Ah, Love. Ugh, Love: Reviews of Nice Girl and The Way We Get By

NiceGirlTheWayWeGetBy

“Everybody should fall in love. It’s like voting: It’s a right we all should have,” Jo’s co-worker says to her in “Nice Girl,” a play by Melissa Ross at Labyrinth Theater that, like “The Way We Get By” by Neil LaBute at Second Stage, is about unlikely/unlucky people falling awkwardly in love.

Both plays — the first largely a drama with many funny moments; the other a comedy with some touching moments —  remind me of specific older love stories about regular Joes, at least at their start. Both have plot twists I could have done without. But the flaws in both scripts are masked by smooth direction (by two women directors), and by some lovely performances by the would-be couples — Amanda Seyfried and Thomas Sadoski in “The Way We Get By,” and Kathryn Kates and Nick Cordero (as well as the two other performers) in “Nice Girl.”

“Nice Girl” feels initially like almost an update of “Marty,” Paddy Chayefsky’s Oscar-winning 1955 film about a middle-aged butcher who lives with his mother and has given up on love…until he meets a schoolteacher that his friends do not consider a prize. The guy in “Nice Girl,” Donny (Nick Cordero) is also a butcher. But Ross’s play, which takes place in 1984, is from the point of view of the woman, a 38-year-old secretary named Jo (Kathryn Kates) who lives with her mother Francine (Diane Davis) and has given up on the idea of love…until at a visit at the butcher shop, Donny, a man with whom she went to high school, starts expressing interest in her. Tentatively, sweetly, Donny invites Jo to be his date at their forthcoming 20th high school reunion. Then things get complicated – we discover something about him which I know I am not supposed to tell you.

Although Donny was big man on campus back in high school, and Jo was…nice (an adjective used throughout the play, with shifting nuances, none very complimentary), they turn out to have much in common now, in addition to their obvious shared working/middle class Boston suburban roots (with accents to match.) Both have jobs that they feel are beneath them. Both went to college – Jo to Radcliffe – but both dropped out, Jo to take care of her dying father, Donny to marry his pregnant high school sweetheart. Now Jo feels stuck with her needy, manipulative mother. Donny and his (unseen) wife are separated, heading for divorce. “My kid, my oldest,” Donny tells Jo, “he’s going to be eighteen and he looks at me like ‘Please God don’t let me turn out like that.’ I know it ‘cause I looked at my old man the same way. And I don’t blame him. I don’t want to be me much neither.”  For both Donny and Josephine, the disappointments in their life seem synonymous, or at least exactly parallel, with their disappointments in love.

Cordero made a splash in “Bullets Over Broadway” as the talented if murderous gangster, and recently appeared as a villainous superhero in “Brooklynite,” but here he credibly portrays a more low-key character in Donny. Diane Davis, also a Broadway veteran, is often touching as Jo, and her scenes together with Donny feel rich and poignant in unexpressed emotion. If her oft-stated regrets start feeling uncomfortably like an annoying self-pity, “Nice Girl” is rescued from such wallowing by the presence of two other characters, and the fabulous actresses who portray them. Diane Davis as Jo’s mother Francine and Liv Rooth as Jo’s supportive big-haired, divorced co-worker Sherry at first seem little more than sitcom stereotypes. But the playwright winds up investing them with a level of complexity and empathy that, intentionally or not, helps us broaden our definition of love. I suspect it’s unintentional; family seems to exist mostly to get in the way of romantic love in “Nice Girl” (and more obliquely in “The Way We Get By.”) The love between mother and daughter, and between friends (even co-workers), has a value that is heralded in few if any love songs – and fewer movies or plays.

“The Way We Get By” is about the awkward aftermath of a hookup, which, at least for the first half, feels inspired by Terrence McNally’s “Frankie and Johnny at the Clare de Lune,” except that the two actors here couldn’t be more glamorous. The two-character comedy features the sexy actor Thomas Sadoski (Reasons to Be Pretty, The Newsroom) in fine neurotic form as Doug, a man-boy in his 30s who still wears (and cherishes!) a Star Wars t-shirt that he bought at Comic-Con signed by the actor who played R2-D2. He is alarmed to see that his conquest for the night, Beth – portrayed by the beautiful star Amanda Seyfried (Les Miserable, Mamma Mia, Big Love), making her stage debut – has put on his t-shirt. For her part, Beth “got all freaked out” when she saw that Doug was no longer beside her in bed, fearing he had left. But he was just restlessly puttering around in the apartment. He tries to be reassuring: “I wouldn’t leave without that!” he says, pointing to the Star Wars t-shirt she is wearing.

Seyfried and Sadoski may sound like a circus act, but over the course of the 70-minute play that takes place in a single night, they volley Neil LaBute’s dialogue like tennis pros, a testament to Leigh Silverman’s first-rate direction.

Exactly halfway through the play, we learn that theirs was not a conventional one-night stand – that in fact Doug and Beth know one another. That’s all I’ll say about it, except that it’s a doozy, and makes us feel misled, given the use of “we” in the play’s title, and the way the show is being marketed – Beth and Doug have an “awkward encounter after spending one hot night together following a drunken wedding reception they attend.” No, this is not a one-night stand and, no, it’s too particular to stand in for all one-night stands. Perhaps it is LaBute’s point that love can overcome even the most peculiar of circumstances – or at least he hopes it can.

