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Articles by Chip Deffaa, Editor-at-Large

ON THE TOWN WITH CHIP DEFFAA … AT THE IRISH REP’S TOWN HALL GALA

June 11, 2024

They’ve created a theater that actors love to work in. And that was reflected by the terrific array of actors (including assorted Tony and Drama Desk Award winners and nominees), who gathered at Town Hall to reprise numbers they’d performed at the Irish Rep over the past 35 years. [more]

ON THE TOWN WITH CHIP DEFFAA: CATCHING THE VIVINO BROTHERS AT THE IRIDIUM

March 20, 2024

I’ve always loved their work, from the very start of their careers. Jimmy (on guitar) and Jerry (on tenor sax) have worked with some of the biggest names in the business--Tony Bennett, Bruce Springsteen, David Bowie, Wynton Marsalis, Keely Smith, Dr. John, Bette Midler, and many more. For a quarter-century Jimmy and Jerry were the heart of the band (which Jimmy wound up leading) on Conan O’Brien’s TV show. I once went to a taping of “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” just to see Jerry and Jimmy. [more]

ON THE TOWN WITH CHIP DEFFAA… AT CONCERTS HONORING BETTY BUCKLEY AND TONY BENNETT

November 9, 2023

This fall, I saw two of the most rewarding tribute-type concerts I’ve seen in recent years—one a glittering (if overlong), star-filled salute to “the Voice of Broadway,” Betty Buckley; the other a sincere tribute to the late master song-stylist Tony Bennett by young students from the school that he founded (and told me he was so proud of). Both of these very different events gave me some moments I’ll never forget…. [more]

REMEMBERING TONY BENNETT

July 25, 2023

He sang all his life. When New York's Triborough Bridge (known today as the RFK Bridge) opened in May of 1936, Tony Bennett--then a boy singer from Astoria who loved the work of Al Jolson and Eddie Cantor--sang at the opening. Mayor Laguardia, he recalled, patted him on his head! [more]

ON THE TOWN WITH CHIP DEFFAA… WITH MATTHEW BRODERICK, HARVEY MILK, AND HARRY HOUDINI….

June 28, 2023

As a lover of the performing arts, I’ll remember this month as when I witnesseed Matthew Broderick give one of the finest, subtlest performances of his career. I’ll remember, too, the uplifting idealism of Andrew Lippa’s I Am Harvey Milk. But I’ll also remember this as the month that some major cultural institutions were forced to make significant cutbacks because audiences have not returned to pre-pandemic levels. And that is worrisome. [more]

On The Town with Chip Deffaa: At “New York, New York,” “Some Like It Hot,” and Seth Sikes & Nicholas King’s Nightclub Act

May 14, 2023

In the last few weeks I feel like I’ve been stepping back in time—in a nice way.   I’ve enjoyed seeing the new Broadway musicals "New York, New York" (set in 1946-47) and (with some definite reservations, which I’ll get to shortly,) "Some Like It Hot" (set in 1933).  And although the current nightclub act of  Seth Sikes and Nicolas King is set in the present, most of the Great America Songbook numbers that they sing were written long before they were born; and they put those numbers across with  terrific razzle-dazzle showmanship—the kind you always hope to see in clubs but all-too-rarely do. [more]

On the Town with Chip Deffaa: “As You Like It” On Stage and “Banded Together” In the Movies

May 9, 2023

Each was an individual; I liked hearing all of the different voices and accents and inflections. Each one brought his or her own personality to the work.   But—and this is a compliment--they were all performing the play in the same fundamental manner.  As performers, they were all on the same wavelength.   (Kudos to director Kelly Brady and company.)   The characters were talking with one another--not offering orations directed at the audience.  The actors all knew the material so thoroughly, they were able to speak their lines easily to each other, with utter naturalness, in a conversational way. They were giving us Shakespeare’s words.  But they weren’t delivering speeches to us; they were interacting with one another the way people in real life do.  And that made the play come alive for us.  It wasn’t a historical relic.  The characters felt like human beings, with the same sorts of feelings we all have.  We could relate to them. [more]

R.I.P. Robert Patrick, Playwright

April 24, 2023

He was perhaps best-known for his play "Kennedy's Children"--produced successfully on Broadway and on the West End, and in many cities, internationally.  He also gave  us some 60 other published plays, including "Camera Obscura," which was filmed for PBS starring Marge Champion,  and "The Haunted Host," which helped launch the acting career of a terrifically talented young  Harvey Fierstein.  They met when Fierstein was 16; Patrick gave Fierstein his first leading role in an Equity production, and they became good friends for life, (I have good memories of Harvey performing a striking monologue from that play, years later, during an appearance at the club Eighty-Eights). [more]

