Monthly Archives: June 2022


Adam Gopnik of the New Yorker wrote that Donald Trump’s need to be comforted by Broadway music “degrades both the office of the Presidency and a great American institution”

(Rachel Hagan’s article appeared in the Mirror, 6/29 via the Drudge Report.)

Donald Trump’s staff would play the song Memory from the Broadway musical Cats to soothe the former US President when he was stressed, it has been revealed.

Stephanie Grisham, who served as his White House press secretary and communications director and as Melania Trump ’s chief of staff, said on Tuesday that former US President Trump’s temper was “scary”.

She continued: “He’d snap and almost lose control.”

Grisham recently published a tell-all book and noted that when Trump descended into turmoil, his staff resorted to summoning an aide, nicknamed the “Music Man”, to play songs from musicals they knew would soothe him, namely Memory from the Broadway musical Cats.

Her remarks came as a result of ex-aide, Cassidy Hutchinson speaking in staggering detail to the House select committee hearing on Tuesday about Trump’s character.

She portrayed an unhinged leader who often veered wildly out of control.

The committee were investigating the January 6 attacks on Capitol Hill but Trump’s character was also destroyed during the hearing.

The New York Times reported that in Grisham’s memoir, I’ll Take Your Questions Now: What I Saw in the Trump White House, “Mr Trump’s handlers designated an unnamed White House official known as the ‘Music Man’ to play him his favourite show tunes, including ‘Memory’ from Cats, to pull him from the brink of rage”.

The paper identified the “Music Man” as Max Miller.

Miller is a former boyfriend of Grisham who was also a Trump aide and now a Republican candidate for Congress in Ohio.

Adam Gopnik of the New Yorker wrote that Trump’s need to be comforted by Broadway music “degrades both the office of the Presidency and a great American institution”.

Betty Buckley, the award-winning actress who plays Grizabella in Cats and sings Memory, told CNN‘s Jim Acosta that his desire to have the song plated indicates that Trump’s soul is “so damaged.”

She thinks Trump’s soul is so damaged and she feels that the lyrics by Trevor Nunn, and the music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, “resonates with what remains of the window into whatever soul he might actually have”.

She said Grizabella is a character that is about longing, the need to be touched and the need to connect.

(Read more)


The words and wisdom of Constantin Stanislavski:

​I was ready to turn myself inside out​, to give [the audience] everything I had; yet inside of me I had never felt so empty.  The effort to squeeze out more emotion than I had, the powerlessness to do the impossible, filled me with a fear that turned my face and my hands to stone.  All my forces were spent  on unnatural and fruitless efforts. (AP)


(Lyndsey Winship’s article appeared in the Guardian, 6/26; via Pam Green.)

Due to open in Stratford next year, the sibling to the Islington institution will have a special emphasis on local talent, hip-hop and artists of colour

The sun is beaming across London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Next to West Ham’s London Stadium is the tangled red steel of the Orbit; nearby, a line of swan pedalos wait to be paddled up the River Lea. There are cranes everywhere, busy building. This is the view from the top-floor studios of a new theatre for dance, Sadler’s Wells East, a sister venue to the original Sadler’s Wells in Islington.

The O’Donnell + Tuomey-designed building has just celebrated its “topping out”, the completion of its concrete structure. It’s a significant milestone for Sadler’s Wells’ artistic director Sir Alistair Spalding, the wry, affable, recently knighted 64-year-old who is a driving force in UK dance. “This has been my mission all the time at Sadler’s Wells, to really put dance at the centre of cultural life in London,” he says. This new theatre is definitely in the cultural thick of things: due to open in November 2023, it is part of the £1.1bn East Bank project that includes a branch of the V&A, BBC studios and a vast new home for the London College of Fashion.

