Tag Archives: Tony

At 82, Joel Grey publicly comes out as gay

Joel Grey has publicly announced at age 82 that he is gay.

The Oscar- and Tony-winning actor tells People magazine, “I don’t like labels, but if you have to put a label on it, I’m a gay man.”

Grey was married to actress Jo Wilder for 24 years and they have two children together: actress Jennifer Grey and son James, a chef. He says, “It took time to embrace that other part of who I always was.”

Grey’s show-stopping performance as the devilish master of ceremonies in “Cabaret” won him an Academy Award and a Tony.

After “Cabaret,” Grey went on to star on Broadway in “George M!,” the title role in “Goodtime Charley,” Amos Hart in the revival of “Chicago,” and the Wonderful Wizard of Oz in “Wicked.”

McGivern shears ‘Madness’ from his repertoire

Local actor and media personality John McGivern says his current performance in Shear Madness, playing at Potawatomi Hotel & Casino’s Northern Lights Theater, is his last turn in what many fans consider to be his signature role.

Shear Madness has been one of the defining experiences of McGivern’s career, as well as his personal life. His first appearance as the flamboyant hairstylist Tony in the Chicago production put him on the industry’s radar. He went on to perform the role more than 3,000 times in six cities, including San Francisco, Tampa and Washington, D.C., at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

“It really kind of launched a career for me,” McGivern says. “It’s a dream job for an actor. It’s always there. It was always a go-to if I was ever out of work.” 

McGivern eventually purchased exclusive local rights to produce the play. A worldwide phenomenon, Shear Madness has been seen by about 4 million people in more than 44,000 productions. Owning the local rights to such a hot property helped McGivern achieve financial success in an industry where such outcomes are elusive.

But byproducts of his involvement with Shear Madness have proven to be of even greater reward to McGivern’s life.

During his original appearance in the Chicago production, McGivern regularly shared humorous anecdotes backstage with his castmates about growing up in a large, working-class Irish Catholic family on Milwaukee’s East Side. His stories entertained them so much that they encouraged him to create a performance piece about his life, which he ultimately did.

In 1993, Midwest Side Story premiered to rave reviews and sellout audiences in Chicago. It also caught the attention of TV’s Comedy Central, which cast him in Out There II. That exposure helped lead to other prominent gigs, including appearances in HBO’s We’re Funny That Way and Politically Incorrect and the film The Princess Diaries.

Midwest Side Story also led to more autobiographical stage performances, including The Early Stories of John McGivern, Midsummer Night McGivern and John McGivern’s Home for the Holidays — all of which have attracted large audiences and a devoted fan base. After the public discovered his engaging personality and gift for storytelling, McGivern became a popular radio personality, speaker and host for corporate events.

Today, McGivern is best known for his Emmy Award-winning work as host of Milwaukee Public Television’s Around the Corner with John McGivern. The show airs in Minnesota, Iowa, Chicago and every PBS station in Wisconsin.

This year, he was nominated for his third regional Emmy for the show. He won the previous two times, and he’s looking forward to carrying home a third award — this time, a nomination for best host. “I want this,” he says with mock melodrama in his voice and a devilish smile. “I do care. I give a shit.”

McGivern considers his sobriety the most valuable consequence of his association with Shear Madness. While directing the play in Chicago, Bruce Jordan detected that McGivern’s drinking was growing problematic. Resolved to save an up-and-coming talent from a fate that’s all too common in show business, Jordan contacted McGivern’s family and organized an intervention in Milwaukee. 

“I thought we were going to Milwaukee for a drink,” McGivern remembers. Instead, he found family members and friends waiting to confront him. The strategy worked, and McGivern will celebrate 25 years of recovery on Jan. 25. 

Sobriety empowered McGivern not only to continue perfecting his craft, but also to create an enviable personal life. Over the years, he’s achieved financial independence from show business by purchasing about a dozen units in the Knickerbocker on the Lake Condominiums, many of which he rents to out-of-town actors appearing in productions at the Milwaukee Rep and other local venues.

Eleven years ago, while shopping at East Town’s Metro Market, McGivern met the man who was to become his partner: Steve Brandt. The couple’s relationship extends to McGivern’s real estate business: Brandt rehabs and maintains McGivern’s rental units and sells McGivern’s CDs and memorabilia during his shows’ intermissions.

“I wouldn’t be sitting here if it wasn’t for Steve,” McGivern says. “He completely created a routine and a life that I’ve never had before. He’s settled me into a comfortable zone that I couldn’t have imagined 11 years (ago).”

