PIE LESSON REVIEW
Reviewed by Barbara Kahn. November 1, 2019.
Pie Lessons. By Carrie Robbins. Directed by Jonathan Cerullo. Featuring Alyssa Emily Marvin, Robert Meskin, and Jenne Vath. Set, costumes and graphics by Robbins. Light, sound and projection design by Chris Stratis. Music arranged by Shelley Gartner.
Yesterday I saw Pie Lessons, a powerful play by Carrie Robbins performed by three amazing actors. Before the house opened, we were treated to a helping of apple or pumpkin pie, Pie service by Olga Kalanz, Master Baker Chris Stratis. My choice of pumpkin was a good one. Yummy. So, we were all in a good mood when the performance began.
I already knew Jenne Vath is an amazing actor, and her portrayal of a Jewish mother in the 1950s was in fact amazing. She gradually revealed the intelligent and anxious wife and mother who finds ways to satisfy her own need for a creative outlet. The eleven-year-old Alyssa Emily Marvin gave an astonishing and nuanced performance as her daughter. Robert Meksin was able to show us a very difficult father whose traumatic history was only hinted at but gave us all we needed as background. We saw a man haunted by his past, who constantly struggled to stay in the present, anchored by a loving daughter and wife. No matter how I felt for the daughter who was hovered over by a father desperate to protect his child, I never questioned his love. His wife ran interference when things seemed on the verge of resistance.
The direction by Jonathan Cerullo was excellent. He kept the balance among the three characters and staged the scene changes effectively, bringing the drama to us with music and humor. The scenes of actually making the desserts that fit each scene were detailed and engrossing.
I believe the play is at least somewhat autobiographical, and I was surprised to see Robbins’ background is as a successful, award-winning theater designer, with perhaps just a few plays to her credit. This play deserves a longer run.
Pie Lessons. The 2019 N.Y. International Fringe Festival, Metropolitan Playhouse & Day of the Giants LLC. Closed November 3, 2019.
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Award-winning director and choreographer Jonathan Cerullo (The Boys from Syracuse, Big Apple Circus), has been named an Artistic Associate at Amas Musical Theatre. Donna Trinkoff announced Cerullo will be joining SDC director and choreographer Christopher Scott and Lynne Taylor-Corbett.
Cerullo recently wrote and staged Amas @50, celebrating the companies 50th Anniversary, as well as Harry Belafonte, Shelly Berger, Sharleen Cooper Cohen, and Donna Trinkoff. The celebration was hosted by Tony Award winner Lillias White and featured Christopher Jackson, Leslie Uggams and Len Cariou.
He has worked on Broadway as choreography consultant: Say, Goodnight Gracie, assistant director and/or choreo: Band in Berlin, Anna Karenina, The Three Musketeers, was in the original Broadway cast: Legs Diamond, National Tour: CATS and Sweet Charity with Donna McKechnie. Also, in New York, he was Choreographer for Big Apple Circus' Carnivale! & Picturesque at Lincoln Center.
His critically acclaimed (almost!) all-male production of The Boys from Syracuse opened Musical Tonight! 20th Season at the Lion Theatre. In 2017 Jonathan produced and directed the sold-out 30th Anniversary Concert of the Tony-nominated musical Legs Diamond at Feinstein's / 54 Below gathering back many of the original cast members. Earlier in 2017 he created, wrote and directed for Tony Award-winning lyricists and composer, Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, The Flip Side, The Unknown Gems of Ahrens and Flaherty and No Foolin' at Amas Music Theatre.
Jonathan in 2016 won Best Director Award; Fictitious, Theater Now NY. He directed the NYMF reading of Windywoo and her Naughty Naughty Pets, was the choreographer for Under Fire, which won NYMF's 2009 Best of Fest. At the 2016 Fresh Fruit Festival, he was director & choreographer for Chance, which won the Fruity Award for Outstanding Production Design and Outstanding Performance in a Musical for Courter Simmons. Other off-Broadway credits include director at La Mama; Pins and Needles, NYC Town Hall; Uta Hagen's 50 Year Tribute, and Wonderful Town for the Equity Library Theatre.
TV: created and directed at Canada's Royal Theatre, Dear Mr. Gershwin, filmed for CBC TV, choreographer: Great Performances Evening At Pops, assistant director: Donny Osmond's, This Is The Moment, Natalie Cole's Christmas Special. Film: associate choreographer: The First Wives Club, The Stepford Wives, The Cowboy Way. He also conceived, produced and directed the SDC Foundation's tribute video for the Mr. Abbott Award for Lifetime Achievement in Theatre.
Regionally: Denver Center for the Performing Arts, Goodspeed, Arena Stage, Berkshire Theatre Festival, Uta Hagen's Dance Instructor in Six Dance Lessons; Geffen Playhouse, Theatre By The Sea, North Shore Music Theatre, and the Fort Worth Arts Center.
He is a proud member of SDC, the Stage Director & Choreographers Society, Actors Equity Association, The Dramatist Guild, has served as Vice-Chair and produced the 2016 SDC Foundation's Joe A. Callaway Award, as well as a nominator for the Lucille Lortel Awards. Jonathan currently sits on the Associate Board for the NY Music Theatre Festival and an Artistic Advisor for the Music Theatre Factory. He has been a guest speaker for Career Transition for Dancers, NY Foundation for the Arts and The Abbott Center for Music Theatre Studies at Temple University.
Amas Musical Theatre is a non-profit, multi-ethnic theatrical organization founded in 1968 by Ms. Rosetta LeNoire. Amas ("you love" in Latin) is devoted to the creation, development and professional production of new American musicals through the celebration of diversity and minority perspectives, the emergence of new artistic talent, and the training and encouragement of underserved young people in the New York area.
