Broadway reopened over the weekend …for 36 minutes (as a New York Times headline put it) with a double bill: Savion Glover in a one-man musical, and Nathan Lane in “Playbills!” a monologue by Paul Rudnick about a theatergoer in lockdown imagining that Broadway stars like Hugh Jackman visit him to perform for him personally in his studio apartment.(Watch video excerpts below and read Rudnick’s hilarious script)
It was one of several shows presented live on a New York stage in response to the official April 2nd reopening of the state’s arts and entertainment venues at 33 percent capacity. Another was a monologue by Mike Daisey entitled “What The F— Happened?” (my review)
There are a couple of large asterisks that attach to the reopening, after all. It is not so much a resumption of New York theater as a preview of it, a morale booster. The Broadway matinee at the St. James Theater was a one-off production, part of New York Pops Up, the initiative announced by Governor Cuomo and led by producer Scott Rudin and Tribeca Film’s Jane Rosenthal that promises nine more in Broadway theaters over the next ten weeks, and hundreds more throughout the state, all just single performances, few of them announced in advance. Broadway producers have made it clear that the restrictions on capacity make any actual Broadway runs unviable.
“When the theater stopped, it stopped all at once,” New York Magazine’s theater critic Helen Shaw observes astutely. “Reopening, on the other hand, will be a wild hodgepodge. The lights will go on at different times theater by theater.” (See the video below of the National Town Hall on Covid and Theater, which she moderated.)
And then, although, yes, vaccinations in New York are steadily on the rise — one in three New York State residents have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced yesterday, and any New Yorker 16 and older will be eligible for the vaccine starting tomorrow — New York City nevertheless remains “at an extremely high risk level for Covid-19 infections.” This infection rate has prompted critics to wonder over the last couple of weeks (here and here and here, for example) whether New York is opening too soon, too fast. (Also, centering on D.C.: Theater is immersed in uncertainties. Here are the eight most worrisome.) The criticism in New York focuses mostly on indoor dining and indoor gyms rather than theater, which has strict and elaborate protocols. There were 150 masked, socially distanced people, with proof of vaccination or of a negative Covid test, at the St. James, which normally seats 1,700. Sixty people attended “Blindness” at the Daryl Roth Theater, including Mayor Bill de Blasio, which seemed to irk Mike Daisey, who mentioned it to the 22 masked and vaccinated audience members sitting at the Kraine’s Theater — and the more than 500 watching a simultaneously streaming of it from home.
And that’s a clue to what’s really going on for most of us. Even the pop up performances of New York Pops Up are also routinely streamed live on Instagram. As Nathan Lane said as the die-hard theatergoer in Rudnick’s play: “I’ve been watching Zoom readings and old Tony Award numbers on Youtube and movies of great plays, but it’s not the same. Especially Zoom, with everyone in their little squares, it’s like watching Streetcar performed by the Brady Bunch.” But it’s what we have.
The Week in Theater News
The Drama League Awards became the first major theater award to honor the theater that has been created this year — which is to say digital theater. The nominations for the 87th annual Drama League Awards, announced last week, featured 33 productions, most of which were streamed online (such as Ratatouille the Tic Top Musical and Take Me To The World : A 90th Sondheim Birthday Celebration), and none of which were productions performed in front of an in-person audience from a New York stage. Winners will be announced in a ceremony that will be streamed on May 21, 2021
The Pulitzer Prizes, normally announced in April, will be delayed until June 11. The board has expanded eligibility for this year’s drama prize to any full-length dramatic works that had scheduled productions postponed or canceled due to the pandemic, as well as shows that premiered virtually or outside
Diana, the musical starring Jeanna de Waal as Princess Diana, has announced a streaming version will debut on Netflix on October 1, and has set December 1, 2021 as its first in-person performance on Broadway with an official opening scheduled for Dec. 16.
How Candidates for New York City Mayor Plan to Support Arts and Culture
Platforms range from the establishment of TikTok-style hype houses to a New Deal-style initiative to put artists back to work.
The renovation of David Geffen Hall in Lincoln Center, home to the New York Philharmonic, is now aiming for completion in Fall 2022, nearly two years earlier than previously announced. “To date, $500 million, or over 90%, of the $550 million project budget has been raised, the vast majority from private sources.”
“I have loved every single second of working on ‘The Minutes’ with the family I made from Steppenwolf. But right now I need to focus on myself and my health for the sake of my family. Consequently, I will not be returning to Broadway with the production,” The Los Angeles Police Department is investigation allegations against Hammer of sexual assault, which Hammer denies. (“The Minutes” by Tracey Letts was the last Broadway show I saw, in previews, before the shutdown. Hammer portrayed the one decent man in a corrupt town council.)
The plays of Play On Shakespeare!, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival project that commissioned 36 playwrights to translate the works of William Shakespeare to modern English, will soon be published in a series by ACMRS Press. The first in the series “Macbeth,” adapted by Migdalia Cruz, will be available in May.