An Appreciation of Todd Haimes, Producing Artistic Director of Roundabout Theatre Company

April 21, 2023

Roundabout, under Haimes' leadership, was noted both for new works and for revivals of older shows with strikingly new elements (like this season's gender-bending revival of "1776.")  He was the first producer to try livestreaming a Broadway show ("She Loves Me" in 2016). And somehow, besides producing lots of shows (and 11 Tony Awards), Haimes also found time to teach at Yale University and Brooklyn College.  The biggest change he saw in theater in his career, he said, was the change in audience composition, with Broadway growing more and more reliant on tourists. He said it bothered him that nowadays, in his opinion, so many theater ticket buyers preferred to see crap so long as a star they knew from TV or film was heading the cast, than see a better play with better (but not necessarily famous) actors. [more]

On the Town with Chip Deffaa at Anthony Rapp’s “Without You”

February 11, 2023

Rapp’s show—directed by Steve Maler, with musical direction/orchestrations by Daniel A. Weiss (who was the associate conductor/second keyboards player of the original Broadway production of Rent)—is quite moving.  I was held by it throughout.  And it is extraordinarily rich with Jonathan Larson songs, including “No Day but Today,” “We’re Dying in America,” “Rent,” “La Vie Boheme,” “One Song Glory,” “Seasons of Love,” “Without You.”   Hearing these familiar songs—which I’ve heard so many times in Rent, performed by multiple singers—in new contexts, now sung solo—gives me an even greater admiration for them.  They are such well-crafted songs, and they have enormous impact here, just as they did in their original contexts. Rapp has an especial affinity for Larson’s work; no one performs Larson’s songs more compellingly.  He has long been the foremost interpreter of Larson’s music.  He “gets” the music completely.  It resonates for him.  No one interprets Larson’s work better. [more]

On the Town with Chip Deffaa: From Anatevka to Wales

January 1, 2023

"Fiddler"--brilliantly directed by Joel Grey—is an unusually impactful production. It’s emotionally rich, moving, and timeless. And wholly believable.  They had me from the first words of the opening number, “Tradition.” (And what a glorious ensemble sound they got!) Steven Skybell playing “Tevye” won the Lortel Award for Outstanding Lead Actor when this production was first presented in 2019.  (And the production as a whole won Drama Desk, New York Drama Critics Circle and Outer Critics Circle awards that same season.)   He is an excellent Tevye—earthy, naturalistic, struggling to deal with the hardships of life, and able to leaven the hardships with well-expressed humor. This is a big production for Off-Broadway, with some two dozen actors in the company, and Zalmen Mlotek conducting 10 musicians in the orchestra.   I don’t speak Yiddish, but the English supertitles would make it easy for anyone to follow along.  I’ve seen Fiddler, in various incarnations, enough times—and I’ve savored the original Broadway cast album since Fiddler first premiered back in the 1960’s—I  didn’t really need to read all of the supertitles.  I quickly got engrossed in the action.   This is one of the greatest of all musicals—the book, music, and lyrics are so strong—it always has rewards to offer. [more]

On the Town with Chip Deffaa: At the Museum of Broadway

December 13, 2022

Everyone who loves theater owes a debt of gratitude to Julie Boardman and Diane Nicoletti.  About five years ago, they got the idea of creating a museum in the theater district, dedicated to Broadway.  They would raise the funds themselves, hoping to create a self-sustaining operation.  The museum they have co-founded has now opened.  And it’s a winner! Oh, I’m not saying it’s perfect. Nothing in this world is quite perfect.  And like all new ventures, the museum is experiencing some growing pains.  (Later in this piece, I’ll suggest some ways that the museum could be made even better.) But what they’ve achieved thus far is mighty impressive.  There are a few kinks to be ironed out, but this is a major addition to the theater district. [more]

The Sound of Music (Paper Mill Playhouse)

