Weirdest Theater Stories of the Decade. #Stageworthy News of the Week

It would be hard to have put together these weekly summaries of New York theater news for the entire decade, as I have, without noticing: This has been a weird decade. Even the name of the decade is weird – the 10s?  In the final weekly news summary of 2019, as a sort of farewell to the decade, sample below some of the weirdness.


New Years Eve 2020 in New York City: Last Minute Plans

Rest in Peace: 50 Theater Community Members Who Died in 2019

Theater Books of 2019 to read in 2020

New York Theater Year-End Quiz: A Look Back at 2019

Top New York Theater Videos of 2019…and of the decade


Bombarded with end-of-year donation appeals?  Check out my list of non-profit theaters and theater organizations, which includes those given the highest ranking by Charity Navigator.


A Decade of Weird New York Theater News


Getting a charge out of Hand to God: 19-year-old theatergoer Nick Silvestri attempted to charge his cell phone in the fake electrical outlet on the set of “Hand to God” on Broadway. Weirder than his action was the international attention and local outrage that it provoked, which resulted in his holding a well-attended press conference to apologize. Set designer Beowulf Boritt’s reaction to Charge-Gate: “It’ll keep me from ever putting a toilet on stage.”

In one of his first acts as President-Elect, Trump attacked Hamilton., expressing outrage at the curtain call address that Brandon Victor Dixon (whose role was Vice President Aaron Burr) read aloud while Vice President-elect Mike Pence, was in attendance. “The Theater must always be a safe and special place,” Trump tweeted. “The cast of Hamilton was very rude last night to a very good man, Mike Pence. Apologize!” Trump called the musical “overrated.” What followed was a Twitter meme: #NameAPenceMusical. Examples: Oklahomaphobia! Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat Hanger. Jesus Christ Super PAC.

Shia LaBeouf Taken From Cabaret in Handcuffs. Social Media Unleashed.

Elmo Upset
The people in Times Square dressing up as cartoon and superhero characters have many people up in arms. In 2013, a Bad Elmo was sentenced to a year in jail; he didn’t just harass tourists; he tried to extort $2 million from the Girl Scouts!


Although there is more nudity on Broadway stages than on Broadway streets, the mayor and the police commissioner, goaded by several days of front-page headlines in the Daily News, were determined to do something about the dozen or so women who called themselves #Desnudas and parade around in the Times Square plazas wearing little more than body paint.
“I’d prefer to dig the whole damn thing up and put it back the way it was”-then-NYPD Commissioner William Bratton said about Times Square pedestrian plazas.

In Times Square one night, the guy with the “I Need Money for Weed” sign stabbed his rival with the “I Need Money for Beer” sign in the head with a pen.

To help improve their image, the costumed worker formed an organization they entitled Times Square Elmos Association of Artists United for a Smile New York City.

It didn’t work. In 2016, the New York City Council passed a law that restricts the Elmos and others to a handful of designated zones, each about the size of a city bus, where they could solicit tips for posing for photographs.

Earlier this year, the Times Square Alliance commissioned a report that concluded, according to the Post, “the handsy panhandlers touched an average 24 people per hour without consent” The Post quoted one father as advocating complete removal or deep background checks. “We had an incident in 2013 with Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse. We analyzed the photo and didn’t like the way Mickey Mouse was touching her.”.

Iain Armitage

Iain Armitage made his name as a theater critic – at age six – posting video reviews on YouTube. This led to fame and opportunity — even TV stardom, as Sheldon Cooper in Young Sheldon…although that didn’t happen until he was eight.

Jack Viertel, the producer of the Encores concert production of Big River, wrote to the Times theater editors expressing outrage at the newspaper’s review of the show by Laura Collins-Hughes, callilng it 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.

A writer for the Wall Street Journal who gets free tickets to Broadway shows admitted (almost boasted) to having left at the intermission for most of them, which caused public outrage and publicist retaliation.

Reasons to be Unhappy: Playwright Neil LaBute, outraged at his review of “Reaosns to be Happy,” called drama critic David Cote a “portly eunuch.”

Weird Ads

Tony-winning actress Helen Mirren appeared in a Super Bowl commercial, saying, “If you drive drunk, you — simply put — are a short sighted, utterly useless, oxygen wasting, human form of pollution, a Darwin-award deserving, selfish coward. If your brain was donated to science, science would return it.” — and then finishes the spot by drinking from a bottle of beer

This Wells Fargo ad outraged the theater community. Wells Fargo apologized.

This AT&T ad outraged the theater community. AT&T apologized, but not until Signature in Arlington ran this retaliatory ad:

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

A disturbing if amusing poll conducted by Public Policy Polling: 30 percent of Republican and 19 percent of Democratic voters supported bombing (Aladdin‘s fictional) Agrabah.

James Franco, left in “Of Mice in Men.” Kevin Broccoli, right, in “James Franco and Me”

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. He wound up performing it with the name intact.

Ben Sprecher, “duped” producer of Rebecca.

The convoluted saga of the musical “Rebecca,” which was going to be mounted on Broadway in 2012 – they had the marquee up and everything – until a key investor turned out to be fictitious. The con man who created him was sentenced to three years in prison. This was followed by lawsuit the producer against the show’s publicist for having written an anonymous e-mail warning off a new potential investor. The saga took an ugly turn this year.

Original Broadway cast, including T.V. Carpio, Reeve Carney, Jennifer Damiano, Patrick Page, and Michael Mulheren

And then there’s the Spider-Man Saga. 
By the time it closed, the musical based on a beloved Marvel comic book character broke all sorts of records, both good and bad. It was the fastest show to be seen by a million theatergoers (by the time it ended, some two million saw it on 42nd Street.) It also had the longest preview period (182 performances) with the largest number of scheduled and canceled opening nights in Broadway history. It set records for the highest attendance and the greatest box office receipts at any Broadway show in a single week (17,375 theatergoers; $2,941,790.20 in receipts.) It was the most costly Broadway musical ever produced (initially $75 million) and, although it took in more than $200 million at the box office, it is likely to be the biggest money-loser (reportedly as much as $60 million) that ever played on the Great White Way. It is also surely the most critically panned Broadway musical (twice) ever to have so long a run.


The 2019 blackout that shut down the West Side one Saturday night in July of this year shuttered 26 of 30 Broadway shows — all but the four that begin with B (Be More Chill, Beetlejuice, Beautiful, and Burn This.) It occurred on the 42nd anniversary of the 1977 blackout, and during filming of the musical “In The Heights,” in which a blackout triggers much of the action. (The blackout in the show is based on the actual blackout of July 6, 1999 that left 200,000 people north of 155th Street without power for 18 hours.) “Blackout Blackout….We are powerless. We are powerless,” the cast sings in “The Blackout” song. Nina and Benny sing “When the Sun Goes Down.”

Barry Diller announced he was killing Pier 55, aka Diller Island, his $250 million planned futuristic performing arts center in the Hudson River. The following month, with help from the governor, Diller changed his mind, the project continues. In November, Pier 55 inc. announced that the official name for the project wold be “Little Island,” and that 100 species of trees and shrubs and an amphitheater would rest on 32 massive concrete “tulips.”
Here’s what it looked like from the nearby Whitney Museum this week.

Diller is aiming for completion in the Spring of 2021. So, there’s some promise that weirdness will carry on into the new decade of theater news.


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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