A Life Well Lived – A Tribute to My Mom

Susan Ianniello

August 15, 1937- February 16, 2022

“Go Slow.” 

That is what she said to me every night when I called her.  I would respond always by telling her that I was in traffic and I had no choice but to go slow.  I called her every night on my way home from work.  Sometimes, it would be when I left and she would tell me I was working too late.  Some days it would be earlier and she would say, good, you need to leave early.  Other times, I would call her after I crossed the George Washington Bridge because she always seemed to feel better when I was closer to home.  She always worried about me – about us.  “Go slow.”

My mother was a force to be reckoned with.  She was born in Harlem in 1937.  She was named Assunta, because she was born on August 15, the feast of the Assumption of Mary, but she was known as Sue or Suzanne.  She was the second of three children born to our grandparents, Louis and Laura, and sister to Maryann and Anthony.  She went Julia Richman High School where she failed gym and had to go to summer school.  That seemed to be a story she told a lot when we were younger.  She always remembered that teacher’s name and always followed her name with a choice expletive or two. 

She fell madly in love with my father at the age of 14.  We have some love letter to him written when she was a teenager, but he did not start dating her until she was 18 and out of high school.  He was nine years older than she was.  They married in 1958, raised three sons and remained married until our dad’s passing after 57 years of marriage.   They had their struggles but they came from a time when – if something was not working, you fixed it.  You did not throw it out.  So despite all their struggles, they weathered the storms.  My mother was fiercely devoted to my dad and when he had his stroke,  she decided to take him home instead of keeping him in a rehab.  She said that there was nothing he was getting there that he could not get at home.

From the time we were small, she was focused on ensuring that we had a superb education.  That meant sacrificing a lot to send us to private school.  When the three local parish schools did not accept me in – because they did not give the weekly envelopes – she found Sacred Heart Private on Zerega Avenue.  The tuition in 1966 was $15 a family and the conversation between them went something like, “Can we afford this?” And my dad said they would find a way. 

We never really knew how much of a struggle it was.  That changed when I was in the 5th grade.  The new principal of our school the principal raised the tuition significantly.  It meant that my family was going from paying $45 a month to $95 a month.  The principal saw me in the hallway and told me how sad it was going to be that we were not going to be there in the next year because my parents could not afford it.  You have to remember that I had no idea about our finances. So, when  I told my mom, she marched in and gave the nun a lecture which in many ways was unheard of in 1972.  We were not to know of their financial situation.  All we knew was that we were supposed to do was do well in school.

For nine years, mom’s friend Barbara Annunziata, drove us to school in the morning, and mom picked us in the afternoon.  Six to eight kids in a car, no locks, no seatbelts, no car seats.  She and Barbara would go on to be good friends for many years, sitting around the table with the coffee, an Entenmann’s cake and the cigarettes.  They were true friends.  During that time, she worked part time at Macy’s and at Rotanelli foods where she was doing assembly line work which she compared to Lucy and Ethel in the chocolate factory.  She did not last long there, but she did what she felt she needed to do.

When we went to high school, the only choice was Fordham Prep.  And tuition was significantly higher than at Sacred Heart.  But they once again struggled to make ends meet.  She began working as a paraprofessional in the Board of Education to help out.  It was a full time job at regular school hours which she enjoyed.   When I graduated high school, she made another sacrifice and took a full time job – nine to five – at Fordham University.   It was her way of ensuring that we could afford to go to college, because employees got a discount for their families.   I do not think that she ever imagined she would spend 34 years there.  She loved her job and  they loved her.  I received a number of notes from former students who worked for her as work study students years ago.  They never forgot her.  Most of her time was spent in enrollment services and her boss before retiring was Anna Conte whom she loved very much and who made her last years there easier for her.  Mom worked an additional six years as a consultant and got her second Bene Merenti medal for 40 years of service.  When she finally gave it all up she was 80!  You really have to love not only your job but the people you work with to remain working that long.

I think some of the happiest times for her was when we lived on Wellman Avenue and we had a block full of kids who were friends and parents who were friends. My mother and Connie Orza were the best of friends for a long time.  With all her friendships, there was coffee, the Entenmann’s cake and cigarettes.  I look at those years as golden.

My mother was fiercely protective of her children and her family.  She saw me get hit by a car when I was in the third grade –I was fine but they called the ambulance for her.  One day, for twenty minutes while driving home from school, she kept yelling at my brother, Michael, to get off the car door -remember – no locks, no seatbelts – he did not listen and when she turned on to Edison Avenue, he fell out of the car.  Once again, he was fine but they called the ambulance for her.

When I was about 12, I was sitting on a friend’s stoop, eating ice cream and the kids on the block were playing in the street.  The old man who lived on the corner came out and started screaming and out of no where, he grabbed me and pulled my hair.  The kids rode their bikes down three blocks to my grandmothers’ and told my mom what happened.  She took one of their bikes, pedaled three blocks uphill, went to his door and pulled the guy’s hair.  He was never seen again.

One night, my brothers, who were about nine and six years old, would not go to bed and she kept banging on the wall. The banging became progressively worse and more frequent, a sure sign she was losing her patience. Then came the expletives – through the wall. Finally, after one too many bangs, and a good number of choice words, she came out of her room, threw Louis’s dinosaur models off the shelf and proceeded to open their dresser. She threw all their clothes all over the room.  She told them if they were going to stay up, they needed something to do.

