Friday, November 14, 2014

Board Spotlight: Sharon Karmazin

In John Patrick Shanley’s Outside Mullingar,  the character of Anthony Reilly says, “There’s the green fields, and the animals living off them.  And over that there’s us, living off the animals.  And over that there’s that which tends to us.”  At George Street Playhouse, that entity which watches over and guides us is our incredibly dedicated and generous Board of Trustees.
 One such Board member is Sharon Karmazin, who was first elected to our Board in 1994, and currently serves as Secretary.  She is an award-winning Broadway producer and former Director of the East Brunswick Public Library.   In 1996 she established the Karma Foundation, which supports the arts and culture, autism, education, literacy, health and human services, and the development and enrichment of Jewish life.  Besides George Street Playhouse, she serves on a number of boards that include the Rutgers University Board of Overseers as well as the Rutgers President’s Council Executive Committee. 

Ms. Karmazin took a few moments to chat with GSP’s Director of Marketing about her life as a Board member and Broadway producer – as well as mother and grandmother.

Besides your involvement with George Street, you are a notable Broadway producer as well.  What role has theatre played in your life?  Has it always been a part of it?  When were you first bit by the theatre bug?

“I've been hooked on theater since I saw the original King and I with Yul Bryner for my seventh birthday. My parents were modest people but they loved going to Broadway and often brought me. My dad loved music from shows so there were always 78s and later LPs of shows like South Pacific and Brigadoon playing in my childhood home. Seeing shows like The Diary of Anne Frank, The Music Man, Damn Yankees, Kismet, My Fair Lady and others was part of my growing up years. Looking back at my high school yearbook, my two aspirations were to be a U.S. senator or a theater critic. To this day, I always find some aspect to appreciate in a show, even if on the whole, the show isn't very good.”

How did you first become involved with George Street Playhouse?

“Adelaide Zagoren (a longtime friend of the Playhouse and Board member) was a friend, a role model and a mentor. She was the person who recruited me to the Board over 20 years ago.”

You have so many facets – you were a respected librarian in East Brunswick, an innovative philanthropist, member of a number of boards, including the Rutgers Board of Overseers, and most recently, The Actor's Fund as well as award-winning Broadway producer.   Is there one aspect that takes precedence over the others?

“What is so wonderful about my life day to day has been the opportunity to participate in all of these activities and more. It keeps me very busy with a group of diverse, yet overlapping interests. My most favorite time is the time I spend with my children, Dina and Craig, and my grandchildren, Hunter and Harper, and the time I spend with my partner Dave. We travel a lot and theater and art are often a part of what we do, both home and away. Then through my connections with theater, collecting studio glass, producing in New York and my volunteer and board activities, I have met wonderful like-minded people, learned so much and made many new friends.”

Scene Shop Branches Beyond The Stage

Deirdre O'Connell and John Bolger in Lips Together, Teeth Apart
photo by T. Charles Erickson, design by R. Michael Miller
Providing the perfect settings for our actors to do their best work is a hallmark of a George Street Playhouse production.  Actors and audiences alike are struck by the wonderful craftsmanship and the sheer beauty of our sets.

 I have been on staff at the Playhouse for over 14 years now, and two of the most memorable sets during my time here are the set for Talley’s Folly, the beautiful Victorian boathouse designed by Ted Simpson, and Lips Together, Teeth Apart, designed by R. Michael Miller, a long-time Rutgers faculty member and a frequent contributor to the beauty that sits on our stage. 

Michael’s set for Lips Together… was a Fire Island beach house, complete with running outdoor shower, beautiful bedrooms – and an in-ground pool!  We staff members were drawing lots to be able to spend the night, it was so beautiful.  Michael also designed the sets for the first two shows of our current season, taking us to the Midlands of Ireland in Outside Mullingar, to the middle-American basement of The Fabulous Lipitones.

