Small Theater is BIG in NYC. RIP John Simon. Ephraim Sykes is Michael Jackson, Lynn Nottage answers why she’s taking on MJ. #Stageworthy News of the Week

“Small theaters” play a large role in making New York City the world’s cultural capital, according to  “All New York’s a Stage,” a report issued this week by the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment that looks at the cultural and economic impact of Off-Broadway and Off-Off Broadway, a “sector” (in policy-speak) that is made up of “748 small venue theater organizations” that generate “$1.3 billion in total economic output” annually. They also generate much of the theater world’s cultural heat these days. One example: Some dozen Pulitzer Prize winning plays originating in NYC’s small theaters, including this year’s winner “Fairview” above (Soho Rep), 2016’s “Hamilton” (New York Public Theater), 2015’s “Between Riverside and Crazy” (Atlantic) and 2014’s “The Flick” (Playwrights Horizons.)   One arresting fact: The majority of staff of these theaters are volunteers.  Here are some charts from the report:

 

Thanksgiving Week Broadway Schedule

including 15 shows adding performances today!

The Week in New York Theater Reviews

Ronete Levenson (Sue), Lindsay Rico (Paula), Helen Cespedes (Emma), Jennifer Lim (Cindy)

Fefu and Her Friends

Fefu picks up a double-barrel shotgun and shoots at her husband near the beginning of “Fefu and Her Friends,” billed as a modern classic and written by the beloved avant-garde playwright Maria Irene Fornés,  who died in October 2018 at the age of 88. “It’s a game we play,” Fefu explains matter-of-factly to her friends, putting the gun back against the drawing room chair. “I shoot and he falls. Whenever he hears the blast he falls.”

For the first time in 40 years, Off-Broadway theatergoers can actually hear that gunshot blast too, thanks to a Theater for a New Audience production, directed by Liliana Blain-Cruz, that is itself a blast….for much of the time. For the rest of the time, it’s…..well, to quote the director herself on her reaction when discovering the work of Maria Irene Fornés: “Oh my god. I don’t understand anything that’s going on, but I love it.”

The Half-Life of Marie Curie

Marie Curie won the Nobel Prize twice, but she was also a woman; so the Nobel committee asked her not to show up at the ceremony.
We learn the specific reason why early on in this well-intentioned, workmanlike play by Lauren Gunderson about the friendship between two world-class women scientists who lived a century ago.

Samuel H. Levine as Adam, Kyle Soller as Eric, Kyle Harris as Jasper, Arturo Luís-Soria as Jasper2, Jordan Barbour as Tristan, and Darryl Gene Daughtry Jr. as Jason1

The Inheritance

“The Inheritance,” a long, ambitious play about three generations of gay men in New York, pays homage to two masterpieces, without being one itself. Yet the play by Matthew Lopez, making his Broadway debut, is both sweeping and intimate, sophisticated and raw, a weepy that is often funny. Several performances are transporting, including two actors making their Broadway debuts, and an actress who made hers 67 years ago. There are swoops into intellectual brilliance, such as when one of the characters elaborately compares America to a body, its democracy to a body’s immune system, and the current president to the HIV virus. There are dips into nudity and raunch. There is insight and debate and uplift.
Does “The Inheritance” need to be nearly seven hours long and in two parts to achieve all that? The short answer is no. But there’s so much here that’s so wonderful that it’s worth it to those with the stamina.

A Christmas Carol

Who knew that “A Christmas Carol” could be so dangerous!

The assaults begin even before the first line of dialogue in the new, charming if overlong, and extraordinarily well-designed Broadway production of Charles Dickens’ 1843 classic, starring Campbell Scott as Ebenezer Scrooge and Andrea Martin and LaChanze as Ghosts of Christmas Past and Present. Cast members on the stage dressed as 19th century English blokes and birds throw clementines and cookies to (at?) the audience…vigorously.

“I’m suing,” said somebody sitting behind me, in a straight-faced impersonation of Scrooge, after he was hit by one of the packages of chocolate chips.  “Are you an attorney?”

Evita

It’s surely pointless, four decades and two billion dollars after its debut, to rant about Evita, and silly to blame Andrew Lloyd Webber’s theatrical canonization of the amoral historical figure Eva Perón as paving the way for the elevation of another media personality remade into a dictator-loving populist. Still, this core problem I have with the musical stops me from fully embracing its revival at New York City Center, even as I acknowledge that the singing in this production is gorgeous, the orchestra lush, the choreography fun, and the story reinterpreted in some bold and intriguing if not always effective ways.

Two adaptations of novels by Édouard Louis:

James Russell Morley and Oseloka Obi on the video

The End of Eddy

Parts resemble a book report for school, but won’t be mistaken for a story hour because of the inventive stagecraft and the rawness of the stories — relentless bullying, deadened people in a dying factory town, his sad and funny efforts to ‘be a man,’ his sexual experimenting.

History of Violence

An examination of trauma; that in any case is the most consistently insightful aspect of the adaptation…. committed performances by the four-member cast…but the production ultimately felt more like an exercise in stagecraft rather than a pointed exploration of history or violence.

