August Wilson will be a “forever” stamp starting in January, the U.S. Postal Service announced last week, but the playwright is already forever stamped on American culture, which is clearer this week thanks to two new films on Netflix –
an adaptation of his first Broadway play “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” coming on Friday (see my review below), and the documentary “Giving Voice,” already streaming, which follows six high school students, out of the thousands who compete each year to perform Wilson’s words on the stage of Broadway’s August Wilson Theater.
The annual August Wilson Monologue Competition, which director Kenny Leon co-founded in 2007, two years after Wilson’s, has done more than acquaint teenagers with one of America’s greatest playwrights. It shows how theater can make a difference in young people’s lives: August Wilson “told me ‘you’re worth seeing,’” one student says.
“The king is still here,” another says, reciting a monologue from King Hedley II. But he could be talking about August Wilson himself
Nia Sarfo, who was a senior at Chicago High School for the Arts, is in the photograph; watch in the Week in Theater Videos below her monologue from “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone.”
Maya Phillips, the New York Times new critic at large (see announcement in Week in Theater News below), offers a long take on August Wilson, American Bard
Governor Cuomo has banned indoor dining again, effective today, while The New York City Council last Thursday unanimously passed the Open Culture Law, modeled on the city’s outdoor dining program, that starting March 1st will allow performers to apply for permits to stage ticketed shows outdoors. “A big win for our artists and cultural venues,” proclaimed City Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer, who introduced the bill, “bringing joy and jobs to thousands!”
So, yes, there will be dancing in the streets in March, but not because the pandemic will be over — even though the U.S. approved a coronavirus vaccine on Friday, and started distributing it on Sunday, “the start of the most ambitious vaccination campaign in American history,”
England began their inoculations last week.
The second person in England to receive the coronavirus vaccine today is named William Shakespeare.
(put pun here)
I’ll take this as a good omen for theater. pic.twitter.com/uvSJzv6LQZ
— New York Theater (@NewYorkTheater) December 9, 2020
Week in Theater Reviews
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom on Netflix
Some four decades before “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” was turned into a film on Netflix featuring spectacular performances by the late Chadwick Boseman in his final role and Viola Davis in her next Oscar-nominated one, a young man named Ruben Santiago, who had recently arrived in New York City, went to see playwright August Wilson’s first play on Broadway. It was “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” a drama that conjures up a single day-long recording session in Chicago in 1927 by the celebrated Mother of the Blues, Gertrude “Ma” Rainey (1886-1939)
“I was smitten, captured, put in a spell. Nobody had represented me with such integrity; nobody seemed to have the love for me and the people I knew like August did,” said the theater artist who now goes by Ruben Santiago-Hudson, and has written the screenplay for the film adaptation of the play.
Folksbiene’s Chanukah Spectacular
Joel Grey sings “Give My Regards to Broadway” – in Yiddish. And he’s not alone among the 50 performers of the Folksbiene Chanukah Spectacular, a fast-moving, entertaining 80 minutes that is ostensibly a celebration of the Festival of Lights..But much of this Spectacular offers Yiddish versions of a wide range of Broadway and American show biz standards…
One Night Only: The Best of Broadway Review. But was it the best?
Broadway has always been deeper and broader, more serious and more adventurous than “One Night Only: The Best of Broadway” presented it.
Broadway Princess Holiday Party
Even those who treat holiday cheer as a seasonal tyranny have to admire the pluck of the three Broadway princesses – Laura Osnes, Susan Egan and Courtney Reed (who portrayed Ella in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, Belle in Beauty and the Beast, and Princess Jasmine in Aladdin, respectively) – who are continuing the tradition of the Broadway Princess Holiday Party, whose sixth annual concert at Feinstein’s 54 Below is virtual
Meet Me in St. Louis Review. 6 Reasons to Love the Irish Rep Stream
The first reason I love the Irish Repertory Theater’s “performance on screen” of “Meet Me in St. Louis” will sound like a backhanded compliment: It got me to watch the original 1944 Judy Garland movie, which is readily available online, and which I had never seen.
Week in Theater News
Hundreds of arts and cultural works have signed an “open letter” – and urged others to sign — calling on President-Elect Joe Biden to establish a Secretary of Arts and Culture, “ on behalf of the nation’s 5.1 million arts workers spanning stage, dance, film, music, performance, and visual arts.”
“Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical” will premiere online January 1 (and remain online for 72 hours) via Broadway producer Greg Nobile of Seaview productions (Moulin Rouge, Slave Play, etc.). The Actors Fund benefit is on sale at
Today’s Tix. Does this mean the musical is “coming to Broadway”, as an article in The Guardian puts it? Just for the record: That marquee above is photoshopped.
Mile Square Theater is one of the 50 theaters across the country that will present a free reading of the seven Enough Plays to End Gun Violence today, December 14th, exactly eight years after the shooting at Sandy Hook. The seven were chosen out of hundreds of entries in a national competition among high school students.
15 Plays by Black Playwrights Jeremy O. Harris Thinks You Should Read
The plays/play collections by Black playwrights make up the Golden Collection, curated by playwright Jeremy O. Harris, who has announced plans to donate the collection to libraries and community centers across the country. He named it after his grandfather Golden Harris.
NEWS: Ever since I was a kid, I’ve wanted to be an arts critic. I DREAMT of being a @nytimes critic & was determined but wasn’t sure if it was *actually* doable. The last few mnths in the fellowship confirmed this is my dream & NOW IT’S OFFICIAL: I’m a permanent critic at large
— Maya Phillips (@mayabphillips) December 10, 2020
Also joining the Culture Desk at the Times (starting with Phillips upper left and going clockwise): Jason Farago as critic at large, Salamishah Tillet as contributing critic at large, and Matt Stevens as general assignment reporter.
New York Magazine’s Helen Shaw looks at the Flea Theater versus its artists
“The story of the Flea captures 2020 in a nutshell. It’s a theater enduring a year in which you can’t gather and make art. It’s a cultural building facing debts without any income. Its unjust structures are being challenged by activists as conflicting narratives emerge about the same small set of facts. And — for added piquancy — social media has made sure everyone is as angry as possible….”
The original cast of Hamilton starred in a fundraiser Sunday for the two Democratic candidates for the U.S. Senate from Georgia — Jon Ossoff and the Rev. Raphal Warnock.
Week in Theater Videos
Tomorrow there’ll be more of us…❤️❤️❤️ https://t.co/YakVZRNYbY
— Lin-Manuel Miranda (@Lin_Manuel) December 10, 2020
Watch Nicole Kidman in Zazz. then read my review of The Prom
Andrew Lloyd Webber & Ivano Turco – Only You, Lonely You, From Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Cinderella”, which is scheduled for a premiere in London in Spring 2021. Turco will make his West End debut as Prince Charming’s brother Sebastian.
Daveed Diggs music video for Hanukkah