And that is the operative word in both these plays – hope. In “Nice Girl,” the hope for a redeeming romantic love is a faint light through the bleakness. In “The Way We Get By,” it’s preposterously bright (and therefore more suspect.) But both plays work better than they should because we sit there hoping that this hope is real – and because we fall at least a little in love with the characters…and (let’s face it) the performers who play them.

 

Nice Girl

Labyrinth at the Bank Street Theater, 155 Bank Street

By Melissa Ross; directed by Mimi O’Donnell; sets by David Meyer; costumes by Emily Rebholz; lighting by Japhy Weideman; music and sound by Ryan Rumery

Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes, including one intermission.

Cast: Nick Cordero (Donny), Diane Davis (Josephine Rosen), Kathryn Kates (Francine Rosen) and Liv Rooth (Sherry).

Nice Girl is scheduled to run through June 14.

 

The Way We Get By

Second Stage Theater, 305 West 43rd Street.

By Neil LaBute; directed by Leigh Silverman; sets by Neil Patel; costumes by Emily Rebholz; lighting by Matt Frey; sound by Bart Fasbender

Cast: Thomas Sadoski (Doug) and Amanda Seyfried (Beth).

Running time: 70 minutes, no intermission.

The Way We Get By is scheduled to run through June 21.

Watch: Chicago, Les Miserables, Lion King, Phantom, Wicked in Stars in the Alley

StarsintheAlley2015The 2015 Stars in the Alley free concert at Shubert Alley featured performances by the current casts of 18 Broadway musicals, including the longest-running. The host was Darren Criss, the new star of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, which (oddly?) was not one of the shows presented.

Here in alphabetical order are the performances from five of the Broadway staples:

Chicago, starring Brandy Norwood singing “Roxy,” with David Bushman, Peter Nelson, Denny Paschall, and Michael Scirrotto:

Les Miserables, with Brennyn Lark singing “On My Own.”

The Lion King, with Gugwana Dlamini singing “The Circle of Life”

The Phantom of the Opera, with James Barbour singing “The Music of the Night”

Wicked, with Lilli Cooper singing “The Wizard and I”

Watch: Come to the Fun Home, from Fun Home Musical

Fun Home Circle in the Square Theatre Cast List: Michael Cerveris Judy Kuhn Beth Malone Sydney Lucas Emily Skeggs Joel Perez Roberta Colindrez Zell Morrow Oscar Williams Production Credits: Sam Gold (Direction) Danny Mefford (Choreography) David Zinn (Set and Costume Design) Ben Stanton (Lighting Design) Kai Harada (Sound Design) Chris Fenwick (Music Direction) Other Credits: Lyrics by: Lisa Kron Music by: Jeanine Tesori Book by Lisa Kron

“Come to the Fun Home” Oscar Williams Zell Morrow Sydney Lucas

Here is a song from Fun Home, in which the three Bechdel children, whose father is (among other things) a funeral director, make up a commercial for the establishment, which they have nicknamed the Fun Home.
Lyrics below the video, which was performed at the Stars in the Alley concert by Zell Steele Morrow as John (the boy in the middle), Oscar Williams as Christian, and Tony-nominated Sydney Lucas as Small Alison.

SMALL ALISON
Fun Home commercial. Take seven million
billion thousand.
JOHN
Your uncle died
You’re feeling low
You’ve got to bury your momma but you don’t know where to go Your papa needs his final rest
You got you got you got to give them the best
Oh–
SMALL ALISON AND CHRISTIAN
Come to the Fun Home
JOHN
That’s the Bechdel Funeral Home, baby
SMALL ALISON AND CHRISTIAN
The Bechdel Fun Home
JOHN
Next to Baker’s Department Store
THREE KIDS

in Beech Creek!

SMALL ALISON AND CHRISTIAN
The Bechdel Fun Home
JOHN
We take dead bodies ev’ry day of the week so
THREE KIDS
You’ve got no reason to roam Use the Bechdel Funeral Home
What it is, what it is
hoo hoo hoo
What it is, what it is now baby
SMALL ALISON AND CHRISTIAN
Sock it to me
Sock it to me
Sock it to me
Sock it to me
Sock it to me
Sock it to me
Sock it to me, baby
JOHN
Ooh–
Here come da judge
Here come da
judge, baby
* * * * * * * *
Our caskets Ooh!
Are satin lined Ooh!

