John Cullum: An Accidental Star – Review by Nancy Sasso Janis

The Vineyard Theatre, Goodspeed Musicals, and Irish Repertory Theatre, in association with Jeff Berger, are presenting a stream of JOHN CULLUM: AN ACCIDENTAL STAR. Three of Mr. Cullum’s long-time theatre homes come together to present this work that was filmed at the Irish Repertory Theatre.

Conceived by Mr. Cullum and Mr. Berger, this is an 80-minute intimate performance of stories and songs that span Mr. Cullum’s illustrious career. In this one-man show, the story is both told and sung by the 91-year-old two-time Tony Award winner. The script was written by David Thompson and the show was directed by Lonny Price and Matt Cowart. Music director Julie McBride is at the piano to accompany the tunes that Mr. Cullum chose to perform. The music supervisor is award-winning composer, lyricist, music producer and pianist,Georgia Stitt.

The show was filmed earlier this year under strict COVID restrictions. In fact, a short black and white film at the beginning of the stream documents the precautions that took place in preparation for the filming. The excellent video of the performance that was approved for press screenings and review was shot with multiple cameras and the lighting design by Megan Peti works beautifully. The director of photography is Carlos Cardona; costumes are by Tracy Christensen.

The folksy script takes us behind the scenes with this Broadway icon. It begins with his audition for a Shakespeare play, despite the fact that he had never seen a Shakespearean production on stage, and tells how he ended up with a part in two of the Bard’s works at the same time. It moves on to his 1960 debut in CAMELOT, his Tony Award-winning performances in SHENANDOAH and ON THE TWENTIETH CENTURY, and finally with his recollections of his starring roles in ON A CLEAR DAY YOU CAN SEE FOREVER, URINETOWN (as Caldwell Cladwell) and THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS..

“That’s how Shakespeare got me into musical comedy and that is where I pretty much stayed.” – a line from the script

Connecticut theatregoers may remember that Mr. Cullum originated the role of “Charlie Anderson” in the 1974 production of SHENANDOAH at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, a role he reprised on Broadway in 1975. His non-musical credits include HAMLET, where he played Laertes to Richard Burton’s Hamlet; Mr. Cullum’s film and television career has been extensive as well.

Fans who have seen this member of the Theater Hall of Fame on Broadway will especially appreciate the backstage information about the making of these classic shows. Those who enjoy hearing about how an actor becomes famous will love his often funny, moving, enchanting tales of encounters that he had on the way to becoming an “accidental” star. Rest assured that luck had a lot to do with it, especially at the beginning of his career.

The actor readily admits other auditioners were able to sing better than him, but he charmingly punctuates his tales from his acting career with some carefully chosen songs from his time on the stage. At 91, he can be forgiven if a few of the lyrics are spoken. He also shares some never-before-heard stories about working with friends Richard Burton, Robert Goulet, Julie Andrews and others. Listen for the tidbits of information about composers, lyricists and directors.

John Cullum: An Accidental Star can be viewed.on demand from the comfort and safety of home April 8 – 22. Streaming tickets are available now at vineyardtheatre.org. Two live watch party events will take place April 8 at 7:00 pm EDT and April 17 at 2:00 pm EDT. Ticket prices start at $25 (+ $3.75 fee) per household.

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