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Arts Around Town: It’s Tony time: Up close with ‘Kinky Boots’ nominee Annaleigh Ashford

By Susan Kalan, WFMZ.com Arts Reporter, news@wfmz.com
Published On: Jun 06 2013 11:58:48 AM CDT
Updated On: Jun 06 2013 11:59:22 AM CDT
Annaleigh Ashford

She was in bed with a blanket over her head, trying not to pay attention to what was going on in the local news. But when her fiancé broke the news to her, she cried. In fact, they both cried tears of joy, for it was a sweet occasion. Annaleigh Ashford had just been announced as a nominee for a 2013 Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical in Broadway’s new smash hit, “Kinky Boots,” running at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre in New York City.

Since that morning in late April, Ashford, 27, has been part of a whirlwind of press promotion – while balancing her “Kinky Boots” (she plays Lauren) schedule of eight shows a week -- leading up to Sunday’s red-carpet event at Radio City Music Hall in New York. The 2013 Tony Awards, once again hosted by Neil Patrick Harris, will be broadcast live by CBS, beginning at 8 p.m. The event is jointly produced by The Broadway League and the American Theatre Wing.

Kinky Boots logo In a phone interview from New York just after the Memorial Day weekend, Ashford rattled off a number of engagements she would be involved with, including a Tony Awards luncheon for-nominees-only at the Rainbow Room, a cast album signing at the Upper East Side Barnes & Noble for the recently-released “Kinky Boots” original Broadway cast recording, and a cast appearance on ABC-TV’s “The View.” She added that Sunday morning will involve production rehearsal at Radio City Music Hall for the nominated shows. “Kinky Boots” does have a scheduled matinee that afternoon at 3, she said, before the cast hits the red carpet. All this and much more for Ashford, who’s also been balancing her career with the planning of her July wedding to take place back home in Colorado.

Ashford has acquired an impressive list of credits and accolades leading up to “Kinky Boots.” At her May 2005 graduation as a theater major at Marymount Manhattan College in New York, she sang “Our Time” from Stephen Sondheim’s “Merrily We Roll Along.” Then 19, she completed her studies in just three years so she could start working professionally as quickly as possible. She was every bit as talented as she is today, and I should know. I was there in the audience as my own daughter, Lauren, was graduating that day.

Ashford toured as a member of the ensemble with the hit Broadway show, “Wicked,” and was an understudy for the lead role of Glinda. In 2007, she was Margot in the original Broadway cast of “Legally Blonde,” her first Broadway show. Later that year, she took over the role of Glinda in “Wicked,” this time on Broadway. She also has appeared as Jeanie in the Broadway revival of “Hair,” and as Maureen Johnson in the Off-Broadway revival of “Rent.” She was Marcy in the Off-Broadway musical, “Dogfight.”

Her film credits include “Sex & the City” and “Rachel Getting Married.” In television, she had a cameo on “Smash,” and appeared in “Made in New Jersey,” “The Big C,” “Nurse Jackie” and “Law & Order.” She can be seen in “Masters of Sex,” set to air on Showtime in September.

“Kinky Boots” has been nominated for 13 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, making it the most Tony-nominated show of the season. The British import, “Matilda The Musical,” an adaptation of the novel by Roald Dahl, is right behind with 12. Other nominees for Best Musical are “Bring It On: The Musical” and “A Christmas Story, The Musical.”

Also this year at the Tony Awards, Lehigh Valley’s Ann Roth and Santo Loquasto are among those who have been nominated in technical categories – Roth for Best Costume Design of a Play for “The Nance,” and Loquasto for Best Scenic Design of a Play for “The Assembled Parties.”

Other nominees from the “Kinky Boots” cast of 32 are Stark Sands (Charlie Price) and Billy Porter (Lola). The musical already has been named Best Musical by the Outer Critics Circle and the Drama League, and has won the Broadway.com Audience Choice Award for Favorite New Musical.

Produced by Daryl Roth and Hal Luftig, “Kinky Boots” brings together four-time Tony Award-winner Harvey Fierstein (Book) and Grammy Award-winning rock icon Cyndi Lauper (Music & Lyrics), who makes her theatrical debut. Director and choreographer is Tony Award-winner Jerry Mitchell. Fierstein perhaps is best known for his writing of “Torch Song Trilogy” and “La Cage aux Folles”; Lauper, for her hit songs, “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” and “True Colors.”

“Cyndi Lauper is not only an icon in pop music but in pop culture,” Ashford said. “‘Girls Just Want to Have Fun’ is like a feminist anthem. We’ve become close working together. Her score has a lot of color and flavor.” Ashford described Fierstein as “a most gifted writer. Seeing the two of them working together, it’s like witnessing a comedy routine, like Burns and Allen.”

“Kinky Boots” is inspired by a true story and based on the 2005 British Miramax film of the same name, written by Geoff Deane and Tom Firth. In the musical, Charlie Price has suddenly inherited his father’s shoe factory, which is on the verge of bankruptcy. Trying to live up to his father’s legacy and save his family business, he finds inspiration in the form of Lola. A fabulous entertainer in need of some sturdy stilettos, Lola turns out to be the one person who can help Charlie become the man he’s meant to be. As they work to turn the factory around, this unlikely pair finds that they have more in common than they ever dreamed possible and discovers that when you change your mind about someone, you can change your whole world.

