Theater Blog Roundup: Urgent Politics, Dreamy Nostalgia, and Corona Diaries

In a world full of pandemic and podcasts, there is surely still room for theater…and theater blogs.

The theater bloggers this month seem focused on one of two themes — either the current urgent political moment, or a dip into nostalgia for a lost time.

On About Last Night, one of the most consistent surviving theater blogs, Terry Teachout plugs his, well, podcast on American Theatre, and the hosts’ interview with Tamilla Woodard, who is the co-artistic director of Working Theater and the Five Boroughs/One City Project, a multi-year initiative of the Working Theater. She talks, among other things, about racial bias influenced her acting conservatory training and the ways in which theatres are grappling with the Black Lives Matter movement.

Bitter Gertrude’s Melissa Hillman offers three posts in June that are about the political moment. One is The New Boston Tea Party
My fellow white people: The protests you are witnessing now– that you have been witnessing for years– have a long, storied history in American patriotism. What you’re witnessing is a 21st century Boston Tea Party.

Another is entitled Diversity Training Will Not Save You:
“Diversity training doesn’t work.
Why it doesn’t work is not the fault of the DEI professionals working in the field. Quite the opposite. The problem is how we– especially white people in positions of power–approach the issue of racism. We think of it as “a problem” that can be “solved.”
White supremacy is not a workplace issue that a diversity specialist can “solve” for you. It’s a systemic cultural issue that manifests in the workplace in the same way it manifests everywhere else.”

George Hunka’s blog offers both the audio and an explanation of Scott Joplin’s Wall Street Rag, as well as an appreciation of Bruce Jay Friedman, a satirical writer who died this month at the age of 90. Friedman is quoted as remarking on the fading line between fantasy and reality that makes satire difficult. “If you are alive today, and stick your head out of doors now and then, you know that there is a nervousness, a tempo, a near-hysterical new beat in the air, a punishing isolation and loneliness of a strange, frenzied new kind.” Friedman wrote this 55 years ago.

On JK’s Theatre Scene,  Jeff Kyler has been running a series of reader polls to assess who and what should have been nominated for the 2020 Tony Awards, first productions (which is now closed), followed by the actors, and then the creative categories. (still open.) Presumably a future post will tell us whom we selected. (Jeff answers: “Yes! The results will be revealed next week & voting for the winners will begin!”)

Onstage Blog’s Lora Korpar writes about
six musicals that create positive LGBTQ representation: Rent, the Prom, The Color Purple, Falsettos, Kinky Boots, and Fun Home.
Chris Peterson reports on a D.C.-area theater (Flying V Theatre in Silver Springs, MD) that “terminated the employment of its artistic director due to allegations of sexual harassment from multiple women. However, questions are now arising about how the theatre’s board handled similar allegations against the former director three years ago and failed to take proper action.”


For Theatre’s Leiter Side, Samuel Leiter has spent the last three months of lockdown publishing entries from his unpublished  Encyclopedia of The New York Stage, 1970-1976, each entry a different show.  Going alphabetically, he’s reached the Fs. Entry 174 is
FAME [Comedy-Drama/Biographical/Films/Hollywood] A/D: Anthony J. Ingrassia; S: Douglas W. Schmidt; C: Jeffrey B. Moss; L: Martin Aronstein; P: James J.C. Andrews and Tony Zanetta for Mainman; T: John Golden Theatre; 11/18/74 (1)

Ellen Barber did a good job in the leading role of this à clef play based on the life of movie star Marilyn Monroe. The piece itself was laughed off the stage, though, for its sheer ineptitude. Clive Barnes blasted it as “the worst play of the season,” saying that the intermission was the evening’s most interesting part. Martin Gottfried called it “an amateur night version of a Hollywood novel.” Not that it hadn’t been vetted, since it originated in an Off-Off Broadway production.

In Fame, the Monroe character is called Diane Cook, her athlete husband is a boxer instead of a baseball player, and her writer husband is a novelist, not a playwright. These and all the rest of the 33 clichéd characters (played by eight actors) were involved in a multi-scened biography that never seemed sure of how much it meant to take its subject seriously or to camp it up for laughs.

It began with a revelation of the star as a corpse surrounded by the news media, then showed her rising and reenacting her life in flashback, and ended with her suicide by a sleeping pill overdose. The show itself could not outlive its opening night.

Pocketsize Theatre Blog, based in London, has been running a series of interviews called Corona Diaries.
The latest is with Landi Oshinowo, “currently playing Mrs Phelps in the London production of Matilda the Musical. This is an optimistic way of putting it, and Oshinowo is nothing if not optimistic in her answers in the interview. How is she looking after her mental state?
“I’m a woman of faith, attending church regularly – albeit online in recent months. This helps me keep a positive mental attitude about the current state of things It’s important to look on the bright side and appreciate the positive effect lockdown has had on families, relationships, the environment. To be honest, I’m enjoying the rest and reset.”
How can people continue to support the arts?
“A common excuse people give for not being able to go to the theatre, is lack of time. The lockdown has by default made theatre shows and plays more available online. This has really opened up the industry to everyone, allowing old patrons continued support of the arts, while giving access to new audiences”
The most interesting answer in interview with Christopher Parkinson, “currently in the London cast of & Juliet at the Shaftsbury Theatre” comes when he’s asked: Have you discovered anything that you’d like to recommend to our viewers?
“I love podcasts, I actually got myself a job at Sainsbury’s [a UK supermarket] just to keep myself busy in this time and to do whatever I could to help others in need. I go in at 2am and finish at 8am. I whiz around the supermarket (supermarket sweep style) picking out the online orders for people who are unable to get to the store due to being ill or social distancing. I find my shift goes so quick when I am listening to a podcast…”

In The Wicked Stage, Rob Weinert-Kendt continues his journey into the past, recalling the entries he wrote for Time Out New York’s 2016 feature The 50 best Broadway songs of all time

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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