New York Theater Quiz March 2017

How well were you paying attention to the theater in March? Answer these dozen quiz questions to find out.

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Broadway’s April Avalanche. Critics’ Musical Chairs. Week in NY Theater

Right before the busiest month in New York theater – 14 shows opening on Broadway alone in April, exactly one third of all the shows for the entire season – theater critics are getting new assignments (a polite way of putting it.) Jesse Green, the current critic at New York Magazine, has been named “co-chief theater critic” of the New York Times: Press releaseQ and A with Green in American Theatre

This means of course an opening for a critic at New York Magazine, although Green doesn’t start his new gig until May 1.

Charles Isherwood

Meanwhile, Charles Isherwood, who was until recently the second string critic at the Times, will become a “contributing critic” at a new online publication, Broadway News, created by the e-mail newsletter Broadway Briefing. Details in Deadline

 

Week in New York Theater Reviews

Miss Saigon

The first Broadway revival of Miss Saigon is being marketed as the return of a classic. But, if the show has become an undeniable fan favorite, the production’s impressive visual spectacle, lively staging and crowd-pleasing vocal calisthenics cannot completely mask a script that leans heavily on emotional manipulation and one-dimensional storytelling.

How to Transcend A Happy Marriage

In Sarah Ruhl’s new play,  two middle-aged married couples, long-time friends, find themselves fascinated with a young woman nicknamed Pip ( Lena Hall, Tony winner for Hedwig and the Angry Inch) who lives and loves with two men, in what they call a polyamorous relationship, or a throuple, or a triad. The two couples decide to invite the throuple to a New Year’s Eve party.

“And our lives would change forever,” George (short for Georgia), portrayed by Marisa Tomei, says to the theatergoers sitting politely at Lincoln Center’s Mitzi Newhouse Theater.

It’s not actually clear that their lives do change forever. But ours certainly don’t.

Latin History for Morons

For “Latin History for Morons,” John Leguizamo has come up with a sixth solo show that will be in many ways familiar to his fans , with its mix of in-your-face jokes, spot-on mimicry, candid memoir, energetic dance breaks. But it is also a timely cultural and political critique, suggesting what could become a new direction for the talented performer.

Week in New York Theater News

Once on This Island, a 1990 musical by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, is scheduled to return to Broadway, opening on December 3, 2017.
The show focuses on “a young dreamer named Ti Moune. After a massive storm rages through her village, a ray of hope appears through a young man from the wealthy side of the island. An unexpected romance blossoms. But when their different cultures threaten to keep them apart, Ti Moune—guided by the island gods—sets out on a journey to stay beside the man who has captured her heart.”
Michael Arden (Spring Awakening) will direct. The show has no theater or cast yet. They are
“sailing to Haiti to find Broadway lead”

Lucy Kirkwood’s The Children, a London hit about two retired nuclear scientists living in a cottage after a nuclear disaster, opens on MTC’s Broadway theater, the Samuel Friedman, on December 14.

Janeane Garofalo will star as Lee in her Broadway debut; Lili Taylor  as Bessie and Celia Weston  as Ruth in Marvin’s Room, at Roundabout’s American Airlines Theater June 8 – August 27, 2017

  1. How to Hamlet, or Hamletting Hamlet a “theatrical conjuring” by Theater Reconstruction Ensemble at HERE Mar 30 – Apr 14

2. Hamlet: A Version by Russian dissident Boris Akunin set in police state Ap 21-May 7 Theatre St Clements https://www.akuninhamlet.com/

A different perspective on The Glass Menagerie — and an overview of disability on stage:

NEA grants to NYC cultural nonprofits: $233 million from 2000 to 2016.
Nearly $43 million was granted to the media arts, $32 million for musical theater,
$31 million for dance and $21 million for music.
An additional $21 million was granted specifically for arts education

Latin History for Morons Review: John Leguizamo Gets Serious, Sort Of

For “Latin History for Morons,” John Leguizamo has come up with a sixth solo show that will be in many ways familiar to his fans , with its mix of in-your-face jokes, spot-on mimicry, candid memoir, energetic dance breaks. But it is also a timely cultural and political critique, suggesting what could become a new direction for the talented performer.

