Tag Archives: Broadway

Since the World Changed…

IMG-2136.jpgThey closed the Golden Theatre on West 45th Street on Thursday 12th March, most of Broadway and off-Broadway following within a few hours. On Friday March 20th Hangmen was closed officially.

All that seems like a whole different long-time-ago time now. But then that’s what two weeks (today) of self-isolation can do for you.

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Actors are no strangers to being chucked out of work and sometimes suddenly too. But even the most seasoned of us has never been through this. Well that’s not quite true. As I mentioned in my previous post they closed the theatres down at the end of the 16th and in the early 17th centuries due to outbreaks of plague. And stories abound of touring companies being abandoned in far-flung parts because the manager absconded with the takings. That was in the bad old days before there was Equity, the actors’ union.

That’s me and Pete Bradbury up there in the top right. Below is a picture of me ready to step in to the role of Harry Wade, one of the Hangmen of the title. Posted here by kind permission of the production ‘cos sadly, although the chances were slim of you actually seeing me in the part, now the chances are zero.

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We were getting into top gear, both working on Broadway shows, my wife Trish in the acclaimed To Kill a Mockingbird – which had recently played to 18,000 high school kids in a sensational free performance at Madison Square Garden – and me in one that on paper at least had all the hit ingredients. This virus thing is more than inconvenient. Just saying.

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That’s Patricia Conolly with a dressing room selfie of Mrs Dubose.

So what’s to be done in this in-between moment? Well you can always read a great novel (or write one). The only Tolstoy novel I’ve read is Resurrection, so yes, maybe I will have a go at War and Peace… Or Moby Dick… or one of the longer Dickens…  The watercolors, the jig-saws, that coverlet you’ve always meant to crochet…

Talking of literature, P G Wodehouse can always be relied on for an amusing turn of phrase. Earlier today I came across this for example, “He uttered a sharp exclamation and gave a bound which, had he been a Russian dancer, would probably have caused the management to raise his salary.”

It may not look like much out of context and perhaps you had to be there, but it caused a lot of mirth in the Conolly/McPhillamy household to the extent that tense shoulders began to loosen and worry lines gave way to the creases of laughing smiles.

It does seem though that whatever you do, it really, really, REALLY is better not to go outside (except when deploying the newly minted social distancing for those essential journeys). So much so that this amusing little ballad – stop me if you’ve heard it before – seems now to be the summation of all wisdom currently available. (some vulgar language; viewer discretion advised).

I expect by now you’ve heard this one. But I’ll tell you again anyway…

Tweet: When Shakespeare was quarantined because of the plague he wrote King Lear.

Answering Tweet: I don’t need that kind of pressure.

Tweet: And he did it without toilet paper.

Talking of Nostradamus. It seems unlikely that I’ll be doing any acting anytime soon, so now’s the time to focus on my side hustle – yes, that right ASTROLOGY. You can see my astrological two cents worth here, or check out the rest of the site at http://www.GalacticFragment.com, and if you’re interested, and I fully acknowledge that astro is not to everyone’s liking – sidebar here: at one time I was on a quest to have a sensible conversation with a scientist about why astrology works. I didn’t pursue this very far because the few scientists I met would start edging towards the door as soon as I mentioned the art of celestial interpretation. I never even got as far as asking them about the implications of the recently discovered sub-atomic particle, the neutrino.

Be that as it might, for the duration of the lock-down I’m offering a chart reading at the deeply discounted price of… pay-what-you-wish. If you’re interested email me at Colin@galacticfragment.com. Something different perhaps? After all, there’s only so much Netflix you can watch…

I hope you’re ok and that you have good supplies of rice, beans, and tinned fish – oh and loo roll!

Even this shall pass away!

 

In 1593…

In the 1590s they closed the theatres in London because there were outbreaks of plague. The longest period of closure was from February 1593 for about a year when Philip Henslowe (you saw his character in Shakespeare in Love, played by Geoffrey Rush) was made to close the Rose Theatre.

Theatre people are not strangers to sudden changes in the continuity of work, and yesterday as I’m sure everyone knows by now, all Broadway theatres were ordered closed on the authority of the New York State governor, Andrew Cuomo.

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Me on hearing the news

The Broadway community of actors, musicians and other performers, technicians, stage mangers, front-of-house staff, box office, stage door, cleaners; as well as agents, lawyers, designers, directors, choreographers, general managers, producers, publicists, critics, and others; as well as all the local auxiliary businesses – bars, restaurants – physical therapists … it amounts to several hundred thousand people in our immediate community, and of course the ripples will go far beyond that.