When I started doing cabaret shows in the city, she came to every one of them.  Once, she and my aunts were late in getting into the city and they got off the express bus and took a rickshaw from the east side to the west side of Manhattan.  She always inserted her comments into the show as I told stories, so much so, that the audience actually thought she was part of the show. When I broke into singing ‘Runaround Sue’, she would scream like a teenager at a Beatle’s concert.

Before my brother got married, we were having a fairly difficult time as a family – as most families do –and she got us all in one room and she said, we go in today as a family and we come out as a family.  And we will deal with tomorrow then.  But that was how strong she was.  She felt we could weather any storm and we did. 

There was no one like her.  She smoked and she cursed.  She cooked like no one else. Her meals were extraordinary feasts.  While some might say she had no filter, I disagree.  She not only knew what to say and when to say it,  but more importantly, how to say it.  If that meant adding a curse word or two, then so be it. She spoke from the heart and believed her truth. She could spot a phony from a mile away.

There were two thing my mother asked for in life.  One was that she did not want to be dependent on us.  She did not want to be a burden to us.   She wanted to live on her own terms and she did.  The other was that she wanted to make sure that her three sons got along, and were close.  She succeeded in both and I could not be happier with the two brothers I have.  Did I really just say that? If they were allowed to have their cell phone on right now, they would be texting each other talking about me.

Seriously though, they are great and they helped her a lot.  In a time when kids are looking to unload their parents on someone else, or even into a nursing home, she was being moved in with Louis, right down the block from Michael, with her sister at her side.

There are so many people I want to recognize today.   She idolized to her last day, her beloved Aunt Tillie who is with us today.  We have so many memories of spending summer days in her pool.  My cousin Donna was her god daughter and she is here too.   My cousins from Rochester adored her and she loved them as well.   Donna, Jennie, Carmela and Louise, although not related by blood, you were more than family to her.

She adored nothing more than being a grandmother to Sandra, Victoria and Isabelle.   Sandra was the first – she practically lived with my mom and dad, and they loved having the girls.  She babysat a lot, and loved being with them..and as they got older, she loved their visits.   She was so proud always of them.  This year she taught Victoria how to make Struffoli. 

To my aunt Maryann, you were her best friend and confidante.  Know that she will always be here and we look to you now to be the leader for us.  Louis, Laura, Michael, Debbie and Nick, thank you all for everything you did for her over the years but especially in the last year.

Finally, to my mom – you loved us unconditionally and you sacrificed to make our lives better.  We are eternally grateful.  It was my privilege to be your son and to be your friend as an adult.


Getting the Band Back Together


When I purchased the tickets to see Getting the Band Back Together on Broadway I really did not know what to expect. The fact that this is an original musical – not a jukebox style musical – a true blue new musical makes this a must see. It is a fresh and original theater romp.  There was not one moment where I was bored or not entertained.  If you ever played in a high school band and you are now in your 30’s, 40’s, 50’s or 60’s – this is your musical.  If you never played in a band, then get yourself to the theater and imagine you did.

The plot revolves around Mitch, (played by the very talented Mitchell Jarvis) a guy who turns 40 and loses his Wall Street job. He goes home to New Jersey to live with his mother – the ever stunning Marilu Henner (Taxi, Evening Shade, DWTS)- and the fun begins. He meets up with his high school band mates and they decide to enter the battle of the bands contest against the same rivals they had in high school who are still playing in the local bars.

Going back in time, and reliving the past is not always easy or enjoyable as the guys find out. This supporting cast of band mates keeps the music going and the laughs coming. There are some unexpected twists that make this a great show.   Kelli Barrett – as Mitch’s love interest – exudes all the beauty and charm you expect from a leading lady.  Jay Klaitz is hysterical as Bart, Mitch’s best friend.  Kudos to Ken Davenport, whose book is solid and perfect for the musical theater.  He also doubles as one of the producers.

Getting the Band Back Together is great for all ages from teens through seniors.   If you have to see one show, see this one. I cannot recommend it enough.


Harry Potter and the Cursed Child


Let’s start by saying that I have seen all the Harry Potter movies and I have enjoyed them. Let’s also start by saying that I never read any of the books. Let me finally say that you do not have to read the books nor see the movies to realize that this play is very special.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is not just a play. It is a phenomenal theatrical experience. The story is crisp. The acting is excellent. The special effects are dazzling – especially when characters are morphing into other characters.

The play focuses on the adult Harry Potter who is now working for the Ministry of Magic and is a husband and father of three school-age children. Harry has a most difficult relationship with his youngest son, Albus. Albus struggles in the shadows of his famous father and does not want to be part of that magical world. To make matters more complicated, he is thrust into the House of Slytherin, one of four student houses of Hogwarts Academy. While his father was a product of Gryffindor, known for it bravery and valor, Slytherin has a darker side. Little Albus is paired off with Scorpius Malfoy,whose father Darco, is a rival of Harry. However, the boys get along well, become best friends and the story goes on from there. Suffice it to say that Albus is more like his father than they both think.

I won’t go into the plot too much here. For the fans of Harry Potter, Hermione, Ron, Hagrid, Dumbledore, Voldemort, Professors Snape and McGonagall and even Delores Umbrage are part of this story that transcends from past to present and back to past seamlessly. For those of you who know nothing of Harry Potter, you will be able to follow the story easily. My friend Grace knows nothing of Harry Potter and she was smiling ear to ear.