“Latin History for Morons,” Leguizamo tells us, was inspired by an incident involving his son, an eighth grader, who was bullied by a racist classmate. Leguizamo tries to support his son: Think of the bully as sandpaper, he says — irritating at the moment, sure, but “you end up polished; he ends up useless.” That doesn’t help. Then he talks to the classmate’s father – who is just as much a bully, boasting of his family’s long line of military heroes, including Andrew Jackson.

So Leguizamo embarks on a mission to learn enough about the history of Latinos to instill pride in his son. The problem – Latinos have been the target of 500 years of bullying.

The family story is both funny and affecting and it gives something of a structure to the 90-minute piece. But it is only one of the three levels of the show. The second is Leguizamo’s relaying nuggets of actual Latino history, which are often engaging, and the third is Leguizamo’s assumption of a kind of Dr. Irwin Corey mock-professorial persona, which is often entertaining, and sometimes undermining. The show begins with Leguizamo entering the stage at the Public Theater in an ill-fitting tweedy jacket and vest like a high school history teacher, carrying a cardboard box of supplies. Greeting the audience applause, his first words are: “Settle down.” The set is a classroom, complete with piles of books, and focused on a chalk board. He writes the title of the show, and he draws a timeline, that begins at 1,000 B.C. – “we have the Mayans” – and ends at Now – “we have Pitbull.” (A Cuban-American rapper, for those who only know about the Mayans.) And that, Leguizamo says, is all that most people know about Latino history.

One need not be a history buff to be fascinated by some of what he fills in for us.

He tells us, for example, about the Repatriation Act of 1930 – the mass deportation between 1929 and 1936 of some 500,000 Mexican immigrants and American citizens of Mexican origin, from the United States to Mexico.

At its best, “Latin History for Morons” lives up to the promise of its title. The success of the “Dummies” and “Idiots” book series, after all, lies in the promise of relaying basic information thoroughly but clearly and with some humor to somebody who doesn’t necessarily have any prior knowledge of the subject. Leguizamo delivers.

As if afraid to bore his audience,  however, Leguizamo sprinkles the history with jokes. Some of them are smart: “Why is all our art called ‘folk art’? And all European art’s called ‘fine art’? And then ‘modern art’ is just our folk art gentrified.” Some of them are dumb: “Conquistadors were like a NBA player at a Kardashian pool party.”

Some are a missed opportunity: “As the great Spanish philosopher Santana said, those who forget history are condemned to repeat it.” He is of course deliberately confusing Carlos Santana – the Mexican-American guitarist – with George Santayana, the Spanish-born, U.S.-educated philosopher. He has no time to tell us about someone like Santayana, a remarkable scholar. He is busy impersonating one Loreta Velazquez, a Cuban-born woman who disguised herself as a man in order to fight for the Confederate side in the Civil War. It would be unrealistic to expect a self-declared “Ghetto Klown” (the title of his last solo show, on Broadway in 2011) to forego the chance to don a big red wig and mince. And it may be that his most devoted fans would be disappointed without these anarchic comic touches, skirting with the stereotypes that I commented on in my very first review of a Leguizamo show, “Mambo Mouth,” his breakthrough piece, back in 1991.

Rather than condemn John Leguizamo for repeating what has worked for him in the past, then, I will remember “Latin History for Morons” as the piece that showed us the extraordinary possibilities when such a brilliant theater artist takes on the world in a new way.

 

Latin History for Morons

Written and performed by John Leguizamo
Directed by Tony Taccone

Scenic Design: Rachel Hauck

Lighting Design: Alexander V. Nichols

Original Music and Sound Design: Bray Poor

Running time: 95 minutes with no intermission

Ticket prices: $65

Running through April 23

 

 

Happy World Theatre Day 2017 #WTD17

Today is World Theatre Day!  How will you be celebrating?