And what about the patrons from far and wide and all the $$$ they bring?

So; the usual personal question when a gig comes to a scheduled end, “Will I ever work again?”, when the hiatus – (no one has said it’s the end yet), comes as a shock, although somewhat expected, the question now becomes one for the global collective, “WTF IS GOING ON?!?”

Having said that: Hangmen was in previews, and performances of this truly fascinating play were going brilliantly. Let’s hope we can bounce back. Watch this space for updates.

Learning the Ropes

Broadway in New York City snakes through midtown like an uncoiled length tossed casually across a grid. It creates wedges: one at the Flatiron building on 23rd Street, and another at Times Square at 42nd Street the one-time-and-forever centre of the known entertainment universe.

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In these “interesting times” where we live, now and then I get an intuitive confirmation of the impressive prescience of certain twentieth century novelists; my latest was olfactory. Aldous Huxley gave us Brave New World – he sure was right about genetic engineering – but do you remember the scene in the book where there is a public protest? The authorities rock up and instead of laying about the populus with strong arms as in cruder locales, they merely pump “soma”, the happy gas, into the vicinity. And while they are doing it they play a soothing voice-over.

“Friends… friends… friends” croons the voice in a tone at once loving and mildly, fraternally, disappointed by the disharmony. The public is soon quieted. Today in real-world Manhattan the streets of midtown are filled with the sickly-sweet skunk-imitator scent of cannabis leaves burning quietly, and undoubtedly to some of us it brings a welcome oblivion.

Orwell was another one. He had it right too, the Big Brothers who presently rule territories East and West are watching you, and some are more equal than others, while the telescreen is the Colosseum, and the public mind marches toward total biddability as Fact, Ethics and Truth are lost in the oubliette of Opinion and the soothing-stimulating somatic-discourse that calls itself “News”. Plato was right after all (when a society seeks the Good above the True – it’s over) and it’s only taken a couple of thousand years to prove it.

By the way, George Orwell wrote an at-close-quarters account of a hanging that happened in Burma (Myanmar) when he was a civil servant there. He was struck by how the condemned man side-stepped a puddle on the way to the gallows.

Along the side streets of midtown there are theatres. They cling to Broadway like barnacles on a submarine cable and claim its name. From them you may purchase entertainment.

Is there a difference between entertainment and art?

“Our job,” says a senior advertising executive to a colleague in the 1980s TV dramady Thirtysomething, “is to give people faith in their leaders, comfort in the purchase of consumer durables and security in the belief that there is absolutely nothing wrong.”

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Last week I joined the company of Hangmen by Martin McDonagh. I stand by for Mark Addy, an actor of extraordinary calibre and absolutely outstanding in the role of Harry. The show previews Feb 28th, opens March 19th.

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And if you do see it, will it give you any somatic relief from the chafing-on-the-nerves challenge of being alive in these “interesting times”?

I doubt it.

The author, Martin McDonagh, is on record as saying he had no intention for a play-of-message as he wrote it. Even so, the show is confronting. It’s very funny. State-sanctioned murderous use of hempen weave – what could be funnier? But if you laugh, soon after you are likely to think “What kind of person laughs at this?!?

I’ll call that art.

Nicely Busy

That young actress Patricia Conolly is back on Broadway, she gave her first performance as Mrs Debose yesterday in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD with the new cast at the Shubert Theatre with Ed Harris now playing Atticus Finch. Tickets are available at mind-numbing Broadway rates.

I haven’t seen the show yet, but judging by the audience response as I heard the last few lines of the play from the stage door, it sounds as if the price of admission might be justified. Understand that I say this as one whose first theatre-going set me back about 30 pence (50 cents), not the mortgage it takes today.

Meanwhile, in another part of the forest, or as we say here in NYC, Off-Broadway, I am rehearsing LONDON ASSURANCE at The Irish Rep. I’m playing Sir Harcourt Courtly a character descended from a long line of fops. There’s a puff piece here where you’ll also see a picture of the wonderful Rachel Pickup playing the unforgettably-named, Lady Gay Spanker.

That’s Simon Russell Beale in the 2010 National Theatre production.

Sir Harcourt Courtly has been personated by such giants of the stage as Donald Sinden in the legendary 1970, West End and Broadway production, and Brian Bedford 1997, Broadway and Stratford Ontario 2006.

