Did You Know It Almost Wasn’t Called Fiddler on the Roof?

Fiddler on the Roof is arguably one of the most important musicals ever staged. Let’s talk a little about this show, and then we have some Fiddler fun facts we’d love to share. The show opens here on Nov. 5.

The Cast of Fiddler on the Roof. Photo by Joan Marcus.

“You want us to put up how much money for a show about a Jewish shtetl in 1905 Tsarist Russia? Get outta here.”

That’s more or less how we imagine the conversation at Sardi’s going when Joseph Stein, Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick pitched their latest creation to the producer set. In the early 1960s, they got a lot of no’s, let’s just put it that way. But we can guarantee you all those no-men were kicking themselves later when that same show, under the direction of Jerome Robbins and starring Zero Mostel of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum fame, became the most successful musical on Broadway for the next eight years. For every dollar original Fiddler investors put up, they earned $1,574.

The script, first titled The Old Country then renamed Tevye; Not So Long Ago, Not So Far Away; Where Poppa Came From and, finally Fiddler on the Roof¸ was based on a series of stories by Jewish writer Solomon Rabinovich who used the pen name Sholem Aleichem ( “peace be with you”) to create page-turning tales about an irrepressible Jewish Everyman named Tevye.

The musical born from Aleichem’s Tevye stories hit America at exactly the right time and in exactly the right way. The show, whose original run lasted for a staggering 3,242 performances, many of which were sold out, is epic on many levels outside of its box office stats.

It was the first monumental commercial success of modern American Jews defining Jewish identity on their own terms. Much has been written in the annals of Broadway history about Jerome Robbins awakening to his own ethnic identity while immersed in Fiddler. The show allowed Robbins to explore the Jewish heritage he had long denied and profoundly changed the great choreographer-director’s life. Robbins fiercely guarded the portrayals of Tevye et al., refusing to let any of them be reduced to vaudevillian caricatures, as Jewish people had been portrayed on stage and screen prior to Fiddler.

Much has also been written about the beef between Robbins and Zero Mostel, who had absolutely no qualms at all about his blinding Orthodox pride. The two men despised each other, but their mutual love of the Tevye stories and grudging respect for the other’s artistry allowed them to bury the hatchet temporarily to get Fiddler on the boards. The upside of their towering personalities being at odds was the authenticity it brought to the central conflicts in the musical:  identity vs. assimilation, traditions vs. modernity, family vs. self-actualization, tragedy vs. comedy. It’s hard to imagine any other odd couple bringing Fiddler to life the way Jerry and Zero did on Broadway.

The universal appeal of these central conflicts propelled Fiddler to international fame. Tevye is every parent who wants the best for a child growing up in a world changing too fast. Tevye’s daughters are every child who wants something more out of life but doesn’t even know where to start looking. Golde, Tevye’s wife, is every woman who has had to sacrifice more than her fair share for love and her family’s safety.

In other words, Fiddler is every bit as relevant this minute as it was in 1964 when it opened. It transcends cultural, racial and economic boundaries. The show is a slice of life from the human story. The show is us.

Important as Fiddler is both in performing arts history and human history, there are some fun tidbits from its legend that we wanted to share as we prepare to present the show this November.

Here are a few factoids we think you might find interesting. We sure did.

1. What’s Marc Chagall got to do with it?

The famous modern painter pitched in for friends in New York, designing costumes for Balanchine at New York City Ballet and such. Jerome Robbins, a huge Chagall fan and personal friend, approached the painter about doing set design for what was then called Tevye. Chagall regretfully declined, as he was too busy with other projects. However, his painting, The Fiddler, is noted as the inspiration for what eventually became the show’s title and the image forever associated with this musical.

2. What’s Gene Wilder got to do with it?

Technically, nothing. But, since we just had Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory onstage, we thought we’d mention Gene (Willy Wonka in the movie version) auditioned for Motel the Tailor in Fiddler but didn’t get the part. Later, though, he starred with Zero Mostel in Mel Brooks’s film The Producers.

3. What’s Bea Arthur got to do with it? 

So, you probably just saw our announcement for That Golden Girls Show. Dorothy, a.k.a. Bea Arthur, originally tried out for the role of Yente, the matchmaker, but Robbins thought she looked too modern. Eventually, she got the role. However, Robbins earned the dubious distinction of being the only director to ever break Bea and make her cry. By now, you’ve probably picked up on the fact that a lot of folks had beef with Robbins. You are correct.

4. What’s Japan got to do with it?

One of the oft-told tales proving Fiddler’s universal truths goes back to Tokyo. The show is outrageously popular in Japan, having been mounted in the country more than 1,300 times. The story goes that a well-known Japanese producer asked Fiddler writer Joseph Stein, “do audiences understand this show in America?” Stein, puzzled, replied yes, that they wrote it for Americans—why? “Because it’s just so Japanese,” he said.

