Watch 40 sing #BroadwayforOrlando at the Democratic Convention

AudraatDems

Some 40 Broadway performers (and multi platform celebrities) such as Audra McDonald sang “What The World Needs Now” at the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

Participants include
Audra McDonald, Idina Menzel, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Lena Hall, Alice Ripley, Ben Vereen, Tyne Daly and Sharon Gless, Debra Messing, B.D. Wong, Kristin Bell, Darren Criss, Stephanie J. Block, Adrienne Warren, Len Cariou, Richard Kind, Tom Wopat, Wilson Cruz, Michael Longoria, Rosie Perez, Ann Hampton Callaway, Liz Callaway, Nicholas Callaway Foster, Olga Merediz, Michelle Collins, Jon Viktor Corpuz, Roz Ryan, Mary Ann Hu, Anika Larsen, Margaret Stallings, Eve Plumb, Montego Glover, Michael Urie, Carmen Cusak, Darius de Haas, Melissa Errico, Janet Metz

Damn if that old song doesn’t bring out the tears…and the cheers.

The Last Walk. Elastic City’s Exit, Wistful and Weird

TheLastWalk12So here we are, on our hands and knees in a public square as if we’re religious penitents, but most of the people crawling up the steps of Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn are poets and performance artists, or at least secular theatergoers, in this latest 0f Elastic City‘s “Walks,” which is also the last of Elastic City’s Walks.

Since 2010,  poet Todd Shalom has brought adventurous participants on more than 100 of these wild walks,  often in collaboration with Niegel Smith, who took on the title of Elastic City’s associate artistic director. I described some of the walks in which the two collaborated in a profile of Niegel Smith for American Theatre Magazine when he became the artistic director of the prestigious Off-Off Broadway theater The Flea last year.

In one, entitled Selfies, the participants walked naked through the basement of the City University of New York Graduate Center. In Monumental Walk, which took place in both London and New York,  the participants were asked to talk to public statues and sculptures, acting out the way they imagined these monuments would move, and then led them to “create new monuments with our bodies.” Visual AIDS commissioned Smith to organize a Walk entitled Spread, in which participants, contemplating the virus, “spread” their clothes, condoms, and well-wishes to passersby, and then entered an adult video parlor and “spread” messages, food and money to the customers.

I went on one in 2014 in Greenwich Village that was a tad more of a traditional walking tour, although not entirely:  We were asked, for example, to write anti-gentrification quotations on blank bookmarks and then slip them surreptitiously into the books for sale at BookMarc, the bookstore by fashion designer Marc Jacobs.

In Elastic City’s most ambitious Walk, entitled Total Detroit, Smith and Shalom brought a dozen people from New York to Detroit, where Smith had spent some unhappy childhood years, for three days and two nights. Among the stops on the walk was a white-framed house where he had lived with his mother and brothers and where, he told them, his mother’s boyfriend had sexually abused him. Then he asked them to share their own traumatic events, if they wished. Afterwards, Smith remembers, “We lit candles and stayed on the sidewalk until the candles burned away.”

But the walk in Prospect Park this week is the last walk of Elastic City’s last season. Proof of the impact of Elastic City on at least a segment of New York City may be demonstrated by the news articles generated by their announcement that Elastic City will be no more.

The reason why they’re ending it, in a nutshell: Shalom wanted to move on. He explained his reasoning in a group e-mail last November with his usual thoughtfulness — containing perhaps a lesson for other arts groups:

“In thinking about the future, the options we saw were: that Elastic City continue with a new Executive and Artistic Director or that EC institutionalize within a museum or larger organization. Well, we’re a small but strong org (grrr) but we don’t have the financial infrastructure to pay an ED and Artistic Director a livable wage. If we joined a larger organization, it’d provide more financial security but would compromise the urgency, form and presentation of the work. One reason we started making walks outside was so we didn’t have to answer to anyone other than you, the public.

“But above all, we feel like Elastic City has met its mission and has explored this form well. We’ve developed a method. This is a project in poetry, really, and we’re gonna go out with a celebration.”

And so the dozen or so of us who gathered at the Bailey Fountain near the entrance of Prospect Park engaged in some dozen activities over 90 minutes, some of which paid homage to past walks. We broke into pairs and “sculpted” each other (provided a pose to be a monument.) We crawled (knee pads and work gloves provided.) We played with our shadows. We were asked to do a 360-degree look at our surroundings, voicing  sounds for the different objects — landmarks, trees — that we spotted. (Not a single passerby, not even a passing police car, took notice off the odd cacophony. This is New York, after all.)  We were asked to pair off again, and listen silently while our partner engaged in a four-minute monologue, as we took notes with magic markers. The notes were then clipped to tree branches in the park. (but not left there.)  We were each asked to walk to a roadway in a way that revealed our character. And then, for the finale, we stood under an ancient tree, and belted out for all to hear every verse of the song that begin:

The sun’ll come out

Tomorrow

Bet your bottom dollar

That tomorrow

There’ll be sun

 

We were handed a printed program with the lyrics on the back — and on the cover, it said “In Loving Memory. Elastic City. April 25, 2010 – July 28, 2016.”

