All Things Entertaining and Cultural

News from the Avenue — Update on Casting


     Grace interior alternate Grace Gonglewski, a leading lady on local stages for more than 25 years, is cast as the movie star, Masha, who comes for a visit to the New Hope cottage that she owns but is home to her brother and sister in Christopher Durang’s 2013 Tony-winning play. “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” due at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre under the auspices of the Philadelphia Theatre Company from March 21 to April 20.

      Durang’s hilarious comedy is a takeoff on Chekhov plays, “Uncle Vanya” in particular, in so far as it depicts two people of no great accomplishment who live peacefully and a tad eccentrically in the country while their sister attains international fame as an actress. In Chekhovian tradition, the famous sibling, who supports the entire family, swoops into town, much younger stud of a boyfriend in tow, and disturbs the comfortable ennui her relatives enjoy. Chekhov is not Durang’s only target. “Vanya, etc.” is filled with classical references and marvelous maid who is called Cassandra and has premonitions that turn her into a whirling Greek chorus on a whim.

       Every part in “Vanya, Sonia, Masha, and Spike is a plum. In addition to Gonglewski, the PTC cast, under the direction on James J. Christy, includes two-time Barrymore winner Kraig Swartz as Vanya, Deidre Madigan as Sonia, Kianne Muschett as Cassandra, Clare O’Malley as the siblings’ neighbor, Nina, and Alec Shaw, as the lively Spike whose favorite activity is taking off his clothes.


      Forrest McClendon, a versatile actor onstage and an interesting person off, has been making his name in New York and nationally  but returns to Philadelphia to take the title role in Lantern Theatre’s production of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” running from February 6 to March 16 under the direction of Lantern founder and artistic director Charles McMahon.

      McClendon, who was a a standout on Broadway and locally in Kander and Ebb’s musical, “The Scottsboro Boys” is joined by stellar cast that includes Jered McLenigan, whose had a busy season in “The Woman in Black” for Act II and “Frost/Nixon” for New City Stage, as Marc Antony, U.R., who was outstanding in Arden’s “Stick Fly” as Brutus, and Lantern veteran Joe Guzman as the lean and hungry-looking Cassius. Bradley K. Wrenn, who made an impression acting opposite Benjamin Lloyd in Lantern’s 2009 commedia dell’arte rendition of “Scapin,” is cast as Octavius.


      Bruce Graham, who from “Burkie” to “The Outgoing Tide” has entertained Philadelphia, and the world, with his prolific roster of plays, is coming to the theater as an actor in March. Graham, who can turn a nifty line, will appear as one of the comedy writers who compose a weekly variety show in Neil Simon’s “Laughter on the 23rd Floor” when it comes to Bristol Riverside Theatre from  March 20 to April 13.

      “Laughter on the 23rd Floor” is Simon’s tribute to the writer’s room he was occupied with Carl Reiner, Howard Morris, Mel Brooks, Selma Diamond, and other comic geniuses when they were all working for NBC and Sid Caesar’s weekly “Your Show of Shows”

        You don’t need to be told that all of the writers on Caesar’s show went on brilliant careers as performers, producers,  directors, and writers. Simon at one time set the standard for Broadway comedy and has quite a few classics to his credit.

        David Edwards is cast by director Keith Baker to play the Caesar character, Max, host of the show in  Simon’s play and hard man to please or control. Max is exacting and knows instinctively when material will work. Graham plays Milt, another writer. He is joined in Bristol by Benjamin Lloyd, Carl Wallnau, Jason Silverman, Megan McDermott, and K.O. DelMarcelle. Edwards’s last visit to Bristol was a memorable turn in the title role of Larry Shue’s “The Foreigner.” Graham has acted on other occasions, including taking the lead role in his play, “Any Given Monday” when it transferred from Theatre Exile to Act II Playhouse.

