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In the News: Dozens of Stars Join NYCLU as Artist Ambassadors, Fred Ebb Award Application Now Available, More

Read on for some recent theatre headlines you may have missed in today’s news.

Judy Kuhn, Celia Keenan-Bolger, Nikki M. James, Ali Stroker, More Broadway Stars Join NYCLU as Artist Ambassadors
Over 50 members of the Broadway and performing arts community have joined the inaugural 2021 class of Artist Ambassadors at NYCLU. The program is co-chaired by artists Shaina Taub and Arianna Afsar and coordinated by producer Ari Conte. “We believe art changes culture and culture changes policy,” said Afsar and Taub. “We have a responsibility as artists to shift the narrative, and we are so excited to be able to share this belief as a collective of Artist Ambassadors.” The list of ambassadors also includes Saheem Ali, Denée Benton, Arian Moayed, Shakina Nayfack, Eva Price, Leigh Silverman, Phillipa Soo, Rachel Sussman, Shaina Taub, and Brandon Uranowitz. In its first year of operation, the ambassadors will promote and participate in the advocacy and public education work of the NYCLU, deepen their understanding of civil liberties work in New York, and unite for the NYCLU annual benefit concert, Sing Out for Freedom. Click here for more information.

Joe Morton and Sally Murphy
Joe Morton and Sally Murphy

Joe Morton and Sally Murphy Will Star in Digital Production of Brutal Imagination
Vineyard Theatre will bring back original Brutal Imagination stars Joe Morton and Sally Murphy for a digitially staged production of Cornelius Eady’s thought-provoking play. The pair starred in a production at the Off-Broadway company in 2001 (and recently participated in an Audible recording of the work). Directed by Joe Morton, the reading includes video design by Jared Mezzocchi and will be available for on-demand streaming May 20-June 3. The Vineyard will also host an episode of The VT Show May 18 at 6 PM ET with a panel to discuss the themes of the show and how it relates to current cultural conversations. Go to VineyardTheatre.org for tickets and more information.

Hop on NY Philharmonic’s Bandwagon 2 for Spring Pop-Up Concerts
The New York Philharmonic is reviving its Bandwagon pop-up concert series with four weekend-long festivals across New York City May 7-30. Using a 20-foot shipping container with a fold-out stage, more than 100 artists will present 39 performances across NYC communities. Countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo returns as Bandwagon 2‘s executive producer. The series, conceived by Costanzo, premiered last August, using the bed of a pickup truck for a stage. Partnering organizations for the series are A Better Jamaica, Casita Maria Center for Arts & Education, El Puente, Flushing Town Hall, Groundswell, and National Black Theatre. Due to health and safety guidelines, pop-ups are unticketed and will not be announced in advance. Follow NY Philharmonic’s social media accounts for any updates.

Calling All Musical Theatre Writers Looking for Their Big Break
The application for the 17th annual Fred Ebb Award is now available to access, with submissions accepted June 1-31. The award includes a $60,000 prize and a showcase of the winner’s work. Sponsored by The Fred Ebb Foundation in association with Roundabout Theatre Company, the award is presented each year to a musical theatre songwriter or songwriting team that has not yet achieved significant commercial success. It is funded by royalties from the late Ebb’s catalogue of work (Cabaret, Chicago). Michael R. Jackson and the team of Ben Bonnema and Christopher Staskel were the 2020 recipients. For more information, visit FredEbbFoundation.org.

Tune in alert: Watch classic Broadway celebrities play classic television game shows on Buzzr Tv’s Broadway Matinee May 16 at 3 PM ET. Check out a trailer below, featuring Julie Andrew, Chita Rivera, Joel Grey, and more.

Episode 2: The Bee Sets Broadway’s Masked Singer Abuzz

Episode 2 of Broadway’s Masked Singer marked another night of wild performances and grown-worthy puns April 28. Currently, The Bee sits in first place for the second round, raising over $1,000 for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. Joining the buzzy contestant this time around were The Elephant, The Shark, and The Potato.

Before things got started, however, another star was eliminated at the top of the show. Despite The Dalmatian’s emotional performances of “Love the Way You Lie (Part II)” and “Spotlight” in Episode 1, the pup was the next to go. The panelists on Monday felt confident that the star hiding underneath the spotted coat was Six alum Adrianna Hicks—and they were right! Encouraging viewers to donate to Broadway Cares, the star—who plays Catherine of Aragon in the popular musical that just missed out on opening night due to the theatre shutdown—said she couldn’t wait to get back on stage and be with audiences face-to-face again.

The Shark in <i data-lazy-src=

Then, show hosts and creators Michael Hull and Dylan Bustmante introduced a new panel: Hayley Podschun, Marty Thomas, Marissa Rosen, Nick Cearley, and Drew Wutke. Ben Cameron also returned from the first episode.

