Should Theater Be Our Happy Meal? What Would Sondheim Say? #Stageworthy News of the Week

“What is wrong with you?” a theatergoer commented on my review of The Music Man. The show, she said, “is just what the doctor ordered…Listen, we’ve been cooped up for close to two years. Now we finally can attend some Broadway shows and go to our favorite restaurants. We want to be happy and enjoy our life again!…”

The comment struck me, not just because of its vehemence, but because of the remark by Stephen Sondheim I had just read in a new piece on Sondheim in the New Yorker.The series of interviews with D.T. Max were intended to lead to a published profile timed to the première of a new musical that Sondheim was writing with David Ives based on a pair of Luis Buñuel’s films, “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie” from 1972, and “The Exterminating Angel” from 1962. Sondheim came up with the idea for the musical based on a remark that Hal Prince made when they were taking a cab ride together one night: “He said, ‘You know what the dominant form of entertainment is? Eating out,’” Sondheim recalled.  “Because all the restaurants were lit up—it was about ten-thirty in the evening, and that’s what people were doing. They weren’t going to the theater. They were eating! And I thought, Gee, what an interesting idea.”  Bunuel’s 1972 film is about a group of bourgeois people attempting to dine together.

Should theater be like eating out? “We want to laugh and feel good inside,” my commenter elaborated. “We don’t want to see dark, depressing stories that bring us down.” 

Is that the only choice? At a time of great anxiety – which, thanks to news overseas, is growing by the day – is there justification for any theater that isn’t just easily digestible, feel-good fare?

One answer seems embedded later in the Sondheim interview, during an intimidatingly technical explanation  about a song he was writing for the Bunuel musical, having to do with a subtle change of keys, a “modulation.”

“…what would be the emotional implications of that modulation?” Max asks (with the apparent aim of getting the conversation back into plain English.)

“Oh, c’mon. You don’t get real emotional implications from just a modulation. It’s a surprise,” Sondheim replies. “That’s what it’s about. What it’s about is making things surprising, but inevitable. That’s the great principle of all art that takes place in time…”
When the world feels overwhelming, theater may best feed the spirit not by prescribing the equivalent of a Happy Meal, but with something more nutritious — art that surprises.

The Week in Theater Reviews and Previews

The Music Man

It’s no mystery why Meredith Willson’s 1957 musical is so beloved: The songs are terrifically tuneful, the lyrics terribly clever. But the story…is also problematic in several ways. The new Broadway acknowledges only some of these problems, and clumsily. The result, for all the production’s star quality, eye-catching choreography, and professional gloss, is at least a missed opportunity. And the production’s perkiness can sometimes be an alienating experience to sit through

Black No More 

Everything about “Black No More” sounded promising – a new musical inspired by a 1931 satiric novel of the same name that imagines what America would be like if there were a machine that could turn black people white, starring a powerhouse Broadway cast… and put together by an exciting creative team…The production was undeniably entertaining at times; it was occasionally thought-provoking. But it was mostly still just promising.

Grand Panorama

Frederick Douglass, the escaped slave who became a famous writer, orator and crusader, was reportedly the most photographed man in the 19th century.  So it probably shouldn’t be surprising that, more than a century before Susan Sontag, Douglass wrote extensively about photography, contemplating its greater meaning, its unique power, even its potential for promoting justice. 

His fascinating musings are presented verbatim as part of “Grand Panorama,” at LaMaMa ETC through March 6th, the latest hour-long theatrical collage by Theodora Skipitares..

Bringing Back Bert Williams, the First Black Superstar (see full video below)

The Week in Theater News

“Mrs. Doubtfire,” which went on hiatus on January 10th and announced it would return on March 14, is now scheduled to reopen on April 14

The complete cast has been announced for the Broadway revival of Thornton Wilder’s “The Skin of Our Teeth,” which is scheduled to open April 25 at Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theater (Previews now begin April 1.): James Vincent Meredith and Roslyn Ruff will portray Mr. and Mrs. Antrobus, Priscella Lopez will be the fortune teller, plus: Eunice Bae, Gabby Beans, Terry Bell, Ritisha Chakraborty, William DeMeritt, Jeremy Gallardo, Paige Gilbert, Avery Glymph, Donnetta Lavinia Grays, Tyrone Mitchell Henderson, Maya Loren Jackson, Anaseini Katoa, Cameron Keitt, Megan Lomax, Kathiamarice Lopez, , Lindsay Rico, Julian Robertson, Julian Rozzell, Jr.,Julyana Soelistyo, Phillip Taratula, Beau Thom, Alphonso Walker, Jr., Adrienne Wells and Sarin Monae West.

The complete cast has been announced for “Harmony,” a new musical by Barry Manilow and Bruce Sussman about the Comedian Harmonists, scheduled to open April 13 at Edmond J. Safra Hall theatre at the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust. Joining Chip Zien and Sierra Boggess, the six Comedian Harmonists will be portrayed by Sean Bell,Danny Kornfeld, Zal Owen. Eric Peters, Blake Roman, and Steven Telsey. Jessie Davidson plays Ruth, with Ana Hoffman set to portray Josephine Baker – a major celebrity whom the armonists encountered on their way to the top

The ensemble includes Eddie Grey, Barrett Riggins, Zak Edwards, Matthew Mucha, Andrew O’Shanick,Shayne Kennon, Kayleen Seidl, Abby Goldfarb, Kate Wesler, Tori Palin, Benjamin Harold Moore, Nancy Ticotin, and Elise Frances Daniells.

Today, Lana Gordon replaces Amber Gray as Persephone in Hadestown. Gray, who was with the musical from its Off-Broadway running, and will next portray Banquo in the forthcoming Broadway production of “Macbeth” starring Daniel Craig 

American Utopia” has extended its Broadway run nearly a month. It will now end April 3. It has been playing the St. James Theater since Sept. 17, 2021

The 19th annual Bard Summerscape will mark this year’s global celebrations of Molière’s 400th anniversary, SummerScape opens with the world premiere of a bold new take on the French playwright’s 1665 tragicomedy Dom Juan, directed by Ashley Tata, starting June 23

A New Report Shows How Hard POC Arts Organizations in New York Must Fight for Funding Just to Stay Afloat (Artsnet). The “Brown Paper” by Hues Arts NYC looks at the strengths and unequal treatment of arts entities in New York, including such theaters as Clemente Solo Velez Cultural and Educational Center and The National Black Theater. Hues Arts has also put together an interactive map and directory of some 400 arts groups (not all of them non-profit) “founded and led by Black, Latinx, Indigenous, Asian, Pacific Islander, Middle Eastern and all People of Color organizers.”

“People think we’re the enemy because we’re the ones telling them how they don’t meet the qualifications,” says Lentini. “Anybody who works in COVID compliance team is your friend. We’re all on the same team—we want you to come see the show, we want Broadway to be happening!” – Gianfranco Lentini, the COVID Compliance Manager for the musical “Six” at the Brooks Atkinson Theater. (TimeoutNY)

Rest in Peace

Alan Hall, 85,Broadway stage manager and former Vice President of Actors Equity,

Arthur Giron, 85, playwright of 20 plays, who co-wrote the Broadway musical Amazing Grace with Christopher Smith,

Alvin Deutsch, 89, the attorney who represented singer Peggy Lee in her landmark victory over Walt Disney Productions and more recently tangled with Broadway producer Scott Rudin and the estate of author Harper Lee over rights to a stage production of To Kill A Mockingbird,

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.

Leave a Reply