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.
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.
The new musical obsession, HAMILTON is the hottest ticket on Broadway at the moment. Written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who also starred in the title role, the hip-hop homage to American founding father and George Washington’s chief aide Alexander Hamilton is based on the biography by Ron Chernow. After an initial run off-Broadway at the Public Theatre in early 2015, the production transferred to the Richard Rodgers Theatre in August with unprecedented advance box-office sales. It garnered a record 16 Tony nominations, winning eleven, including Best Musical. It also picked up a Grammy and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
Lin-Manuel’s Tony and Olivier-winning musical IN THE HEIGHTS is currently playing London at the King’s Cross Theatre. It collected 13 Tony noms, winning four, two Olivier Awards and a Grammy.It was also nominated for a Pulitzer. HAMILTON is scheduled to hit the West End next October at the Victoria Palace Theatre with Sir Cameron Macintosh spending £30 million renovating the venue for its much anticipated arrival.
I did this montage drawing with Lin-Manuel as the centre-piece and sent it to the Richard Rodgers Theatre, with low expectations. While I’ve had some success through the mail from Broadway, the ratio isn’t encouraging. When he finished his lead role in early July and nothing came back I thought it will be a case of waiting until next year in London. But to my surprise it arrived back signed, dedicated and inscribed ‘siempre’ (always) on Saturday. That’s a rap!
The stage adaption of Disney’s 1992 animated film ALADDIN transferred from Broadway to London’s West End at Soho’s Prince Edward Theatre last month. Joining British stars Dean John-Wilson as Aladdin and Jade Ewen as Jasmine was Trevor Dion Nicholas from the New York production as the Genie.
The musical premiered in Seattle in 2011 before opening on Broadway in March 2014 at the New Amsterdam Theatre where it still continues. It was nominated for five Tony Awards.
I left this drawing of the three leads at the theatre with one wish and it was granted… I mean graphed.
Frank Langella has won four Tony Awards. His latest was for his role as Andre in Florian Zeller’s THE FATHER this year. He played Richard Nixon, the only US President to resign the office in Peter Morgan’s FROST/NIXON at London’s Donmar Warehouse and the Gielgud before transferring to Broadway’s Bernard B Jacobs Theatre in April 2007, winning his third Tony. He reprised the role in the film version the following year, earning Oscar, Globe,SAG and BAFTA Award nominations.
I sent Frank this sketch of him in both roles while he was in THE FATHER at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre last month and he signed it with his unique abbreviated initials graph.
One of my favourite plays is THE KILLING OF SISTER GEORGE by British writer Frank Marcus. It premiered at the Bristol Old Vic in 1965 with Eileen Atkins and Beryl Reid in the lead roles. The production transferred to the West End, before its run at the Belasco Theatre in New York.where Eileen made her Broadway debut. She played the dimwitted ‘Childie’ alongside Beryl’s sadistic, gin-guzzling radio star June Buckridge and her alter ego ‘Sister George’.
Dame Eileen has been treading the boards and appearing on the big and small screen since 1953. She has won a BAFTA, Emmy and three Olivier Awards and has been nominated for four Tony’s, the first of which was for her role in SISTER GEORGE. She also created the iconic British TV series UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS.
Her films include EQUUS, THE DRESSER and GOSFORD PARK-once again all favourites of mine and she can be seen recently on the small screen in DOC MARTIN as Martin Clune’s Aunty, Dr Ruth Ellingham, another favourite of mine.
It’ s no wonder I had to draw her. This montage, which I dropped off at her London agent’s office for signing a couple of weeks ago, includes her as Childie and images from ALL THAT FALL at the Jermyn Street Theatre in 2012 and her solo show ELLEN TERRY WITH EILEEN ATKINS at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at Shakespeare’s Globe earlier this year in which she portrays over ten parts including Juliet, Beatrice and Viola.
Eight hours. 8 long hours. Written in words or numerically, either way it still spells out a l-o-n-g time to wait for an autograph. Actually it was 8 hours and a few minutes, waiting to get my sketch of the BAFTA, Golden Globe and Oscar nominated Hollywood star Jesse Eisenberg signed. But I did. It’s not my usual practice and not one I hope to make a habit of. Jesse is in London to make his West End debut as the dope-smoking, entitled, living of his wealthy parents, narcissistic bully Ben in the tragicomedy THE SPOILS, which he wrote and had its world premiere at the Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre in New York’s Pershing Square Signature Center last summer.
“Engrossingly acted, impeccably staged,” wrote the New York Times.
