Below is a selection of streaming plays that are opening day by day in the first week of February — a reunion reading of a play by Billy Porter, a Sondheim concert, and a slew of shows honoring Black History Month…including at the Metropolitan Opera: Porgy and Bess, yes, but also classic operas starring Leontyne Price, Jessye Norman, Kathleen Battle and Shirley Verrett.
It’s the beginning of what looks like an unusually promising month, full of not just streaming theater but new online programming full of plays. February is normally a relatively fallow month. (But of course there is no normal these days.) Something has apparently clicked as we near a year of shut-down stages, and more theaters are leaping online.
The Manhattan Theatre Club, for example, seems to be making up for lost time, launching three separate virtual series: Snapshots (original short plays on video), Curtain Call (new online productions of its past plays) and The Show Goes On, footage from past productions with added commentary. The first is John Patrick Shanley’s Prodigal Son, which debuted almost exactly five years ago, starring Robert Sean Leonard and Timothee Chalamet, who had just turned 21. Chalamet is interviewed (“There’s something about a live performance that you can’t get from a TV show or movie…”) in-between some intense scenes from the play. The YouTube video is 18 minutes long, and elicited such comments as:
“So they obviously recorded the show. Release it! We’ll pay to watch it. Damn it’s the 21st century. All this stuff should be available digitally. “
More and more people seem to agree, even theater makers as the shutdown continues.
Other examples: Clubbed Thumb, which skipped their usual summer festival, is offering Winterworks 2021 a slate of some half dozen shows in February,.
Rattlestick, which is continuing with its “MTA Radio Plays” series, launches a new series “Village Song,” a series about Greenwich Village over three episodes in February.
San Francisco Playhouse is launching what it calls its Zoomlets, and Berkely Rep is in the middle of a ten-part weekly series called Place/Settings. I tell you about these below — and shows from theaters in L.A. and D.C. and Philadelphia and Florida and St. Paul, Minnesota and Bangor, Maine — because, well, it’s a lot easier to attend them now than last February.
Online theater is a work in progress. It’s still not clear from week to week what will be available, what will be scrapped, what will be put on at the last minute. Neither MTC nor Clubbed Thumb have specific dates for most of their new programming — just “February.”
Monday, February 1
Manhattan Theatre Club
The first of MTC’s newly launched Snapshot series, described as 10-minute videos “created exclusively for the digital format, inspired by our current moment …” This first one (the only one so far with a specific date, but without a specific time) is subtitled “A Spell for Healing and Transformation” and is written by Alexis Scheer (“Our Dear Dead Drug Lord”) It’s promoted as “a five-day journey and guide to create your own personal spell for healing.”
Hi Are You Single
Available through Feb. 28
Writer/performer Ryan J. Haddad, who has a high sex drive and cerebral palsy, guides us through the gay dating scene in his search for love, or at least a hookup, with stories that range from encounters with drag queens to platonic lap dances.
Empathy Concert: Exhale
“Exhale” with performances and “dialogues” from Mandy Gonzalez, Telly Leung, jazz musicians Mary Ann McSweeney and Mike Fahn, and Eddie Turner, author of “140 Simple Messages to Guide Emerging Leaders.”
Theater in Quarantine
7 p.m. and 9 p.m. Live
Joshua William Gelb continues his innovative theater from his closet in the East Village, this time pairing up with Lee Minora from her closet, with this “satirical thriller” by Scott R. Sheppard (“Underground Railroad Game“) about a couple who are overtaken by blood-sucking insects
The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess
Starring Angel Blue, Golda Schultz, Latonia Moore, Denyce Graves, Frederick Ballentine, Eric Owens, Alfred Walker, and Donovan Singletary, conducted by David Robertson. Production by James Robinson. From February 1, 2020.