This year’s World Theatre Day  messages are from actress Isabelle Huppert and director Kwame Kwei-Armah

10 Facts about Theater

(via the Daily Express) 

1. Theatre as we know it began in ancient Greece with a religious ceremony called ‘dithyramb’ in which a chorus of men dressed in goat skins.

2. The word ‘tragedy’ comes from a Greek expression meaning ‘goat song’…

3. …and ‘theatre’ comes from a Greek verb meaning ‘to behold’.

4. Ancient Greek audiences stamped their feet rather than clapping their hands to applaud.

5. World Theatre Day has been held on March 27 every year since 1962 when it was the opening day of the “Theatre of Nations” season in Paris.

6. The longest continuous dramatic performance was 23 hours 33 minutes 54 seconds, achieved by the 27 O’Clock Players in New Jersey, USA, on July 27, 2010.

7. They performed The Bald Soprano by Eugene Ionescu, a play written in a continuous loop and said to be totally pointless and plotless.

8. According to Aristotle, the plot is the most important feature of a dramatic performance.

9. Walt Disney World, Florida, has a record 1.2 million costumes in its theatrical wardrobes.

10. The oldest play still in existence is The Persians by Aeschylus, written in 472 BC.

The World’s Most Beautiful Theaters

Take a look at some of the photographs in my Pinterest collection of the world’s most beautiful theaters.

Click on any photograph to see it enlarged

Sweat on Broadway: A Timely Look at American Desperation

Lynn Nottage’s “Sweat,” opens tonight at Studio 54, marking the Pulitzer-winning playwright’s Broadway debut, as well as that  of five of its nine cast members.  It is opening less than five months after its debut Off-Broadway at the Public Theater in November. The creative team and the production are largely the same, as are eight of the nine cast members; the newcomer is Alison Wright, who is best-known as Martha in the FX TV series, The Americans. She portrays Jessie (pictured at far left in the photograph above). The photographs on this page are of the Broadway production. Below is my review of “Sweat” when it opened at the Public Theater:

 Like Grapes of Wrath, Lynn Nottage’s Sweat offers a devastating look at social and economic breakdown, told not with rants or statistics, but through a riveting tale about good people in a bad situation.  The characters in Sweat live in Reading, Pennsylvania, which 2010 U.S. Census data identified as the poorest city in America.

They are current, former and (they fully expect) future employees of a local factory, and they hang out together in a neighborhood bar, where most  of the play takes place.

But Sweat begins in what looks like a dark prison, with a parole officer talking to a young sullen white man, Jason, whose face is covered with white supremacist tattoos.  Then, separately, the parole officer talks to a young black man, Chris, also recently released from prison. It is 2008,  Jason and Chris are connected in some way, and we are left with a question: What happened?

Click on any photograph by Joan Marcus to see it enlarged.

The scene shifts to the bar in 2000, and we see that Chris and a boyish, clean-faced Jason (with no tattoos) are fast friends, as are their mothers, Tracey and Cynthia. The question becomes: How did this change?  It’s a crafty set-up, because the question doesn’t just pique our curiosity and create suspense; it’s the heart of the play thematically as well. As Jason puts it later, “How the f… did this happen?”  How did this solid town – and by extension, a significant swath of the working population in America — implode?   If, as Nottage has said in interviews, they were victims of the “de-industrial revolution,” Sweat isn’t as concerned with answering as in bringing us into the world of her credible, engaging characters, embodied by a terrific cast.

The play is the product of Nottage’s extensive field research (as was her Pulitzer Prize-winning Ruined, and as was John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath.) But it never feels like research.

Unlike the Joads, the group of people in Sweat are not all related by blood; they have formed a sort of family of friends, across divides of race and ethnicity.  Cynthia, Tracey and a third woman, Jessie, are long-time workers at the Olstead’s factory, and friends for almost as long; they have created a tradition of celebrating their birthdays at the bar. Stan, the bartender, worked for 28 years at Olstead’s, until a workplace injury forced him out of his job. He knows and likes everybody, and the feeling is mutual.

