Five plays in five days — from the best to the bomb

Alan mimics Glenda Jackson’s expression on a poster outside the Cort Theatre where she was starring in “King Lear.” It’s located at 138 W. 48th St.

Five plays in five days. Picasso, Van Gogh, Magritte, Pollock, Warhol. A Liberty cruise. And enough food and drink to sink a battleship.

That’s what Alan and I experienced last month when we joined other supporters of the Clarence Brown Theatre on the group’s annual pilgrimage to New York City.

Four out of the five plays we saw were terrific and we highly recommend them. The fifth — and the one we were most excited about seeing — was a disappointing bust. Read on for a rundown on what we think is one of the most entertaining and enlightening experiences offered by any of our area cultural attractions.

The best: “To Kill a Mockingbird”

This excellent production starred Jeff Daniels as Atticus Finch in the familiar Pulitzer Prize-winning story by Harper Lee of a white lawyer in a small Southern town defending a black man accused of raping a white woman. Unlike in the novel and movie versions of the story, in this iteration, adapted for stage by Aaron Sorkin, Atticus is played with a bit more nuance. He’s not quite as morally pure and clear in his intentions as in the other versions, which makes the story even more interesting this time around.

It is nominated for nine Tony Awards, the winners of which will be announced on June 9 at Radio City Music Hall. The nominations include one for Knoxville’s Jennifer Tipton, a Clarence Brown Theatre alumna, for lighting design.

“To Kill a Mockingbird” is playing at the Sam S. Shubert Theatre at 225 W. 44th St.

Curtain call after “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

Clarence Brown Theatre’s managing artistic director, Cal MacLean, arranged for us to have a post-play chat with actor Gbenga Akinnagbe, who played the accused character, Tom Robinson, in the play.

We could see Jeff Daniels in the background chatting with some other theater-goers.

A fun romp: “The Cher Show”

Three actresses play Cher in three stages of her life in this jukebox musical featuring more than 25 of her songs. To say that Sonny doesn’t come off looking very good would be a huge understatement. We recommend you see it if you can. It’s nominated for three Tony Awards, including one for the costumes, which were designed by Bob Mackie, of course.

Three Chers. From left, Micaela Diamond as a young Cher, Stephanie J. Block as the older and current Cher, and Teal Wicks as the Cher from “The Sonny & Cher Show” years.

Michael Berresse played fashion designer Bob Mackie.

Alan at intermission posing in front of a fake “Sonny” dressing room in the concession area. The play is at the Neil Simon Theatre at 250 W. 52nd St.

More music we grew up with: “Ain’t Too Proud”

This is the story of The Temptations, and the friendships, jealousies, greed and substance abuse problems that roiled the group since its formation in the early ’60s. Nominated for a dozen Tony Awards, it features more than 30 of the songs that rocketed the group to stardom and kept it there for decades. Interestingly, the play points out that the group has had more than 30 members over the years. This story concentrates on the founding members, though. We loved it.

“Ain’t Too Proud” is playing at the Imperial Theatre, 249 W. 45th St.

The opening set of “Ain’t Too Proud.”

Curtain call.

Politics and fabulous choreography: “The Prom”

The musical, nominated for seven Tony Awards, follows four washed-up Broadway actors as they travel to a small town in Indiana to take up the cause of a lesbian student who was not allowed to bring her girlfriend to the high school prom. They hope they can garner attention for the students’ cause. But, mostly, they want to generate good press for themselves and, hopefully, become relevant again. This production featured some of the best dancing we’ve ever seen.

“The Prom” is at Longacre Theatre, 220 W. 48th St.

One of our fellow travelers, Townes Osborn, enjoying a dinner of Pringles and Diet Coke waiting for “The Prom” to begin. Her husband, Bob Marquis, had opted for a hotdog from a street vendor, which she declined.

Curtain call at “The Prom.”

