Top New York Theater Stories of 2017: Reeling, Resisting and Persisting

It was a year of shocks. In 2017, we got Hurricane Harvey and Harvey Weinstein, indecency in the White House and terror in Times Square. Meryl Streep began the year speaking out against Donald Trump’s bullying and ended the year accused of remaining silent about Harvey Weinstein’s bullying. To many in America, to borrow half of Charles Dickens’ famous phrase, 2017 was the worst of times, an age of foolishness, an epoch of incredulity. And the theater community was far from immune. But it was also far from passive. This was also a year of standing up and speaking out, resisting and persisting. Below are some of the top New York theater news stories of 2017, presented chronologically month by month, including prominent theater people who died. As you’ll see, in many of the months, a different new (or newly renovated) theater building had its ribbon cutting ceremony. Nearly every month, resisters held a protest or a spoof of the White House went viral

JANUARY

The Anti-Inauguration

The story of Inauguration Day becomes almost as much about culture as politics. The list of performers who decline an invitation to perform at official Inauguration ceremonies certainly exceeds the list of those who accept – and several, including Tony winner Jennifer Holliday and Springsteen tribute musicians the B Street Band, first accepted and then, after getting flak for their decision, reverse themselves and withdraw. The theater community in New York and across the country held events signaling resistance but also hope. The Ghostlight Project saw people gather outside theaters in all 50 states – including 50 in New York City, plus Times Square – to shine light, literally, against what many fear is the coming darkness. Other projects include the Concert for America, the Inaugural Ball at HERE, and The Resister Project.   Trump imposes a visa ban against citizens of six Muslim-majority nations that complicates international artist exchanges. The order sets off court challenges, and revised orders, throughout the rest of the year; the matter as of this writing is still not fully resolved.

In accepting  the Cecil B. Demille Award at the Golden Globes, Meryl Streep attacks Donald Trump for having made fun of a disabled reporter — “disrespect invites disrespect” — and addresses Trump’s characterization of foreigners as dangerous.  “Hollywood is crawling with outsiders and foreigners. And if we kick ’em all out, you’ll have nothing to watch but football and mixed martial arts, which are not the arts.”   Saturday Night Live used a parody of the musical Chicago to spoof Trump aide Kellyanne Conway’s ambition https://youtu.be/sb9ybImGwkU   The non-profit Alliance for Resident Theaters opens a new theater, A.R.T./New York with two performance venues, offering a home — and rental subsidies — to some long-time nomadic companies.  Jitney, the first play that August Wilson wrote in his 10-play America Cycle – one for each decade of the 20th century – is the last of his plays to open on Broadway.

August Wilson

Jenny Schlenzka, current curator of performance MoMA PS1, is appointed the artistic director of PS 122, only the third person in the post since the East Village cultural center began in 1980; the first woman.

RIP

British actor John Hurt, 77 Mary Tyler Moore, 80, beloved TV actress, Broadway producer and Tony-winning performer, co-founder of Broadway Barks Photographer Martha Swope, 88,  ballet and Broadway chronicler for 40 years.

Articles I wrote that were published in January

Staged Resistance   Bridging Cultures at China Shanghai International Arts Festivala

FEBRUARY

Barry Jenkins, left, and Tarell Alvin McCraney accept the award for best adapted screenplay for “Moonlight”

At the Academy Awards, a distracted accountant handed the wrong envelope to Warren Beatty, who announced that the winner of the Best Picture was La-La Land. The actual winner, Moonlight, was based on the play, Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, by Tarell Alvin McCraney (playwright of Head of Passes, the Brother/Sister Plays, etc.), who also won for adapted screenplay. Another playwright, Kenneth Lonergan (This is Our Youth), won in the original screenwriting category, for Manchester by the Sea. Pasek and Paul, the songwriting team behind Dear Evan Hansen on Broadway, won an Oscar as lyricists for the best song, from La La Land. “This is dedicated to all the kids who sing in the rain,” Benj Pasek said, holding his trophy, “and all their moms who let them”   Jack Viertel, the producer of the Encores concert production of Big River, wrote to the Times theater editors calling the newspaper’s review of the show by Laura Collins-Hughes a “ significant humiliation for the paper, a stunningly amateurish piece of work.” Critics of his action suggest that it is sexist. He wrote no letter to the editors at New York Magazine, though Jesse Green’s review offered much the same critique. Hamilton’s original Schuyler Sisters reunite to sing at the Super Bowl

The 2017 Grammy for best musical theater album was given to The Color Purple Dear Evan Hansen cast recording makes it to the Billboard Top 10, only the fourth cast recording since 1965 to have done so.