There are hints of tension from the get-go. For one, Cynthia is estranged from her husband (and Chris’s father) Brucie; he is part of a long and fruitless union-organized fight against a different factory, and has turned to drugs for relief.  And then everybody is treated amiably except the other employee of the bar, Oscar, who might as well be invisible.  In a nice example of director Kate Whoriskey’s attention to telling details, while the others chat away and ignore him, Oscar silently crawls under the tables in order to scrape gum off the bottom.

But the strains between some of the characters are the exceptions; there is a feeling of general comity – until it is shattered when the company starts making clear its ominous plans for cost reductions.

What might have been under the surface all along, explodes into envy, resentment and prejudice, fanned by the plant’s divisive actions. Oscar, of Latino descent, shows Tracey a flyer from the company, written in Spanish, advertising job openings (at lower pay.)

“I’m not prejudice…I’m cool with everyone” Tracey says. “But, I mean… C’mon… you guys coming over here, you can get a job faster than…”

“I was born here,” Oscar interrupts.

“Still,” Tracey says, “you wasn’t born here, Berks” – the county where Reading is located.

“Yeah, I was.”

The exchange lands perfectly, thanks to the in-your-face performance  by Broadway veteran Johanna Day (Proof, August: Osage County, You Can’t Take It With You) as Tracey, and the winning mix of diffidence and determination by Carlo Alban as Oscar.

Michelle Wilson is equally effective as Cynthia, who is given a suspiciously-timed promotion that makes her the enemy in the eyes of her friends, and tears her apart.

Will Pullen, who was frighteningly believable as the bully in Punk Rock,  is spectacular once again as Jason, switching back and forth between the eager innocent of 2000 and the deflated loser of 2008.

Khris Davis, who made an impressive New York stage debut in an intense performance as the first black boxing champ in The Royale, here appropriately scales it back as Chris, a bright young man saving up money to go to college, trying to escape what everybody else accepts as predestined.

James Colby as Stan gives a performance that grows in power, and winds up central to Sweat’s ending. It’s an ending that may or may not stand as a metaphor for what’s happening in America, but is guaranteed to make you cry.

Sweat
Studio 54

Production Staff
Theatre Owned / Operated by Roundabout Theatre Company (Todd Haimes: Artistic Director/CEO; Julia C. Levy: Executive Director; Sydney Beers: General Manager; Steve Dow: Chief Administrative Officer)
Produced by Stuart Thompson and Louise Gund
Co-commissioned by Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Arena Stage (Molly Smith, Artistic Director; Edgar Dobie, Executive Director); Produced off-Broadway by The Public Theater (Oskar Eustis, Artistic Director; Patrick Willingham, Executive Director)
Written by Lynn Nottage; Original Music by Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen
Directed by Kate Whoriskey
Scenic Design by John Lee Beatty; Costume Design by Jennifer Moeller; Lighting Design by Peter Kaczorowski; Sound Design by Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen; Projection Design by Jeff Sugg
General Manager: Thompson Turner Productions; Company Manager: Daniel Hoyos
Production Manager: Aurora Productions; Production Stage Manager: Donald Fried
Press Representative: Boneau / Bryan-Brown; Advertising: SPOTCo, Inc.
Cast
Carlo Albán Broadway debut as Oscar; James Colby as Stan; Khris Davis Broadway debut as Chris; Johanna Day  as Tracey; John Earl Jelks as Brucie. Will Pullen Broadway debut as Jason; Lance Coadie Williams Broadway debut as Evan; Michelle Wilson as Cynthia; Alison Wright Broadway debut as Jessie
Understudies: Benton Greene (Brucie, Chris, Evan), Hunter Hoffman (Jason), Steve Key (Stan), Deirdre Madigan (Jessie, Tracey), Lisa Renee Pitts (Cynthia) and Reza Salazar (Oscar)

Running time: 2 hours and 25 minutes.

Tickets: $59 to $149

Poll: Best Broadway Show Adapted From A Movie?

What is the best Broadway show adapted from a movie? Choose from the two dozen below, listed alphabetically, or add one that’s not on the list.

