Trump vs. Hamilton. Great Comet and #FairWageOnstage Win and Win and Win. The Week in NY Theater

Brandon V. Dixon as Aaron Burr, the nation’s third vice-president. Dixon delivered the curtain speech to Pence.

When President-elect Donald Trump Tweeted this week “The Theater must always be a safe and special place,” it was part of his eruption against the cast of Hamilton for directly addressing Vice President-elect Mike Pence during the curtain call of the Friday night performance that Pence attended. (Full story here.)

Trump’s description of theater elicited invigorated response from theater people, such as Washington Post critic Peter Marks:

Maybe by “safe and special” he means the theater is supposed to be docile, an innocuous landscape filled exclusively with chorus girls and holiday pageants.
But let’s be clear: “Safe” theater is dead theater. Conflict is what drives drama, and sometimes, emotions in that public space become intense and things get messy.

See also director Leigh Silverman’s inspiring description of theater, at the bottom of this page. (My two cents: Anybody who can call theater a safe space hasn’t been to a Taylor Mac show.)

Curtain call speech

Some had questions about Trump’s attack:
Was he mocking those who talk about college campuses as safe spaces, as some commentators have suggested?
Was he executing a diversionary tactic, as others maintain, on a day when he agreed to settle the Trump University fraud case against him for $25 million, a case he said he would never settle?
Is this a preview to a presidency that will attempt to chill free speech?
Whatever the answers, Trump’s attacks have ratcheted up the attention to a musical that had already become a cultural fixture way beyond Broadway.

Having offered his definition of theater as a whole, Trump this morning became a theater critic with yet another Tweet:

Trump has riled up his supporters, causing the hashtag #BoycottHamilton to trend on Twitter – and be mocked by Hamilton fans who expressed hope this would mean ticket prices would go down.

The irony of Hamilton being thrust into the political debate is that the musical has been praised by liberals and conservatives alike – arguably one of the few things that people across the political spectrum could agree on was their admiration for the show about the Founding Father on the ten-dollar bill. Why else would a conservative like Mike Pence want to attend in the first place?

In a further irony, Mike Pence, silent about “Hamilton” on Twitter, talked about it in an interview with Chris Wallace on Fox News this morning:

“Well, first off, my daughter and I, and her cousins really enjoyed the show Hamilton,” Pence replied. “It’s just an incredible production and incredibly talented people. It was a real joy to be there. When we arrived, we heard a few boos, and we heard some cheers, and I nudged my kids and reminded them: That’s what freedom sounds like. But at the end, I did hear what was said from the stage, and I can tell you, I wasn’t offended by what was said. I’ll leave to others whether that was the appropriate venue to say it…”

Relevant articles from my archives:

Everything Hamilton

Hamilton 2.0: Meet Javier Munoz, Brandon Victor Dixon Et Al.

Theater Etiquette: Curtain Calls. Rude to Leave Early?

Thanksgiving Week Schedule (and Recommendations)

The turkey float in the Thanksgiving Day parade

The Week in New York Theater Reviews


Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812

An opera with an unwieldy title based on Tolstoy’s War and Peace seemed an unlikely crowd-pleaser, but I was thrilled when I saw it Off-Broadway, first at Ars Nova in 2012, and again in a circus tent in 2013. When they announced a Broadway run, however, I wondered how they could possibly pull it off.

They’ve done it! Now installed in the wondrously transformed Imperial Theater on Broadway, Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 is extraordinary, the freshest, most inviting show on Broadway this season. Great Comet is especially awesome in its stagecraft, as well as in its music, and in its performances. The large, exciting cast includes nearly two dozen who are making their Broadway debuts, including Denee Benton and Josh Groban as the titular characters….Director Rachel Chavkin and set designer Mimi Lien in particular deserve kudos for staging on Broadway something very close to the kind of immersive theater that’s lately been intriguing theatergoers all over the world – everywhere but Broadway, until now.


Party People

“Party People,” a look at the Black Panther Party and the Young Lords, is powerful and intelligent documentary theater — although the documentary theater part struggles for attention amidst all the other elements of this lively, sprawling, overlong play/musical/multi-media hip-hop performance art piece….“Party People” is full of intriguing historical tidbits, exciting choreography, rhythmic singing and chanting, clever spoken word poetry, stirring speeches, galvanizing fist-pumping, suspenseful encounters and poignant moments – too full, actually.


