Broadway To Vegas


Copyright: December 28, 1998
By: Laura Deni


Parade is one of the most important, powerful musicals to be mounted on Broadway this season - or any other.

Before the show began someone behind me said - "This looks just like the stage at the Bellagio." Indeed, there is a similarity between the newest showroom in Las Vegas and the stage at Lincoln Center Theater at the Vivian Beaumont. That must have made sound designer Jonathan Deans feel at home. Deans has designed over 120 production of musicals, including Las Vegas spectaculars, EFX at the MGM-Grand, Mystere at Treasure Island and Cirque du Soleil at the Bellagio.

Parade's subject matter, however, is not that of a Vegas revue.

The 1915 Leo Frank murder case has been the basis for several literary efforts including; David Mamet's novel The Old Religion and the excellent miniseries The Murder of Mary Phagan. This case altered the course of American law concerning proper role of the press, witness questioning and formed the genesis of the Anti-Defamation League. Yet, the previous works about Mary Phagan never really caught America's fancy.

This haunting, remarkable musical may finally capture that interest because it is written by Alfred Uhty, who penned Driving Miss Daisy, The Last Night At Ballyhoo and the screen play for Mystic Pizza, which gave Julia Roberts her big break.

Leo Frank whose demeanor was more New England WASP, is a Jew who has moved from New York to Georgia. He's not a good old boy - rather the accountant of a sweat shop pencil factory. Earning pennies a day, children slave away hour after hour putting eraser tops on pencils.

It's Confederate Memorial Day. Teen-ager Mary Phagan picks up her check from Frank. Later that evening her murdered body is discovered. Frank and a Black man are questioned.

The racial and religious tenor of Georgia in that era is the pivot point. In the Phagan case it became more politically advantageous to frame a Jew than a Black. Leo Frank is wrongly accused and convicted. Mob lynch law was common and prevailed.

Time passed and little changed. Over 30 years later FBI files accused Frank Sinatra of being anti-American because Sinatra took a stand against the lynch laws.

Brent Carver plays to perfection the mild mannered, repressed Frank. Carolee Carmello is outstanding as his wife who uses her spine and mind to fight to free her husband. In the process a socially acceptable, appropriate marriage develops a deep abiding love.
Brent Carver
Carver is one of Canada's most accomplished actors. He made his Broadway debut playing Molina in Kiss of the Spider Woman.In that role his emotions were playing to the outside. In Parade he draws them inward, showing Frank as a man who wants children but has difficulty saying the word "procreate." He's an intellectual - a quiet man of routine and order.

Composer Jason Robert Brown, who is making his Broadway debut as a composer with Parade works in tandem with playwright Alfred Uhry and director Harold Prince. I thought the beginning was a bit weak and it does take a spell to build the plot. However, this is not an easy story to tell without painstakingly constructing the framework.

There are no stand out bring-them-to-their feet songs. The compositions are daringly understated - with the music, words and directing forming a collage that keeps the audience focused.

Hal Prince is a living institution. He should take pride in Parade. In his long list of crowning achievements this show is another jewel.

Prince controls the audience with disarming directorial curves. A surreal courtroom scene in which Carver as Frank turns into a leech is a grabber.
Lucille Carmello
There are poignant scenes brought to life in You Don't Know This Man, sung by Carmello and the Carver/Carmello duet of All The Wasted Time. Britt Craig as the drunken reporter, whose career turned big time because of this case, tells it his way in Big News! Jim Conley doing Feel The Rain Fall and Tom Watson and Hugh Dorsey singing Where Will You Stand When The Flood Comes put a different spin on the events.

On August 17, 1915 Leo Frank was lynched. He went to his death concerned about his modesty -asking for his pants so he wouldn't be "exposed." He also went to his death demonstrating that he was innocent, a devout Jew, and a man who deeply loved his wife.

This is a musical that should move an audience. If a person attends Parade and fails to feel then they have problems more serious than just not appreciating theater.