It wasn’t until 1970 that a Broadway show based on a movie won the Tony for best musical. Fittingly, the musical was Applause, inspired by All About Eve, a movie about the theater. Now every major Hollywood studio has a theatrical division, looking to create shows for Broadway, and every Broadway season includes a number of musicals that are based on movies. Next month alone, four new shows will open on Broadway based on original  movies (whose movie posters are picured above.) Add  to these the seven screen-to-stage adaptations already currently on Broadway.

How to Transcend a Happy Marriage Review: Sarah Ruhl’s Spiritual Orgy Play with Marisa Tomei and Lena Hall

In Sarah Ruhl’s new play, “How to Transcend a Happy Marriage,” two middle-aged married couples, long-time friends, find themselves fascinated with a young woman nicknamed Pip ( Lena Hall, Tony winner for Hedwig and the Angry Inch) who lives and loves with two men, in what they call a polyamorous relationship, or a throuple, or a triad. The two couples decide to invite the throuple to a New Year’s Eve party.

“And our lives would change forever,” George (short for Georgia), portrayed by Marisa Tomei, says to the theatergoers sitting politely at Lincoln Center’s Mitzi Newhouse Theater.

It’s not actually clear that their lives do change forever. But ours certainly don’t.

The New Year’s Eve party ends in an orgy, right before intermission. In Act II, Ruhl’s play takes a series of surreal turns, in an apparent but by no means straightforward attempt to tell us something about love and marriage; and the spirit and the flesh; and the conflict between our animal desires and our human duties, as well as our efforts to reconcile these two natures.

Ruhl is a lovely writer, capable of witty aphorisms, sophisticated dialogue, humorous set-ups, and a theatrical sense of wonder. She also has a tendency towards the twee. All this is on display in “How To Transcend a Happy Marriage,” but this play doesn’t come together as effectively as some of her previous theater that touches on similar territory. She has written about love and marriage in my favorite of her plays, “Stage Kiss “; about spiritual matters, in “The Oldest Boy” ; and, in her only play on Broadway so far, “In The Next Room, or the Vibrator Play,” she has written satirically about the conflict between our animal desires and our bourgeois habits.

The strength of “Happy Marriage” is in the characterization of Lena Hall’s Pip, who isn’t just polyamorous. She is a free spirit who slaughters animals when she wants to eat meat, seeing it as the only ethical way to be a meat-eater. She is also taking pole dancing classes. And she is something of a shape-shifter. Hall, best-known for her rock personas, seems the exact right performer for the role.

One problem is that, as reliable and appealing as the rest of the cast is, they are portraying characters that seem deliberately…bland. This even includes Pip’s boyfriends, a mathematician named David (Austin Smith), who talks about Pythagoras, and Freddie (David McElwee), who doesn’t have a job: “It’s kind of a philosophy. I think, I walk. I try not to leave any imprint. Or footprint…I went to Harvard.”

Pip’s liveliness contrasts with the two couples’ banal bourgeois existence. Pip makes a living as a temp at a legal aid office; this is where she met Jane (Robin Weigert ), who works there as a litigator. Her husband Michael (Brian Hutchison) writes jingles. I don’t even remember what the other couple do for a living, except that Marissa Tomei’s George is assigned narrator duties and also gets long ruminative monologues. These sound as if they might be perceptive, but they existed in a spiritual realm somewhere above my head.

Here is what might be a typical exchange during the New Year’s Eve Party, an example of the ways in which “How to Transcend A Happy Marriage” manages to be simultaneously entertaining and tedious:

Pip: The thing about being bisexual that’s tedious is you constantly have to announce yourself. It’s like, if you decide to be a vegetarian, you don’t go around reminding people, well I’m technically an omnivore. You know?

Paul:So if you’re a monogamous bisexual, does that make you a liar all the time?

David: I sort of think so. But monogamy is a construct that will seem passé in the next century. So will race. The whole world will be like Brazil.

George: I love Brazil.

Michael: Pistachios?

Freddie: Yes, please. I love pistachios at a party. Gives you something to do with your hands. I never know what to do with my hands while I make small talk.

