Theater-lovers are going to love these theater gifts


Books go onstage and backstage, and DVDs feature Rodgers and Hammerstein

Theater Column

December 21, 2006|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,sun theater critic

Whoops. Only four days till "Christmas Day" and you still "... Need a Little Christmas" -- perhaps even "A New Deal for Christmas"? Or, maybe you're afraid it'll be a "Hard Candy Christmas" because you can't find the right gift for your friend, the theater junkie, the one who can identify the shows these song titles are from. (For everyone else, the answers are below).

Here are some suggestions:

Photographer Howard Schatz's stunning coffee-table book, In Character: Actors Acting (Bulfinch Press, $50), features close-up portraits of 100 actors whose facial expressions show them doing what they do best -- emoting. There are also brief interviews and profiles. After a striking three-page black-and-white spread of Charles S. Dutton, the Baltimore-born actor says, "To me, going on stage is the most beautiful violence one can engage in. I look at the other people on the stage as opponents. And before the night is over I plan to knock them out."

Stop the Show! A History of Insane Incidents and Absurd Accident in the Theater (Thunder's Mouth Press, $15.95) is a compilation of amusing stories and anecdotes. Some will be familiar to theater buffs. For instance, there's the famed telegram sent backstage by playwright George S. Kaufman to an actor appearing in Kaufman's Of Thee I Sing: "Am watching your performance from the rear of the house. Wish you were here." Others offer insights into the trials of live theater, such as an account of the young Sarah Jessica Parker accidentally knocking out part of a tooth with a scrub brush while playing the lead in Annie on Broadway; the song she was singing was "It's the Hard-Knock Life."

The Rodgers and Hammerstein Collection (Fox Home Entertainment $99.98). Six now-classic movie musicals are included in this DVD set: Carousel, The King and I, South Pacific, State Fair, Oklahoma! and The Sound of Music. Bonus features include everything from singalong karaoke subtitles to stills and audio from deleted songs.

(The musicals referred to in the first paragraph are: Promises, Promises; Mame; Annie and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.)

A gift

Christmas came early to Center Stage last week when the National Endowment for the Arts awarded it a $45,000 grant in support of the theater's February production of Trouble in Mind, Alice Childress' play about race, theater and stereotypes in the 1950s.

Directed by artistic director Irene Lewis, the production will star E. Faye Butler, whose Center Stage credits include Once on This Island, Ain't Misbehavin' and Dinah Was. Butler was also seen at the Hippodrome in Mamma Mia! in 2004.

Only two theaters -- the Shakespeare Theatre in Washington and the Public Theater in New York -- received larger sums in this latest round of NEA grants.

Also at Center Stage, in honor of the current production of The Boys from Syracuse -- the Rodgers and Hart musical based on Comedy of Errors, Shakespeare's play about two sets of twins -- tomorrow will be "Twins' Night."

After the 8 p.m. performance, sets of twins are invited to have a free drink with the actors who portray twins in the show. And, the theater is defining "twins" very liberally -- theatergoers don't have to be biological twins, but merely pairs who dress alike.

Finally, if you're still looking for a way to celebrate New Year's Eve, Center Stage is presenting a free post-show cabaret starring Boys from Syracuse cast members. The festivities, which will begin about 10:15 p.m., include complimentary champagne and dessert; donations will benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

Cabaret patrons need not attend the 7:30 p.m. show, but reservations are required; e-mail

For more information about these events or The Boys from Syracuse, which continues through Jan. 14 at Center Stage, 700 N. Calvert St., call 410-332-0033.

`Aida' canceled

The touring production of Elton John and Tim Rice's Aida that was to have played a one-week run at the Lyric Opera House beginning Tuesday has been canceled due to poor ticket sales. Ticket holders can receive refunds by calling or visiting their point of purchase. For more information call 410-494-2712.

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