For my second Backstage cover story, I sat down with Emily Blunt (at the Four Seasons New York, no less!) to chat about her work as the Baker’s Wife in the big screen adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods. It was truly one of the highlights of my 2014. In addition to the topics I was able to include in the article, we talked about how annoying it is that some high schools skip the musical’s second act, what project she’d like to tackle next – a Western! – and the embedded nerve she got from filming Edge of Tomorrow while wearing an 85-pound metal suit. She is every bit as charming and down-to-earth as you might imagine, and her performance in Into the Woods, as with all her other movies, is superb. Don’t miss it!
‘Tis the season for gift giving! Not sure what to get your theater geek cousin? Your therapist? That boy you’ve been sort of seeing who says he likes your smile but refuses to have a “check-in” conversation and now you’re just sort of wading through a gray area relationship-wise? Fear no more! Over at TDF Stages, I wrote up a list of 12 theater-related books for the 12 days of Christmas/the postmodern holiday pastiche we’ve been lazily referring to as “Christmas.” It also doubles as my wish list. FYI. Happy Holidays!
Mandy Patinkin singing Arlen & Harburg’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”: A Step-by-Step Reaction
Bylines are not clickable on Backstage unfortunately, so these little updates are the best way to check out what I’ve been up to writing-wise. Do what I do when browsing a writer’s body of work: spend 4.3 seconds scanning for juicy buzzwords, and click what tickles your fancy. Here we go!
- Say you prefer cute listicles and slideshows (who’s got the attention span for anything else, amiright?): famous actors’ former day jobs, inspirational film monologues, and yet more Robin Williams in recent commercials featuring famous actors.
- What about famous theater personalities? Turns out, they’re just like us! We’ve got the amicable John Gallagher Jr., the colorful Seth Rudetsky, the gregarious Celia Keenan-Bolger, the hilarious Tracee Chimo, and especially playwright Suzan-Lori Parks, who gave probably the best phone interview ever. (“I’m just saying, like, praise be to you all who have made plays over the years! Here I am now following in your footsteps.”)
- Looking for a web series to invest some internet-dawdling time with? Try Capitol Hill (silly), or Video Game High School (epic), Augie Alone (hysterical), or really any of these.
- Or perhaps you want some practical advice, Backstage-style? There’s Stefanie O’Connell and her wonderful finance website, Carmen Zilles, who is now performing at the theater at which she interned, up-and-coming superhero B.J. Britt, the Naked Angels’ fabulous reading series Tuesdays@9, Ryan R. Williams and his real talk, and the Lincoln-quoting David H. Lawrence XVII. Lots of great food for thought.
- Random, but still worth a look: I interviewed one of my heroes at NPR, Michel Martin, after a fascinating panel about racial diversity on Broadway with four awesome playwrights, as well as the creator of vegan ballet slippers, and the head of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. This holiday season, donate!
So my very first Backstage cover story came out! I had the good fortune of sitting down with Michael Esper, star of Sting’s Broadway musical The Last Ship, to chat about his upbringing in the theater and his acting identity crisis. (This might seem like tooting my own horn, but hey, what are blogs for?) Everybody should go see the show – it’s a refreshingly original musical with a dazzling cast.
As the son of renowned acting coaches, Michael Esper spent his childhood immersed in the theater. He describes the influence of his parents, founders of the William Esper Studio, as “so massive. It probably can’t be overstated. Some of my earliest memories are watching my father’s productions of plays, watching my godfather play Hamlet’s ghost, watching my mom play Arkadina in ‘The Seagull,’ listening to actors do repetition exercises through the walls of the studio.” Esper is the first to acknowledge that having family in the business can be tricky. Was there an expectation, unspoken or otherwise, that he would continue their legacy?
Check out my TDF Stages article on Lift, a full-length play over at 59E59 that takes place entirely in an elevator! You might even feel uplifted reading it!!
Two days into rehearsals for Lift at 59E59, director John Marshall III got stuck in an elevator. Most people entombed in a metal box might feel alarmed, claustrophobic, or at the very least, concerned. Instead, Marshall was thrilled. “I think the people running the building probably thought I was crazy,” he says. “I’m like, ‘Don’t hurry, it’s ok! It’s great!’”
See, Lift is a full-length play by Walter Mosley in which a man and a woman are trapped in a broken elevator. This means two actors are confined to the same square of space for almost two hours: a challenge for any theatre director. “The elevator was essentially a third character in the play,” says Marshall, who last year mounted a production of the show at New Jersey’s Crossroads Theatre, where he serves as artistic director. Unable to rehearse on the set during its construction, actors stood on platforms and cubes, using any and every opportunity to simulate the feeling of entrapment. That’s why Marshall was so excited to have firsthand experience. “I was texting the actors,” he says of his elevator mishap. “I was on the bottom floor, and it wasn’t rocking. I don’t know if my confidence would’ve been quite the same if I had been twenty floors up in the air. But I was really having fun.”
Yeah. All the hairs on my arm are sticking straight up too.
I guess I assumed – I’m sorry, T-Pain, truly I am – that the use of auto-tune has always been a bit of a crux. Now it seems auto-tune was just the guy’s thing, a branding method. This performance at NPR Music’s tiniest of desks was, from what I understand, completely unplanned. So T-Pain has accidentally set the internet on fire with the grand epiphany of his gorgeous, soulful voice, and must now face the question: why not try getting rid of the auto-tune altogether? What if T-Pain were to re-brand?? He could fill the hole in the pop music industry that douchebag Cee-Lo left behind!