Our Fight Song at Democratic National Convention with Chenoweth, Menzel, Billy Porter etc.

Theater stars like Kristin Chenoweth, Alan Cumming, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Idina Menzel, Ben Platt, and Billy Porter join in this video of Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song,” inspired by the Pitch Perfect films, which was presented at the end of the second night of the 2016 Democratic National Convention.

Win a FREE Fringe Festival Pass. See EVERY SHOW

Fringe-logo1

See any and EVERY SHOW at the 20th anniversary New York International Fringe Festival for FREE.

Win one of two “Fringe VIP” Passes, each a $500 value —  but priceless.

The Fringe Festival, the largest multi-arts festival in North America, which this years runs from August 12 to August 28th, presents nearly 200 shows each year by some of the world’s best emerging theater troupes and dance companies. In the 20 years since it began, the Fringe begat one hit Broadway musical, “Urinetown,” and many Off-Broadway transfers. Fringe alumni include now-famous actors Bradley Cooper,  Mindy Kaling, and Michael Urie, and directors Diane Paulus (Hair, Pippin), Alex Timbers (Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Rocky), and Leigh Silverman (Violet.)

Go to the 2016 FringeNYC website to see the selection this year. (and see a photo essay of some of this year’s offerings below)

We’re giving away two passes.

To enter the contest for one of these passes, answer the question:

What was your most memorable Fringe experience?

Please elaborate

  1. Please put your answer in the comments at the bottom of this blog post (below the photo essay) because the winner will be chosen through Random.org based on the order of your reply, not its content.

But you must answer the question, complete with description and explanation, or your entry will not be approved for submission.

Update: Be Specific.. Gushing about the festival in general is not answering the question.

(Those who have had no Fringe experience, you can answer an alternate question: What NY Fringe show would you most like to have seen/would most like to see and why?)

  1. Please include your Twitter name and follow my Twitter feed at @NewYorkTheater so that I can send you a direct message. (If you don’t have a Twitter name, create one. It’s free.)
  2. This contest ends Tuesday, August 2, 2016 at midnight Eastern Time, and I will make the drawing no later than noon the next day. You must respond to my direct message on Twitter within 24 hours or I will choose another winner.

Obviously, you have to be in New York between August 12th and August 28th in order to see the shows.

Please remember to include your Twitter name.

Click on any photograph to see it enlarged

 

Jake Gyllenhaal Reopens Broadway Theater. Motown Bows and Bows Out. Week in New York Theater

bad idea t-shirt from waitress

This shirt (and song) from “Waitress” may sum up for many the week’s news outside New York theater. (See the Laura Benanti video below.)

The ensemble performs “Broadway Blues” in Shuffle Along,

The ensemble performs “Broadway Blues” in Shuffle Along,

This week in New York theater saw openings (Privacy with Daniel Radcliffe ), and closings (Shuffle Along)  – and, in the unusual case of Motown, a reopening and re-closing.

wicked_logo

One day left to enter the Wicked Broadway Ticket Giveaway contest

Week in New York Theater Reviews

Daniel Radcliffe as The Writer, coming to America

Daniel Radcliffe as The Writer, coming to America

Privacy

“Privacy,” a play exploring the death of privacy, is inspired by Edward Snowden’s revelations about surveillance; Snowden even appears on stage (via video.) But, for all its alarming info, the show is more playful interactive lecture than cautionary drama: An audience member may even find herself on a date with Daniel Radcliffe….If this sounds more like a TED talk than conventional theater, the impression is reinforced by there being little plot to speak of … Still, the creative team works hard to keep us engaged

krisha Marcano, Allison Semmes, Trisha Jeffrey as the Supremes

krisha Marcano, Allison Semmes, Trisha Jeffrey as the Supremes

Motown

Most everything about this production is more….efficient….than the original one on Broadway. The cast has been reduced in size; sets have been simplified; scenes have been trimmed or excised…Unfortunately, the efficiency seems to extend to the performances as well…. The cast members make all the right moves, their voices are in fine form, but there surely needs to be some extra, indefinable spark to stand out in a show that is jam-packed with some 60 songs — most shortened versions or mere snippets of the original. Maybe they’ve just been on the road too long.

the "Encore" which comes after every performance

the “Encore” which comes after every performance

Takarazuka Chicago

The all-female Japanese theater company that is putting on Kander and Ebb’s “Chicago” as part of the Lincoln Center Festival…is not an interpretation of the Broadway production two subway stops away; it’s an exact copy… But the half-hour “Encore” spectacle after “Chicago,” an exercise somewhere between tacky and classy, between Busby Berkeley nostalgia and a hallucinogenic trip through some alternate universe — is itself worth the price of admission.

