Hakuna Matata! The triumphant return of Disney’s blockbuster Broadway musical The Lion King hits the Academy of Music stage May 20th through June 14th, and one of the tour’s leading men/warthogs is local. Ben Lipitz is a Cherry Hill native who plays the lovable Pumbaa in the Julie Taymor directed show. We caught up with Mr. Lipitz to grub worms, dirty jokes and his crush on Miss Piggy.
Nick Cordileone and Ben Lipitz in ‘The Lion King.’
My name is … Ben Lipitz
I am a … right-handed actor who can tell a great dirty joke. Read more »
Verdi’s classic tale of a love triangle gone wrong is taking shape at the Academy of Music as Opera Philadelphia presents Don Carlo. We wanted to lighten up the otherwise tragic tale, so we sat down with the opera’s three leads, Leah Crocetto (Elisabetta), Michelle DeYoung (Princess Eboli), and Dimitri Pittas (Don Carlo) and had them take our rapid-fire Q&A about their experiences on stage and, boy, did they reveal some interesting secrets!
My name is … Leah Joanne Crocetto, the first born daughter of Richard and Marcia Crocetto of Waterbury, CT and Brookfield, CT, respectively.
I am a … superhero. No. But if I were a superhero, I would want my super powers to be the ability to fly. Invisibility would be to hard: There would be too much information to glean. Flying. Yep! Flying is the ability for me. I would, of course use my super power for good and quick travel. It would come in handy in this job.
On opening night … my family will be here! I am so excited whenever they are in the audience. I will also look into the balcony and feel my dad with me. I dedicate each performance to him.
The Philly native turned bass-baritone opera great has performed in concert halls the world over. This month he returns to star in Don Carlo at the Academy of Music. Opens April 24th.
Give us your Philly bio.
Born and raised in Mount Airy. Went to Central, then Temple and the Curtis Institute of Music. And Settlement Music School. So my connection is not at all tangential.
I started out with piano and oboe, but I had been a fan of opera for quite some time, since I was eight or nine—just listening to it on LPs. I saw Tosca at the Met at 16, and opera won the battle.
I know you’ve performed at the Met, Carnegie Hall, throughout Europe. Any favorite houses?
Well, actually, the Academy of Music. It’s the oldest continuously operating opera house in the country. It’s just beautiful.
Nobody puts Baby in the corner, especially when you’re going to propose to her!
Malik Murray knew that his girlfriend Alissa F. Chase loved the movie Dirty Dancing, and he knew she would have to see the live stage version playing here in Philly at the Academy of Music. What Chase didn’t know was that Murray flew in from Los Angeles and was waiting back stage at the Thursday evening performance. At the end of the show, Murray took to the stage and popped the big question. Chase, of course, said “yes.”
Murray and Chase first met when they were students at Penn State, but they soon drifted apart when Murray took a job in Los Angeles. They rekindled in 2012 after a brunch at Northern Liberties Green Eggs Cafe, and have maintained a long-distance relationship since then.
Below are more photos from the special moment. For information on Dirty Dancing playing through April 5, click here.
Malik Murray waiting backstage.
Alissa F. Chase and Malik Murray.
Gillian Abbott, who plays Frances Baby Houseman, Murray, Chase, and Gary Lynch, who plays Max Kellerman.
“Dirty Dancing fell in my lap. It never was on my radar.”
That’s what the multi-talented Gillian Abbott told me when we started chatting about her role as Frances “Baby” Houseman in the movie-turned-musical headed to the Academy of Music at the end of March. Abbott is a classically trained dancer, a graduate of Juilliard, a former Cirque du Soleil performer (she signed on when she was 17), recently made her Met Opera debut in their epic production of Prince Igor, and starred in several independent films. Clearly, she has a performer’s spirit; that was evident during our time together where we talked about Dirty Dancing, her training, and two injuries that, if anything, progressed Abbott’s performance evolution.
“I’ve seen more young actresses who play Annie pee on stage than dogs who pee on stage.”
That’s William Berloni‘s answer when I ask him the question everyone wants to know: How does the Tony Award-winning theatrical animal trainer control his loving, furry crew from having an accident while performing on Broadway?