While on the current building site you can’t yet see the rusty-red Italian brick facade, the sawtooth roof or theatrically inspired lighting by designer Aideen Malone; even so, you can see its great potential. A huge, L-shaped foyer hugs the corner of the building across the bridge from Zaha Hadid’s curvaceous Aquatics centre, full-height windows inviting people in. There’ll be a movable stage for local dance companies to perform on, a bar and cafe. Spalding calls it “a people’s theatre”. “It’s not just about the art, it’s about who sees it,” he says, hoping that will include lots of people who haven’t yet discovered their love for dance. Young local people are already being invited to take part in workshops this summer to find dancers for the theatre’s opening show, Vicki Igbokwe’s Our Mighty Groove, about the power of the dancefloor.

Back in 2013, Spalding announced his desire to build a mid-scale venue and various developers got in touch, usually with offers to build a residential block with a theatre underground. The East Bank proposal offered much more, though; still, it’s had a few wobbles along the way, such as when it was realised that the residential towers that would have part-financed the site were going to interrupt a protected view of St Paul’s Cathedral from Richmond Hill on the opposite side of London. “That was nearly the end,” says Spalding. Then there was Covid, which delayed building work by about a year. And Brexit, with its resulting price increases for materials. Although the real Brexit impact is felt inside the theatre, where a new layer of admin and visas for touring shows means more costs and staff – the opposite of cutting red tape – plus switching to a European haulage firm because of cabotage laws. “If this soft power thing is going to work, you have to make it easy for people to travel around the world,” says Spalding

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(Susan Orlean’s article appeared in the New Yorker, 6/22.)

Puppeteering is rarely an obvious career choice, but how Margo Lovelace (1922-2022) came to be a puppeteer is actually quite logical. Beginning in her childhood, in Edgewood, Pennsylvania, she had restless hands; she was always painting or drawing or sculpting or sewing. She also loved to act. She was good, but not great, at all of it, and was vexed by the idea that to excel at one she had to give up the rest. She decided to take a crack at clothing design, and after high school she enrolled in a fashion program in New York, but she chafed at the commercial aspects of the apparel industry and left within a year. Back home, in 1952, she was hired to design and build displays for Kaufmann’s department store in Pittsburgh. It was the first time that she had done something that merged almost all of her interests, and, as her son David Visser told me recently, “she discovered that the sum was greater than the individual parts.”

Perhaps she would have been content finding her métier in window displays, but, soon after she started at Kaufmann’s, she was asked to stage a Punch-and-Judy show for kids at a local arts fair. Bingo. structing the puppets, sewing their clothing, painting the backdrops, and then performing—it was exactly what she had hankered for. Discovering puppeteering changed her. Pre-Punch-and-Judy photos show Lovelace wearing angora knits and A-line skirts, prim and constricted. Post-Punch-and-Judy, there is Lovelace swanning around in a turquoise-velvet, rhinestone-encrusted top, with an ostrich feather in her hair; and there she is sporting a billowy orange-and-purple blouson and several inches of aqua eyeshadow. She held on to her display job for a short while, but the minute she landed a four-week gig on a marionette show (this one at Gimbels, another department store in town) she quit her job at Kaufmann’s and dived in.

Soon after, she signed on to stage regular shows at yet another department store, Frank & Seder. (Who knew that department stores were so instrumental in the development of puppeteering?) At the time, she knew only the basics of the craft, but, after she joined the Puppeteers of America, a professional organization, she met Cedric Head, the seasoned operator of a prominent marionette company, who became her mentor. She apprenticed with him in Vermont and then returned to Pittsburgh, where she had established a puppet troupe she called Margo’s Moppets. By the early nineteen-sixties, her puppets—moppets no more, they were now known as the Lovelace Marionettes—were famous in Pittsburgh, and she was a local celebrity. She was charismatic. “People loved being around her,” Visser said. “She inspired people to want to be in her orbit, to help her out. It was a mysterious attribute of hers.” (Visser began directing some of the theatre presentations when he was a teen-ager. “It was the way to be close to my mom,” he said.) Scores of young people interned with Lovelace Marionettes, including the acclaimed theatre director Peter Sellars, who started working with her when he was only eleven years old. “I knocked on Margo’s door and my life changed,” Sellars told me. “She created an amazing ecosystem. She had high standards. You made everything by hand. For me, the beauty was in how serious she was about the deep traditions and skills of puppet theatre.”