FIDDLER ON THE ROOF opens in Morsani Hall Nov. 5, 2019 and runs through the weekend.

The Cast of Fiddler on the Roof. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Come with Me, and You’ll Be, in a World of Pure Imagination

Patel Conservatory theater instructor Joe Herrera teaches students at Burnett Middle School that you can find yourself (and change the world) with a little imagination. Caught in the Act welcomes Straz Center media relations manager Alex Stewart as our guest blogger this week.

by Alex Stewart, guest blogger

Let’s play a theater game. I want you to imagine you have a long, skinny neck. Now, walk around the room as if you have one. Project how that would look. Would it influence the way you walk? Would your voice sound different? How would this change your overall appearance? Next, do the same as if you have a short, fat neck. Does that change your voice? Your behavior? Now, act as if you have long, green finger nails. Does that make you feel like a creepy witch? Or more like Cardi B with her signature blinged out nails?

Do you feel weird yet? Good. Because this is a no judgment zone – and here at The Straz, that’s what we strive for. Be weird. Be yourself. And have fun with it.

This fall, students at Burnett Middle School, a Title I school in Seffner, are learning how to be their weird, true selves through theater games just like this – and discovering how to bring their unique personalities into the characters they are aiming to create.

Joe meets the class in the school auditorium theater where they warm up with theater games.

Patel Conservatory theater instructor Joe Herrera and Burnett Middle School drama/English teacher Cathy Cromar are teaching students acting and characterization techniques using Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as inspiration, just in time for the Broadway show’s arrival to The Straz. This class is made possible by the Straz Center’s Arts Education Partnership Program, which partners with agencies, schools, community organizations and after-school programs to expose children and adults to the life changing benefits of the arts – at no cost to them, thanks to donors and grants. How sweet is that?

Look, it can be expensive to go to the theater. You need transportation, money for parking, and let’s not forget the cost of the actual ticket itself. And what if you want to treat yo’ self? That candy bar in Morsani Lobby is tempting. Simply put, not everyone can afford access to the arts. With arts classes and programs being cut out of school curriculums, some kids might get no exposure to them, which is why the Arts Education Partnership Program is so important.

Coaching individual students on finding the courage to perform.

Burnett Middle School has been a community partner for several years, but this year the program was able to provide students with free tickets to Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and cover the costs of transportation to the theater, in addition to the eight-week class Joe is teaching.

“Many of my students have never been to a live performance or ever taken part in one,” says Cathy. “The students come away from this experience with an appreciation for this art form, knowledge of theater etiquette, which we stress in our class, and the ability to step outside your comfort box and perform, even if you’re frightened to do so.”

The class encourages students to explore and discover the crazy characters from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, using their imagination to create their own versions of some of the iconic characters. The goal being to break these students out of their shells – to use these characters to learn about themselves and to gain confidence and focus in their everyday lives.

Joe shares his expertise from his career as a professional actor in the Anton Chekov technique to build trust and guide students’ acting choices.

“My process into theater making and acting has always been the imagination,” says Joe. “And I think when you look at the story of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, whether it’s the musical or the film versions or even the novel, there are so many different themes,” says Joe. “But what resonates for me as a human being and as an artist, it’s the idea that nothing’s impossible. It’s tapping into that inner child. And I think that what I’m starting to see more and more these days with kids is that they’re losing their inner child, even at a young age.”

When the class first started, many of the students hadn’t seen the movie or read the book, so Joe prompted them to use their imaginations to create their chosen character based on the character names alone. The students were asked to write a diary entry from the perspective that they were a Golden Ticket winner, to help them understand and explore the emotional aspects of their character. Next, they were asked to add physicality, and imagine what that would look like. “If you were Willy Wonka, how would you walk? Is he old? Does he have a limp? Show me that,” asks Joe.

After the students see the show at The Straz on October 10, they will be asked to draw their character, free form and uncensored. And if it’s nothing like the book, movie or musical? Perfect. “There’s no right or wrong when you’re using your imagination,” says Joe. The class culminates with the students performing monologues based on their diary entries, incorporating the emotional, physical and visual techniques they’ve learned throughout the class.

“You’ll hear me say this a lot – there’s no right or wrong in theater. My goal is to create an atmosphere of fun-ness, so that they can break out of that shell of right and wrong, that they are so used to in school. And there’s room for that – but with art there isn’t. It’s a basis of you. You are the expression of that thing,” Joe says.

Participating in the “silly shapes” games that asks actors to improvise shapes in order to discover their physicality onstage.

