Can’t wait to see ‘Hamilton’? 5 reasons to see ‘In the Heights’ this week in Dayton

Published: Thursday, October 05, 2017 @ 6:00 AM

2008 Tony Award-winning Best Musical In The Heights, conceived and composed by Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, opens the Victoria Theatre Association’s Premier Health Broadway Series Oct. 3-8 at the Schuster Center. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
Contributing Writer
2008 Tony Award-winning Best Musical In The Heights, conceived and composed by Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, opens the Victoria Theatre Association’s Premier Health Broadway Series Oct. 3-8 at the Schuster Center. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO(Contributing Writer)

If you’ve ever wondered what makes “Hamilton” a cultural game-changer, check out Lin-Manuel Miranda’s 2008 Tony Award-winning hip-hop/pop musical “In the Heights” —currently presented at the Schuster Center courtesy of the Victoria Theatre Association and Minnesota’s Ordway Center for the Performing Arts in collaboration with Teatro del Pueblo.

Here are five reasons why you should see Miranda’s entertaining and eye-opening account of diversity, legacy and home, nominated for the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

>> The story behind “In the Heights” coming to Dayton

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IN THE HEIGHTS: Oct. 3-8,2017, Schuster Center: See another hit production from the mastermind behind “Hamilton: An American Musical.” This four-time Tony Award-winning musical tells the story of a vibrant community in a New York neighborhood. It’s a community on the brink of change, full of hopes, dreams and pressures, where the biggest struggles can be deciding which traditions to take with you and which ones you leave behind. SUBMITTED(Staff Writer)

 

1. UNIVERSAL STORY. 

Featuring a book by Quiara Alegría Hudes and co-directed by Alberto Justiniano and James A. Rocco, “In the Heights” weaves multiple stories and dreams of the Upper Manhattan Latino community of Washington Heights in New York City.

Centered on bodega (grocery store) owner Usnavi, the musical strikes a relatable chord in its depiction of close-knit individuals.

This colorful community takes care of their families, have deep pride in their neighborhood, have deep pride in their native homeland (Usnavi has roots in the Dominican Republic), rejoice in the successes of their neighbors, and struggle to make ends meet while longing for better opportunities.

When one of them suddenly wins the lottery, hope is renewed and celebrated. No matter where you were raised or whether or not you took Spanish in high school, you will find something in their journey to connect with. 

“In the Heights,” the story of a neighborhood in transition, will come to the Schuster Center. SUBMITTED PHOTO BY RICH RYAN(Staff Writer)

 

2. RELEVANT INCLUSIVITY 

Looking back, when this show opened the door for diversity on Broadway unlike ever before, planting the progressive seeds of what would become “Hamilton,” its depiction of immigration was ahead of its time.

The national discussion was simply not where it is today. So, hearing the story of Abuela Claudia, the grandmother who raised Usnavi, is a powerful moment with a more gripping impact now. In “Paciencia Y Fe” (Patience and Faith), Claudia details her upbringing in Cuba and arriving in New York in December 1943 to ultimately find employment as a maid.

“Nueva York was far, but Nueva York had work, and so we came,” she exclaims. Claudia’s pursuit of the American Dream cannot be discounted and is inspiring.

“I am thrilled to be working on a story that encapsulates the strength of a Latino community who, when its very existence is jeopardized, musters the guts to celebrate its cultural pride as an act of defiance,” said Justiniano. 

>> When will “Hamilton” come to Dayton?

The character of Usnavi de la Vega originally played by Miranda will be played by Justin Gregory Lopez. He is pictured on the left. SUBMITTED PHOTO BY RICH RYAN(Staff Writer)

 

3. DYNAMIC SCORE 

Miranda’s gifted knack for hip-hop wordplay and creating moments with depth and soul that feel like throwbacks to classic musicals is evident throughout his Tony-winning score.

For example, the opening title song introduces Washington Heights on par with “Tradition” from “Fiddler on the Roof,” and flavorful ensemble numbers “The Club” and “Carnaval del Barrio” respectively recall the joy of “Havana” from “Guys and Dolls” and “Dance at the Gym” from “West Side Story.”

“Lin is always in tune with identifying who should express themselves,” said original “In the Heights” director Thomas Kail. 

>> The 10 arts events you will regret missing this season

 

4. LIVELY CHOREOGRAPHY 

Directors Alberto Justiniano and James A. Rocco provide exuberant routines with street-inspired and salsa-driven movement clearly aiding the look and feel of the story. The aforementioned “Carnaval del Barrio” is a particular knockout. 

