Actress finds Philly 'Beautiful'

Posted: June 06, 2014

MAYBE Lauren Weedman should be Philly's next tourism marketing chief.

Weedman, who plays Doris on the HBO series "Looking," hits the stage of the Playground at the Adrienne Theater this weekend for the latest in a series of solo programs inspired by various cities she has visited. During a recent phone chat, Weedman, who landed in town about a week ago, admitted that she was caught off-guard by the negativity she discovered among the students at Drexel University's Entertainment & Arts Management program at the Westphal College of Media Arts & Design. Her show, "Well I Think You're Beautiful, Philadelphia," is being produced as a project by one of the classes there.

"Before I got here," she explained, "I asked them for suggestions for titles, and they were all so negative. Everybody was, like, 'City of 1,000 Smells,' 'Ugliest City in America,' 'Killadelphia.' Not one of them said anything positive.

"I haven't gone into the [less-safe] neighborhoods, but to me, the city is amazing. It feels like I could live here and be an artist. It's a beautiful city. I really like it."

Philly will be the fourth city where Weedman has done such a show, after starting last year in Portland, Ore. Her modus operandi is to spend as much time as her schedule and life allow (she's the single mom of a 4-year-old boy) in a city and absorb as much of the sights, sounds, cultures and idiosyncrasies as she can in her allotted time.

"I just walk around," she said. "I don't record anything. It's just me experiencing things. I make a few notes and . . . onstage, I [work from] a stack of index cards.

"Everything's material. It's not just the city. It's personal stories."

Having recently been divorced, her Philly foray will focus on her "tour guides" - men she met on a social-media dating site.

"This time I'm in the dating phase . . . through Tinder, and I've had a-maaaaz-ing experiences being shown the town," she said.

One guy took her to the "Rocky steps" at 2 a.m. "He was telling me all about the movies - 'No. 1 . . . in No. 2 . . .' It was so wonderful. He explained to me who Rocky is: 'Rocky's real.' Then I got a cheesesteak with the guy."

Weedman admitted that she found the local accent vexing (which is why so many actors in set-in-Philadelphia TV shows and films talk like New Yorkers). To aid her, she recorded a man sitting near her at the Phillies game she attended last weekend. But she conceded she expected to have a hard time with the accent onstage.

We then told her our theory that because the nation was born here, the way we speak is the "correct" version of American English, and it's the rest of the country that has an accent. She laughed heartily and warned that she might have to use it in the show.

Now that would be "bee-yoo-dee-ful."

Adrienne Theater, 2030 Sansom St., 8 tonight, 2 p.m. tomorrow, 7 p.m. Sunday, $15 (students) and $25, event/693055.

'Wiz' biz

Our biggest fear going into Tuesday's opening performance of the national tour of "The Wizard of Oz" was that the four new songs penned by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice would desecrate the sacred Harold Arlen score from the beloved 1939 film.

As it turns out, the four new songs are perfectly adequate, and don't get in the way of the tunes that are such a part of our national heritage. Beyond that, the show, which runs through Sunday at the Academy of Music, is a hit-and-miss affair.

The staging is first-rate, especially the amazing hurricane video sequence that sets the plot in motion. We also liked the updated jokes and asides that add a nice touch of edginess to this beloved kids' tale. And there were a couple of strong performances, most notably by Jacquelyn Piro Donovan (as Miss Gulch/Wicked Witch of the West) and Jamie McKnight (Hunk/Scarecrow).

But any production of "Oz" is dependent on the actress portraying Dorothy. In the role, Danielle Wade is perfectly competent and pleasant, but neither her acting nor singing are sufficiently compelling for a task of such magnitude.

Academy of Music, Broad and Locust streets, 8 tonight, 2 and 8 p.m. tomorrow, 1 p.m. Sunday, $20-$115.50, 215-893-1999,

Never say 'never'

 Back in March, the Rev. Alyn Waller told this column that his performance as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the two-person play "The Meeting" would likely be his first and last foray into acting. "I think," he said, "most persons will come away from [the production saying], 'Those two guys need to keep their day jobs, but I'm glad I was there for the event.' "

Well, the acting bug must have bit particularly hard, because Waller and local attorney Tariq El-Shabazz are reprising their roles in the drama that what-ifs a conversation between King and 1960s Black Muslim leader Malcolm X. It's set for tomorrow at the Dell Music Center - the only theatrical presentation the al fresco venue is hosting this summer.

Dell Music Center, Strawberry Mansion Bridge Drive, 8 p.m. tomorrow, $28.90 and $34.05, 800-736-1420,

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