A belated farewell to Roger Rees

I must admit, when Roger Rees died in July of this year, the news turned me upside down. I’d never met him, but he was part of my life. Ever since I saw Nicholas Nickleby on PBS as a high schooler in the 1980s, Roger Rees was a piece of the mosaic that was my mind. And that brought me joy. Whenever I learned he was in something, it made me look forward even more to whatever it was.

So, when he left this earth, I felt pretty lost, as if I’d had unexpected–if minor– surgery on my soul.

On Monday, September 21, 2015, Disney on Broadway helped me fill in that little hole in my soul’s fabric. I am grateful that the beautiful memorial they sponsored at the New Amsterdam Theatre was open to the public, so I got to witness the love of Rees’  family, friends, and colleagues and share in their grief and joyous memories. As if I belonged. As if my grief for this wonderful man mattered in some kind of cosmic way.

So now I’m ready to say it: Goodbye, Roger Rees, and thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Terrence McNally’s revamped IT’S ONLY A PLAY rough on Tommy Tune

The new production of Terrence McNally’s farce It’s Only a Play is more of a rewrite than a revival. The play is about the after-party on opening night of a Broadway show, and is chock-full of up-to-the-minute insider jokes about the theater scene. Therefore, doing a major revision made a lot of sense.mcnally plays

Having heard about this, I wondered whether this blog’s muse, Tommy Tune, would still be mentioned in the new version.  The play has a character named Gus, the young man in charge of bringing everyone’s coat up to the hostess’ bedroom. In the original 1985 script, Gus walks in at one point struggling with an incredibly long fur coat. The character James, a jaded actor, quips, “Don’t tell me. Let me guess. Tommy Tune, right?”

The other night I attended a preview performance of the new “It’s Only a Play.” It’s absolutely hilarious. And the Tommy Tune joke is still in. However, the jab has been extended and updated in an unfortunately nasty way. Gus brings in the fur coat. James makes his quip. But now Gus looks at him blankly, and James has to explain who Tommy Tune is, calling him a brilliant director and choreographer of musicals who “hasn’t done anything in twenty-five years.” Cue big laugh.

Yes, yes. It’s just a joke. And McNally is writing in James’ voice, not his own. But it’s also a nauseating reminder that, to some in the culture of Broadway, there is no other “real” theater. Tune has been very busy for the past quarter-century, creating shows for ZinZanni Theater in Seattle, for a national tour, for the Goodman in Chicago, for Holland America Cruise Lines, and for the University of Miami. That’s not to mention two years headlining in Vegas and the solo memoir show that he’s currently touring.

So, McNally’s new joke is as preposterous as imagining Tommy Tune in a full-length fur coat. Oh, wait…

TommyTuneFur

 

 

The birth of my theater blog

Busker Alley was a show by Sherman & Sherman (most famous for writing the music and lyrics to Mary Poppins). It was designed as a vehicle to showcase Broadway legend Tommy Tune. Tune toured it for several months in 1995, and it had an opening scheduled at the St. James Theater on Broadway. But at the end of the last performance of the tour, Tune landed wrong and broke his foot.  The backers skedaddled, and that was that. 

Busker poster

I’ve named this blog Busker Alley for several reasons. First, I’m a devoted Tommy Tune fan. Second, I’ve heard audio of this whole show (can you say “booooootleg”?), and I genuinely like a lot of it and wish it had made it to Broadway for all of us to enjoy.

But maybe the most important reason is what Busker Alley represents in theater history: It’s a capricious industry, but a joyous art form. The two don’t always go together well.

Welcome to Busker Alley.