>> 10 shows you can’t miss in October

“In the Heights,” which comes to the Schuster Center Oct. 2-8, is a collaboration between two Minneapolis theaters. SUBMITTED PHOTO BY RICH RYAN(Staff Writer)

 

5. ENGAGING PERFORMANCES 

Last week, an Australian production of “In the Heights” was canceled due to controversial whitewashing or inauthentic casting. Thankfully, Dayton audiences are treated to a terrifically authentic and very engaging cast wonderfully led by Justin Gregory Lopez as Usnavi. Breezily rapping without missing a beat while full of wit and energy, Lopez absolutely charms. Equally noteworthy are Aline Mayagoitia as soul-searching student Nina, Lauren Villegas as gossipy nail salon owner Daniela, Emily Madigan as Daniela’s ditzy sidekick Carla, Stephen Scott Wormley as Nina’s love interest Benny, and Debra Cardona as Abuela Claudia. 

 

WANT TO GO?

What: “In the Heights” 

Where: Mead Theatre of the Schuster Center, Second and Main streets, Dayton 

When: Through Oct. 8. 8 p.m. Wednesday-Friday; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday 

Cost: $25-$98 

Tickets/more info: Call Ticket Center Stage at (937) 228-3630 or visit www.ticketcenterstage.com

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Take a chance on a new play at Dayton’s FutureFest this weekend

Published: Monday, July 16, 2018 @ 6:00 AM

“we, the invisibles” by Susan Soon He Stanton, is a tribute to behind-the-scenes immigrant hotel workers. It premiered at this year’s Humana Festival of New American Plays. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY BILL BRYMER
“we, the invisibles” by Susan Soon He Stanton, is a tribute to behind-the-scenes immigrant hotel workers. It premiered at this year’s Humana Festival of New American Plays. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY BILL BRYMER

“A great piece of theater is never finished, but at some point it has to start.” — Matthew Kagan, The New Play Exchange

Let’s face it: whether you’re responsible for staging the production or simply buying a ticket, you’re taking a risk on a new play. But judging from the abundance of regional, national — and yes, even world — premieres in our area, there are plenty of people eager to take that risk.

One of those is Bob Airhart, formerly of Springboro and now of Highland, N.Y. Airhart estimates he and his wife see between 20 and 30 new plays each year, both in New York and at new-play festivals around the country.

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They’re always encouraging others to try new work as well. “One reason is that the final play has never been written,” he notes. “The world keeps unfolding and there’s always new perspectives and new ideas. We need to adapt to the changes. And I find that new plays often give me a new perspective on the classics.”

Airhart also wants to encourage creative new playwrights. “Not every new play is worth seeing but we won’t find the gems, the ones that will become classics, if we don’t encourage people to try,” he says. “Every classic play was once a brand new play by a brand new playwright.”

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WHERE TO SEE NEW PLAYS IN OUR REGION 

Theater-lovers from the Miami Valley often head to Louisville in the spring, where one of the nation’s most prestigious new-play festivals takes place each year. For more than four decades Actor’s Theatre has hosted the Humana Festival of New American Plays, a mammoth undertaking that’s introduced more than 450 plays into the American theater repertoire. Many end up in New York and throughout the nation. In our area you’ll see them at venues like The Human Race Theatre Company, Dayton Theatre Guild, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park and Ensemble Theater Cincinnati.

Magnificent Hubba Hubba, an over-the-top comedy about two women wrestlers was written by New York playwright Olga Humphrey and was last year’s FutureFest s winner. Submitted photo by Art Fabian.(Staff Writer)

“Audiences experiencing new work can expect innovation in its truest sense,” says the theater’s director of marketing, Steve Knight. “Perhaps the story onstage will unfold from a perspective you’ve never considered, or perhaps the playwright will manipulate language or theatrical form in a way you’ve never experienced before. “

Closer to home, there’s FutureFest, the annual summer festival that’s been bringing playwrights from across the country to Dayton for the past 28 years to see their plays staged for the first time. Thanks to a team of dedicated volunteers, a total of 168 new plays have graced the Dayton Playhouse stage. This year’s festival takes place July 20-22 and will unveil six new scripts. Joining the casts and playwrights after each play are professional critics who give feedback. Audiences are also encouraged to share thoughts and suggestions.

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“I think of Dayton Futurefest as a spring of the American theater — the source of new theatrical work from which the Broadway river flows,” says Matthew Kagan of The New Play Exchange, an organization that helps match new scripts with non-profit theaters. “As audience member for staged new work, yours is the most important creative function of any audience the play will ever have — you turn the script into a play with your presence.”

WHY STAGE A NEW PLAY?

Kevin Moore, president and artistic director of the Human Race believes developing new works should be part of every producing theater’s mission. “It is how we make sure the great plays will continue to be written and it’s not usually a playwright’s first work that becomes their calling card — but the third or fourth,” he says. “They need the nurturing to get to that point. That is our job.”

At his own theater, he says, developing new plays has clearly been part of the mission for years. A prime example is “26 Pebbles” by Eric Ulloa, the drama based on the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School. After premiering at the Human Race in 2017, the touching drama is now being produced around the country and was nominated for a 2017 Pulitzer Prize in Drama.

