“Most of the shows I’ve done – and the parts I’ve played – have come to me through the back door, by accidents, you might say, or coincidence, or just plain luck. And tonight, I’d like to share with you some of my lucky accidents,” two-time Tony winner John Cullum says at the start of his wonderful one-man show, An Accidental Star, streaming on demand through April 21. Copresented by three theaters that have played an important role in Cullum’s long, distinguished career, the Vineyard, the Irish Rep, and Goodspeed Musicals, the eighty-minute production takes viewers behind the curtain as Cullum relates funny and poignant anecdotes and sings songs from throughout his more than sixty years in the business.
Cullum, who turned ninety-one last month, was born in Tennessee and had dreams of making it as an actor. When he arrived in New York City in 1956, he was ready to do whatever it took to land an audition and get an acting job. Through a series of lucky accidents, he soon found himself cast in three summer plays for Joe Papp’s Shakespeare in the Park, even though he had zero experience with the Bard. That led directly to auditioning for Moss Hart for Camelot on Broadway, where Cullum would meet Richard Burton, who became a lifelong friend.
Cullum, who won Tonys for Shenandoah and On the Twentieth Century, was nominated for On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, Urinetown, and 110 in the Shade, and scored an Emmy nomination for his role as Holling Vincoeur in Northern Exposure, also chronicles experiences involving Maximilian Schell, Louis Jourdan, Lerner & Lowe, Hal Prince, Robert Preston, Robert Goulet, Madeline Kahn, The Scottsboro Boys, and his wife of more than sixty-one years, choreographer and writer Emily Frankel. Filmed by Carlos Cardona in January onstage at the Irish Rep, An Accidental Star was conceived by Cullum and Jeff Berger, written by David Thompson (The Scottsboro Boys; Priscilla, Queen of the Desert), and directed by Lonny Price and Matt Cowart (110 in the Shade, Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill), with music supervision by Georgia Stitt and music direction by Julie McBride, who accompanies Cullum on piano. The cameras shoot Cullum, dressed in an unbuttoned vest, purple shirt, and brown pants, from all sides as he sits on a stool, gets up and spreads his arms for a big finale, and walks over to the piano to join McBride. He’s an engaging raconteur who is deservedly proud of what he’s accomplished yet humble enough to understand how fortunate he’s been on this amazing journey, which includes a live watch party on April 17 at 2:00.
Who: Chasten Buttigieg, Ariana DeBose, Debra Messing, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Tony Shalhoub, Ben Vereen, Stephanie J. Block, Deborah Cox, Lea Salonga, Amy Adams, Debbie Allen, Matt Bomer, Brenda Braxton, Len Cariou, Glenn Close, Loretta Devine, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, James Monroe Iglehart, Cheyenne Jackson, Cherry Jones, L Morgan Lee, Raymond J. Lee, Aasif Mandvi, Eric McCormack, Michael McElroy, Debra Messing, Ruthie Ann Miles, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Jessie Mueller, Javier Muñoz, Kelli O’Hara, Karen Olivo, Jim Parsons, Bernadette Peters, Eve Plumb, Roslyn Ruff, Sis, Elizabeth Stanley, Tony Yazbeck, Anderson Cooper, Don Lemon, Robin Roberts, Robert Creighton, Danyel Fulton, Eileen Galindo, Sam Gravitte, Sheldon Henry, Diana Huey, Aaron Libby, Nathan Lucrezio, Melinda Porto, Shelby Ringdahl, Vishal Vaidya, Blake Zolfo
What: Benefit for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center
Where: Broadway Cares and YouTube
When: Tuesday, March 30, free, 8:00 (available on demand through April 3)
Why: Mayor DeBlasio has announced that he expects Broadway to reopen in September, but that doesn’t mean the forty-one official theaters will be hosting shows come the fall. In the meantime, we have to keep quenching our thirst with Zoom readings, filmed stagings, and virtual gala celebrations. Next up is “Broadway Backwards,” premiering March 30 at 8:00 and available on demand through April 3. The benefit for Broadway Cares and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center in New York City, which honors gender diversity and love, began in 2006, raising $7,325, rising each year until it reached $704,491 in 2019; the 2020 edition, scheduled for March 16, was canceled because of the coronavirus.
It has now returned with a vengeance, featuring clips from previous shows (Tituss Burgess, Len Cariou, Carolee Carmello, Darren Criss, Cynthia Erivo, Andrew Keenan-Bolger, Debra Monk, Andrew Rannells, Chita Rivera, Lillias White, more), appeals from Chasten Buttigieg, Ariana DeBose, Debra Messing, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Tony Shalhoub, and Ben Vereen, and new performances from such major names as Stephanie J. Block, Amy Adams, Debbie Allen, Glenn Close, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Cheyenne Jackson, Cherry Jones, Eric McCormack, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Jessie Mueller, Kelli O’Hara, Karen Olivo, Jim Parsons, and Bernadette Peters. This year’s edition is centered around Jay Armstrong Johnson portraying a lonely New Yorker navigating the Covid-19-riddled city with the help of a late-night TV host played by Jenn Colella. The show is written and directed by event creator Robert Bartley, with Mary-Mitchell Campbell as music supervisor, Ted Arthur as music director, and Eamon Foley as director of photography and video editor. It’s free to watch, but donations will be accepted to help members of the LGBTQ community and others who have been significantly impacted by the health crisis and pandemic lockdown.
