Top 10 Lists of 2014. The New Freak Shows. Talking Back To Critics. The Week in New York Theater.

“I believe in the healing power of the theater,” actress Jane Summerhays has said, “that it is a place where we all come together, where we take refuge, where inexplicable things become explained.”

Some find the premature closing of “Love Letters” and “Side Show” inexplicable.

Also below, my piece on the new freak shows; “Baby It’s Cold Outside” revisited once again as creepy; and top 10 lists of theater in 2014, as well as theater news about Steel Burkhardt, Sting, Billy Porter, Jennifer Nettles, James Earl Jones, Montego Glover, and the opening of An American in Paris…in Paris.

I couldn’t help including theater news from North Korea.

The Week in New York Theater, Dec 8 – 14


Bernardo Cubria’s 60th Off and On Theater podcast

with me as a guest:

We discuss: the complaints actors have about critics; nostalgia for the theater scene in Greenwich Village; leaving at intermission;  stAgeism and “diversity”;  how theater people are like blind fish at the bottom of the Pacific; the evolving definition of “professional critic”;  how “most critics are not trying to be mean, they’re trying to be entertaining.”; and the time I reviewed a play Bernardo was in — and reviewed Bernardo, not to his liking.

1. Edward Einhorn: Review the play in front of you, not the play you wish someone would write.

2. ACT Theatre: How is “cinematic” a bad thing?

3. Conrad Belau: You were right. but did you really need to say it like THAT?

4. Andrew Hungerford: ‏ Surely there is a way to describe this design without using the words “simple but effective.”

Usman Ally and Justin Kirk in NYTW's THE INVISIBLE HAND - Photo by Joan Marcus

My review of The Invisible Hand

With scenes that recall hair-raising episodes from both “Homeland” and “Breaking Bad,” Ayad Akhtar’s latest play, which continues the winning streak begun with his Pulitzer-winning Disgraced, tells the story of Nick Bright (Justin Kirk), an American banker who is kidnapped in Pakistan. When Nick learns that his employer, Citibank, is no longer negotiating for his release, and his captors say they are considering handing him over to the group that beheaded journalist Daniel Pearl, Nick makes a deal with them: He will raise the ransom money himself, by working the financial markets on their behalf.

With this surreal but straightforward premise, Ayad Akhtar achieves in “The Invisible Hand” (only his third play) what I would have thought nearly impossible – a suspenseful, engaging, thoughtful and provocative lesson in economics.

Full review of The Invisible Hand



Country singer Jennifer Nettles is the latest to make her Broadway debut as Roxie Hart in Chicago the musical,  February 2-March 29



James Earl Jones – born in Mississippi, raised in Michigan, a janitor when first he moved to NY, an actor for 56 years, currently in You Can’t Take It With You – is the American Theatre Wing’s next gala honoree, in 2015.

Itshouldabeenyou artwork

Montego Glover (Memphis), Chip Zien, Anne L Nathan (Once) join Tyne Daly and Sierra Boggess in It Shoulda Been You, opening April 14.

Beautiful — The Carole King Musical Stephen Sondheim Theatre

Jessie Mueller, Jarrod Spector, Anika Larsen to perform and discuss Beautiful at the Apple Store in Soho December 16th


Issur Danielovitch was born 98 years ago today. Happy Birthday Kirk Douglas, vet of 90 films, 7 Bway shows

Kirk Douglas began on Bway but went to Hollywood “for the money. It took me a few more flops on Broadway to “settle” for movies.”


Sting  had only 2 rehearsals before joining cast of his musical, The Last Ship. “I felt like I’d been thrown down an elevator shaft,”he joked. Photographs of his performance.




Steel Burkhardt will play Kassim in Aladdin starting December 22

Theaters like NYC-based Bond Street use their art to fight violence against women.

Playwright-turned-TV writer Alena Smith  on why she and her pals left theater for television and how they now might have to leave TV, because its second Golden Age is ending

 My top 10 list of favorites for 2014


Pay-what-you-can nights are common. But UK’s Stockton Arts Center is offering “pay-what-you-decide” AFTER seeing show

Robert Fairchild
Robert Fairchild

An American in Paris opens…in Paris. Photographs and reviews.

HAM_Graphic_FINAL He’s a Broadway star, playwright, and now a director. Billy Porter will direct Sam Harris in HAM A Musical Memoir January 8-24 at Ars Nova.

After run at Bushwick Starr, Dave Malloy’s Ghost Quartet moves to The McKittrick Hotel (home of Sleep No More) in January.


The New Freak Shows

My look at Elephant Man, Side Show, AMC’s Freak Show, and FX’s American Horror Story: Freak Show:

Are we free to gawk again?

That’s what Broadway audiences are doing during the revival of The Elephant Man, one of several stage shows and television series that are bringing attention back to the freak show. Of course, the theatergoers at the Booth Theater are looking at the very hot actor Bradley Cooper, shirtless and without any makeup to simulate deformity, which is different from the way carnival sideshow audiences in Great Britain 130 years ago looked at Joseph Merrick, the real-life, physically grotesque character Cooper is portraying in Bernard Pomerance’s play. Or is it different?

Full article


Baby It’s Cold Outside duet on South Park between Bill Cosby and Taylor Swift makes the popular Christmas novelty song extra creepy



Side Show is closing January 4 – after even fewer performances than the original production.

“It’s a bit of a head-scratcher,” reacted director Bill Condon. “Obviously, there’s some puzzle piece that’s missing for people. I can’t obviously say what it is because we have very, very consistently strong reactions to the show every night….If it wasn’t as big an audience as it needed to be, it was as passionate an audience as I’ve ever seen.”

The avant-garde is not dead, writes Tim Cusack of Theater Askew: It’s just moved to Bushwick.

Avant-garde chronology:

Village 40s 50s

SoHo 60s

East Village 70s 80s

Williamsburg 90s

Bushwick 2010s



Socially engaged theater

Four of 14 theaters trying to change the world are in NYC: Siti Company, Stella Adler, Theatre of the Oppressed,  Sister Sylvester.

Can theater for social change be taught? 13 schools that try, including four in NY.

Cultural responses to & cases

Millions March

Marching from Washington Square Park to New York Police Department headquarters
Marching from Washington Square Park to New York Police Department headquarters

(Pyongyang’s tirade on “The Interview” shows power of pictures in North Korea)



Top 10 lists of top 10 theater in 2014

Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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