What you may not know, is George Street Playhouse has a Theatrical Scene Shop where these wonders are created and built. Dozens of skilled artisans handcraft every detail of every set.  And their talents are not just confined to the George Street stage.  Our Shop has built sets for Paper Mill Playhouse and Hunter College, as well as the recent production of Joe DiPietro’s Clever Little Lies at the John Drew Theatre at Guild Hall.  Jim Youmans, who designed numerous Broadway sets and is a frequent designer at GSP, said, “they know how to deliver exceptional quality.” 

Our unique roster of creative designers, skilled artisans and project managers ensure that every detail of every build meets or exceeds expectations, developing solutions to fit any budget while delivering maximum impact.

Creating Perfect Harmony

A conversation with Steve Delehanty, music director/arranger for the George Street Playhouse production of ‘The Fabulous Lipitones’

In the musical comedy, TheFabulous Lipitones, the story revolves around a barbershop quartet that after 30 years of existence finally gets a shot at Nationals. However, they lose a key member of the group to a victoriousalbeit lethal”B flat” in the regional competition and wind up finding an unlikely replacement to carry on.

Michael Lichtefeld, Michael Mastro, Steve Delehanty
and John Markus during the first rehearsal of The Fabulous Lipitones
In reality, George Street Playhouse’s production of The Fabulous Lipitones, which runs from November 18 through December 14, stars Broadway veterans Donald Corren, Wally Dunn and Jim Walton, plus YouTube sensation Rohan Kymal. Immensely talented performers and singers, they only had a few weeks of rehearsals to sound like a barbershop quartet that’s been harmonizing for three decades.

That’s where Steve Delehanty comes in. Mr. Delehanty is music director/arranger for GSP’s production of The Fabulous Liptiones—a show he’s been involved with previously.  

One of Mr. Delehanty’s main objectives was to get the four actors to sound like a seasoned barbershop quartet. “They all have beautiful voices and can sing Broadway style, but barbershop focuses on blending the voices of the quartet.”

Two of the leads in the George Street Playhouse productionMr. Dunn and Mr. Kymal—have done Lipitones together before, so they are familiar with the material, each other and the style of singing required for the show.

Another key responsibility is working out the barbershop-style arrangements for the show, which features primarily songs in the public domain as well as a few original pieces written specifically for The Fabulous Lipitones.

While the public domain songs are rather straightforward, one challenging aspect as an arranger is giving the songs new life. “You still want to make the arrangements interesting,” said Mr. Delehanty. “You don’t want them sounding like they were just down singing at the bar.

“Another thing is that some of the public domain songs feature three-part arrangements,” he added. “That’s not barbershop. Barbershop is four parts, of course.”

Mr. Delehanty has been around music for most of his life. He took piano lessons in his youth and accompanied his college’s glee club.  “I did piano bar for 32 years and started ‘barbershopping’ in 1964--so I’ve been doing that for over 50 years now,” he said.

The Fabulous Lipitones - click for tickets and info
As a member of the Barbershop Harmony Society, Mr. Delehanty has honed his skills as an arranger over the years and is listed on the organization’s web site as a resource for barbershop groups looking for new arrangements of songs. In fact, when John Markus—who, along with Mark St. Germain, wrote The Fabulous Lipitones—was seeking an arranger for the show’s musical content, he called the Society and was referred to Mr. Delehanty.

“John called me and asked if I was interested,” said Mr. Delehanty. “He had talked to someone at the Society who told him, ‘Get Steve.’”

Mr. Delehanty said George Street Playhouse audiences should expect to hear typical “zippy” barbershop-style songs.

“It should be exciting,” he says. “Ifand I know that it will happenthe quartet is really, really good, that itself will be pleasing to the audience because a good barbershop quartet is really entertaining.”

Friday, October 31, 2014

GSP's Educational Touring Theatre, Brittany Sambogna in the Spotlight

Brittany Sambogna as Dee Dee in IRL

Brittany Sambogna, a member of George Street Playhouse's Educational Touring Theatre company, is profiled in this week’s issue of the Pascack Valley Community Life newspaper.

Sambogna, of Westwood, N.J., is a 2008 graduate of Westwood High School. She is one of four actors in the company who, along with a stage manager, travel to many schools throughout New Jersey to perform four issue-oriented productions that are seen by more than 40,000 students during the academic year.

