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Theatre News: JHud to Star in ‘The Color Purple,’ Plus John Cameron Mitchell, Vanessa Hudgens and Chita Rivera on Broadway

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> Jennifer Hudson will make her Broadway debut in The Color Purple this fall, producers announced this week. Based on Alice Walker’s novel of the same name, the musical, with book by Marsha Norman, music and lyrics by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray, originally premiered on Broadway in 2005 and ran for over two years. The new, pared-down revival directed by John Doyle transfers after a critically acclaimed run at London’s Menier Chocolate Factory in 2013, and will be produced on Broadway by the show’s original team of Scott Sanders, Roy Furman and Oprah Winfrey.

JCM2> John Cameron Mitchell begins his eight-week run as Hedwig in Hedwig and the Angry Inch on Broadway at the Belasco Theatre on January 21. Mitchell, who penned the musical with Stephen Trask, created the title role Off Broadway in 1998 and starred the cult-favorite 2001 film, which he also adapted and directed. Check out our in-depth conversation with Mitchell about returning to the role of Hedwig here.

> Idina Menzel’s star-vehicle musical If/Then has announced a closing date of March 22 at the Richard Rodgers Theatre. Produced by David Stone (Wicked), directed by Michael Greif (Grey Gardens, Next to Normal), with music by Tom Kitt and book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey (Pulitzer winners for Next to Normal), the show opened last march and will have run for just over a year on Broadway.

Vanessa-hudgens-768> The Broadway-bound revival of Gigi, starring Vanessa Hudgens in the title role, will land at the Neil Simon theatre for previews beginning March 19 and an opening night of April 8, producers announced this week. Last seen on Broadway in 1974, the musical, with book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe, is adapted from the 1958 movie of the same name and based on the 1994 novella by Colette. The new production directed by Eric Schaeffer features a revised book adaptation by Heidi Thomas and is currently in performances at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

> Two-time Tony Award winner Chita Rivera will return to Broadway in The Visit, a musical by songwriters John Kander and Fred Ebb (Cabaret, Chicago) with book by Terrence McNally, at the Lyceum Theatre this spring. The musical, which was previously produced at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago in 2001 and Williamstown Theatre Festival last summer, will also be directed by John Doyle (Sweeney Todd, Company). Previews for the musical based on the satirical play by Friedrich Dürrenmatt as adapted by Maurice Valency begin March 26 for an opening night of April 23; Tony winner Roger Rees co-stars.

(Hudson: Anthony Mandler Courtesy of RCA, Hudgens: Matthew Murphy via People)


Saks Fifth Avenue's Crusade Against Transgender Equality Draws Scrutiny From NY Attorney General

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If Saks Fifth Avenue believes it has a right to discriminate against transgender employees, just how widespread is the practice? 

That's what New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (below right) wants to know, in response to the high-end department store chain's repeated assertions that trans employees aren't cover under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. 

Last week we told you how the Human Rights Campaign had suspended Saks Fifth Avenue's favorable score on the Corporate Equality Index, after the company thumbed its nose at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's landmark 2012 decision saying Title VII protects trans workers. 

EricIn response to a lawsuit from transgender woman Leyth Jamal (above), a former sales associate at Saks Fifth Avenue in the Houston Galleria, attorneys for the company also blatantly misgendered Jamal in court documents and alleged the retailer isn't bound by its own nondiscrimination policy, which includes gender identity.    

Since then, the company effectively doubled down on its troubling anti-trans arguments in The New York Times:   

Gerald L. Storch, the chief executive of the parent company, Hudson’s Bay, also said Saks was a strong advocate for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. He declined to discuss an assertion by the luxury retailer’s lawyers, made in response to the former employee’s lawsuit, that “transsexuals are not a protected class” under the Civil Rights Act. ... 

 In a follow-up statement, Saks stressed that it “believes that all persons are protected against sex discrimination under Title VII” of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination by employers on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin.

It said, however, that the plaintiff had based her case not on sex discrimination but on the issue of gender identity and transgender status, which it said some courts have ruled fall outside Title VII’s mandate. Saks will follow that precedent, the retailer said, “unless or until it is modified by the courts or the legislature.”

The NYT story drew a swift response from HRC:  

“Mr. Storch’s abhorrent decision not to renounce that position is not only morally wrong, but wrong on the law,” said Sarah Warbelow, HRC Legal Director. “For more than two years, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has considered discrimination based on gender identity actionable. This latest development further undermines Saks’ credibility and standing with the LGBT community - indeed, its standing with any consumer committed to equality. ... 

“While recognizing a company’s right to defend itself, we remain enormously concerned about the spurious legal route Saks is pursuing to get this case dismissed,” Warbelow said. “Mr. Storch’s silence on the issue in today’s New York Times deepens our skepticism about Saks’ commitment to workplace LGBT equality.”