CHRISTIAN
And we got so many models guaranteed to blow your mind You know our mourners–
THREE KIDS
So satisfied
They like, they like, they like
our formaldehyde!
Yeah!
Here at the Fun Home
CHRISTIAN
That’s the Bechdel Funeral Home, baby
THREE KIDS
Come to the Fun Home
SMALL ALISON
We got kleenex and your choice of psalm
THREE KIDS
Stop by the Fun Home
Think of Bechdel when you need to embalm You’ve got no reason to roam
Use the Bechdel Funeral Home
What it hoo hoo What it hoo hoo
is, what it is hoo
is, what it is
CHRISTIAN
Tell em what we got
What else have we got, Tito

What else have we got?
What else have we got? Whaaaa!
SMALL ALISON
Smelling salts for if you’re queasy!
JOHN
Folding chairs that open easy!
CHRISTIAN
These are cool, you know what they are?
Flags with magnets for your car!
JOHN
These are wire and they hold flowers!
SMALL ALISON
Here’s a sign for the names and the hours!
CHRISTIAN
Stand right here when you sign the book!
JOHN
This is called an aneurysm hook! En garde!
THREE KIDS
Come to the Fun Home
Ample parking down the street
Here at the Fun Home
Body prep that can’t be beat
You’ll like the Fun Home
In our hearse there’s a backwards seat! That’s why we made up this poem
We’re the Bechdel Funeral Home
What it is, what it is
hoo hoo hoo
What it is, what it is now baby hoo! hoo! hoo!

Watch: Christian Borle as Sexy Shakespeare: It’s Hard to Be The Bard

Something Rotten B-Roll

Christian Borle plays William Shakespeare as a kind of Elizabethan Era Elvis in “Something Rotten.”
Here he is performing “IT’s Hard to Be The Bard” at the Stars in the Alley free concert on May 27, 2015.
Below are the lyrics to the song.

SHAKESPEARE:
MY DAYS ARE SO BUSY IT’S MAKING ME DIZZY
THERE’S SO MUCH I GOTTA DO
IT’S LUNCHES AND MEETINGS AND POETRY READINGS AND ENDLESS INTERVIEWS
GOTTA POSE FOR A PORTRAIT
AND HOW I DEPLORE SITTING THERE FOR ETERNITY
THEN IT’S OFF TO THE INN
WHERE MY INNKEEPER FRIEND WANTS TO NAME A DRINK AFTER ME
THEN IT’S BACK TO MY ROOM, WHERE I RESUME
MY ATTEMPT TO WRITE A HIT
) JUST ME AND MY BEER AND THE TERRIBLE FEAR
THAT I MIGHT BE LOSING IT

SHAKESPEARE/MAN SERVANTS (IT’S HARD)
(IT’S HARD)
AND IT’S HARD
IT’S HARD
IT’S REALLY, REALLY HARD – SO VERY VERY HARD I MAKE IT LOOK EASY BUT HONEY BELIEVE ME IT’S HARD (IT’S HARD)
IT’S HARD (IT’S HARD)
IT’S SO INCREDIBLY HARD
SO INCONCEIVABLY, UNBELIEVABLY HARD
IT’S HARD TO BE THE BARD
(to his entourage)
Honestly, I don’t know how I do it. I mean, there’s only
so much of me that can go around.
SHAKESPEARE/MAN SERVANTS
I GOT SO MANY FANS
WITH SO MANY DEMANDS
I CAN HARDLY GO TAKE A PISS
BE IT THEATER FREAK OR
THE AUTOGRAPH SEEKER
THEY ALL WANT A PIECE OF THIS (GIMME, GIMME).
SHAKESPEARE/MAN SERVANTS IT’S A CROSS THAT I BEAR
I’M LIKE JESUS, I SWEAR (AH, OOOH)
IT’S A BURDEN BUT I SUFFER THROUGH IT (HE IS SUFFERING) IT’S ALL PART OF THE GAME, THE TRAPPINGS OF FAME (AH, OOOH) BUT SOMEBODY’S GOTTA DO IT (SO HE DOES IT)

SHAKESPEARE/MAN SERVANTS AND I KNOW, I KNOW, I GOTTA GO (GOTTA GO)
AND GET BACK TO MY PEN AND INK (OOOOOH, AHHHH)
OH DON’T MAKE ME DO IT, DON’T MAKE ME GO THROUGH IT
(calling to his manservant) CAN SOMEBODY GET ME A DRINK!
SHAKESPEARE/MAN SERVANTS ‘CAUSE IT’S HARD (IT’S HARD) IT’S HARD (IT’S HARD)
IT’S REALLY, REALLY HARD
IT’S SEXY BUT IT’S HARD
THIS BAR THAT I’M RAISING TO BE THIS AMAZING IT’S HARD (IT’S HARD)
(OOOH)
(AH, OOOH) (HE CAN’T PEE) (AH, OOOH)
63.
IT’S HARD (IT’S HARD) IT’S SO ANNOYINGLY HARD
SO UNAVOIDABLY UNENJOYABLY HARD
IT’S HARD TO BE THE BARD, BABY
(turning to his men)
I know writing made me famous, but being famous is just so
much more fun.
(sings)
WHAT PEOPLE JUST DON’T UNDERSTAND
IS THAT WRITING’S DEMANDING
IT’S MENTALLY CHALLENGING AND IT’S A BORE
IT’S SUCH A CHORE
TO SIT IN A ROOM BY YOURSELF
Oh my god, I just hate it!
AND YOU’RE TRYING TO FIND
AN OPENING LINE OR A BRILLIANT IDEA
AND YOU’RE PACING THE FLOOR
AND SEARCHING FOR JUST A BIT OF DIVINE INTERVENTION
THAT ONE LITTLE NUGGET THAT ONE LITTLE SPARK
THEN EUREKA! YOU FIND IT YOU’RE READY TO START
SO NOW YOU CAN WRITE, RIGHT? WRONG!
YOU’RE NOT EVEN CLOSE, YOU REMEMBER THAT DAMN IT, YOUR PLAY’S GOTTA BE IN IAMBIC PENTAMETER!
THEN YOU WRITE DOWN A WORD BUT IT’S NOT THE RIGHT WORD SO YOU TRY A NEW WORD BUT YOU HATE THE NEW THE WORD AND YOU NEED A GOOD WORD BUT YOU CAN’T FIND THE WORD OH WHAT IS IT, WHERE IS IT, WHERE IS IT, WHAT IS IT UGGGGGHHHHH