Amas celebrates its impact in pioneering multi-ethnic casting in the American Theatre and reiterates its commitment to this reflection of our diverse society.
Karen Ziemba to Lead Industry Reading of
CAROL OF CARROLL GARDENS
Tony Award-winning producer Michael Rubenstein (Pippin), along with producers Robin Milling (Less Than 50%) of Trilliant Entertainment Group, and Stephanie Rosenberg (Moulin Rouge) of The Empress Productions LLC will present an industry reading of Carol of Carroll Gardens by playwright Bob Stewart on June 17, 2019.
Starring Tony Award-winner Karen Ziemba (Contact, Curtains, Prince of Broadway) in the title role of Carol. The reading is being directed by Broadway veteran and award-winning director, Jonathan Cerullo (The Boys from Syracuse, Legs Diamond, Cats).
The ensemble cast features Lou Martini, Jr. (The Deuce, The Sopranos), BJ Gruber (Younger, The Queens Project), Scottie Thompson (12 Monkeys, NCIS), and Anthony Simone (Orange is The New Black, The Blacklist). Stage Directions will be read by Alex Muscaro.
Carol of Carroll Gardens, set in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, is a poignant comedy about a single, Baby Boomer curmudgeon, Carol Chapin, who is struggling with her health. She is helped along by Scotty, her lonely caregiver. Aided by an eccentric doctor, an ever-changing phlebotomist, a tolerant Olive Garden date, metaphysical portals, and a mysterious, unseen Oracle all delightfully voiced by Carol's well-informed house cats! This is a story about two people caught in a vortex about how to learn to love each other and themselves.
Ivan Faute of New Play Exchange raved, "This is a wonderfully theatrical play that takes an honest and profound but also humorous look at illness and the human relationships that are inextricably bound up with caregiving, growing up, and growing older. The play offers great roles for a variety of ages including a juicy one for an older female. It also offers a lot of possibilities for designers and directors to exercise their creativity."
Photo Credit: Walter McBride / WM Photos
Theater Resources Unlimited (TRU) announces the 2018 TRU Love Benefit, "The Power of Community: Bringing People Together Through the Arts." The event will honor legendary A Chorus Line co-star and co-founder of the National Asian Artists Project [photo U-L] Baayork Lee, who will receive the TRU Spirit of Theater Award for a lifetime of creating opportunities for Asian artists; and off-off-Broadway maverick, creator of the former OOBR Awards and the [photo L-L] Midtown International Theatre Festival, John Chatterton who will receive the TRU Entrepreneur Award for providing 17 years of developmental opportunities for a range of independent theater artists. It all takes place on Sunday, November 4, 2018, from 12pm-4pm at Caroline's on Broadway, 1626 Broadway, NYC.
Join TRU for cocktails at noon, luncheon at 1 pm followed by performances celebrating two people who have enriched our theater community and offered opportunities for so many. They've made such a difference - help thank them and support TRU and their community of theater professionals.
Performance and award show will be directed by Jonathan Cerullo, Broadway/NYC choreography consultant for Say, Goodnight Gracie; assistant director and/or choreographer for Band in Berlin, Anna Karenina, The Three Musketeers, original cast of Legs Diamond; and choreographer for Big Apple Circus' Carnivale! & Picturesque @ Lincoln Center. Anticipated appearances (subject to schedule) will include original A Chorus Line co-stars, [photo U-R] Donna McKechnie and [photo middle-R] Priscilla Lopez and [photo L-R] Brenda Braxton, PS124 Theatre Cub Kids, NAAP co-foun]ders Nina Zoie Lam and Steven Eng, as well as selections from MITF musicals, Thrill Me!, Sistas (the long-run off-Broadway hit) and more!
Photo: Ian Fairlee (being lifted), Matt Dengler (left), Jose Luaces (center) and Shavey Brown (right)
earn some laughs in a scene from Musicals Tonight!’s production of
The Boys From Syracuse,
directed by Jonathan Cerullo at the Lion Theatre, for a limited engagement through Feb. 25.
Photo courtesy of Milliron Studios Photography / Provided by Glenna Freedman PR with permission.
INTERVIEW: Rediscovering Rodgers and Hart’s
‘Boys From Syracuse’
February 18, 2018
By John Soltes / Publisher
Musicals Tonight!, the company dedicated to early examples of the art form, is celebrating its 20th anniversary this spring season, and they have not held back with the theatrical festivities. To mark the occasion, Jonathan Cerullo has directed and choreographed a new revival of The Boys From Syracuse with music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Lorenz Hart and a book by George Abbott.
This all-male production continues through Feb. 25 at the Lion Theatre at Theatre Row in Midtown Manhattan.
The story is based on William Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors and features songs that are reminiscent of the 1930s. In typical Bard fashion, the show charts the adventures of a pair of twins, mistaken identity and couples falling in and out of love.
“The score is just beyond delicious,” Cerullo said in a recent phone interview. “When you listen to Richard Rodgers’ melodies paired with Lorenz Hart’s lyrics, they are beyond brilliant and very smart, and those who are familiar with the show will certainly recognize things like ‘Falling in Love With Love,’ ‘This Can’t be Love,’ ‘Sing for Your Supper,’ ‘Dear Old Syracuse,’ some great chestnuts of songs. And the way we are approaching it is really no holds barred. We take no prisoners. It’s all bust-out, gut-out fun, fun, fun, fun, fun. They can expect a fun evening, I can tell you that.”
The Musicals Tonight! production had a three-week rehearsal period, with the first week devoted to staging Act I and the second week dedicated to Act II. The final week was reserved for finalizing the sets and making the actors’ movements work with the setting.