Charles Isherwood

The New York Times fires its long-time second string theater critic Charles Isherwood, never publicly explaining why Several shows he championed Off-Broadway in the Times, transfer to Broadway in large part on the strength of his review. The Time gives them lukewarm reviews, and they close after just a few months. Adam and Eve scene from "Scandalous" on Broaday After a scandalous confirmation of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education, here is my review of Scandalous, the Broadway flop she produced. The Hudson Theater opens as the 41st Broadway house, with “Sunday in the Park With George.” Although built in 1903, it had not been used to present a Broadway show since 1968, when it became a nightclub, then a hotel conference center. The 115th Street branch of the New York Public Library is being renamed for Harry Belafonte, as the singer, actor, activist and Tony Award winner nears 90th birthday on March 1.

Anna Deavere Smith

Theater artist Anna Deavere Smith won the George Polk Career Award, which is a top award in journalism. A 24-Decade History of Popular Music by Taylor Mac and Matt Ray won the 2017 Edward Kennedy Prize for Drama Inspired by American History,

RIP

Harvey Lichtenstein, 87, executive producer for 32 years of the Brooklyn Academy of Music, transforming it from a moribund institution to  “a dynamic showcase for cutting-edge performing arts.”

Arthur and Barbara Gelb

Barbara Gelb, 91, playwright and journalist who, with her husband, Arthur Gelb, produced the first full-scale biography of the playwright Eugene O’Neill Professor Irwin Corey, 102, “world’s foremost authority.”

My articles in February

The N-Word on Stage   China on Stage

MARCH

New York theatergoers look to the government for support of the arts – the government of Canada, when Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attends “Come From Away” on Broadway, accompanied by some 600 friends and allies, mostly Canadian, but also a number of UN ambassadors, and Ivanka Trump. Her father was invited as well, but according to an article in the Washington Post, he said “Absolutely not,” and flew to Nashville instead to visit the gravesite of Andrew Jackson. That same day, the Ides of March, comes news of Trump’s budget plan, which calls for “the elimination of of four independent cultural agencies” – the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The Late Late Show with James Corden presented Donald the Musical, with Tim Minchin on a swing singing “When I grow up, I will be president and build big walls, ban Muslims, play with Putin’s (bleep)”? https://youtu.be/WZWNHCRCpNM

Jesse Green

Right before the busiest month in New York theater, theater critics are getting new assignments (a polite way of putting it.) Jesse Green, the current critic at New York Magazine, has been named “co-chief theater critic” of the New York Times. Bryan Doerries, the founder of Theater of War, is named New York City’s Public Artist in Residence, (PAIR.) Theater of War uses the dramas of Ancient Greek and other classic tragedies to help with the healing process. Initially, this was with military veterans, but it has spread.   The Actor’s Fund’s Friedman Health Center for the Performing Arts opens in the theater district https://youtu.be/7hNkQu0fKYU

RIP

Miriam Colón a well-known movie actress who took roles opposite Brando and Pacino (most famously as his mother in Scarface) and many others, has died at age 80. She was the founder of the Puerto Rican Traveling Theater in 1967,  to bring free bilingual theater to venues throughout New York City

Derek Walcott

Derek Walcott, 87, Nobel Laureate, poet, and playwright of more than 20 plays,

My articles in March

Cooling Down: How Actors Unwind After Taxing Performances   Scenes from the original productions of the 11 Broadway plays and musicals that are being revived, for the second, fifth, or 16th time, this season on Broadway.

