IS This Broadway? #Stageworthy News of the Week

Today, the Broadway League launches its “This is Broadway” campaign, featuring a new flashy website, a dazzling montage video narrated by Oprah Winfrey (see below), the lighting of the Empire State Building tonight in honor of Broadway (what are Broadway’s colors?), a contest for a single Audience Rewards member to win four tickets to every Broadway show in the 2021-2022 season, and a series of commercials collectively featuring “113 shows, 735 performers, and one dog”

All of this is to promote the 38 shows of the Broadway 2021-2022 season with tickets now on sale, a daunting 27 of which are scheduled to be up on Broadway by the end of October, including the two already running (Springsteen on Broadway and Pass Over) and the two reopening this Thursday (Hadestown and Waitress.)

The campaign is meant to reawaken in theater lovers the old Broadway spirit. I was reminded of that spirit over the weekend, when I attended the final performance of “George M. Cohan Tonight,” Irish Rep’s production of the solo show in which Jon Peterson portrayed the song-and-dance man, playwright, producer and composer who was called “the man who owned Broadway.” Having made his stage debut while still an infant (as a prop in his parents’ vaudeville act), and written his first song at age four, he embarked on a 40-year career starting at the turn of the 20th century as the creator and star of dozens of Broadway musicals. I was struck by one of Cohan’s lyrics in the show: “Hello, Broadway. I’m never going away again.”

It’s worth noting that I saw this trip back to Broadway razzmatazz on my computer, in an Off-Broadway production “filmed specifically for digital distribution.”

Over the past 18 months of a lockdown induced by a pandemic that has not ended, Off-Broadway – unlike Broadway – acknowledged and incorporated a new reality for theater.

“…the paradigm is changing,” Andre De Shields told Adam Feldman in a “Back to Broadway” interview, speaking more generally. “I’m talking about letting go of nostalgia for the norm, for the past—because the past has let go of us—and cultivating a nostalgia for the future.”

The Week in Theater Reviews

Pass Over on Broadway

“Pass Over” is more than just a foul-mouthed, funny, beautifully acted and blisteringly pointed play about two Black men stuck on a street corner, menaced by white men. It arrives on Broadway surrounded by significance. Antoinette Nwandu’s play is the first to open on Broadway after almost 18 months …It is the first on Broadway to address the police killing of African Americans…It is the first play to debut on Broadway years after it was first streamed online…All this heavy significance seems to me to pose as much a burden as a boost to “Pass Over.” If, as a result, some will be impressed enough to overlook the play’s flaws, others (who are used to more standard Broadway fare) might be scared away, overlooking its virtues.

Ni Mi Madre Off Broadway and Online

Arturo Soria’s solo play about his mother…. is more complex than just a comic portrait, although it’s certainly funny. It’s threaded through with subtly poignant stories illustrating issues of race, class,  nationality and gender.  It’s also something of an autobiography, the story of a queer boy’s coming of age, seen through the eyes of his mother, who is not always sympathetic.

The Week in Theater News

The New York City Council has passed legislation intended to toughen regulations on street vendors and costumed performers in the theater district, restricting them to certain zones.

La Mama’s 60th season, which will take place in four of its theaters (including the newly renovated original space, scheduled to reopen in January) will begin with the Ninth La MaMa Puppet Festival, September 29 – October 4. Shows in 2022:”Cannabis” in partnership with HERE (which I wrote about here.) “God’s Fool” by Martha Clarke, a retelling of the story of St. Francis of Assisi; Misdemeanor Dream, an Indigenous interpretation of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream directed beaky Muriel Miguel of Spiderwoman Theater; A Grand Panorama, by Theodora Skipitares, about Frederick Douglass’ interest in photography and other 19thth century art forms; The Beautiful Lady by Elizabeth Swados, directed by Ann Bogart.

Speaking of Puppets

“The Karate Kid – The Musical, with a book by original screenwriter Robert Mark Kamen and music and lyrics by Drew Gasparini, is aiming for Broadway, with a pre-Broadway tryout production planned for The Kirkwood Performing Arts Center outside St. Louis in May, 2022. No cast has been announced, but the creative team will feature Amon Miyamoto (Pacific Overtures), set designer Derek McLane (Moulin Rouge), costume designer Ayako Maeda, lighting designer Bradley King (Hadestown), and sound designer Kai Harada (The Band’s Visit). Orchestrations will be by John Clancy (Diana), and music direction and arrangements by Andrew Resnick (The Cher Show).

Rest in Peace

Micki Grant, 92, actress, composer, playwright, musician, the first woman to write the book, music and lyrics of a Broadway musical, 1972’s “Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope,” an acclaimed exploration of Black life.

Ed Asner, 91, the irascible lovable Lou Grant in two hit TV series, liberal activist, and four-time Broadway veteran. His first appearance on Broadway was in the 1955 production of Threepenny Opera. His last was as an atheist who survived Nazi Germany n 2012’s “Grace.” As I wrote then, his “presence implicitly promises laughs and endearment.”

The Week’s Theater Video

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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