She also stood out, Sellars said, for being an independent, creative woman in an era when that wasn’t easy. By the time Lovelace Marionettes was in its heyday, she was managing as a single mother of three children and proving to be a canny businessperson. In 1964, she bought a building in a bohemian Pittsburgh neighborhood and on the ground floor she opened a theatre for her troupe—she referred to it as her “dream palace,” but its origin was as a ramshackle garage. (It is believed to be the first permanent puppet theatre in the United States.) Then she began purchasing and renovating six adjacent buildings, which were going for a song. Rent from those properties helped subsidize the theatre, and, over time, in part thanks to its presence, the entire neighborhood spiffed up.

She wasn’t content to simply churn out the usual children’s fare. If she was staging “Rumpelstiltskin,” she would reimagine it as a story unfolding in ancient Egypt. Yes, she did the requisite “Beauty and the Beast,” but she set it in Japan, incorporating what she’d learned at a Bunraku theatre in Osaka. After spending a month studying with the avant-garde puppeteer Sergey Obraztsov, in Moscow, she decided to present shows for adults as well as kids. Her taste ran to the experimental—the likes of Jean CocteauSamuel Beckett, and Jean Giraudoux. “This wasn’t exactly standard fare in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania,” Sellars said. If she had time off, she’d head somewhere such as the Yucatán and study mask work and ritual. She was hungry to see just how far the seemingly benign craft of the puppet show could be pushed—how far she could take conceptual art and surrealism within the confines of a department-store window or a Pittsburgh garage. In 1977, she relocated Lovelace Marionettes to the Carnegie Museum of Art. The venue was bigger and perhaps more prestigious, but she missed her old theatre and the feeling that she had complete artistic control.

(Read more)


(Catherine Bennett’s article appeared in the Observer, 6/19;via Pam Green.)

One irritating theatre reviewer shouldn’t hide the fact that too many writers pull punches

Legally Blonde at Regent’s Park Open Air theatre. The Observer reviewer gave it four stars: “Everything is as popping and pink as bubblegum.” 

Remaining evening performances of Legally Blonde, showing at the Regent’s Park Open Air theatre, are, at the time of writing, sold out. While terrific for the production, this does limit opportunities for theatregoers hoping to demonstrate support for a show whose cast has been collectively body-shamed by a leading critic: “The stage’s superstructure wobbles under the weight of the company’s loosely choreographed gyrations.”

The production opened to generally approving notices, with the Observer’s Susannah Clapp giving it four stars: “Everything is as popping and pink as bubblegum.” But the theatre, stung by “the insensitive language of one review”, issued this warning: “We expect that everyone comments with respect and sensitivity and those who decide not to will no longer be invited back to our theatre.”

At the Tony awards last week, where she won two awards as co-creator of the hugely successful Six, Lucy Moss, Legally Blonde’s director, was emphatic: the review had been “unacceptable”.

The offending piece is taken to be that, entitled “Not so Pretty in Pink”, by the Sunday Times theatre critic, Quentin Letts, a veteran of various scraps with understandably offended theatres. In 2018, the RSC said his suggestion that a highly regarded actor had been cast because he was black amounted to “a blatantly racist attitude”.

While he had a range of reservations about Legally Blonde, Letts seemed especially unimpressed by the cast’s appearance, citing the “fuller-bodied, nonbinary actors”. So much so that it’s not clear that any line-up, binary-wise, would have been acceptable unless it fulfilled his body-mass requirements. “Fellow fatties of the world,” he wrote, “first we take Harvard, then we take Brenda Hale’s old seat on the Supreme Court.”