BorleastheBard2

Alvin Ailey at Lincoln Center: Odetta, Christopher Wheeldon, No Longer Silent! [Sponsored]

“Odetta” – Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater – coming to Lincoln Center

The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is coming back to Lincoln Center, more relevant than ever.

From June 10 to 21,  the company will perform such works as:

AAADT's Linda Celeste Sims & Glenn Allen Sims in Christopher Wheeldon's After the Rain Pas de Deux  Photo by Paul Kolnik

After the Rain Pas de Deux by Christopher Wheeldon, the Tony-nominated director and choreographer of An American in Paris on Broadway. His After the Rain was a huge hit for the New York City ballet in 2005. Now this sensual dance set to music by the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt is revealed in a fresh light as the Ailey dancers make it their own.

Uprising, by Hofesh Shecter’s, offers a study in dance of institutional violence against black men.

RennieHarris_930_updated

Exodus, a world premiere by bold hip-hop choreographer Rennie Harris being created especially for the engagement, will debut on Thursday, June 11. Exodus is set to gospel and house music along with poetic narration. The “exodus” of the title implies an exit from one’s ignorance and conformity.

Odetta, by Matthew Rushing, celebrates the life and music of singer and civil rights activist Odetta Holmes, whom Martin Luther King Jr. dubbed “the queen of American folk music.” (The dancing in the video starts at 00:37, after the credits.)

Other highlights include:
The company premiere of No Longer Silent, a dance by Ailey artistic director Robert Battle set to music by composers whose work the Nazis had banned. And a new production of Judith Jamison’s A Case of You, an emotional and sensual duet performed to Diana Krall’s version of Joni Mitchell’s song.

Tickets start at $25. For details, schedules and to get tickets, check out Alvin Ailey

De Niro, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Etc. Give Advice to Graduates. RIP Anne Meara. Week in New York Theater

MirandaDeNiro“When it comes to the arts, passion should always trump common sense,” Robert De Niro said in a commencement address this past week to graduates of the NYU Tisch School of the Arts. Two days later,
Lin-Manuel Miranda addressed graduates at his alma mater Wesleyan, using his musical Hamilton to make points about the contrasting approaches of Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr in their ambitions.

(Click on links for videos.)

They were not the only ones with advice for people aiming for careers in the arts:

What skills do arts grads need to develop their career? By Lorraine Lim

University curricula for performance majors rely heavily on one way to prepare students for the industry: have them act in great plays. . That’s not enough, writes Matthew Gray, who teaches theater at Northeastern University in Boston

Still time to:

Make YOUR 2015 Tony Award Picks

Win pair of FREE tickets to On The Town

Week in New York Theater News


Anne Meara, five-time Broadway veteran actress, playwright, wife/comic partner of Jerry Stiller, mother of Ben Stiller, has died at age 85.

Obie Awards

2015 Off Broadway Alliance Awards
(Winners in Bold)
Best New Play
* Between Riverside & Crazy
Dry Land
Father Comes Home From the Wars (Parts 1, 2, & 3)
The Nether
Punk Rock
Best New Musical
Brooklynite
Clinton The Musical
Disenchanted!
* Hamilton
Mighty Real: A Fabulous Sylvester Musical
Best Play Revival
* Abundance
Agatha Christie’s The Unexpected Guest
Fashions for Men
Tamburlaine the Great
A Walk in the Woods
Best Musical Revival
Allegro
* Into the Woods
John & Jen
Pageant
Best Unique Theatrical Experience
Drunk Shakespeare
Ghost Quartet
The Pigeoning
* Scenes From a Marriage
Tail! Spin!
Best Solo Performance
Every Brilliant Thing
Forever
Grounded
* Just Jim Dale
The Other Mozart
Best Family Show
* A Band of Angels
Camp Kappawanna
The Lightning Thief
The Little Prince
Swamp Juice
Legend of Off Broadway Honorees
Robert Kalfin
Linda Lavin
Austin Pendleton
Hall of Fame Awards
Arthur Gelb
Judith Malina
Marian Seldes

TayeDiggs

Taye Diggs, who first made a splash on Broadway in Rent, returns there in Hedwig and the Angry Inch starting July 22.

