The Sound of Music premiered in movie theaters 50 years ago today, starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, an anniversary marked far more prominently than the opening of this Rodgers and Hammerstein musical on Broadway six years earlier, starring Mary Martin and Theodore Bikel.
— Jonathan Mandell (@NewYorkTheater) March 1, 2015
This latest example of the primacy of screens over stages doesn’t make a pessimist of Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Ayad Akhtar, whose play Disgraced ended its run on Broadway on Sunday. As he explained at the fourth annual TedxBroadway conference at the beginning of the week, theater “requires space, challenges beliefs, can’t be paused” – and in that rests its salvation. “The underlying strength of theater is to summon a collective experience of emotion that goes beyond our differences .”
New York theater certainly has been going strong this week, as an unusually fertile February moving into the usual March madness.
Seven shows are opening this week, including Fish in the Dark, Larry David’s first appearance on stage since eighth grade.
— Jonathan Mandell (@NewYorkTheater) March 1, 2015
Among the shows participating in Off-Broadway Week, I especially recommend:
Between Riverside and Crazy
The Week in Theater News
Hamilton is moving to Broadway. It will run at the Public Theater through May 3 and begin previews on July 13 at the Richard Rodgers, opening August 6.
Jonathan Groff takes over for Brian d’Arcy James as King George in Hamilton March 3. (d’Arcy James moves to Something Rotten)
The royal garter & crown. pic.twitter.com/jE4xSbS3ni
— Lin-Manuel Miranda (@Lin_Manuel) March 2, 2015
A Bronx Tale, a new musical directed by Robert DeNiro (!) and Jerry Zaks, with music by Al Menken, will run at the Paper Mill Playhouse, February 4 to March 6, 2016.
The Civilians premiere The End and the Beginning (a look at death and the afterlife) at The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s The Temple of Dendur, March 6.
Donna McKechnie, Tony-winner for A Chorus Line, will standby for Chita Rivera in The Visit, opening April 23 at The Lyceum.
Nickelodeon is developing a SpongeBob SquarePants musical for a potential Broadway run.
The Week in Theater Reviews
Even before it begins, the astonishing revival of “Big Love,” one of Charles Mee’s most popular plays, surrounds us with a soothing and soaring beauty. The set by Brett Banakis is, per Mee’s instructions, more like an art installation, with an alluring video projection of a rippling ocean beneath a glorious blue sky; a ceiling hung with hundreds of upside down floral bouquets; a rack of glowing, gleaming champagne glasses; random videos on the side walls of the theater, such as a humming bird shown slowed down in mid-flight; a clean white stage empty save for an old-fashioned ceramic white tub.
Into this restful scene storms a woman in a filthy, torn wedding dress. She strips naked, and climbs into the tub. She is Lydia (Rebecca Naomi Jones), one of 50 sisters escaping on what was to be their wedding day from forced marriage to 50 cousins they do not love. But the men are not so easily dissuaded, dropping from helicopters in a reconnaissance mission like so many Navy SEALS – if Navy SEALS dressed in sharp black designer duds with a white wedding carnation in their lapels. And so the women decide the only way to get rid of these grooms is to murder them.
What unfolds on stage over the 90 minutes of “Big Love” is, in turns, playful, funny, sexy, chaotic, bloody, and shocking.
The first thing we know about Sally is that she likes guns. She also likes to read books about four figures in American history with whom she identifies — John Brown, Nat Turner, Harriet Tubman…and the Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. In Lucy Thurber’s “The Insurgents,” which has opened at the Labyrinth Theater Company, these people spring to life for Sally – but not, despite an exemplary cast, for us….
The problem with “The Insurgents” is that it seems a work in progress, neither fully developed as drama nor as political argument. Each of the “insurgents” gets at least one long monologue, recounting an anecdote from their biography or restating familiar views, which are interesting but don’t especially add up to anything. We seem to be meant to see them as speaking inside Sally’s head, but nothing much comes of this dramatically either, nor of her interaction with the characters in her life.
“Why can’t white people and black people just get along?” Jaclyn asks her boss, who is secretly trying to get her fired. That this question remains so current surely explains how “Rasheeda Speaking” was able to attract such a first-rate team — it marks Cynthia Nixon’s directorial debut and stars two other remarkable actresses, Tonya Pinkins and Dianne Wiest.
They play two office workers for a Chicago surgeon, Dr. Williams (Darren Goldstein, who also portrays the schmucky diner owner in Showtime’s “The Affair.”) As the play begins, Dr. Williams is enlisting Ilana (Wiest) to spy on Jaclyn, so that he can build up a case to convince Human Resources at the hospital to have her fired.
…This is a worthwhile subject, and there are both funny and thought-provoking moments in the play…But the exaggerated attitudes and behavior of all four characters count as a missed opportunity to explore the more usual, more subtle, if no less insidious dynamics of race relations.
If and when future theater nerds recall “Brooklynite,” the musical about superheroes in Brooklyn that has now opened at the Vineyard Theater, my bet is that we’ll see it as an early vehicle for several (future) major stars.
Oh look, we might say, there’s Nicolette Robinson in her Off-Broadway debut as Astrolass, the superhero who wants to be a regular Brooklyn girl;
or Matt Doyle, solidifying his musical theater cred after stints on Broadway in Spring Awakening, The Book of Mormon and War Horse, as Trey Swieskowski, the Brooklyn hardware clerk who wants to become a superhero…
The extraordinary talent of the 13-member cast is the main reason to see “Brooklynite,” which grafts some lovely singing onto a show that mixes together gentle jokes about Brooklyn and mild spoofing with a less-than-original story involving characters dressed in off-putting chintzy spandex costumes.
The Week in Theater-Related Developments
Beautiful begins and ends with Carole_King’s Carnegie Hall debut. Now Jessie Mueller, the star of Beautiful, who is leaving the show this week, will make HER Carnegie Hall debut, April 18 as part of the #TaketheStage series.
— Jonathan Mandell (@NewYorkTheater) February 28, 2015
— Jonathan Mandell (@NewYorkTheater) February 24, 2015
The Week in Theater Previews and Promotions
“I never gave Broadway a thought, growing up—I didn’t really have ambitions. My parents wanted me to be a mailman.” ~ Larry David in The New Yorker
Revolving around two brothers (David and Shenkman) struggling to deal with the death of their father, David ended up stepping into the role at the behest of producer Scott Rudin. “I didn’t write it to be in it. I didn’t volunteer for it! Unfortunately, the main character sounded way too much like me for Scott Rudin to ignore. So that’s where I made my mistake.” in The Guardian
Bill Nighy, 65, is playing Tom Sergeant, the lead male role in “Skylight,” for the third time in 18 years, in a production directed by Stephen Daldry that will begin a 13-week Broadway run at the John Golden Theater on March 13. There, as in London last summer, when the play sold out for its entire run and attracted a record number of viewers to a live broadcast, he will act opposite Carey Mulligan, who plays Kyra Hollis, the young woman with whom Tom had a six-year affair that ended three years before the play begins. – preview of Skylight in The New York Times.
CBS Sunday Morning focuses on A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. (My review)