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School Rocks. Wiz Wows. #ForceforHam Awakens. Week in New York Theater

What do you do on your spare time if you have a big Broadway hit? Hamilton’s  Lin-Manuel Miranda, in the time between performances on two-play days, wrote the music for the “cantina scene” in the new Star Wars, The Force Awakens – a fact that caused the Internet to explode, with Hamilton/Star Wars mashups using the hashtag #Force4Ham. (My contribution above)

This past week in New York “theater” seemed as much about screens as stages — The Wiz Live!, though broadcast on television, is a production planning to open on Broadway in the 2016-17 season.  (And many of the viewers of the TV screen used their computer screen to Tweet. My most Retweeted:

 

 

The big musical that opened on Broadway last week is based on a movie; the big musical revival opening on Broadway this coming week is also based on a movie. An Off-Broadway musical will be live streamed online this Thursday.

But some theater — more than usual this month — is happening on stages too. Check out the schedule of December New York theater openings

Week in New York Theater Reviews

Griffin Matthews and Michael Luwoye

Griffin Matthews and Michael Luwoye

Invisible Thread

Invisible Thread superficially recalls The Book of Mormon, both musicals telling the story of a couple of Americans in Uganda trying to do good works. But the new musical does not mock the efforts of the Americans nor satirize the misery of the Ugandans. Earnest and energetic, tuneful and often joyful, Invisible Thread also tries, like its protagonists, to make a difference.

Ryann Redmond and Bonnie Milligan

Ryann Redmond and Bonnie Milligan

Gigantic

Why do people find fat funny? That is one of the questions provoked by “Gigantic,” a musical originally entitled “Fat Camp,” about a summer camp for overweight teenagers.
To be fair, the show, which has opened at Theatre Row as a Vineyard Theatre production, seems to mean well. Like innumerable teen/high school comedies on TV and in the movies, “Gigantic” ultimately offers a life-affirming message – in this case, as rebel Robert (Max Wilcox) sings:
It’s true, I’m fat
And I fail to see what’s wrong with that.

If anything, its focus on fatness distinguishes a show that is in many other ways indistinguishable from all those other teen comedies.

THE WIZ LIVE! -- Pictured: (l-r) Elijah Kelley as Scarecrow, Ne-Yo as Tin-Man, David Alan Grier as Lion, Shanice Williams as Dorothy -- (Photo by: Virginia Sherwood/NBC)

THE WIZ LIVE! — Pictured: (l-r) Elijah Kelley as Scarecrow, Ne-Yo as Tin-Man, David Alan Grier as Lion, Shanice Williams as Dorothy — (Photo by: Virginia Sherwood/NBC)

The Wiz Live

The Wiz Live eased on down the road Thursday, the best-attended Broadway try-out in history. Next year, director Kenny Leon is planning a Main Stem transfer of the production, although it’s unclear who will be in it: The NBC broadcast was so full of stars it could have been called We Are The Wiz.

If they can’t keep the entire dream cast, let’s hope Broadway will at least be able to retain what was best about the show, especially Paul Tazewell’s colorful and clever costumes, Tin Man Ne-Yo’s swoon-worthy r&b singing, The Cowardly Lion David Alan Grier’s clowning, and the Wicked Witch Mary J. Blige’s….everything; her too-brief powerhouse performance made me regret she had to melt.

ChinaDoll3

China Doll

David Mamet’s China Doll involves two dramas. There’s the one on stage starring Al Pacino as an old billionaire in something of a cynical primer on wealth and political ambition. Then there’s the pile-on against the show: The reviews have been the worst anything on Broadway has gotten this whole year. That includes Misery and It Shoulda Been You. With only a few exceptions, the reviewers have sounded hostile, one calling the play “garbage.”….I am more willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, and not completely trash China Doll because it’s difficult to decipher. And Mamet’s new play does make Broadway theatergoers work harder than they are accustomed to doing.

School of Rock 1 Alex Brightman

The School of Rock

In his first original musical on Broadway in a decade, Andrew Lloyd Webber has chosen to adapt a movie with a plot that could hardly be sillier, and supplies a new score that could hardly be more addictive. School of Rock – The Musical is full of both hard-charging rock n roll and supremely catchy melodies.

An implicit message of the musical — that rocking and stomping are far more important to fourth graders than math or history – could make a convincing case for the depravity of rock n roll. But if anybody is still alive to be receptive to that argument, they’re sure to be won over by the thrilling performances by the baker’s dozen of talented kids, several sure to share stardom with the adults.

Week in New York Theater News

Gaten Matarazzo as Gavroche, who is shot dead in Les Miserables

Gaten Matarazzo as Gavroche, who is shot dead in Les Miserables

Les Miserables will end its Broadway run on September 4, 2016 after 1,026 performances — 1/8th the length of the original run.

Nominated for best musical theater album Grammy:

An American in Paris

Fun Home

Hamilton

The King and I

Something Rotten

Akosua Busia and Lupita Nyong’o in Eclipsed

Akosua Busia and Lupita Nyong’o in Eclipsed

The entire cast of Eclipsed is moving intact to Broadway. Previews begin Feb. 23, 2016.

Jessie Mueller in Waitress

Jessie Mueller in Waitress

Waitress will be the first show on Broadway to have an all-female creative team.

BrianFrielmemorial

Broadway to dim its lights on Tuesday, December 8 at 6:45 pm in honor of Irish playwright Brian Friel, who died October 2nd at age 86.

HirPlaywrights Horizons/Peter Jay Sharp Theater

Hir by Taylor Mac has been extended a third and final time, to January 3, 2016

2015 Francesca Primus Prize nominees

Liz Duffy Adams, “A Discourse on the Wonders of the Invisible World”
Nambi Kelley, adaptation of Richard Wright’s “Native Son”
Tira Palmquist, “Ten Mile Lake”
Yasmine Rana, “The War Zone Is My Bed”
Sharyn Rothstein “By the Water”
Catherine Treischmann “Hot Georgia Sunday”

(The American Theatre Critics Association’s Francesca Primus Prize gives $10,000 annually to “an emerging female playwright.”)

 

First School of Rock, then The Lion King. Now Google to offer 360° videos from 60 performing arts, including Lincoln Center

 

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About 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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