The off Broadway transfer to London’s Trafalgar Studios starts on 27 May for a three month run. It’s Jesse’s third play, all of which have stated life on the off-Broadway boards.
We – a handful of fellow collectors – found out where he was rehearsing and duly waited nearby. But Jesse had to interrupt his rehearsals to fly to Cannes to do press for his latest film CAFE SOCIETY directed by Woody Allen. Then zap back to London. We thought he was already in the building and would finish at the customary time. That plan disappeared when he actually arrived at five and quickly slipped in without us having time to catch him.
One gets to a point in this business when one has invested time that one does not want to waste by ditching the mission. In other words it would be a waste of time if you didn’t stay to get the graph. But eight hours is a long investment. Thankfully it was a nice sunny day even though the pollen count was eight times higher than normal. It’s a recurring theme. SPOILS Sketch, sneezing and sharpie at the ready.
All was forgotten, well nearly all when we finally met meet Jesse. He thanked us for turning up and waiting. Truly one of the nicest in the business and he really liked the drawing, which is always a bonus.
Showbiz icon Bette Midler returned to Broadway in 2013 to play her late friend, the legendary super-agent who ruled Hollywood during the 1970’s Sue Mengers, in John Logan’s I’LL EAT YOU LAST at the Booth Theatre.
I drew this drawing of Bette in the role and managed to get it to ‘The Divine Miss M’ when she toured the UK last July. Nothing came back, so I assumed it was assigned to the round file or left unopened along with zillions of other fan mail. When it arrived through the post last month I was very happy… for a brief moment, until I realised it was probably a ‘secretarial’.
This is a term used in the ‘graph business for signatures by authorised personnel but not the authentic autograph of the celebrity. It’s one of the disappointing aspects of collecting, one which I have experienced on a few occasions. All the more reason to try and get a graph in person. Bette does sign in person and did so at the stage door, but through the mail is a different matter. Bette’s original graph is more ‘energetic’ and her ‘M’ is more divine, without a loop as it darts across from crossing the ‘t’s’. I checked exemplars of her authentic graph and the secretarial versions and this one, sadly, looks like the latter. I’ll just have to catch her in person next year when she takes the lead role in the Broadway revival of HELLO DOLLY or pops back to Britain.
Last October I posted this sketch of Daniel Craig and Hugh Jackman in A STEADY RAIN which Daniel signed at the SPECTRE World Premiere at London’s Royal Albert Hall. Then I had to wait for an opportunity to get Hugh to do the same. That happened last week at the Premiere of EDDIE THE EAGLE at the Odeon in Leicester Square.
A STEADY RAIN had it’s Broadway debut at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre in late 2009. Michael Huff’s crackerjack two-handler is an incisive character study of the stressed relationship between two Chicago cops, boyhood buddies and professional partners. Steven Spielberg has earmarked it for a film adaption.
Daniel played Joey and Hugh was Denny. The former is introverted, single and lonely and in love with Denny’s wife, who by contrast is the married, angry, racist tough-guy who cheats on his wife. With the two A-listers from the super-heroic franchise film roles – James Bond and X-Men mutant Wolverine, It became the hottest ticket in town, selling out the 12 week season in no time.
The New York Times theatre critic Ben Brantley praised both performances in the ‘gripping noir tale’, but did slip in the notion that if “they had chosen to recite the alphabet in counterpoint, their joint appearance would still generate the same ticket sales.”
As mentioned Hugh was in town last week and steady rain threatened to stymy the sketch signing moment, but he inscribed his distinctive monogram ‘HJ’ moniker on the drawing before any weather intervened.
Packages arriving, addressed in my handwriting always exit me, especially in the plural. Yesterday it was the singular, but I was excited none-the-less. It had a US stamp, meaning one of my drawings sent to Broadway had come back….hopefully signed. Indeed it was and a real doozy-my Old Times sketch signs by all three British cast members, Clive Owen, Eve Best and Kelly Reilly. I’m not sure of the etymology of ‘doozy’. I think it can be ‘good’ and ‘bad’. This sums up autograph collecting via the mail. Somedays are great and somedays, not so great. The main meaning is it’s ‘big’ and ‘memorable.’
The Harold Pinter three-hander about the battle for sexual dominance is having it’s Broadway revival at the American Airlines Theatre, directed by fellow Brit and Tony-winner Douglas Hodge to both critical and commercial acclaim. Clive and Kelly were making their debuts on ‘The Great White Way’ and now, also on my theatre sketches. I have had the privilege of seeing Eve on the London stage and she has signed for me, so the Olivier Award-winner was my point of contact. Like her performances her thoughtfulness is top drawer.