ON THE RISE
Positioned quite strongly in the Featured-Actress-in-a-Musical race is Stephanie J. Block as Trina in Falsettos. Any leftover angst she might have had from that role she used on her next project, a guest spot as the mother of a star drama student on the first episode of Rise, an upcoming NBC series about a drama department in a small high school in Pennsylvania.
Also ready to Rise is another Drama Desk nominee (for Outstanding Actor in a Musical), Nick Blaemire of Tick, Tick . . . Boom!. He describes this series as “Glee meets Friday Night Lights. Instead of focusing on football, it focuses on a drama class. This series is a bit more grounded. It’s about public school education and how hard it is to make art in these towns that don’t have incredible arts budgets.”
Josh Radnor stars as the lead teacher, and Jason Katims, who created Friday Night Lights, is co-producing it with Jeffrey Seller, who did Rent, Avenue Q, and Hamilton.
As for his Drama Desk nod, Tick, Tick . . . Boom!, “It’s a show that I fell in love with when I was 16. I’ve loved Jonathan Larson since I was in the seventh grade. He totally changed the way I look at theatre—and he did it again with Tick, Tick . . . Boom! Biting into the material has really changed me. It changed my outlook on acting. It changed my priorities in terms of what I want to make as an artist.”
Songs, for starters: He now counts himself a composer, a lyricist and an arranger, and is busy at all three, “writing a musical with a guy named Kyle Jarrow, who wrote SpongeBob. It’s called Fallout, and it’s about the Cuban Missile Crisis.”
THERE GOES THE NEIGHBORHOOD
On June 2, Gerard Alessandrini’s satiric assassination of Lin-Manuel Miranda‘s musical juggernaut will shift operations from West 72nd Street to The 47th Street Theatre.
“We’re actually packing up now, as we speak, and measuring the set for the new stage,” said Alessandrini the day he came in to get his third Drama Desk Award citation for Outstanding Lyrics. This is the organization that gives separate awards for both words and music. “I can’t get nominated for music,” he wistfully explained. “They already gave that to Lin-Manuel two years ago so I’m ‘honored’ to lose that.”
He plans to brush up his Broadway for the transfer: “I’m going to update it a bit. I’m putting in a little Anastasia, a little Evan Hanson, a little Comet, maybe something with Bette Midler. I’m bringing back The King [of Siam] and making Glenn Close’s Norma Desmond the crazy beggar woman [from Sweeney Todd]. There’re five minutes’ of alterations, just to freshen it up, but the story’s still the same.”
NOW YOU SEE HIM, NOW YOU DON’T
When Terrence McNally adapted Lynn Aherns and Stephen Flaherty’s animated musical, Anastasia, into a Broadway musical this season, he eliminated the cartoon’s very scary heavy, Rasputin—on the rational grounds that the sinister mystic had been thoroughly murdered before the story started.
Though not in Anastasia, the mad monk did put in an appearance this season, under the name of Beardo in a show by that same name from the composer of Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812, Dave Malloy. Malloy claims to be ahead of Broadway’s Russian curve with Beardo because, he said, “We first did it in Berkeley in 2011, and Comet followed a year later.” Beardo’s music was first heard on these shores this season at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, hence its Drama Desk nomination. “It’s scored for string quintets, and there’s an actual string quartet with an acoustic bass and guitars and, in one song, a 40-person choir. We’re making some MP3s of some of the score, and we’re planning to send them out.”
Malloy, who originated the role of Pierre in the embryonic Ars Nova edition of Comet, steps back into the part a few times this month for Josh Groban before the role goes permanently to Okieriete “Oak” Onaodowan.
Malloy said the one myth about Rasputin that survived the test of time a full century after he was poisoned, shot, and drowned, was that he was a massively endowed womanizer. Exhibit A: “They have his penis in a jar in a Museum of Sex in Moscow.”
NOTTAGE’S MUSICAL NOTES
If Lynn Nottage doesn’t seem to be sweating the Best Play race much this year, that’s because she has moved on—to musicals.
“I was working on one just this morning,” she admitted, coming in to pick up her Drama Desk certificate for Sweat. It’s for director George C. Wolfe and producer Stephen C. Byrd, and is based on 1959’s Oscar-winning Best Foreign Language Film, Black Orpheus, which transplanted the Orpheus and Eurydice legend to carnival time in Rio de Janeiro.
Also, she and Spring Awakening composer Duncan Shiek are collaborating on the musical version of The Secret Life of Bees, which, stressed Nottage, is based more on Sue Monk Kidd’s 2001 book than on the Queen Latifah-Dakota Fanning film.
“It’s a weird process, writing musicals,” she said. “They take as long as they take.”
THIS JUST IN
Great news for you Jane Greenwood fans! The Little Foxes is not her first Drama Desk Award nomination; it’s her seventh (The Golden Age in 1984, The Iceman Cometh in 1986, Passion in 1994, The Heiress in 1995, Sylvia in 1996, and Bright Star in 2016). What she said, in a crowded and chaotic room, was that she had never received a Drama Desk Award, which is in keeping with her Lucci luck. She’s the Susan Lucci of Theatre, having never nabbed a competitive theatrical prize—despite 54 years of trying with sublime costume designs.