A recent graduate of Montclair State University with a BFA in acting and a minor in musical theater, Sambogna’s previous credits include Stella in A Streetcar Named Desire and Insula – both of which earned her American College Theater Festival nominations. Other roles include Winnifred in Once Upon a Mattress, Kate in Kiss Me Kate, and Sonia in Godspell.

Pascack Valley Community Life/ For Westwood actress, social issues are her stage

The Educational Touring Theatre is the centerpiece of George Street Playhouse's educational programming. The program commissions and produces first-class productions with relevant themes for young audiences, such as respect, cyber-bullying, conflict resolution, health and wellness, climate change and empathy. These plays are performed at schools with a four-person cast and stage manager, and are followed by a post-play discussion providing excellent starting points for engaging classroom conversations that can be used to fulfill New Jersey Common Core State Standards.

Under the leadership of Artistic Director David Saint, George Street Playhouse has become a nationally recognized theatre, providing an artistic home for established and emerging theatre artists. Kelly Ryman was appointed Managing Director in 2013. Founded in 1974, the Playhouse has been well represented by numerous productions both on and off-Broadway – including the Outer Critics’ Circle Best Musical Award-winning The Toxic Avenger; the Outer Critics Circle, Drama Desk and Drama League-nominated The Spitfire Grill; David Auburn’s Tony® and Pulitzer Prize-winning Proof, which was developed at GSP during a two-week workshop in 1999; and It Shoulda Been You, directed by David Hyde Pierce and starring Tyne Daly, which opens on Broadway in spring 2015 after a 2011 debut at GSP.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

GSP's Hit Musical Heads to Broadway for Spring 2015

It Shoulda Been You
Left to right: Richard Kline, Tyne Daly, Harriet Harris and Howard McGillin star in George Street Playhouse’s 2011 production of It Shoulda Been You. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

George Street Playhouse is thrilled to share the official news that our 2011 production of It Shoulda Been You will open on Broadway in the spring of 2015

Previews for the musical comedy, which drew sold-out crowds in New Brunswick and is the highest grossing show in George Street Playhouse history, will begin at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre on March 17, 2015. The play will officially open April 14.

Tony Award winners Tyne Daly and Harriet Harris, along with Lisa Howard and Edward Hibbert will reprise their roles. David Hyde Pierce will once again direct, and the production will also include the same design team. 

With book and lyrics by Brian Hargrove, It Shoulda Been You features music by Barbara Anselmi, who came up with the concept for the show, and additional lyrics by Jill Abramovitz, Carla Rose Fisher, Michael Cooper, Ernie Lijoi and Will Randall.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Forty Years of George Street

A Completely Original Musical in Four Weeks

The day begins at 9 a.m.

Twenty-five students begin warming up their bodies, voices, and imaginations by playing theatre games like Tree Chop. One student raises his arms up, making himself tall like a tree, while letting out a guttural “hah.” Two students on either side of him echo the sound while making a chopping motion. This action is repeated as it is passed across and around the circle. It’s simple, fast-paced and a lot of fun.

After these high-energy warm-ups, students dive headfirst into their work: creating, rehearsing, designing, and performing an original musical in only four weeks. This is the inherently ambitious and seemingly impossible task of Young M Company,
George Street Playhouse Summer Theatre Academy’s four-week class for teens.

Every year, this creation and development process begins with introducing studentsto source material, which serves as the springboard for their script. This year, they

are using poems from Shel Silverstein’s book of poetry, Where the Sidewalk Ends.Giant sheets of white paper line a wall of the rehearsal space. One sheet is titled“The Editing Room Floor” and it is covered in different colored sticky notes, each one an idea for an element of the play. Another sheet is focused on the process of musical theater creation, and it has three questions written on it: “How can music

help us tell this story?” “What are all the various ways we can use music?” and“What can music help us achieve that we couldn’t achieve otherwise?” The students have worked on their own, in small groups, and as an ensemble to turn the ideas they’ve generated into a foundational outline for their story.

