The news broke of Classic Stage Company this week that Tony-winning actress Tonya Pinkins, who is currently starring in the title role of the Off-Broadway nonprofit’s production of Bertolt Brecht's Mother Courage and Her Children, will depart the production Jan. 5, 2016.
The production, which began previews Dec. 10, was scheduled to officially open Jan. 7; that date will be rescheduled while a replacement for Pinkins is found. The Dec. 11-13 performances were canceled due to vocal issues experienced by Pinkins. A Dec. 17 performance was also canceled.
A staging of Mother Courage losing its Mother Courage is akin to a production of Hamlet losing its Hamlet. The play basically rests on the shoulders of the actor playing the character, and productions of the drama are usually built around a particular performer’s willingness to take on the part. Finding and integrating a replacement will likely be a Herculean task.
The actress told the New York Times that she had prepared a statement explaining her reasons for departing the production, but her lawyer advised her not to share the details. "I'm not even sure I want to tell it," Pinkins told the Times in an email. CSC artistic director Brian Kulick, who is directing the revival, made no comment on the situation. ***
In Chicago, Gotta Dance, a new musical based on the acclaimed 2008 documentary of the same name about professional basketball’s first-ever aged 60-and-older dance team, officially opened Dec. 28 after previews that began Dec. 13 at Chicago's Bank of America Theatre. The show is scheduled to open on Broadway in fall 2016.
The show has a lot of Broadway talent attached. It is directed and choreographed by Tony winner Jerry Mitchell with a book is by Chad Beguelin (Aladdin) and Bob Martin (The Drowsy Chaperone), original music by Matthew Sklar (Elf), lyrics by Nell Benjamin (Legally Blonde) and additional music by the late legend Marvin Hamlisch.
The musical tells the true story of ten determined dreamers — all over 60 — who audition to dance at halftime for a major NBA team. There’s a further wrinkle: It isn’t until they make the cut that they find out they will be dancing hip hop.
The Chicago Tribune referred to the show as "the latest life-affirming, feel-good musical directed without patronizing by Jerry Mitchell, Broadway's reigning populist entertainer." It added, though, that "if the work gets done, embrace it they will." While the paper found the script mainly "serviceable," it applauded the cast, singling out "the show-stopper Georgia Engel, the best hip-hop dancer of the bunch and — who knew? — a pretty decent rapper to boot. And she's far funnier than Tupac."
The Chicago Sun-Times was more dismissive, saying, "Think of Gotta Dance as A Chorus Line reconfigured for the AARP set and freshly sealed with a 'light and lively' label. In fact, that is all you really need to know about this new musical comedy." The paper, too, loved Engel: "The actress is given full rein to steal the show, which she does most handily…as the girlishly prim but clearly eccentric kindergarten teacher who dances to an inner Tupac beat… Everything she does is hilarious, true and unexpected."
Frankie & Johnnie's Steakhouse, one of the oldest extent restaurants in the Theatre District — and one of the oldest businesses period — was compelled to bid farewell this week to its longtime home on the second floor of a building at the corner of 45th Street and Eighth Avenue. The eatery, which has been in business since 1926 and began life as a speakeasy, served its last New York strip Dec. 26. The restaurant's landlord, Broadway's Shubert Organization, will use the business for office space.
The ancient chow house survived a near-death experience just a few years ago. In the years leading up to 2008, its building was scheduled to be demolished in favor of a block-long office tower on Eighth Avenue between 45th and 46th Streets. But the stock market meltdown of late 2008 scotched that plan, and the restaurant’s lease was renewed.
The restaurant will not leave the area completely; it is moving to a new location on W. 46th Street between Eighth and Ninth. Still, it’s a sad loss. Broadway has few restaurants left that embody the same long history of the area that the Broadway theateres do. Last year, the landmark Cafe Edison was scrubbed in favor of a still-yet-to-open new restaurant. Among the last venerable theatre hangouts remaining are Sardi’s, Joe Allen’s and Barbetta. Eat there, thespians, while ye may.