The Shed Opens. Fosse Verdon begins. Pelosi on Art’s Power. #Stageworthy News of the Week

 

In a city with 1,200 cultural institutions, how do you create a new one that stands out?

That was the question – and the charge — that then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg put 14 years ago to Dan Doctoroff, according to an opening ceremony speech by Doctoroff, the chairman of the board of The Shed, the $500 million performing arts center that officially opened on Friday at 545 West 30thStreet, between 10th and 11th Avenues, just north of the end of the High Line, as part of the $20 billion Hudson Yards development.

Here’s how they want you to picture The Shed:

Here’s how I first experienced The Shed (I had to get off the High Line for the street-level entrance, the only way to get into the building.)

MY view of The Shed from 30th Street. Photograph by Jonathan Mandell

The aim of The Shed is to offer original works in the performing arts, the visual arts and in popular culture in an eight-story building of 200,000 square feet (the same number of square feet as the new Whitney Museum.) The Shed has five spaces for shows and exhibitions, including two galleries, two theaters, and a “skylit, multipurpose room” on the top floor. One of the theaters is the McCourt, which is topped by a moveable shell that can expand (on huge industrial wheels) to cover the adjoining outdoor plaza, and accommodate an audience of 2,000, if they stand. (1,250 if there are seats.) The first production at the McCourt is “Soundtrack for America,” a five night concert series offering a taste of 400 years of African-American music.

The other theater, on the sixth floor, is the  500-seat Griffin Theater. The Griffin’s inaugural offering, “Norma Jeane Baker of Troy,” starring Ben Whishaw and Renee Fleming, opens tonight. (Watch for my review.)

The Shed, New York: Norma Jeane Baker of Troy, rehearsal with Ben Whishaw and Renee Fleming
Rehearsal, LondPhotograph by Stephen Cummiskey

The key buzz words among the team that put The Shed together seem to be: flexibility, inclusion, and multidisciplinary.

“We wanted to prove we could design a flexible building without defaulting to the generic,” said Elizabeth Diller, one of its architects, who called it “an anti-institutional institution” and a facility “perpetually unfinished” that aims to cater to artists and audiences of the future.

Whether or not New York’s 1,201stcultural institution stands out in the city will take time to assess, but it already stands out from the rest of Hudson Yards, a gaudy over-concentration of over-tall. over-priced glass buildings that has been widely panned.  “The largest, mixed-use private real estate venture in American history… glorifies a kind of surface spectacle — as if the peak ambitions of city life were consuming luxury goods and enjoying a smooth, seductive, mindless materialism,” the New York Times architect critic Michael Kimmelman wrote in his appraisal. “Hudson Yards epitomizes a skin-deep view of architecture as luxury branding.” His description of the Shed doesn’t sound any more complimentary – it features “a giant sliding roof, eye-catchingly swathed in a tufted Teflon-based sheeting that can bring to mind inflated dry cleaning bags.” But he does offer some hope for the arts complex. “If New Yorkers take to the Shed and eat at the mall, Hudson Yards may come to seem less like some gated community in Singapore.”

Alex Poots, formerly of the Manchester International Festival and the Park Avenue Armory, is the artistic director of The Shed. “We want to provide a space for artists working in all disciplines to make and present work for the broadest range of audiences.” In addition to “Soundtrack of America” and “Norma Jeane Baker of Troy,” the first productions include  new work by the artist Trisha Donnelly and “Reich Richter Pärt,” described as “an immersive live performance and exhibition exploring the shared language of visual art and music”

Coming June 22: “Dragon Spring Phoenix Rise,” a  “futuristic kung fu musical” co-conceived by Chen Shi-Zheng and the screenwriters for “Kung Fu Panda.” Here was a brief excerpt presented for the press:

While the people behind The Shed say they are looking to the future of the arts, “Fosse Verdon” is presenting a look at couple that reigned on Broadway in the past, and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi considers the power of the arts in the present. (Scroll below.)

Fosse Verdon

Preview with 18 photographs and three videos of “Fosse Verdon,” which airs every Tuesday for eight weeks starting tonight on FX.

Nicole Fosse on her parents and the show

“My parents really changed the framework for Broadway. Pieces like Hamilton or In the Heights or Rent can happen because of my father’s work. Musicals are different because of the way he constructed his musical. I also believe that my mother had an impact on the nature of what can be considered sexy – that strong can be sexy, innocence can be sexy.”

The Week in New York Theater Reviews

Mrs. Murray’s Menagerie

For its first production in its new second home downtown in a spruced-up Greenwich House Theater, Ars Nova is presenting the latest devised piece by the much-praised ten-year-old company The Mad Ones. In “Mrs. Murray’s Menagerie,” the creators of a 1970s children’s television program have hired a company to conduct a focus group made up of parents of young children.
In real time, six characters who have never met before gather around a conference table for 90 minutes to answer questions about the series and the characters in it, many of whom are puppets.

