Stars in the House, Sondheim and his 90th birthday concert, Be An #ArtsHero (photo by Howard Sherman), nude body painting in Times Square (ditto), the chance to reinvent the American theater: These are among the positive things that emerged from the most negative year in memory, according to we few, we happy few, we band of bloggers, persisting past our prime, into a period of pandemic and podcasting.
In this year buffeted to an unusual degree by “the unswerving punctuality of chance” (see George Hunka’s explanation of the phrase below), Adam Szymkowicz wrote a play in lockdown called “The Parking Lot,” which people watched from their cars, while Janice Simpson and Jeff Kyler found their bliss in some Zoom. The year seems to have beat the snark out of West End Whinger, while Terry Teachout starts the new year with hope and the blues.
I’ve been doing these theater blog roundups near the end of every month, but in the end-of-year crunch and tumult, skipped December, so rectify that now, going this time in reverse alphabetical order, just to show that in the new year I can break out of old habits.
In A West End Whinger,Philip Argent reviews Pantoland at the Palladium, which offered a handful of performances in-between shutdowns caused by the pandemic.It’s fascinating to get a glimpse of panto, a very British theatrical genre, and also to see the effects of 2020 on the tart-tongued critic who famously retitled Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Love Never Dies” as “Paint Never Dries.” — i.e.: “For the record, such great care has gone into it, it all felt perfectly safe. Titfers off to Andrew Lloyd Webber (yes, we really said that) for the efforts he and his people have gone to.”
Samuel Leiter links from his blog to Theaterlife (which is not a personal webs9te), for his essay on theater that opened on New Year’s Eve. Yes, that used to happen; I guess the New Year’s Eve crowds were smaller then. Leiter details the eight Broadway shows that opened on New Year’s Eve in the 1920s, and the four in the 1930s; by the 1940s, the practice had ended. Two opened the same night, December 31, 1923, one of them produced, written and starring George M. Cohan, “The Song and Dance Man.”
In Theatre Theatre Aficionado at Large, Kevin Daly, returns after a year’s absence, with two annual lists — the list of all the films he saw in 2020, from Show Boat in 1/1/2020 to Operation Petticoat in 12/31/2020, and the list of all the show music he listened to in 2020, from “Fiorello!” In 1/3/2020 to “Six” on 12/25/2020. All the show recordings are linked to their respective page on a site he recommends, CastAlbums.Org
On The Producer’s Perspective, Ken Davenport lists his Top 10 Broadway Moments in 2020 (in separate posts, part 1 and part 2), only one-tenth of which is self-promotional
1. Hamilton on Disney+
2. The Broadway Advocacy Coalition forums
3. Ratatouille The Tik Tok Musical
4. Seth Rudestky and James Wesley’s “Stars In The House”
5. (the outpouring for) Nick Cordero
6. “One Night Only: The Best of Broadway”
7. Pamela Newkirk (author of Diversity Inc.: The Failed Promise of Billion-Dollar Business.) being added to the Shubert Theater Board of Directors
8. The TheaterMakers Summit
9. Godspell, the live production at the Berkshire Theater Group
9. Diana, filmed on stage for Netflix
Stagezine offers “2020: The Musical, A Recap with Broadway Songs,” the video in which Jimmy Fallon and Andrew Rannellspay tribute to 2020, one horrible year, in this fun clip from “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon
In On Stage Blog, Kate Schwartz talks about the plans for , the Cherry Lane Theater’s 100th anniversary season: “Beginning in January 2022, Cherry Lane will offer one Staged Reading per month from their incredible one hundred year Production history. They’ll begin with plays from the 1920s and work their way through each of their notable decades. Expect to see exciting readings like The Vegetable (F. Scott Fitzgerald), The Subway (Elmer Rice), Endgame (Samuel Beckett), and To Be Young, Gifted, and Black (Lorraine Hansberry).
And the ever-crusading Chris Peterson asks Why are race descriptions in licensing materials being erased for school productions? Specifically Miss Saigon, which has resulted in a high school production in Florida with “practically an all-white cast.”
In JK’s Theatre Scene, Jeff Kyler lists “all the great theater and theater-related things we appreciated in the year just past,” which happen to be ten in number, but not in any particular order:
Jagged Little Pill
West Side Story
The Lights of Broadway trading cards
If The Fates Allow album (from Hadestown cast)
Zoom Songs from Broadway Casts (including Jagged Little Pill, Dear Evan Hansen, Hamilton, and especially Company; see below)
Hamilton on Disney+
Take Me to the World: A Sondheim 90th Birthday Celebration
One Night Only: The Best of Broadway
Stars in the House
Howard Sherman returns with My Pandemic Year in Pictures
Here are four that are theater-related
George Hunka sings the praises of novelist William Gaddis, on the occasion of new editions of The Recognitions (1955) and J R (1975), which he calls perhaps the seminal satiric novels of post-war America.