Despite having reaped so many gifts from Shear Madness, McGivern has decided it’s time to put the role of flamboyant gay hairdresser Tony in his rear view mirror.

For one thing, it’s not an easy role to perform, McGivern says. He adds, “I’m at an age (59 years old) where I shouldn’t be doing this kind of work — the character’s age in the script is 25 to 40.”

Shear Madness is a delight for audiences but it’s challenging to the cast. Loosely based on a 1963 whodunit by German playwright Paul Portner, the play was turned by Jordan and his collaborator Marilyn Abrams into the seminal audience-participation mystery, a genre that’s since grown wildly popular. 

The play is built around the murder of a famous pianist who lives above the Shear Madness hair salon. She’s been stabbed to death by someone wielding a pair of styling scissors, and the audience is charged with solving the crime.

In addition to demanding a fast pace and a great deal of improvisation, the setup requires the cast to prepare for four different endings, depending on whom the audience determines is the killer. One of the primary reasons for the show’s success is that it’s never the same twice, because each new audience alters the experience.

“I know people who have gone to see it nine times,” McGivern says, “and they finally think they have it all figured out.”

The play is over-the-top campy, peopled with such colorful stereotypes as a north shore socialite, a gum-snapping stylist, a shady antique dealer and a butch cop. Over the years, current topical humor and local references have crept into the show, keeping it evergreen and relevant.

As a testament to how much fun the production is to perform, the current production is filled almost entirely with actors who’ve performed Shear Madness with McGivern already: Norman Moses, Mary McDonald Kerr, Jenny Wanasek and Patrick Noonan. (Matthew Huebsch is the sole outlier.)

McGivern is particularly pleased that Jordan is returning to direct the play, just as he’s done in two out the three previous productions — all of which were staged at Marcus Center for the Performing Arts. 

And while McGivern is enjoying the role of Tony once again, he’s confident about his decision to turn the page on that chapter of his relationship with the show. He feels that he’s completing the circle of one of his life’s most significant experiences.

“The relationship I have with this show is long and completely mutual,” he says. “I needed it, and it needed me.” 

On stage

Shear Madness continues at Potawatomi Hotel & Casino’s Northern Lights Theater, 1721 W. Canal St., through Nov. 15. Tickets are $40-$49. For more information or to order tickets, call 414-847-7922 or visit paysbig.com.

Composer Marvin Hamlisch dies

Marvin Hamlisch, who composed the scores for dozens of movies including “The Sting” and won a Tony for “A Chorus Line,” has died in Los Angeles at 68.

Family spokesman Jason Lee said Hamlisch died on Aug. 6 after a brief illness.

Hamlisch’s career included composing, conducting and arranging music from Broadway to Hollywood.

He won three Academy Awards, four Emmys and a Tony.

Hamlisch’s website, http://www.marvinhamlisch.com, says he “won virtually every major award that exists: three Oscars, four Grammys, four Emmys, a Tony and three Golden Globe awards, as well as a Pulitzer Prize.

He composed more than 40 motion picture scores, including for “The Way We Were” and “The Sting,” “Sophie’s Choice,” “Ordinary People,” “The Swimmer,” “Three Men and a Baby,” “Ice Castles,” “Take the Money and Run,” “Bananas,” “Save the Tiger” and his latest effort “The Informant!”

Hamlisch was principal pops conductor for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Pasadena Symphony and Pops, Seattle Symphony and San Diego Symphony.

He was musical director and arranger of Barbra Streisand’s 1994 concert tour of the U.S. and England, as well as of the television special, “Barbra Streisand: The Concert.”

He had been working on a new musical called “Gotta Dance” and was writing the music for a film about Liberace starring Michael Douglas and Matt Damon and directed by Steven Soderbergh.

Hamlisch graduated from the Juilliard School of Music and Queens College, where he earned a bachelor of arts degree.

His website said he believed “in the power of music to bring people together.”

His biography closed with a quote, “Music can make a difference. There is a global nature to music, which has the potential to bring all people together. Music is truly an international language, and I hope to contribute by widening communication as much as I can.”

‘Once’ completes its Cinderella story with a Tony

Once upon a time, a quirky film made on a shoestring turned into an unlikely Oscar-winner and, even more improbably, a Broadway show.

Now, “Once” has completed its Cinderella story, winning the coveted best-musical Tony award on June 10 for its bittersweet love story that has captured the hearts of theatergoers, just as it did with movie audiences in 2006.

