Photograph by Steven Laxton
Andy Karl knows what you’re thinking. He had the same reservations before agreeing to play Rocky Balboa. How do you turn that film—“Yo Adrian!” and Art Museum steps and all—into a Broadway musical? Stick to the script. “He loses at the end, but his loss is his win,” says Karl, sipping water at a dim midtown Manhattan hotel bar. “He goes the distance; he’s found love. Love is a huge part of what musicals are about. When you think of it, Rocky is all about finding love, finding dignity.” The fights? Merely bookends of the show. But, he adds, “They’re spectacular.”
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Philly writer Warren Hoffman is set to release his second book, “The Great White Way: Race and the Broadway Musical,” on Feb. 6.
Are you ready for this, musical theater nerds? The original title of West Side Story was East Side Story, and it was supposed to be about warring groups of Jews and Catholics, not Sharks and Jets.
That’s just one of the nuggets of wisdom I got from Philadelphia writer and theater guru Warren Hoffman. He shares that and a myriad other little-known Broadway tidbits in his forthcoming book, The Great White Way: Race and the Broadway Musical (Feb. 6, Rutgers University Press). For the project Hoffman spent hours digging through archives at the New York Public Library, among other places, where he was able to read documents that would make any Broadway fan weak in the knees — including drafts of the aforementioned East Side Story.
“It was like feeling history,” says Hoffman, who was recently appointed associate director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia’s Center for Jewish Life and Learning. “No one has written a book about [race and the Broadway musical]. I’m proud of that,” he says.
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If you haven’t seen Philadelphia actor, sound designer, composer, and Pig Iron Theatre Company member James Sugg around town in a while, it’s because he is in Washington D.C., composing music for Arena Stage’s Mother Courage, starring none other than Kathleen Turner. Read more »
Photo courtesy of Jauhien Sasnou.
In 1995, a group of Swarthmore grads decided to start a “dance-clown-theatre ensemble,” performing strange works in church basements. They called it Pig Iron Theatre Company. After nearly 20 years, the brainchild of Dan Rothenberg, Dito van Reigersberg and Gabriel Quinn Bauriedel (pictured, left to right) has become Philadelphia’s most prestigious independent theater group, helping put our theater scene on the map in a major way. (Take that, New York!)
Their annual benefit at the Troc is the biggest single-day theater event in the city, with an 800-plus crowd every time. This year’s punny theme: “Lights, Ham-eras, Action!” Expect drag queens, acrobatics, song-and-dance numbers worthy of an Oscars opening — oh, and pure genius. Fri., Jan. 24, 7 p.m., $25-$150, 1003 Arch St.
Our daily roundup of what’s happening tonight in Philadelphia. Quick note before we move on: All tonight’s events are subject to cancellation because of weather. Be sure to double check before heading out in the cold.
THIS EVENT HAS BEEN CANCELLED: New York Times best-selling comic novelist Gary Shteyngart is returning to the Free Library of Philadelphia to share stories from his latest memoir, Little Failure. (Fun fact: The book was released via a funny trailer starring big-namers James Franco, Rashida Jones and Jonathan Franzen.) The story goes back in time to when Gary was a small boy living in Leningrad named Igor Shteyngart. Eventually it follows him to America — where he is given the name “Gary” — and offers a witty glimpse into his experience as an American immigrant. The evening’s conversation will be led by Daniel Torday, author of the National Jewish Book Award-winning The Sensualist and visiting professor of creative writing at Bryn Mawr College. Tue., Jan. 21, 7:30 p.m., $15, Central Branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia, 1901 Vine St.
Three more events after the jump
I know that we tend to be pretty quick with the superlatives in this business, but I don’t think it’s any exaggeration to say that Teena Geist’s Stairwell Symphony, which opens tonight, may be one of the weirdest, strangest, and most bizarre live shows that you’ll ever see. It’s also totally worth seeing, based on a Teena Geist performance I saw last year at L’Etage. Read more »
Tom Randle and Daniel Okulitch as Jack and Ennis in Madrid’s opera version of Brokeback Mountain.
Out has some first-look photos of composer Charles Wuorinen and writer Annie Proulx’s Brokeback Mountain opera that’s opening in Madrid on Jan. 28 at the Teatro Real. The stills show Tom Randle (Jack), Daniel Okulitch (Ennis) and Heather Buck (Alma) in a rehearsal room and sans costumes or makeup. Though in some of the shots the threads aren’t that far off base.
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The Bearded Ladies founder John Jarboe (left) and Jess Conda of Brat Productions. Both groups just received big grants that will help fund 2014 projects.
Christmas came early (late?) for a few arty Philly folks last night, when the Cultural Alliance doled out $90,000 in grants to 62 arts groups in the Greater Philadelphia region. Among the lucky recipients was two LGBT projects: Brat Productions and drag cabaret outfit The Bearded Ladies Cabaret. The grants — provided by the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts‘ Pennsylvania Partners in the Arts (PPA) — are given to arts groups that conduct activities for the benefit of the public, especially those that are school-, senior-, or community-based.
Find out what the groups have planned for the money after the jump
Kevin Murray (left) and Griffin Back star in Mauckingbird’s 2014 season opener Beautiful Thing.
Mauckingbird — G Philly‘s 2013 pick for Best Theater Troupe — is beginning its 2014 season with Jonathan Harvey’s Beautiful Thing, The coming-of-age story — which debuted on American stages 20 years ago this year — concerns the blossoming relationship of two teenage boys growing up on the wrong side of the tracks.
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“What kind of world would you like to live in, in 200 years?” Benjamin Franklin asks the big questions, but would you expect anything less from one of our Founding Fathers? Using audience suggestions, the Pig Iron Theatre Company embraces the challenge of making a thought provoking play in only two and a half hours.
See how addiction to mobile devices, Ben Franklin and public transportation weaved their way into a pop-up play that will make you question everything from cyber-dating to the possibilities the future holds, all while encouraging you to “Think-Festively”.