The performances are just fantastic. The adults, Jaime Parker (Harry), Paul Thornley (Ron) and Noma Dumezweni (Hermione) did a wonderful job. Sam Clemmett who plays Albus is delightfully conflicted and Alex Price is superb as Scorpius.

So – is there a down side? The play runs in two parts, which means you have to buy two tickets which can be expensive. We chose to be there on a Saturday matinee and evening. While one would think that this is exhausting, I found myself so entertained and intrigued that the time passed quickly – in fact – so much so that I did not want it to end.

There is a magic in the air at the Lyric theater. It starts outside in the long lines to get in. The lobby has a room full of refreshments, a bar and a very long shopping filled with Harry Potter merchandise. Maybe you want a wand or a hat, a scarf or a shirt. Anything Potter is up for grabs. Many die hard fans changed their clothes and donned their Potter wardrobe for Part II.

SO- would I recommend this? YES!! If you are a fan, you must see this. If you know nothing about Harry Potter, this will introduce you to the world to which so many have escaped and you may never want to get out!!


My Thoughts On The Tony Awards

Tony_Award_MedallionI look forward to the Tony Awards more than any other awards show for lots of reasons – I love the theater and am an avid fan, seeing almost everything as it arrives on the Great White Way.  The presentation is so much more entertaining than the Oscars or the Emmys.  More than that, it exposes theater to the entire country.

Having seen almost everything this year, I thought I would take a shot at predicting the winners – with some commentary of course!!  So here goes –

BEST PLAY NOMINEES: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Disgraced, Hand to God and Wolf Hall: Parts One & Two

  • MY PREDICTION: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time    This was one of the best plays I have ever seen.  Even without its special effects, the intensity of the plot and the kinetic ensemble work make this the front runner.

BEST MUSICAL NOMINEES   An American in Paris, Fun Home, Something Rotten! and The Visit

  • MY PREDICTION:  Fun Home.  This will win…a funeral home, a lesbian cartoonist and a gay dad who commits suicide makes for a  solid theatrical night.   This was not my favorite, however.  I would choose Something Rotten over Fun Home but I think there is something to be said about a theater piece that is emotionally riveting.  The Visit and An American In Paris are great contenders but Fun Home has it locked up.

BEST REVIVAL OF A PLAY NOMINEES: The Elephant Man, Skylight, This Is Our Youth and You Can’t Take It with You

  • MY PREDICTION: Elephant Man will win, but my personal favorite is You Can’t Take it With You.

BEST REVIVAL OF A MUSICAL NOMINEES: The King and I, On the Town and On the Twentieth Century

  • MY PREDICTION: The King and I will win.  It is Rogers and Hammerstein’s best musical and my personal favorite!

BEST ACTOR IN A PLAY NOMINEES: Steven Boyer (Hand to God), Bradley Cooper (The Elephant Man), Ben Miles (Wolf Hall: Parts One & Two), Bill Nighy (Skylight) and Alex Sharp (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time)

  • MY PREDICTION:  Alex Sharp will win although Bradley Cooper was phenomenal!

BEST ACTRESS IN A PLAY NOMINEES: Geneva Carr (Hand to God), Helen Mirren (The Audience), Elisabeth Moss (The Heidi Chronicles),Carey Mulligan (Skylight) and Ruth Wilson (Constellations)

  • MY PREDICTION:  Helen Mirren hands down will win this.  No one does Royalty justice better than Mirren.

BEST ACTOR IN A MUSICAL NOMINEES: Michael Cerveris (Fun Home), Robert Fairchild (An American in Paris), Brian d’Arcy James(Something Rotten!), Ken Watanabe (The King and I) and Tony Yazbeck (On the Town)

  • MY PREDICTION:  Brian d’Arcy James will win.  His performance as Nick Bottom is over the top and his entire body of work has never been recognized.  Fairchild and Yaszbeck are wonderful but have similar roles – this is also Fairchild’s first nomination and Yazbeck’s leading role establishes him as a perfect leading man.  My money is on Brian – who is a theater favorite.  He did not get a Tony for Shrek – and he should have just for the costume and makeup! 

BEST ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL NOMINEES: Kristin Chenoweth (On the Twentieth Century), Leanne Cope (An American in Paris), Beth Malone(Fun Home), Kelli O’Hara (The King and I) and Chita Rivera (The Visit)

  • MY PREDICTION:  This is by far the most difficult of the categories this year.  Chenoweth’s performance is hands down brilliant.  O’Hara is radiant as Anna, and the legendary Chita Rivera is stunning.  Cope is wonderful but this is her first time at the rodeo.    While O’Hara has never won before, and this will probably be Chita’s last show, I think Chenoweth has this tied up.  Wouldn’t a tie be great? 

BEST FEATURED ACTOR IN A PLAY NOMINEES: Matthew Beard (Skylight), K. Todd Freeman (Airline Highway), Richard McCabe (The Audience),Alessandro Nivola (The Elephant Man), Nathaniel Parker (Wolf Hall: Parts One & Two) and Micah Stock (It’s Only a Play)

  • MY PREDICTION: This is a toss up.  I would love to see Micah Stock win this.  He is the only one in the ensemble of “It’s Only a A Play” who is not known and he more than holds his own.  That is a feat in itself. 

