, which The Chicago Sun-Times called “a shining new musical” and which the D.C. press praised for being “so hot that it sizzles.”

In his youth he worked as a librettist with legendary composer Richard Rodgers. Together with Sheldon Harnick they recently revised the Rodgers-Harnick musical Rex about Henry VIII. This new version had a successful premiere in Toronto.  Yellen’s teleplays have won him two Emmy Awards and a Peabody Award, first for his John Adams, Lawyer in the PBS series The Adams Chronicles, and later for An Early Frost, a groundbreaking drama about AIDS in America broadcast on NBC, as well as an Emmy Nomination for his Hallmark Hall of Fame version of Beauty and the Beast starring George C. Scott. Sherman’s screenplay adaptations of classic novels range from Great Expectations to Phantom of the Opera. He has received awards in Arts and Letters from Bard College, and he is a frequent contributor of essays on the arts, literature, and politics to online publications such as The Huffington Post.

Sherman recently published his autobiographical novella Cousin Bella–The Whore of Minsk, available in a volume, which also includes his holiday short story A Christmas Lilly,” and a collection of three plays, December Fools and Other Plays (December Fools * Budapest * Gin Lane).  Sherman is married, the father of two sons, Nicholas and Christopher, and has three much loved granddaughters. He has lived in London and Los Angeles, worked in Berlin and Budapest, but home was, is, and always will be New York City.

Sherman Yellen talks, with SV’s Bob Shuman, about his new memoir Spotless: Memories of a New York City Childhood.  The second part, of this three-part interview, will appear, 6/28.

View ‘Spotless’ on Amazon: 

How are the Yellens, the Rothschilds, and the Adamses the same; how are they different?

When I write about people I can only do so by connecting them to myself, my character, my beliefs, and my experiences.   All three: the Yellens, the Rothschilds, and the Adamses come from very different cultures, but what they share is a deep belief that the world must be better, and we must work to make it so.   It may sound foolish but, while writing these very different works, I became John Adams, Mayer Rothschild, and the little boy who inhabits Spotless, the saga of my family.  If we don’t bring ourselves to everything we write, there can be little truth or passion in the writing–it becomes a dry history rather than drama.   The trick is to find some part of yourself in every character you write, even the nasty ones.  For a while I had the joy of being John Adams, Mayer Rothschild, and, late in life, the observant child that I was.   

Did you ever believe that you would excel in writing about families–or how would you describe your new book?

I’ve always had a deep interest in families–what holds them together, what pulls them apart–probably flowing from the closeness of my own family– both my first family, the one in Spotless,  and the second, with my wife, Joan, which has lasted nearly 64 years.  I am deeply interested in how we remember those who are gone:  For me, Spotless was an attempt to recall and recreate what I had experienced as a child of the ‘30s and ‘40s–to go deeper yet into that world of my grandparents and parents: their journey, from European and Lower East Side poverty to affluence, and the cost of it, for everyone who traveled that very American path.   It is summed up by critic/novelist Christopher Davis who said, “Spotless is a story of family love trapped in the old world’s hurricane of desire to share in American dreaming.”

How did you decide on the title?  Tell us about it.

The title Spotless has several meanings–it certainly has little to do with that questioning, and somewhat judgmental, child on the cover of the book, a born observer:  indeed, the title has more to do with my mother’s use of the word to describe the character of a friend, a housekeeper, or the kitchen floor in our apartment.  In a sense it was her ideal.  She came from a world where half her family died of TB–spots on the lung were the sign of that disease.  To be Spotless was, for her, to be safe, healthy, and to be alive.  

You write that hardship “doesn’t often make people better, it just makes them harder.” You are referring to the Depression and the ‘40s.  Have you noticed other periods when people became harder–and have there been times when they seemed otherwise? 

My observation is a generalization, and, like most, it is only partially true.   There are people who rise up from their own despair to help others in the worst of times, but I have observed that many who have suffered are locked into their own cages of suffering, and they have not found a key to escape.  I do believe that we learn and grow more from kindness than from suffering.  Corny?  Maybe.  But I have found the truth in this over a long lifetime.

What do you miss most about the New York you grew up in (the book brings up cultural references, such as Baby Peggy, Olive Thomas, and Sonja Henie)? 