         While looking forward to Baker’s production of “Laughter on the 23rd Floor,” don’t forget that Bristol is currently running a warm, theatrically satisfying production of Mitch Albom’s best-seller, “Tuesdays with Morrie,” adapted  by Jeffrey Hatcher and directed to perfection by Susan D. Atkinson. “Tuesdays with Morrie” plays through Feb. 16. Richert Easley, as Morrie and Danny Vaccaro as Mitch hit every note right in their individual and combined performances. You can read a full review in NealsPaper.


      Two weeks before “American Idol” first season runner-up Justin Guarini takes over the role of Fiyero in “Wicked” on Broadway, he will be in concert at New Hope’s Bucks County Playhouse in a Valentine’s Day weekend show called “Lovesick,” in which Justin says he talks and sings about “all the crazy places love has taken me.” Guarini will be backed by a nine-piece band and sing a collection of tunes that range from Burt Bacharach to Beck to Ben Folds. Gordon Greenberg, who did a stellar job directing BCP’s radio rendition of “Meet Me in St. Louis,” is Justin’s director.

      “Lovesick” runs at 8 p.m. on Friday, February 14 and Saturday, February 15. Seats at cabaret tables are available for $55. Seats in the front orchestra are $42. In the rear orchestra, they are $25.

        BCP’s February concerts continue on Saturday, February 22 when Leslie Uggams brings her show to the theater for a single 8 p.m. performance.

       Leslie Uggams has been a major star since she was a teenager on “Sing Along with Mitch” in the 1960s. On Broadway, she has won a Tony in “Hallelujah Baby” and earned other nominations. On television, she made an indelible mark as Kizzy in the 1970s serial, “Roots.” Stage and TV appearances have abounded. In New Hope, she will do a variety of her signature songs and classics from the Great American Songbook.

       Tickets for Leslie’s show are $65 for seats at a cabaret table, $52 for the front orchestra, and $25 for the rear orchestra.

        You call can 215-862-2121 for ticket and information about Guarini’s and Uggams’s shows.


     Victoria Mayo Avenue interior Media Theatre will be having a kind of an alumni run when the musical that uses ’50s and ’60s rock and roll for its score, “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?” runs from  February 26 to March 20.

       Lauren Cupples, who recently finished a Christmas run in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” and Victoria Mayo, who was Tracy Turnblad in Media’s excellent 2012 production of “Hairspray,” return for the show that Cupples describes as a “woman’s ‘Forever Plaid.'”

       Mayo plays a woman, Millie, who has a party at which her friends discuss matters of the heart. In addition to the title song, the hits include “I Will Follow Him” and “Hey There, Lonely Boy.”

        Joining  Cupples and Mayo in Dann Dunn’s production are two others known to Media audiences, Ashli Rian Rice, who appeared in “Hairspray” and “Rent,” and Megan Rucidlo, who was seen in “Monty Python’s Spamalot” and “Dr. Doolittle.”

       As with  the Bristol Riverside, the Media has a current production of “The Diary of Anne Frank” that is quite moving. It runs through February 16. A review of Jesse Cline’s production appears in NealsPaper.


      Although Steven Spielberg did a wonderful job bringing the London and Broadway stage hit, “War Horse” to the big screen in 2011, the original staging of Nick Stafford’s adaptation of Michael Murpurgo’s novel is absolutely stunning and should be witnessed now that Fathom Events is digitally bringing the stage version of “War Horse” to local movie theaters on Thursday, February 27.

      Marianne Elliott, who was at the helm of London’s current hit, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” was the co-director of “War Horse,” and she makes the saga of a horse recruited to serve the British cavalry in World War I, an instant classic, a heartfelt epic work.

      Spielberg obviously used real horses for his movie. Elliott and the National used elaborately realistic  life-size puppets that were made by the Handspring Puppet Company of South Africa.

     Fathom makes a lot of great London theater and international opera and dance events accessible to local audiences by bringing them to movie screens as simulcasts or on digital disks.

      In addition to “War Horse,” Fathom is also making the Broadway production of “Romeo and Juliet” that starred Orlando Bloom and Condola Rice on Feb. 13, 14, and 16. A review of that production can be found in NealsPaper.

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