Joining the long list of Tony-nominated Broadway shows going on national tour next year: Fun Home. Something Rotten

Week in New York Theater Reviews

Juliet Brett (Bonny), Noah Galvin (Charlie)

Juliet Brett (Bonny), Noah Galvin (Charlie)

My review of What I Did Last Summer

When 14-year-old Charlie (Noah Galvin) starts doing odd jobs for the town’s scandalous art teacher Anna Trumbull (Kristine Nielsen), in “What I Did Last Summer,” she agrees to pay him 25 cents an hour, plus something far more valuable: “I will root out your talent, where it lies.”

That proves to be more difficult than she expected in A.R. Gurney’s knowing and affectionate coming-of-age comedy set during World War II, which is being given a deliciously acted production at the Signature.

Charlie is an obvious stand-in for the playwright (who was himself 14 years old during the summer of 1945), and Gurney’s particular talent was indeed rooted out, eventually.  It’s nice to see some long-overdue attention being paid to a playwright whose reputation may overlook how broad the scope of his work and how deep its craft. “What I Did Last Summer” is deliberately simple and old-fashioned, but it is also deceptively so.

Full review of What I Did Last Summer

Permission2_Elizabeth_Reaser__Justin_Bartha__Lucas_Near-Verbrugghe__and_Nicole_Lowrance_(Photo_by_Jenny_Anderson)

“Permission,” a play about “Christian Domestic Discipline” (i.e. spanking your wife) is written by Robert Askins, who is also the author of “Hand to God,” the Tony-nominated play about a Christian puppet ministry. On the surface, they have much in common – both take place among middle-class people in suburban Texas who are trying to use their Christian faith to supply what’s missing in their lives; both mix the playful and the serious; both get out of hand in theatrically crafty ways.  But the one that stars a puppet has been amusing, shocking, engaging, and moving audiences for a while now. The one that has just opened at the Lucille Lortel with well-known performers and a celebrated director (Alex Timbers) is more likely to befuddle them.

Full review of Permission

Theatre for One closer up

Theatre for One closer up

My review of Theatre for One: I’m Not the Strange You Think I am

The woman is speaking directly to me, an arm’s length away, as if we know each other: “I’m not blaming you for missing anything, I know it’s not your fault,” she says, looking right into my eyes, and she starts talking about her mother dying in the hospital, in intimate detail. “Aren’t you glad you asked?” she said, sardonically. (But I didn’t ask!) “Sorry I just ruined lunch.”

We are in downtown Manhattan, inside a small booth, whose walls are covered in a quilt-patterned red material, with a red seat, stage lights, a raised curtain; the performer (Marisol Miranda) is seated on one side of the curtain; I’m on the other. This is the interior of what is surely the smallest working theater in the world….
I’ve just seen “Lizzy,” written by Jose Rivera, one of seven short scripted plays by established playwrights in “I’m Not The Stranger You Think I Am,” all performed in a booth in the corner of the Winter Garden at Brookfield Place, the latest production of Theatre for One. ..he most unsettling experience I’d ever had as a theatergoer. And I am not alone.

Full review of Theatre for One

Fiddler on the Roof, 1964

Fiddler on the Roof, 1964

The Art of Al Hirschfeld

Al Hirschfeld drew the stars of Hollywood and Broadway for more than eight decades. He drew Hollywood mogul David O Selznick in 1922, when Hirschfeld was 19 years old, and Broadway performer Tommy Tune in 2002, when Hirschfeld was 99.

Hirschfeld’s longevity and his talent are celebrated in The Hirschfeld Century: The Art of Al Hirschfeld, an exhibition at the New-York Historical Society of more than 100 of his original drawings, which runs from May 22 to October 12, 2015.

Click on link for video.

Lin-Manuel Miranda to College Grads: Hamilton, Burr and the Ticking Clock

MirandaatWesleyan

Excerpts from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s commencement speech at Wesleyan College, where he graduated in 2002, in which he mentions the genesis of In The Heights, and quotes from Hamilton. The school awarded him an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters.

(Video below)

Graduating class of 2015, my dear, exhausted graduates, senior week is over. The people who love you are behind you taking pictures and ready to cheer for your name. The U-Haul is rented and waiting your things, because you didn’t pack. Your time here is up. If you feel like I felt on graduation day, right now your stomach is a volatile cocktail made of relief, regret, pride and coco-berry freeze.

I remember that.

Most of all, I remember the sound of two distinct clocks in my head. One is super fast, whirring. T-t-t-t-t-t-t-t-t-t-t-t-t.

That’s the sound of your four years at Wesleyan. With one day to go, all the packing you still have to do, all the people with whom you are still trying to find a moment to say the right goodbye. The other clock is in the distance, but it’s slower and it’s booming: that’s the sound of the rest of your life, and what you’re going to do with it in the time you have on this earth. Some of you hear this clock constantly. You wake up in cold sweats at the thought of it. Some of you are utterly oblivious to it, God bless you. Guess what? It’s ticking whether you hear it or not.

Dramatic right? I’m a theater major, I graduated with honors. It better be dramatic. But it’s also true.