“Honestly, if [Annie] hasn’t taken a break to pee, that poor thing will explode when she’s in that red dress at the end of the show.” Read more »
Imagine taking David Copperfield and fusing him with a boy band member who can jump through huge LED screens without shattering them (or himself). That’s pretty much Adam Trent, the 29-year-old entertainer who was once named by U.S. News and World Report as one of the “Top 10 Most Influential Youth in America.” Trent, who has been performing since he was nine, joined the cast of The Illusionists, the hit sophisticated magic show coming to Philly, at the Sydney Opera House in Australia. He was such a hit, that the producers have since asked him to take the show to Dubai, Broadway, and now across the country. We sat down with the multi-talented Trent to discuss his special brand of magic and what drew him to show business.
I know you started performing as a kid. Did you always do magic or were you into other things?
I was always kinda doing everything. I started out wanting to being a musician after seeing Michael Jackson videos, so I did impressions of him and other singers. Then, I moved on to drums and instruments. Then I started magic, and that was it for me. I actually sold my drum set for my first illusion kit. I needed $500 for something, so the drums had to go! This is my twentieth year in entertainment: I started when I was 9 and now I’m now 29.
How was your experience performing on Broadway?
Amazing. It’s the thing that we performers always aspire to do, right? We were there for six weeks.
The promos for the show say you “shatter stereotypes and bring a new generation of magic to fans fusing technology illusions, dancing and comedy with classic techniques.” Break all that down for us …
It’s a cocktail of different art forms: there’s dance in it and some of my illusions use technology. One of my acts uses giant LED walls—I clone myself and smash myself into it. Then, there’s a whole act I do with a camera hat on my head, so the audience gets to see what the magician sees. It’s a totally new perspective in a fun, fresh way.
What performers have inspired your brand of magic?
David Copperfield has been one of the big ones for me. I saw him when I was 8 years old and it changed my life. I also really admire Penn and Teller and how fast they create original material and how thought provoking it always is. Music wise, there’s Justin Timerlake—and Michael Jackson was one of the first pop performers who I saw who shook my world up. I watch The Kings of Comedy all the time. Any artist can go watch any art form and think, “Wow, this is so great,” and there’s always inspiration that you can incorporate into your own work.
Why do you think The Illusionists has been such a success?
Magic is something that had a market but there hasn’t been anyone who could put together a large-scale touring show that is high-end evening entertainment. This isn’t some little $5 show where you get popcorn before it starts. It also helps that the show has been presented as part of a Broadway series at theaters across the country. Sometimes when presenters or promoters think of magic shows, they want to automatically include it as family theater or children’s theater, but this show isn’t that. When ticket prices start hovering around $100, it isn’t a show totally aimed at kids anymore. Don’t get me wrong. We see kids all the time, and kids love it! David Copperfield was a “real deal” show, and my parents brought me to see him. I have a feeling that this show will have the same impact on our younger audiences that Cooperfield had on me.
The Illusionists runs February 24 through March 1, 2015 at the Academy of Music. For ticket information, click here. Adam also loves Twitter followers: check him out @AdamTrentMagic.
Opera Philadelphia announces their 2015-16 season today, and we’ve got a first-hand preview of the divas and divos they are bringing to town to belt their brains out. Opera enthusiasts will recognize many a famous name as they peruse the upcoming talent that will take to the stage to perform classic tunes from Verdi and Donizetti, plus a few new arias they’ve never heard of before in works making their East Coast or world premieres. You’ll even note some very well-known Philly-bred artists will be making their company debuts. Read more »
Friday night the much-anticipated Opera Philadelphia production of Theodore Morrison and John Cox’s Oscar opened at the Academy of Music. Opera fans were out in force, fashionably dressed, with a few men wearing tuxedos.
The production is a co-commission with the Santa Fe Opera; it opened at the Santa Fe Opera in 2013 under the stage direction of Kevin Newbury and conductor Evan Rogister, who are back for the Philly run. Countertenor David Daniels plays the title role. He does an amazing job conveying the emotions of Oscar Wilde during turbulent times, as well as his love for bad boy Lord Alfred Douglas (Bosie), who is played by Australian dancer-actor Reed Lupla. Lupla has been acting for a while, but this is his first opera. Although he didn’t speak, Lupla made a huge impression with movements and dancing. It’s a very emotional, timeless piece about love and the choices we make.
During intermission there was a supporters reception in the ballroom, where champagne and dessert were served. After the show, everyone headed across the street to Varalli Restaurant for a cast party.
The East Coast premiere of Oscar at The Academy of Music runs from February 11th to 15th. Information at www.operaphila.org.
The Lion King, now in its incredible 18th year on Broadway, will be returning to Philadelphia this May for a four-week engagement at the Academy of Music. Tickets for the epic blockbuster go on sale this Friday, February 6th—perfect timing for a Valentine’s Day gift. Read more »