 

ILUMINATE 7

illuminate

“iLuminate” is a light show in which the lights are portrayed by 11 acrobatic dancers resembling Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles who fell into a vat of radioactive day-glo paint. They glow in the dark. The combination of the technology and the choreography makes for a stunning spectacle of a show, it not an especially coherent one.

The Week in New York Theater News

On the day it opened, Motown the Musical announced it would close just nine days later

Fiddler on the RoofBroadway Theatre

Fiddler On The Roof will close on December 31, one year & 11 days after it opened.

jake gyllenhaal

Jake Gyllenhaal is back on Broadway in a revival of Lanford Wilson’s Burn This, which will open March 6 at the Hudson Theater, which was last a functioning Broadway theater in 1968.

The Hudson Theatre

 

Fences by August Wilson: Denzel Washington (Troy Maxson) and Viola Davis (Rose)

Fences by August Wilson: Denzel Washington (Troy Maxson) and Viola Davis (Rose)

The film of August Wilson’s Fences, directed by Denzel Washington, starring him and Viola Davis will be in movie houses  in New York and Los Angeles on December 16, 2016, and in nationwide release on December 25.

Stephen Schwartz at ComicCon

At Comic Con, Stephen Schwartz revealed he’s writing four new songs for the film of Wicked, due out in December 2019

Spamilton

Spamilton lottery for 10 cents. ( Otherwise $49 + 2 drink minimum) thru August 23 at The Triad

JennaUshkowitzWaitress

Before she played Tina Cohen-Chang in Glee, Jenna Ushkowitz was in two Broadway musicals (The King and I, and Spring Awakening). Now she returns, as Dawn in Waitress Musical July 29. This is temporary, while Kimiko Glenn takes a leave of absence from the production, although it’s not clear for how long.

RazzleDazzleByRiedel

Michael Riedel’s “Razzle Dazzle” is being turned into a TV miniseries. (It’s not yet clear where.)

See Theater Books Worth Reading

Daveed Diggs

Already cast in an HBO “mockumentary” and a Julia Roberts flick, Daveed Diggs joins the ABC TV series Blackish in its third season.

GregoryPeckinMobyDick

The team that created “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812,” director Rachel Chavkin and composer Dave Malloy,  is working on a musical adaptation of Moby Dick.

Paramour at Broadway in Bryant Park

Broadway in Bryant Park: Watch videos of performances by the casts of Les Miserables, Fiddler on the Roof, Paramous, and The Wonderful Marvelettes

Kinky Boots’ 7-year-old Devin Tray Campbell at the 14th annual Broadway Stands Up for Freedom NYCLU fundraiser

Deaf West Hell No

Watch Les Miz, Fiddler, Paramour at Broadway in Bryant Park

C2E2 2016 - Cosplay Sunday Floor

Below, cast members from the Broadway shows Les Miserables, Fiddler on the Roof, and Cirque du Soleil’s Paramour, as well as the Marvelous Wonderettes Off-Broadway, sing and dance during the July 21, 2016 Broadway at Bryant Park concert.

From Les Miserables:
John Owen-Jones as Valjean sings “Bring Him Home”
Alison Luff as Fantine sings “I Dreamed a Dream”

From Fiddler on the Roof:
Sarah Parker, Marla Phelan and Silvia Vrskova sing “Matchmaker, Matchmaker”

From Paramour
“The Honeymoon Days of Fame”

From the Marvelous Wonderettes

Diana DeGarmo, Christina Bianco, Jenna Leigh Green and Sally Schwab sing “Mr. Sandman”

iLuminate: Glowing Dancers in the Dark

“iLuminate,” which is running at Theatre 80 through September 4, is a light show in which the lights are portrayed by 11 acrobatic dancers resembling Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles who fell into a vat of radioactive day-glo paint. They glow in the dark. The combination of the technology and the choreography makes for a stunning spectacle of a show, it not an especially coherent one.