BEST FEATURED ACTRESS IN A PLAY NOMINEES: Annaleigh Ashford (You Can’t Take It with You), Patricia Clarkson (The Elephant Man), Lydia Leonard (Wolf Hall: Parts One & Two), Sarah Stiles (Hand to God) and Julie White (Airline Highway)

  • MY PREDICTION: This is between Annaleigh Ashford and Patricia Clarkson..two performances on the opposite end of the spectrum.  Ashford was a delight in You Can’t Take It With You and Clarkson was brilliant in The Elephant Man. 

BEST FEATURED ACTOR IN A MUSICAL NOMINEES: Christian Borle (Something Rotten!), Andy Karl (On the Twentieth Century), Brad Oscar (Something Rotten!), Brandon Uranowitz (An American in Paris) and Max von Essen (An American in Paris)

  • MY PREDICTION: I would love to see Brad Oscar or Max von Essen win this but I would be comfortable with any of these fine performances.  Christian Borle is so great as Shakespeare and Andy Karl has a great chance as well for On The Twentieth Century.  

BEST FEATURED ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL NOMINEES: Victoria Clark (Gigi), Judy Kuhn (Fun Home), Sydney Lucas (Fun Home), Ruthie Ann Miles (The King and I) and Emily Skeggs (Fun Home)

  • MY PREDICTION:  It is either going to be Judy Kuhn (My personal favorite) or Ruthie Ann Miles.  All the nominees are wonderful but my money is on Judy Kuhn.

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE NOMINEESFun Home (Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron), The Last Ship (Sting), Something Rotten! (Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick) and The Visit (John Kander and Fred Ebb)

  • MY PREDICTION:  Fun Home will take this hands down.  The score to Something Rotten is just great as well, but Fun Home will get it.

BEST BOOK OF A MUSICAL NOMINEES:  An American in Paris (Craig Lucas), Fun Home (Lisa Kron), Something Rotten! (Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell) and The Visit (Terrence McNally)

  • MY PREDICTION:  This is an interesting category.  Four completely different shows vie for Best Book.  Something Rotten is the only one not based on another source, so it gets some points for that. An American In Paris makes for a great transition from the screen to stage.  The Visit is so dark and poignant and with an element of evil that pushes the envelope.  Fun Home, however, tells a story that on the surface seems unable to be told.  I think the award goes to Fun Home, although I would like to see Something Rotten nail this one.  

BEST DIRECTION OF A PLAY NOMINEES: Stephen Daldry (Skylight), Marianne Elliott (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time),Scott Ellis (You Can’t Take It with You), Jeremy Herrin (Wolf Hall: Parts One & Two) and Moritz von Stuelpnagel(Hand to God)

  • MY PREDICTION: Marianne Elliott for The Curious Incident..hands down.

BEST DIRECTION OF A MUSICAL NOMINEES: Sam Gold (Fun Home), Casey Nicholaw (Something Rotten!), John Rando (On the Town), Bartlett Sher (The King and I) and Christopher Wheeldon (An American in Paris)

  • MY PREDICTION:  This is a real toss up for me between Nicholaw and Sher, with Gold and Wheeldon running close behind.  I think the award will go to Bartlet Sher because in the end, the committee loves a great revival. 

BEST CHOREOGRAPHY NOMINEES: Joshua Bergasse (On the Town), Christopher Gattelli (The King and I), Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time), Casey Nicholaw (Something Rotten!) andChristopher Wheeldon (An American in Paris)

  • MY PREDICTION: Christopher Wheeldon will win this.  The choreography in An American In Paris was breathtaking and stunning. 

So there you have my predictions for the major categories.  I would love to hear your thoughts but more than that, I would love to see you at the theater!!


Theater Review – THE VISIT with Chita Rivera

the visit – THE VISIT

If you are looking for Chita Rivera to stun you with a big song and dance number in Kander and Ebb’s The Visit, you won’t get that.  What you will get is a tour de force performance from one of Broadway’s most beloved veterans, worthy of a Tony Award.

Rivera plays the role of Claire Zachanassian,  the wealthiest woman in the world, who amassed her fortune thanks through the deaths of several husbands.  She returns to her home town (now bankrupt and poverty stricken) to wreak a little havoc – to seek revenge on the man who wronged her as a teenager and the townspeople who allowed this  injustice to happen.  Her wish is simple.  She will restore the town and its residents to their former glory if the town sacrifices the life of her now aged lover, Anton Shell, played by Roger Rees.  What unfolds is a haunting tale of scorned love, lies, greed and revenge.

Ms. Rivera has been with the show since the beginning, touring all over the country, finally landing on Broadway this season.  I am not sure who else could – or should – play Claire.  In a role that could have been written just for her, this amazing legend shines with an eerie and memorable performance playing the powerful villainess.

Rogers Rees is admirable in the role of Anton.  His vulnerability and fear is a stark contrast to Rivera’s domineering Claire.  Their story is told through both their eyes as older adults as well as the younger and carefree personas created by  John Riddle and Michelle Ventimiglia who, with relatively little speaking, communicate their story more through dance.  At one point, Claire’s happy memory of her romance with Anton results in a dance, with her younger self.  This is one of the brighter moments of the show, and for Rivera fans, gives us a taste of the dancer she once was.  For this fan, the moment that brought a tear to my eye.  The supporting cast members do a fine job with their respective characters’ growth, progressing from the need to take the moral high road to their own self preservation and ultimately greed.