John Henry Redwood
John Henry Redwood has given notice that he is a playwright with a brilliant future. The former ministry student who has completed his class work and comprehension towards a Ph.D in Religion is using the theatre as his pulpit. His "preaching" is inspired, tender and relevant even though The Old Settler, which refers to a phrase meaning a woman over 40 who is single and without prospects, is set in 1943 Harlem.

The day I saw the show the small Primary Stages Theater was half empty. Those that did attend were mostly Black. Whether those empty seats were due to a lack of publicity, a misdirected ad campaign or other reasons, this play should be viewed and enjoyed by a wide cross section of people.

After the performance I spoke with several audience members. One young Black woman summed it up by flatly declaring - "They didn't advertise White enough."

Informing potential theater-goers that this play will give a deeper understanding of Harlem in 1943 may not be the greatest ticket buying motivation. This is a brilliant play, flawlessly acted by a consummate ensemble cast.

Music of the 1943 era is effectively used before and during the play to help weave the emotional stage. From a crystal radio we hear I Don't Want To Walk Without You and I'll Get By. Even the commercials help set the tone - Dinah Shore singing See The USA In Your Chevrolet and The Frank Sinatra Program. Commercials for Muriel Cigars and Brillcream.
Leslie Uggams
Two middle aged sisters, Elizabeth Borny perfectly acted by Leslie Uggams and Quilly McGrath done to a fair-thee-well by Gammy L. Singer, haven't spoken to each other in eight years. Suddenly, they are forced to live together in Borny's tenement apartment. To help pay the rent Borny takes in a naive, 20ish, male border named Husband Witherspoon brilliantly portrayed by Godfrey L. Simmons, Jr. His capricious and sexual manipulative girl friend Lou Bessie Preston is effectively brought to life on stage by Rosalyn Coleman.

When Borny (Uggams) and Witherspoon (Simmons) fall in love pent up emotions and current fears surge in the four characters, intermingling, swathing and confronting, in poignant dialogue that can reach across the footlights and pierce the heart.

Effective direction by Harold Scott even incorporates Uggams' acappella singing. Scott also isn't afraid to use silence. Uggams rocking in a chair - clasping her hands, pacing, listening to the radio - speak volumes. The production is perfection down to the last detail - including the women wearing stocking with seams.

When people refer to Broadway at it's best - in this case, technically, off-Broadway - include The Old Settler on the list.


Zoe Wanamaker is the lady to beat for this year's Tony as best actress. She is starring at the Ethel Barrymore Theater in Sophocles' Electra.

Zoe Wanamaker
I think the author was a sick puppy when he wrote that show. Just because it's old doesn't mean it is great. The 2,400 year old tale of revenge may have been the best of a bad season. Or, maybe through dumb luck this manuscript managed to survive when that civilization went belly-up.

Serious theater majors - and others forced to take theatre appreciation classes - have been conditioned to think Electra is on the be-all and end-all list.

I've never been able to understand any of the dialogue. I thought it was me. Therefore, I was delighted and relieved when the witty, informative and always interesting Liz Smith had the courage to announce in her syndicated New York Post column that the play had never been one of her favorites, either. Furthermore, Ms. Smith admitted that she "never understood a word anyone was saying."

Claire Bloom
This production of Electra is not the Eugene O'Neill play Mourning Becomes Electra in which he updated the barbaric Greek tragedy - a story in which an unfaithful wife murders the husband she hates. Electra is the original tale of an obsessive daughter out to avenge her father's murder, with some updated phrases thrown in to try to make it relevant.

What makes this production a certain award contender is the acting.

Zoe Wanamaker, one of the greatest actresses in the world, is Electra. The magnificent Claire Bloom is her mother.

Pat Carroll, who began her extensive career as a sitcom comedian before reinventing herself as a serious Shakespeare thespian, is living proof of what good comedians have always known - it takes great acting ability to be funny. Most excellent comedians can do drama. Few dramatic actors could pull off a comedy routine.

Frank McGuinness has adapted the production, which is directed by David Leveaux.