December 5, 2022

The new production of "The Sound of Music" at New Jersey’s Paper Mill Playhouse is such an utter delight, you shouldn’t be wasting time reading this review, you  should be ordering tickets right now (www.papermill.org).  I’ve seen countless productions at Paper Mill since the 1970’s.  This production, running through January 1st, is one of the most satisfying productions I’ve ever seen at that theater—which is saying plenty.  Director Mark S. Hoebee tells the familiar story—rich with honest sentiment--clearly and well.  The show, with more than 30 actors on stage and 16 musicians in the pit, is handsomely produced. [more]

On the Town with Chip Deffaa: “Hoagy Carmichael’s Stardust Road”… Carmichael deserves better

December 5, 2022

Boy! This is going to be a tough review to write.  The York Theatre Company, which has such a strong track record when it comes to honoring important songwriters, is currently presenting a revue of Hoagy Carmichael songs called "Hoagy Carmichael’s Stardust Road."  Carmichael (1899-1981) is one of the greatest of American songwriters.  No one’s done an overview of Carmichael’s work in many, many years.  So, this production is important.   The show should be a natural.  But developing a show isn’t always easy. This will likely be the longest review I’ve ever written about a single show; but the show merits a detailed discussion.  The production I just saw has significant flaws, as well as significant strengths.  I hope the show can be further developed so it can fulfill its potential. [more]

Remembering Robert Clary: From the Concentration Camps to Broadway and Hollywood

November 27, 2022

Clary scored a great success on Broadway in "Leonard Sillman’s New Faces of 1952."  My father, who enjoyed that show, recalled Eartha Kitt and Robert Clary as the standouts in the cast of largely-unknown up-and-coming performers that also included Paul Lynde, Alice Ghostley, Carol Lawrence, and Ronny Graham.  None of the performers were yet big names.  And the smart, fast-paced revue gave them important exposure.  (My father noted that this was an especially good revue, in a time when revues were still a staple of Broadway.  He missed the revues when revues fell out of fashion on Broadway.)  Producer/writer Leonard Sillman, whose various New Faces revues enlivened Broadway from the 1930’s through the 1960’s, helped advance the careers of plenty of talented newcomers over the years, beginning with Henry Fonda and Imogene Coca, the standouts in Sillman’s first revue in the series, "New Faces of 1934." [more]

An Appreciation of Michael Feingold (1945-2022)

November 23, 2022

He saw seemingly everything, and championed plays and productions he found meaningful, even if they were at the smallest of theaters.  He chose what he wished to cover, and would sometimes expound at great length about a drama Off-Broadway or Off-Off-Broadway that he felt was worthwhile and might otherwise be neglected, and then dispatch in the shortest, most terse review imaginable a big, glossy commercial Broadway musical that he was sure would find an audience but—in his eyes—was devoid of much artistic value. [more]

Anthony Rapp’s Solo Show, “Without You,” To Get Off-Broadway Run

November 16, 2022

I think this is great news. I’m happy the show will finally be getting a full theatrical production in New York.  I saw the original festival-production tryout of "Without You" about a dozen years ago and found it to be the most affecting and meaningful solo show that I'd seen in years. I’d previously felt the same way about Rapp's book, "Without You"—it was the most absorbing showbiz memoir I'd come across in years; I bought copies of that book to give friends as presents. [more]

On the Passing of Aaron Carter

November 14, 2022

He had his first album out by age nine, the same year he began opening for the Backstreet Boys. (His older brother, Nick Carter, was of course one of the Backstreet Boys.)  And he enjoyed a good run, with hit records, concerts, videos, TV guest shots.  He even got to star in a now-forgotten movie, Popstar, in which my friend David Cassidy had a supporting role, playing his manager. [more]

Jay Rogers: A Remembrance

November 12, 2022

Jay Rogers, who's lost his battle with cancer, was a wonderfully impish cabaret star, with impeccable comic timing. Totally likeable fellow, on stage and off stage. I was so happy to be able to include him on an album I produced this year, "Chip Deffaa's My Man.” He's a total delight, singing an original song by Barry Kleinbort, "Leading Lady Valentine." I'm so glad he was able to record it for me. No one else could have put over that special material with such great charm. I would not have recorded that song had he been unavailable. And I'd hoped to record him again.  I first saw him, several decades ago, in a witty cabaret show at Eighty-Eights, singing songs of George Winters. [more]

In Memory of Playwright/Director/Actor Douglas McGrath

November 12, 2022

In October, he opened in an autobiographical Off-Broadway play that he wrote, 'Everything's Fine"—a good-natured remembrance of his youth, and of a school teacher who fell for him.  He performed the show, as usual, on the night of November 2nd, and everything did, indeed, seem to be fine.  He was expecting to continue the run into 2023, and then focus on the film adaptation of "Beautiful." But on November 3rd, 2022, he died at his Manhattan office, unexpectedly, of a heart attack.    [more]