I worked with Brian Bedford twice. He was a master at light comedy. One time I backed him into a corner and asked him to tell me his secrets, “Brian!” I said, “How do you do it!?! I have to know!” Brian gave it a little thought in that slightly puzzled quizzical manner which was one of his comic modes and finally said, modestly, “Well I don’t really know.” He did know of course, but in common with others of unusual ability, he knew it wasn’t a thing to be discussed. Why? Because that’s not what it’s for. And nothing lets the steam out of the bottle before the soufflé rises so surely as casual talk – so I had to be satisfied by just watching him. Which I did. But if Brian wishes to whisper any tips to me now that he’s playing the great stages in the sky, he’s more than welcome.

Tix at the Rep will set you back a manageable amount and they are available here. It’s a holiday show. We open December and play through January and I hear there’s a nice advance, so please book soon if you plan to come.

A big shout out to two colleagues of Irish Rep fame, Mick Mellamphy and Tim Ruddy, two of the lads who were also in THE SEAFARER with me, Andy Murray and Matthew Broderick at The Rep a couple of years back.

Matthew Broderick and Andy Murray in The Seafarer at the Irish Rep 2017

Mick performs and Tim directs THE CURE, tix here, and for the price of a couple of pints. It’s bare bones, storytelling magic at its best. Mick turns in a virtuoso performance with nothing much behind him in terms of set. Doesn’t matter, not needed.

He takes you to Cork and back.

A Prince Among Men

They will dim the lights on Broadway in honor of the passing of Hal Prince. Mr. Prince’s many achievements and his collection of honors will be well documented in many publications, and there will be tributes of all kinds in all media, to which I add my own small and oblique one here.

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I never met Mr. Prince, but I knew him to be an extraordinary man of theatre, outstanding in his courtesy. I’ll tell you why.

Because he wrote back to me.

No fewer than three times.

Each time by return of post.

When I arrived in New York in 1999, I put up a one-man show in an off-off-Broadway space in the upper 50s on 8th Avenue.

Naturally I sent mailing pieces to as many industry professionals as I could find addresses for, while developing a monologue with which I hustled the discount seekers in Times Square in the manner of one of the too-many performers at the Edinburgh Festival. An excerpt would be:

“Nicole Kidman naked live onstage! – Not in this show, but it’s a matter of global importance that you see it tonight!”

Among the many postage stamps in which I invested, one was fixed to a postcard addressed to Mr. Prince whom I knew by reputation of course. He knew me not at all, not enough to distinguish me from a bar of soap.

Hal Prince wrote a personal card back. By return of post. Let me say that again.

By return of post.

He regretted not being able to see the show and he wished me well with it. This exercise was repeated three times. Each time, I confidently expected that he would file my postcards in the bin and ignore them. But no, each time a personal hand-written message came back with a polite regret and an explanation of his other commitments.

It’s difficult to convey how extraordinary this is. And what an outstanding example of good manners way beyond usual practice in theatre circles. For example:

When I graduated from the Central School in Britain some time back in the last millennium I wrote to each of the 120 repertory theatres in the country (of which about 30 remain). I filed their word-processed rote-replies under F.O.A.D.

I wrote to the head of casting at the RSC once a week for two years, eventually I was granted a general interview (not an audition, that never came), where the opening gambit was, “Now, have you written to me?”

How to describe this astonishing attention to detail from a man well known to be a workaholic and one of the giants of the business? And which, by the way was hugely encouraging to a struggling actor trying to come to notice.

I think the phrase I want is: noblesse oblige

STOP PRESS!

April 1st 2019 — mcphillamy actorblog still ABSOLUTELY FREE!!!

INK will tour to MARS

Solar system debut now confirmed!

 “Terrestrial culture important on inner planets,” says congressperson in funding debate.

Aliens give hour-long standing ovation! Win a one-way ticket to Jupiter! Your postcard from Mercury — no-risk delivery ABSOLUTELY FREE!!! 

Plus: Special feature how to date a Venusian (and live)!

Catch INK while still local!!!

1st Preview tomorrow 04/02/19 Friedman Theatre West 47th St, NYC, USA, EARTH.

 And Much Much More! All in INK! 1St preview tomorrow!!!

Breaking Cover

The Manhattan Theatre Club production of INK by James Graham directed by Rupert Goold starts previews on April 2nd and opens on Broadway at the Friedman Theatre on West 47th Street on April 24th 2019. It is a brilliant play which tells a story of the young Rupert Murdoch. I am contracted to be in it.

By which I mean actually going onstage on a nightly basis and saying words aloud while at the same time moving to and fro and generally replicating human behavior, a practice known in some circles as acting.

Michael Caine covered Peter O Toole

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It will be a contrast to my last five months occupation where I was employed to catch up on my correspondence, work on my Sanskrit calligraphy, and paint my toenails. None of which I actually managed to accomplish. And all this while maintaining total readiness in full crouch position to leap in at any moment for one of three principal actors.