“Once” won eight awards in all, including for its lead actor, Steve Kazee, who brought movie-star looks and a soulful singing voice to the part of Guy, a street musician in Dublin who falls for a Czech immigrant flower-seller.

Kazee gave one of the most poignant speeches of a night that had many of them, paying tearful tribute to his mother, who passed away on Easter Sunday. He also thanked his cast mates, especially co-star Cristin Milioti, for helping him cope: “They carried me around and made me feel alive.”

“Once” triumphed over the more obviously commercial “Newsies” for the top prize, and that was a theme of the night – many of the top-honored shows were neither big-budget nor star-driven, and a number had started off-Broadway in small theaters.

And the show with the biggest price tag of all, “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark,” was shut out in the two technical categories in which it was nominated, sets and costume design in a musical. The evening’s host, Neil Patrick Harris, made fun of that $75 million show’s early troubles when he started one bit hanging from the ceiling, Spidey-like; he then proceeded to get stuck in the air, or rather pretended to.

The Tony for best play went to Bruce Norris’ “Clybourne Park,” which had already won the Pulitzer Prize for its clever exploration of race in America, via a piece of real estate.

To no one’s surprise, Audra McDonald was named best lead actress in a musical for “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess,” which was named best musical revival. It was her fifth Tony Award, at only age 41, tying the competitive record held by Angela Lansbury and Julie Harris.

“I was a little girl with a potbelly and afro puffs, hyperactive and overdramatic. And I found the theater, and I found my home,” McDonald said, tearfully.

McDonald is an established name on Broadway, but the best-actress winner in a play, Nina Arianda of “Venus in Fur,” came out of nowhere to stun audiences, first off Broadway and then on, with her smoldering portrayal of a mysterious young actress auditioning for a play. In a very competitive category, she beat out veterans like Linda Lavin and Stockard Channing for the Tony.

Handed her award by actor Christopher Plummer, 82, Arianda, who is in her 20s, revealed that he’d been her first crush. “When that whistle was blown in ‘Sound of Music,’ you made my day,” she told the actor.

Later, at the packed post-Tony gala at the Plaza Hotel, where guests munched on everything from oysters and lobster to tiny little pastries, Arianda clutched her Tony and said she was feeling dazed. “I still don’t know where I am,” she exclaimed. Asked her plans after the show closed in a week, she said: “Vacation.”

Standing amidst a bevy of admirers in the Plaza’s Palm Court restaurant was James Corden, the British comic actor who won best actor in a play for the farcical “One Man, Two Guvnors,” an upset over Philip Seymour Hoffman for his Willy Loman in “Death of a Salesman.”

“I’m shocked, and I’m thrilled,” Corden said. “No one could have imagined a better reception here for our play.” Asked if he had worried whether the show’s very British humor would appeal to American audiences, he said: “You hope, but you never know.”

Arthur Miller’s 63-year-old masterpiece “Death of a Salesman” won the Tony for best play revival and Mike Nichols won his ninth Tony for directing it. He said the play has a special meaning for many in the audience.

“There’s not a person in this theater that doesn’t know what it is to be a salesman – to be out there in the blue riding on a smile and a shoeshine,” he said. “As we know, a salesman has got to dream. It goes with the territory.”

In the featured actor category in a play, Christian Borle, who hilariously plays the clumsy, overheated pirate who will later become Captain Hook in “Peter and the Starcatcher,” took home the trophy. Borle is on a roll: He also stars in the NBC series “Smash.”

In something of a vindication, the reworked version of the Gershwin opera “Porgy and Bess” managed to come home with more – and more prestigious – awards than a revival of Stephen Sondheim’s “Follies.”

Diane Paulus, the artistic director of the American Repertory Theater, condensed and adapted it for Broadway with Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks and Obie Award-winning composer Diedre Murray. Purists including Sondheim complained that a musical treasure was being corrupted.

Theater audiences disagreed, with fans cheering the new work, which features songs such as “Summertime” and “Bess, You Is My Woman Now.” Norm Lewis, who plays Porgy, said the controversy was actually a good thing. “It started a dialogue,” he said at the post-Tony gala. “And that dialogue was about theater, not the latest shoes or something. It brought us attention.”

In featured roles, Judy Kaye won for the musical “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” in which she plays a temperance worker who likes to drink and hangs from a chandelier at one point.

Judith Light, who plays an acerbic alcoholic in “Other Desert Cities,” won for best featured actress in a play. Michael McGrath won for best actor in a featured musical role from “Nice Work If You Can Get It.”

In one bit of good news for “Newsies,” composer Alan Menken, who has more Oscars than any other living person, captured his first Tony for the score.

