Thursday, May 18, 2023

Blanche: The Life and Times of Tennessee Williams's Greatest Creation (book review)

I reviewed Blanche: The Life and Times of Tennessee Williams's Greatest Creation at Talkin' Broadway:

Blanche: The Life and Times of Tennessee Williams's Greatest Creation, by Nancy Schoenberger, is an odd little book. Saying that it runs some 193 pages of actual content is generous, as that includes a number of white pages, a faux obituary of Blanche DuBois, and four pages of sonnets, created by Schoenberger, that purport to be what Blanche's long-dead young husband might have written (!!!). Trimmed of its repetitions, the book could have made a fairly interesting long essay in The New Yorker or The New York Review of Books.

continue reading 

 Wendy Caster

Tuesday, May 16, 2023


The Gallery Players production of Assassins is unfortunately not up to its usual standards. I admire the ambition of attempting Assassins, with its non-plot, odd politics, long swaths of spoken scenes, and challenging score. But: Some of the performers didn't sing well enough or act well enough. A few were completely miscast. The band lacked cohesion, and the sound design didn't help it or the performers. The sound effects didn't work: the noises of a bottle-making factory sounded more like someone snoring, and the gunshots were too low and distant to discomfort the audience as they should. Some of the costumes didn't work; in particular, John Wilkes Booth's suit seemed more appropriate for a comedian than a dashing serious actor. The lighting was occasionally murky.

Weirdly enough, however, I would not dissuade you from going. Despite its many flaws, the production was ultimately disturbing in the right way.

Wendy Caster

Friday, May 05, 2023

Some Numerical Thoughts on the Tonys

Entertainment awards are silly and they're also endlessly fascinating. Part of the allure is the fashion, pomp, and party atmosphere. A bigger part, for me, is the speeches--at least, those speeches that show some personality, humor, and emotion. Add exciting numbers from nominated musicals, and a good time is had by most.

However, what drives me the most crazy, personally, about the Tonys comes down to numbers. For example, with four nominees, someone could win with only 31% of the vote, with the other three nominees receiving an average of 23% each. With five nominees, the winner might only have 24% of the vote, with the other four nominees averaging 19% each. (At least the Tonys have nothing as silly as the 10 nominees for best picture, in which the winner could have as little as 20% of the vote, with the other nominees averaging 8.9% each.)

While the examples I have given are extreme, the point still stands that someone can win a "best" award without even getting a majority of the vote.

Then we get to the odd rules set by the Tonys. For example, if a category has nine or more potential nominees, there will be five nominations (barring any ties). But if it has fewer, there will be four nominations. What has that got to do with the quality of the productions or performances? In cases where there are four nominees, is there a lessening in quality for the potential fifth because he/she/it/they had fewer competitors? If another show opened at the last minute, bringing the total to nine in various categories, would that fifth potential nominee suddenly improve?

In the other direction, are there always four or five performances/productions that definitely deserve to be nominated? There have been many times where the fourth nominee definitely came across as filler. And that's not even mentioning painful years such as 1995 when Sunset Boulevard won a slew of awards with only one competitor or none! Does that make Sunset Boulevard's Tonys worth less? I guess it depends on how you feel about Sunset Boulevard. (IMHO, worse shows have won, but not many.)

The final numberical issue is the total number of nominations for a particular show. Yes, Some Like It Hot is an amiable and enjoyable musical, but ads screaming "13 nominations!" suggest the show is brilliant. Four of the noms are design nominations, and, yes, it is a beautifully designed show. But that doesn't make it a great show. Another four are performance nominations. And, yes, it is a beautifully performed show. But that doesn't make it a great show either. It's a nice show. I would have certainly voted for it had it been against Sunset Boulevard! But great, no.

So, the numbers work against the significance of the Tony Award.

I'll still be watching on June 11th.

Wendy Caster



Once again, MasterVoices has provided an evening of charm, joy, and fabulous music. In this case, it was Gilbert and Sullivan's Iolanthe, not one of their best, but still great fun. (There are fairies, there are humans, there are misunderstandings, stuff happens.) 

Ashley Fabian
Photo: Toby Tenenbaum

The cast was amazing: Christine Ebersole (glorious), David Garrison, Santino Fontana (having a grand time in a supremely silly wig and demonstrating a gorgeous legit voice), Jason Daniely, Ashley Fabian (combining excellent comic chops with truly stunning singing), Phillip Boykin (adorable, with a bass that vibrated Carnegie Hall), Shereen Ahmed, Schyler Vargas, Nicole Eve Goldstein, Kaitlyn LeBaron, Emy Zener, and Tiler Peck.  

Christine Ebersole, Shereen Ahmed
Photo: Toby Tenenbaum

And then there are the MasterVoices singers and the MasterVoices Orchestra, doing their usual fine work, led by the incomparable Ted Sperling.

Ted Sperling
Photo: Toby Tenenbaum

And, although this performance was a staged reading, it was given an extra dimension by Tracy Christensen's beautiful and clever costumes. Also, the supertitles were clear, informative, and witty.

Santino Fontana, David Garrison
Photo: Toby Tenenbaum

As always, reviewing MasterVoices is frustrating, because their one-night performances are always gone by the time I write about them, and I can't urge you to go, go, go. However, I can give you a link to their website so that you can catch the next wonderful show: MasterVoices.

Phillip Boykin
Photo: Toby Tenenbaum

Wendy Caster