Kander and Ebb’s score is perfect for the show. While the show has no big, splashy, razzle-dazzle number, it is instead filled with mysterious melodies and haunting lyrics.  While the lack of those big numbers might be considered a weakness of the show, that is not the case here.  Everything fits together.

This will probably be Miss Rivera’s last starring role on Broadway.  At 82, she has the perfect swan song to her illustrious career and she proves she is still a force to be reckoned with.  Don’t wait to see her.


Theater Review – IT SHOULDA BEEN YOU



A Jewish girl, a Catholic boy, their overbearing mothers,  the girl’s older unmarried sister and a wedding make for a very funny night on Broadway.   The show is clean, solid and humorous  with absolutely perfect direction by David Hyde Pierce.

The plot centers around the wedding day of Rebecca Steinberg (Sierra Bogess) and Brian Howard (David Burtka) but is really told through the eyes of Rebecca’s older sister, Jenny, played passionately by Lisa Howard.   While Jenny is a successful business woman, she is  reminded a few times by her mother (Tyne Daly) that she is overweight and single.   Daly’s character is not totally happy with the wedding but like many suffering mothers, will bear it.  Brian’s mother (Harriet Harris) imbibes a bit too much, and, like her counterpart, is also not thrilled that her son is marrying outside the fold. Jenny’s mission is to make sure that nothing comes between her sister’s happiness and the wedding celebration,  which includes the sudden appearance of Rebecca’s ex-boyfriend, Marty, played with great fervor by Josh Grisetti.  The supporting players – the fathers, the wedding planner, the hotel catering staff and a gossipy aunt on the bride’s side all add to the humorous plot.

As the wedding day progresses, things seem to go as planned – despite the objections and concerns of the two mothers and the ex-boyfriend.   However, while the wedding goes off without a hitch, what comes after the nuptials and before the reception is where the shocker  comes.   This witty twist was absolutely unexpected.   While some critics have called it predictable,  I did not see it coming and neither did anyone else in our group.  The twist was fresh and funny. However, enough said about the plot since any more would spoil the fun.

This is a highly entertaining show from start to finish.  The score is light and easy and moves the plot along nicely. The highlight of the show was Lisa Howard, who should have been nominated for a Tony.  She shines as the sister, trying to please everyone, except of course, herself.  She is beautiful and talented and brings so much warmth to her role that you cannot help but love her.    Daly, as usual, is the classic in her role as the Jewish mother and Harris is just as funny as the Catholic mother.  David Hyde Pierce is a comedy genius.  He moves the characters through each scene flawlessly and I laughed from start to finish.   This show is a must see.

The show was not nominated for any Tony Awards …but  I am hoping that it remains going longer based on word of mouth.    So here are my words — DON’T MISS THIS SHOW!!!!



When I started to go to the theater in my late teens, I went with one intention – to be entertained.  I wanted an escape, an outlet.  I wanted to simply spend time away from reality, not thinking a lot about life and its problems.  I wanted simplicity – and fun – and laughs.   Honeymoon In Vegas is a show that reminds me of the old times…a simple show, meant to entertain and not make the audience ponder too much.  It comes at time when we need to laugh – to enjoy our lives and to sit back and take it all in.  I cannot tell you how much I loved this show.

So –what happens in Vegas should stay in Vegas – but when it comes to New York, watch out and prepare yourself for an evening of laughter, frolic and unadulterated pure fun.  The plot closely resembles the movie screenplay.  Rob McClure, who made a name for himself as Chaplin two years ago on Broadway, plays Jack Singer, a likeable, nerdy guy.  He wants to marry his girlfriend, Betsy (played by Bryn O’Malley) but has commitment phobia.  Each time Jack gets close to marriage, he is haunted by the ghost of his deceased mother, played brilliantly by the hysterically funny Nancy Opel.   Jack finally bites the bullet and decides to take Betsy to Las Vegas to marry her there.

The ease of a Vegas wedding is complicated by Jack’s big loss in a poker game –headed by a suave wise guy named Tommy Korman (Tony Danza) who orchestrates a huge monetary loss for Jack.  The only way to repay Tommy is to have Betsy spend a weekend with him…as Tommy sees her as a replacement for his deceased wife.   Tommy, however, wants to take it further and employs a cast of characters to keep the couple apart and fulfill Tommy’s goals.

There is nothing complicated about Honeymoon in Vegas, which makes it all the better.  It is a simple musical comedy.  Rob McClure is just brilliant.  He is a physical comedian – perfect for this role.  Bryn O’Malley is wonderful as the lovelorn fiancée.  The supporting players are excellent, especially Nancy Opel as Jack’s deceased mother popping up in the oddest of places. Catherine Ricafort does a fine job as a distraction for Jack.  David Josefsberg does double duty as the lounge singer and the head Elvis impersonator.  Only my friend Gene DiNapoli might be able to give him a run for his money – but otherwise he teeters between the two characters wistfully.

Tony Danza is a joy to watch. He plays the wise guy with charm and charisma – so much so that you almost want him to steal Betsy from Jack. Just when you think that is going to happen, he changes like a chameleon and his deceitful side is exposed. He sings and dances with sincerity, warmth and joy..truly entertaining.

I so much enjoyed Jason Robert Brown’s score.  Each song advances the plot and the characters and each song is unique in its sound and its message.  It was great to see people leaving a show and humming a tune. The overture, which is so rarely heard these days in new musicals, is the perfect beginning, as it is both welcoming and entertaining.