“It’s a complicated set in so much that there are a lot of moving set pieces,” the director-choreographer said. “Our idea behind the set is that it was an old vaudeville theater that comes back to life on this one night to tell this story, and the actors are all seen sort of preparing themselves in what we call our backstage areas. … It’s all in the open, so we see actors putting on costumes and putting on their makeup, but it’s all very dark and mysterious back there. And then as the play opens, we bust a gust and go bam right into vaudeville.”
Cerullo was educated on Rodgers and Hart’s working relationship by watching a documentary about their careers. He was fascinated by the Broadway team, even though Hart died at a relatively young age, and Rodgers moved on to a successful partnership with Oscar Hammerstein II.
“There’s something about the sensibility that they captured of a 1938 temperament and where they were in the world,” he said. “World War II was starting just a little bit, and our country was coming out of a depression. There’s this quality to their music that evokes that period. The melodies are simple. They’re hummable. They’re tuneful. They’re melodic. They have a heartstring when they need to have a heartstring plucked, and they have a funny note when the funny bone needs to be rattled.”
Cerullo also pointed out Hart’s ingenious lyrics, noting their rhythmic and rhyming qualities. The double entendres have also been interesting to discover for the cast and crew.
“Something else that we discovered, which I found very interesting, Lorenz Hart struggled with his sexuality back in the ’20s and ’30s,” Cerullo said. “In that documentary … I’m going to paraphrase this, it said he struggled with that, and his lyrics reflect that. And the minute I heard that, I went back to his lyrics, and I went, what do they mean by that? You look at the song like ‘This Can’t be Love’ just in the nature of the title. ‘This can’t be love because it feels too good,’ or ‘Falling in love with love is only make believe.’ His lyrics are never about love, but about the pain that love brings. It’s a completely different sentiment than Rodgers and Hammerstein had, where it’s celebrating love, and this has a pathos to it that I think we’re working with quite carefully.”
He added: “I think we pass off Rodgers and Hart all too quickly, and to hear this music done again is quite amazing. What an opportunity for us to do this.”
By John Soltes / Publisher /
A second show worth revisiting, the Broadway musical Legs Diamond, with music and lyrics by Peter Allen, was the subject of an anniversary concert last night. Allen also starred in the original show nearly 30 years ago, with book by Harvey Fierstein and Charles Suppon.
Twenties gangster Legs Diamond would have appreciated the venue, the swanky nightclub Feinstein’s/54 Below, for the one-night-only celebration.
Criminals are surprisingly good fodder for musicals — think Chicago, The Gentlemen’s Guide To Love and Murder and The Producers. The show opened in December 26, 1988 and ran till February 19, 1989. Much like its namesake, Legs Diamond ran into trouble.
While the ill-fated show was the last to play at the Mark Hellinger Theater, it had big positives, including Tony-nominated costumes and choreography and the legendary Julie Wilson.
Anyone who saw the original can testify to the lavish sets. And despite critics’ disdain, it was an entertaining spectacle.
Original cast members, including Christine Andreas, Ruth Gottschall, Bob Stillman and Jim Fyfe, shared stories about Allen’s generosity, as well as personal reminiscences, and performed accomplished ballads, such as “The Man Nobody Could Love,” “Cut the Cards” and “The Music Went Out Of My Life.”
In fact, Allen’s beautiful melodies and cheeky lyrics were a loving reminder that talent and artistry never die. Almost 30 years later, the Legs Diamond score still clicks. Maybe it’s time for a revival.
CABARET & CONCERT NEWS
Christine Andreas and Brenda Braxton Will Star in
Legs Diamond Concert Revival
BY ROBERT VIAGAS
OCT 02, 2017
Original cast members of the short-lived Peter Allen musical will “steal from thieves” twice more.
Peter Allen’s short-lived 1988 gangster musical Legs Diamond will live again in a special 30th anniversary concert revival December 3 starring original cast members, including Brenda Braxton, Christine Andreas, and Bob Stillman, at Feinstein’s/54 Below in New York.
Other original cast members scheduled to take part: Adrian Bailey, Randall Edwards, Jim Fyfe, and Ruth Gottschall, plus Mark Manley. This concert will be produced and directed by yet another original cast member, Jonathan Cerullo.
The show was based on the real-life story of Prohibition-era mobster John Diamond, who earned his nickname for both his dancing skills and his ability to sidestep his enemies. The score, with music and lyrics by pop singer Allen (1944–1992), included “When I Get My Name in Lights,” “The Music Went Out of My Life,” “Only Steal From Thieves,” “Sure Thing Baby,” “Only an Older Woman,” “The Man Nobody Could Love,” “All I Wanted Was the Dream,” and “Say it Isn’t So.”
Legs Diamond opened December 26, 1988, after an unusual 72-performance preview period, and ran through February 19, 1989, garnering three Tony Award nominations (for choreography, costumes, and featured actress). The show underwent extensive rewriting and trimming during previews. Braxton (Tony nominee for Smokey Joe's Café) and Cerullo (Band in Berlin) made it to opening night, but the roles for Andreas (Tony nominee for On Your Toes) and Stillman (Tony nominee for Urban Cowboy and Dirty Blonde) were cut before the opening.
Legs Diamond was the last show presented at Broadway’s venerable Mark Hellinger Theatre before it was sold and turned into a church. The show’s book was written by Harvey Fierstein and Charles Suppon. Allen himself was the subject of a biographical musical, The Boy From Oz.
The Feinstein’s/54 Below production will get two performances at 7 and 9:30 PM in the supper club at 254 West 54th Street, beneath Studio 54, in Manhattan. Tickets, which cost $35 to $75 (plus a $25 food/drink minimum), can be ordered here.
