Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Tracey among stars set for Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles benefit

The Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles has long had a knack for lining up marquee names for its annual Simply Shakespeare benefit readings of the Bard's plays.
To celebrate its 25th anniversary, the center has assembled what Ben Donenberg, founder and executive artistic director, calls "one of our starriest and most adventurous casts ever." Christina Applegate, Kenneth Branagh, Faith Hill, Eric Idle, Arte Johnson, Eugene Levy, Tim McGraw, William Shatner, Martin Short, Tracey Ullman and event co-chairs Rita Wilson and Tom Hanks are set to perform "The Merry Wives of Windsor" on May 9 at UCLA's Royce Hall.
Donenberg, the evening's director, says the reading will have "a kind of country-western theme," including musicians playing and singing Hank Williams songs. "We try to make things fun and user-friendly for the audience," he said. "The actors are at liberty to improvise. This is impromptu and unplugged."
The chance to do Shakespeare in a relaxed setting with high-caliber casts keeps attracting well-known performers to the benefits, which are now in their 21st year. "Most of the people involved this time have participated before," said Donenberg. "And the others have attended."
The center is offering a small speaking role to the high bidder in an EBay auction that will run April 21 to May 1. The winner also will receive perks including an invitation to the post-show party and billing in the program.
Proceeds from the event and auction will go the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles and its youth employment, education and community-outreach efforts.
"The Merry Wives of Windsor" will begin at 8 p.m. Tickets, which cost $95 and $175, will go on sale Friday, April 15, at uclalive.com and through Ticketmaster at 800-745-3000. Gala tickets --  which  include admission to the reading and party -- cost $500 and are available at 310-201-5033 or Lauran@lpaevents.com

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Friday, April 8, 2011

Tracey's Returning To London Stage!!!

Tracey Ullman has been persuaded to return to the London stage for the first time in more than 20 years.

The actress has lived in California for two decades, but yesterday said she was ‘thrilled’ to have been offered the chance to work with Stephen Poliakoff on his new play My City, which begins rehearsing in August at the Almeida Theatre.

Tracey, 51, will play a former primary school headmistress in the drama, which Poliakoff described as ‘high octane’.

The pair got together to discuss the project recently. ‘We met in London because we both had to approve of each other,’ Poliakoff joked.

Once upon a time, London was Tracey’s city. She appeared in musicals, but her name was made at the Royal Court in a comic show called Four In A Million and later on in Andrea Dunbar’s Rita, Sue And Bob Too, in a cast that included Lesley Manville and Joanne Whalley. Her TV career included Three Of A Kind with Lenny Henry and David Copperfield.

Poliakoff told me Tracey will be part of an ensemble when My City begins performances at the Almeida from September 8.

The playwright added: ‘It’s not the Tracey Ullman Show. It’ll surprise people.

Everyone’s on stage for most of the time.’ He said he knew Tracey’s early work at the Royal Court and had kept an eye on her progress in America, mostly on television (The Simpsons began life in 1987 as short clips on her show) and sometimes on stage with her one-woman shows, although she did appear in Taming Of The Shrew opposite Morgan Freeman back in 1991.

Poliakoff explained the headmistress encounters two former pupils whom she helped when they were young.

‘The character is a very proficient story teller and that plays very strongly to Tracey’s talent for buttonholing us,’ he said, adding the part is a straight role, although there would be ‘one or two mercurial, edgy, hopefully funny moments in it’. He stressed that it’s not a drama about schools, rather it’s about London, modern life and a collision between two generations.

However, he noted that it’s also about people who have worked in public service all their lives which, he observed, ‘is political at the moment’.

Poliakoff began his career writing for the stage, but then made several TV dramas and films including Hidden City, The Lost Prince, Caught On A Train and last year’s Glorious 39.

While preparing to direct My City, Poliakoff is also working on a five-part drama for the BBC called Dancing On The Edge, about a black jazz band playing at a five-star hotel in London between 1931-33.

And he’s also writing a movie for Ruby Films, the company behind Toast (with Helena Bonham Carter) and the forthcoming Jane Eyre film.

Last week, the Almeida had more than 30 per cent of its Arts Council funding chopped, with the assumption being that because it attracts high-profile actors and writers and has a strong fund-raising arm, it can do without public subsidy.

‘It’s being punished for its success, but it’s going to be hard for the Almeida in this climate,’ Poliakoff said sadly.

Tracey has also just signed to comment on the Royal wedding for Canadian television.

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Monday, April 4, 2011