I miss so many of the old pleasures of the old NYC: the trolley cars in the Bronx, the double-decker buses on Fifth Avenue, the old Schrafft’s restaurants, where my parents took me for a Sunday lunch, and I miss the mom-and-pop stores that helped to create the New York of neighborhoods–I miss the old Reuben’s Restaurant, of the 1950s, which allowed my wife and I to dine with our schnauzer Gus seated beside us–before the health police took charge of the city.   I love the spirit of that city, before real estate became the King of New York, driving the small shopkeepers out and bringing in those ubiquitous banks and chain stores.  And I miss the affordable price of a theater ticket, and the smaller, more human scale of the city.  An example of that is the old MOMA.  I would go there with my friends and girlfriends, as a teenager at the High School of Music & Art–a kid who loved fine art–and it was a welcoming place.  Today, it is a glass palace, an expensive tourist spot, not the warm, second home for many art-loving city kids.  Needless to say, I loved the New York that didn’t have a Trump Tower and kept its Trumps sequestered in Queens.

I am not one who subscribes to the idea that the high cost of living in NYC is proportionate with the cost of living in the past.  Baloney!  The world was affordable for those who were not in the one percent.  It was there for most of the residents–even during the Depression.  I miss the courtesies that made for a gentler city, and oh Lord, do I miss those marvelous movie theaters–growing up, as I did, in the golden age of Hollywood.  Nothing short of heaven itself can replicate the grandeur of the old Loew’s Paradise, on the Grand Concourse, and its sister theaters throughout the boroughs.    I do not miss the bigotry of that time, but we may have traded it in for the repellant hard-nosed ambition that I often see today.   But oh, the beauty of Central Park now–almost nothing compares with it in the past–and the everyday mix of races and classes in NYC makes me proud to be a New Yorker.

View ‘Spotless’ on Amazon:


(c) 2017 by Sherman Yellen (answers) and Bob Shuman (questions). All rights reserved.

Yellen family photos: Courtesy of the Sherman Yellen. All rights reserved.

Central Park: Fodor’s Travel Guides.


(By Bob Dylan; via Pam Green; listen to Dylan give the speech using the link below; photo: Rolling Stone.)

When I received this Nobel Prize for Literature, I got to wondering exactly how my songs related to literature. I wanted to reflect on it and see where the connection was. I’m going to try to articulate that to you. And most likely it will go in a roundabout way, but I hope what I say will be worthwhile and purposeful.

If I was to go back to the dawning of it all, I guess I’d have to start with Buddy Holly. Buddy died when I was about eighteen and he was twenty-two. From the moment I first heard him, I felt akin. I felt related, like he was an older brother. I even thought I resembled him. Buddy played the music that I loved – the music I grew up on: country western, rock ‘n’ roll, and rhythm and blues. Three separate strands of music that he intertwined and infused into one genre. One brand. And Buddy wrote songs – songs that had beautiful melodies and imaginative verses. And he sang great – sang in more than a few voices. He was the archetype. Everything I wasn’t and wanted to be. I saw him only but once, and that was a few days before he was gone. I had to travel a hundred miles to get to see him play, and I wasn’t disappointed.

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(Adam Hetrick’s article appeared in Playbill Online, 6/17.)

Dear Evan Hansen and the Bette Midler revival of Hello, Dolly! were among the night’s biggest winners.Dear Evan Hansen, the original Broadway musical that tells the story of an “invisible” high school outsider whose desperate longing for acceptance leads him to an unimaginable lie, was the most-awarded production of the 71st Annual Tony Awards, which were presented June 11 at Radio City Music Hall.

(Adam Hetrick’s article appeared in Playbill Online, 6/17.)

Nominated for nine awards, Dear Evan Hansen won in six categories, including Best Musical. Ben Platt took home the Tony Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical for his emotionally raw performance in the show’s title role, while Rachel Bay Jones won for Best Performance by an Actress in Featured Role a Musical for her performance as his mother Heidi. Oscar winners Benj Pasek and Justin Paul also took home their first Tony Award for Best Original Score. Alex Lacamoire won his third Tony for Best Orchestrations, having previously won for Hamilton and In the Heights.

The celebrated Broadway revival of Hello, Dolly! starring Bette Midler took home four Tony Awards, including Best Revival of a Musical and Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role a Musical for Midler. It was also awarded Best Performance by an Actor in Featured Role a Musical for Gavin Creel, as well as Best Costume Design of a Musical for Santo Loquasto.