“My whole life, my mom was driving me to dance class back home and making my dreams come true,” Ashford said, adding that her mom and sister will be in the audience on Sunday night.

As for what Ashford will say in her acceptance speech should her name be called, she said, excitedly, “Nobody says prepare a speech. I can’t even think about it. I’m just so honored to be among such talented women who have been nominated. It’s such an honor.”

I have a feeling we’ll be hearing a lot more about Annaleigh Ashford.

For further info: tonyawards.com

 

ARTS ROUNDUP

Bern Twp., Berks Co., is the scene for the 23rd annual World War II Weekend, themed “A Gathering of Warbirds,” Friday through Sunday at the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum, 11 Museum Drive. The event features the world’s only flying B-29 Superfortress, “Fifi” and B-24 Liberator, “Diamond Lil.”

There will be battle recreations, war front tent displays, homefront displays, military equipment and rides, a flea market, and local WWII veterans anxious to share their war stories.

Special guests will be the Famous Times Square Kissing Nurse & Sailor, Greta Friedman and George Mendosa. Entertainment will include the Ultimate Abbott & Costello Tribute Show, Manhattan Dolls, and Spirit of the Airwaves Players with live 1940s “radio shows.”

For further info: maam.org

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Artifest 2013 will be held Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., at the Museum of Indian Culture along the Little Lehigh Parkway on Fish Hatchery Road in Allentown. The multicultural arts and history festival, themed “Moments in Time,” will include an eclectic and family-friendly mix of living history presentations ranging from the American Revolutionary War to an Underground Railroad exhibit. Native American stone and bone artifacts will be on display, along with antique cars and bicycles. The Renaissance Village will feature fire breathers, aerial performers, belly dancers, and sword fights.

The Marketplace will include such demonstrations as paper cutting, chainsaw wood carving, Scottish tartan weaving, wampum loom working, and Appalachian broom making. Children can enjoy the Kaleidoscope Kids arts and crafts area. Main stage entertainment will include Native American hoop dancing, Aztec Fire Dancers, Caribbean Steel Rhythms, African dance, Ukrainian dance, and the Lehigh Valley Cloggers.

An official dedication of blue bird nest boxes along the Parkway’s Lenape Trail will be held Saturday at 10 a.m., along with recognition of the second anniversary of the Bird Town Coalition in Allentown.

For further info: artifest.org

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Allentown’s 6th annual Blues, Brews & Barbecue at 9th and Hamilton streets will be held Saturday from noon to 9 p.m., with entertainment including the Christopher Dean Band with special guest Sarah Ayers, James Supra Blues Band, BC Combo, and the Alexis P. Suter Band.

For further info: allentownpa.gov/blues

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Summer theater is in full swing beginning Wednesday, when the Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre in Allentown offers “Crazy for You,” and the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival opens with “Oklahoma!” Both shows will run through June 30.

Now in its 33rd season, Muhlenberg continues with the rock opera, “Jesus Christ Superstar,” July 10-28; and “Seussical,” the Dr. Seuss Musical, June 19-July 27, in a Young Audiences edition.

Charles Richter, director of “Crazy for You,” promises a “pretty spectacular production” with tap dance numbers including Muhlenberg alumni. Choreographer is Karen Dearborn. Muhlenberg graduate and professional actor Frankie Grande stars in the lead role.

Offerings for the 22nd season of the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival on the campus of DeSales University in Center Valley, include “The 39 Steps,” June 19-July 14; “The Importance of Being Earnest,” July 10-Aug. 4; “Measure for Measure,” July 18-Aug. 4, and “Henry VIII,” July 24-Aug. 4. For children, “Beauty & the Beast” currently is running through Aug. 3, and “Shakespeare for Kids,” July 24-Aug. 3.

“Oklahoma!” is directed by Dennis Razze, with musical director Nathan Diehl and choreographer, Stephen Casey.

“More than 30 directors and designers will create the sets, costumes, lights and special effects this season,” said Patrick Mulcahy, PSF’s producing artistic director. Tony nominee Michael McDonald (“Hair,” 2009) has designed the costumes for “Oklahoma!”

For further info: muhlenberg.edu/SMT                   pashakespeare.org

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“Nature’s Way,” with work by nationally acclaimed artist and sculptor Ben Marcune and ceramic artist Lisa Fraenkel, opens tonight and runs through June 18, at the Jewish Community Center of Allentown, 702 N. 22nd St. A reception will be held tonight from 6 to 8. Marcune’s work includes representations of nature at different sizes, from seascapes to local scenes, while Fraenkel’s sculpting work captures vegetation, textiles, animals and travel.

For further info: allentownjcc.org

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The first of four Sunday evening Valley Vivaldi concerts takes place Sunday at 7:30 p.m., at Christ Lutheran Church, Allentown, and includes Antonio Vivaldi’s “Concerto in C Minor for strings.” Robin Kani, principal flutist with the Pennsylvania Sinfonia Orchestra, is soloist for “Flute Concerto in G” by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi. Sinfonia principal oboist Cheryl Bishkoff is featured in J.S. Bach’s “Oboe d’amore Concerto in A.” Valley Vivaldi continues June 30 at Christ Lutheran Church, and July 21 and Aug. 18 at Wesley Church, Bethlehem.

For further info: LVArtsBoxOffice.org                                      

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