On the Town with Chip Deffaa: On Fanny Brice and “Funny Girl”

June 6, 2022

I’ve often told friends what an impact "Funny Girl" had on me.  That was the show that made me fall completely, utterly, and permanently in love with Broadway. I was a teenager when I saw it—not quite 15.  I started taking  odd jobs to make some extra  money;  I stopped buying comic books;  I began skipping school lunches, too—I was trying to save every possible penny so I could  buy Broadway theater tickets. Theater became my top priority.   And as often as possible, I would go to see another Broadway show.  (Broadway was far more affordable then than it is now, and I was eager to check out everything—musicals, comedies, dramas. I could often get tickets to shows—up in the balcony--that didn’t cost much more than tickets to movies.)  "Funny Girl"—more than "My Fair Lady" or any other show I appreciated—was what got me really hooked on theater. And  I’m still grateful for that. [more]

Robert Morse: An Appreciation

April 22, 2022

He won a Tony Award starring in the Broadway masterwork "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying."  And fortunately his performance was captured well in the film adaptation of that brilliant show.  (Watch that film for a sample of his greatness.) And he won another Tony Award for "Tru,'his one-man show about Truman Capote (which was later successfully adapted for public television). He was simply compelling. And people who would never have watched the real Truman Capote speak for an evening were mesmerized by his theatrical version of Capote.  I was impressed, too, by his ability to surrender himself entirely to the needs of the role; if he was portraying a real person, like Truman Capote (or, later, Dominick Dunne, for "American Crime Stories"), he could become the character so thoroughly, you almost forgot you were watching Robert Morse. [more]

On the Town with Chip Deffaa: “Rent” at the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts: An Appreciation

April 7, 2022

This production was an ensemble success—which is what Jonathan Larson was hoping to achieve—so I’d like to mention every member of the company.   Not just the leads, whom I very much enjoyed  (Logan Spaleta,  Brendan Dugan,  Lily Resto-Solano as an appealingly amiable “Mimi Marquez,” Justin Nicot as the insouciant “Angel Dumont Schunard,” Monica Malas making the most of  the role of “Maureen Johnson,” Tsehai Marson as her frustrated girlfriend “Joanne Jefferson,”  Luke Studley Roberts as “Tom Collins” (who falls for “Angel”), and Matthew Macneal as landlord “Benjamin Coffin III”), but every member of the ensemble: Olivia Summer, Nicholas Martell, Miekayla Pierre, Ben Gluck, Sophia Longmuir, Gabriel Paredes, Isaac Wilson, Isabella Soleil Smith, Daniel Stowe, Jaiden Torres, Monica Malas, Ellistair Perry, Zune Misrra-Stone. [more]

Irving Berlin and Me (And a Brush with Death Along the Way)

April 5, 2022

In the past 20 years, I’ve produced a total of 34 different albums; 16 of them have dealt with Irving Berlin (1888-1989). The newest album in this ongoing Berlin series, "Chip Deffaa’s Irving Berlin: Love Songs and Such"--featuring such gifted artists as Betty Buckley, Karen Mason, Steve Ross, Anita Gillette, Jon Peterson, Natalie Douglas, Jeff Harnar, Sarah Rice, Bobby Belfry, Keith Anderson, Molly Ryan, and Seth Sikes--was the hardest of all the albums to produce. And, for reasons I’ll address in a bit, it took by far the longest time to produce; life is not always easy. But for me, this is the most satisfying album of the bunch. (And as I type these words, I’m happy to note it’s just been nominated for a MAC Award, which is extra gratifying!) I know I’ve made a worthwhile contribution to Berlin’s recorded legacy. [more]

A Few Thoughts on Those Needless Changes to “The Music Man”

February 21, 2022

I want to be clear.  "The Music Man" is such a masterfully written musical that making some changes here and there can’t really ruin it; but changes are not needed in this show and they certainly don’t help.   I believe in the old saying: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” I also believe, as Tommy Tune once told me years ago in discussing a different show, many producers and directors feel a need to tinker with shows, making changes for the sake of making changes, even when the wiser choice would be to simply leave things alone. There’s just that desire to  “improve” things, whether or not the changes actually improve anything. [more]
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