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Mary Beth Peil Joins Hartford Stage Actors Returning to 'Anastasia' For Broadway

When it was announced a few months ago that the musical "Anastasia" would open on Broadway in the spring 2017, it was noted that four of the show's stars would be the same actors who appeared at Hartford Stage when "Anastasia" premiered there in the spring 2016. To the returning roster of Christy Altomare (Anastasia), Klena Dimitry (Derek), John Bolton (Vlad) and Caroline O'Connor (Lily) we can now add Mary Beth Peil, reprising her role as Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna. Peil is currently on Broadway in the revival of Christopher Hampton's "Les Liaisons Dangereuses."

One key player from Hartford who won't be returning to "Anastasia" is Manoel Felciano, who played the Bolshevik General Gleb Vaganov. The role — original to the stage version, and not found in the 1997 animated film on which "Anastasia The New Musical" is partly based — will be played on Broadway by Ramin Karimloo, who starred in "Phantom of the Opera" and "Les Mis" in London's West End. Details at anastasiabroadway.com.

Arts & Ideas Impacts The Economy

For the entire 21-year history of The International Festival of Arts & Ideas, it has been the subject of an annual economic impact study conducted by Quinnipiac University. In fact, Dr. Mark Paul Gius at the university's School of Business has conducted the study through the years.

This past summer's Arts & Ideas festival, which ran from June 10-25, had an economic impact of $15.4 million, the study says. That's 23 percent higher than last year, despite a similar attendance figure of 100,000 people. Visitors apparently spent an average of $140.43 each while they were in New Haven. Just over 46 percent of festivalgoers were from New Haven, 40.2 percent were from other parts of Connecticut and 13.1 percent were from out of state — not just nearby states but Florida, California and elsewhere.

According to a press release, "Economic impact was determined by analyzing attendance figures and reported visitor behavior with an in-depth survey of Festival attendees, along with analysis of attendance figures and ticket sales."

In a phone chat last week, Mary Lou Aleskie, the festival's executive director for the past 11 years says the Arts & Ideas' reputation has grown to the point where "we're able to build relationships with artists at the top of their game. We're identified as a place to see important new work."

Aleskie declares that the festival is "the top Humanities funder for the state." She has ample proof that Arts & Ideas is generating (directly and indirectly) several times the amount of money it costs to put it on. The festival budget this year was $3.25 million. Having so many tourists, artists and festival staffers in the city brought in an estimated million dollars just in sales taxes.

Arts & Ideas is a "great investment," Aleskie argues.

Just As Dirty

Last week, the national tour of "Dirty Dancing — The Classic Story on Stage" made its second of three scheduled appearances in Connecticut within a year. The show (based of course on the Jennifer Grey/Patrick Swayze Catskills coming-of-age flick) was at The Bushnell in May, is coming to New Haven's Shubert this April and just played the Palace in Waterbury Oct. 7-9. Such ubiquity is unheard of these days for a production of this size, especially one that has yet to be on Broadway. But the garish pop musical seems to attract reliably large and enthusiastic audiences. At the Palace's Friday night performance there were whoops of glee when the Johnny Castle character (played by Christopher Tierney, who also played Johnny at The Bushnell) removed his shirt for "Baby."

There have been some significant cast changes since the Hartford visit — a different Baby and Dr. Houseman, for starters — but some of the key supporting characters were the same at the Palace as at The Bushnell, including the male vocalist Jordan Edwin André, who sings "I've Had the Time of My Life" so that the madly dancing lead performers don't have to. One of the distinctions of "Dirty Dancing — The Classic Story on Stage" is that the lead characters don't sing; the score of classic pop songs is handled by an onstage band, designated singers in the cast and some of the chorus members. Lavish projection screens are used for purposely tacky recreations of the movie's outdoor scenes. Beloved lines from the script ("I carried a watermelon") are played as big as possible. "Dirty Dancing" earns kudos for creative problem solving — and also for not taking itself too seriously.

Steering Westport

A few details have been added to the recently announced Westport Country Playhouse 2017 season, namely who's directing which plays. Mark Lamos will helm both the season-opening production of Peter Shaffer's "Lettice and Lovage" May 30-June 17 and the season-closing "Romeo and Juliet" Oct. 31-Nov. 19, 2017. Liz Diamond, who chairs the directing department at the Yale School of Drama and whose own directorial triumphs at the Yale Repertory Theatre include Brecht's "Saint Joan of the Stockyards" and "The Caucasian Chalk Circle" and Suzan-Lori Parks' "The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World" and "The America Play," is directing George Brant's drama of a female fighter pilot, "Grounded," July 11-29. WCP Associate Artistic Director David Kennedy's taking on Branden Jacobs-Jenkins' family drama "Appropriate" Aug. 15 through Sept. 2. (You can see a whole other production of "Appropriate" this month at Trinity Rep in Providence, R.I., directed by Brian Mertes.) The only show without a director attached yet is Laura Eason's lusty literary hook-up "Sex With Strangers," Sept. 26 through Oct. 14, 2017.

The last show of current Westport Country Playhouse season, "Camelot," opened last week and has just had its scheduled run extended through Nov. 5. Details at 203-227-4177, westportplayhouse.org.

Lin-Manuel Miranda Update

In recent weeks, the Wesleyan grad and "Hamilton" hitmaker crooned a chorus of "Yoda" onstage at a "Weird Al" Yankovic concert in New York City, appeared on the covers of GQ and Variety, helped promote the Oct. 19 opening night of the Chicago company of "Hamilton" with a fundraiser for the Gilda Lehrman Institute of American History, took part in a Hamilton-themed all-star, bipartisan video urging folks to vote in the presidential election Nov. 8, and appeared at a New York Film Festival screening of "Hamilton's America." That new documentary, directed by Alex Horwitz, will air Oct. 21 on PBS' "Great Performances."

Miranda also hosted the Oct. 8 episode of "Saturday Night Live," rapping a parody of the "Hamilton" soliloquy song "My Shot" during his opening monologue. The show was full of theater-themed sketches. Miranda played a substitute teacher who declared, to bemused students who'd heard it all before, that Shakespeare was "the greatest rapper of all time." He appeared in a bizarre music video ("'Crucible' Cast Party") that deftly lampooned high school theater culture. And he assumed the Harold Hill role in a "Music Man" take-off about how the "Wells Fargo Wagon" defrauds its bank clients with phony accounts. When SNL stalwart Kenan Thompson begins to chant "Trouble, trouble, trouble" in the sketch, Miranda's Hill smacks him across the face.

Five More Years!

James Bundy has been named to his fourth term as dean of the Yale School of Drama and artistic director of the Yale Repertory Theatre. In the 50-year history of the Yale Rep, none of the other three artistic drectors served for more than two terms. Under Bundy, the School of Drama has given unprecedented support to new works by American playwrights. The Carlotta Festival was created in 2005 to stage full productions of full-length works by students in the playwriting program, and the Binger Center for New Theatre (founded in 2008), which has commissioned and produced over 50 new plays. (Sarah Ruhl's "Scenes From Court Life" is one of three Binger-backed premieres at the Rep this year.) Bundy began his theater career as an actor, and was a student at the Yale School of Drama himself, graduating from the directing program there in 1995. At the Rep, he's personally directed productions of "Death of a Salesman" (starring Charles Dutton), "Hamlet" (starring Paul Giamatti) and "Happy Days" (starring Dianne Wiest") among many others.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the year James Bundy graduated from the Yale School of Drama's directing program.

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