Six weeks after the hoopla greeting reopening night of four hit Broadway musicals, the longest-running show in Broadway history returned this week, heralded with a block party, DJ-ed by composer Andrew Lloyd Webber himself, and a chandelier countdown where the New Year’s Eve ball drops each year in Times Square, and a giant mask — which represents both “Phantom of the Opera”…and the adjustments required to see theater these days.
So yes, theater is back: This week, I reviewed shows on Broadway, Off Broadway, Off Off Broadway, and in Brooklyn, but also online in a festival, and audio theater from California. More importantly, theater audiences are coming back, and in a generous spirit; I’ve heard (and overheard) more than once: It’s fun to see a show again anyway (unspoken meaning: Even when it’s not so great.)
But coming back has entailed a few adjustments. For theater makers that means doing some repairs: Hudson Scenic Studio (Washington Post) has been busy with the mold in the fog system of Hadestown, kinks in the chains of American Utopia, a set redo for Mrs. Doubtfire, air purifiers that need to be cleaned in every Broadway theater.
For theatergoers that means (New York Times) waiting on line to proof of vaccination, mask-wearing, and fewer shows with intermissions, as well as mandatory nasal swabs (such as at a “Broadway Show Testing Site”) for those not yet vaccinated, mostly the under-12 crowd.
Although it’s not as well reported, I know from personal experience – from most of my pre-pandemic theater companions — that not every theatergoer is ready to return. (According to a new national poll, 25 percent of U.S. adults plan to attend a concert or play in the final quarter of the year, which is at least an increase from the 18 percent who reported attending one at any time previously in 2021. )
The Week in Theater Reviews
The recipe for Fairycakes: Start with a cast of beloved New York stage actors known for their comic flair (Julie Halston, Anne Harada, Jackie Hoffman, et al), stick rhyming couplets in their mouths and dress them in the most colorful costumes of the season, then dump them in a pan of Midsummer Night’s Dream. Pour in a heavy mash up of fairy and folk tales (Cinderella, Pinocchio, Sleeping Beauty, etc.) Sprinkle with intermittent wit. Chop up, and mix, until unrecognizable. Then serve the resulting concoction both half-baked and overdone….
his scene between Lourdes and Sheryl plays out a total of thirty-eight times over the seventy-five minutes of “Best Life,” a play by Melisa Tien that is running at Jack through November 6. The play is being promoted as Lourdes’ attempt to rewind the scene until Sheryl rethinks her misguided attitudes on race and class, and learns to treat people like Lourdes right.But “Best Life” struck me as nowhere near that straightforward….
Fall Forward Festival: Aunt Lillian and Maybe Dorothy Was Right
The Vineyard Theater has launched its Fall Forward Festival with the first two of the five planned “new works of alternative theater,” according to its website, works that promise to be “a mix of live-in person, live virtual, filmed, and audio performances, some fully realized and some in process.”
I’m not sure that either Kirsten Childs’ new audio musical, “Aunt Lillian” nor Ngozi Anyanwu’s monologue “Maybe Dorothy Was Right” are meant to be fully realized, nor even that they fit the description of alternative. But they were a half hour online that brightened my day.
After my tickets to “Lackawanna Blues” were canceled twice because Ruben Santiago-Hudson, the author, director and star of this autobiographical solo show, had injured his back, I searched for the 2005 HBO movie that had been adapted from his play. It turned out to be available for free on YouTube. When I finally got to see the play on Broadway, the contrast was instructive…
Do chimpanzees fall in love? Can human couples really stay madly in love after many years, and can a brain scan prove it? Will theatergoers still love digital theater now that in-person theater is back? These are some of the questions that pop up in “Paradise,” Laura Maria Censabella lovely and enlightening two-character play that explores love in intriguing and sundry ways that you won’t see coming. And that’s not just because it’s an audio production, launching the 2021-2022 season of L.A. Theatre Works.
“”You’re a singular talent, Billy. Nobody knows what to do with you.’
“And there it is again—the smoke up my ass…Singular talent without a gig don’t pay the rent, and a bitch needs to eat.”
So Billy Porter writes in “Unprotected: A Memoir” (Abrams Press, 278 pages), a book full of its author’s singular voice, as he recounts with unusual candor his journey from precocious gay Black boy in a poor, abusive household in Pittsburgh to two award-winning roles in middle age that made him a star: Lola the boot-making drag queen in “Kinky Boots” on Broadway, and Pray Tell the ballroom MC in “Pose” on FX. His journey, he makes clear, did not follow a straight path…. in any way.
The Week in New York Theater News
In my review of “The Lehman Trilogy” on Broadway, I detailed the race-related changes made since the 2019 Park Avenue Armory production
Trouble in Mind Broadway cast, left to right: Jessica Frances Dukes, Don Stephenson, Simon Jones, Chuck Cooper, LaChanze, Michael Zegen, Alex Mickiewicz, Danielle Campbell, Brandon Micheal Hall
In partnership with radio station WBLS-FM, Roundabout will make available for each preview performance 300 tickets at $19.57, the year that Trouble in Mind was supposed to open on Broadway.
A film that premiered in India in 1995 and is still running in theaters there has been made into a musical that is premiering at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego next year and aiming for Broadway in the 2022-2023 season. “DILWALE DULHANIA LE JAYENGE” (DDLJ as it is called throughout India) has been adapted as “Come Fall in Love – The DDLJ Musical.” Simran, a young Indian-American woman whose future is set: an arranged marriage back in India to a family friend. But when she convinces her very strict dad that she should spend a summer of freedom and fun in Europe, she falls for the charming Rog, and her careful, logical plans go out the window
At 97, Mike Nussbaum is the oldest working stage actor – in a career ,based in Chicago, that didn’t begin until his mid-40s and includes originating roles in many David Mamet plays. Why is he still at it? He explains:
‘Well, partly because it’s still fun for me. And partly because I can still memorize. Although I move with difficulty now, memory is not a factor — yet. And I enjoy working with other people, particularly young — well, in my case, they’re all younger than I am. [Laughs.] I did a play recently where the youngest was, like, 19. And for me, it was a joy just to be a peer of these guys and not some old man on a mountain.”
Rest in Peace
Peter Scolari, 66, Bosom Buddies with Tom Hanks, Emmy winning father of Lena Dunham in Girls, and six-time Broadway veteran, including with his old pal Hanks, as columnist Michael Daly in “Lucky Guy” and, with his wife Tracy Shayne, as Yogi Berra in “Bronx Bombers”
Leslie Bricusse, 90, Oscar- and Grammy-winning songwriter –whose songs for Hollywood include “What Kind of Fool Am I?”, “Pure Imagination, and the “Goldfinger” theme song — and a Broadway composer, lyricist and librettist (Stop the World, I Want to Get Off; The Roar of the Greasepaint, the Smell of the Crowds.)