I’ve written a new musical entitled Hamilton; it’s opening on Broadway this summer. There are lots of characters in the show, but I want to talk about two of them in particular, Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. On the surface, these men had a lot in common: They were both orphaned at a young age, though Burr grew up in wealth and privilege in New England, Hamilton in poverty in the Caribbean. Both prodigious students, revered commanders in the Revolutionary War, expert lawyers, respected politicians, innovative businessmen, until 1804 when one kills another in a duel. This duel is their most famous act, linking them together forever.

The engine of my new musical is the fact that Hamilton and Burr both hear that ticking clock of mortality at a very young age, and the way in which they choose to live in the FACE of that knowledge puts them in a collision course from the moment they meet. I’m going to sing a little bit, so if you made a bet that I’d be rapping during the Commencement address, your friend owes you money. Or points.

Let’s start with Hamilton. He reaches New York with the clothes on his back, a small stipend to pursue his studies, and not much else. Except for the knowledge that he is meeting an unprecedented historical moment, colonies on the brink of revolution, and he wants to be there for all of it. He marches into Fraunce’s Tavern, the hotbed of revolution, and he sings.

I’m a get a scholarship to King’s College.
I probably shouldn’t brag, but dag, I amaze and astonish.
The problem is I got a lot of brains but no polish.
i gotta holler just to be heard
With every word, I drop knowledge!
I’m a diamond in the rough, a shiny piece of coal
Tryin to reach my goal, my power of speech is unimpeachable
I’m nineteen but my mind is older
These New York City streets get colder, I shoulder
Every burden, every disadvantage
I have learned to manage,I don’t have a gun to brandish
I walk these streets famished
The plan is to fan this spark into a flame
But damn it’s getting dark, so let me spell out the name.
I am the A-L-E-X-A-N-D-E-R—we are—meant to be
A colony that runs independently
Meanwhile Britain keeps shittin’ on us endlessly
Essentially, they tax us relentlessly
Then King George runs around on a spending spree
And he ain’t ever going to set his descendants free
So there will be a revolution in this century
Enter me!
He said in parentheses
Don’t be shocked when your history book mentions me
I will lay down my life if it sets us free
Eventually you’ll see my ascendency, and
I am not throwing away my shot.
I am not throwing away my shot.
Hey yo, I am just like my country
I am young, scrappy and hungry
And i’m not throwing away my shot

Contrast this with Aaron Burr. While Hamilton charges forward, Burr’s reaction to the ticking clock is to wait. Wait for the perfect moment to present itself, and act decisively in that moment. He is cool, collected. He sings in the first act:

My grandfather was a fire and brimstone preacher
But there are things that the homilies and hymns won’t teach ya
My mother was a genius
My father commanded respect
When they died they left no instructions.
Just a legacy to protect.
Death doesn’t
discriminate
between the
sinners
and the saints
It
takes,
and it
takes,
and it
takes,
And
we keep living
anyway.
We rise and we
fall
and we
break,
and we
make
our
mistakes,
And if there’s a
reason I’m still
alive
When ev’ryone
who loves me has
died
I’m willing to
wait for it
I’m willing to
wait for it

I am not throwing away my shot
Wait for it wait for it wait for it

Two ways of facing death. two ways of approaching life. Two ways of approaching the tiny ticking clock marking your time at Wesleyan.

I came to Wesleyan intending to double major in theater and film, but I fell in love with the instant gratification of student theater. You’re telling me I can write something in the fall, apply to Second Stage, get a budget and put it up in the spring?! I am not throwing away my shot!
By the end of freshman year, I’d been in two musicals, a play and directed my own 20-minute musical in the Westco Café. My future collaborator, Tommy Kail, is directing a series of one acts on the same weekend: He’s a senior and I’m a freshman. He graduates that year and we never meet. Wait for it wait for it wait…

Back home in New York, my father quits the not-for-profit Latino organization he founded to make money in the private sector. My mother, a psychologist, doubles down on her workload and begins seeing patients seven days a week. My education is their second mortgage. And they are killing themselves to afford it. I am keenly aware of their sacrifice and the tiny clock gets louder. Tick tick tick tick tick tick. I am not throwing away my shot….

Sophomore year, I move into La Casa with eight other “Latino community leaders,” and for the first time in my life, I have Latino friends my age who understand me. Whole sections of me open up to these friends, parts of me previously reserved only for my family, and I begin drawing on my Latino heritage in my writing for the first time. The result? An 80-minute one-act musical, right over there, called In the Heights. I share the weekend with the dance troupe Terp, and I am not throwing away my shot. Two seniors, John Mailer and Neil Stewart, see the production and tell me, “We love it. We’re forming a theater company when we get out of here. Will you call us in two years when you graduate?” I put In the Heights in a drawer for two years. Wait for it, wait for it, wait.

I do not study abroad my junior year. I have too many plays I have agreed to work on! I am not throwing away my shot!

On a Tuesday morning at the beginning of my senior year, I drive down to the now-defunct Colony Records in Middletown. It’s primary day in New York, and I want to buy the new Bob Dylan album, listen to it on my drive to the city, vote, and come back in time for my afternoon classes. The stoner behind the register says, “Hey, they’re sayin’ on the radio someone just tried to blow up the World Trade Center.” I say, “You’re crazy. Someone tried to do that in the ’90s.” This guy is out of his mind. He says, “Anyway, it’s a good day to buy a Bob Dylan album.”

