The year 2014 in theater was one of protest, and of cult obsessions – theater people trying to engage in the wider world, and retreating from it. It was the year of critic bashing, and the year a six-year-old became the most beloved theater critic in America.
Below are some of the top New York theater news stories of 2014, and some of the weirdest stories of 2014. Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish between the two. There are also some of the people that the theater community lost this year. The stories (often with links for details) are offered chronologically by month, and paired with articles that I wrote each month.
Broadway stars make a satiric video to protest the rise in Russia of state-sponsored homophobia
New Brooklyn Theater presents Edward Albee’s “The Death of Bessie Smith” at Interfaith Hospital at Bedford-Stuyvesant as part of the effort to keep the state from shutting down the hospital
When George Jean Nathan Award-winning theater critic Randy Gener is attacked on a street in the theater district, and hospitalized, the theater community raises tens of thousands of dollars for his medical care.
RIP: Playwright and poet Amiri Baraka, born Everett Leroy Jones, 79
RIP: Actor and director Philip Seymour Hoffman, 46
After, Maine returns in triumph to New York City, where it flopped just eight years earlier. It has become one of the most-produced plays in the world – some 2,000 productions, in places as remote as Dubai and Nebraska. In 2010, it became the most produced play in high schools in North America, replacing “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
Iain Armitage begins posting reviews of theater on YouTube. By the end of the year, his dozens of reviews of Broadway, Off-Broadway and Washington D.C. shows become increasingly popular – his review of Peter Pan Live gets more than 46,000 views — he will appear on The View, and interview Sting, who calls him one of the best interviewers he’s ever had, and be the subject of stories in Playbill, People, CBS, the Washington Post, and MTV. Iain is six years old.
My articles: The Group Theatre, Revisited.
With his Academy Award for the song “Let It Go” from Frozen, Bobby Lopez, the co-creator of “Avenue Q” and “Book of Mormon”, becomes the 12th member of the exclusive, competitive EGOT club (people who’ve won at least one each Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony in a competitive category.)
At that same Academy Awards ceremony, John Travolta introduces Idina Menzel, who was there to sing “Let It Go,” as Adele Dazeem
RIP James Rebhorn (7-time Broadway veteran), 65
Mitch Leigh, composer of Man of La Mancha, 86.
My articles: Michael McKean gets serious
The Flick, a play by Annie Baker whose length caused so many walk-outs that the artistic director wrote a letter to the subscribers, wins the Pulitzer Prize for Drama
Shakespeare at 450
He isn’t personally eligible for #TonyAwards, but his plays have earned 71 nominations & 9 Tonys.
The first Shakespeare performed in NYC was King Richard III in 1750. The latest on Broadway was Macbeth, in Jan.
Boys from Syracuse, Kiss Me Kate, West Side Story, Two Gentleman of Verona, The Lion King: What do these musicals have in common?
Ran, 10 Things I Hate About You, O, She’s The Man, Deliver Us From Eva, Forbidden Planet. What do these movies have in common
The Metropolitan Museum of Art announce its first theater in residence, the Civilians
Norman Lewis becomes the first black Phantom on Broadway.
RIP Maya Angelou, 86
Few recalled that she co-starred on Broadway in 1973 with Geraldine Page in a play about Mary Todd Lincoln entitled “Look Away.” Although the play closed on opening day, Angelou was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Featured Actress.
“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”
Audra McDonald wins her sixth Tony Awards, breaking several records, including the first performer to win in all four performance categories.
At the Tony Awards, host Hugh Jackman, T.I., and LL Cool J Rapped The Music Man. There were lots of references to kangaroos. Hugh Jackman hopped, the ratings dipped.
Shia Labeouf, taken from Cabaret in handcuffs
Five months later, LaBeouf appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live and tried to make it into an amusing anecdote
The Tony Administration Committee cut the categories of Best Sound Design of a Play and Best Sound Design of a Musical. A petition signed by 32,000 people led the Tonys to say they will reconsider but not for 2015.