Top Row L-R: Karen Ziemba, Brad Oscar, Carson Elrod
Bottom: Vanessa Wendt, David Ryan Smith
READINGS AND WORKSHOPS
Karen Ziemba and Carson Elrod Will Join Brad Oscar in Reading of
Willie and Me: The Emmett Kelly Story
BY ANDREW GANS
SEP 06, 2017
The drama is written by Stephen Woodburn and Jonathan Cerullo.
Spotlight Communications, Inc. will present an invitation-only reading of the new bio-dramaWillie and Me: The Emmett Kelly Story September 18 in Manhattan.
Tony nominee Brad Oscar (Something Rotten!, The Producers, Nice Work If You Can Get It), as previously reported, will star in the title role. Oscar will be joined by Tony winner Karen Ziemba — currently on Broadway in Prince of Broadway—as Evi Kelly, Emmett Kelly’s wife; and Princess Grace Award winner, Carson Elrod (Peter and the Starcatcher, Reckless, Noises Off) as Junior, Emmett Kelly's son.
Willie and Me: The Emmett Kelly Story is co-written by Stephen Woodburn and Jonathan Cerullo and concerns the life and times of Emmett Kelly, Sr., known to millions of Americans as the sad-faced clown Weary Willie. His trademark routine was the sweeping up of a spotlight into his pocket. Despite touching the hearts of children worldwide, Emmett Kelly, Sr. and his oldest son, Junior, could never reconcile, and it broke the father's heart.
In addition to performing in a variety of circuses, including Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus for 14 years, Emmett Kelly performed on Broadway in Keep Off the Grass, a 1940 production starring Ray Bolger, Jimmy Durante, Jackie Gleason, and Jerome Robbins. He also appeared in Cecil B. DeMille’s 1952 Academy Award-winning film The Greatest Show on Earth.
The reading, which will be directed by Cerullo, will also feature Vanessa Wendt and David Ryan Smith, who will play a variety of roles.
To learn more about the play, visit WillieAndMe.com. Spotlight Communications, Inc. is running an Indiegogo to help cover costs; to participate.
HABITATS | HELL’S KITCHEN
Pocket-Sized on West 47th Street
A Theatrical 348 Square Feet
When Jonathan Cerullo, above, a choreographer and director, entertains in his 348-square-foot apartment, the dining table comes out from behind the sofa.
What his place lacks in size, it makes up for in décor.
Photographs by Fred R. Conrad / The New York Times
Published: April 21, 2010
Copyright 2010 The New York Times Company
SOME of the multitudes who saw an early touring production of “Cats” in the mid-1980s might remember an exuberant orange tabby called Skimbleshanks. The character was played by a 20-something dancer named Jonathan Cerullo, swathed from ears to tail in yak hair.
A TINY PIECE OF HELL'S KITCHEN
In 1985, the year before stepping into Skimbleshanks’s ratty-looking fur, Mr. Cerullo had moved into a 348-square-foot apartment in a century-old tenement on West 47th Street in Hell’s Kitchen. The initial rent was $309 a month.
“Cats” has long since become a punch line, and Mr. Cerullo has accrued an 11-page résumé of credits as a choreographer and director. But he has resolutely stayed put in this pocket-sized rent-stabilized space, for which he now pays just over $900.
Even for a struggling young performer, the space was minuscule; some New Yorkers have closets that are roomier. It can also be hot, dark and confining.
“The space is so small,” Mr. Cerullo acknowledged, “it’s easy to feel like you want to jump out of your skin.”
Yet over the past quarter century, he has transformed his Lilliputian home in remarkable fashion. To visit his apartment is like stepping into a Fabergé egg; the little rooms explode with rich colors (all those theatrical posters) and shiny surfaces (a passion for Art Deco will do that). And like those phantasmagoric stage sets in which nothing is quite what it seems, virtually every item collapses, converts to something other than what it appears to be, skates about on wheels, or opens to reveal an ingenious feat of design.
“When guests come to visit, their jaws literally drop when they see what I’ve done with the place,” said Mr. Cerullo, a lanky 50-year-old with a manner as exuberant as his décor. “They are floored by the transformative nature of it all. They are truly in awe.”
When he first encountered the apartment, it retained many of its original turn-of-the-last-century features, among them tin ceilings, gas pipes for long-disappeared sconces and pine floors edged with dark banding. The pocket shutters in the living room were encrusted with thick black paint.
After considerable stripping, sanding and refinishing — and the stiffened fingers to show for it — Mr. Cerullo set to work creating the special effects that give the apartment its now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t quality.
Just a few examples: In the living room, a futon sofa on casters unfolds to become a double bed. Stashed behind the sofa is a wooden conference table that expands into a full-size dining table; on the eve of the new millennium, Mr. Cerullo used it to serve eight guests a seven-course sit-down dinner. The vintage coffee table is on wheels, and a pair of red leather cubes provide storage for linens and CDs.
In the sliver of space between the living room and the kitchen that Mr. Cerullo calls his office; a computer table swings down vertically to make available precious extra inches. In the kitchen — so tiny that if you stretch out your arms you can touch all four walls — artfully concealed plastic bins and wire baskets store everything from glassware to coat checks (for Mr. Cerullo’s jam-packed parties).
And despite a full complement of electronic equipment, not a speck of wiring can be seen. Cleverly designed strips of black plastic tubing that snake around the walls and ceiling conceal every strand.
What gives Mr. Cerullo’s apartment its panache, however, is not the cleverness but the lavish — some might say over-the-top — use of decorative accents that reflect virtually every aspect of his professional and personal life, along with his decided taste for the styles of the ’20s and ’30s.