Othello the Remix

The question hanging over Othello The Remix, 80 minutes of often entertaining and inventive raps written, composed, directed by and co-starring the Q Brothers, is how much it has to do with Shakespeare’s tragedy…It certainly works as a fast-paced rap concert, with dramatic lighting and a fine dj spinning while four delightful performers spit out witty couplets and  execute synchronized choreography.

Roslyn Ruff and Daniel J. Watts
Roslyn Ruff and Daniel J. Watts

The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Wide World

‘Last Black Man’ offers searing imagery mixed with repetitive auditory gibberish, words that exist far more for their effect as sounds than for their meaning — words as jazz…For most of us, the appeal of ‘Last Black Man’ rests largely with the production values. Director Blain-Cruz has assembled a first-rate design team…There is an impressive level of commitment from the cast…Some of these moments from a play written in 1990 feel alarming in their continuing relevance.

The Week in New York Theater News


#FairWageOnstage won, says Actors Equity; Off-Broadway actors got “hefty wage increases” says Equity president Kate Shindle  (details of the actual figures were not yet spelled out.) The campaign, led by such well-known New York actors as Robert Stanton and Nick Westrate was notable for its use of social media.

“This is really a fantastic day for professional actors,” Shindle said.

More on the settlement.


Amelie, a stage adaptation of the French movie starring Phillipa Soo and Adan Chanler-Berat begins March 9, 2017 at Walter Kerr and opens April 3.

Pam MacKinnon, the director of Amelie (and of the last Broadway revival of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?)is the new president of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society.

The Play That Goes Wrong, a West End comedy about an inept theater company, opens at Broadway’s Lyceum April 2


Sondheim Corner

Trailer of new documentary about Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along

Debora Spar,  now president of Barnard College, has been chosen as the tenth  president of Lincoln Center

Awards Corner

Among the 21 recipients of the 2016 Presidential Medal of Freedom are numerous performers

Congratulations to new Theater Hall of Fame inductees


Nominees for the Clive Barnes Award in theater:

Timothée Chalamet, Prodigal Son

Clarke Peters (Wynton) Khris Davis (Jay)
Clarke Peters (Wynton) Khris Davis (Jay)

Khris Davis, The Royale (currently in Sweat)

Nora Schell, Nicholas Edwards and Juwan Crawley in Spamilton
Nora Schell, Nicholas Edwards and Juwan Crawley in Spamilton

Juwan Crawley and Nora Schell, Spamilton

Ars Nova, the Off-Broadway theater that developed Great Comet, announces their new season, which includes three world premieres:

Sundown, Yellow Moon

Play with songs by Rachel Bonds
Music and Lyrics by The Bengsons, Directed by Anne Kauffman

Immersive musical by Woodshed Collective and Jason Kim
Directed by Teddy Bergman, Choreographed by Jennifer Weber

(To check out Woodshed Collective, read my review of one of their previous immersive theater pieces, Empire Travel Agency)

The Lucky Ones
Musical by The Bengsons and Sarah Gancher
Directed by Anne Kauffman, Choreographed by Sonya Tayeh

Evan Hansen 3

In February, two months after “Dear Evan Hansen” opens on Broadway, Atlantic Records will release its Original Broadway Cast Recording  (album)

Former Tracy Turnblads Ricki Lake and Marissa J Winokur will make cameos in Hairspray Live


How Theater Can Help

“The only thought that has been helpful to me in the last week is knowing how badly they want women and queers and people of color to feel silenced and defeated and humiliated, and I find that excellent motivation to get out of bed and get very, very loud.

Right now we must recommit to doing our work. Not just because art helps us escape, which it does…But art has and will always be a tool for education. And revolution. And resistance. We must use our art to make our community impenetrable from what seems like inevitable attacks to come.

~Theater director Leigh Silverman talks misogyny and art

“In the face of extremism,entirely new art forms may emerge” (not necessarily political) 

New York At Its Core Museum Exhibiton


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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