Today, Milo, Eowyn, Diane, and Richard are on their feet, embodying characters and improvising actions and dialogue. This small group is expanding what was written earlier in the week into a cohesive scene. They stop only for a moment to write it all down and review what they have produced so far. Rachel and Kayla, two longtime Academy students, sit in the corner together poring over their work. Rachel is diligently writing and rewriting lyrics as Kayla plays her guitar, plucking her way to the perfect melody. Every few minutes you can hear them singing quietly together, trying out the new lyrics and finding harmonies. Everyone is devoting all of their energy to the telling of their original story: the tale of one girl, her notebook, and the

Just before they break for lunch, each small group presents what they have been working on to the ensemble. New characters and scenes are shared, and Rachel and Kayla introduce their song. The song is met with thunderous applause. There is an instant and collective understanding that it will be a highlight of the play. While the students know there will be much more to do after lunch, the room is buzzing with excitement. The play is finally taking shape.

Over the next few weeks, the new scenes will be staged, the songs will be fine tuned, and everything will be rehearsed. Students will also meet with the design team to discuss lighting, sets, costumes, and props. In one of the writing groups, students have been working on a scene involving a mythical creature. Eowyn is sure that this creature must to be a puppet, but what it looks like and how it operates is still under great debate. The design meetings will be the time to solve this problem. The entire process - creation, rehearsal, design, and performance - is founded in collaboration, compromise, and communication. These young artists not only learn to work and create together, but to support and respect one another, and build their greater
collective imagination.

On the last day of Summer Theatre Academy, family and friends stream into the theater to watch the culmination of the students’ hard work and dedication. The lights dim and a hush falls over the crowd as the ensemble anxiously waits backstage for their cue. The moment everyone has been working toward is here...
lights up on Girl With Epic Notebook.

posted by Christa Cillaroto, Manager of School Based Programs

Tony Nominated Play Opens 2014 Season

The first show of our season here at George Street Playhouse is a play about love. But this particular theatrical romance isn’t your typical love story.

John Patrick Shanley, who received a Tony Award nomination this past season for Outside Mullingar, is writer of the Oscar-winning screenplay for the romantic comedy Moonstruck, as well as the multi award-winning (including the Pulitzer Prize) Doubt, presented on the George Street stage seven years ago.

Reminiscent of Moonstruck, Shanley has provided us with a love story with punches of laughter and a healthy dose of Irish farm life, grit and mysticism instead of hearts and flowers. Artistic Director David Saint, explains why he chose to start the season with this not- so-sentimental story. “I like to begin the season with something very ‘up,’ whether it’s a big comedy or a musical or a love story.”

In addition to his trademark comedic techniques utilizing the humor of everyday life, Shanley goes back to his personal ethnic roots and employs mystical elements of folklore to further the unique quality of this modern day romance.

Saint elaborates - “He delves into the land of the mystical like many Irish poets or Irish writers… It is the element of the supernatural that has been a part of Irish culture for centuries. I was just knocked out by the combination of the wit and the lyricism and the fairytale quality to it and the notion that there is always hope for love in someone’s life.”

The pervasive feeling of Celtic mysticism and humble whimsy touches audiences on a fundamental level where our childlike wonder still resides, even if buried deeply.

“Any great story, like a great fairytale, is universal to all cultures,” Saint asserts. The story is not limited to a particular culture or location or even time period, “…it takes place anywhere where the imagination is ripe enough for a writer to concoct a tale.”

When you really think about it, isn’t every love story actually a fairly tale? The fact that two compatible people out of the estimated seven billion in this great wide world could find each other and fall in love is really quite magical. Outside Mullingar teaches all of us that there is hope that love can, and, most assuredly, will happen. “Keep your heart open to love at any age.” This is what Saint feels is the fundamental theme of the play. It’s never too late to fall in love. It’s a beautiful lesson of hope and perseverance for the sake of joy.

Continues Saint, “I think this play [makes] people leave the theatre feeling great about life and that is a great way to start the season”

Friday, January 24, 2014

Now or Never!

written by Charles Paolino, for Asbury Park Press

The name of the play is “Your Biggest Fan,” but it could be called “It’s Now or Never.’’

