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Stage Notes Connecticut Theater News & Reviews

O’Neill Center Preparing For ‘Superhero’; CT Critics Nominations Are In

The Tony Awards air 8 p.m. June 11 on CBS. As we've noted numerous times over the past weeks and months, this past Broadway season was loaded with shows that got their start in (or a healthy nudge forward from) Connecticut theaters. That includes "Anastasia," "Indecent," "Holiday Inn," "Falsettos" and "Come From Away." Then there are the nominated writers and stars who've lived in, or worked extensively in, our fair state: Arthur Miller, August Wilson, Justin Paul, Paula Vogel, Patti Lupone …

The regional theater movement and Broadway are bonded at the hip. There's lots to celebrate. Among the watching parties around the state is a gala at Playhouse on Park in West Hartford, hosted by local actors Zak West and Brian Ziemann. (Details on that shindig are at 860-523-5900, playhouseonpark.org).

Who do I hope wins? Well, if winning a Tony means a longer run (or perhaps even a tour) for shows that might otherwise close a whole lot earlier, then I want "A Doll's House Part 2," "Indecent," "Anastasia," "Come From Away," "Groundhog Day," "Oslo," "Sweat" and "The Little Foxes" to do very well.

Kevin Spacey hosts the ceremony. Details at tonyawards.com.

Who's Singing?

The musical-in-progress "Superhero" already has an impressive creative team: playwright John Logan ("Red") and composer/lyricist Tom Kitt ("Next to Normal"). The show's first public appearance — a staged reading at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center's National Music Theater Conference July 8-14 — also now has a big star attached: Kelli O'Hara, who won a Tony Award for "The King and I" in 2015 and was nominated for her roles in "The Light in the Piazza," "The Pajama Game," "South Pacific," "Nice Work If You Can Get It" and The Bridges of Madison County."

The O'Neill describes "Superhero" as "the story of Charlotte and her teenage son Simon. They have been struggling with grief, and each other, since the death of Charlotte's husband and Simon's father a year before. Through their unlikely friendship with a mysterious man in their building, Jim, they move toward reconciliation and renewed hope." Also in the cast: Erik Altemus, Phoenix Best, Kasie Gasparini, Francisco Gonzalez, Danielle Lee Greaves, John Herrera, Kyle McArthur, Mary Mattison, Dimitri Moise and James Snyder.

The O'Neill released the casts for the other two musicals they're hosting this summer as well. "Home Street Home," by punk/porn power couple Fat Mike and Soma Snakeoil, plus Jeff Marx of "Avenue Q" and lyricist David Goldsmith (June 24-30), has been cast with Lisa Brescia, Brandon Espinoza, Mitchell Jarvis, Tyler Jent, Billy Lewis Jr., Mary Kate Morrissey, Ryan O'Connor, MJ Rodriguez, Allie Trimm, Akron Watson and Chelsea Zeno. "Home Street Home" has a punk rock edge and is about life on the streets, but the actors all have healthy New York theater or cabaret backgrounds.

The hip hop opus "iLLA!" by Ronvé O'Daniel and Jevares C. Myrick (July 1-7), is described as "a journey of struggle, swagger and search for self." It will feature Andrew Bancroft, Kyle Carter, Jamal Crowelle, Marva Hicks, Avionce Hoyles, Emily Koch, Stephen Michael Langton, Kingsley Leggs, Bianca Madison, Michael Stiggers, Nyseli Vega, George Vickers, Naomi Walley, Jalise Wilson and Perry Young.

Tickets for all the readings, and further info, can be found at 860-443-1238, theoneill.org.

Full Circle

The Connecticut Critics Circle has issued a list of nominations for its annual awards. Top contenders are TheaterWorks' "Next to Normal," with 10 noms and Westport Playhouse's "The Invisible Hand" with seven. There are 18 different categories; a complete list can be found at ctcritics.org. Some of the more intriguing nominations went to shows that, at least from my vantage point, seemed to polarize audiences, including "The Comedy of Errors" at Hartford Stage (six nominations) and "Meteor Shower" at Long Wharf (nominated for Director and Ensemble).

The awards ceremony is 7:30 pm. June 26 at Sacred Heart University's Edgerton Center for the Performing Arts. Besides the competitive awards, special honors are being bestowed on Paulette Haupt (founder of the O'Neill Center's National Music Theater Conference), James Lecesne ("The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey") and actor Paxton Whitehead (currently appearing in "Lettice and Lovage" at Westport Playhouse).

The CCC seems to define the season as fall through spring, even for theaters like Westport or the Ivoryton Playhouse that follow a calendar-year model. So "Bye Bye Birdie," from the 2016 Goodspeed season has some nominations, but so does "Thoroughly Modern Millie" from the season just begun. Things to quibble about in the lobby.

(By the way … I am not, nor have ever been, a member of Connecticut Critics Circle. I don't say that to sound churlish, but since I am a critic in Connecticut and presumptions could be made, I feel like I should point that out.)

All The Newsies That's Fit to Print

Connecticut Repertory Theatre has announced the cast of "Newsies," which concludes the Rep's three-show Nutmeg Summer Series season July 6-16. The show, directed and choreographed by Christopher D'Amboise, will feature several familiar faces from CT Rep and elsewhere. Tina Fabrique, who did "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" for the Nutmeg Summer Series last year, will be the vaudeville diva Medda Larkin.

Richard R. Henry, who played Ben Franklin in the Nutmeg Series 2017 season-opening "1776" this month (and Samuel Byck in "Assassins" at Yale Rep earlier this year), will play newspaper magnate Joseph Pulitzer. Tyler Jones, fresh from "The Most Beautiful Room in New York" at Long Wharf, is Crutchie. "Newsies" stars Jim Schubin as Jack Kelly, with Paige Smith ("1776"'s Martha Jefferson) as his love interest, reporter Katherine Plumber. Kalob Martinez (who was in "Peter and the Starcatcher" in the Nutmeg Series last year, and was also in "The Comedy of Errors" at Hartford Stage) is the vile warden Snyder. Details at 860-486-2113, crt.uconn.edu.

Todd the Vampire

You may know Tony Todd as the Hartford-raised actor who recently returned to the city to star in "Sunset Baby" at TheaterWorks. In other realms, he's known as the star of such high-quality horror films as "Candyman," the 1990 remake of "Night of the Living Dead," "Final Destination" (all five of 'em), "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," "Vampire in Vegas" and Bernard Rose's 2015 reimagining of "Frankenstein." Todd's got "The Witching Hour," "West of Hell," "Death House" and "Zombies" all coming out this year.

Last month, Cadabra Records released a collectible vinyl LP of Tony Todd starring as "Dracula" in a new 30-minute audio production of the Bram Stoker classic. The story has been adapted by Anthony D.P. Mann, who also co-stars as Dr. Van Helsing. According to a press release, "the limited first pressing of 'Dracula' is delivered on 150-gram vinyl in a run of 500 copies, with 160 on red and black swirl, 40 in hand-dipped blood splatter, and 300 on grey marble."

I've heard this "Dracula," and it's gripping. The production is awash with creepy sound effects and suspenseful pauses. But its finest effect is Tony Todd's deep, raspy voice. He sounds like he's just gargled in blood. Details at cadabrarecords.com

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