Click on any photograph to see it enlarged

“iLuminate” is probably supposed to be pronounced like iPhone or iTunes, which would make sense because it is both the name of the show and of an “entertainment technology company” based on wireless technology developed by software engineer and dancer Miral Kotb in 2009. Kotb introduced the technology publicly in 2011 on America’s Got Talent, and has used it in various entertainments ever since all over the world (see video below), including twice before Off-Broadway.

On this third time around in a New York theater, the show has gotten longer — there is now an intermission. The story, such as it is, involves shy artist Jacob (Nicholas Ranauro), who has a magical paintbrush that makes his creations come to life.  He uses it one night at a nightclub to try to impress his would-be girlfriend Ali (Alessandra Marconi). Darius (Shane Carrigan), a rival for Ali’s affection, abducts her, steals the brush, and uses it (the brush) for evil. Only a member of the audience can save the world – during our performance, a seven-year-old blonde girl, who with gentle assistance, pushed some big buttons of different-colored light. The climax involves a dragon.

It’s distinctly possible that none of the plot will be clear, since there is only a handful of spoken sentences, intoned with an amplification that makes everybody sound like Darth Vader, and they have to compete with the constant loud thumping music. The show is also almost entirely in the dark, the only light coming from the costumes and props. Being in the dark is part of its appeal. “iLuminate” belongs roughly to the same genre as “Stomp” and “Blue Man Group” – suited for children, people who don’t speak English, and those who seek safe, legal and loud hallucinations.

iLuminate
at Theatre 80 St. Marks
By Miral Kotb and Athena Sunga
Music by Matt Stine, Justin “Kanobby” Keitt, and Christopher Tignor
Directed by Miral Kotb
Choreographed by Trevor Harrison
Cast: Alessandra Marconi, Aubrey Brown, Bryan Longchamp, Charles Way, David Terry, Lisa Bauford, Lucia Foster, Matthew Dobbins, Omar Pride, Shane Corrigan, Simon Mendoza
Running time: 90 minutes including an intermision.
Tickets; $69.50

iLuminati is scheduled to run through September 4, 2016.

Takarazuka Chicago at Lincoln Center Festival: All-Female Kander and Ebb Musical in Japanese

The all-female Japanese theater company that is putting on Kander and Ebb’s “Chicago” as part of the Lincoln Center Festival through Sunday, was founded in 1913 in Takarazuka, Japan by the president of a Japanese railroad to increase tourism to the city. The Western-style musical theater they present has become more popular in Japan than Kabuki, Noh, or Bunraku, but arguably demands theatrical training that is just as rigorous.
I’ve been eager to see the Takarazuka Revue since I saw a play about them at Clubbed Thumb entitled “Takarazuka!” by Susan Soon He Stanton, who admitted becoming “obsessed with the lurid, surreal, and oddly compelling performances.”

Click on any photograph to see it enlarged

Not long into the performance at Lincoln Center’s David Koch Theater, I started asking myself: Why am I seeing this “Chicago”? Just two subway stops away, the same musical has been playing nightly since 1996. The slinky black costumes in both are designed by William Ivey Long, the lighting for both is designed by Ken Billington, the scenic design for both is by John Lee Beatty, and the rest of the credits — i.e. “Recreation of Original Production Choreography by Gary Chryst’ — make it clear that this is not a new interpretation; it’s an exact copy. Yes, this one is in Japanese (with English supertitles.) But given the, um, creative  casting of the Broadway production — which recently proclaimed itself history-making because two of its current stars,Jaime Camil and Bianca Marroquin, were born in Mexican — it doesn’t seem much of a leap to envision an all-Japanese Broadway cast someday in the future.

Two things must be said:

  1. Given that it’s a copy, it’s a professional one, with a cast of winning performers. Maybe the women playing the men’s parts wouldn’t pass for male at a truck stop, but they certainly sounded like men, and they were  better impersonators than the women you generally see disguising themselves as men in Shakespeare. (Of particular note was the suave performance of Saori Mine as Billy Flynn.) But “Chicago” is a showcase for the women characters. This may have made it an odd choice to be the only export by the Takarazuka Revue to the Lincoln Center Festival, but Yoka Wao and Hikaru Asami were undeniably delicious as the sexy, amoral murderers Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart.
  2. “Chicago” ended after about two and a half hours (which is, unsurprisingly, the same running time as the Broadway production.) But then the three leads — Mine, Wao and Asami — came out before the curtain and explained that after every musical put on by a Takarazuka troupe, they add an “Encore” spectacle. And so, out came the disco balls projecting criss-crossing bright white lights as if in a Hollywood premiere, leading to a synchronized chorus line of frilly taffeta-clothed dancing girls a la the Radio City Rockettes — the first number in a half hour’s worth of eclectic razzmatazz, complete with sparkling tuxes and huge white feathers, an exercise somewhere between tacky and classy, between Busby Berkeley nostalgia and a hallucinogenic trip through some alternate universe — and itself worth the price of admission.