 

The Week in New York Theater News

Grammy Award nominees for best musical theater albums: Ain’t Too Proud, Hadestown,  Moulin Rouge, plus the incidental music from the play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. The 62nd annual Grammy Awards will be held on January 20, 2020.

Ephraim Sykes will star as Michael Jackson in “MJ,” the musical slated to open on Broadway beginning the summer 2020. A thrilling performer, he’s had an increasingly high-profile career: Memphis,Newsies,Motown,Hamilton, Hairspray Live, and Tony-nominated for his role as avid Ruffin in Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations.

He is now both performing in Ain’t Too Proud and rehearsing for MJ. How can he do this? “I always say just a bunch of prayers, and drink as much coconut water as I can find,” he told Essence.

Jeremy O. Harris and Lynn Nottage

Lynn Nottage, the Pulitzer Prize winning playwright of “Ruined” and “Sweat,” is the book writer for MJ the Musical. In a mutual interview in Vogue magazine between Nottage and Slave Play playwright Jeremy O. Harris, he brings up MJ:

Can I ask you a question about Michael Jackson? How do you contend with the weight of that history?

We all, on some level, recognize the complexity of Michael Jackson. For many years, he has occupied a very specific space.

Going into this moment, when there’s such a spotlight on him, and such decided opinion on it now around what we should do with that history…

Cancel culture is the dominant culture in this moment. But my guiding principle is that you have to sustain the complexity. I really feel as an artist that writing this piece is me trying to process my complicated feelings about someone who I idolized from the time I was five years old. To reconcile that with that person who, in the media, was quite complicated. I can’t simply cancel that person. I have to, as an artist, lean into that complication—that is what I’m investigating by doing this. And I think that the easy thing would be to say no and run away. But for me the more interesting thing is to lean into it and try to figure out personally how I feel.

 

Separately, John Logan (Moulin Rouge the Musical, Red, The Aviator) has been hired to writea movie script about Michael Jackson.

Patrick Stewart’s one-man version of “A Christmas Carol” will be presented for two nights only, Dec 11 & 13 at Theater 511 to benefit City Harvest and Ars Nova

“Soft Power” will release a cast recording in Spring 2020.

They grew up at Boston Children’s Theater. Now They Look Back with Alarm

“a group of 17 former students who sent a letter to the theater’s board late last month, detailing a range of negative experiences with [Burgess Clark, the director of Boston’s Children’s Theater]; three alleged that Clark had kissed or touched them inappropriately. Beverly police are investigating; no charges have been filed. A group of older alums sent a second letter describing their own disturbing encounters. Burgess has resigned.”

 

Rest in Peace

 

Michael J. Pollard, 80, best known for TV roles (“The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis”) and his Oscar-nominated part in the movie “Bonnie and Clyde”, was also a 5-time veteran of Broadway, such as the original Hugo Peabody in “Bye, Bye Birdie.”

John Simon, 94, caustic theater critic for nearly 37 years at New York Magazine.

From Wall Street Journal article interview  with John Simon,  earlier this month

“His penchant for criticizing actors’ and actresses’ physical traits —he once wrote unkindly about Liza Minnelli’s face, and another time about Barbra Streisand’s nose— has also helped to make him repugnant to the city’s cultural elite. He contended at the time, and again to me, that such criticism is entirely legitimate if a performer fails to transcend his or her defects of appearance by force of talent.” (How does one “transcend” one’s appearance?)

On how theater has not declined:

“Things were never very good,” he says.“I don’t really see a decline. Looking back into the past always makes the past look better than it actually was,and the present worse, perhaps, than it actually is. . . Out of, I don’t know how many plays open in a season —a lot of them anyway—there may be two or three even worth bothering with. It has always been so.”

From the Associated Press:

He angered the powerful, including legendary producer and director Joseph Papp — who once asked in a 1972 letter to New York magazine “why the hell doesn’t he grow up?” — and playwright Edward Albee, who wrote in The New York Times that “Mr. Simon’s disapproval of my plays has been a source of comfort to me over the years.”

In 1981, an ad in Variety appeared accusing Simon of being “racist, anti-Semitic, misogynist, vicious, and derisive.” It was signed by 300 artists, apparently upset that Simon’s review of “Richard III” complained that an actress in the show “should never be cast as anything but an itinerant gefilte fish with a nervous condition.”

Michael Feingold on fellow critic John Simonin American Theatre

There was a real John Simon, who had a real and lifelong passion for the theatre, but who had trapped himself into this one essentially hostile way of expressing it. I never tried to talk to him about it—with John, it was simpler and wiser, on the whole, even for colleagues, to keep one’s distance—but I often felt a twinge of grief at the idea that he had devoted his life to a method of work that could only make him increasingly unhappy. Here was a man, elegant, articulate, and vastly knowledgeable, fluent in at least half a dozen languages, whose gifts of mind gave nothing back to the arts he wrote about except a few unkind remarks that made fun of someone’s performance, ethnicity, physical attributes, or, with a pun, on his target’s name. (“If this is Norman Wisdom, I’ll take Saxon folly.”) Other theatre critics keep such darts in their rucksacks for occasional use; John lived by them.

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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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