And fun-ness, Joe delivers. Students participate in a range of activities and theater games during the class, from creating twisty shapes with their bodies to working together to build a “sound machine” of different noises. The students are active most of the class, learning to make friends with each other and the space.

While theater games and drama class can be fun, kids learn skills from the arts that can help them in everyday life. “I want them to see that this is not just a class ‘to have fun’ … we’re actually learning skills that can benefit us elsewhere, like doing a presentation in class,” says Cathy. “Joe is such a positive, animated actor; this rubs off on the kids. I can see that they trust him and will try anything he asks them to do.”

Each class ends with a round table evaluation of what students learned and what they can take from the class into their everyday lives.

The arts not only boost students’ academic achievements, but they help them figure out who they are. The arts allow them to be creative, collaborate and problem solve, among many other benefits, which sets them up for success in future careers.

“What can theater do? What can the arts do? It can bring out that self-expression,” says Joe. “I explained to the students that there are many different individuals that I’ve come across. They start out in a theater class or an acting class, and yet, they’re not actors. They’re working in other areas. They’re businessmen or businesswomen, they’re public speakers or they’re lawyers. And what it does, is it helps you to identify who you are, number one. And number two, it helps you to communicate so that you can achieve the things that you want.”

Ultimately, Joe wants his students to be able to find their true, authentic selves, and for them to know that nothing is impossible, just like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

“The golden ticket for you may not be theater. It may not be art, it may not be acting. But what I’m trying to introduce to them is to tap into the inner you. The you that is so pure, the you that is so true, the you that is so authentic. The you that the world needs because that’s why you are here.”

Get your tickets for Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory today before the Wonka factory rolls out of Tampa.

Let’s Eat Chocolate

In honor of Roald Dahl’s CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY opening in a month, we thought we’d give you a head start on some delectable chocolate recipes you can make at home. We asked our renowned pastry chef Jamie Paultre for his three favorites, and here they are.

We don’t mean to brag, but—well, we do; yes, we’re bragging—chocolate first arrived in the American colonies in Florida. That’s right. The mouth-watering, life-giving force introduced itself on our shores via a Spanish ship in 1641. By the time the Revolutionary War rolled around, cocoa beans were a major American import considered a utilitarian staple in pantries across the New World. Soldiers had chocolate in their rations.

The Aztecs and Mayans, early pioneers in assigning value to cacao beans, used the fruit as currency. They also served liquid chocolate to human sacrifices prior to said fate to cheer them up a bit. Civilizations in other parts of Latin America and Mesopotamia used the beans and fruit for eating and drinking. The Latin name for the cacao tree translates to “food of the gods” and today, in the United States alone, chocolate generates a 4-billion-dollar-plus economy. The average American eats about a half a pound of chocolate each month.

We’re going to go out on a limb here and suggest that Roald Dahl’s classic tale of a poor boy lucking his way to a Golden Ticket might not have seen the same popularity had Willy Wonka owned a broccoli factory. Chocolate makes life delicious.

So, when we wanted to share some deliciousness with you to celebrate the brand-new Broadway production of Roald Dahl’s CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY opening Oct. 8, our first thought was to track down the Straz Center pastry chef, Jamie Paultre. We asked him to reveal his three favorite recipes using chocolate as a main ingredient. He delivered these three whoppers, each requiring simple ingredients you may already have in your pantry.

1.    Chocolate Flan Cake

Yield: 1 flan cake

Hard Caramel

Caramel Weight – grams Volume
Sugar, granulated 200g 1 cup
Water 40g 3 tbsp
Corn syrup 22g 1 tbsp
  1. Bring sugar, water and corn syrup to a boil.
  2. Brush sides of pot with a brush to remove any sugar on the sides.
  3. Cook sugar mixture until amber color.
  4. Pour caramel evenly around the bottom of a bundt pan. Set aside to cool.

 

Flan

 Flan Weight – grams Volume
Condensed milk 800g 2ea – 14oz cans
Milk 560g 2 ¼ cup
Cream cheese 225g 8oz block
Eggs, whole 300g 6 eggs
Eggs, yolks 60g 4 yolks
Vanilla extract 14g 4 tsp
  1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl.
  2. Blend using an immersion blender until smooth, being careful not to incorporate any air. Set aside.

