by Ellis Nassour

    The dog days of summer are beating down on us. If you're looking for ways to beat them, here are some suggestions from what's on Off Broadway, free in Central Park, a reading from an erotic page-turner, inexpensive highlights from a theater festival near you and the offerings of a trio of "museums" where you can beat the heat in air-conditioned comfort.

    Tony Award winner Jim Dale can't believe what he's hearing at the Promenade Theatre where he co-starring with William Atherton in Address Unknown.  "It's a theatrical outing you'll long remember," he says, "a play you'll be happy you caught. In a nutshell, it's about friendship, betrayal, murder and revenge against the backdrop of the early days of Nazism. Not sit-com material, to say the least. In fact, it's quite gripping, so it demands your attention. But I passed up an opportunity to do a Broadway musical to do this. I had a good idea it would find it's audience. However, never anything like the audiences we have. They're magnificent. Performance after performance of standing, cheering ovations. In my fifty years of stage work I've never known anything quite like it. It's an utter joy to be involved in such a production."

    Address Unknown, adapted and directed by Frank Dunlop [1974's Scapino, which Dale not only starred in but for which he also adapted the book and composed the music] from the international best-seller by Katherine Kressman Taylor, is set in 1932. It's the story of two German men who run an art gallery in San Francisco. Max, played by Tony-winner Dale, is Jewish. His friend/partner Martin, Atherton, returns with his family to Germany to educate his children just as Hitler is beginning to gain power.

    "We see the gradual disintegration of a long friendship," observes Dale, "as Martin becomes completely indoctrinated by the Nazi propaganda. Address Unknown is theatrical magic and what an ending. It's strictly O'Henry."

    Dale has also achieved fame outside theater with his amazing repertory of hundreds of voices for the Harry Potter audio books. 

    M-G-M used to boast it was the studio with more stars than there are in the heavens. Well, the NYSF's 42nd Annual Shakespeare In the Park can boast they have about half in the cast of this summer's sumptuous and riotous production of Much Ado About Nothing.

    Thanks to generous support from JPMorgan Chase and, among many others, Viacom Outdoor, The New York Times, WNYC, the Shubert Foundation, Continental Airlines and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, you can see them for free [through August 8 at 8 P.M.] under a galaxy of heavenly stars -- unfortunately with the occasional roar of jets, helicopters and sirens.

    Tickets are distributed day of performance beginning at 1 P.M. at the Delacorte Theatre boxoffice in Central Park [enter from Central Park West and 81st Street or Fifth Avenue and 79th Street], but get there much earlier. Why not make it an occasion for a picnic? And don't leave the Frisbee at home. [Tickets are also distributed from 1 - 3 P.M. at the Public Theatre, 425 Lafayette Street, just off East 8th Street].
    Much Ado's headliners are Jimmy Smits, Sam Waterston [of Law & Order fame, who's no stranger to the play, having done the 1972 NYSF production], Brian Murray, Elisabeth Waterston [yes, they're related; father and daughter], Lorenzo Pisoni [late of LCT's Henry IV], 2004 Drama Desk nominee Jayne Houdyshell [Well] and Dominic Chianese [the Sopranos's Uncle Junior]. David Esbjornson [The Goat or Who Is Sylvia?, The Play About the Baby] directs.

    If you only know Smits from films [if you blinked during Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones, you missed him as Senator Bail Organa in what amounted to a walk-on; maybe there'll be more of him in Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith due in May], and TV work [LA Law, NYPD], you're in for a surprise. This is a Smits you've never experienced. He's supremely adept at comedy, even slapstick. In two particular moments [hint: he's all wet], he has audiences in stitches.

    Smits and Waterson got their first theatrical breaks courtesy of the late Joe Papp and the NYSF. Flatbush native Smits marked this return to theater in 2002's Twelth Night in the Park; and in last season's Pulitzer Prize-winning Anna In the Tropics, his return to indoor Broadway.

    [Trivia: At 1991's Welcome Back to Brooklyn Festival, Smits was named "King of Brooklyn."] 