The name-calling could hardly be better calculated to arouse sympathy for the indignant theatres

Though it may be little consolation for the Regent’s Park performers, they have not been singled out for denigration, not even on the basis that Letts dislikes the look of them. Actually, they’re in fantastic company. Some years ago, the critic defended, with yet more elaborate insults, those dismissing a young opera singer as inadequately enticing in Der Rosenkavalier. The “roly poly” young singer had, Letts said, “the figure and face of a goodish pork pie” and looked “as though she has been at the biscuit barrel”. For critics not to feel similarly disinhibited in their responses would, he said, be for them to fall victim to “Leveson-style censorship”. You gathered that anyone interested in free speech should defend to the death, even if they recoil from fat-shaming, this defiant critic’s right to disqualify performers for being too big or too black or too old or for repeatedly speaking in what Letts calls “whining Scottish accents”.

In reality, the name-calling could hardly be better calculated to arouse sympathy, even among habitual respecters of creative freedom, for the indignant theatres. Even if, as is often stressed by advocates of review-resilience, Byron was mean to Keats, unkind reviewers were once challenged to duels, Henry James survived being booed and, more recently, Kenneth Tynan was always skewering actors. For one thing, if the ghastly Tynan was likewise threatened with bans it was also recognised that he loved the theatre. And if “fatties” are still eligible for the pillory, Equity’s view that reviewers are in need of its educational guidelines – especially on race, but also on writing in general “with sensitivity, empathy and understanding” – looks momentarily less condescending.

Except that when you look at the other reviews for Legally Blonde, or indeed reviews for almost any current theatre, to warn all critics about their delinquent insensitivity seems about as reasonable as threatening a whole class with detention when only one kid was texting. If anything, many reviewers’ reluctance to trash all but the direst productions, a tendency factored in by cautious theatregoers, has only deepened, post-pandemic, into what sometimes comes across as limitless tenderness towards a convalescing child. And if it’s sometimes unclear, reading between the lines, whether a play goes on so long as to be utterly unendurable, or won all its stars (“moments of brilliance!”) for effort, or is only likeable if you like that sort of thing, many customers probably still share the reviewer’s relief that the theatre is back at all.

Commentary on social media can be instructive here, just as it is in modifying the conclusions of ungenerous critics. “Still grinning from ear to ear from the utter joy” (along with the now redundant advice “get tickets”) seems reasonably typical of the Legally Blonde reviews from paying customers.

(Read more)


(Benjamin Lee’s article appeared in the Guardian, 6/22.)

The award-winning writer, whose hit musical originally opened on Broadway in the late 60s, died in New York City of cardiorespiratory arrest

James Rado, the award-winning co-creator of Hair, has died at the age of 90.

The writer, whose hit musical launched songs such as Aquarius and Let the Sunshine In, died peacefully in New York City surrounded by family. The cause of death was cardiorespiratory arrest, as confirmed by longtime friend, publicist Merle Frimark. 

How we made Hair

Rado wrote the book and music for Hair along with the late Gerome Ragni. His career originally started as an actor, including the lead in the 1966 James Goldman play The Lion in Winter starring Rosemary Harris and Christopher Walken and in Mike Nichols’ production of The Knack.

During the 60s, Rado and Ragni were also writing Hair, a rock musical about hippie counterculture and the sexual revolution of the 60s. After a brief off-Broadway run, it hit Broadway in 1968 and ran for 1,750 performances.


“There was a wonderful warmth in the hippie atmosphere, a sense of freedom,” Rado said about the culture in a 2008 interview. “Men would just come up to you and take you in their arms, and it was so freeing and felt so good. It’s a psychological truth that had been so blocked from human behavior.”

(Read more)


(from France24, 6/17.)

In this edition we focus on France’s foremost playwright. Molière’s witticisms and deft handling of the French language still dazzle, four centuries after he was born. To celebrate the author’s link to the court of Louis XIV, the town of Versailles has been hosting a month of special events and performances for 26 years. Olivia Salazar-Winspear, Gerôme Vassilacos and Loïc Chalavon head to Versailles to meet the young troupe breathing new life into Molière’s plays.

We also get a glimpse of the renovations of the apartments of Louis XV’s favourite mistress, as Madame du Barry’s lodgings are restored to their former gilded glory.


(Jennifer Schuessler’s article appeared in The New York Times, 6/15; via Pam Green.) 

In 2019, Will Arbery scored

Arbery, a Pulitzer finalist in 2020, is back with a play inspired by his relationship with his sister. But don’t call it an “issue” play.