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Moore’s 2018-2019 season will kick off in September with a world premiere of “Banned from Baseball,” a play that focuses on the 1989 battle between Cincinnati Reds legend Pete Rose and MLB Commissioner Bart Giamatti. “I can find the same joy in seeing a new work successfully brought to the stage while not being a financial success, as a well-known work being a commercial success,” Moore concludes. “But reality dictates we can’t afford to do that very often.”

He says that’s because new plays are more expensive to produce and because audiences may be hesitant to purchase a ticket for a play that has no recognizable title. “A company cannot afford to continually lose money if it cannot find other funds to support these important works,” Moore adds.

When considering new work, Amy Wegener, literary director at Actor’s Theatre, says it’s imporant to consider each play on its own terms. “How imaginatively and skillfully does the play meet the ambition it sets out to fulfill? ” she and her colleagues ask. “The plays that capture our hearts tend to surprise us, to deploy their own rich vocabularies, to invent new worlds entirely or challenge us to examine our world from a new angle. And they’re thrillingly theatrical; there’s a reason why they must unfold live, in real time.”

Equity actor Annie Pesch of Dayton has been involved in theater all her life. Over the years, she’s appeared in 15 FutureFest shows, has directed three of them and is currently responsible for staging the upcoming production of “Fettered” in July. She was on stage in the regional premiere of “The Kite Runner” at the Cleveland Play House and Actor’s Theatre and she appeared in New York playwright’s Michael Slade’s world premiere of “Family Shots” at The Human Race.

“26 PEBBLES” by Eric Ulloa, had its world premiere at The Human Race Theater Company in February 2017. It is now being produced around the country, and was nominated for a 2017 Pulitzer Prize in Drama.(Staff Writer)

Pesch says it’s always exciting to create a play from scratch. “For established plays there are often movies or other productions of the play you can see, but if you’re directing or acting in a new play you’re putting your own vision to what you are doing,” she says. “It’s the first time anyone will be seeing it so no one has preconceived notions of what you’ll be presenting.”

When Pesch is seeing plays in New York or Chicago, she’ll says she’ll try to catch a mixture of both new and older shows. The advantage to a showcase like FutureFest, she adds, is that audience members have the added advantage of listening to the adjudicators after each of the production and learning how to look at a new script— its structure, characters, themes. “

FUNDING THE FUTURE

One of those most passionate about the staging of new plays is Jim Steinberg who represents the Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust. His organization has provided grants totalling millions of dollars for new productions of American plays and educational programs for those who may not ordinarily experience live theater.

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At the Humana Festival each spring, in cooperation with the American Theater Critic’s Association, Steinberg presents $40,000 to outstanding new plays and playwrights, making it the largest national new play award program of its kind.

“Our finest plays are those that are complex, compelling and contemplative,” he told the crowd this year in Louisville. “They allow us to walk in the shoes of someone else even if only for a short time. They show us characters who are both like us and who are not like us and who have, just as we do, foibles, blind spots and hopefully, more than just a bit of humanity.”

Meredith McDonough, associate artistic director at Actor’s Theater, believes the importance of new plays is to give voice to what is happening right now — to be able to see stories written thru a current perspective. “These plays are our history – when we look back on this time 20 years from now, these are the stories that will document who we were,” she says. “We need to keep adding to the canon and by doing so, keep it relevant and rich.”

WANT TO GO?

What: FutureFest, a weekend of theater featuring six new plays. Each production is followed by remarks from the playwright, evaluation by professional adjudicators and audience feedback.

When: July 20-22

Where: Dayton Playhouse, 1301 E. Siebenthaler, located in Wegerzyn Gardens Metropark.

Tickets: Full weekend passes are $100 and include an opening reception, breakfast coffee and pastries and a Saturday evening chicken dinner compliments of Benjamins. Individual tickets are $20.

This year’s lineup

“WHAT ARE WORDS WORTH TO A LONG FELLOW?” by Carl Williams of Houston, Texas (8 p.m., Friday, July 20.) 

A young man intent on living a dissolute, artistic life as a poet becomes infatuated with a new love and must decide whether to sacrifice love in exchange for artistic success. Poetry, love and self-interest intersect in challenging ways. to form the ever-shifting current of the young man’s life.

“FETTERED by William Kovascik of Islip, NY (10 a.m. Saturday, July 21)

In Maryland, in 1620, a white woman could marry an African slave – but only if she was willing to become enslaved herself, and to see her children and their offspring born into slavery. So when a poor Irish immigrant girl meets an African slave, choices have to be made.

“LATE IN THE GAME” by Barbara Snow of Minneapolis, MN (3 p.m. Saturday, July 21)

How do Baby Boomers — the generation that opposed the Vietnam War and marched for civil and women’s rights, settle into their new role as senior citizens? Not very gracefully.