First to perform was The Bee, who sang “Under the Sea” from The Little Mermaid. Allusions to Tituss Burgess, who played Sebastian in the Disney musical, were easy to draw in the clue package thanks to Guys and Dolls and Good Vibrations. Other guesses included J. Harrison Ghee, Nick Burroughs, and Arbender J. Robison. Later, The Bee sang “Bring Him Home” from Les Misérables. The list of possibles expanded to Jelani Remy, James Harkness, and Jason Gotay, but Burgess dropped off the list (Podshun still thinks it might be the Emmy nominee).

Next up was The Shark, who sang “Believe,” leading many to think the star had connections to The Cher Show. “I want it to be Stephanie J. Block, but I don’t know if it is. If it is her, she has disguised her voice so well that I may never recover,” said Wotke. Another star of the show was also thrown out for consideration: Teal Wicks. For their second song, the great white sang “I’ll Be Loving You (Forever)” leading to guesses like Patti Murin, Ellyn Marsh, or “anyone that has played Sherry in Rock of Ages,” said Cearley.

The Elephant in <i data-lazy-src=

Finding themselves back on land, the panel watched The Elephant take on Toto’s “Africa” with some stomping choreography. Guesses included Kelvin Moon Loh and Ethan Slater thanks to the singer’s easy shift between baritone and tenor range. For their next performance, the friendly gray giant sang “Driver’s License,” with consideration expanding to Jarrod Spector, JJ Neimann, and Telly Leung. “I still think it’s Nick,” said Rosen, half-jokingly, referring to her co-panelist and member of The Skivvies.

The final contestant of the evening was The Potato, who opened “You’re The One That I Want,” with a “tell me about it, spud,” which surely would have won Pun of the Night if that award existed. The panel picked up on clues about being small, leading the panel to suggest Jen Cody, Laura Bell Bundy, or Jen Sánchez. However, the pool of stars expanded to include Lauren Zakrin, Ashley Spencer, and Rachel Potter after a dance-heavy “All About That Bass.”

In the end, The Shark wasn’t able to swim to shore. After a nail-biting reveal, the contestant turned out to be Patti Murin. “Did I fool you!? I had a killer time,” said the Frozen star with a wink. “Thank you all for donating to BCEFA and for joining in the fin.”

Broadway’s Masked Singer wraps up in an April 30 finale with more performances, puns, and wild guesses. A second contestant from Episode 2 will be eliminated at the beginning of the finale, leaving four finalists to compete for the crown. In the meantime, watch Episode 2 here and donate to your favorite performer to keep them in the competition.

Donate to Broadway Cares here.

New Sutton Foster Concert, Filmed at New York City Center, Streams Beginning April 28

Sutton Foster|Bring Me to Light, a concert filmed live at City Center featuring the two-time Tony winner, premieres April 28 at 7 PM ET, with on-demand viewing available through May 31.

The Younger star is joined by Tony winner and fellow City Center alum Kelli O’Hara, Wren Rivera (Foster’s student at Ball State University), and Tony nominees Raúl Esparza and Joaquina Kalukango (both appeared opposite Foster at City Center, in Anyone Can Whistle and The Wild Party, respectively).

Viewers can expect to hear songs from Camelot, Oklahoma!, South Pacific, Violet, and more.

Sutton Foster and Raul Esparza in <i data-lazy-src=

The artists are accompanied by music director Michael Rafter on piano and Matt Hinkley on guitar. Leigh Silverman directs with Jeanine Tesori serving as creative producer.

READ: Upcoming The Music Man Star Sutton Foster on Producer Scott Rudin ‘Stepping Back’

Foster is slated to return to Broadway upon its reopening as Marian Paroo in The Music Man, starring opposite Hugh Jackman. Performances are currently slated to begin December 20.

“Bringing artists back to our stage and connecting them to our loyal audience digitally is a crucial step toward reopening our theatre to the public, which we hope to do this fall,” said City Center President and CEO Arlene Shuler in a recent statement. “We are delighted to welcome Sutton Foster back to City Center and to present this extraordinary group of artists as part of our digital season.”

Digital access starts at $35. Visit NYCityCenter.org.

(Updated April 28, 2021)

Which Famous Song From Annie Was a Last Minute Addition?

Annie just had its 41st anniversary—it opened April 21, 1977, and I thought I’d celebrate it by showing some amazing Andrea McArdle footage. First, a word about the creation of the show. Charles Strouse talked to me about the early part of Act 1 when Annie escapes from the orphanage and winds up on the streets of the NYC. Annie is eventually brought back to the orphanage and they needed a song to cover the scene change, so he and Martin Charnin whipped something up. They put “Tomorrow” in and Charles told me the audience went crazy…but he thought it was because they were impressed by the scene change. He didn’t know it was the song was bringing down the house. He soon learned that it would become a classic and Andrea’s signature song. She was 13 when she played the role and her voice has remained remarkable! Here she is as a teenager sounding fantastic on the song that became permanently associated with her.