Last fall, Broadway’s Best Shows hosted “Spotlight on Plays,” a series of all-star staged virtual readings, taking actors out of Zoom boxes and filming them in more theatrical settings. Among the offerings, for $5 each, were Gore Vidal’s the Best Man with John Malkovich, Morgan Freeman, Vanessa Williams, Zachary Quinto, Phylicia Rashad, Reed Birney, and Elizabeth Ashley; Kenneth Lonergan’s This Is Our Youth with Lucas Hedges, Paul Mescal, and Grace Van Patten; David Mamet’s Race, with David Alan Grier, Ed O’Neill, Alicia Stith, and Richard Thomas; Mamet’s Boston Marriage with Patti LuPone, Rebecca Pidgeon, and Sophia Macy; Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya with Alan Cumming, Constance Wu, Samira Wiley, K. Todd Freeman, and Ellen Burstyn; Donald Margulies’s Time Stands Still with original cast members Laura Linney, Alicia Silverstone, Eric Bogosian, and Brian d’Arcy James; and Robert O’Hara’s Barbecue with Colman Domingo, S. Epatha Merkerson, Tamberla Perry, Kimberly Hebert Gregory, Heather Simms, Laurie Metcalf, Carrie Coon, David Morse, Kristine Nielsen, and Annie McNamara. Sorry you missed that, yes?
Fortunately, Broadway’s Best Shows is now back for another round of online productions, seven plays that can be purchased for $49 total through March 21, after which tickets can be bought individually, at a higher per-show cost. The presentations begin March 25, with each play available for four days. It’s another impressive lineup: Meryl Streep, Bobby Cannavale, Carla Gugino, Mary-Louise Parker, Kevin Kline, Debbie Allen, Ellen Burstyn, Keanu Reeves, Kathryn Hahn, Audra McDonald, Phylicia Rashad, Heidi Schreck, Alia Shawkat, Heather Alicia Simms, Stith, and others will be appearing in Larissa FastHorse’s The Thanksgiving Play, directed by Leigh Silverman (March 25), Pearl Cleage’s Angry, Raucous and Shamelessly Gorgeous, directed by Camille A. Brown (April 9), Lillian Hellman’s Watch on the Rhine, directed by Sarna Lapine, Adrienne Kennedy’s Ohio State Murders, directed by Kenny Leon, Sarah Ruhl’s Dear Elizabeth, directed by Kate Whoriskey, Paula Vogel’s The Baltimore Waltz, directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz, and Wendy Wasserstein’s The Sisters Rosensweig, directed by Anna D. Shapiro. All proceeds go to the Actors Fund, which provides “emergency financial assistance, affordable housing, health care and insurance counseling, senior care, secondary career development, and more . . . to meet the needs of our entertainment community with a unique understanding of the challenges involved in a life in the arts.”
Who: Harvey Fierstein, Reed Birney, John Cullum, Gabriel Ebert, Tom McGowan, Patrick Page, Nick Westrate, Mare Winningham
What: Cast reunion and watch party
Where: Manhattan Theatre Club YouTube
When: Thursday, March 18, free, noon
Why: In November, Manhattan Theatre Club kicked off a new monthly series, “The Show Goes On,” revisiting previous productions with members of the cast and crew watching filmed excerpts and talking about their experiences. In November, director Trip Cullman, narrator Rebecca Naomi Jones, music director Justin Levine, and costar Will Swenson looked at 2012’s Murder Ballad, which also featured Karen Olivo and John Ellison Conlee. In December, actors Jon Hoche and Paco Tolson explored 2016’s Vietgone, by Qui Nguyen. In January, writer-director John Patrick Shanley and star Timothée Chalamet discussed 2016’s Prodigal Son. And in February, Stephanie Berry, who played, Aunt Mama, shared insight into 2018’s Sugar in Our Wounds, written by Donja R. Love and directed by Saheem Ali.
The March edition of “The Show Goes On,” each of which runs between fifteen and twenty minutes, reunites the cast of 2014’s Casa Valentina, Harvey Fierstein’s first drama in more than a quarter century. The play, inspired by a true story, takes place in June 1962 at a Catskills bungalow where men spend weekends cross-dressing and acting like women, a safe haven where they can celebrate their feminine side. Joining in the watch party will be Fierstein and most of the original cast: Reed Birney, John Cullum, Gabriel Ebert, Tom McGowan, Patrick Page, Nick Westrate, and Mare Winningham. At the time, I wrote, “Cross-dressing might be somewhat de rigueur these days on Broadway (Kinky Boots, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder, Cabaret, Hedwig and the Angry Inch), but Fierstein, [director Joe] Mantello, and an extremely talented and beautiful cast offer a very different take on this misunderstood culture, treating it with humor, intelligence, honor, courage, and, perhaps most important, dignity.” Like its title says, the show does go on, living on YouTube after its initial airing.