“LAST RITES-DETROIT, 1967” by Randy Neale of Charleston, SC (8 p.m. Saturday, July 21)

On the second day of the riots in Detroit in July of 1967, three people take refuge from the chaos on the streets in a gas station/convenience store on 12th Street in the epicenter of the riot. Their differing experiences and points of view clash even while they are giving each other comfort until they reach a point where the violence outside spills over to their refuge. How much or how little has changed in the 50 years since?

“OF MEN AND CARS” by Jim Geoghan of Los Angeles, CA (10 a.m. Sunday, July 22)

Jim stole his father’s ’39 Ford when he was four and soon realized some of the greatest events and memories in his life would happen in cars. From the Bronx to Beverly Hills and places in between, this play follows Jim’s life and his relationships with all sorts of people including his father.

“QUEEN OF SAD MISCHANCE” by John Minigan of Framingham. MA (3 p.m. Sunday, July 22)

Kym thinks she’s lucked into the perfect resume-builder for a biracial college senior determined to find a career in academia: she’ll help renowned feminist scholar finish her ground-breaking book on Shakespeare’s Queen Margaret before Alzheimer’s makes the task impossible. As the passing months make clear that Beverly’s failing memory is not the greatest obstacle to their work.

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5 things Daytonians should know about tonight’s Tony Awards

Published: Sunday, June 10, 2018 @ 6:00 AM

Jack Thorne’s hit adaptation of J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” a dazzling epic spectacle nominated for 10 Tony Awards including Best Play, stars (left to right) Noma Dumezweni as Hermoine Granger, Jamie Parker as Harry Potter, and Paul Thornley as Ron Weasley. Dumezweni and Parker notably won the 2017 Olivier Award, the London equivalent of the Tony, for their performances in the original run. CONTRIBUTED
Jack Thorne’s hit adaptation of J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” a dazzling epic spectacle nominated for 10 Tony Awards including Best Play, stars (left to right) Noma Dumezweni as Hermoine Granger, Jamie Parker as Harry Potter, and Paul Thornley as Ron Weasley. Dumezweni and Parker notably won the 2017 Olivier Award, the London equivalent of the Tony, for their performances in the original run. CONTRIBUTED

Harry Potter, SpongeBob, Regina George, Eliza Doolittle, and Roy Cohn are among the familiar characters connected to Broadway’s outstanding 2017-2018 season, which will be saluted Sunday, June 10 as the 72nd annual Tony Awards air from New York’s Radio City Music Hall.

Unlike some years when the Tonys seem to be confined to a private bubble, spotlighting plays and musicals to the average viewer that are more appealing curiosities than must-see showcases, 2018 has the pop culture-driven potential to bring tourists to the Great White Way in droves.

>> Why two Wright State University graduates have a reason to celebrate this year’s Tony Awards

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Ethan Slater, front, leads the cast of "SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical," which features songs by the likes of John Legend, Steven Tyler and Cyndi Lauper and has been nominated for 12 Tony Awards. MUST CREDIT: Joan Marcus(Joan Marcus)

The pleasantly surprising and gleefully entertaining “SpongeBob SquarePants” and Tina Fey’s hilarious adaptation of her 2004 comedy “Mean Girls” are impressively tied, leading the pack with 12 nominations including Best Musical.

Number of Tony nominations: EW grade: “An ode to self-respect and the benefits of a STEM-based education, Broadway’s Mean Girls is a lively, frequently hilarious adaptation of Tina Fey’s 2004 high school comedy. Propelled by dazzling set design and several stand-out performances, the musical — written by Fey, with music by Jeff Richmond, and directed by Casey Nicholaw () — gives fans everything they want while bringing the saga of Regina George and the Plastics into the social media age.”Read the full review here.(Entertainment Weekly)

Other major contenders include the gorgeously reconceived revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Carousel” (11 nominations), the beautifully pensive new musical “The Band’s Visit” (11 nominations), the splendidly acted revival of “Angels in America” (11 nominations), the stunningly designed revival of “My Fair Lady” (10 nominations), and the knockout spectacle “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two” (10 nominations).

Here are five items worth noting regarding this year’s telecast, which will likely benefit ratings-wise from not competing against the NBA Finals while aiming for a younger demographic as evidenced in the selection of co-hosts and previous Tony nominees Josh Groban (“The Great Comet”) and Sara Bareilles (“Waitress”).