APRIL

Andy Karl is injured three days before the opening of Groundhog Day, forcing him to miss some performances and wear a knee brace when he returns. In a cheeky bit of improvisation in what was supposed to scene of seduction, he proudly stuck a glass of Scotch on outstretched knee brace. Sweat wins the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It closes two months later

Lynn Nottage

This is Lynn Nottage’s second Pulitzer – she is one of 15 women playwrights ever to win it.   The New Yorker’s Hilton Als won the Pulitzer in criticism, just the second theater critic to do so.   Fourteen shows open on Broadway in April, exactly one third of the entire season.  Mine of them open in the last ten days of the month — as usual “Rebecca” will never open on Broadway, according to the  attorney for its producers, who admits during the trial against the show’s former publicist that the producers have lost the rights to it.

RIP

  Linda Hopkins, 92, show-stopping Tony-winning singer, actress and writer Tim Pigott-Smith, 70, who made a splash on Broadway as the title character in King Charles III

My article in April

History of Infamous Broadway Injuries

MAY

The Broadway League releases statistics for the 2016-17 Broadway season just ended. Revenue made a big jump, even though attendance has dipped slightly. The reason is primarily increased ticket prices. Shows that opened during season: 45 (eight of them not eligible for Tony Awards) Attendance at all shows: 13,270,343 visitors (down about .3 percent from 2015-16) Revenue: $1,449,321,564.64 (up 5.5 percent from 2015-16)   Richard Rojas crashes his car in Times Square, killing one person and injuring 20. Police iscovered he had taken phencyclidine before the crash. He told them he wanted to die in a “suicide by cop” and that he had been hearing voices. Alyssa Elsman, 18, a recent high school graduate, was visiting New York  from Portage, Michigan. Richard Basciano dies at the age of 92, making it likely that the pornography establishment he owned would close, thus leaving only three porn shops in the theater district,  which was once the porn capital of the United States. With reports of as many as four theatergoers in a single night fainting, some vomiting, in reaction to the torture scene on “1984,” the producers announced  that nobody under 13 years of age (“born after 2004″) would be admitted to the show.  Olivia Wilde, one of the stars, Tweeted that “this is not your grandfather’s 1984.” Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney attacks a grant given to the 2014 climate change show by The Civilians, The Great Immensity, to justify slashing the budget of the National Science Foundation

(l-r) Katrina Lenk and Tony Shalhoub

Although it closed at the Atlantic Theater Off-Broadway in January, The Band’s Visit sweeps most theater awards during this month of theater awards. (It will transfer to Broadway in the Fall.) “Rebecca” producers were awarded $90,000 from publicist Marc Thibedeau, far short of $10.6 million they sought.Both sides claim victory

Glenn Close in Sunset Boulevard

Quote of the Month: “I’m sorry. Stop the show. Someone there is taking photos. You must know how distracting and disrespectful that is. Now, we can have a show or we can have a photoshoot.” – Glenn Close  

RIP

Dina Merrill, 93, actress and philanthropist William Brohn, 84, one of musical theater’s top orchestrators

My article in May

Power Struggle on Broadway: Escapist vs. Socially Conscious Shows in the 2016–17 Season

JUNE

 

Gregg Henry (center) and the company in The Public Theater’s Free Shakespeare in the Park production of Julius Caesar

The Public Theater’s production of Julius Caesar depicted a Trump-like figure in the title role, which prompted many protests, and led to some corporations canceling their funding. Shakespeare companies across the country that had no connection to the Public’s production were also the target of angry protests. “Dear Evan Hansen” won best musical and five other awards at the 71st annual Tony Awards, the most of any show. “Oslo” won best play, “Jitney” best play revival, “Hello, Dolly!” best musical revival. Among the highlights of the ceremony was Ben Platt’s Tony acceptance speech: “Don’t waste any time being anyone but yourself because the things that make you strange are the things that make you powerful.” The 2017 Tony Awards broadcast attracts just six million viewers, a sharp decrease from the 8.7 million who watched in 2016. (To be fair, that Hamilton-soaked show had the highest ratings for the Tony broadcast in 15 years.) The Pearl Theatre Co. files for bankruptcy, and is closing after 33 years. https://youtu.be/PQ04sTZ79HQ