This isn't a production one attends for pleasure. This is a production serious theater students attend for analyzation. Those who appreciate Greek tragedy and want to see what consummate acting really means - or any theater major - see this production a couple of times. First, to drink in the powerful acting - then go back and take notes.


Police in Branson, Mo. questioned Wayne Newton for 45 minutes over allegations that the singer secretly taped Tony Orlando while the Tie A Yellow Ribbon hitster was having a private business meeting with his staff.

Newton and Orlando had been partners in a Branson theater, but the relationship went sour.

Newton, who has been in the entertainment business spanning four decades, sings Danke Shoen to the New Year with performances New Year's Eve through Jan. 2 at Resorts Hotel in Atlantic City.


Roger Daltrey
Roger Daltrey, the legendary lead singer of the rock band The Who, survived a poverty plagued childhood, probation, fathering illegitimate children, double vision, and an over-the-edge lifestyle. But the Rock n Roll Hall of famer couldn't hold up against the rigors of a bah-humbug throat bug while starring as Scrooge in The Christmas Carol at Madison Square Garden which closed yesterday. Daltrey missed several performances of the high-budget spectacular production. I caught Daltrey's first performance after he returned to the show. His throat problems were so severe that two days prior to his return officials told me they were worried that he wouldn't be able to resume the role.

His voice was weak, scratchy and craggy -- oddly enough given the role of Ebenezer Scrooge, the ailment only added depth to Daltrey's portrayal of the miser who needed three ghosts to teach him what has real value.

Many of the theater goers recognized Roz Ryan - Ghost of Christmas Present- who starred in UPN's Good News and from her five seasons as Amelia Hetebrink in NBC's hit series Amen.

In portraying Scrooge, Daltrey joined a lead role that has been played in previous years by Tony Randall, Terrance Mann and the late Roddy McDowell. Several members of the cast dedicated their performances in this production to Roddy's memory.

On a personal Daltrey note, portraying Scrooge meant that Daltrey spent his first Christmas ever outside of England.

This annual production is an event that is a major undertaking, underwritten by American Express. From the moment one enters the cavernous Madison Square Garden they are transported into a Victorian London village. The cement walls are Dickens' houses and quaint shops. Costumed carolers greet ticket holders.

A Christmas Carol was written by Charles Dickens in the fall of 1843. The son of an financially irresponsible father, at the age of 12 Charles was forced to labor in a rat-infested boot-blacking (shoe polish) factory after his father was sent to debtor's prison. The family's possessions were sold to pay creditors. Charles lived alone in cheap lodgings, barely able to feed himself. As an adult his imbedded childhood hardships were the inspiration for his writings about injustice, ignorance, greed and the power to rise above it.

A Christmas Carol is an annual event at Madison Square Garden. If you ever have an opportunity to be in New York during the holiday season, don't miss this spectacular production.


Kenny Rogers was going to autograph copies of his Christmas From the Heart CD and I worried that nobody would show up.

In 1992 Marilyn Quayle, wife of the then vice president of the United States, and her sister Nancy Northcott, wrote a novel Embrace The Serpent. They were set for an autograph session at Bloomingdale's Department Store in New York City.

The rules were firm - two questions - two minutes. Marilyn was, after all, our spare first lady, and a huge crowd was expected. As a registered Democrat I should consider myself a fortunate person to even be permitted to question her. I promised to behave.

I expected a coterie of secret service agents and a gaggle of shoppers. What wasn't expected was a freak April show storm that dumped six inches of snow in Central Park. The city came to a standstill.
Marilyn Quayle
The only things moving were my feet and Marilyn and her sister's limo. We both arrived on time at Bloomingdales. That was it. I was the crowd.

Behaving as promised I asked my two questions and turned around.

I was stopped. "Go back and talk to her," hissed a secret service agent.

"Ask more questions," whispered another official. "Ask as many as you like."

I did an about face.... and a few other angles.

