New York, new plays – and lots of opinions!

Clarence Brown Artistic Director Cal MacLean, right, with Christopher Tramantana, a Clarence Brown alum working in New York as an actor and coach. This was taken at Playwright Celtic Pub, where the CBT reunion was held.

In the midst of this sticky Knoxville heat wave,  I thought it might be refreshing  to remember back to April when about 40 Knoxvillians trekked to New York City as part of the Clarence Brown Theatre’s annual pilgrimage to see the Big Apple’s latest theatrical offerings. Although April usually brings thoughts of spring, we all packed our winter coats as we headed north — and were glad that we did!

Clarence Brown’s artistic director, Cal MacLean — as he always does — selected plays with an eye to which might take home some Tony Awards and which might stimulate some lively discussion. He did a heck of a job with this, as you will see.

My friends and I tried to do our usual good job of picking equally exciting restaurants to fill the time between scheduled activities. We also succeeded. More on that in a follow-up post.

The plays were “The Band’s Visit,” “Three Tall Women,” the revival of “Carousel” and an off Broadway play, “Admissions,” which had opened less than a month prior to our visit.

Other highlights of the trip were a visit by the entire Knoxville entourage to Tavern on the Green and to Playwright Celtic Pub for a reunion of Clarence Brown alums living in New York. And Alan and I shoehorned in a visit to the Brooklyn Museum to see the David Bowie exhibit on display until mid-July.

Read on for reviews of all!

Cal really hit it out of the park by selecting “The Band’s Visit” as one of our plays. It was at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on West 47th Street.

As we would find out a few weeks later, this musical would take home 10 Tony Awards — including Best Musical, Best Actor in a Musical, Best Actress in a Musical and Best Direction of a Musical. It was an uplifting (and funny) story of an Egyptian police band that accidentally ends up in the wrong city in Israel and is taken in for the night by the townspeople. Highly, highly recommend.

I will always be grateful to Cal for selecting “Three Tall Women” by Edward Albee. The entire play was set in the bedroom of a wealthy older woman, as seen through this screen.

“Three Tall Women” took home two Tony Awards. Glenda Jackson won Best Performance by an Actress in a Play and Laurie Metcalf won Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play. So lucky to have seen both of these great actresses.

“Three Tall Women” was at the Golden Theatre on West 45th Street. We also recommend it.

Forgive me for saying it, but I hated “Carousel.” I’m glad I saw it, but I hated it. We saw it at the Imperial Theatre on West 45th Street.

The Rodgers and Hammerstein musical took home two Tony Awards this year: Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical and Best Choreography. But the message in the story of this play is just awful. One example of offensive dialogue: “Mama, he hit me. But it didn’t hurt at all. It felt like a kiss.” Richard Rodgers himself called the play “a tragedy — but it’s a hopeful one.” I didn’t see it that way.

The two redeeming parts of it: opera great Renée Fleming singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and the fantastic dancing.

Some members of our group at “Carousel.”

The rest of the crowd.

I found the fourth play, “Admissions,” to be fascinating. It’s about a very liberal white couple — she works in a boarding school admissions office and he’s the head of the school. They are all about championing diversity in the school — until their own son gets turned down by Yale and his best friend, who is black, gets accepted despite having lower entrance scores. Then all hell breaks loose. Very thought-provoking and, at times, funny.

“Admissions” played at the Newhouse Theatre at Lincoln Center.

Alan Carmichael at the fountain at Lincoln Center.

This trip every year features a stop at Central Park’s Tavern on the Green. The organizers pick this eatery because, not only is it iconic, but it also has large private rooms to accommodate our group.

Our private room at Tavern on the Green.

Cal making remarks.

Burke Pinnell told our server that he really likes celery in his Bloody Marys. His first drink didn’t have any, so he asked again. We got a kick out of the tiny stalk of celery that arrived when he finally got some!

From left, Cal MacLean, Jerry Kornegay, Jessica Vanderpool, Amanda Middleton, Susan Kornegay and Rebecca MacLean.

Organic Scottish salmon with Italian farro, braised leeks and beurre blanc.

John Becker and Georgiana Vines.

From left, Nancy Voith, Kenneth Stark, and Michelle and Barry Maves.

Grilled skirt steak with garlic fingerling potatoes, watercress salad and rustic vinaigrette.

From left, Sara Phillips, Lisa Hammann, Lyle Irish, John Gill, Carl and Peggy Pierce, Margie Nichols, Trish Irish, and Terry and Donna Wertz.

From left, Doug McKamey, Alan Carmichael, me, Nancy Voith, Kenneth Stark, Michelle and Barry Maves, and Lezah and Burke Pinnell.

New York cheesecake with macerated strawberries and whipped cream.

The main dining room at Tavern on the Green.

Another tradition on this trip is getting together for drinks and nibbles with some of Clarence Brown’s alums living and working in New York. This usually takes place at an eatery in the Theater District called Playwright Celtic Pub.

Here it is at 732 8th Ave.

Cal and Conrad Ricamora. We saw him a few years ago in “The King and I” on Broadway.

From left, Margie Nichols, Alan Carmichael and Sara Phillips.

Nancy and Don Dunning.

Jessica Vanderpool, left, with Amanda Middleton.

Lyle and Trish Irish.

Cal chats with Doug McKamey and Townes Osborn.

From left, Burke and Lezah Pinnell with Anne and Don Loy.

On our final day in New York, we headed to Brooklyn.

The Brooklyn Museum on a beautiful day.

Alan goofing around as we wait to get into the David Bowie exhibit.


Unfortunately, photos were not allowed inside the exhibit, but it was great. It featured video and still photos from all phases of Bowie’s career. Some parts were very immersive.

We have found that we enjoy dining at cafes located inside of museums. (Wish the Knoxville Museum of Art had one.) The one at the Brooklyn Museum is called The Norm. It’s designed to look like a shipping crate for art. Clever.

I had spicy salmon salad lettuce wraps. (They had me at “spicy!”)

Alan opted for pasta.

The next post will be about the incredible non-museum restaurants some of us discovered on this trip when we broke away from the pack.


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4 Responses to New York, new plays – and lots of opinions!

  1. Monique Anderson, on June 20th, 2018 at 2:13 pm said:

    Those trips always look interesting.

  2. Gay Lyons, on June 20th, 2018 at 2:35 pm said:

    This looks like a wonderful trip. I agree with you re “Carousel.” WE haven’t made it to the Brooklyn Museum yet. Good to know about the cafe there.

  3. Patricia Cappiello, on June 20th, 2018 at 2:48 pm said:

    Great review of plays

  4. Cynthia Moxley, on June 20th, 2018 at 2:50 pm said:

    Monique and Gay: You all — and your guys — should go on this trip with us next year. It’s just wonderful to have Cal select the plays. And the schedule always includes a lot of free time, which we appreciate.

    Patricia: Thanks.

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