From the ceilings hang a pair of smart Art Deco chandeliers — glittery concoctions of crystal, tin and milk glass. They are joined by two mirror balls, a fixture of 1920s nightclubs long before the age of disco.
“They revolved counterclockwise when the dancers moved clockwise, and they gave the dancers the sense that they were floating,” Mr. Cerullo said. “Whenever I need a little beauty, a little escape, I turn them on.
“It’s not like I live in some la-la land,” he added hastily. “But when I’m entertaining, they create an entirely different ambience.”
The baby kitchen is peopled with Hollywood’s most glamorous icons, in the form of glossy black and white images by George Hurrell, photographer to bygone stars. Here are Hedy Lamarr, James Cagney, Joan Crawford, Mae West, Errol Flynn and Clara Bow; Mr. Cerullo tore the pictures out of a calendar and attached them to the refrigerator with magnetized metal clothespins.
An avid collector, he has amassed dozens of pieces of Chase chrome, electroplated items in Art Deco design that have been carefully cataloged; he hopes one day to give them to the Wolfsonian museum in Miami Beach. He also has a trove of cardboard boxes, covered with decorative paper, that once held everything from pins and playing cards to soap and stationery.
Shimmer is provided by the generous accents of crystal and silver that range from Art Deco martini shakers to the aluminum roofing tiles (500 for $12 at Home Depot) that his science-teacher father helped him glue onto the doors of the kitchen cabinets.
Red paper flowers, along with matching votives and a tulip-shaped pressed-glass container filled with red marbles, provide color. The walls are red, too, because in Mr. Cerullo’s opinion, “red has a soul.”
From the professional side of his life come dozens of theatrical posters for productions running the gamut from “Anna Karenina” to the Big Apple Circus, along with treasured items like a handwritten note from Samuel Beckett (“Thank you for your letter and kind birthday wishes”) and a poster with an image from Richard Avedon’s series of photographs “Dovima With Elephants,” signed by the photographer.
Mr. Cerullo comes from a sprawling Italian-American family with deep roots in New York, and it sometimes seems as if all of his relatives are present in these quarters in one form or another. Here is his mother, her hair in a little girl’s black bob, standing beside an old-fashioned baby carriage in front of a house in the Bronx. Here is the red plastic radio she listened to as a teenager. Here are beaded hats made by his maternal grandmother, along with faded photographs of a great-great aunt, Erminia Frezzolini, a celebrated 19th-century soprano who sang at the premieres of two Verdi operas at La Scala in Milan.
“She also had a relationship with him,” Mr. Cerullo said, framing the word “relationship” in air quotes with his fingers. “At least there were always those little whispers in my family.”
A Tiny Piece of Hell's Kitchen
Photographs by Fred R. Conrad / The New York Times
And we made the final cut for the book!
Offering “Transparency” on New Musical Readings and Productions
Freelance Director Jonathan Cerullo
by CAROL DE GIERE on SEPTEMBER 12, 2016
Desperate Writers helmer Kay Cole shares her philosophy on directing.
By: Jonathan Cerullo · Jun 2, 2011 · New York
Kay Cole made her Broadway debut in the original production of Bye Bye Birdie and was last seen on the Great White Way as Maggie in the original New York company of A Chorus Line. In recent years, Cole has successfully transitioned from being a performer to become a recognized director and choreographer, and is now making her Off-Broadway directorial debut with the zany comedy, Desperate Writers, now in previews at the Union Square Theatre.
"It is a fabulous, fun and wonderful show that is fast, creative, and a perfect evening of joy," she says. "It celebrates being able to laugh at the human condition and what it feels like to be at the end of your rope."
Desperate Writers started in Los Angeles -- where Cole lives with her husband, filmmaker Michael Lamont -- but she stresses things have changed for the Off-Broadway run. "The New York sensibility is different than L.A. The actors here have a different catch to it all; they have a different kind of thoughtfulness," she notes. "Plus, the design of the show is vastly different. The script, however, has remained basically unchanged."
As a director, Cole believes you must be available, have the courage to risk, and most importantly, care for your fellow artists with humanity and compassion. "If people do not get the chance to express the joy of where they live, you've destroyed an opportunity for the magic of theater to happen," she says. "Because I have a big heart, I try very hard to keep the heart of the piece alive as we tell the story. I am so much about feelings that I see the stories' larger picture by digging and unearthing that heart."
That commitment extends to the audition process, says Cole. "I strive to talk to the actors as a human being and to make a connection with that individual who has the most humanity and the most willingness to risk," she says.
She also believes the rehearsal room should be a collaborative place - but it is definitely a place for work. "I don't make rules, that not who I am," she says. "The other day I was giving notes and someone was using an electronic device. I asked the simple question are you writing notes or are you texting someone? They quietly put the device away and I got my answer. In the immediacy of how I choose to handle that, the individual realized how disrespectful it was to be doing that. It was empowering because I know I got my point across in what I hope was a kind way."
Her commitment to theater does not stop on the stage. She has teaching positions at Emerson College's Los Angeles Annex, UCLA's Musical Theatre Camp, and ARTreach in Los Angeles, and she believes that the arts create better human beings "We are all responsible for creating a new canvas in our community. And this cannot be driven by the money, it has to be driven by the art," she says.
When asked about what sort of legacy she would like to leave behind, Cole doesn't hesitate. "I don't want to sound like a pompous ass, but I have absolutely no fears about creating," she says. "I speak with my heart, I am happy in the world. I love myself in that world. I feel comfortable. My biggest goal is to inspire and nurture people so they are in turn inspired because if you inspire someone it is that connection that will continue long after."