The Lehman Trilogy

The Lehman Trilogy, an inventively staged, extraordinarily acted, and historically blinkered theatrical epic, begins and ends with the collapse of the Lehman Brothers, the venerable financial institution, in September, 2008. But these moments serve as tiny bookends to what is really the main story being told at the Park Avenue Armory – the story of the three Lehman brothers, after their arrival in America in the 18th century

The Diary of One Who Disappeared

There’s beauty in the suffering that comes from longing. That message comes through clearly in “Diary of One Who Disappeared.” Everything else is elliptical in the production of this hundred-year-old song cycle that has been expanded and staged by Ivo van Hove.

What The Constitution Means to Me

People are gushing about Heidi Schreck’s play as if it’s another Hamilton, and in some ways it is. No, it’s not a groundbreaking hip-hop musical.  Indeed, “What the Constitution Means to Me” is a play with no music, a three-person cast and an informal air. It wouldn’t be entirely inaccurate to sum it up as a civics lesson, Schreck telling stories about her life and her family to illustrate a few amendments of the United States Constitution.

Yet, like Hamilton, it’s a civics lesson that’s stimulated an extraordinary response….On second viewing, on Broadway, I am not as carried away by this show as so many people seem to be, although I think I understand why they are…. It can still serve as a salve for the politically shell-shocked and disaffected; they just have to be a little richer.

King Lear

As King Lear, Glenda Jackson enters with a casual swagger, giving off a scent of power that’s lasted a lifetime.  But Lear is portrayed by an 82-year-old woman, lean and light and, at 5’6, dwarfed by the dignitaries and daughters who share the stage in the opening scene at the Cort Theater.  If Jackson’s performance turns this inventive but imperfect production into a must-see of the Broadway Spring season, it’s not just because of her impressive stamina and control. It’s also the appearance of physical fragility that helps make her Lear stand out.  …DIrector Sam Gold creates some memorable theatrics in his King Lear, some of which illuminate the text for us, little of which undermine it for me.

Ashes

“Ashes” is a play based on the true story of a pyromaniac who terrorized a Norwegian town by torching homes for a month until he was unmasked as the son of the fire chief. Itis a haunting work of theater that has toured 15 countries and was recently presented at HERE. It is peopled with dozens of characters—the arsonist, the fire chief, the fire chief’s wife, many of the townspeople, and a writer who grew up in the town and wrote a book about the incident  What may have been the most remarkable moment in a show full of remarkable moments was the curtain call. Only three people took a bow.

The Week in Theater Awards

Lucille Lortel Award Nominations 2019 Off-Broadway: Carmen Jones, Rags Parkland, Mlima’s Tale Lead

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/03/theater/shakespeare-modern-english-play-on-festival.html?smtyp=cur&smid=tw-nyttheater

The Week in New York Theater News

The Play On! Festival at Classic Stage Company will feature readings of the modern English translations of 39 Shakespeare plays that the Oregon Shakespeare Festival commissioned from established playwrights. May 29-June 30

The Perverse Influence of Titus Andronicus

There are 14 deaths in Shakespeare’s bloodiest play, beheadings, live burials and worse. T.S. Eliot called it “one of the stupidest and most uninspired plays ever written.” But it’s inspired many — including Taylor Mac whose “sequel” to the play, “Gary,” is opening on Broadway. “The image of a mother made to eat her children was hard to shake, and a couple of decades after its 1594 premiere, artists had already begun to appropriate — O.K., fine, cannibalize — its plot for uses comic, tragic and savagely satirical. Its blood has spattered everything from bootleg Dutch tragedies to Japanese anime to Game of Thrones. Directors have staged it with almost no gore and with nothing but gore. It has been modernized, musicalized, performed by puppets and adapted to Kabuki. Stephen K. Bannon sent it into space”

Underground Railroad Game will return to Ars Nova’s midtown theater, May 30–June 15 with an opening night set for June 1. Creators Jennifer Kidwell and Scott R. Sheppard will reprise their performances. “Welcome to Hanover Middle School, where a pair of teachers – Kidwell and Sheppard – are keen to introduce you to today’s lesson. The nimble duo goes round after round on the mat of our nation’s history, tackling race, sex and power…”

Rattlestick’s Fall 2019 season will present is a new play by Cusi Cram about the 161-year history of St. Vincent’s Hospital, the local Village that was shut down in 2010. “Novenas for a Lost Hospital” will star the great Kathleen Chalfant.

 

Trump’s White House doesn’t support the arts. Nancy Pelosi is rallying the cause instead

The “To Kill A Mockingbird” cast was in Washington at Nancy Pelosi’s invitation to perform scenes for middle and high school students Tuesday at the Library of Congress.

In the absence of a White House that welcomes the nation’s preeminent composers, painters, scholars and singers to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue — and let’s face it, many of them would probably say no thanks — Pelosi seems more and more inclined to cast herself as the ceremonial head of state for the arts.

..It was Pelosi, for instance, who occupied the Opera House box when the Kennedy Center Honors were doled out in December, seated next to Cher and the other Honors recipients. President Trump was a no-show for the second year in a row.

Pelosi on Mockingbird and the arts: “In this play, we learn something so important: decency. In our country right now there’s a craving for decency, and this play is about that.”

“I do believe that the arts are the most unifying force in America. It all has the power to make us laugh together, to make us cry together, to forget our differences, to bond together in the spirit of creativity. So in that spirit, there’s something that the arts can teach us, that is very hard to convey in other ways.”

 

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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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