Best Play was awarded to Oslo, the new work by J.T. Rogers, who made his Broadway debut with the political drama about high-level meetings between the State of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, which culminated in the signing of the historic 1993 Oslo Accords. Michael Aronov’s performance as Israeli diplomat Uri Savir earned him the Tony for Best Performance by an Actor in Featured Role a Play.

Additional honors went to Laurie Metcalf, who won her first Tony Award for her performance as Nora in Lucas Hnath’s A Doll’s House, Part 2, and Kevin Kline, who won his third Tony Award for Present Laughter. August Wilson’s Jitney—the last of his plays to receive its Broadway debut—won for Best Revival of a Play.

Click here for a full list of nominees.

The complete list of winners follows:

Best Musical
Dear Evan Hansen

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical
Bette Midler, Hello, Dolly!

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical
Ben Platt, Dear Evan Hansen

Best Revival of a Musical
Hello, Dolly!

Best Play
Oslo by J.T. Rogers

Best Revival of a Play
August Wilson’s Jitney

Best Choreography
Andy Blankenbuehler, Bandstand

Best Direction of a Musical
Christopher Ashley, Come From Away

Best Direction of a Play
Rebecca Taichman, Indecent

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(Michael Paulson’s article appeared in The New York Times, 6/10; via Pam Green.)

Sunday, June 11 is the biggest night of the year for Broadway: the Tony Awards, when the industry honors the best work of the season. Just as important to Broadway producers: the millions watching on television who are potential ticket buyers.

For those of us on the theater desk — The New York Times has six theater staffers, including an editor, two critics, a photographer, a digital specialist, and a reporter (that’s me), as well as several invaluable freelancers — the Tony season began weeks ago, early on the morning of May 2, when this year’s nominations were announced.

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(from, 6/7; photo: Berliner Zeitung)

Theater director Claus Peymann has been at the head of major German theaters since 1974 and director of the Berliner Ensemble since 1999. He turns 80 just a few weeks before leaving Bertolt Brecht’s famous institution.


Little Klaus – the name at that time spelled with “K”

Klaus Eberhard Peymann was born on June 7, 1937, into a middle-class family in Bremen. His father was a teacher and a Nazi; his mother opposed National Socialism. Klaus, for his part, rebelled by changing the spelling of his name: “When did ‘Klaus’ turn into ‘Claus’? I don’t know! At some point, it was just easier to write in school,” said Peymann.

It will not be a farewell of his own choice when Claus Peymann leaves the Berliner Ensemble at the end of the season – after 18 years of regency and 190 theater productions. Berlin politicians pushed for his abdication. “I feel like a theater monarch without an empire,” said the theater director, who turned 80 on June 7. “The Berliner Ensemble is my body, my imagination, my mind. I will not go without feeling pain and despair,” he said.

His life and career have been composed of a series of dramatic stations, marked by major rifts, scandals and the determined insistence that theater should be a forum for the humanistic critique of society.

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My Heart is in the East

June 8, 2017 – June 25, 2017

The Downstairs | 66 E 4th Street

Thursday to Saturday at 7PM; Sunday at 2:30PM

$25 Adult Tickets; $20 Students/Seniors; Limited $10 Tickets

 Written & Performed by Jessica Litwak

Inspired by Ancient CordobaMy Heart is in the East is a duet between a Jewish American woman and an Iraqi Muslim man. Bound together by circumstance, these two people from such different walks of life confront their insecurities, fears, and desires. Exploring these tensions through puppetry and poetry, the play is a humorous, passionate and poetic exploration of history as a model for peace building.

Each performance will be followed by an opportunity for the audience to try their hand at poetry composition and a dynamic guided discussion about interfaith issues, featuring noted scholars, journalists, and cultural and civic leaders.