Isabelle McCalla, left, and Caitlin Kinnunen played the two girls who wanted to attend prom together.

Bomb: “King Lear” starring Glenda Jackson

Alan outside Cort Theatre where “King Lear” was playing.

You’ve probably seen the murderous reviews. Although Glenda Jackson is a wonderful actress whom we adored last year in “Three Tall Women,” this adaptation of “King Lear” was horrible. The sound in the theater was muddled, making Shakespeare’s words difficult to hear. The costumes were modern, but weird. And the graphic violence made me hide my eyes to avoid getting sick. I left at intermission after someone’s eyes were gouged out on stage but before a gratuitous nude scene which seemed to be placed in the play simply for shock value – according to those who stuck it out. “Lear” only was nominated for one Tony. That was for Ruth Wilson who played King Lear’s youngest daughter. Do yourself a favor and skip this one. I was waiting in the bar in our hotel when I found out the 3-1/2 hour play was over. I received this text from Alan, “The bloodshed has ended.”

We spotted actress Jayne Houdyshell, who played the Earl of Gloucester, outside the stage door after a performance of “Lear.”

I was happy to see she had regained the use of her eyes, which had been gouged out on stage!

An annual highlight is a reception for the folks on the trip with Clarence Brown Theatre to meet some CBT alumni living in New York City. That event was held this year at the Bourbon Street Bar & Grill at 346 W. 46th St.

Some of the alums who attended the reception. From left, Amy Matthews, Trish Doherty, Erin O’Leary, Kayela Statom, Ashlee Latimer, Shea Madison, Richard Bowden, Lindsay Nance, Ben Pratt, Cal MacLean (not an alum!), Stuart Matthews, Lianne Kressin, Tom Cervone and Kim Midkiff. (Photo by Lee Riedinger.)

From left, alumnae Lianne Kressin, Lindsay Nance, Erin O’Leary and Tony Award winner Ashlee Latimer. (Photo by Amanda Middleton.)

From left, Sara Phillips, alumni Ben Pratt and Kayela Statom, and Nancy Voith. (Photo by Amanda Middleton.)

From left, Mary Zuhr, Margie Nichols and Georgiana Vines at the alumni reception. (Photo by Lee Riedinger.)

A great thing about these Clarence Brown trips is the perfect mix of free time and planned activities. For example, only three of the plays we saw — “Mockingbird,” “The Prom,” and “King Lear” — were scheduled by the theater staff. We added “Cher” and “Ain’t Too Proud” ourselves. We also added a cruise to the Statue of Liberty and a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Meanwhile, at the Museum of Modern Art, “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” created by Pablo Picasso in 1907.

And “The Menaced Assassin” by my favorite surrealist artist, René Magritte, painted in 1927.

A 1950 Jackson Pollock.

The famous “Starry Night” by Vincent Van Gogh, painted in 1889. (Much like the Mona Lisa in The Louvre, it is smaller than I anticipated it being.)

“Double Elvis” by Andy Warhol in 1963.

We grabbed a delicious bite in the museum’s cafe: a trio of crostini. From left, eggplant caponata, ricotta and honey, and mushroom and garlic. Yum.

In all our visits to New York, we’ve never been on a Liberty cruise to see the famous statue up close. As opposed to the famous art that often is smaller than you expect, Lady Liberty is larger!

Heading out on a cloudy day, Manhattan is on the left and New Jersey is on the right.

A better view of Manhattan.

Alan as we were approaching the statue.

Getting closer. To get an idea of the size, notice the people at the base.

Here we go. Again, look at the size of the people.

On the way back we passed the new Hudson Yards development.

Another fun part of the trip is the “gathering” opportunities when we get together and compare notes.

Sometimes it’s an informal gathering in The Stinger Cocktail Bar and Kitchen run by Chef Todd English in our hotel, the InterContinental Times Square. Here are Neil and Maureen Dunn McBride enjoying Manhattan cocktails in Manhattan!