The show at the Beacon Theatre was packed with musical performances designed to show a TV audience what’s available on Broadway. The numbers were highly entertaining, as was the banter – and song and dance – from Harris, whom the Tony audience adores.

Jesse Tyler Ferguson, the “Modern Family” star, made a cameo appearance as Harris’s understudy in a comic number, and said later at the gala that he loved the show. He also said he had been pulling for “Once,” and that Kazee was a friend.

“Wasn’t that speech about his mother amazing?” he said.

Kazee choked up as he told the crowd about his Mom.

“My mother … always told me before shows to stand up there and show them whose little boy you are,” he said. “And I’m showing you today that I am the son of Kathy Withrow Kazee who lost the fight with cancer on Easter Sunday this year, and I think about her every day,” Kazee said.

Online: http://www.TonyAwards.com

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‘Next to Normal’ tackles difficult subject matter

Mark Clements, artistic director for the Milwaukee Rep, went through a period of depression from 2005-2007. The bouts were sometimes debilitating, but initially he was too ashamed to seek help. Once he found help, he was amazed by how supportive friends, family and therapists could be. Sharing his pain helped to dissipate it and put him on the road to recovery, he found.

Clements’ personal experience in part drives the Rep’s production of “Next to Normal,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical that opened Dec. 6 at the Quadracci Powerhouse Theater. The pop-rock production, which also won three Tony Awards, deals with the story of a suburban housewife with bipolar disorder and her family’s attempt to cope with it.

“My problems were not as serious as being bipolar, thank God, and I knew the reason for them,” Clements says. “Part of the play’s purpose is to address the issues associated with mental illness. ‘Next to Normal’ allows us to start a conversation.”

Described by Clements as “a theatergoers’ piece of theater,” “Next to Normal” won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for drama, the first musical to do so since “Rent” took the honor in 1996. Composer Tom Kitt’s surging musical score, which earned one of the show’s three Tonys, joins with Brian Yorkey’s book and lyrics to paint a picture of suburban suffering for lead character Diana Goodman, her husband Dan, daughter Natalie, and the ghost of her dead son Henry, who appears as part of Diana’s delusional state.

Mastering the role of Diana, who goes through pharmacotherapy, electric shock treatments, self-cutting and other mental illness challenges, proved a daunting, but not impossible task, says Sarah Litzsinger, the Broadway performer chosen for the role. Extensive conversations with Clements and cast interviews with therapists helped the Indiana native establish a baseline character on which to realistically build Diana’s manic and depressed stages.

“I think Diana reacts differently to the other characters due to her illness, and it seems to me that her mania and depression rule over her,” says Litzsinger, best known as being the longest-running actress to play Belle in the Broadway production of “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” after inheriting the role from Andrea McArdle. “The way I see it, the disorder is doing the driving and she is simply the passenger.”

“Sarah is able to display the broad range of emotions needed and can be powerful as well as vulnerable,” Clements says. “In addition, she has a killer voice. We really lucked out with her.”

Clements also lucked out in heading one of the first regional theater groups to mount a production of “Next to Normal,” which started in 1998 as “Feeling Electric,” a 10-minute theatrical workshop sketch about a woman undergoing electroshock therapy and its effect on her family. Playwright Yorkey brought the idea to Kitt, who scored the piece, which was performed at a number of workshops over the next several years. 

The first full-length version appeared off Broadway in 2008. The concept and approach were revamped by director Michael Greif before the play open at the Booth Theater on Broadway in 2009. Greif also directed the Pulitzer Prize-winning production of “Rent.”

Despite the uplifting musical score, which Clements believes helps make tackling the subject matter easier for audience members, the Milwaukee Rep understands the seriousness of its subject matter and the effect it might have on theatergoers. Rogers Memorial Hospital, a psychiatric facility with outlets in Milwaukee, Madison, Kenosha, Oconomowoc and Brown Deer, is the show’s signature sponsor. Doctors will be on hand for the talkback sessions that follow many performances. Other medical facilities are among the community participant groups for the show.

The content also is having an effect on performers, including Litzsinger. She anticipates that playing Diana might be a life-changing experience.

“How could it not?” the actress asks. “When rehearsing, it’s hard not to fall to pieces sometimes.”

Despite the challenges, Clements believes Milwaukee is ready for a show like “Next to Normal.”

“Milwaukee audiences are inquisitive and like to be challenged,” the director says. “This play is witty, entertaining, ends on an uplifting note and has a killer score. It’s a show that affects people very deeply.”