I get back to our house on 84 Home Ave., and turn on the TV to see all of Manhattan covered in smoke. The Twin Towers have fallen, it’s not even 10 in the morning. I try to call my family but all the lines are jammed because everyone is trying to call their family. Over the course of the day, my housemates and I make drinks and food for dazed wanderers who stop in to watch the news on our TV. I meet one friend whose brother worked at the World Trade Center but called in sick that day. And another whose father went to work early and was not spared. Death doesn’t discriminate between the sinners and the saints. The big clock, the real clock, booms louder than the tiny, whirring one that marks your Wesleyan time. It’s impossible to drown it out, because it’s actually the sound of your own heart pounding in your ears.

Graduates, my sleepy graduates, my terrified graduates, I wish I could tell you that the key to life beyond Wesleyan was as simple as saying to yourself, I am not throwing away my shot. To be like Hamilton, to charge forward and chase what you want. But in reality, it took eight years of hard work to take that 80-minute one-act from Second Stage into the version that opened on Broadway. Eight years for the guy who fell in love with theater because of the instant gratification.

I wish I could tell you the key to life beyond Wesleyan is, Wait for it, wait for it, wait. To be like Burr, to wait for the perfect opportunity to present itself. But in reality, I wrote In the Heights my sophomore year because I NEEDED to write it. I was bursting with ideas, inspired by my housemates at La Casa, and I couldn’t set them to music fast enough. Because I was nearing the end of a four-year relationship that had begun in high school. When she left to study abroad, I found myself with all this time and angst, and I used it as rocket fuel to write that first Heights draft in about three weeks.

In reality, you’re always going to be rushing and waiting at the same time. You will pack your things to leave tomorrow while savoring every moment of today. You’ll chase down your friends to say goodbye, but know that the ones who matter the most will be in your life for the rest of your life. You picture where you’ll be in five years, but the world might change around you while you’re buying a Bob Dylan album. You take out a second mortgage and work seven days a week so four years later, you can cheer the loudest when they call your child’s name at graduation. You hold the present in your hand as tight as you can, while your other hand reaches out for more.

I’ll conclude with one more passage from Hamilton, but I want to thank you for allowing me to share this moment with you. I’m sorry I couldn’t be your freshman orientation speaker. But it has been the great honor of my life to be your real-life orientation speaker. Here’s Hamilton at age 19, on the verge of the American Revolution:

I imagine death so much it feels more like a memory
When it’s going to get me
In my sleep? Seven feet ahead of me?
If i see it coming, do I run or do I let it be?
Is it like a beat without a melody
See, I never thought I’d live past 20
Where I come from, some get half as many
Ask anybody why we livin’ fast and we
Laugh, reach for a flask
We have to make this moment last, that’s plenty
Scratch that
This is not a moment, it’s the movement
Where all the hungriest brothers with something
to prove went
Foes oppose us, we take an honest stand
We roll like Moses, claiming our promised land!
And? If we win our independence?
Zat a guarantee of freedom for our descendants?
Or will the blood we shed begin an endless
Cycle of vengeance and death with no defendants?
I know the action in the street is exciting/
But Jesu,s between all the bleedin’ ‘n’ fightin’ I’ve
been readin’ ‘n’ writin’
We need to handle our financial situation.
Are we a nation of states? What is the state of our nation?
I’m past patiently waitin’ I’m passionately smashin’
every expectation
Every action’s an act of creation!
I’m laughin’ in the face of casualties and sorrow
For the first time I’m thinking past tomorrow, and I am
I am not throwing away my shot
I am not throwing away my shot
Hey yo I’m just like my country
I’m young, scrappy and hungry
And I am not throwing away my shot

That clock you hear is the sound of your own heart. Sink your teeth into this life, and don’t get let go.

2015 Tony Award Winners — YOUR Pick

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Make your pick for 15 of the 24 categories in the 69th annual Tony Awards, honoring Broadway’s best. The awards ceremony will take place on June 7 at Radio City Music Hall, and will be broadcast on CBS.
This is for who and what YOU want to win, not who you think the Tony voters will pick — preference, not prediction.

Watch: Robert De Niro’s Blunt, Inspiring Speech to 2015 Graduates of Tisch School of the Arts

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“Tisch graduates, you made it,” actor Robert De Niro said Friday in his NYU Commencement address. “And you’re f—ed.”

But, as he makes clear in his 15-minute speech laced with humor, profanity and serious advice to the 2015 graduates of the Tisch School of the Arts,it couldn’t be any other way: “When it comes to the arts, passion should always trump common sense. You aren’t just following dreams, you’re reaching for your destiny. You’re a dancer, a singer, a choreographer, a musician, a filmmaker, a writer, a photographer, a director, a producer an actor — an artist. Yeah, you’re fucked. The good news is that’s not a bad place to start.”

A selection of De Niro’s advice:
Accept the “lifetime of rejection” that comes with the field. “There will be times when your best isn’t good enough. There can be many reasons for this, but as long as you give your best, it’s okay.” Say “Next” and move on.