RIP

A.R. Gurney, 86, playwright My 2014 profile of Gurney

My article in June

Politics, Propaganda, and Aesthetics: Sorting through Building the Wall

JULY

 

NYC’s first ever “cultural plan” will link funding of arts groups to the diversity of their staff and board. 180-page Create NYC plan
Mandy Patinkin, left, who declined to replace Okieriete Onaodowan, right, as the male lead in “The Great Comet.”

Diversity Concerns Prompt ‘Great Comet’ Casting Shakeup

After a social media storm over the musical’s plan to replace Okieriete Onaodowan, Mandy Patinkin declined to assume the lead male role. But Oak has announced he’s still leaving August 13.

It’s a month for immigrants and other foreigners. The Canadian theater company Soulpepper is wrapping up its month-long residence at Signature. The first annual Immigrant Arts  in America Summit concluded with a rousing concert and resulted in the formation of an Immigrant Arts Coalition. More than 60 artists, including playwright Annie Baker and director Sam Gold, signed a protest letter to Lincoln Center, trying unsuccessfully to get the cultural institution to cancel a production of the Israeli play “To The End of The Land” as part of the Lincoln Center Festival. They objected to some funding that Israel’s Office of Cultural Affairs in North America gave to this play, an adaptation by two Israeli theater companies of a novel by Israeli novelist David Grossman.

Sara Holdren, new critic at New York

Sara Holdren, a recent graduate of the Yale School of Drama who identifies as a theater director, is hired to be New York Magazine’s new theater critic in July, to replace Jesse Green, who was hired at the New York Times to replace Charles Isherwood. She had written just one professionally published review before she was hired. Lawyers for the actor James Franco sent a cease and desist letter to shut down a two-character play entitled “James Franco and Me” scheduled to run at People’s Improv Theater. Initially, playwright Kevin Broccoli promised to rename the play “_____ and Me” and eliminate all mentions of Franco’s name, but otherwise perform it as is.

RIP

John Heard,71,”Home Alone” Dad, “Sopranos” corrupt cop, four-time Broadway veteran

My article in July

John Leguizamo on his life, career, being a theater nerd, and the coming power of Latinos

AUGUST

All 17 members of The President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, including theater director George C. Wolfe and actor John Lloyd Young, resigned in August to protest President Trump’s comments on the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville. True or false, the first letter of each paragraph in their resignation letter spelled out the word RESIST. Michael Moore debuts on Broadway in “Terms of My Surrender,” opening in August. After one performance, he takes the audience on buses to an anti-Trump demonstration at Trump Tower.    The Fringe makes news by not happening – after 20 years, the company went on “hiatus.” Artistic diretor Elena K. Holy says It WILL return next year, but half the size and preferably in one location.

The new Flea theater

The Flea opens its new $18 million Off-Off Broadway theater with “Inanimate” a play about a woman who has fallen in love with an inanimate object. Lin-Manuel Miranda holds a month long #Ham4all fundraising challenge to raise money for the Immigrants: We Get the Job Done Coalition. Josh Groban’s contribution:

Quote of the Month

June,2016. Interview with Noah Galvin, who announces in August, 2017 he will take over the role of Dear Evan Hansen

RIP

Barbara Cook, 89, singer Sam Shepard, 73, playwright, actor Thomas Meehan, 88, librettist Bernard Pomerance, 76 playwright (The Elephant Man) Jerry Lewis, 91, comedian, director, veteran of two Broadway shows. Stuart Thompson,62,  producer

My article in August

Antigone in Ferguson: Dramatizing the Divide between Law Enforcement and Community