Who: Daniel Fish, Ted Chapin, Rebecca Naomi Jones, Patrick Vaill, Gabrielle Hamilton, Foster Hirsch
What: Discussion of reworking of classic Broadway musical
Where: The National Arts Club Zoom
When: Monday, March 15, free with RSVP, 7:30
Why: In 2018, Daniel Fish presented his seventy-fifth-anniversary adaptation of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s beloved Oklahoma! The longtime downtowner reimagined the show with diverse casting, an intimate setting that included chili during intermission, significant tweaking of the score, and a controversial solo dance to replace Agnes de Mille’s dream ballet. In my review, I called the show, which started at St. Ann’s Warehouse before moving to Circle in the Square, an “extraordinary adaptation . . . Fish has created a masterful retelling of the 1943 original, immersing the audience in the optimism that came with the southern territory becoming a state in 1906 — but uncovering a deep layer of darkness in the rich farmland soil.”
On March 15 at 7:30, the National Arts Club is hosting the live Zoom panel discussion and Q&A “Oklahoma! Re-imagining a Classic Broadway Musical,” featuring the Tony-nominated Fish; Rodgers & Hammerstein president Ted Chapin (about halfway through the show, the woman next to me muttered, “How could Ted Chapin let this happen?”); Rebecca Naomi Jones, who played Laurey; Patrick Vaill, who portrayed Jud; Bessie winner Gabrielle Hamilton, who performed the dance that opens the second act; and moderator Foster Hirsch. (The show was nominated for eight Tonys, winning for Best Orchestrations [Daniel Kluger] and Best Revival of a Musical.) Registration is free, but donations will be accepted for the NAC Artist Fellows program.
Who: Gabriel Byrne, Sarah McNally
What: Livestreamed discussion
Where: McNally Jackson Books Zoom
When: Thursday, February 25, $5, 7:00
Why: “How many times have I returned in my dreams to this hill. It is always summer as I look out over the gold and green fields, ditches foaming with hawthorn and lilac, river glinting under the sun like a blade. When I was young, I found sanctuary here and the memory of it deep in my soul ever after has brought me comfort. Once I believed it would never change, but that was before I came to know that all things must. It’s a car park now, a sightseers panorama.” So begins award-winning actor Gabriel Byrne’s widely hailed, poetic, soul-searching memoir, Walking with Ghosts (Grove Press, January 2021, $26).
The seventy-year-old Dublin native has appeared in such films as The Usual Suspects and Miller’s Crossing, such television series as In Treatment and Vikings, and such Broadway productions as A Moon for the Misbegotten and Long Day’s Journey into Night. On the book, he recounts his childhood in a working-class family, his discovery of the theater, and his battle with addiction with grace, humor, and bracing honesty. On February 25 at 7:00, he will speak with McNally Jackson Books founder Sarah McNally about the memoir and his career, live over Zoom. Admission is $5, but you can get those five bucks back if you buy a copy of the book when registering for the event and using discount code BYRNE5OFF.
Who: Jim Brickman, Kelli O’Hara, Matt Doyle, Sierra Boggess, Megan Hilty, Wayne Brady, Shoshana Bean, Santino Fontana, Adrienne Warren, Norm Lewis, Max Von Essen, Jane Lynch
What: Holiday concert benefiting the Actors Fund
When: Saturday, November 28, $20-$200, 8:00
Why: Solo pianist, songwriter, and author Jim Brickman is celebrating the holidays this year with a new album and virtual tour. The just-released Brickman for Broadway Christmas features an all-star lineup singing seasonal favorites, including Santino Fontana’s “Coming Home for Christmas,” Adrienne Warren’s “Hear Me,” Megan Hilty’s “Merry Christmas Darling,” Norm Lewis’s “’Twas The Night Before Christmas,” Shoshana Bean’s “Sending You a Little Christmas,” Sierra Boggess’s “Fa La La,” Max Von Essen’s “Christmas Is,” and Kelli O’Hara’s “O Holy Night.” On November 28 at 8:00, all of those Broadway performers will join Brickman and special guests Wayne Brady and Jane Lynch for a livestreamed interactive concert benefiting the Actors Fund.
“Recording duets with Broadway stars has always been on my career bucket list,” Brickman said in a statement. “The Brickman for Broadway Christmas project to benefit the Actors Fund was a perfect opportunity to record my songs with theater's best and to raise money for such a worthy cause during this challenging time in the world. And to hear such phenomenal singers bring these songs to life was a thrill.” Admission to the show itself is $20; for the $75 Gold Package you can hang out with Brickman and others in a Zoom room and get a stocking of Christmas presents (CD, autographed photo, program, more) delivered to your door; and the $200 Diamond Package adds all of the above along with access to a preshow party. Brickman will also be hosting “Comfort & Joy at Home” concerts with special guests November 29 through January 2, each concert benefiting a different organization and/or theater.