That’s because the playwrights – Winnie Holzman and her husband, Paul Dooley – began the comedy-drama in 1985 and finished it 25 years later when, as they put it, they literally had nothing else to do.

Now “Your Biggest Fan” is to have a run at the George Street Playhouse from Jan. 28 to Feb. 23 with the couple portraying all four of the characters they created.

The play concerns Frank Maxwell, who has played a doctor on a TV soap opera for decades and now believes that he is being written out of the show. Emily, his longtime girlfriend, reassuring him that he has a future, tries to make him answer fan mail he has been ignoring. One of the letters is from Heather, an overweight, socially isolated woman, who loves “Dr. Dan” but gets no love in her own life, not even from her irascible father, Edgar.

The story explores the unforeseeable impact these four lives have on each other.
This play emerged from an experience Dooley and Holzman had shortly before they married.
“I had a pile of fan mail,’’ Dooley recalled. “I’m not a soap opera star, so I had about 15 letters, but I had them for about six months. They were on my desk.

“She said, ‘Why don’t you throw those out?’ I said, ‘Well, they’re from fans.’ She said, ‘Why don’t you answer them?’ I said, ‘There’s no deadline.’ ’’

“It was like he couldn’t do either,’’ Holzman interjected. “He couldn’t throw them away, and he couldn’t answer them. I thought it was an interesting beginning for something.’’
They answered the mail together and found themselves making fun of some of the fans who were unintentionally amusing.

That found its way into the play, as Frank dismisses the folks who wrote to him.
This reaction, Dooley believes, is a symptom of self-loathing.

“He diminishes the people who wrote to him because he thinks, ‘Ahhh, they’re stupid. If they knew me, they’d hate me, like I do.’ … And the dichotomy is that actors go into it because they need love, and then, when they get too much of it, they ask themselves, ‘Am I really that good?’ ’’

And, Holzman added, “even though we’re writing about an actor, I maintain that it doesn’t have to do with an actor so much as what it’s like for anyone. Can you accept the love that’s being offered in your life? Can you really feel it, or is it something you don’t want to open, so to speak – a letter you don’t want to open.’’
So, motivated by a pile of mail and their dream of creating a play they could perform together, the couple began to write, but that’s all – they began.

“It was just a few pages,’’ Dooley said, “and it was on onion skin – with Wite-Out. That’s how long ago it was.’’

And then what?

“Well, let’s put it this way,’’ Holzman said. “When you’re married, and you’re not retired, a project that you’re doing together gets short shrift. Everything else becomes more important.’’
“Because,” Dooley added, “they’re paying you.”

Fast forward to October 2012. Holzman and Dooley, who live in Los Angeles, were in Manhattan when superstorm Sandy struck the city and they were stuck indoors.

“So there was this feeling,” Holzman said, “that … if we can’t work on it now, we’re never going to do this. … I recommend to anyone that if they’re having a problem getting a project done, being stranded in a hotel room is very helpful.’’

Holzman and Dooley both said that the passage of time probably contributed to the quality of the play since both matured as writers while the play was dormant.

Dooley has an extensive acting and writing resume; among his achievements was creating and writing for the children’s television series “The Electric Company.” In 2007, he appeared at the George Street Playhouse with Jack Klugman in “The Sunshine Boys.” In 2000, he was nominated for an Emmy for a role on “The Practice.”

Holzman created the television series “My So-Called Life,” and her writing for the show got her an Emmy nomination in 1995. She has written for many television shows and for the stage – including the book for the Broadway musical “Wicked.”

Holzman and Dooley performed their new play for six weeks at a theater in Los Angeles, and they have continued to refine it during rehearsals for the George Street run.
The engagement brings them a sense of satisfaction.

“It’s a part of getting older,” Holzman said, “that you start to look at the things you promised yourself you would do. Now, you’re not going to do all of them, but some of them are important. I think we both felt that it would be a loss if we didn’t do this, if we didn’t at least try.”