SEPTEMBER

The Atlantic hurricane storm season hits hard, with 17 named storms, Harvey causing extensive damage to Texas (wreaking havoc in the Houston theater district), Irma to Florida, and Maria to Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico has still not recovered. Lin-Manuel Miranda has been a visible supporter of the recovery efforts in the island of his ancestors, writing an article pleading for Puerto Rican aid, promoting fundraising, organizing a song a la “We Are The World” entitled Almost Like Praying (an allusion to the Maria from “West Side Story”)

When the president attacks San Juan mayor Yulín Cruz  for her “poor leadership,”  and suggesting that the island’s residents are are not doing enough to help themselves, Miranda  goes ballistic, tweeting: “You’re going straight to Hell. No long lines for you. Someone will say, ‘Right this way, sir.’ They’ll clear a path….You’re a congenital liar.” Miranda then took the logical next step when he visited Puerto Rico in November to deliver care packages: He announced his return to his starring role in Hamilton, in a production in Puerto Rico, scheduled to run from January 8 to 27, 2019 at the University of Puerto Rico’s Teatro UPR The Great Comet closes, a disappointment to its fans, who ask:  Could it have been saved? When Josh Groban left the role of Pierre, the producers hired Okieriete “Oak” Onaodowan to replace him. Sales did not improve, so they hired Mandy Patinkin, who was to return to Broadway after 17 years to star. Some protested, starting online,  accusing the producers of insensitivity and worse, for cutting Oak’s tenure short, and replacing a black actor with a white actor. Patinkin withdrew. Low box office receipts convinced the products to pull the plug.   There is a lesson here, but different people argue over what it is. Barry Diller kills  Pier 55, his $250 million planned futuristic performing arts center near The Highline. The following month, with help from the governor, Diller changes his mind, the project continues.   In solidarity with the NFL players who have been “taking knee” during the playing of the National Anthem before football games to protest racism, the cast of “Miss Saigon” kneel during curtain call Audra McDonald enters Theatre Hall of Fame, along with Matthew Broderick, The Public’s Oskar Eustis + 5 In her new memoir, Hillary Clinton writes about the healing power of Broadway: “There’s nothing like a play to make you forget your troubles for a few hours,” they wrote. “In my experience, even a mediocre play can transport you. And show tunes are the best soundtrack for tough times. You think you’re sad? Let’s hear what Fantine from Les Misérables has to say about that!”

Iain Armitage

The first theater critic to become a TV star? (surely the first who’s 8) Iain Armitage, who became one of the best known theater critics in the country when he began at age 5 to post his reviews on YouTube, stars in a TV series that’s a prequel to the Big Bang Theory, entitled “Young Sheldon.”

J.K. Rowling

Quote of the Month: After seven books and eight movies, J.K. Rowling thought she was done with Harry Potter. “I genuinely, I didn’t want Harry to go onstage,” Rowling said in the video below. “I felt that I was done.”

RIP

Michael Friedman, 1975 – 2017

Composer Michael Friedman 41 Director Sir Peter Hall, 86 Playwright Albert Innaurato, 70

My article in September

Dramatizing Dystopia

OCTOBER

The New York Times and the New Yorker write articles alleging that movie producer Harvey Weinstein sexually harassed and assaulted young actress for years with impunity. In the two months since then, the list of women accusing Weinstein has grown to more than 80 — and counting. On October 15, actress Alyssa Milano Tweets: “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.” In the two months since, almost 50 high-profile men have been fired, resigned or experienced similar professional fallout as a result of accusations of sexual misconduct.

Accused of sexual misconduct: top row, left to right, actor Kevin Spacey, producer Brett Ratner, comedian Louis C.K., actor Dustin Hoffman, and bottom row from left, former Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., former “Today” morning co-host Matt Lauer and former “CBS This Morning” co-host Charlie Rose,

It takes two weeks into the #MeToo movement for it to bring down the first prominent figure in the theater industry. In 1986, while they were both in shows on Broadway, Kevin Spacey, then 26, tried to seduce Anthony Rapp, who was then 14 years old, Rapp tells Buzzfeed. Spacey issues a statement that is a non-apology apology, and comes out as a gay man. Ninety-seven theaters in the United Kingdom issue a joint statement on sexual harassment “It is the responsibility of the industry to create and nurture a culture where unacceptable behaviour is swiftly challenged and addressed. …there is no room for sexual harassment or abuse of power in the theatre. Everyone deserves to enjoy a happy, healthy and safe working environment. We will support you to speak out, and we will hear you when you do.”  Trump as Lying Theater Critic