>> Daytonians who’ve made us proud with big Hollywood awards

“The Band’s Visit,” an intimate, reflective story about an Egyptian band mistakenly arriving in a small Israeli town, is nominated for 11 Tony Awards including Best Musical. CONTRIBUTED(Contributing Writer)

1. WRIGHT STATE REPRESENTED 

Layan Elwazani, a 2015 acting graduate of Wright State University, is a standby in the new musical “The Band’s Visit,” which is nominated for 11 Tony Awards. CONTRIBUTED(Contributing Writer)

Ohio natives and Wright State University alums Layan Elwazani of Bowling Green and Ross Feilhauer of Cincinnati are associated with two acclaimed frontrunners. Elwazani, who received her BFA in Acting in 2015, is a standby in “The Band’s Visit.” Feilhauer, who received his BFA in Lighting Design and Technology in 2003, is a member of the lighting team of “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.”

Ross Feilhauer, a 2003 lighting design and technology graduate of Wright State University, is a member of the lighting team for “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two,” which is nominated for 10 Tony Awards. CONTRIBUTED(Contributing Writer)
“Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two,” a knockout spectacle based on the book by J.K. Rowling, is nominated for 10 Tony Awards including Best Play. CONTRIBUTED(Contributing Writer)

2. I’M JUST WILD ABOUT ‘HARRY’

Bound to win Best Play with a possible sweep of the technical categories, “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” is simply one of the most extraordinary Broadway shows I have ever seen. This marvelously magical, high-flying, roughly six-hour epic delivers superb performances reaching Shakespearean heights bolstered by non-traditional casting, remarkably cinematic stagecraft, and how-in-the-world-did-they-pull-that-off special effects. But in spite of its razzle dazzle, the production, centered on Harry’s complex relationship with his son Albus, remains a deeply engaging and moving exploration of parenting, friendship, expectations, misunderstanding, forgiveness, fear, legacy, lineage, and the importance of carving your own path. If you’re able to see it, be sure to catch both parts and, most importantly, be prepared to be blown away. It is truly a one-of-a-kind event, the hottest ticket in town since “Hamilton,” and totally worth the price of admission.

David Yazbek on the set of his new musical “The Band’s Visit,” at the Barrymore Theater in New York, Oct. 18, 2017. “The Band’s Visit” is unusually ambitious, its many comic moments woven like countermelodies into a story of “human beings crying from the heart in joy or pain,” as Yazbek puts it.(Vincent Tullo/The New York Times)

3. YAZBEK’S YEAR

The Tonys haven’t been kind to David Yazbek, perhaps best known for writing the catchy theme song to the PBS series “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?” Previously nominated for his vibrant scores of “The Full Monty,” “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” and “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown,” Yazbek is back in contention for “The Band’s Visit,” a reflective tale about an Egyptian band mistakenly arriving in a small Israeli town. Thankfully, momentum is finally on his side, setting up an overdue victory for one of Broadway’s finest and most eclectic composers.

Ethan Slater, front, leads the cast of "SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical," which features songs by the likes of John Legend, Steven Tyler and Cyndi Lauper and has been nominated for 12 Tony Awards. MUST CREDIT: Joan Marcus(Joan Marcus)

4. COMPETITIVE CATEGORIES

The races for Best Musical and Best Leading Actor in a Musical are the tightest and most suspenseful. The former is a prime battle between flashy, feel-good diversions (“SpongeBob,” “Mean Girls,” “Frozen”) and quietly character-driven, musically alluring intimacy (“The Band’s Visit”). All four are expected to tour so it’s a tough call. It’s also anyone’s guess whether or not the playfully energetic Ethan Slater (“SpongeBob”) can surpass Broadway newcomer Harry Hadden-Paton (a stellar Henry Higgins in “My Fair Lady”), three-time “Monk” Emmy winner Tony Shalhoub (“The Band’s Visit”), or historic Joshua Henry (the first African-American to play Billy Bigelow in a Broadway revival of “Carousel”).

5. OVERLOOKED STANDOUTS 

The Tonys recognize great work but not everyone was remembered. A few of my overlooked favorites include: actors Austin Butler (“The Iceman Cometh”), James McArdle (“Angels in America”), Poppy Miller (“Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”), Alex Newell (“Once on This Island”), Steven Pasquale (“Junk”), Alison Pill (“Three Tall Women”), Tom Sturridge (“1984”), Uma Thurman (“The Parisian Woman”), and Tony Yazbeck (“Prince of Broadway”); director Jack O’Brien (“Carousel”); Dayton Playhouse FutureFest-winning playwright Beau Willimon (“The Parisian Woman”); choreographers Camille A. Brown (“Once on This Island”) and Sergio Trujillo (“Summer: The Donna Summer Musical”); and composers Imogen Heap (“Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”) and Branford Marsalis (“Children of a Lesser God”).
(Joan Marcus (2); Deen van Meer)

How to Watch 

What: 72nd annual Tony Awards

Where: New York’s Radio City Music Hall

Time: 8 p.m. tonight (June 10, 2018) on CBS

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Why two Wright State University graduates have a reason to celebrate this year’s Tony Awards

Published: Sunday, June 10, 2018 @ 6:00 AM

Tony Awards Fast Facts

Wright State University alums Layan Elwazani and Ross Fielhauer have reason to celebrate this year’s Tony Awards. After all, they’re respectively essential to “The Band’s Visit” and “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two,” among the most critically acclaimed productions of Broadway’s 2017-2018 season.