Posted on Sun, Mar. 09, 2008
HERE'S HOPING ALL THAT PERSPIRATION IS AN INSPIRATION
BY CHRISTINE DOLEN
Remember the Carnegie Hall joke? Someone who is lost in New York asks, ''Do you know how to get to Carnegie Hall?'' A wiseguy answers, ``Practice, practice, practice.''
It's funny because it answers a plea for directions with a different kind of truth. Getting to the pinnacle in any facet of showbiz or the arts -- to Hollywood, Broadway, the Metropolitan Opera, you name it -- takes luck and talent, for sure. But it also requires plain old hard work, persistence and faith.
Jim Camacho knows that. And when it comes to his musical Fools' Paradise, he has lived that work ethic.
Camacho, 38, would be the first to tell you he's not a hard-core musical-theater guy. He's a rocker and singer-songwriter, a longtime fixture in South Florida's music scene. With his brother John, he almost made it to national stardom with the now-defunct band The Goods. He released three solo CDs (and has another CD, Beachfront Defeat, coming this summer), has contributed songs to movie soundtracks and has toured with artists such as John Legend and Alicia Keys. And in 1999, he wrote a musical.
His inspiration was dual: a famous image and his family history. ''My dad jumped into Normandy on D-Day,'' says Camacho, a slender man with long blond hair. ``He died when I was 10, so I never got his story.''
Camacho, who has lived in France, also came across a photograph taken on June 14, 1940, as Nazi troops marched down the Champs-Elysées. At the forefront of a somber crowd, a man weeps at the horror. The image moved Camacho to write the song Tears on Parade. Three weeks later, he had a basic script and all the music for Fools' Paradise.
That was then. Now, Fools' Paradise has progressed to the point that Camacho and his collaborators are ready to see what they have in an elaborately staged workshop version of the musical. For three nights beginning Friday, Fools' Paradise will be performed in the 290-seat Mandelstam Dance Theater at Gulliver School's South Miami campus.
Working with Camacho are director-choreographer Jonathan Stuart Cerullo, who has done everything from Broadway to choreographing New York's Big Apple Circus; actor Ken Clement, a longtime friend and script contributor who plays a circus ringmaster, and Rod Mandelstam, namesake of the theater, producer of the show and Camacho's father-in-law.
Fools' Paradise has taken a long and winding path toward what its creators hope will one day be a Broadway production. First came a pair of recordings by Camacho, followed by concert presentations at Churchill's, the Museum of Science, the Mandelstam and a small theater in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood.
Along the way, the story has grown from a simple love triangle set in a circus called Fools' Paradise. The musical now includes a broader exploration of the heroism of the French circus folk, as they help save the lives of Jews in Nazi-occupied Paris. Cerullo describes Camacho's score as encompassing 'quite a lot of idioms, even a waltz. But it's mainly in the rock 'n' roll vernacular.''
''There are ballads, straight-out rock, folk -- I went to Beatles school,'' Camacho, citing his influences, says with a smile.
The workshop production will feature a cast of 22, including actors with the circus skills to do aerial performances and stilt-walking; plus a five-piece band, a set with projected images, puppets, costumes and lighting. But the content of the show itself is also more developed, Cerullo says.
''Jim and I spent three months in development. We worked on the dramatic structure and the placement of songs. We gave the show an arc -- a beginning, middle and an end,'' the director says.
The dream, given the popularity of the myriad Cirque du Soleil shows and the success of such rock-driven productions as Rent and Spring Awakening, is that Fools' Paradise might wind up on Broadway. To that end, Mandelstam has invited several producers to the workshop, and he has hired a New York publicist.
''I just know and feel this is a really special piece,'' he says, and he has been backing up his belief by paying all the bills for the workshop version (though he declines to say how much).
Camacho says entering the world of musical theater has been ``a major adjustment. You have to go from being vague to being specific. You can't underestimate the audience.''
He and his collaborators are hoping that next weekend's audiences -- producers, would-be-backers, friends and just plain folks -- will like and be moved by what they hear and see. And that Fools' Paradise will move one step closer to Broadway.
to the Circus
Industry big-wigs are flying down to Miami this weekend to check out what could become Broadway’s next gotta-see event: Fool’s Paradise. The Mandelstam Theatre of Performing Arts is playing host to the VIP workshop weekend run of Jim Camacho’s high-flying new rock musical, a love story set among circus performers in Nazi-occupied Paris.
STEPPING LIVELY AT CREDIT SUISSE
Adrian Moser/Bloomberg News
Brady Dougan, 47, has led the investment-banking unit at Credit Suisse.
By JENNY ANDERSON
Published: February 16, 2007
"To prepare for a charity event late last year that called for him to dance with a Broadway star, Brady W. Dougan, the chief executive of Credit Suisse’s investment bank, practiced for two months. Singing and dancing included. At last year’s charity event, “Dancing With Managing Directors,” Mr. Dougan went on stage in front of 700 Credit Suisse employees and, to the tune of “Cheek to Cheek” by Irving Berlin, danced, without a hitch, with Deborah Yates, who played the woman in yellow in the Broadway show “Contact.” But then he did have some prior stage experience. In 2003, Mr. Mack dressed up as a shark for a charity event, and sang “Mack the Knife.” Mr. Dougan and Mr. Finn dressed as Abba members to sing “SOS.” He practiced for that, too — but not for two months."
The Mongolian Angles – Dava [left] and Byamba [center] – work with choreographer Jonathan Stuart Cerullo.
Performers’ daily drills lead to precise routines that are timed by a stopwatch down to the fractions of a second.
FOR A CHILD'S SMILE, MONTHS OF SWEAT
The Big Apple Circus goes through a painstaking process to create wonder
April 3, 2005
WALDEN, N.Y. -- The large but unprepossessing building on the edge of town looks like a manufacturing plant, and that's what it used to be -- a place where they made copper wire.
