The President of the United States attended the 44th Kennedy Center Honors, in a return to tradition, and paid tribute not just to the honorees — opera singer Justino Díaz, Motown founder Berry Gordy, Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels, Bette Midler, and Joni Mitchell, but also to Stephen Sondheim, a Kennedy Center honoree in 1993.
Earlier in the week, the Broadway League announced that Broadway theaters will dim their lights Wednesday, December 8 at 6:30pm in memory of Sondheim, who died November 26th at the age of 91. The composer and lyricist will be honored again later this week in a way that any artist would cherish — by new productions of his work allowing current generations to discover and rediscover it: the opening of the new Broadway revival of “Company” on Thursday, December 9, and the release of the new movie of “West Side Story,” directed by Steven Spielberg, on Friday, December 10th. But Sondheim’s presence seems palpable in almost everything happening this week in New York theater.
The Week in New York Theater Reviews
“Mrs. Doubtfire,” a musical adaptation of the 1993 Robin Williams movie about a divorced man who disguises himself as a woman so that he can spend time with his children as their nanny, has the misfortune of opening in the Broadway theater named after Stephen Sondheim a week after his death. Sondheim set a standard for musical theater that “Mrs. Doubtfire” doesn’t even attempt to meet. That’s not to say that this new musical comedy, written by the trio that made their Broadway debut with “Something Rotten,” is something rotten. Experienced Broadway pros have put together this production with the usual Rialto pizzazz – expensive looking sets that slide into place; a big, talented, smiling cast; brisk ensemble dancing. But none of the theater makers involved seemed to have spent time answering the kind of basic question that Sondheim liked to ask: Why* does this need to be a musical?
In his new Off-Off Broadway play, John Patrick Shanley – Oscar-winner for “Moonstruck,” Tony and Pulitzer winner for “Doubt” – imagines what it would be like if Romeo and Juliet were both Nuyoricans, and ten years old. There’s a balcony scene and a graveyard scene, but “Candlelight,” which is playing at New Ohio Theater through December 19th, is not just a reworked “Romeo and Juliet”/”West Side Story.” In place of feuding families or gangs, Esperanza and Tito live in a make-believe world of talking mirrors and magical robes, a scantily clad fairy and a heroic squirrel, which the two kids prefer to their other world, in Bushwick, Brooklyn, with its widowed, abusive and pill-addicted parents.
The Week in New York Theater News
Previews begin tonight at Broadway’s Neil Simon Theater for “MJ Musical,” which doesn’t open until February 1st. Pictured above is Myles Frost as Michael Jackson.
Theatre Communications Group, the parent organization of American Theatre Magazine, released its annual survey of more than a thousand non-profit theaters throughout the United States, “Theatre Facts 2020” covering the period from Oct. 1, 2019, to Sept. 30, 2020, which shows (according to the magazine, putting the most positive spin on it) “even amid a foreshortened season, nonprofit theatres contributed nearly $2.1 billion to the U.S. economy and attracted 23 million attendees.”
The Broadway League reports a Thanksgiving boost in the total Broadway gross over the previous week: All 33 shows grossed a total of $32.54 million, with 83 percent of available seats filled and the average ticket going for $136 a pop. This is how Lee Seymour Forbes puts it, although he reports the data skeptically: “The numbers do show an industry still in recovery after an 18-month shutdown. Accounting for inflation, number of shows running, and number of performances, Broadway is about 81 percent back to where it “should be” compared to its Thanksgiving haul in 2019.” His report is beneath a headline that’s more alarming than the known facts currently justify. “Broadway Gets Thanksgiving Boost, But Recovery Slows As Omicron Looms”
Whether or not Omicron looms, COVID-19 is here. “Wicked” is the latest show to have canceled performances because of positive tests in the company. But a slew of shows seem plagued with “non-Covid related” illnesses and technical glitches, perhaps reflecting the difficulty of getting up to speed after an 18 month hiatus. The leads of both Company and Flying Over Sunset missed performances, “American Utopia” canceled performances.
Stage to Screen, Screen to Stage
The results so far:
Best: Chicago (22 percent of polltakers) followed closely by The Sound of Music (21 percent)
Worst: hands down, Cats (67 percent) followed by Phantom of the Opera (8 percent)
Current Broadway musical, in which the majority voted better on Broadway: “Waitress” (I suspect this is simply because not too many people have seen the movie.)
Current Broadway shows, in which a plurality voted equally good on stage and screen: Chicago,The Lion King, To Kill A Mockingbird