The Kilroys, a group of playwrights and producers, release a list of 46 “production-ready” plays by women that have not been produced (or produced only once) in an effort to help end “the systemic underrepresentation of female voices in the American theater.”
My article: The Flea theater has big plans
RIP Elaine Stritch, 89
The Broadway League blames the drop in Broadway ticket sales on…Elmos!
At least two City Council members have drafted bills requiring licensing and background checks of the performers wearing costumes in Times Square, and Mayor Bill de Blasio promised “real steps to regulate this new reality.”
Some expressed more sympathy for these performers, mostly immigrants,
To defend themselves, the costumed workers create an organization called Association of Artists United for a Smile New York City.
The hubbub leads to a pro-Elmo editorial in the New York Times. The mayor and police “should be careful, though, in a city that values eccentric expression and an entrepreneurial street life, to avoid cures that are worse than the disease. Free speech and association are bedrock rights, even for furry monsters.”
The winner of So You Think You Can Dance Season 11 will join the Broadway cast of On The Town in Spring, 2015.
What other reality contests should have a direct pipeline to Broadway shows?
The Bachelor winner for Phantom of the Opera? Top Chef winner for Sweeney Todd? America’s Next Top Model for Violet? How about the winner of RuPauls Drag Race getting a role on Kinky Boots?
“I think your whole life shows in your face and you should be proud of that.” – Lauren Bacall, 1924-2014 pic.twitter.com/fVtWPgYeWY
— Jonathan Mandell (@NewYorkTheater) August 13, 2014
ALS Ice Bucket Challenge – The mania of dumping ice water on your head for charity spread to Broadway.
Joan Rivers dies September 4, at age 81, after a medical procedure goes awry. The Broadway League announces it will not dim the lights of Broadway for her, because she hadn’t appeared on Broadway or written for it for 20 years.
The theater community rebels; Tweeters create the hashtag #Dim4Joan
The Broadway League reverses its decision.
The American Theatre Wing, which co-produces the Tony Awards with the Broadway League, announced it will take over the administration of the Obie Awards, in partnership with the Village Voice, where the award for Off-Broadway and Off-Off Broadway theater began 59 years ago.
Disney has made a record $6.2 billion from its worldwide stage productions of The
Lion King, surpassing Phantom of The Opera, a decade older.
All I’ve done is live my life in the theater and loved it.-the magnificent Marian Seldes, dead at 86 pic.twitter.com/amLDlQQm0I
— Jonathan Mandell (@NewYorkTheater) October 7, 2014
The Rebecca Saga: A judge has sentenced con man Mark C. Hotton to 34 months in prison for fabricating investors for the musical.
WNET, Channel 13, launches Theater Close-Up, the broadcast of Off-Broadway plays.
My articles: Leslie Odom Jr. And His Three Rules for “Getting Into The Room” as a Professional Performer
.) Never wait for permission to practice your art. You cannot wait to get a job to be an artist.
2.) Study your art. Never stop studying.
3.) Find a spiritual practice that works for you.
My article: Theater about Theater
The Café Edison, aka the Polish Tea Room, is shut down by the proprietor of the Hotel Edison, who plans to install a restaurant with a “name chef.” Some 10,000 sign a petition to keep it open, to no avail. The owners of the cafe promise to try to relocate.
— New York Theater (@NewYorkTheater) December 6, 2014
— New York Theater (@NewYorkTheater) December 20, 2014
A writer for the Wall Street Journal who gets free tickets to Broadway shows admits to having left at the intermission for most of them, causing outrage and retaliation.
Millions March NYC is a show of protest against the decision not to indict the police officers who killed Eric Garner. It is the latest of a series of protests nationwide. Theater artists both participate in the general protests, and created their own responses – such as Keith Josef Adkins commission of six plays by black male playwrights, entitled Hands Up
Artistic directors throughout the country sign a letter protesting the firing of Ari Roth as the artistic director of Theater J in Washington, D.C.
Theater on Screen
Peter Pan Live on NBC, remake of Annie, and Into The Woods