I understudied on The Ferryman on Broadway for 20 weeks. And I did actually go on as Father Horrigan. It was long odds to be honest, The actors I was covering were all robust character men. And here I observe that among actors of a certain generation the work-ethic tends to the formidable. These are men and women who scorn to be defeated by flu, fleas or food poisoning. My three runners; the friendly and ebullient Mark Lambert, the gigantic, sensitive Justin Edwards, and the splendid and splendidly robust Charles Dale, all with a long history of never or very seldom being off, were coming in at odds of about 100-to-8-against in a strong field. Picture my surprise then when Charlie was suddenly indisposed. But then, absence was more than usually rife over this New York winter season, see below.

The original Broadway cast disbanded on the 17th of February, most of them returning home across the Atlantic. A few are staying on, and a new company began performances on the 19th. I watched the final performance given by the first company. Mostly during the course of a run, performances hit a par, in this case an excellently high one, but last nights sometimes create an extra intensity. As was the case on that final Sunday matinee. It was an outstanding rendition of an already outstanding performance.

Sir John Gielgud stood by for Noel Coward

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A word about this understudying business …

Understudying, also known by the more delicate term of “covering” — which sounds like something out of stud farming — or the even more delicate term of “standing by” – which sounds like something to do with an airline on a bad day, is one of the more demanding yet least understood jobs in all theatre. To be done well it requires a very specific skill set. A deep personal reserve of flexibility, patience and nervous energy. It does also help if you can act.

Times are changing: in my earlier youth back in London, taking an understudy job was seen as the last resort of the desperate actor, and such was the anonymity of the position that many times there was no listing or credit in the playbill. Nowadays, the enormous over-supply of acting talent, the fierce competition for a job, any job — this, coupled with the trickle-down casting of recent years — and plus the fact that Broadway, even in its minimum salaries and almost uniquely among stage-acting markets, pays something approaching a living wage — all this combined, means that the status of any Broadway involvement is high.

Even so, few actors undertake such a gig as a first choice, but in 40 years of acting (nearly), (nearly) all the actors so engaged that I have known, have been exemplary in their diligence and professionalism. Here I salute my colleagues of the 5th floor at The Bernard Jacobs Theatre, (full billing here in alphabetical order: Glynis Bell, Peter Bradbury, Trevor Harrison Braun, Gina Costigan, Holly Gould, Griffin Osborne, and the kids, Will Coombs, Carly Gold and Bella May Mordus, also mentioning the two principals who also covered a role: Dean Ashton and Glenn Speers), each of us having multiple opportunities to prove our dollar worth (and also saluted for it in a generous post on social media by Mr. Judd Apatow, who happened to attend when no fewer than 5 people were on).

It is an irony worth noting that one of the least visible occupations in theatre should also be one of the most valuable. In the initial 20 week Broadway run of The Ferryman there were 47 performances when one of the principals was off. Due to everyone doing their job, loss of revenue to the tune of more than $4million in ticket sales was prevented.

It doesn’t always happen that way, sometimes no one is off in the course of a run. But in this case the insurance which a management is obliged to purchase in the form of actors learning lines and moves which they may never perform, yielded a near-tenfold return on investment. And where else can you get that sort of dosh these days?

This season of Broadway theatre fields at least two outstanding transfers from the West End, originating at The Royal Court and the Almeida theatres in London. I am lucky enough to have been involved with both of them, in the first as cover for three roles, in the next actually playing three roles — is the juice fasting having the desired effect, I ask myself? (See recent previous posts).

As it stands I am contracted to return briefly to The Ferryman to stand-by for the role of Tom Kettle for just one week — Tom is the gentle giant in the play, given prose to speak of heart-breaking sensitivity. This involvement with the new company of The Ferryman is an overlap while rehearsing INK, and after protracted and formidably expensive negotiations (not really, they asked and I said… “Yes”), the managements of both plays have agreed to allow me to be on call in both productions for the week in question.

Albert Finney was a substitute for Sir Laurence Olivier

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In an uncertain profession the prime feature of cover jobs is the uncertainty. Sometimes there is notice of when one will be called upon, as when a principal actor has a vacation booked, or has negotiated a release so as to go and make a film; and sometimes there is zero notice, or less. By which I mean an understudy can be called to take over a role in the middle of a performance – Jeremy Northam famously taking over from Daniel Day Lewis in Act Two of Hamlet at the National Theatre in London, for example.

Perhaps this is why one should never count the geese, the rabbits, or the apples, until the INK upon the deal is dry. See here