This is a musical that needs to survive.  It needs a long run.  Audiences deserve this.  Jason Robert Brown deserves this.  The entire cast deserves this.  Run to see Honeymoon In Vegas   —- NOW!!!!!!!

NEXT WEEK – The Play Revivals – A Delicate Balance, The Elephant Man and You Can’t Take it With You!


Pondering the Tony Awards




Every year, I anxiously await the Tony nominations to see how the committee stacks up with my thoughts.  There are always a number of surprises and I sometimes think that the committee members certainly did not see the same shows that I saw.  However, that is the experience of someone who goes strictly to enjoy the entertainment and not someone immersed in the profession.  Since the members of the committee are distinguished members of the theater community, our thoughts clearly would be different. 

That having been said, a few thoughts on those who should have been nominated:

First and foremost, for Best Musical – the nominating committee could have gone with a fifth nomination..and they did not.  That is a very sad choice in a year which brought us The Bridges of Madison County, Rocky, First Date and Big Fish among others.  While the latter two closed early, Bridges and Rocky should have been considered.  Not having a fifth nominee only hurts the productions.  Perhaps if Bridges got a nomination, it would not have closed.  There – I said it – Shame on you Nominating Committee. 

Other Slights –

For Best Actor in a Play   – Zachary Quinto in The Glass Menagerie, Daniel Radcliffe for the Cripple of Inishmaan and Denzel Washington for A Raisin in the Sun. The Hollywood factor rules again.

For Best Actress in a PlayToni Collette for The Realistic Joneses

For Best Featured Actress in a MusicalCass Morgan for The Bridges of Madison County, Lisa O’Hare for A Gentleman’s Guide and Margo Seibert as Adrian in Rocky.   

For Best Actor in a MusicalWill Swenson in Les Miserables and Stephen Pasquale for The Bridges of Madison County.

Now onto the nominees –

The most interesting categories this year belong to the leading women, so let’s start with them.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical

Mary Bridget Davies, “A Night with Janis Joplin”
Sutton Foster, “Violet”
Idina Menzel, “If/Then”
Jessie Mueller, “Beautiful – The Carole King Musical”
Kelli O’Hara, “The Bridges of Madison County”

All five actresses are worthy but this year’s prize is between Kelli O’Hara and Jesse Mueller.  I think that Jesse’s portrayal of Carole King is amazing and deserves the award.  However, Kelli O’Hara is the sentimental favorite, having been nominated for the fifth time with no previous wins.

 Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play

Tyne Daly, “Mothers and Sons”
LaTanya Richardson Jackson, “A Raisin in the Sun”
Cherry Jones, “The Glass Menagerie”
Audra McDonald, “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill”
Estelle Parsons, “The Velocity of Autumn”

This is probably the most exciting category and the competition is fierce.  Cherry Jones and Tyne Daly gave monumental performances.  Audra McDonald’s portrayal of Billie Holiday is uncanny. My personal vote would go to Tyne Daly over Cherry Jones, but I think Audra McDonald might have this one locked up.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical

Linda Emond, “Cabaret”
Lena Hall, “Hedwig and the Angry Inch”
Anika Larsen, “Beautiful – The Carole King Musical”
Adriane Lenox, “After Midnight”
Lauren Worsham, “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder”

I adore Adriane Lenox and thought she was spectacular in After Midnight.   I would love to see her win this.  Anika Larsen, Lauren Worsham and Lena Hall all give great performances as well, but I think this belongs to Linda Emond for her emotional portrayal in Cabaret.  Don’t count out Lena Hall either though..this is a tough one to call.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play

Sarah Green, “The Cripple of Inishmaan”
Celia Keenan-Bolger, “The Glass Menagerie”
Sophie Okonedo, “A Raisin in the Sun”
Anika Noni Rose, “A Raisin in the Sun”
Mare Winningham, “Casa Valentina

My vote is for Celia Keenan Bolger.  Anika Noni Rose and Sophie Okonedo might cancel each other out and while Sarah Green was wonderful, I think it is hard to pass up Bolger’s portrayal of Laura in The Glass Menagerie.  I think Mare Winningham was phenomenal in Casa Valentina, and as much as I would love to see her take this, I don’t think she will get the votes.

Now – Onto the Men

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical

Neil Patrick Harris, “Hedwig and the Angry Inch”
Ramin Karimloo, “Les Miserables”
Andy Karl, “Rocky”
Jefferson Mays, “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder”
Bryce Pinkham, “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder”

Neil Patrick Harris will take this one – the Tony voters always love gender bending roles and they love NPH.  Jefferson Mays is a close second but he and Bryce Pinkham will cancel each other out.  Ramin Karimloo is superb as Valjean in Les Miserables and Andy Karl is so endearing as Rocky but he is the dark horse in this category. 

Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical

Danny Burstein, “Cabaret”
Nick Cordero, “Bullets Over Broadway”
Joshua Henry, “Violet”
James Monroe Iglehart, “Aladdin”
Jarrod Spector, “Beautiful – The Carole King Musical”

I would love to see Danny Burstein win this as he has been nominated a few times in the past, however, I think this belongs to James Monroe Iglehart as the Genie in Alladin.  Again, five great performances in a very competitive category.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play

Samuel Barnett, “Twelfth Night”
Bryan Cranston, “All the Way”
Chris O’Dowd, “Of Mice and Men”
Mark Rylance, “Richard III”
Tony Shalhoub, “Act One

This one is between Tony Shaloub and Brian Cranston.  Mark Rylance is brilliant as always and Chris O’Dowd was amazing, but I think the character portrayals by Shaloub and Cranston are Tony worthy.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play

Reed Birney, “Casa Valentina”
Paul Chahidi, “Twelfth Night”
Stephen Fry, “Twelfth Night”
Mark Rylance, “Twelfth Night”
Brian J. Smith, “The Glass Menagerie”

My vote is for Reed Birney in Casa Valentina.  Brian J. Smith was excellent in The Glass Menagerie and the men from Twelfth Night were all good, I think Birney deserves it.

The best play, musical, and revivals in those categories are next and these are not as easy to decide as they may appear.

Best Play
“Act One”
“All the Way”
“Casa Valentina”
“Mothers and Sons”
“Outside Mullingar”

I think the Tony will go to Act One – the voters love a show business story.  However, my votes go to Casa Valentina and Mothers and Sons.  Fierstein’s dramatization of straight men who live as women in the 1960’s Catskills is an amazing show and Mothers and Sons is just heart wrenching, bringing all the tragedy of losing a child to AIDS  and the aftermath for who remains behind left me in tears.  Don’t count either one out.

Best Musical
“After Midnight”
“Beautiful – The Carole King Musical”
“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder”

Aladdin is a favorite but based on a movie.  Beautiful is a jukebox musical – to which voters do not take too kindly, although, the story and the performances are wonderful.  After Midnight is the longshot – and also a jukebox musical.  A Gentleman’s Guide is the most original of the four, and will probably take it.  My vote would be for Beautiful.

Best Revival of a Play
“The Cripple of Inishmaan”
“The Glass Menagerie”
“A Raisin in the Sun”
“Twelfth Night”

The Glass Menagerie – hands down -gets my vote here.  However, don’t count the others out.  All three are worthy of the award. 

Best Revival of a Musical
“Hedwig and the Angry Inch”
“Les Miserables”

Hedwig gets the nod here.  Violet is not as popular as it needs to be to win this and truthfully, as much as I loved the revival – how many revivals of Les Mis can you have? 

I am not going to comment on score, compositions, scenic design, costumes and the other categories as this is already a bit long.  However, I would love to see Jason Robert Brown win and I also would love to see a win for Steven Lutvak, who is a personal favorite.  I have sung a few of his compositions in my cabaret shows and he has always been so giving of his works.

Until next week – when we see how Sunday’s broadcast affects what remains open and what folds…enjoy the pondering!!





Tonight’s installment of Ponder with Peter was supposed to be a review of If/Then, the Idina Menzel musical.  I saw it in previews and decided I would wait until it opened to review.  So I bought tickets for a show last week, arrived at the theater and Idina was out.  So IF there is no Idina Menzel, THEN, there is no review, because I am going on another night.   So – what is this week about?

It is not like me to get behind the eight ball on the world of musicals, but truth be told, I did not see Matilda until about a month ago. So while this is last year’s show and a little older than those I might review, my experience was recent and you have been asking for this one..so here’s to you.

I never read the book and I never saw the movie. However, I was intrigued more than just a bit to see this musical mega-hit that was imported from London.  There was so much buzz around this, even after it did not win the Tony that I wanted to experience the miracle of Matilda.

Matilda is the story of a special young lady with some type of supernatural powers that work when she gets extremely agitated.  She was born to parents who do not want her but tolerate her, so she escapes by going to the library, and narrating a never ending story filled with such vivid imagination that the librarian is enamored with her.  She is enrolled in a school where the headmistress is the most despicable of people and treats both the kids and her staff poorly. Matilda’s teacher, Miss Honey, takes an interest in her and through love, caring and concern, they help each other come to terms with their respective lives and those who complicate them.

There are some good moments and it is an overall enjoyable evening but some of the character portrayals are so over the top that it prevented me from truly loving this show.  I suppose that children who are fond of the movie or the book will love it and the parents who are over-Disneyfied might enjoy a nice diversion from lions and the plains of Africa.

 What did I love?

  • Matilda is played by three different young girls and depending on when you see it will determine which one you get.  On our night, the title role was played by Paige Brady.  This child was astonishing and brilliant.  She was so wonderful that I jumped to my feet when she came out for her bows.  It is an amazing feat for an adult to carry the burden of a show but when a child can pull it off, it takes something very special.
  • The Other Kids – So much young talent- parents beware – your kids will want a career in show business as these youngsters make it look so easy.  Each of the kids in Matilda’s class is special and each one brings life to his/her character, especially Mitchell Sink who played Bruce and Grace Capeless who played Lavender.
  • Miss Honey – Jill Paice plays the sympathetic, unconfident school teacher with such sensitivity and warmth, that you wish she was your teacher.  She has a gorgeous voice and you cannot help but love and root for her – although New Yorkers might just want to slap her and say, “Snap out of it!.”

 What did I not like?

  • The rest of the characters – Matilda’s parents, Miss Trunchbull, the brother – all done so over the top that they were not believable – to me – the adult.  I suppose that they kept true to the book and if that is the case, then it works for its target audience.  However, I would have preferred to see more down to earth characters – but then it might have painted too much realism and not enough fantasy.