Chocolate Cake

Chocolate Cake Weight – grams Volume
Cake flour 80g 2/3 cup
Cocoa powder 30g 1/3 cup
Baking soda 3g 1/2 tsp
Salt 2.5g 1/4 tsp
Dark chocolate 115g 1/2 cup
Butter 115g 1 stick
Buttermilk 130g 1/2 cup
Sugar, granulated 100g 1/2 cup
Eggs, whole 100g 2 eggs
Vanilla extract 7g 2 tsp
  1. Melt together butter and chocolate. Set aside.
  2. Sift together flour, cocoa powder baking soda and salt. Set aside.
  3. Whisk together buttermilk, sugar, eggs and vanilla extract.
  4. Whisk chocolate mixture into egg mixture.
  5. Mix the chocolate mixture into the flour mixture.
  6. Pour cake batter into the bundt pan.
  7. Fill the mold the rest of the way with the flan mixture.
  8. Bake in a water bath at 300 degrees F in a conventional oven. Cook until center reads 180 degrees F on thermometer, approximately 1.5 hours.
  9. Refrigerate overnight.
  10. Place plate or serving tray with a lip on the bundt pan and flip to unmold.

 

2.    Chocolate Passion Verrine

Yield: 12 2oz shot glasses

Chocolate Panna Cotta

 Chocolate Panna Cotta Weight – grams Volume
Milk 38g 2 ½ tbsp
Heavy cream 200g 7/8 cup
Sugar 50g 1/4 cup
Gelatin 3g 1 tsp
Dark chocolate 75g 1/3 cup
  1. Place milk in a bowl large enough to hold chocolate and heavy cream.
  2. Sprinkle gelatin over milk, let bloom for 5 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, combine sugar and cream in a separate pot and bring to a boil.
  4. If using chocolate bar/squares, chop into small pieces, then put into the bowl with milk and gelatin.
  5. Pour boiling hot cream mixture over the chocolate.
  6. Whisk till combined. Let cool to around 100 degrees F.
  7. Place 2oz shot glasses in a muffin pan at a 45 degree angle.
  8. Pour into glasses until it almost reaches one edge of the glass. Let set in fridge.

Passion Fruit Curd

Passion Fruit Curd Weight – grams Volume
Passion fruit puree 170g 2/3 cup
Sugar, granulated A 50g 1/4 cup
Egg, yolks 95g 6 yolks
Eggs, whole 100g 2 large egg
Sugar, granulated B 50g 1/4 cup
Butter 100g 1/3 cup
  1. Combine sugar A and passion fruit puree in a pot and bring to a boil.
  2. When almost at a boil whisk together yolks, whole eggs and sugar B in a bowl large enough to hold eggs and puree.
  3. Temper boiling puree into egg mixture.
  4. Return to medium heat and cook until thickened, while continuously stirring curd and scraping sides and bottom of pot.
  5. Once thick remove from heat and whisk in butter.
  6. Let cool to room temperature.
  7. Remove shot glasses from muffin pan and stand straight up.
  8. Pipe curd into shot glasses on top of the panna cotta, filling the glass the rest of the way.
  9. Let cool in fridge.

Decoration (optional)

  1. Top with whipped cream
  2. Place piped chocolate decoration or chocolate shavings on whipped cream

3.    Chocolate Caramel Tart

Yield: 1 9in tart

Hazelnut Pate Sable

 Hazelnut Pate Sable Weight – Grams Volume
All-purpose flour 125g 1 cup
Sugar 40g 3 tbsp
Powdered sugar 20g 2 ½ tbsp
Butter, cold 120g 1/2 cup or 1 stick
Ground hazelnuts 50g 1/2 cup
  1. Combine all ingredients until butter is incorporated.
  2. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  3. Roll out 3mm thick.
  4. Place in greased tart pan.
  5. Bake at 325 degrees F until golden brown.
  6. Let cool set aside for later.

Caramel

 Caramel Weight – grams Volume
Sugar 200g 1 cup
Corn syrup, light 40g 2 tbsp
Water 40g 1/4 cup
Butter 75g 1/3 cup
Heavy cream 75g 1/3 cup
  1. Combine sugar, corn syrup and water in a pot.
  2. Bring to a boil. Brush side of pot with a wet brush to remove any sugar crystals sticking to side.
  3. Cook to 320 degrees F.
  4. Remove from heat and carefully whisk in butter and heavy cream.
  5. Return to heat and cook to 250 degrees F.
  6. Pour into tart shell. Let cool.

 

Ganache

 Ganache Weight – Grams Volume
Heavy cream 200g 7/8 cup
Dark chocolate 200g 1 cup
Sea salt As needed As needed
Hazelnuts 25g 1/4 cup
  1. Bring heavy cream to a boil.
  2. Meanwhile, if using a bar/square of chocolate cut it up into small pieces, then put into a bowl large enough to hold chocolate and heavy cream.
  3. Pour over dark chocolate.
  4. Whisk together until smooth.
  5. Pour over caramel.
  6. Let cool.
  7. Finely chop hazelnuts and toast them.
  8. Once chocolate is almost set sprinkle with sea salt. On the edge of the tart, sprinkle with the finely chopped, toasted hazelnuts.