In a sense, the place is still a factory, but what it produces is amazement and wonder. This is the headquarters of the Big Apple Circus, where each year, in August and September, the company puts together its new show before sending it out for months on the road and stops in 11 cities.
Big Apple cofounder and ringmaster Paul Binder, piloting a golf cart, enjoys showing off his facility. The main building houses 32,000 square feet of offices; a national box office; scene, costume, and mechanical shops; storage facilities for props and costumes of circuses past; and a rehearsal area bigger than an airplane hangar.
On a busy day early last September, there is enough activity going on all over the site to fill a dozen circus rings. The theme for this year's show, ''Picturesque," which opened yesterday at the Bayside Expo Center and runs through May 8, came from circus-inspired works by famous artists -- Toulouse-Lautrec, Degas, Picasso, Chagall, Magritte. Now the process is coming full circle, and the paintings are inspiring the look, character, and feel of the show. In the big conference room adjacent to the rehearsal area, there are stacks of books devoted to these and other artists, as well as a well-worn copy of ''Sister Wendy's Masterpieces."
Out in the tent, the slow and painstaking process of setting the lights is going on; performers strut around in ostrich feathers and sweat pants. Barry Lubin, the Big Apple's beloved clown ''Grandma," strolls by, a balding middle-aged man in a T-shirt, shorts, and sneakers; Grandma's red shift, yellow socks, and pearls fit into a duffel bag, but her spirit suffuses the entire show. What looks prosaic and dull under work lights becomes dazzling, fluid, and dramatic after the theatrical lights are focused and computerized.
In a room in the main building, the eight-piece circus band is learning the new music under the high-energy direction of Rob Slowik. ''If you took any element out of this show," Slowik observes, ''it would become a different thing."
Off in corners, performers put in the daily drill of exercise and practice that make their routines possible; in this world, no one stops to stare at a nimble acrobat hand-balancing on the heads of burly athletes. The show's star juggler, Picaso Jr., sees three apples in a bowl; probably without thinking about it, he picks them up and starts juggling.
British equestrian Yasmine Smart has come in to put the horses through their paces this year because Katja Schumann, Binder's wife, is on a leave of absence. In the show, you can see the horse trainer talking or whispering to the horses; close up you can hear what Smart is saying: ''That was terribly good, boys. Now let's do a waltz . . ."
Smart comes from a famous circus family, and she's worked with animals all her life; she looks as chic in jeans as she will in a costume inspired by the designer Erte. ''Horses love to show off -- especially male horses," she confides.
If you've ever wondered what the trainer hands the horses as their reward, they're not sugar cubes. ''They're vitamins," Smart says, crisply. ''Apple-flavored, or carrot."
Big Apple shows are two are three years in the making, so planning for next season's production was underway long before this season's went into rehearsal. Binder and his cofounder, Michael Christensen, develop the concepts. The resident company of eight, including Grandma and Binder's teenage son Max, is already in place. The founders choose their guest attractions at various international circus expositions, looking for original and surprising performers whose specialties will fit into the theme; the clowns and the resident company bridge the acts.
Christensen writes the script and develops the concept in collaboration with the scenic designer (Dan Kuchar), the costume designer (Mirena Rada), the director (Michel Barette), the choreographer (Jonathan Stuart Cerullo), and others on the team.
Sensitive issues get resolved -- the plan to use a dancing figure based on Toulouse-Lautrec's drawings of the famous African circus clown Chocolat to help with transitions bites the dust because of the issue of racial stereotyping; he becomes a character named JoJo.
A ''reality board" schedule grid dominates the conference room; each act and link is timed with a stopwatch down to fractions of a second. Episodes move around according to technical requirements or issues of dramatic flow, but the company knows the attention span of the children in its audience, and the show cannot go beyond two hours.
''The difficulty this year was there was more good material than we could integrate into the show, but that having more than you need is the best situation to be in," Barette explains later. ''Like a chef creating a dish, we choose the things that will give us the flavor we are looking for. It is something elusive, to obtain a rhythm, a pattern, a curve. There are always good surprises; the bad ones, we cut."
By the end of the day, the rings all over the Walden building are beginning to converge into the Big Apple's famous single ring. The entire company of 32, still in street clothes (the aerialist Mongolian Angels wore T-shirts saying ''Mongolian Angels"), is going through the introduction to the show, and ringmaster Binder repeatedly delivers his punch line as if he had just thought it up: ''Degas, Chagall, Renoir -- and Grandmoir!"
Choreographer Cerullo is in charge, under the watchful eye of Barette. A witty and flamboyant former dancer, veteran of seven Broadway shows and a national company of ''Cats," Cerullo comes from a very different world and has trained in an athletic discipline very different from the circus arts. Nevertheless, a healthy mutual respect has developed. It isn't particularly easy for hefty Russian lifters to go through a dance-based routine set to counts, but they do their best. ''Don't just use your hips," Cerullo counsels, mimicking their physicality. ''It looks a little lewd."He gives a little pep talk. ''You have to be beautiful to look at -- that's what people are paying to see. It's all about joy, energy, and emotion, which is what the audience is going to need."
Within 10 days, the Big Apple Circus will perform a final dress rehearsal for an invited audience of its Walden neighbors. Then the caravan will hit the road for the first stop on the tour, Washington, D.C. Grandma has the last word. ''Our job is to seriously do funny things -- but without consequences."
