Drawing: Kelsey Grammer in La Cage Aux Folles

Best known to TV audiences for his two-decade portrayal of psychiatrist Dr Frasier Crane in the sitcoms CHEERS and FRASIER, Kelsey Grammer is making his London stage debut next week in BIG FISH THE MUSICAL, based on the Tim Burton film, at The Other Palace. No stranger to the boards, Kelsey’s first Broadway role was Lennox in MACBETH, taking over the lead in 1981. It wasn’t until April 2010, however that he did his first Broadway musical, playing Georges in a revival of LA CAGE AUX FOLLES, collecting a Tony Award nomination for his performance.

In fact, for major awards, Kelsey has received 45 nominations, winning 18, including five Emmys and three Golden Globes. He was the first American actor to win nominations for the same character on three different television shows- CHEERS, FRASIER and a one-off crossover appearance in WINGS. He collected his only Tony win to date for producing THE COLOUR PURPLE last year.

It was great to catch up with Kelsey last week in London, while he was rehearsing for BIG FISH. He is one of the nicest people I have met in the business and was more than happy to sign my drawing of him.

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Drawing: Willemijn Verkaik as Elphaba in Wicked

Dutch songstress Willemijn Verkaik has played the central role of Elphaba in the Musical WICKED over 2,000 times in London, Europe and Broadway, which is more than anyone else and is the only person to have played the role in three different languages – English, Dutch and German. She made her West End debut at the Apollo Victoria in 2013, but for health reasons left the show eight months later, only to return in January this year as part of the show’s 10th Anniversary celebrations. Her final performance was on the 22nd of July. In an online poll of 16,000 voters she was chosen as the ‘Wicked Personality of the Year’. It took me a while, missing Willemijn on a few occasions at various venues,  but I finally got my sketch signed prior to her departure at the Apollo.

Drawing: Peter Firth in Equus

British actor Peter Firth will be known to TV viewers as Sir Harry Pearce in the BBC spy series SPOOKS – the only cast member to appear in every episode of its ten series. My favourite role however was his stage and subsequent film appearance as the disturbed equine-worshipping teenager Alan Strang, who blinds the eyes of horses in Peter Shaffer’s EQUUS, which ran at the National Theatre in London in 1974 and transferred to Broadway the following year, earning him a Tony nomination.

In 1977 he reprised the role for the film adaption, opposite Richard Burton who played the psychiatrist Dysart attempting to find the root of Alan’s equine worship. He won a Golden Globe Award and was nominated for an Academy Award. EQUUS is one of my favourite plays and I had the honour of meeting its author and the privilege of directing it in New Zealand many moons ago. I left this sketch of Peter as Alan with London agent and was very pleased to get it back signed.

Drawing: Patti LuPone

Patti LuPone is musical theatre royalty on both sides of the Atlantic. Since making her professional debut 45 years ago she has played every major role and won every major West End and Broadway accolade, including the Olivier and two Tonys. She’s also collected a couple of Grammys for good measure.

Patti originated the title role of Eva Peron in the 1979 Broadway production of EVITA, picking up her first Tony. She played the part of Fantine in the original London cast of LES MISERABLES in 1985, the same year she appeared as Moll in THE CRADLE WILL ROCK, winning the Olivier for both roles. In 2008 she won her second Tony for portrayal of Rose in the Broadway revival of GYPSY.

Her latest appearance on the Great White Way is as Helena Rubinstein in WAR PAINT at the Nederlander Theatre, which garnered her seventh Tony nom. I sent her this montage sketch in March this year at the theatre and it came back dedicated and signed.

Drawing: Mark Ruffalo in The Price

Mark Ruffalo returned to the Broadway boards after an eleven-year absence in Arthur Miller’s rarely-revived THE PRICE at the American Airlines Theatre during the Spring. The three-time Oscar-nominated actor played career cop Victor Franz alongside Danny De Vito who was making his Broadway debut.