 

“Miss Unknown” and Rise of the Anastasia Romanov Myth

The next Broadway blockbuster to hit Morsani stage is ANASTASIA, a tale of bravery and finding one’s place in the world spun from a shocking turn of events in 1920, a mere two years after the brutal assassination of the entire Romanov royal family.

the_romanovs_1913

The Romanovs, 1913. Tsar Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra sit in the center. Behind, from left to right, are their daughters Maria, Olga, and Tatiana. Their youngest daughter, Anastasia, is seated on the stool, and their son Alexei kneels in front.

2019 marks 100 years since the Bolsheviks murdered Russian royals Nicholas II and Alexandra Romanov, their five children and four servants in the basement of a Siberian country house. Out of this grisly horror emerged an immortal hope—a hope that sparked a series of theatrical tales about charming and precocious Anastasia, the youngest of the four Romanov girls.

It all goes back to 1920, to a mysterious woman with eyes of “Romanov blue” who was fished out of a Berlin canal. Authorities dubbed her “Miss Unknown.” She wasn’t unknown, she’d tell the authorities—she was Anastasia Romanov.

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Painting of Peter the Great by Paul Delaroche.

Before we get there, however, we need to rewind to the man who started all: Peter the Great. If you dust off your training in Western Civ, you’ll recall this Russian powerhouse was the first Romanov, the man who launched the dynasty that would last 300 years, forge the lusty and ruthless Catherine the Great and establish Russia as a world superpower. Nicholas II, the father of Anastasia and the one who perished that fateful July morning in 1918 at the hands of a communist firing squad, was the last of the Romanov tsars, bringing their illustrious beginnings to quite an unfortunate and gruesome end.

Nicholas—as historians agree—did all things people hate in a ruler: he believed God put him on the throne, he married an outsider, he instigated bad wars, his arrogance blinded him to his unpopularity and, eventually, he cozied up to the “mad monk” Grigori Rasputin, a religious fanatic with no morals. The Russian people were fed up with the Romanov autocracy and ripe for revolution. Enter Vladimir Lenin, who led the revolution and created a communist power center. Nicholas abdicated the throne.

Nicholas II

Tsar Nicholas II, the last Emperor of Russia.

But now what?

At first, the Bolsheviks took Nicholas and his family to a posh castle where they lived in a manner in which they were accustomed. In time, the military moved the Romanovs to a country estate outside of the Ural mountains, when it was becoming glaringly obvious to everyone except Nicholas that the family’s execution was imminent. The Reds had already dispatched Rasputin with a combination poisoning/shooting/dumping-in-river murder plot, and Lenin knew there was no way to completely win the hearts and minds of the people without erasing the final traces of the autocracy that so oppressed Russia. The Romanovs adapted to country life, entertained by their actress-artist daughter Anastasia, who wrote her own plays, and, lacking proper resources for auditions, enlisted her little brother and older sisters into performing the other parts.

Their circumstance went from bucolic to bubonic in a matter of months, however, when, on July 17, 1918, at 1:30 a.m., their guards received orders to take the family and their attendants to the cellar under false pretenses then murder them all.

800px-Ipatjew-Haus2

The Ipatiev House, where the Romanovs and their servants were killed.

What happened next is the subject matter for a different type of show, or perhaps a Rob Zombie film, but let’s just note that the execution was bungled at best and twenty long minutes of unspeakable torture for the Romanovs at worst. The guards did not know that the royal diamond jewelry was sewn into the girls’ corsets and undergarments, so the bullets bounced off, merely breaking bones and creating internal hemorrhaging. Nicholas and Alexandra, his wife, as well as the servants, were the only ones to be killed in the initial volley of shots. In a panic, the guards—who had also hit each other with ricochets—resorted to bayonets and rifle ends to complete the mission. The burying of the bodies went even worse, with the poorly-thought-out-plans backfiring in bizarre ways until the commanding officer improvised a disposal scheme that involved sulfuric acid, gasoline, a gigantic hole and the off-loading of two of the kids in a different part of the woods.

Not much to sing and dance about, right? But these stomach-turning details didn’t see the light of day until the last few decades, when Russian officials finally released previously-hidden documents to Romanov biographers after the remains of Nicholas, Alexandra, and three daughters including Anastasia were discovered in the woods some miles from the country estate/crime scene in 1991. (The house had been bulldozed in the 1970s). The Russian Orthodox Church canonized the Romanovs in 2000, making some peace with this inglorious past, and laid their bodies to rest in the traditional tsar’s cathedral in St. Petersburg. The other two children’s remains—Alexi and Maria—were found and identified in 2007.