    High romance spiced with Mexican recipes were the ingredients that made Laura Esquivel's first novel Like Water for Chocolate an international phenomenon [also as a movie]. Saluting its selection, beginning today [July 26], for serialization over the next seven days in The New York Times' Great Summer Read series, Smits, along with his Tony-nominated Anna co-star Daphne Rubin-Vega and Senorita Esquivel read an excerpt from the book this evening at 6 P.M. at Borders, on the second level, in the Shops at Columbus Circle. 
    Don't sit home alone. Get out to the cabaret - the free one in Central Park. August 16-27, the Public Theatre in association with MTV & VH1 will present the inaugural season of Joe's Pub in the Park at the Delacorte Theatre. Kicking off the series, August 16, are bossa nova instrumentalist Bebel Gilberto and Argentine vocalist Juana Molina. The following night acclaimed singer/ songwriter Suzanne Vega headlines with folk/rock artist Jonatha Brooke and pop guitarist Teitur. On August 18, German cabaret legend Ute Lemper [who's appeared on Broadway in Chicago] and singer/songwriter/comic Stew will be center stage. Sure to be SRO on August 24 is Todd Rundgren appearing with Joe Jackson and string quartet Ethel. 

    Check schedules at: http://www.publictheatre.org/. Half the concerts are free, with ticket distribution as above. Reserved seats to paid shows [$40; $35 for Public Theater members] are available at the Public box office; via TeleCharge, (212) 239-6200; and on-line at www.publictheater.org.  

    Oh, you can't get enough new theater this summer? At extraordinarily affordable prices? Then you're not in New York City anymore.  Haven't you noticed that there's a theater festival for every light on Broadway, and that the tickets are comparable to what you'd pay for a movie.

    John Chatterton's 5th Annual Midtown International Theatre Festival, through August 1, has  comedy, drama, musicals, solo shows and revivals at just about any time of day at two locations: WorkShop Theatres, off Eighth Avenue at 312 West 36th Street, 4th floor, and a few doors West at Where Eagles Dare Theatre, 347 West 36th Street.
          You can still catch two plays creating a buzz, with possible talk of moving Off Broadway: Charles Bloom's musical comedy Insomnia about a gay screenwriter confronting demons on his journey of self-discovery [tonight @ 8 P.M., July 29 and 31 @ 6 P.M.]; and Elisa DeCarlo's slice-of-life recollection, Toasted, which recounts in gripping, bizarre and hilarious detail how she discovered a murder confession via the internet and unleashed a media maelstrom [August 2 and 7 @ 8 P.M.]. 
           Visit http://www.midtownfestival.org/ for this week's rundown
    . Tickets are $12, $15 and $20. Reserve through SmartTix, (212) 868-4444.

    Through August 1, there's the First Annual Summer Play Festival at Theatre Row Studios [the Kirk, Acorn, Lion and Clurman; 412 West 42nd Street]. Two popular entries are Kitty, Kitty, Kitty and Mayhem. Tickets: $10. For schedules, venues, times, visit http://www.telecharge.com/.

    August 13-29 is the grandmammy of all theater festivals, the 8th Annual New York International Fringe Festival, with works being presented in over 20 downtown venues.
         You never know what you'll uncover -- another Urinetown, Matt and BenDebbie Does Dallas or The Joys of Sex? Catholic and Jewish youth have had their confessionals, so the time's ripe for Confessions of a Mormon Boy by/starring Steven Fries and directed by Tony Award-winning Jack Hofsiss [The Elephant Man]. 
         Two other titles to watch: Big Trouble in Little Hazard by Peter Katona and Greg Derelian, a parody of the cult TV sitcom The Dukes of Hazard; and, speaking of TV,  Ron Palillo [yes, Welcome Back, Kotter's Horshack] stars in Jack Dyville's comedy of the absurd Daddy Was the Biggest Stagemother in Texas.
         Individual tickets are $15. For detailed information on plays, venues, times and discount packages, visit
    http://www.fringenyc.org/ or call (212) 279-4488.