All this is before the fanciful twists of the second act, which I shouldn’t describe, although it wouldn’t matter much if I did. I’ll only say they take place in a forest, a jail cell, and in Michael and Jane’s home, and involve woodland creatures, and a teenage daughter, and snow, and lots of hugging.

How to Transcend a Happy Marriage
Mitzi Newhouse Theater
Written by Sarah Ruhl. Directed by Rebecca Taichman. Set design by David Zinn, costume design by Susan Hilferty, lighting design by Peter Kaczorowski, sound design by Matt Hubbs
Cast: Lena Hall as Pip, Brian Hutchison as Michael, David McElwee as Freddie, Omar Metwally as Paul, Naian Gonzalez Norvind as Jenna, Austin Smith as David, Marisa Tomei as George, Robin Weigert as Jane
Running time: two hours and 15 minutes, including an intermission
Tickets: $87
Through May 7, 2017

 

Miss Saigon: Review, pics

The first Broadway revival of Miss Saigon is being marketed as the return of a classic. But, if the show has become an undeniable fan favorite, the production’s impressive visual spectacle, lively staging and crowd-pleasing vocal calisthenics cannot completely mask a script that leans heavily on emotional manipulation and one-dimensional storytelling.

Full review in DC Theatre Scene

Click on any photograph by Matthew Murphy or Michael Le Poer Trench to see it enlarged.

Happy Birthday Sondheim and Lloyd Webber: #BroadwayPersists. Trump vs. the Arts. Week in New York Theater

 


Today Stephen Sondheim turns 87 and Andrew Lloyd Webber turns 69. Each has more than one show currently running on New York stages — Sondheim: Sunday in the Park with George, and Sweeney Todd; Lloyd Webber: Cats, Phantom of the Opera, School of Rock, and Sunset Boulevard. Four days ago, John Kander celebrated his 90th birthday.

All three have helped inspire a new generation of theater makers.

In other words, theater persists, in the face of what many would characterize as nothing less than an attack on culture.

New York theatergoers looked to the government this past week for support of the arts – the government of Canada, when Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attended “Come From Away” on Broadway, accompanied by some 600 friends and allies, mostly Canadian, but also a number of UN ambassadors, and Ivanka Trump.

Her father was invited as well, but according to an article in the Washington Post, he said “Absolutely not,” and flew to Nashville instead to visit the gravesite of Andrew Jackson.

That same day, the Ides of March, came news of Trump’s budget plan, which calls for “the elimination of of four independent cultural agencies” – the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. (See 4-minute “Donald The Musical” below.)

 

Julie Andrews and daughter Emma Walton Hamilton: Rescue the arts from the budget chopping block

Without art, there is no empathy. Without empathy, there is no justice.~Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, speaking at the annual Hanks Lecture.

15 Great Books About The Theater

Julie Haydon as Laura in The Glass Menagerie, opened March 31, 1945. Its eighth Broadway production opened March 9, 2017.

Broadway Originals of this Season’s Revivals

Week in New York Theater Reviews

The Price

Danny DeVito, making his Broadway debut, gets the best deal out of The Price. Arthur Miller is not a playwright known for comically colorful characters, yet here’s DeVito as Gregory Solomon, a Jewish acrobat turned 89-year-old used furniture dealer who “smoked all my life, I drinked, and I loved every woman who would let me.”

DeVito’s character is the most enjoyable but not a central one in Miller’s sober family drama, now getting its fifth production on Broadway, in a cast that also includes Mark Ruffalo, Jessica Hecht and Tony Shalhoub. If none are at their absolute best here, that only means that all of them at one time or another have given performances that have left me in awe.

 

Week in New York Theater News

The Fantasticks is set to close June 4 after 4390 performances at Jerry Orbach Theater. (Previously it ran 17,162 at Sullivan St Playhouse, opening in 1960)

 

The New Jersey high school that put on “Ragtime” after a controversy over the N-word, wins the “Courage in Theatre” Award from Music Theatre International.