Russia_2078_(4091295048)

On July 17, 1998, The Romanovs were laid to rest in the traditional burial place of the tsars, St. Petersburg’s Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral, 80 years to the day of their murder.

Since the Bolsheviks wrapped up the details of what happened to the Romanovs and refused to proffer any details other than “the Czar is dead,” popular imagination filled in the blanks. Something seemed unacceptable … the Russian royal bloodline couldn’t be demolished, could it? If there’s no proof of death, someone could have survived, right?

A Tatiana popped up in rural England. An Alexi appeared in Poland. People wanted to believe one of the children escaped to somewhere else in Europe, but the claimants ultimately proved to be imposters.

Then, in 1920, Berlin authorities responded to a call that a woman had jumped into a canal, presumably as a suicide attempt. When they pulled her from the water, the woman carried no identification. Admitted to a mental hospital, she hid for months under her covers. There was something … familiar … about the way she looked, though.

Wait a minute, her fellow patients noted, she looks like grand duchess Tatiana Romanov! No, others said, she’s too short. Why, she must be Anastasia!

AnnaAnderson1922

Anna Anderson, who adopted the identity of Grand Duchess Anastasia of Russia.

The woman, whose silence earned her the name “Fraulein Unbekannt”—Miss Unknown—reluctantly admitted she was, indeed, Anastasia Romanov. She revealed that the guard carrying her to the woods the night of the assassination realized she was unconscious, not dead, and spirited her away. She renamed herself Anna Anderson, took the guard as her lover, yet he perished in a street brawl. She looked like Anastasia. She had the eyes, the ears. Without being able to confirm or deny her identity, the public and the press flew into a frenzy.

Ironically, the name Anastasia is Greek for “resurrection.” The child, the young woman, the possibly escaped royal took on renewed life in the mind of the world. It was almost as if humanity reserved some small hope that innocence found a way to survive the brutality of the times; that, maybe, if Anastasia could persist to live another day, then all wasn’t lost? Couldn’t she symbolize everyone’s struggle to find their way back to who they really were—someone special, someone royal?

Anna Anderson maintained a tight grip on her claim as the Russian princess, never indicating she was anyone other than Anastasia Romanov. It wasn’t until the mid-1990s, after the real Romanov remains had been DNA tested, that scientists could prove Anna Anderson had zero Romanov blood. Those same analysts linked her to the Polish factory worker Franziska Schanizkowska, confirming a story about her real identity that circulated in Germany.

anastasia films

The animated Anastasia (L) and Ingrid Bergman in the live-action film Anastasia (R).

Roughly around this time, 20th Century Fox released their animated version of Anastasia, a film inspired by the 1956 live-action movie of the same name starring the regal and captivating Ingrid Bergman. The hope inspired by the notion that Anastasia somehow survived the most terrifying circumstances continues to spark the modern mind, which is how we got the spectacular song-and-dance tale of an orphan discovering her true self in Broadway’s Anastasia, which opens May 7.

As Anastasia lyricist Lynn Ahrens told Town and Country magazine in 2017, “I think the legend of Anastasia has persisted for a century because we’re all romantics at heart, yearning for happy endings, especially in dark times. We want to imagine that the lost princess really did find ‘home, love, and family’ in the face of terrible odds.”

9 - Lila Coogan (Anya) and Stephen Brower (Dmitry) in the National Tour of ANASTASIA. Photo by Evan Zimmerman, MurphyMade.

Lila Coogan (Anya) and Stephen Brower (Dmitry) in the National Tour of ANASTASIA. (Photo: Evan Zimmerman, MurphyMade)

Wink, Wink; Nudge, Nudge

Broadway offers a passel of snortingly good times with its unending parade of parodies. The latest on our roster of roastables is Spamilton: An American Parody, which opened last week and runs until May 12.

Behind every iconic work of entertainment lurks a laughing matter waiting to be born. Whether those matters manifest as films like Airplane! or stage productions like our current hit Spamilton, a nothing-but-love full-length jibe at Lin-Manuel Miranda’s magnum opus, the parody stands as an art form all its own—and one that has seen a spike in popularity since the shocking success of Evil Dead: The Musical.

DisenchantedFullCast

The cast of DISENCHANTED in Tampa, 2014. (Photo: Rob/Harris Productions, Inc.)

At The Straz, we’ve hosted quite a few of these side-splitting skewerings. Maybe you saw 50 Shades! The Musical Parody, or its distant cousin, Spank!. We produced DISENCHANTED, a peppy, adults-only side-eye of a show geared towards examining the princess culture of a certain animation company. This list also includes the one-or-two-man-complete-works-of spin-off parodies like Potted Potter (all the book plots performed by two guys), and Charles Ross, who launched One-Man Star Wars and One-Man Dark Knight, both of which played in the Jaeb. Ross also created One-Man Lord of the Rings and performs all the shows under the One-Man Trilogy package, which manages to heroically blaspheme the major fantasy canons of the 20th and 21st century in one fell swoop. (Batman pun intended.)