Mark was last seen on the Great White Way in Clifford Odet’s AWAKE AND SING! which also garnered him a Tony nomination. Known as ‘the actor’s activist’, Mark said in a recent interview that his acting teacher would tell him that ‘ art is activism… we should pay to go to church and the theatre should be free – that’s where we learn about ourselves.’ His character in THE PRICE is exiled to the Police departments version of Siberia- out by the airport because he doesn’t participate in the department’s politics. Mark has always been a good signer and very fan-friendly so I sent this sketch of him in the role to the theatre and it came signed.

Drawing: Cherry Jones and Sally Hawkins in Mrs. Warren’s Profession

In one of my rare departures from the 4B, I did this 2010 sketch of Cherry Jones and Sally Hawkins in the Broadway revival of George Bernard Shaw’s ‘problem play’ MRS. WARREN’S PROFESSION in a black fine line Pilot pen. Actually it was part of my black-liner-with-the-rogue-biro-thrown-in phase.

Sally actually signed it after she returned to the UK, so obviously Cherry wasn’t able to graph it. I got that chance last month to complete the sig-set when she made her West End debut at the Duke of York’s theatre in the Broadway transfer of Tennessee William’s THE GLASS MENAGERIE which is currently running until the end of the month.

Drawing: Brian J Smith in The Glass Menagerie

American actor Brian J Smith’s portrayal of Jim O’Connor, the ‘gentleman caller’ in John Tiffany’s celebrated Procyon of Tennessee William’s THE GLASS MENAGERIE has garnered him award nominations on both sides of the Atlantic. He was shortlisted for both the Drama Desk and Tony Awards for the Broadway run at the Booth Theatre in 2013 and this year’s Oliviers after its transfer to London’s Duke of York’s Theatre, which finishes next week. Brian kindly signed this sketch for me a couple of weeks ago and he said he’s staying in London for another William’s play.

Drawing: Alfie Boe in Les Miserables

Tony Award winner, Alfie Boe first played Jean Valjean in the concert performance celebrating the 25th Anniversary of LES MISERABLES at London’s O2 arena in October 2010, before taking on the role in the full stage production at the Queen’s Theatre from June to November the following year. In 2015 he reprised the role at the Imperial Theatre on Broadway, succeeding Ramon Karimloo. He shared the 2003 Tony Award with the other principal leads of Baz Luhrmann’s LA BOHEME. He was born Alfred Giovanni Roncalli Boe to Irish-Norwegian parents in Blackpool. It’s the Italian name of Pope John XXIII. Thankfully he shortened it to ‘Alfie’, which takes less time to sign, and he did just that last Saturday at the London Coliseum, before the matinée of CAROUSEL in which he stars with Katherine Jenkins.

Drawing: Leanne Cope in An American In Paris

The Broadway box-office hit AN AMERICAN IN PARIS, filled with memorable Gershwin musical numbers and spectacular dance routines, opened this week at London’s Dominion Theatre to a cluster of five-star reviews. Directed and choreographed by Tony winner Christopher Wheeldon and inspired by the Academy Award-winning 1951 film of the same name, premiered at the Palace Theatre on Broadway in April 2015 after a brief engagement at the Theatre du Chatelet in Paris.

Both leads, ballet stars Robert Fairchild and Leanne Cope headline the West End production. Former First Artist with the Royal Ballet, Leanne originated the role of Lise Dassin, originally played by Leslie Caron in the movie. She received a Tony Award nomination for her performance. I attempted to met Leanne in person at the stage door, but London’s fickle Spring weather sprung a leak in my plan last Saturday, so I left it at the theatre and it came back immediately.

Drawing: Donna McKechnie

American musical theatre dancer, singer, actress and choreographer Donna McKechnie
Has been very much part of the fabric of Broadway for more than half a century since making her debut in the 1961 production of HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING. Fifteen years later she won the Tony for Best Actress in a Musical for originating the role of Cassie, the former chorus girl making a comeback in A CHORUS LINE. In 1980 she was diagnosed with crippling arthritis and told she would never dance again, but defied those odds to return to THE CHORUS LINE six years later and appeared in the West End revival of CAN CAN. She has returned to the London stage to feature in the musical THE WILD PARTY at The Other Palace (formerly the St James) where she signed my sketch.