My look at the controversy: The N-Word on Stage

Joshua Harmon, Lynn Nottage, Paula Vogel, Lucas Hnath, and JT Rogers. (Photo by Chad Griffith)

 

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The First Theatrical Landmark of the Trump Era
Lynn Nottage’s play “Sweat” “opened at the Public Theatre last November, five days before the Presidential election, which gave the country a new fixation: the Rust Belt working class. Who were these people who had cast their lot with Donald Trump? Why had the media—and the Democrats—largely ignored their troubles? Nottage was an unlikely teller of the story: an Ivy League-educated black woman from Brooklyn. “One of the mantras I heard the steelworkers repeat over and over again was ‘We invested so many years in this factory, and they don’t see us. We’re invisible,’ ” Nottage said. “I think it profoundly hurt their feelings.”
…“Sweat” ’s transfer to Studio 54—it is Nottage’s Broadway début—may make it the first theatrical landmark of the Trump era: a tough yet empathetic portrait of the America that came undone. “Most folks think it’s the guilt or rage that destroys us,” one character says. “But I know from experience that it’s shame that eats us away until we disappear.” Nottage wasn’t prescient—she was as shocked as anyone by the election result. But what wasn’t shocking “was the extent of the pain,” she told me. “These were people who felt helpless, who felt like the American dream that they had so deeply invested in had been suddenly ripped away. I was sitting with these white men, and I thought, You sound like people of color in America.”

 

 

RIP Derek Walcott, 87, Nobel Laureate, poet, and playwright of more than 20 plays, including “Dream on Monkey Mountain, “which won an Obie; and “The Capeman,”  a collaboration with Paul Simon on Broadway. He founded Boston Playwrights’ Theatre as a showcase for new plays. ObituaryMore on his playwriting

15 Great Books About The Theater

The 50 best plays and 10 greatest musicals of the last century are all available as books to read, but what are the best books about the theater?

That’s the question I asked in giveaway contests for two books:

 

 

The Great Comet: The Journey of a New Musical to Broadway
And


Tradition!: The Highly Improbable, Ultimately Triumphant Broadway-to-Hollywood Story of Fiddler on the Roof, the World’s Most Beloved Musical

Below are 15 books (one of them in two volumes) selected by the contestants, with some of their comments. Click on the the titles for links to a page where you can learn more about the book, read excerpts, and purchase a copy.

Act One: An Autobiography by Moss Hart

“I picked up the book after I saw the show at Lincoln Center, and I’ll admit that I didn’t know much about Moss, or the show really, before I went in. I left the theatre feeling inspired and rejuvenated with my love for theatre. I read the book in two days and felt even stronger feelings upon finishing it. It’s incredible how vivid his stories are, especially from his childhood. And the book often feels like a novel, not a memoir, because the dialogue is so rich. Easily one of my favorite books about theatre for sure.”

Hat Box: The Collected Lyrics of Stephen Sondheim

This contains Stephen Sondheim’s two volumes of annotated lyrics, written separately, Finishing the Hat and Look I Made a Hat.
Stephen Sondheim has always been my favorite musical theatre composer/lyricist. His collection is an invaluable resource to any Sondheim fan/theatre lover. These books provide an insight of the process of song writing and creating a musical in general and give a brief history of how each of his shows came to be. The West Side Story and Sweeney Todd chapters were especially useful while I was working on productions of those shows for a better understanding of the original work.

The Secret Life of the American Musical: How Broadway Shows Are Built by Jack Viertel

“It’s such an insightful and thorough look at the insides of the current American musical, and shows the start of such musicals from Rodgers & Hammerstein to Stephen Sondheim. It truly is a great read.”

“It wowed me earlier this year. I got the book over the holidays and devoured it – I was so impressed by how clearly and intelligently he dissected the American musical. Not only does it work as an analysis of the American musical, but it can serve as a guidebook for creating musicals – what the essential elements are (and how they exist in musicals) and why they work in the creation of a show. It’s a wonderful read, and while it may not be the BEST book (that would probably go to Sondheim’s Finishing the Hat and Look I Made a Hate) but it certainly is one of the most interesting and entertaining I’ve read.”