San Francisco Playhouse
10 p.m. ET
Lee Cataluna’s play is the first in the theater’s free “Zoomlet” series — table readings with discussions between creative team and cast before and afterwards. Kekoa and Nainoa have been called to the funeral home in preparation for their father’s memorial services
Village Song: Episode 1
Second-year students of the Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts explore Greenwich Village through song, spoken word, poetry, and imagery, in three episodes unfolding in the first three Mondays in February. Episode 1 features five scenes and songs, from the time in 1961 when the city banned folk music from Washington Square Park to a meditation on death and mourning in the Village inspired by Allen Ginsburg’s poem “Kaddish”
Tuesday, February 2
Signature Theater of Arlington
Available through March 26
Thirty Sondheim songs performed by a 16-piece orchestra and a dozen singers, including Norm Lewis, Emily Skinner, Solea Pfeiffer and Conrad Ricamora
For The Record
One of the ten weekly audio plays in Place/Settings: Berkeley about specific places in Berkeley, California. This one is by Sean San Jose: “ometimes music becomes indelibly linked to specific memories, invoking the people with whom we shared them. Songs by Isaac Hayes, Peter Tosh, Stevie Wonder, the Doors, the Knight Brothers, and Patti LaBelle conjure a deep friendship, one that began on a hot night in 1986 outside Leopold’s Records.”
Yes! Reflections of Molly Bloom
Aedin Moloney performs her and Colum McCann’s adaptation of the last chapter of James Joyce’s novel Ulysses. Although this is not the first showing of this monologue, it is the first that is captioned.
Raise Your Voice
Out of the Box Theatrics
7:30 p.m. available through February 6
Ten artists (including Fredi Walker Browne from the original cast of Rent) celebrate “Black creatives” in a virtual benefit for Broadway Advocacy Coalition and Out of the Box Theatrics in honor of Black History Month
Verdi’s La Forza del Destino
Starring Leontyne Price, Isola Jones, Giuseppe Giacomini, Leo Nucci, and Bonaldo Giaiotti, conducted by James Levine. Production by John Dexter. From March 24, 1984.
Wednesday, February 3
My Lord, What a Night
Orlando Shakes and Theatre UCF
Available through February 14
Deborah Brevoort’s play about the friendship between singer Albert Einstein and singer Marian Anderson
Theatre@Home Winter Festival at Irish Rep
Based on Noel Coward’s songs, stories and personal letters, Steve Ross and KT Sullivan transform into some of the many characters that made up Coward’s unique life…Gertrude Lawrence, Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, Elaine Stritch, Lynn Fontanne, Virginia Woolf, Edna Ferber, the Queen Mother, and of course Noël Coward himself. This performance is captioned.
AMAS Musical Theater
7 p.m. available through February 6
N’Kenge co-wrote and stars as Tahja, an aspiring opera singer leaves behind her life in Florida, including her fiancée, to attend the Juilliard School and immerse herself in New York’s music scene. The benefit reading is free but reservation required.
What Do They Call Us
An evening of stories and rituals featuring musicians, poets and dancers coming together to honor & celebrate Black Trans Legacy.
The Lesson and Nothing to See Here
New York Theater Barn
Excerpts from two new musicals: 1. A chance encounter between Beethoven and Mozart is reimagined “in a new, fun, queer, political space.” 2. The 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial” in Dayton, Tennessee, which put evolution on trial. Unlike the well-known play about the event, “Inherit the Wind,” this new musical focuses on Frank Robinson, the man who built the trial as a publicity stunt for his town, and his wife May, as well as reporter H.L. Mencken
Poulenc’s Dialogues of the Carmelites
Starring Maria Ewing, Jessye Norman, Betsy Norden, Régine Crespin, and Florence Quivar, conducted by Manuel Rosenthal. Production by John Dexter. From April 4, 1987.
Thursday, February 4
All The Devils Are Here
Shakespeare Theater Company
Written and performed by deep-voiced Broadway actor Patrick Page, this show is subtitled How Shakespeare Invented The Villain
Honey, I’m Home, or Dinner Theater for the Amorous & Wretched
Clubbed Thumb Theater
7 p.m. Available through February 6
Performed three times within an hour, the dinner “devolving” with each iteration.