Andrea has so many amazing stories from her years in the show…like the fact that because Annie was supposed to be locked in an orphanage, she wasn’t allowed to be tan. However, Andrea was a tricky kid and noted that her contract only said she had to stay out of the sun…it didn’t specifically say she couldn’t be tan. So, she applied self-tanner to herself since it was technically allowed. She told me it was the old-school self tanner from the ‘70s and it would up turning her skin orange. She remembers that when she wore the red wig at the end of the show, she looked like an Oompa-Loompa. Regardless, she always sounds amazing and we’ll be doing a concert together on Sunday May 2nd! Get tix at TheSethConcertSeries.com.

Gary Beach, Matthew Broderick, Nathan Lane and Roger Bart in <i data-lazy-src=

Last Saturday, we had the 20th anniversary reunion of The Producers on Stars in the House. Matthew Broderick, Nathan Lane, Susan Stroman, Brad Oscar, and Cady Huffman all appeared—and then we had a surprise visit from Mel Brooks! So many fun stories. Matthew talked about how he kept hearing from various sources that he was going to play Leo Bloom, but no one actually approached him. One day he had a meeting in a hotel about an independent film with a producer and Mel Brooks. After the meeting, Mel asked him if he would stay to talk. They sat near the elevator in the lobby of the hotel and that’s when Mel asked him if would play Leo. He told Matthew he would meet him the next day to show him some songs and told Matthew to call him. When Mel went to write down his number, he didn’t have a pen so he went to the front desk to borrow one. Matthew remembered that when Mel came back, he kept telling Matthew how much he loved the pen, finally asking Matthew whether he thought he could keep the pen. Matthew told him it was probably fine and he should just ask the front desk person. Mel went over and then came back with a skip in his step, pocketing the pen. Matthew did a great imitation of Mel proclaiming “They’d be happy for me to keep it! Happy for me to keep it!”

Mel himself talked about falling in love with Broadway when he saw the original run of Anything Goes with Ethel Merman. He told us he sat in the back of the balcony and, despite how far from the stage he was, he told his Dad that Merman’s voice was too loud (I guess all the stories are true).

Gary Beach and Roger Bart
Gary Beach and Roger Bart

Mel and Susan Stroman talked about putting together “Springtime For Hitler.” Robin Wagner, the set designer, told Stroman she didn’t have enough ensemble members to replicate the famed Busby Berkeley moment in the film. Mel then told her about Siegfried and Roy who had fake people that attached to either side of a person to make it look like there are three people moving. Susan and Robin looked it up and found out it was created by William Ivey Long—the costume designer for The Producers. So fortuitous! Look how it came out here.

Mel remembered Nathan saw “Springtime For Hitler” and then requested his character Max Bialystock have an 11 o’clock number. Mel spoke to Tom Meehan about writing a number called “Betrayed” because everyone had deserted Max, but the number needed a spin. Mel remembered his days as a comic in the Catskills and how when an audience member would come in late, he would tell them that they missed most of the show. He would quickly show them everything they missed in a lightning-fast replay of the show and that’s what they did for “Betrayed.” Watch the speedy recap within the number here.

James and I also talked about 9/11, which happened a few months after the show had won the Tony Award. Cady told us that people would greet her at the stage door and tell her how much they had needed to laugh. It was the first time she felt that what she did had a bigger meaning in the world. The cast also filmed a commercial to try to get tourists back to NYC and I asked what they remembered about it. Nathan said he remember Elaine Stritch trying to force herself in the front row next to him. It worked!

Most recently, I was with the incredible Mandy Gonzalez for my concert series. Mandy was doing Hamilton when Broadway shut down but has kept very busy; she just came out with her first book about a young girl who winds up on Broadway. That’s my kind of book! It’s called Fearless and it’s the beginning of a series.

Mandy’s nickname is “The Beast” and she told me the origin story: during In The Heights, there was a vocal rehearsal with the cast and someone noticed Mandy wasn’t there. Note: Mandy’s voice is incredibly powerful, but relevant to the story, she wasn’t in certain group numbers like “96,000” so she probably wasn’t called to rehearsal. Regardless, someone in rehearsal looked around and asked “Where’s Mandy?” Karen Olivo immediately responded with, “The Beast don’t need no vocal rehearsal!” And the name stuck. If you need proof of her beastery, watch this video we did where she spontaneously sang “Rainbow High.” So much power and such amazing breath control. Mandy remembered it was when she was starring in Wicked and was super-warmed up at all times. Enjoy and peace out!