Accept that you’re not in charge: “The way the director gets to be right is you help him or her be right. … You’ve been hired because the director saw something in your audition, your reading, in you that fit their concept. You may be given the opportunity to try it your way, but the final decision will be the director’s. … It’s best when you can work it out together.”

Collaborate. “As a director or a producer, you also have to be true to yourself and to the work. … The power doesn’t come from the title, the power comes from trust, respect, vision, work and again, collaboration. You’ll probably be harder on yourself than any director. I’m not telling you to go easy on yourselves, I assume you didn’t pick this life because you thought it would be easy. ”

Network. “Treasure the associations and friendships and working relationships,” he said, citing the nine films that he has made with director Martin Scorsese, with more to come. But De Niro, 71, is open to developing new working relationships: “I’m here to hand out my pictures and resumes to the directing and producing graduates.”

Theatre for One: The Smallest and Most Unsettling Theater in the World

TheatreforOneboothThe woman is speaking directly to me, an arm’s length away, as if we know each other: “I’m not blaming you for missing anything, I know it’s not your fault,” she says, looking right into my eyes, and she starts talking about her mother dying in the hospital, in intimate detail. “Aren’t you glad you asked?” she said, sardonically. (But I didn’t ask!) “Sorry I just ruined lunch.”

We are in downtown Manhattan, inside a small booth, whose walls are covered in a quilt-patterned red material, with a red seat, stage lights, a raised curtain; the performer (Marisol Miranda) is seated on one side of the curtain; I’m on the other. This is the interior of what is surely the smallest working theater in the world.

I’ve just seen “Lizzy,” written by Jose Rivera, one of seven short scripted plays by established playwrights in “I’m Not The Stranger You Think I Am,” all performed in a booth in the corner of the Winter Garden at Brookfield Place, the latest production of Theatre for One.

Theatre for One is the brainchild of Christine Jones, the award-winning set designer (American Idiot, Spring Awakening) and director (Queen of the Night), who’s been carting her custom-designed booth around to public spaces for years, overseeing free performances for the public, one by one. For each performance, there is one member of the cast, and one member of the audience.

Lynn Nottage, one of the seven playwrights of "Theatre for One: I'm Not the Stranger You Think I Am"

Lynn Nottage, one of the seven playwrights of “Theatre for One: I’m Not the Stranger You Think I Am”

I first attended Theatre for One in 2011 when Jones parked her booth on Father Duffy Square in the theater district, attracting long lines and repeat customers. You never knew what show you were waiting to see, but none lasted longer than a few minutes. While some of the performances were just songs or magic tricks, there were also emotional monologues by characters on the edge. It was the most unsettling experience I’d ever had as a theatergoer. And I am not alone.

“I found it to be an intense, a little frightening and absolutely amazing experience,” says Lynn Nottage, the Pulitzer-winning playwright. “It felt more like an intimate conversation with a stranger on the bus than a performance.  At first I struggled and resisted the experience,  but once I committed to making eye contact and exchanging energy with the actor, I found that the piece really came alive and touched me in unexpected ways.”

Nottage has gone from patron of Theatre for One to one of its playwrights in the current production, which (unlike the past) is all monologues. In “#Five,” a man (portrayed by Keith Randolph Smith) is talking to a job interviewer (i.e. the audience member), explaining the ten-year gap in his resume. His circumstances are “not for the reasons you probably imagine.”   He was the victim of a horrendous shooting.

“I decided that I wanted to create a piece that toyed with the audiences expectations,” Nottage says.

The other playwrights in the current production also do some toying with the disconcerting set-up. In “Late Days in the Era of Good Feelings,” a play by Will Eno that doesn’t last much longer than the title, the performer (Erin Gann) says: “Awkward, awkward, awkward… I’m not supposed to ask questions. …I guess the organizers don’t want people feeling, like, stressed out, or like they’re part of the show or something…Nerve-wracking, right? “

If it’s true that the performers are not supposed to ask questions, Thomas Bradshaw violates that rule in his untitled play. “What’s your name?” performer Andrew Garman asks, and waits for you to answer. “I’ve been in a lot of movies. Do you recognize me?” he asks later. But those questions are nowhere near as uncomfortable as when he starts talking about sex (“I came across this article that said that the average American has sex 118 times a year! And I was like, holy shit! That’s a lot of sex. Do you think that’s a lot or does that sound right to you?”)

Not all the plays press buttons. Zayd Zohm’s “Love Song” is a sweet and funny recollection of the character (Kevin Mambo) writing a song for a girl when he was 16.

“The Theatre for One really demands that the audience be an active participant, which at first can be jarring: By in large, audiences are used to passively sitting in darkness and watching the action from afar,” Nottage observes. “I like the tension of an intimate space set in an open public space. I love that people enter the booth with no idea of what they were going to encounter, and leave having had a visceral experience.”

Theatre for One: I’m Not The Stranger You Think I am, runs for free from noon to 7 p.m. at

Winter Garden at Brookfield Place (230 Vesey Street) until May 24

Zuccotti Park (Broadway and Liberty Street) May 27-31

Grace Building Plaza (1114 Avenue of the Americas), June 2-6.

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