Catch all the cameos in the “Sunday” musical number at the Moondance Diner in “tick,tock…BOOM”? You may be a theater geek. This is your week.
On Thanksgiving Day Thursday, the Broadway casts of “Six,” “Moulin Rouge!” and “Wicked” will perform on NBC. “Waitress” and “Chicago” on CBS.
Both “Trouble in Mind” and “tick, tick…BOOM” are shows about theater and theater artists – the first, a play by Alice Childress about racism in the theater that made its Broadway debut this past week 66 years after debuting Off-Broadway; the second, a movie launched on Netflix Friday, marking Lin-Manuel Miranda’s directorial debut, that adapts an early musical by “Rent” composer Jonathan Larson that is about trying to create a musical.
Both follow in an old and persistent tradition: The stage as the subject on stage and screen. Shakespeare presented actors performing plays within five of his plays : Love’s Labour’s Lost, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hamlet, The Tempest and The Taming of the Shrew. The last of these inspired Cole Porter’s “Kiss Me Kate,” one of the many stage musicals about theater. The most beloved of these stage musicals about theater are about musical theater, from Show Boat to A Chorus Line. Backstage musicals were one of the earliest genres when Hollywood movies added sound, typified by Busby Berkeley’s extravaganzas, like “42nd Street.”
Is this a sign of artistic self-centeredness, or of theater as a continuing force in the culture, despite laments to the contrary?
The Week in New York Theater Reviews
The surprise of “Diana the Musical,” which is opening tonight at the Longacre Theater, is that it’s more enjoyable – better! — on Broadway than it is on Netflix, where a recording of this stage musical about the life of Diana, Princess of Wales, has been streaming since October 1. Critics, especially British ones, eviscerated it: “comically misconceived” (The Times of London) “cringey…confusing..ickiest” (The Standard) ‘What? What? WHAT?’ (The Guardian.)
Now, nobody on this side of the Atlantic is going to nominate “Diana” for a Pulitzer Prize. But the show I saw on stage has several things going for it…
“Cullud Wattah,” which won the 2021 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, tells the story of the Flint water scandal through its impact on a fictional family of five Black women. The play’s title is the way the women, Midwesterners with roots in the South, would pronounce “colored water.” This is an artful pun, which suggests both the language and the themes in the play.
A play about Black people struggling to survive in the face of deliberately or negligently inflicted pain, throughout history and at this very moment. Four Black men gather… from four different eras. Presumably.. all four died violently, What little interaction the characters have with one another that reflects their different eras and perspectives made me hunger for more…
This play by Emily Zemba, directed by Jenna Worsham, introduces us in the first scene to some common if strange American superstitions…What follows is a dizzying series of vignettes, performed by an eight-member cast, that initially seem completely unrelated…But some of it starts to make sense…This is not to say that everything that happens in “Superstitions” becomes completely clear, but that’s much the playwright’s point. She is broadening the definition of superstition. It’s the fear of the unknown…
The Week in Theater News
Broadway attendance the week ending 11/14 is up — 214,681, which was 86 percent capacity for 31 shows.
A little context: The week ending 11/17/2019: 289,802, also 86 percent capacity.
More context: “Broadway’s return is triumphant [but] return to normal may take years” (Hollywood Reporter) In this long article, which mostly recounts the past 18 months of struggle, there are several quotes from theater professionals explaining why: “The big question is, when will the international travelers come back to New York?” and “It’s like airplanes taking off again. You only have so many runways,”…and “It takes months of planning to be able to reopen.”
Which “normal” will Broadway be? In her essay “Democratize the arts in NYC,” (Daily News), historian Sarah Miller-Davenport points out that “as municipal arts policy has focused on courting affluent cultural consumers, the city’s arts scene has become decidedly less democratic. Productions like “Hamilton” tout their inclusive casting and progressive themes, but when the average ticket fetches several hundred dollars, they can hardly claim the mantle of egalitarianism…The elitism of New York arts and culture today stands in stark contrast to the middle decades of the 20th century, when the city was a haven for cash-strapped artists and New Yorkers across the income spectrum could make and enjoy a wide range of art.”
Sing Out For Freedom, tonight online and at Town Hall.The 19th annual fundraising concert for ACLU will feature a huge lineup of stars including Laura Benanti, Nikki M. James , Jax Jackson, Celia Keenan-Bolger Ariana Moayed, with host Peppermint.
Paula Vogel launches season 2 of her Bard at the Gate, which resurrects under-appreciated plays, in a new partnership with McCarter Theater, with with Jose Rivera’s “Sonnets for an Old Century.” Which is online and free the day it opens on December 1, online. One of the seven cast members is…Paula Vogel
Complete cast announced for Suffs, the musical by Shaina Taub about the suffragettes who fought for women to get the right to vote. The show is scheduled to run from March 10 to April 24, 2022 at the Public Theater.
Park Avenue Armory’s 2022 season features: Upload (March 22-30), a film opera that tells the story of a daughter and her father who, when confronted by his inevitable death, has his thoughts and memories “up-loaded,” to achieve a “virtual resurrection.” As well as Robert Icke’s inventive takes on Hamlet and Oresteia
Complete cast announced for Black No More, the New Group’s new musical January 11 – February 27, 2022 at The Pershing Square Signature Cente, inspired by George S. Schuyler’s Afrofuturist novel set during the Harlem Renaissance. Max Disher (Brandon Victor Dixon) is eager to try the mysterious machine invented by Dr. Junius Crookman (Tariq Trotter) that guarantees to “solve the American race problem” —by turning Black people white.
Among the cast members are Ephraim Sykes, who was to star as Michael Jackson in MJ the Musical, but left purportedly for a movie. Complete cast: Jeanne Antonio, Rhaamell Burke-Missouri, Elijah A. Carter, Ryan Fitzgerald, Polanco Jones Jr., Zachary Daniel Jones, Sarah Meahl, Mary Page Nance, Oneika Phillips, Nicholas Ranauro, Malaiyka Reid, Mars Rucker, Angela M. Sauers, Katie Thompson, Akron Watson, Nyla Watson and Edward Watts, joining the previously announced Walter Bobbie, Jennifer Damiano, Brandon Victor Dixon, Tamika Lawrence, Tracy Shayne, Theo Stockman, Ephraim Sykes, Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter and Lillias White.
Rest in Peace
Ed Bullins, 86, leading playwright of the Black Arts Movement.
NYTimes: “Over a 55-year career in which he produced nearly 100 plays, Mr. Bullins sought to reflect the Black urban experience unmitigated by the expectations of traditional theater. Most of his work appeared in Black theaters in Harlem and Oakland, Calif., and perhaps for that reason he never reached the heights of acclaim that greeted peers like August Wilson, whose plays appeared on Broadway and were adapted for the screen (and who often credited Mr. Bullins as an influence).
“That was fine with Mr. Bullins. He often said that he wrote not for white or middle-class audiences but for the strivers, hustlers and quiet sufferers whose struggles he sought to capture in searing works like “In the Wine Time” (1968) and “The Taking of Miss Janie” (1975).”