He notes in passing the fascinating fact that one phrase appears in all five of Gaddis’ novels: “the unswerving punctuality of chance,”
On Call Me Adam, Adam Rothenberg interviews Phil Geoffrey Bond, the creator and host of Sondheim Unplugged, the long-running monthly concert series that reemerged after ten months in December as a streaming video. Bond offers a piece of news — “We’ve gone into the studio to create a series of Sondheim Unplugged cast albums!”–talks about how he created the show in 2010, what he’s learned, how filming was different (there was an upside: “if I as host or a vocalist goes up, we can start again. And when we filmed, we did a few times. Sondheim is tricky, as everyone knows. You miss a syllable and all of a sudden it’s “Singer down! Singer down!”) , and then offers this choice anecdote in answer to the question: What has been the biggest mishap to happen during a performance of Sondheim Unplugged?
Oh – there have been missed entrances, missed lyrics, computers that go down, hems torn, etc. But I think the biggest one was probably when we did our Halloween edition – Into Sweeney Todd’s Woods, which featured songs from Sondheim’s spookiest shows. I got it into my head that it would be a good idea to have a smoke machine running when the house opened. So literally people were trying to eat dinner in a flood of fog which then set off the fire alarms. Suddenly, no fewer than three fire trucks and what seemed like twenty hot firemen flooded the space (that part was ok!). What struck me as funny is that, during all of this, strobe lights flashing and firefighters roaming the space, that audience just sat there and kept dining as if nothing was happening. Nothing like an audience full of New Yorkers.”
I take the liberty of adding a video from the show, which is available on demand through January 9th.
On Broadway & Me,Janice Simpson details 10 Spots of Theatrical Joy in a Dire Year
Hamlet at St. Ann’s Warehouse
The Hot Wing King
Take Me To The World: A Sondheim 90th Birthday Celebration
Bill Irwin’s In Zoom (see the 10-inute video below)
In Camera , at London’s Old Vic
Russian Troll Farm
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
(I’ve added her list belatedly to my Top 10 Lists of Top 10 Theater in 2020 which doesn’t change the consensus.)
In Bitter Gertrude, Melissa Hillman discourses on Theatre as Commodity: Saving Our Industry by Undoing Our Worst Mistake. She more or less sums up her essay in the subhead: “We are a luxury good. That’s not a compliment. It’s a calamity.”
What’s the solution? That, she says, is in her next post (and solicits ideas from the readers.)
Adam Szymkowicz writes about My 2020 in review, which is largely a numerical accounting (eg. “Last year I had 47 productions of my plays. This year, I had 20, most before the pandemic and some in schools over zoom”) but he also speaks to what the year has meant to him (and many others), both for his family (that’s Adam, Kristen and Wallace, all in lockdown), and for his career: “Having all of theater shut down has been devastating in a lot of ways, not just financially but also emotionally. It has always been tenuous to try to make a life and I’d never quite made a living but this year really brought the whole dream of a life in the theater to a halt”
Still, he wrote two plays this year, including one called The Parking Lot, “a play people watched from their cars” which got fewer productions than he had expected: “I really thought all those shuttered theaters would jump at the opportunity to do something outside. Instead everyone did things over zoom. “ He also conducted 28 interviews with playwrights, which he considers paltry (“ iI am interviewing playwrights again, very slowly.”) which speaks to his work ethic, I guess, but he should give himself a break. (The interviews are the main focus of his blog, His most recent one, on December 15th, was number 1097t. Yes, he’s interviewed one thousand ninety seven playwrights on his blog.)
We end this first theater blog roundup of the new year with About Last Night, by prolific blogger Terry Teachout, theater critic for the Wall Street Journal, who’s also a mean Tweeter, and a podcaster…and a playwright: One of his posts is about his experience of seeing a streaming production of his play Satchmo at the Waldorf
But he begins this new year with two entries — a poem and a song;
Pablo Neruda on hope
I wait for you in the harshest desert
and next to the flowering lemon tree,
in every place where there is life,
where spring is being born,
my love, I wait for you.
Louis Armstrong – Basin Street Blues – 1964, “just because.”