I heard from friend that the play was “dark” and could be scary for kids.  Unless I have lost all sense of understanding the psyche of children, I did not believe that was true.   Matilda’s positive brilliance, the enthusiasm of the children and the transformation and depth of caring from Miss Honey brighten whatever dark spots there are.  The sadness of Matilda not being wanted by her parents is overshadowed by her desire to be loved – and truth be told –isn’t that what we all want?

SO it did not win the Tony – but take the kids and show them how bad it really could be!!! 







Before I get to the actual show, indulge a memory or two with me about the importance Pippin has had in my life.   When Sister Joanne Pastori, our Principal, brought Sal Rendina to Sacred Heart Private School’s faculty to teach music, she opened up a world of possibilities for a lot of us. She was a visionary, a true educator, who understood that the arts were an important part of a well rounded curriculum and more importantly of a well rounded educational experience.   We always had music in elementary school..But most of it was liturgical (I still hear echoes of “Sons of God, “ Take Our Bread,” and “Immaculate Mary.”) Sister Carol Sansone introduced us to the music of the St. Louis Jesuits, but it was Sal who took it all a step beyond, perfecting the hymns with his students.

Sal was a true pioneer. He was adept at church music but he also spent time bringing Broadway to life in the classroom. His repertoire of vocal selection books included Cabaret, Fiddler on the Roof, Mame and of course, Pippin. In 1974, he led the school to its first show in about four years and not since John Viti and Hugh Walsh rolled out the barrel in lederhosen, were we that excited. Paul Mileo (RIP) opened that show with ‘Wilkommen’ from Cabaret, and we all sang ‘Magic to Do’ from Pippin, hands and all. Donna D’Ambrosio, who had the voice of a songbird, sang ‘Married’, also from Cabaret.

Lisa Lo Cascio and I were scheduled to sing ‘No Time At All,’ from Pippin. We rehearsed daily and fell in love with the song. We were good…we were VERY GOOD. But during the last rehearsal, Sister Carol really listened to the lyrics – “and watching your flings be flung all over, makes me feel young all over, in just No Time At All.” And in an instant, they were deemed too risqué, and the number was cut, forever.. and Lisa and I never got to sing it. No offense to Sister Carol, as it was only 1974. We should have stuck with ‘Sixteen Going on Seventeen,’ from The Sound of Music – after all, she still thinks I am her Rolf and she will always be my Liesl.

Perhaps as a true Catholic, I was supposed to suffer that disappointment as it seemed to actually solidify my love for Pippin. I gained an admiration and love for this show from then on – so much so that when I graduated high school, my cake was inscribed with “May you find your ‘Corner of the Sky’, but I digress.

The only production of this show that I had seen was a video done in the early 1980s with Ben Vereen, William Kaat, Chita Rivera and Martha Raye. However, the original cast recording is forever etched in my mind and so when the first ever revival was announced, I was more excited than one can imagine. The only downside to this was that it took me almost a year to actually see it. I am so glad that I did. It is spectacular.

So the play…Pippin is the son of Charlemagne and the show focuses around his search for something deeper – the meaning of life. The show is narrated by the leading player and the characters in clued Pippin’s father, Charlemagne, his step mother, Fastrada, his grandmother Berthe, Catherine, the older widowed woman and his step brother Louis.   It is set in medieval times, with a Cirque de Soleil feel with acrobats and dancers moving across the stage and throughout all the songs…so where to begin.

Kyle Dean Massey was born to play Pippin. Although not the original, he is handsome, talented and really understands the plight of the lost boy. He evokes innocence and maturity at the same time. His ‘Corner of the Sky’ is masterfully done and his confusion over his search is really wonderful as exhibited when he sings ‘Extraordinary.’

The lead player role won a Tony for Patina Miller. Her replacement, Ciara Renee, is excellent in her narrator/director role – smartly performed by an absolutely beautiful woman whose vocal ability was brilliant.

Terrence Mann has been one of my favorite Broadway performers for the last thirty years and he did not disappoint in his role of Charlemagne. Dynamic and riveting are two descriptors that come to mind.

Rachel Rae Jones was simply beautiful as the vulnerable older widow, Catherine. Pretty, talented and perfect for the role, she exudes the simplicity of her character gracefully and her banter back and forth with the lead player was masterful.

My favorite song from the show, of course, is ‘No Time At All,’ which is sung by pippin’s grandmother, Bethe, played by the gorgeous Annie Potts from Designing Women fame. I admit, I was a tad nervous – can she sing? Can she do our song better than Lisa and I could have done it? Well, I was so happy that I shed a tear or two when she took over that theater with the song. It evoked a few memories and she sang with such spunk that you could not help but love her. The best part – well – two best parts – first it is a sing along so the audience joined in and I shouted out emphatically, especially when my line came…once risqué – and now so tame by comparison. “Watching your flings be flung all over…and I almost jumped out of my seat. The second best part, the real feat was the charming Annie Potts – in her 60’s – engaging in acrobatics that most 20 year olds cannot do. She is still stunningly beautiful and steals the show.

The show is well worth seeing and paying full price. I am only sorry it took me so long to get to see it ..but I am glad we did. Pippin is a five star production well worth the ticket price.  I always wonder if I would have had the same reaction if Sister Carol did not cut the number…and I guess I will never know…But— so many years later, a special thank you to Sister Joanne Pastori and Mr. Sal Rendina –always grateful for opening our eyes and lifting our voices.