Rossini’s La Cenerentola
Starring Elina Garanča, Lawrence Brownlee, Simone Alberghini, Alessandro Corbelli, and John Relyea, conducted by Maurizio Benini. Production by Cesare Lievi. From May 9, 2009.
A monthly series with hosts Troy Anthony and Ngozi Anyanwu that offers artists of any discipline a chance to share five minutes of their work live.
Christa McAuliffe’s Eyes Were Blue
Center Theater Group
8 p.m. ET Available through April 4
Kemp Powers’ play tells the story of twins, one who dreamt of space, the other who became a successful attorney, who have lived starkly different lives, because one has dark skin and the other passes as white. The action plays out in 1980s New York and a Minnesota courthouse in 2006.
Friday, February 5
Kyk Hoe Skyn die Son [Look at How the Sun Shines]
Clubbed Thumb Theater
7 p.m. Available through February 7
“I’ll sit. For 20 minutes. And write. To You. To the Spirit of You. And we will try. Try.“
John Lewis: A Pioneer for Justice
Flushing Town Hall
Alton Fitzgerald White (Ragtime, The Lion King) will recite a memorable speech by civil rights leader and Congressman and then discuss it with the virtual audience as part of the Town Hall’s Black History Trilogy
Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro
Starring Carol Vaness, Kathleen Battle, Frederica von Stade, Thomas Allen, and Ruggero Raimondi, conducted by James Levine. Production by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle. From December 14, 1985.
The Shared Screen
After 10 years, three self-absorbed people are forced to reckon with the unresolved trauma of a high school love triangle.
The Kitchen Plays
Eden Theater Company
$5 – $50
Three new plays:
In “Ginger Bug,” written by Jake Brasch, Perry has taken cooking and baking too far.
In “Passion Project,” written by Cassandra Paras, Sophie meets Larry at his job to rehearse for an audition scene,
In “For the Family,” written by Madison Harrison, Tara prepares to host her estranged parents for Thanksgiving against her better judgment.
Theater Grottesco via Touchstone Theater
Four fools arrive at a panel discussion, only to find that their moderator is a noshow, and wind up destroying and reinventing the universe
Saturday, February 6
While I Yet Live
7 p.m. available through February 10
$5 to $50
A reunion reading of the semi-autobiographical play by Billy Porter, featuring S. Epatha Merkerson and Lillias White. (My review of While I Yet Live in its Off-Broadway production.)
Today is My Birthday
Available through February 21
A play by Susan Soon He Stanton about a woman with a thousand friends on Facebook, but no one to talk to on a Saturday night. Told by this Minnesota company through a playful combination of phone calls, voicemails, and live radio spots. Those intimidated by the live broadcast can watch the video on demand from February 15-21.
Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos
Starring Jessye Norman, Kathleen Battle, Tatiana Troyanos, and James King, conducted by James Levine. Production by Bodo Igesz. From March 12, 1988.
Theatre@Home Winter Festival at Irish Rep
This is a captioned performance of Conor McPherson’s play, which takes place in a remote country pub in Ireland. Newcomer Valerie arrives and becomes spellbound by an evening of ghostly stories told by the local bachelors who drink there.
Sunday, February 7
The Tiniest Librarian
Penobscot Theatre Company
Available through Feb 28
A tiny puppet musical about a librarian who searches for a valentine in the books on her shelves
Theatre@Home Winter Festival at Irish Rep
A captioned performance. Autobiographical stories written and performed by Geraldine Hughes are rooted in her perspective as a little girl coming of age in the war-torn Belfast of the 1980s.
In her only Met telecast appearance, the great Shirley Verrett, who triumphed in both soprano and mezzo-soprano roles with the company, stars as opera’s ultimate diva, opposite Luciano Pavarotti.
8 p.m. Live. Available through February 14
Hershey Felder, who’s made a career of one-man shows about (usually musical) geniuses here presents the story of the Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem, whose stories became the basis of Fiddler on the Roof (which, just to be clear, was created a half century after Aleichem’s death.) Live from Florence (with some footage from the Florence synagogue), Felder employs a klezmer quartet that call themselves Klezmerata Fiorentina. A benefit for theaters throughout the U.S.