My picture was taken with coat on, coat off, from the back, side, face hidden behind books, partially hidden behind fake trees - every camera angle that could make me look like a lot of people. I needed to become a group.

I found Mrs. Quayle extremely intelligent, warm, sensitive, articulate and interesting. Her mother had died of breast cancer. I had undergone a mastectomy and Mrs. Quayle was helpful and understanding. We talked children, her law career - she still attended seminars to keep her Indiana bar license current. We discussed just about everything except her husband's inability to spell potato.

Bloomingdales was in an alert mode. Sales associates were ordered to take off their employee badges, grab a book and form a line. "We don't have to pay for these, do we?" asked an apprehensive associate.

"What are we suppose to do with the books?" questioned another.

"We don't care. Save them and give then as Christmas presents," snapped an official.

Executives scurried outside looking for snow covered, wind blown pedestrians, inviting them to warm up while gawking at Marilyn Quayle.

So, I worried about Kenny Rogers. The United States was shooting missiles at Iraq. The people who didn't have that at the top of their attention agenda were fixated on their television sets to see if the House of Representatives would impeach President Clinton. Crowds gathered at Times Square to read the news across the reader board. Poor Kenny Rogers. What if nobody cared about him and his CD?

Kenny was to appear between 5-6 p.m. at the K-Mart across from Madison Square Garden. I decided to get there early - scope out the place - in case I needed to reprise my one-person-is-a-crowd-routine.

Twenty minutes before Kenny was to arrive the K-Mart brass - all looking spiffy in their Sunday best suits - formed an honor guard formation at the front door. I looked around and every aisle was empty. "Is this it?" I asked. "Yes, we're all here. We're going to take Kenny down stairs to the electronics section as soon as he gets here."

I started to feel very sorry for Kenny. It's humiliating when a star shows up and nobody cares. Most stars have experienced that - especially when a purchase is required to obtain the cherished autograph.

I made my way down two flights ... and stopped.

There was a line of people that wound from the electronics section through the toys, Christmas gift wrap and beyond. Take them outside and the humanity would have been a block long.

Christmas From The Heart CD's flew from the shelves. Sales clerks frenetically scanned bar codes.

Fans towards the head of the line patiently clutched their purchased CDs, and had waited for over an hour - and Kenny wasn't even to arrive for another ten minutes. The line was an incredible cross section of Americana. It was as though somebody had called Central Casting and said - Send over some of everything.

"Did you know that there are some serious world events happening right now?" I asked. "Why are you here? Why aren't you watching the news?" I persisted.

"Are you kidding, lady? They repeat the news - like - over and over. I'm gonna meet Kenny Rogers! This is the biggest thrill ever!" Other New Yorkers apparently agreed. The following Sunday, December 20, the inexhaustible Rogers was at the Kips Bay Boys & Girls Club where the Bronx borough president declared Kenny Rogers Day, saluting the performer for "the positive message Kenny delivers to children through his music."

Kenny Rogers and his Christmas From The Heart show (see Broadway To Vegas December 21 column) can be enjoyed at the Beacon Theatre through January 3.


The Blue Room save for all of the publicity surrounding Nicole Kidman, who co-stars with Iain Glen, isn't the greatest play in the world.(see Broadway To Vegas December 21 column) Undaunted, the esteemed Larry Gelbart and talented Michael John LaChusa are determined to have another go at Arthur Schnitzler's 1897 La Ronde.

In March LaChiusa's musical version Hello Again opens in Princeton, N.J.

Gelbart, who created M*A*S*H has his own take on the daisy chain. His opus Power Failure leans towards a political, rather than sexual statements. The production begins and ends on death row and characters include a defense contractor, a congresswoman, and a minister. The stars, who haven't been announced, will keep their clothes on.

The production opens at the Actors Studio on February 12.

WEDDING BELLS Melissa Errico who starred in the revivals of High Society, and My Fair Lady last Friday married Patrick W. McEnroe, a tennis commentator for ESPN and CBS Sports. He is also the brother of tennis champion John McEnroe. Melissa, a Yale graduate, and Patrick who graduated from Stanford, were wed at Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church in NYC.