In 2019, Will Arbery scored an unlikely hit with “Heroes of the Fourth Turning,” his darkly comic, boundary-pushing play about young Catholic conservatives debating God, love, friendship and Donald Trump at a late-night party in a Wyoming backyard. A finalist for the 2020 Pulitzer Prize, it won praise both from the heavily liberal New York theater world and from traditionalist Christians who often feel caricatured by it, if they are depicted at all.

“Heroes” was a play that, for all the idiosyncrasies of its characters, was hailed as being very much About Something. But on a recent morning, Arbery, 32, was sitting outside a cafe near his apartment in Brooklyn, alternately wrestling with and resisting the question of just what his new play, “Corsicana,” was about.

Most simply, “Corsicana,” which runs until July 10 at Playwrights Horizons, is about four people in that small city in Texas, including a young woman with Down syndrome, her aspiring filmmaker brother and a reclusive self-taught artist who comes into their orbit. Inspired by Arbery’s relationship with his older sister Julia, it’s the rare play to feature both a lead character — and a lead actor — with Down syndrome.

But it’s also, Arbery said, a play that “very stubbornly defies about-ness.”

(Read more)


The words and wisdom of Constantin Stanislavski:

There is a good side to this period of waiting [to go on stage]. It drives you into such a state that all you can do is to long for your turn, to get through with the thing that you are afraid of. . . .

But the minute the curtain rose, and the audience appeared before me, I . . . felt myself possessed by its power. At the same time some new unexpected sensations surged inside of me. [Although] the set hems in the actor . . . [and] this semi-isolation is pleasant . . . a bad aspect is, that it projects the attention out into the public. Another new point was that my fears led me to feel a certain obligation to interest the audience. This feeling of obligation interfered with my throwing myself into what I was doing. I began to feel hurried, both in speech and in action. . . . The slightest hesitation and a catastrophe would have been inevitable. (AP)


(Rory Carroll’s article appeared in the Guardian, 6/16/22; Photo: James Joyce in Zurich in 1915. Photograph: Granger Historical Picture Archive/Alamy.)

1933 trial that vindicated ‘pornographic’ James Joyce novel made into play to be staged in Dublin

It was a seminal literary trial in which a book itself – not its author or publisher – was the defendant.

The United States v One Book Called Ulysses, as the case was termed, put James Joyce’s masterpiece, which had been banned for obscenity, on trial in a New York courtroom in 1933. The landmark ruling in favour of Ulysses resounded across the world and helped lift bans in other jurisdictions, including the UK.

The victory for freedom of speech eventually faded into history, a dusty footnote, but now it has been turned into a play that will be performed in Dublin to mark the centenary of the publication of Ulysses.

“A history play is never about history it’s always about today, and this seemed a good time to be talking about cancellation and censorship,” said the author, Colin Murphy. “I like stories that can flip how we think about things today.”

The performance of The United States v Ulysses at the Pavilion theatre in Dún Laoghaire will be one of dozens of events on Thursday to celebrate Bloomsday, named after Leopold Bloom, the hero of Joyce’s novel, which recounts his wanderings around Dublin on a single day, 16 June 1904.

The annual celebration – a mix of tours, readings, concerts, screenings, reenactments and tributes – has additional resonance this year as it marks a century since the book’s publication in 1922, a keystone for modern literature.

The Museum of Literature Ireland – its acronym MoLI is an homage to Bloom’s fictional wife Molly – collaborated with 35 Irish embassies and consulates to make a short film, titled Hold to the Now, that mixes scholars and actors, including Stephen Fry. It will premiere on YouTube on Thursday morning.

The day will also mark the first public staged performance of Murphy’s play, which draws on case files, other historical material, and Set at Random, a novel by Declan Dunne about the trial.

“I thought I knew the Joyce story but this had completely passed me by,” said Murphy. “For us Joyce is an Irish story so it was surprising to find this American leg, and this leg is crucial. The verdict creates the possibility of Joyce as a part of mass popular culture.”

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