Reading 50 answers to “What’s the most exciting show you’ve ever seen?” is a lesson in the continuing power of theater — great to keep in mind as we sort through the week’s New York theater news (about Steve Martin’s Bright Star, David Mamet’s China Doll with Al Pacino, American Psycho, The Bandstand etc.) views (about history vs. theater; and actors who have become directors) and reviews (some crowd pleasers, and some surprises.) Lin-Manuel Miranda also has some more to say about Hamilton.
The Week In New York Theater Reviews
On Your Feet
From the first moments of On Your Feet, the Broadway musical celebrating the life and music of Emilio and Gloria Estefan, I thought: This show is sure to be a hit despite what any critics say.
On Your Feet is as much by-the-numbers as any other Broadway bio or juke box musical, but when the numbers are “1-2-3” – the name of one of Estefan’s many electrifying hits – the average theatergoer will surely find it easier to forgive the formulaic aspects of the show.
Some 120,000 Japanese-Americans were incarcerated a few months after Pearl Harbor, by order of President Roosevelt. George Takei and his family were among them. The actor best known as Sulu in Star Trek is the reason why the musical Allegiance is finally bringing this shameful chapter of American history to life on Broadway.
The creative team behind Allegiance has worked hard to make this important musical both entertaining and illuminating, and Takei is just one of the many splendid performers, including Lea Salonga and Telly Leung, who boost the enterprise with both lively and touching moments. But the hard work and the great cast can’t completely mask the ways the show falls short.
Comedy of Errors
The Public Theater’s Mobile Shakespeare Unit, which travels to prisons and homeless shelters in all five boroughs before performing back at the Public’s East Village theater, presents The Comedy Errors as a border conflict between the United States and Mexico. Cast members dressed in shirts that say “border patrol” arrest a cowboy-hatted Egeon (David Ryan Smith.) Egeon tells his tale of woe – how his twin sons and their twin servants were separated by a shipwreck many seasons ago – to Solina (Zuzanna Szadkowski, in place of Solinus, the Duke of Ephesus.) Solina speaks in a Southwestern twang, wears a trucker hat that says “Make Ephesus Great Again,” and, just in case you miss the reference, carries a cardboard cut-out fan of Donald Trump. Yet, moved by Egeon’s tale, Solina gives him a day to cough up the fine or face execution.
“Hir” is Taylor Mac’s absurd, antic, dark, affecting, and very funny family drama… Mac, the gender-bending, formidably protean downtown theater artist, tells us that “Hir” is a new genre of play he calls Absurd Realism, defining this as “simply realistic characters in a realistic circumstance that is so extreme it is absurd.” But “Hir” is only simple on the surface — Mac’s bid to write a conventional family drama in an unconventional way.
Week in New York Theater Views
Actors As Directors
Somebody first asked Cynthia Nixon to be a director when she was 22 years old. “I kind of laughed at them,” she says. Although she had been acting on Broadway since the age of 14, “I was younger than the people asking me to direct their play,” she says, “and I certainly would not have had any idea how to go about that.”
More than a quarter century later, she changed her mind. The actress best known for her role as Miranda in Sex and the City is directing Steve, a new play at the New Group, her second directing job this year. She joins David Hyde Pierce (who is also directing his second play this year, an Off-Broadway production entitled Ripcord), Kathleen Turner (Would You Still Love Me If . . .), Douglas Hodge (the Broadway revival of Harold Pinter’s Old Times), and Michael Arden.
“I don’t think it’s a coincidence,” says Arden of this apparent surge in moonlighting actors. “I think people are starting to acknowledge artists for their full potential.” Arden, who is probably best known for his costarring role with Charlie Sheen in the FX TV series Anger Management, has made a spectacular debut as a Broadway director helming the widely acclaimed Deaf West production of Spring Awakening.
More on Actors as Directors in BroadwayDirect
If both King Charles III and First Daughter Suite are too fanciful to be thought of as depicting history on stage, they still offer history lessons of a sort, stimulating the members of the audience to consider the real-life people that the shows turn into characters. These shows are among a recent spate of works on New York stages that deal in more or less direct ways with history – among them, Hamilton, Personal Arrangement, Who’s Your Baghdaddy, and Dear Elizabeth — and they raise several questions involving the competing demands of putting a historical moment on stage.
More on History vs. Theater in Howlround.
Week in New York Theater News
.@HamiltonMusical album: Number 1 Bway chart No. 3 rap chart No. 9 top 200 chart best debut of a Bway album since Camelot in 1961
— Jonathan Mandell (@NewYorkTheater) November 3, 2015
Mamet play @ChinaDollBway w/Al Pacino,which was going to open Nov 19th, has pushed its opening to Dec 4th pic.twitter.com/jx9yNArUmX — Jonathan Mandell (@NewYorkTheater) November 9, 2015
“…the delay will both lengthen the amount of time the team has to work on the project before critics weigh in, and reduce the effect of reviews because they will run later in the play’s limited run and after the traditionally lucrative Thanksgiving weekend.” — NY Times
Musical @BrightStarBway by @SteveMartinToGo and @ediebrickell begins Feb 25, opens March 24 Cort Theater pic.twitter.com/uJB1h7wtdF
— Jonathan Mandell (@NewYorkTheater) November 9, 2015
Joining @FindTheWalker in @APtheMusical cast: @RIPLEYTHEBAND, @jenndamiano, @HeleneYorke. Begins Mar 24 pic.twitter.com/wPOWJAjCEY
— Jonathan Mandell (@NewYorkTheater) November 9, 2015
A Broadway transfer in the 2016-17 season has been announced for The Bandstand, the new “big-band musical” set in 1945 starring Laura Osnes (Cinderella) and Corey Cott (Newsies, Gigi), directed and choreographed by Andy Blankenbuehler (the choreographer of Hamilton), which is playing at the Papermill Playhouse.
T Bone Burnett to write songs for Happy Trails, bio-musical about singing cowboy Roy Rogers & Dale Evans
Questions remaining about Happy Trail:
When will it be on Broadway?
Who will play Roy?
Who will play Dale?
Who will play Trigger?
Two playwrights share first Relentless playwriting award
Clare Barron and Sarah Delappe will split $45,000 in an award created to honor Philip Seymour Hoffman
Joining #JessieMuller in @SaraBareilles‘ @WaitressMusical: @kealasettle (#LesMiz) @KimikoGlenn (@OITNB) pic.twitter.com/SWvyhlnN1S
— Jonathan Mandell (@NewYorkTheater) <ahref=”https://twitter.com/NewYorkTheater/status/661947165456117760″>November 4, 2015
Lottery announced for School of Rock: $25 front row tix! Show begins previews today.
Lin-Manuel Miranda featured on 60 Minutes
Lin-Manuel Miranda: “The thing about Hamilton is he spoke in paragraphs. So the opening sentence of our show is this crazy, run-on sentence. “How does a bastard orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean by providence, impoverished in squalor, comma, grow up to be a hero and a scholar?” That’s the question we’re gonna answer for the next two hours and 45 minutes.”
Rap “is uniquely suited to tell Hamilton’s story. Because it has more words per measure than any other musical genre. It has rhythm and it has density. And if Hamilton had anything in his writings it was this density.”