GARTH DRABINSKY AND MYRON GOTTLIEB the fired top two executives from bankrupt Livent expect their lawyers to learn by early January if the ousted theatre executives will be charged criminally in the U.S. Livent has also fired most of its financial and accounting staff at the request of the Securities and Exchange Commission. The SEC has charged the books were cooked.

BRUTON SMITH a veteran of five decades of auto racing, announced at a champagne luncheon press conference, thrown by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, that he has purchased the Las Vegas Motor Speedway for $215 million. Born in Stanly County, N.C. Smith is president and 67% owner of Speedway Motorsports Inc. which had a net income of $43.5 million on revenue of $223.6 million in the past 12 months. A lucrative television contract came with the purchase. Estimated at $35 million for five years with ABC and ESPN to televise the Las Vegas 400. The 1998 race drew a 5.8 rating on ABC, second only to this year's Daytona 500 on CBS.

ELTON JOHN was the biggest grossing domestic concert of 1998, raking in more than $40.6 million on a 53-show tour.

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BRING IN DA NOISE/BRING IN DA FUNK opens January 12 at the North Carolina Blumenthal Performing Arts Center. Performances through January 17.

STOMP shuts the lids January 3 at the Sacramento, Calif. Light Opera Association. Next up 1776 opening February 2

DAME EDNA continues at the Theatre on the Square, San Francisco through January 17.

BIG the musical with songs by David Shire and Richard Maltby, Jr. making its Long Island premiere at the Cultural Arts Playhouse. Elisa Karnis reprises her Broadway portrayal of Josh's grownup girlfriend, Susan. Songs which were cut from the Broadway production have been included in this show. Chris Wendelken as the young Josh; The grown up version is played by Bruce Groissman who also directs.

QUENTIN CRISP age 90, hasrevived his one-man show An Evening With Quentin Crisp at the Intar Theater, NYC through January 31.

BEN E. KING yesterday returned to the cast of Smokey Joe's Cafe doing some of the songs he created. He's the guy who wrote and recorded There Goes My Baby for The Drifters. King is also starring at the Claridge in Atlantic City from December 31 to January 3.

LEA SALONGA returns January 16 to the Broadway production of Miss Saigon in her Tony award winning role.

BEBE NEUWIRTH signed on to appear at the Arlington, Va. Signature Theatre starring in Over and Over, a John Kander/Fred Ebb musical adaptation of Thorton Wilder's The Skin of Our Teeth.Almost before Neuwirth's signature was dry on the contract she'd thought it over and Over and Over was left high and dry. Creative differences. Dorothy Loudon who starred in Annie remains in the production, which has been slated to run January 6-February 14.


STEVE WYNN wooing Tony award winning composer Jerry Herman to write a Las Vegas stage show. Wynn wants to bring Broadway productions to Vegas. He's intent upon building two or three 1,200 to 1,500 seat legitimate theaters on the Las Vegas Strip. The hotel mogul implies he's willing to put his money where his mouth is.

ANDREA ORME 18 year old Las Vegan latest tapped for model super stardom. Discovered while on a Monte Carlo vacation, the red head has been chosen the signature model for La Perla's sexy undies. Orme has packed up her briefs and moved to New York where she signed with ID Models. The La Perla ads will be shot by Marino Parisotto.

BRRRR! It was so cold in Las Vegas last week that the water in the fountains at Caesars Palace froze and the Flamingo Hilton Hotel had to bring in space heaters to warm up the 12 African penguins and 10 Chilean flamingos living at the Strip resort.
The entire staff of Broadway To Vegas
wishes everyone a Happy New Year
Photo by: Laura Deni
Next Column: January 4, 1999
Copyright: December 28, 1998. All Rights Reserved. Reviews, Interviews, Commentary, Graphics or Photographs from any Broadway To Vegas (TM) columns may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, utilized as leads, or used in any manner without permission, compensation and/or credit.
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Laura Deni

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