Now, Schneiderman is getting involved, delivering a missive to Saks Fifth Avenue in which his office expresses concern about whether the company is also discriminating against trans employees in the Empire State. The New York Daily News reports that Schneiderman's office is requesting documents from Saks related to its policies, training materials and complaint processes:   

The letter by Kristen Clarke, Schneiderman civil rights bureau chief, cites a lawsuit in Texas in which Saks argued that discrimination on the basis of gender identify is not prohibited by federal law.

“As the chief law enforcement agency for the state of New York, our office is committed to ensuring compliance with federal, state , and local discrimination laws,” Clarke wrote in the letter obtained by The News. ... 

“The general position taken by Saks in the context of the Texas litigation raises concerns about Saks’s compliance with these laws in New York State.”

If you're still confused as to why Saks Fifth Avenue's position is so troubling, Slate has a good analysis. But for the LGBT community, the episode should serve as yet another wakeup call about the importance of continuing to push for state and federal job protections.  

In the 32 states that lack fully-inclusive bans on anti-LGBT employment discrimination, when push comes to shove and despite any lip service to the contrary, your employer's policy may not be worth the piece of paper it's written on.


Piece Together The Puzzle of Last Night's Questionable Decisions With Gay-Dramedy 'The Morning After': VIDEO

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Peru Flores, a semi-finalist out of 300 competitors in Dramatic Interpretation in the National Forensics League National Tournament (2009), has started an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign for his new gay-dramedy film The Morning After. Flores stars in the movie as the character Tomas, who wakes up to a series of unfortunate events after a night of questionable decisions:

"After a night of questionable decisions, Tomas wakes up to a full day of unfortunate events. Although at times humorous, Tomas is faced with the bitter reality of his relationship with those around him-good and bad. 

"Eager to learn what really happened, he sets out to pick up these pieces from the night before. The Morning After deals with toxic relationships and assuming the consequences to our most regrettable actions, while dealing with the LGBT subject matter that resembles real life more so than its current portrayal in the media."

In a statement on The Morning After webpage, Flores states he was inspired to create the film as an alternative to the entertainment industry's one-dimensional stereotypes and offer a diverse, representative look at our nation's diverse culture.

Said Flores:

"The Morning After is a direct response to this problem. By creating a story that puts different characters under circumstances usually portrayed by your typical Caucasian 20-something with narrow socio-economic backgrounds, I ever so subtly aim to change the perspective that the people have of us in the media. Sure, it might seem like something you've heard or seen before at first, but that is exactly the point- to prove that we can have the same storylines, problems, LIVES, as the other people on screen.

"The Morning After is a story most of us have experienced, often regretted, but not often confess. It is my stepping stone into discovering a wide array of interesting characters that reflect the present day New York that I know to be true." 

Notable cast members include Stephen Hanna from the Broadway cast of Billy Elliot The Musical and On The Town, The Morning After Co-Producer Lauren Monroe, Rutgers University graduate and Associate Teacher of Fitzmaurice Voicework Craig MacArthur, drummer Rob Raco of The Brilliancy, Comedian and Umbrellababes creator Jason Burke, web series The Happiest People in New York creator Rebecca Steele and UCB Improv performer Caleb Schaaf.

Shooting is scheduled for February in New York City. The campaign closes on Jan. 24, and as of today has raised $1,155 of it’s $5,500 total. Donation reward increments for sponsors range from receiving a DVD copy of the film to a night out on the town with the producers and cast, an improv show and dinner. You can follow the film’s developments on The Morning After’s official webpage and Facebook page.

Watch the Indiegogo crowdfunding video for more information about The Morning After's plot and characters, AFTER THE JUMP...

Continue reading "Piece Together The Puzzle of Last Night's Questionable Decisions With Gay-Dramedy 'The Morning After': VIDEO" »


Jake Gyllenhaal and Ruth Wilson Open in ‘Constellations’ on Broadway: REVIEW

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BY NAVEEN KUMAR

If you’re short on reasons to love Ruth Wilson (Golden Globe winner for The Affair) or Jake Gyllenhaal (leading man of your dreams since the days of Donnie Darko), their magnetic performances in Nick Payne’s engrossing new play Constellations, which opened on Broadway last night at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Friedman Theatre, prove they’re as formidably talented as they are beautiful, onstage as onscreen. (Yes, it seems some people really can have it all.)

Con2Payne’s drama, which arrives in New York after a critically acclaimed production at London’s Royal Court Theatre and West End transfer in 2012, delivers on its cosmic title—with a love story that is, quite literally, “timeless.” Set in what the program deems “The Multiverse,” the play’s romance unfolds in a world of infinite—or at least multiple—possibilities. The theory Payne explores, which may be familiar to sci-fi fans and wide-eyed physicists alike (Wilson’s character is among the latter), allows for the existence of parallel universes and eschews the notion of linear time. (Don’t worry: The show runs a swift 70 minutes.)  