The 72nd Annual Tony Awards will be held on June 10, 2018, to recognize achievement in Broadway productions during the 2017–18 season. The ceremony will be held at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, and will be broadcast live by CBS.

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LAYAN ELWAZANI AND ‘THE BAND’S VISIT’

Layan Elwazani, a 2015 acting graduate of Wright State University, is a standby in the new musical “The Band’s Visit,” which is nominated for 11 Tony Awards. CONTRIBUTED(Contributing Writer)

When she arrives at the Barrymore Theatre a half-hour before curtain, Elwazani, 24, has to be ready to cover multiple roles in “The Band’s Visit” but the pressure doesn’t bother her. She enthusiastically embraces her responsibility as a standby, meaning she doesn’t perform unless one of the principal performers is out. She joined the show in March and officially made her Broadway debut in April.

“Preparation is key,” said Elwazani, who received her BFA in Acting in 2015 having appeared in such shows as “The Magic Fire” and “All in The Timing.” “I am one of two women who standby. I cover three of the four female roles. From a creative and artistic standpoint, out of eight shows a week, I usually spend one show watching it from inside the theater, another peeking at it backstage from the wings, and the other six I go over material in my dressing room for my characters from blocking to music to lines. Even when I’m a principal character in a show, I still have to have discipline within myself that I’m reviewing my lines and blocking. I work with such incredibly focused and driven individuals on stage, which makes it very easy to feel prepared because I feel taken care of.”

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Stylistically and musically, “The Band’s Visit” is the polar opposite of many shows vying for attention on the Great White Way. It’s a quiet, thought-provoking tale of connection within a cultural melting pot many traditional theatergoers are unaccustomed to. Even so, its bold uniqueness is a strong selling point, and Elwazani, a Palestinian-American who grew up in Bowling Green, feels likewise.

“The Band’s Visit,” an intimate, reflective story about an Egyptian band mistakenly arriving in a small Israeli town, is nominated for 11 Tony Awards including Best Musical. CONTRIBUTED(Contributing Writer)

“Within the juxtaposition of cultures, the clashing of belief systems and morals, the Israelis open up their homes to an Egyptian band and it really resonates with audiences,” she said. “We have a group of people which are seen as The Other who enter this world in which anything bad could happen at any moment. However, the show highlights the fact that the things that are different about us are not as important as the things that are the same about us.

“We all have hardships and we all suffer loss no matter what language we speak. The human experience is really illuminated in this show. And this show is so beautifully simple. Not every theatrical experience has to be crafted. Our director, David Cromer, has allowed the actors to truly live and breathe in the moment without having to do too much. It’s so exciting that this beautiful piece of art is such a standout even in the height of all the exciting mania surrounding the Tonys.”

Elwazani acknowledges “The Band’s Visit” has been a great learning experience, but gives credit to WSU for reminding her to continue training.

“Wright State offers a wonderful foundation for all artists and the faculty really students to continue their education after college,” she said. “After you’ve graduated and moved to New York you’re not done learning. It’s frightening sometimes to show up to auditions with people who have master’s degrees or have studied at Stella Adler or studied Sanford Meisner for years. Wright State helped me understand the lessons they were teaching me in the moment were very valuable and it was on me to continue learning, growing and enriching myself.”

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ROSS FIELHAUER AND ‘HARRY POTTER’

Ross Feilhauer, a 2003 lighting design and technology graduate of Wright State University, is a member of the lighting team for “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two,” which is nominated for 10 Tony Awards. CONTRIBUTED(Contributing Writer)

Growing up in Cincinnati, Ross Fielhauer always loved theater, specifically design. He saw “The Phantom of the Opera” in fourth grade and knew he wanted to be a part of what made a production shine from behind the scenes. He took many art classes and ultimately relished taking technical theatre classes at the School for the Creative and Performing Arts. He received his BFA in Lighting Design and Technology in 2003 having worked on such shows as “Parade,” memorably scenic designed by Don David, and “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.”

“Going to college for theater simply solidified if I wanted to make a career in theater,” said Fielhauer, 37. “I still lean on those art skills I learned all those years ago. One of the best parts about the WSU theatre program is that you start designing shows right away as a freshman. You hit the ground running. From dance concerts to black box shows to assistant design on the main stage. The major lesson I learned in college was the importance of time management, a major requirement in theatre. College helped me prepare for the real world. I had great professors. Tim Judge, retired WSU master carpenter and production manager, was an amazing influence. He really made getting my college degree worth it. I owe a great debt to him for all he taught me.”