Takarazuka’s Chicago runs on stage at Lincoln Center’s David Koch Theater through Sunday, July 24. Tickets run from $35 to $110.

Motown the Musical Review: Back on Broadway (Not For Long)

When “Motown the Musical” opened on Broadway in 2013, I fell for the show, because of the exciting performances by a cast impersonating many of the stars of Motown Records – Diana Ross and the Supremes, the Jackson 5, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder…more than a dozen acts in all. I forgave the chutzpah of Motown Records founder Berry Gordy Jr., who co-wrote and produced the clunky, self-serving story that framed the music, which focused on the rise of the wise and powerful Berry Gordy Jr.

The show wound up being the hit I had predicted, and when it closed just 18 months ago, it promised to return to Broadway. And so it has, for a limited engagement of 18 weeks.

This time around, I didn’t fall.

Update: The producers have announced (on opening night!) that “Motown” will close early; its final performance will be July 31 (not November.)

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

Yes, the musical numbers are still entertaining, thanks (as I noted three years ago) to the adept musical arrangements by Ethan Popp, expert sound design by Peter Hylenski, choreography by Patricia Wilcox and Warren Adams that offers the signature Motown moves mixed in with some exhilarating dancing that is more free-form and contemporary. ESosa’s flashy and elegant costumes still number in the hundreds.

A clue to the difference between the original Broadway production and the new one occurred at the curtain call, when Chester Gregory, the actor portraying Berry Gordy Jr. this time around, shouted out “Hey, New York City!” That is the sort of thing a touring company does – call out the name of the city where they are performing that night. And indeed, the cast now at Broadway’s Nederlander Theater is part of a production that has been touring the country since 2014.

Most everything about this production is more….efficient….than the original one on Broadway. The cast has been reduced in size; sets have been simplified; scenes have been trimmed or excised – we no longer see Gordy working as a mechanic in an auto repair shop, for example, one of the several jobs he had (including boxer, failed record store owner, cookware salesman and songwriter) before he borrowed $800 from his family  to create a record company that he sold some three decades later for $61 million.

Unfortunately, the efficiency seems to extend to the performances as well. I don’t doubt that the new cast is talented, but the moments that won me over the first time around – the Jackie Wilson character shimmying through “Reet Petite,” the Marvin Gaye character singing “What’s Going On,” and especially Diana Ross doing her first solo apart from the Supremes, “Reach Out and Touch” – just didn’t have the same impact this time. The only clear standout now is Leon Outlaw Jr. as young Michael Jackson. The cast members make all the right moves, their voices are in fine form, but there surely needs to be some extra, indefinable spark to stand out in a show that is jam-packed with some 60 songs — most shortened versions or mere snippets of the original. Maybe they’ve just been on the road too long.

 

 

Motown the Musical

Nederlander theater

Book by Berry Gordy, music and lyrics by “The Legendary Motown Catalog”

Based upon the book “To Be Loved: The Music, The Magic, The Memories of Motown” by Berry Gordy. (“script consultants” David Goldsmith and Dick Scanlan.)

Charles Randolph-Wright (Direction)

Warren Adams and Patricia Wilcox (Choreography)
David Korins (Scenic Design)
ESosa (Costume Design)
Natasha Katz (Lighting Design)
Peter Hylenski (Sound Design)
Daniel Brodie (Projection Design)
Ethan Popp (Musical Supervision, Arrangements and Orchestrations)
Bryan Crook (Co-Orchestrations and Additional Arrangements)
Zane Mark (Dance Arrangements)
Joseph Joubert (Musical Direction)

Cast: Chester Gregory as Berry Gordy, Allison Semmes as Diana Ross, Jesse Nager as Smokey Robinson, Jarran Muse as Marvin Gaye, and J.J. Batteast and Leon Outlaw, Jr. as Young Berry Gordy/Stevie Wonder/Michael Jackson

Running time: 2 hours and 45 minutes, including an intermission

Tickets: $87 to $250

Motown was scheduled to run through  November 13, 2016, but now will end July 31.

Privacy, with Daniel Radcliffe

“Privacy,” a play exploring the death of privacy, is inspired by Edward Snowden’s revelations about surveillance; Snowden even appears on stage (via video.) But, for all its alarming info, the show is more playful interactive lecture than cautionary drama: An audience member may even find herself on a date with Daniel Radcliffe.

Full review at DC Theatre Scene

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

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