Con5In this case, that means our two stars (get it?) together on a black stage, surrounded by white orbs (a striking scenic design by Tom Scutt), performing variations on a series of scenes that combine to form a multi-dimensional love story. What if he’d been married when they first met? What if she’d been less withholding on their first date? From minor shifts in mood to more divergent twists in plot, the repeated variations create a sort of rich, imaginative portrait of love in a world of possibilities.   

Under deft direction by Michael Longhurst, Gyllenhaal and Wilson bring fierce yet effortless dedication to every moment, shifting abruptly from one scene to the next with precision and grace. The overall affect is, at first, playful and engaging—the play’s opening line, posed by Wilson’s character: “Do you know why it’s impossible to lick the tips of your elbows?” (They both eventually proceed to try.) And as details of the story gradually become clear, Payne’s play turns increasingly thought provoking and ultimately quite moving.

Con3As Marianne, Wilson (whose London stage credits include starring opposite Rachel Weisz in A Streetcar Named Desire and Jude Law in Anna Christie, both at the Donmar Warehouse) balances goofy charisma with a palpable emotional depth. Gyllenhaal (who made his American stage debut Off Broadway in Payne’s If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet) brings a more understated, hapless charm to the quieter Roland.

Payne’s play, whose conceptual daring owes much to ground-laying works by Caryl Churchill (Top Girls, A Number), may leave some audiences scratching their heads. But, whether the drama’s metaphysical questions interest you or not, these celestial bodies are well worth stargazing at. 

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Follow Naveen Kumar on Twitter: @Mr_NaveenKumar (photos: joan marcus)


NYC Transpeople Can Now Legally Change Their Birth Certificates Without Surgery

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Beginning yesterday people living in New York City will be able to have their birth certificates changed to reflect their gender identities without having had sexual reassignment surgery or having legally changed their names. The NYC City Council first passed the bill proposing the change last October. The new, more relaxed requirements to modify one’s birth certificate are designed to allow trans-identified persons easier access to a wide variety of other legal documents requiring proof of birth.

NYC12The challenges faced by transpeople without proper identification (obtained with birth certificates) are well documented. Last fall the Williams Institute released a damning report estimating that some 84,000 eligible trans voters could be disenfranchised by aggressive voter registration laws. Additionally a birth certificate that accurately reflects one’s gender is often necessary to obtain housing, employment, and marriage licenses in states that have yet to legalize gay marriage.

Clerical issues aside, dropping the medical requirements from the process allows a broader range of trans bodies equal recognition. 66% of transpeople elect not to undergo corrective surgeries because of the sheer cost and the fact that many insurance providers don’t cover the procedures. For those reasons, the American Medical Association has shifted its official position on the necessity of requiring transpeople to go under the knife to change their birth certificates.

“For many transgender people, a needless operation should not be a government requirement to amend a sex designation on a birth certificate,” AMA President Ardis Dee Hoven said in a public statement. “State laws must acknowledge that the correct course of treatment for any given individual is a decision that rests with the patient and the treating physicians.”


Theatre News: Sienna Miller to Join ‘Cabaret,’ Plus ‘The Last Ship’, ‘Disgraced’ and ‘The Flick’

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> Emma Stone will extend her stint as Sally Bowles in Cabaret at Studio 54 for two additional weeks through February 15, and Sienna Miller will take over the role for the musical’s final six weeks of performances through March 29, Roundabout Theatre Company announced this week. The current Broadway revival starring Alan Cumming, which opened in March 2014, is a remounting of Roundabout’s Tony-winning 1998 production, in which Cumming also starred opposite Natasha Richardson.

Sting> Sting’s musical The Last Ship, about a struggling shipyard on the British coast, will close January 24 at the Neil Simon Theatre, producers announced on Monday. The show, featuring an original score by Sting, book by Tony-winners John Logan (Red) and Brian Yorkey (Next to Normal) and direction by Joe Mantello (Wicked), opened in October to mixed reviews and has struggled to stay afloat. Sting stepped into a featured role for six weeks beginning December 9 in hopes of igniting audience interest in the show. But despite a surge at the box office during his run, a sharp drop-off in advance ticket sales after his scheduled exit prompted the producers’ decision to shutter the new musical after just four months.   

> Ayad Akhtar’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Disgraced will play its final performance at the Lyceum Theatre on March 1, producers announced this week. Directed by Kimberly Senior and starring Hari Dhillon, Gretchen Mol, Josh Radnor and Karen Pittman, the explosive drama exploring faith, race, art and politics transferred to Broadway in October after an acclaimed run Off Broadway at Lincoln Center in 2012.  

Flick051rSc> Annie Baker’s The Flick, another Pulitzer Prize winner, will come back to the New York stage this spring at the Barrow Street Theatre. Originally produced by Playwrights Horizons in 2013, the play about a hapless trio of indie Cineplex employees returns for a commercial Off-Broadway run produced by Scott Rudin. The original creative team, including the full cast and director Sam Gold will remount the production. 

(photos: Richard Phibbs via Entertainment Weekly, Joan Marcus)


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