After lighting shows on Royal Caribbean cruise ships post-graduation, Fielhauer moved to Las Vegas in 2005, where he spent seven years working on such shows as “Blue Man Group” and “Disney’s Lion King.” In 2012, he moved to New York where he worked on “Aladdin,” “Beautiful,” “Jersey Boys,” “Hamilton,” and Cirque du Soleil’s “Paramour” among many others.

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The fact that “Paramour” performed at the Lyric Theatre proved providential for him when it was announced last year that the Broadway transfer of London hit “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” would be housed there after its renovation, which reduced the number of seats from 1,900 to 1,500 in order to bring more intimacy to the spectacle’s eye-catching extravagance. Even the walls of the Lyric are an instrumental part of the show’s astounding storytelling, accented by dazzling special effects and a particularly jaw-dropping finale to Part One that is unforgettably creepy and mesmerizing.

“Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two,” a knockout spectacle based on the book by J.K. Rowling, is nominated for 10 Tony Awards including Best Play. CONTRIBUTED(Contributing Writer)

“When the theatre house electricians like you and know you are a smart hard worker it can pay off down the road,” he said. “Broadway is a small world. And we all help each other. You just have to prove your worth first. When I heard ‘Potter’ was moving into the Lyric, I knew there was going to be a lot of work to be done. They were going to go big. I was very fortunate to be asked to work on it from the start. They completely redesigned the inside of the theater, which is gorgeous and a must-see in person.

“We started prepping all the lighting equipment in October and started loading in the show in November. It has been a long but great year. I’m part of a 10-person lighting team. My main responsibility is to assist the head pyrotechnic technician with preset before the show. There is a lot of prep work for every show. Also simply maintaining the rig is a beast. During the show I primarily run one of the six follow spots. I am also the backup moving light technician for the show which involves being on the stage working alongside the cast and crew during the show. It’s really exciting to be on stage during this show.”

A huge “Harry Potter” fan, Fielhauer remains thrilled about the show’s reception. He admits the show is one of the most technically challenging, biggest, and most complicated he’s ever worked on, but is very proud of this moment in his career. “There’s nothing better than to hear a reaction from a massive crowd night after night and knowing you were a part of it,” he said.

“Walking to the subway from the theatre every night after the show and overhearing audience members reminiscing about scenes they loved always makes me crack a smile. I truly love entertaining people. They don’t know me or what I do. I never needed that limelight. I’m just extremely grateful to be a part of it all hidden away in the shadows doing my best to give them a good evening. There is so much going on backstage in every scene to pull off the magic. And you will not hear the details from me. We are all sworn to secrecy. #keep the secrets. No spoilers. Come see it!”

How to watch

What: “The 72nd Annual Tony Awards,” hosted by Sara Bareilles and Josh Groban

When: 8 p.m. Sunday, June 10

Network: CBS

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See the story of how Carole King rose to stardom in Dayton this week

Published: Monday, May 21, 2018 @ 6:00 AM

9 shows at the Schuster Center

After interviewing Carole King for days, playwright Douglas McGrath was faced with a tough decision. Which parts of the legendary singer/songwriter’s personal journey should be included in a musical about her life?

You’ll see the results when the Tony and Grammy award-winning Broadway hit “Beautiful — The Carole King Musical” makes its Dayton premiere at the Benjamin & Marian Schuster Performing Arts Center May 22-27. The show’s songs include “I Feel The Earth Move,” “One Fine Day,”“You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman,” “You’ve Got A Friend,” “Up on the Roof” and “Take Good Care of My Baby.”

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Singer/songwriter Carole King’s early life is captured in the musical, “Beautiful.” CONTRIBUTED(Staff Writer)

McGrath believes for a Broadway show to succeed, the audience has to care about and connect with the people in it — whether it’s the King in “The King and I” or Alexander Hamilton in “Hamilton.” In this case, McGrath decided to focus on a period in King’s life that began in 1959, just before Brooklyn native Carol Klein composed her first hit song. She is 17, pregnant and newly married to 20-year-old lyricist Gerry Goffin.

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The decade that follows includes her early songwriting years, the break-up of her marriage and the 1971 release of “Tapestry,” one of the best-selling albums of all time. “Tapestry” not only represented Carole King’s artistic peak as a performer and writer but also sums up everything that had gone on in her life up to that point, McGrath notes. “All of those things inform these songs. Because ‘Tapestry’ was such a triumph, it supports the play’s message of victory over heartbreak.”

The playwright didn’t know a lot about the famous singer before becoming involved with the Broadway show. “She is a keep-to-herself kind of person and my standard joke is that — like most people — I thought she was born, learned to walk and then recorded ‘Tapestry!’ ” he says. “What I didn’t realize was that 12 years before ‘Tapestry’ came out she was writing hit songs for all of the big groups in the ’50s and ’60s —Aretha Franklin, The Drifters, the Shirrells, the Beatles, the Monkees.”