The general rule seems to be that if something is really popular, then someone should probably make fun of it. Ergo, Off-Broadway has seen shows riffing on Friends (Friends!: The Musical), Back to the Future (That 80’s Time Travel Movie), Harry Potter (Puffs: Seven Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic about the Hufflepuff house) and Game of Thrones (Shame of Thrones: The Rock Musical—An Unauthorized Parody).

 

Of course, we return to that parody of parodies, the old chestnut Forbidden Broadway, which takes uproarious pot shots at our beloved blockbusters from the Big Apple. We love the show—most Broadway buffs do—so much we’ve brought it to Tampa several times over the years and had the show here last in 2017.

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Despite its rib-poking and raspberry-blowing nature, the parody must, to some extent, be a love letter to the source in order to hit the right notes with the audience. You’re having fun at the original’s expense without hurting anyone’s feelings. The parody is like the annoying little brother, chasing after the big sibling he admires so much. With no genuine respect for the source, a parody transforms into a vicious satire, which may be funny, but satires generally leave us feeling smug whereas the parody leave us feeling a little happier about things in general.

To wit, LMM blessed Spamilton just as Sam Raimi, director of the titular film, blessed Evil Dead: The Musical.

So, it’s okay laugh; although, with a parody, you never need permission. And, that, dear readers, is part of what makes them so much fun.

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One More Time from the Top

The explosive partnership of Broadway star Gwen Verdon and choreographer/director Bob Fosse finally goes mainstream in a new miniseries from F/X starting Tues., April 9.

Even if you know absolutely NOTHING about Broadway, you know about “jazz hands.” And if you know a little about Broadway, you know the man responsible for crystallizing the impact of jazz hands in a musical is Bob Fosse. If you know A LOT about Broadway, especially Broadway dance, you know that Fosse is kind of a god, kind of a sad sack of a boy-man, and completely credited with inventing the modern musical on stage and screen.

And if you really, really know a lot about Broadway dance, you know Fosse’s jazz hand style came straight from Al Jolson and the Nicolas Brothers and his ascension into mythical status wouldn’t have happened without Gwen Verdon. (Or dancer Joan McCracken, but that’s another miniseries for another time.) In other words, Fosse didn’t happen in a vacuum, and there’s a lot more to his legacy than the man himself.

Around here, we don’t care how much or how little you know about Broadway history, but we do get excited to see such an important story in the evolution of American art get the royal treatment from a major network—and a gigantic advertising budget to ensure the word’s getting around.

On the off chance you’ve been distracted by other news lately, we’ll bring you up to speed: Sam Rockwell (Charlie’s Angels; The Green Mile; Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri among a million others) plays the cigarette-booze-pill-and-sex-addicted mercurial, enchanting and inspiring Bob Fosse. Tony-winning evergreen ingenue Michelle Williams (Brokeback Mountain, The Greatest Showman and the play Blackbird) stars as redheaded triple threat and saving-grace-guiding-light-hard-as-nails-showgirl Gwen Verdon. The series, Fosse/Verdon, starts on Tuesday, April 9. The series plays out over eight episodes, taking audiences through fifty years—thirty of which center around the Verdon-Fosse creative collaboration that overtook their lives and changed the American entertainment landscape forever.

Verdon and Fosse were colleagues (she was a huge Broadway star when he was an up-and-coming choreographer with only The Pajama Game under his belt), then lovers, then spouses, then parents, then separated. During that time, the combined force of Bob’s visionary genius and Gwen’s dancing/comedic/technical/personal brilliance delivered Damn Yankees, Redhead, Sweet Charity, Chicago and Cabaret to name a few. Their daughter, Nicole Fosse, co-executive produced the miniseries and guided much of the artistic interpretation of the source material, Sam Wasson’s metaphorically and physically heavy biography, Fosse.

The Fosse/Verdon production involves current Broadway game changers. Lin Manuel-Miranda also produces the show, and Dear Evan Hansen writer Steven Levenson penned the teleplay. Seasoned fave Norbert Leo Butz stars as Fosse’s intellectual pal, the playwright Paddy Chayefsky, and previous Chicago stars Susan Misner (a.k.a. Stan Beeman’s Wife from The Americans) and Bianca Marroquin play McCracken and Chita Rivera, respectively. Newcomer Kelli Barrett (Getting’ the Band Back Together) landed the choice role of Liza Minelli, and we’ll get to see Ethan Slater (SpongeBob in the selfsame musical) tackle Joel Grey. A few newly-minted recognizable faces from hit television shows also make an appearance, namely the lithe and lovely Margaret Qualley as Ann Reinking, Fosse’s ultimate girlfriend-of-girlfriends after the split with Verdon.