Burke and Lezah Pinnell.

Margie Nichols and John Gill.

Four of us stopped by The Library Bar prior to a show. It’s located in the Sheraton Times Square.

Kenneth and Jane Creed with Alan, right, in The Library Bar.

Haha. A random squash in the city!

Sometimes our gatherings are a little more formal.

Here are most members of our gang at a brunch at an eatery called Etcetera Etcetera near our hotel, The InterContinental Times Square. On the ground, from left: Lisa Hammann, John Bohstedt, Nancy Voith, Kenneth Stark. Seated, from left: Brooks and Karen Clark, Rebecca and Cal MacLean, Tom Cervone and Susan Creswell, Mary Zuhr and Lee Riedinger. First row standing, from left: Michele Maves, Hei Park, Sara Phillips, Townes Osborn, Lezah Pinnell, Margie Nichols, me, Pandy Anderson and Nancy Dunning. The rest, from left: Barry Maves, Amanda Middleton, Anne Loy, Kelly Hicks, Kathy Bohstedt, Don Loy, Bob Marquis, Maureen and Neil McBride, Jane Creed, John Gill, Alan Carmichael, Kenneth Creed, Don Dunning, Les Clevenger and Sue West.

Anne and Don Loy at Etcetera Etcetera.

Cal making a few remarks.

Amanda Middleton, right, of Clarence Brown Theatre, with her friend Kelly Hicks. Thanks to Amanda for all the hard work on the trip details!

Don’t miss the next blog post. We’ll tell you all about the food!


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11 Responses to Five plays in five days — from the best to the bomb

  1. Alan Carmichael, on May 31st, 2019 at 5:18 pm said:

    I really liked “Ain’t Too Proud.” Love that Temptations music.

  2. Becky Hancock, on May 31st, 2019 at 5:46 pm said:

    Nice recap of what looked like a great trip! I will be seeing “To Kill A Mockingbird” and “Hillary and Clinton” next weekend on a trip with a few Tennessee Theatre supporters. Always fun to experience the Big Apple.
    (Also: at least one of those titles you saw is on a tentative list for a future season here at the Tennessee in Knoxville…)

  3. Helen Wilder, on May 31st, 2019 at 9:45 pm said:

    Loved The Prom. We saw it when we were NYC in May. The cast received a standing ovation

  4. Kim Midkiff, on June 1st, 2019 at 8:01 am said:

    I’m sorry I missed seeing you this trip! I couldn’t find you at the alum reception.

  5. Cynthia Moxley, on June 1st, 2019 at 8:49 am said:

    Alan: Glad you picked that play for us to see!

    Becky: Have fun on your trip! I can’t wait to see which play might be coming here!

    Helen: Yep! Got a standing O when we were there, too. Deserved it! That dancing!

    Kim: Sorry we missed you. We had to skip the reception due to a conflict. Over-scheduled ourselves, of course.

  6. Monique Anderson, on June 2nd, 2019 at 8:08 am said:

    Looks like a great trip.

  7. Gay Lyons, on June 2nd, 2019 at 10:12 am said:

    Looks like so much fun! I’m really looking forward to the food blog.

  8. Cynthia Moxley, on June 2nd, 2019 at 10:50 am said:

    Monique: It was! You and Bruce should go next year! You would love it. (And you’ll both be retired!)

    Gay: Working on it now!

  9. Cindy Hassil, on June 3rd, 2019 at 11:17 am said:

    What fun! Nice crowd, and the shows sound great (except that last one). Don Loy was my honors chemistry teacher in high school!

  10. Wayne Christensen, on June 5th, 2019 at 6:03 pm said:

    Is Mockingbird the best play u have ever seen on Bway?

  11. Cynthia Moxley, on June 6th, 2019 at 10:38 am said:

    Wayne: It’s up there, for sure. If you count musicals, I would say “Hamilton” would give it a run for its money.

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