I just wanted to thank you for the wonderful job you are doing with the show. What you bring to the Circus is a unique energy and an ability to take charge of the troops, and you are to be congratulated for that. But, more than that, you have really helped me do my job and helped us all, cast and creative team, in so many ways. This is my company, nutty as it can seem, and you are visiting for this brief time, but you are treating us all like a part of your extended family. That is the true essence of the Circus. That is why we are following you, trusting you, and being instruments of your creativity and craft. You have joined us. What that means to me is that you have made my job easier, and you have made all of our jobs easier. You have handled the foreign nature of this world and these personalities so well, mostly because, no matter how hard we claim to be different, we are not so different from your world. You know that. You are learning so fast and you are showing us time after time what a value you are. You bring the magic of your world to ours.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you,
East December 18, 2003
THEATRE ARTISTS TAKE ON CHALLENGES OF THE CIRCUS
By Simi Horwitz
“Circus artists are very disciplined, but they don't have the dancer's dance vocabulary, which means the approach to creating choreography for them is different than creating it for the Broadway dancer." So notes choreographer Jonathan Stuart Cerullo, who has choreographed "Carnevale!," the Big Apple Circus' latest show, now playing through Jan. 11, 2004 at Damrosch Park in Lincoln Center.
Like several other members of "Carnevale!" 's creative team -- including the composer and set and costume designers -- Cerullo boasts a host of Broadway (and other theatre) credits, and has found the demands of working in a circus more than a little daunting at times.
Consider his observation that "circus performers can do flips in the air, but if you ask them to dance, they feel exposed. They're not comfortable outside the confines of their discipline. I had to work hard to gain their trust. But once I had it, I found they were hungry to do something new. I conducted workshops and used the universal language of music -- playing music that was appropriate for 'Carnevale!' from countries all over the world -- and encouraged the performers to run around and allow the music to take them wherever. On the basis of what they did, I choreographed the show."
That's a far cry from the way he'd choreograph a Broadway show, Cerullo concedes. But then, circuses are not Broadway shows. The latter have storylines and narrative drive, and dance serves to advance the plot or enhance the thematic motifs. In circus, the function of dance is very different.
"In circus -- where the show itself is the concept -- dance is, in some ways, more integral to the show. It's always there in the background," Cerullo points out. "But dance mostly serves as a transition between one act and the next. Dance informs the audience what will be happening next while getting the performers on and off." At the same time, the dance (which is more akin to graceful movement than formal dance) has to be part of a unified whole, continues Cerullo, who helped structure the show as well.
The acts inspire the music -- within the parameters of a carnival sound -- and that in turn inspires the dance sequences. Still, the choreographer's imagination is always on tap. For example, in "Ariel Tango," an erotic duet on twisting ropes above the ground, Cerullo suggested that the two performers "create a love story with their movements. They come in tangoing, she's got the red fan that flutters and up they go. I said they should make it lyrical, emphasize the poetic instead of the flourishes."
120 BANK STREET
NEW YORK, NEW YORK 10014
November 30, 1995
New York, NY 10036
On behalf of Uta Hagen, our founder the board of directors and the artistic director of the HB Playwrights Foundation, I wish to thank you for your contribution to the success of our gala fund-raising event on November 5, 1995. It was a splendid evening and your dedication, time, and energy freely given to support this event were no small part of its enthusiastic reception.
However, in our judgment, your special efforts on this occasion deserve a special recognition from us.
We hope that you will continue your association with the HB Studio and HB Playwrights Foundation and help us to continue to pursue the mission and goals of our founders, Herbert Berghof and Uta Hagen.
Richard C. Mawe
Board of Directors
Mark McVey and Broadway Dancers Part of "Evening at Pops"
By Andrew Gans
July 22, 2003
Former Jean Valjean J. Mark McVey will perform his acclaimed rendition of Les Misérables' "Bring Him Home" on an upcoming "Evening at Pops" concert. Entitled "Boston Pops Classics," the concert is scheduled to air in the metropolitan area on July 29 (WLIW 21 at 8 PM ET) and Aug. 21 (WNET 13 at 8 PM ET); check local listings. The hour-long program will also include noted pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, who will join conductor Keith Lockhart for Ravel's "Piano Concerto in G"; the program concludes with a spirited rendition of "Can-Can" from Offenbach'sOrpheus Descending that was choreographed by Jonathan Cerullo, a former Broadway dancer who appeared in Cats, Legs Diamond, andSweet Charity. Cerullo, who will choreograph the upcoming Big Apple Circus show Carnivale, told Playbill On-Line, "I was asked by the producer Susie Dangle and William Cosell, both involved with the Jerry Herman ["Evening at Pops"] special, to choreograph Orpheus Descending by Offenbach, most recognizable and often referred to as the "Can-Can." As choreographer of the upcoming season for the Big Apple Circus, I added a twist to this classic dance by incorporating this circus's most beloved clown, Grandma."My take on all this was in keeping with the classic 'I Love Lucy' sketch where Lucy desperately wants to join in the show and, of course, things run amuck when she does. Both my dancers, Eileen Grace and Carol Schuberg; circus artist, Barry Lubin, a.k.a. Grandma; and I were honored to be part of this great institution." Both Grace and Schuberg have danced on Broadway; the former in The Will Rogers Follies, 42nd Street and My One and Only and the latter in Meet Me in St. Louis.
April 28, 1994
New York, New York 10036
I saw KISS ME KATE last Wednesday night along with a full house (as it was every performance the last week) and want you to know how much I enjoyed the entire production.
I thought the production had a nice pace and was very clean in style and movement. My Theatre Appreciation class, to the person, said it was one of the best productions they had ever seen at the Ring Theatre. This production certainly ranks in the top 5% of all productions I have seen in the Ring Theatre since coming here.
I’m sorry I didn’t have more time to spend with you while you were here but for some reason time flew by and you were gone.
Thank you very much for coming to Miami on such a short notice and tackling this project.
You should be very proud of this production of KISS ME KATE. I was.