It’s been many years since Lea Salonga was chosen at the age of 17 to play the title role in Miss Saigon, which played London and then Broadway from 1991 to 2001. Since then, the Tony Award-winning actress has starred in numerous musicals in New York, on tour and around the world, including her native Philippines. On April 2 she will perform in concert at Ridgefield Playhouse.
What are her thoughts on the just-opened revival of Miss Saigon on Broadway?
“I was talking to [producer] Cameron Mackintosh recently and he said, ‘Darling, when you started out you were fully formed,’” says Salonga, laughing during a phone chat from the Philippines, where she lives. (She also has a home in the U.S.)
“It’s great that the show is coming back — and at the same theater — so a new generation of actors have a chance to sink their teeth into it,” says Salonga, 46.
As for her recent projects, she is especially proud of Allegiance, which was filmed during its Broadway run last year and recently shown in cinema houses (and no doubt will eventually be available on DVD). That musical, by Los Angeles-born George Takei, best known as Sulu on the original Star Trek TV series, was based on his Japanese-American family’s experiences when they were placed in an internment camp in Arkansas during World War II.
“The internment was a result of unreasonable, unfounded fear, and looking back on it after so many years, it’s easy for us to say it could never happen again. Then we’re looking at the president and saying, “Oh, no, it’s happening to another group of people, also based on the same irrational fear.” ridgefieldplayhouse.org
Mara Lieberman has brought her Hartford-based Bated Breath Theatre Company to New York’s 98-seat, off-Broadway 59E59 Theatre with the immersive, physical theater piece Beneath the Gavel about art auctions, inspired by the experiences of Christie’s and Sotheby’s art auction veteran Barbara Strongin. The show plays through April 9.
The piece, which Lieberman wrote and directed, was done last year at the New Britain Museum of American Art, but Lieberman says she is excited that it can now benefit from professional theater elements to enhance the experience.
As audience members enter the theater, some are given paddles and “money” to bid for art works as the performers around them bring various roles to life: deep-pocket collectors, art dealers, artists, critics and auctioneers.
“The show looks at the creation of a painting from conception to sale,” says Lieberman, who earlier in her career worked with innovative theater director Anne Bogart.
It’s all in good fun — and good art, too, she says. Interactive entertainment “comes out of artists asking the question, ‘How do we attract audiences?’ Just always doing it the same old way ain’t going to cut it.” batedbreaththeatre.org
New York Connections
Has there ever been a New York theater season so full of Connecticut talent? As the Tony Awards deadline fast approaches this month, many of the contenders for the coveted trophy have the “Made in Connecticut” stamp.
Opening this month is Paula Vogel’s Indecent,which had its world premiere at Yale Rep in 2015. Surveying the competition, it’s likely that the show will nab at least a best play nomination. (And a pity there wasn’t a category for best ensemble). The musical Anastasia, which had its premiere at Hartford Stage last year, also opens this month after some tinkering, but the race this season is much headier than the time a few years back when the theater transferred A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder, which not only received an armful of nominations but the big win.
Earlier this season, Holiday Inn, which was fashioned at East Haddam’s Goodspeed Opera House, had a healthy run, but it’s a crowded field for new musicals and it isn’t seen as a leading contender. Old Lyme’s Sue Frost is lead producer for the musical Come From Away,and that ensemble show has some solid buzz to it. Also, Bloomfield’s Jessica Hecht stars along with Danny DeVito, Mark Ruffalo and Yale School of Drama grad (’80) Tony Shalhoub in the revival of Arthur Miller’s The Price.
Off-Broadway will see James Bundy again directing Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days,starring Dianne Wiest, in May. (The production played the Rep last year.) Also on the off-Broadway boards is Jen Silverman’s The Moors, which had its world premiere at Yale Rep last year. It’s a different production but still features some of the leading actors from the Rep show.
Striking a Chord
He has killer good looks, so it’s only natural P.J. Griffith is cast as one of the title characters in the musical Assassins, now playing at Yale Repertory Theatre through April 8.
Griffith, who grew up in South Windsor, has a knack for playing dark characters. He played Jett Rink (the James Dean role) in the musical Giant, the bisexual drug dealer St. Jimmy in the Green Day musical American Idiot, and in Assassins he plays Leon Czolgosz, the American anarchist and unemployed factory worker who assassinated President William McKinley in 1901 at Buffalo’s Pan-American Exposition.
“We auditioned in September and we knew no matter how the election turned out, half of the country was going to be disillusioned because their candidate didn’t win,” says Griffith. “Whether it be Trump supporters or the Occupy Wall Street crowd, it’s going to strike a chord.”
The show is set in a nebulous world called “Nightmaricana,” says Griffith, who adds that director James Bundy has his own dark creative take on the Stephen Sondheim-John Weidman show.
By the way, it’s the first time the Rep has done anything by Sondheim since The Frogs more than 40 years ago. Sondheim, a Beinecke fellow, is expected to give a public “lecture/conversation” during the run.
And speaking of Sondheim, I had a visit at the Manhattan home of playwright David Ives, who is collaborating with Sondheim, 87, on the composer’s latest. The show, based on two films by Luis Buñuel, is expected to open at The Public Theatre in the fall. And the title? None yet. Ives says he suggested Bon Appétit,but Sondheim told him no hit show ever had a title in another language. Er ... Les Misérables? yalerep.org
Did you know...?
... Glenn Close, who is receiving raves for her performance in the revival of Sunset Boulevard, was born and raised in Greenwich?
... that a few Hartt School grads are doing well in New York? Phillip Boykin is in the Broadway revival of Sunday in the Park with George with Jake Gyllenhaal, and Marin Ireland stars in off-Broadway’s On the Exhale.
... that Justin Paul, who grew up in Westport, is having a splendid season? He co-wrote the score (with Benj Pasek) to the Broadway hit Dear Evan Hansen, and the songwriting team just won an Oscar for their lyrics for the tunes in La La Land. (The music is by Justin Hurwitz.)
Frank Rizzo has covered the arts-entertainment scene in Connecticut since disco reigned in the ’70s, including nearly 34 years writing for The Hartford Courant. Email him at FrRiz@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter@ShowRiz.