 

Not Since Carrie: Forty Years of Broadway Musical Flops by Ken Mandelbaum

It’s just full of fascinating stories – sometimes the shows that DON’T work are more interesting than those that do, because there are just so many things that can go so terribly wrong…I love seeing the thought processes behind these “failures,” and of course for every so-called flop out there, there’s someone who actually cherishes that show for various reasons! It’s important to remember even Broadway’s mistakes, especially because they can hopefully help us all learn from them for next time

Broadway: The American Musical

“One of the best books written about the history of Broadway and it’s roots. It’s huge, has tons of cool photos and it is accompanied by great videos of each chapter. Bonus: it has an intro by Julie Andrews.”

Original Story: A Memoir of Broadway and Hollywood by Arthur Laurents

“It was incredibly honest about himself and the theatre folks he worked with over the years. Laurents was able to create a richly detailed tapestry of a story while not glossing over the moments that were challenging.”

The Empty Space: A Book About the Theatre: Deadly, Holy, Rough, Immediate by Peter Brook

“The Empty Space” by Peter Brook. This book showed me more of what theatre can, could, and should be than any class I ever took in college. He takes theories and movements that I was familiar with and turned them into something I had never imagined, allowing me to grow as a director and artist.”

David Merrick – The Abominable Showman: The Unauthorized Biography  by Howard Kissel

“We can all learn how to be a creative genius/monster from the actions of David Merrick!”

THE SEASON A Candid Look At Broadway by William Goldman

“It is certainly dated in more than a couple of ways, but I can’t think of many more books that have impacted the way I think about the business and ecosystem of New York Theatre the way that that one has. From the flops to the hits, not only do you get to be jealous of the standard ticket prices of the shows in the late 60s, you learn about why certain shows connect with critics or audiences and other shows don’t. And the idea of “The Muscle” who is the chief driving creative force behind a production, is something I think about all the time in regards to both Broadway and Hollywood.”

 

Theatre of the Unimpressed: In Search of Vital Drama by Jordan Tannahill

Theatre of the Unimpressed by Jordan Tannahill. The book mostly functions as a diagnostic of the state of contemporary theatre in Canada and attempts to establish a standard for revitalization. Not everything is agreeable, and the book is more about problems than solutions, but it really gets the wheels in my head turning.

Ghost Light: A Memoir by Frank Rich

“It passionately describes how a love for musical theater is born out of both a need to escape into something beautiful and a desire to relate to characters in a range of emotional states. Personal and lovely”

How Does the Show Go On: an Introduction to the Theater by Thomas Schumacher

I love it because it’s geared towards kids and is written to excite a new generation of audience members and theatre artists

Unnaturally Green: One girl’s journey along a yellow brick road less traveled by Felicia Ricci.

“It’s a story of the actress who got to play Elphaba in Wicked, and it’s really wonderful because it goes through all the audition calls, the rehearsal process and the show itself. For the student actress as me, it’s one of the best resources to get more familiar with theatre work. I always wondered how it goes on Broadway, what happens after you get the role, is it any different from what I know… Felicia reveals just so many little details! I learned a lot of new things about American theatre while sitting in Russia and drinking my tea. That’s the magic. And that’s the theater.”

Song of Spider-Man: The Inside Story of the Most Controversial Musical in Broadway History by Glen Burger
“It goes into detail about the decline and fall of Turn Off the Dark. Understanding what makes a show with ‘everything going for it’ fail helps us recognize what is needed for a show to succeed.”

 

Hamilton: The Revolution

“Reading that book not only gave me insight to Lin Manuel Miranda’s world, but all of his collaborators as well. Reading Hamilton is much like reading other books, even though it is nonfiction there are still literary elements that spark imagination. When I read about Hamilton, I can’t help but feel an appreciation for art. Creating art is one of the most ambitious challenges anyone can face. To create art you have to become vulnerable, explore different styles, and above all show humanity. With automation in the 21st century it is difficult to find true human work in anything. Hamilton, the whole world of Hamilton, is unadulterated humanity, and that is why I love the book.”