    London was inspired to save British theatrical traditions in the vast Theatre Museum in Covent Garden. Unfortunately, New York, with its storied theatrical past, doesn't have a single repository for memorabilia. However, there's no shortage of places to find it  and relive theatrical memories- or to conduct research.
    Theater Hall of Fame:                                
    Whenever you've visited the Gershwin Theatre, you couldn't help but see the salute to theatrical legends with their names in gold on the walls of the upper lobby.           Executive producer Terry Hodge Taylor, who fund raises for and operates it, wanted to take the Hall beyond names and photos. He's created a mini-museum of Broadway with 12 cases of memorabilia donated by inductees. Ten more are coming.      Highlights: Lynn Fontanne and Irene Worth's pearls from, respectively, The Visit and the 1976 Sweet Bird of Youth revival; Carol Channing's beaten, wide-brim straw hat from 5,000 performances of Hello, Dolly; Joel Grey's signed white gloves from the Chicago revival; James Earl Jones' jeweled championship belt from The Great White Hope;  Jerry Orbach's puppets from Carnival, Rosemary Harris' dagger from The Lion In Winter; and Angela Lansbury's trumpet from Mame     The Hall is "open" only during Gershwin performance times, but with support from theatre owner James Nederlander and Dame Celia Lipton Farris, by Spring 2005, Taylor plans to expand hours. In consideration of financial support from The Dorothy Strelsin Foundation, the collection is being named in honor of the late socialite and arts patron. For more information, call (212) 307-1226. Museum of Television & Radio: You'll be surprised to find out how much vintage theater there is here.  Thanks to a grant from the Laura Pels Foundation, the museum, at 25 West 52nd Street [212-621-6600], has been busy expanding its theater holdings. It now has  over 500 hours on video.      In addition to acquiring The Best of Broadway and Pulitzer Prize Playhouse and archiving over 100 hours of radio plays, the museum has completed it's Hallmark Hall of Fame theater collection and cataloged its Arthur Miller acquisitions.      Of special interest to fans of Broadway's Lost Treasures, the museum has The Alexander H. Cohen Years, two 90-minute compilations of Tony Awards highlights from such 1977-1986 musicals as Annie, Ballroom, Barnum, Dancin', Dreamgirls, Evita, La Cage aux Folles, Nine, On the Twentieth Century and Sweeney Todd. Suggested contribution. Visit www.mtr.org.
    New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center:
    The Billy Rose Theatre Collection on the third floor, says curator Bob Taylor, "one of the most comprehensive archives devoted to the diversity of performance art. It's an indispensable resource for researchers."      Non-book inventory: scripts, photos [including  Kenn Duncan's extensive theater/dance portfolio], set and costume designs, posters, playbills, clippings [20-million and counting] and, for theater professionals doing research,  the Theatre on Film and Tape Archive. The Library features several annual exhibitions and sponsors celebrity-studded play readings. For more information, visit www.nypl.org [212-870-1688]. 
    Speaking of Broadway's Lost Treasures, the second installment airs August 8 on PBS, when it will also be available for purchase.]


Sunday, July 25, 2004 at 11:30 PM | Item Link

Ellis Nassour is an international media journalist, and author of Honky Tonk Angel: The Intimate Story of Patsy Cline, which he has adapted into a musical for the stage. Visit www.patsyclinehta.com.

He can be reached at [email protected]

The last five columns written by Ellis Nassour:

07/02/2010: Summer in the City: Fireworks on the Hudson Launch a Season with Plenty to Do and See

06/13/2010: The 64th Annual Tony Awards Celebrating Broadway Achievement

06/10/2010: Tony Honoree Marian Seldes: Grand Duse of the American Theater

06/08/2010: Starry, Starry Nights [Hopefully] with the Bard; Broadway by the Year Celebrates 10th Anniversary; Old Flames Reignite [Onstage]; Summer in and Out of the City; Stars Rally for Dancers; Cast CDs and Re-releases; New to DVD

05/21/2010: Patti LuPone Hosts Sunday's Drama Desk Awards; A Starry, Starry Season; Tovah Feldshuh, Sherman Brothers Honored; Broadway By the Year Season Finale

For a listing of all features written by Ellis, click here.