Broadway producer Roland Scahill who admitted scamming friends and others into investing hundreds of thousands of dollars into a nonexistent play about opera star Kathleen Battle has been sentenced to six months in jail.   First Hamilton and now Hello, Dolly have broken $1,000 barrier for box office ticket prices

Springsteen in Springsteen on Broadway

Springsteen on Broadway opens

Playwright Annie Baker and multidimensional theater artist Taylor Mac are among the 24 winners of the 2017 Macarthur Foundation “Genius” Grants. Ellen’s Stardust offers 31 fired union employees their jobs back thanks to settlement with the union Stardust Family and the National Labor Relations Board.

RIP

Robert Guillaume, 89, actor. best known for TV’s Benson, seven-time Broadway veteran

My articles in October

How do you Theatricalize Oppression? Belarus Free Theatre’s Burning Doors What’s It Like Being on the Autism Spectrum? Andrew Duff in Uncommon Sense

NOVEMBER

Telsey & Co. has fired senior casting director Justin Huff, who has cast six Broadway shows (Kinky Boots, Newsies ) amid internal reports of sexual misconduct. Nine women accuse Playwright Israel Horovitz of sexual misconduct Old Vic releases statement about investigation of Kevin Spacey  The investigation resulted in 20 personal testimonies shared of alleged inappropriate behaviour carried out by Kevin Spacey during his time as Artistic Director. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio signed the repeal of the hated 91-year old Cabaret Law, which made dancing illegal in bars/eateries without a cabaret license. (Only 104 out of 20,000 + had one) “New Yorkers looking to let loose will no longer have to fear the dance police” –  Councilmember Rafael Espinal Jr. Lincoln Center  is killing its Lincoln Center Festival, which for 21 summers has presented theater (and dance and music) from around the world.   At the Broadway Accessibility Summit, organizers explained that soon, every Broadway theater will have “on-demand” captions for hearing impaired through an app, #GalaPro

The Tony Awards nominating committee has ruled “1984” ineligible for Tony Awards because the production refused to allow the journalist Jose Antonio Vargas, who is a member of the nominating committee, to see the play.

RIP

David Cassidy

David Cassidy, 67,  teen heartthrob best known for his starring role in The Partridge Family musical TV series, the son and stepson of two Broadway musical theater stars, and himself a Broadway veteran.

My articles

Will Future Storytelling Include Live Theatre? When the Playwright Has an Agenda

DECEMBER

Suspect Akayed Ullah, 27, sets off bomb in Port Authority bus terminal in Times Square. Four injured. “This was an attempted terrorist attack” – NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio

Town Hall on sexual harassment in the theater is held at the Public Theater   In an article in the Hollywood Reporter, Anna Graham Hunter accuses Dustin Hoffman of sexually harassing her when she was 17, interning as a production assistant on the set of 1985 TV film ‘Death of a Salesman,’ Five weeks later, Kathryn Rossetter writes in the Hollywood Reporter that Dustin Hoffman sexually harassed her daily while they both were in the cast of the 1984 Broadway revival of Death of A Salesman Hollywood executives announce the creation of the Commission on Sexual Harassment and Advancing Equality in the Workplace. Chair: Anita Hill

Bah Humbug

Hamilton raises its top box office ticket price to $1,150

“Hamilton is the first on Broadway to sell seats for four figures, before fees, that don’t benefit a charity or political campaign.”

After 47 years as avant-garde nomads, Mabou Mines gets his own theater, in the renovated PS 122 building in the East Village, launching The Mabou Mines Theater with Glass Guignol..   A Christmas Story Live, the seventh live TV musical since the trend began in 2013 with The Sound of Music Live, got the worst rating and among the worst reviews. More popular: Fatwa The Musical:

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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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