In all, it’s a heck of a cast, a dynamite production team and a timely moment in entertainment history to attempt a more authentic look at the disturbing behaviors that drove such a towering creative partnership. It’s also time for Gwen Verdon to get her due for the living generations of Broadway fans who know Fosse but say “Gwen who?”

Another note, since we’re talking Fosse, is that we decided to name our Straz Center coffee shop after the very dance that made Bob Fosse a Broadway name—Steam Heat, from the eponymous dance number everyone loves in The Pajama Game. It’s also worth noting that one of Ann Reinking’s students, Kelly King, now directs our Patel Conservatory Popular Dance Program.

Students posing with Ann Reinking at the Patel Conservatory’s ground breaking in 2004.

So, grab your ultra-sheer black tights, garter belts and French cut leotards for what we hope to be a *fingers crossed* riveting immersion into all that jazz.

I Wanna Baptize You

And other Valentine’s Day sentiments from Broadway songbooks

Broadway boasts a canon of funny romantic songs, some thinly veiled innuendos (see title of this blog, a lyric from “Baptize Me” in The Book of Mormon) and others outrageously explicit (“You Can Be as Loud as the Hell You Want” from Avenue Q).

Here are just a few of our fave irreverent, hilarious or otherwise atypical little ditties from Broadway about love and romance in honor of Valentine’s Day this Thursday.

We Choo-Choo-Choose You.
Love,
The Straz

“The Song That Goes Like This” – Spamalot
Hahahaha … we can hardly type about this song without chuckling. This spot-on parody of the formulaic Big Love Song Number in boy-meets-girl musicals is an embarrassingly explanatory duet about said Big Love Song Number. “Once in every show/There comes a song like this … A sentimental song/ … We’ll over-act like hell/This is the song that goes like this.” Spamalot is Monty Python’s musical adaptation of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, so it’s comedy gold from the kings of parody.

“Changing My Major” – Fun Home
For everyone who caught this Tony-winning family drama at The Straz last season, you may remember this guffaw-inducing show-stopper from a sexually-revolutionized college-age protagonist. After meeting and falling for Joan, Alison allows their relationship to go to the next level. The following morning, she’s dizzy with the awakening of her womanhood. She does the only natural thing in a musical, which is to burst into song about her new love. “Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, last night!/I got so excited/I was too enthusiastic/Thank you for not laughing/Well, you laughed a little bit …” Alison makes the most important proclamation of any college freshman: she’s changing her major. To Joan. With a minor in kissing Joan.

“I Really Like Him” – Man of La Mancha
In our humble opinion, the most endearing aspect of this Don Quixote adaptation is the loyal, lovable sidekick Sancho Panza. And, as sidekick songs go, this number captures the inexplicable commitment of someone who hitched his wagon to a starry-eyed fool. Some Broadway buffs argue that Sancho is romantically in love with Quixote and this song reflects that devotion; others argue that “I Really Like Him” is about accepting the simple fact of unconditional love—it is what it is. No matter the interpretation, we all agree that “I Really Like Him” is sweet and absurd, very much like the Man of La Mancha himself. “Why do you follow him?” Aldonza asks Sancho. “Because,” he sings in replay, “I really like him/I don’t have a very good reason/Since I’ve been with him, cuckoo-nuts have been in season/…You can barbecue my nose, make a giblet of my toes/…Still I yell to the sky though I can’t tell you why/I like him.” If that’s love, it seems totally legit.

“Model Behavior” – Women on the Edge of a Nervous Breakdown
Originally performed on Broadway by Tony-winner Laura Benanti (who was also here in a solo cabaret show last season, ICYMI), this Spanish-flamenco-salsa-inspired allegro features Candela (Benanti) leaving a series of increasingly panicked messages for her friend Pepa. The new boyfriend Candela picked up at a club and moved into her apartment may not be the squeaky-clean Romeo she wanted him to be. “But this one really is a mess. I think I’m gonna freak.” The song escalates as Candela’s frustration with Pepa never picking up the phone transfers to a memory of their friendship: “I know you say I’m an alarmist, but I’m not/Remember there’s that time I thought I saw a spider/But you said “nah, it’s a raisin,’ but it suddenly started moving and it crawled over and bit me on my toe/So if you’re gonna stand and judge me that’s how much you know/It’s a good thing I didn’t eat it.” The song is hysterically funny, revealing Candela’s mild paranoia about picking the wrong kinds of men and her need for her best friend, an underlying love story buried in the comedy of her predicament.