Stay after each performance for an interactive special poetry composition

Thursday, June 8
David Diamond
Theater Professional | More Info

Friday, June 9
Cindy Cooper

Saturday, June 10
Yonit Freedman

Sunday, June 11
Catherine Filloux
Playwright on Human Rights | More Info

Friday, June 16
Raymond Scheindlin
Expert on Cordova & Poetry Translator

Saturday, June 17
Esther Farmer
Jewish Voice for Peace Member

Thursday, June 22
Lana Povitz
Jewish Voice for Peace Member

Saturday, June 24
Tom Block

Sunday, June 25
Stacey Linnartz & Karen Malpede
Theatre Professionals


Jessica Litwak (Playwright, Actor), Ph.D., is a playwright, actor, educator and activist. She is a Registered Drama Therapist, a trained practitioner of Playback, Psychodrama, Sociodrama and Theatre of the Oppressed. She is the Artistic Director of The H.E.A.T. Collective ( and the New Generation Theatre Ensemble, ( Litwak’s written work has been published by Applause Books, Smith and Krause, No Passport Press and The New York Times. She has taught theatre and performed at Many theatres and universities in the U.S. as well as in Iraq, Lebanon, India, Palestine, Israel, Turkey, Hungary, Eqypt, the U.K. and at La MaMa Umbria. Litwak is a core member of Theatre Without Borders and is a Fulbright Scholar.

Jen Wineman (Director) is a director/choreographer based in Brooklyn. Her work has been seen at theaters in New York and across the country. Off Broadway: F#%king Up Everything. New York: Fable (NYMF), The King’s Whore (Walkerspace); Estrella Cruz [The Junkyard Queen] (Ars Nova). Touring Productions: Twelfth Night, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Asolo Repertory Theatre). Regional: The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity (Asolo Rep) Sweeney Todd (Playmakers Rep); The 39 Steps, Shipwrecked (Triad Stage); The Hunchback of Seville (Washington Ensemble Theatre); Bubble Boy (American Theater Group); Aloha Say the Pretty Girls (Theatre Vertigo). Jen is a co-founder and the former co-artistic director of Studio 42, a New York City-based company that from 2001-2015, produced “unproducible” plays by emerging playwrights. She has taught at Vassar College, Ithaca College, SUNY Purchase, and is on the faculty at Primary Stages Einhorn School of Performing Arts in New York City. Up next is Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville for the Dorset Theatre Festival. Education/Training: B.A. Vassar College, M.F.A. Yale School of Drama.

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Martin Jarvis directs Arthur Miller’s 1955 award-winning masterpiece. Recorded in the US for Drama On 3. Alfred Molina won the BBC Drama Awards Best Actor accolade as Eddie Carbone. He leads an all-star American cast. Universal themes: family, guilt, loyalty, sexual attraction, jealousy – and love. A timeless reminder as immigrants from Syria, Eritrea, Libya currently seek new lives, new dreams. Here, it’s the American one. 

Setting. An Italian-American neighbourhood near the Brooklyn Bridge, New York. 1950s.

Lawyer Alfieri (our narrator) confides to listeners there are cases where he can only watch as they run their bloody course.

Longshoreman Eddie Carbone lives with his wife Beatrice and her orphaned niece, Catherine, in a Brooklyn tenement. He has a love of, almost an obsession with, 17 year-old Catherine. Beatrice’s Italian cousins are being smuggled into the country. The family hide the illegal immigrants, Marco and Rodolpho, while they work on the docks. Eddie’s increasing suspicion and jealousy of Rodolpho’s developing relationship with Catherine eventually leads to betrayal and a tragic confrontation.

Sound design: Wesley Dewberry and Mark Holden
A Jarvis & Ayres Production.


(Claire Allfree’s article appeared in the Telegraph, 5/12.)

A singing washing machine? A crooning night bus? Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori’s 2003 musical set in Civil Rights-era Louisiana remains one of the most innovative modern examples of the form: a giddy marriage of fierce social observation and a gospel- and Motown-inflected score delivered by a cast that includes kitchen appliances and a rising moon. Daniel Evans may have made a bold choice in programming this exuberant musical fantasia as part of his inaugural season at Chichester, but it’s thoroughly vindicated by this pocket-sized staging from Michael Longhurst, which emphatically drives home the show’s social currency 10 years after it premiered at the National.

Change takes on many meanings in Caroline, from the winds of revolution blowing through 1963 to the nickels and dimes that form the bedrock of the American dream. In a hellishly overheated basement in Lake Charles, Sharon D Clarke’s eponymous black maid Caroline is impervious to the former and – it soon turns out – tormented by the latter as she sweats out her days laundering clothes for the Gellman family.

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