Douglas McGrath, who wrote the script for “Beautiful,” is pictured with Carole King. CONTRIBUTED(Staff Writer)

Crafting a show

The other main characters in “Beautiful” are another married songwriting couple — Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil.

“We were lucky in this case because ‘Beautiful’ is about four real people,” says McGrath, who interviewed all four songwriters at length. “All four were intelligent, inspiring, interesting and flawed people — meaning they are human, not perfect — which helps an audience relate and connect.”

McGrath was obviously impressed with King when he interviewed her. “You don’t necessarily think of rock musicians as intellectual, but Carole is really brainy and could speak articulately about everything,” he says. “She skipped two grades in school and was in college by age 16. She has a perfect memory and never struggled for specific dates or names. Later, when I interviewed Gerry, her ex-husband, he confirmed everything she had told me.”

McGrath says his hours with King weren’t always easy for her. “Her life has been filled with joy as well as heartbreak and I don’t think she had talked about some of it for a long, long time,” he says. “A lot of Kleenex kept coming out of her purse. Gerry was her first love.”

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Douglas McGrath, who wrote the script for “Beautiful” spent days interviewing Carole King about her life. CONTRIBUTED(Staff Writer)

Whenever he worked on the script, McGrath played their music in the background. “It helped me see the connections between events in their lives and the music itself, what they created, ” he explains. “You could hear something in their lyrics and stories that would make sense with certain parts of their lives. I wanted the songs to feel connected to their lives.”

That goal was apparently achieved. King walked out halfway through the first read-through she attended. It turned out, says McGrath, it wasn’t that she didn’t like it. She did. It was simply too painful.

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“Beautiful” tells the true story of Carole King s remarkable rise to stardom as part of a hit songwriting team with her husband Gerry Goffin. CONTRIBUTED(Staff Writer)

Becoming Carole

Since that time, King has returned to see the entire show. Sarah Bockel, who will portray the famous singer in Dayton, remembers a night in Boston when the cast was asked to gather on stage after the performance for an important announcement.

“We thought we were getting fired!” recalls the Chicago native who worked as an understudy for the leading role before playing it. “Then, Carole King walked out! We didn’t know she was there, it would have made us too nervous. She was extremely gracious and kind, gave us her blessing. Everyone was crying and clapping because she’s not only changed our lives but has changed millions of other people’s lives. We all got to take a selfie with her.”

Sarah Bockel will portray Carole King in the Broadway musical, “Beautiful.” CONTRIBUTED(Staff Writer)

Bockel says there’s a lot she loves about this part and this show. “I love singing the music every night, and love the other 22 people in the show,” she begins. “I love the fact that theater allows people to communicate a message to a group of strangers sitting in the dark who are bought together because they want to be told a story. I love telling stories. I like communicating with people, making them feel joy, sad. I love being a different person and I love the work you have to do within yourself to produce genuine emotion in yourself so that others can feel something cathartic. I love that it’s never the same and you’re always learning.”

Bockel believes audiences relate to “Beautiful” because they have a major connection to the music and to memories attached to it. “Her music is so personal and so applicable to everyone’s lives,” she believes. “For example, what does it mean to be a natural woman? It can mean something different to everyone but the idea is really simple.”

“Beautiful” features the life story and music of Carole King. CONTRIBUTED(Staff Writer)

The take-away

McGrath hopes Carole King fans who come to the show will be surprised to discover new things about the singer’s life. He’s also hoping those fans bring their kids and grand-kids.

“Her story is very inspiring for young people,” he says. “It’s about a girl who — at 16 — broke into a business where there were no females. And when her marriage came apart and she thought everything was lost, there were even better things ahead. It’s a great message for those who have experienced losses — a first heartbreak or a job that doesn’t work out. You think you’re the only one who has had your heart broken and that’s not the case. It’s great to see someone who’s had difficult things happen and fully recovers without becoming bitter.”

WANT TO GO?

What: “Beautiful-The Carole King Musical”

When: May 22-27. Performances are at 8 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; at 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday.

Where: Schuster Center, 1 W. Second St., Dayton

Tickets: $26 and up plus service fees. Get tickets online at TicketCenterStage.com, at the Box Office, or by phone at (937) 228-3630 or (888) 228-3630.

NOTE: Saturday matinee performances of Broadway Series presentations are sign interpreted. Audio description is available by request.

BACKGROUND ON BROADWAY At 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday and 1 p.m. Saturday, you can learn about the development, history, and artistry of the show. This free event is held in the Schuster Center’s fourth-floor lobby. You must have a ticket to that day’s performance.

“Beautiful” comes to the Schuster. CONTRIBUTED(Staff Writer)

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