This week felt like a reunion of some of the greatest figures in American musical theater — the Broadway opening of “Bob Fosse’s Dancin’,” the concert version of Jerry Herman’s “Dear World” (see reviews below) and news of a new Sondheim. The musical that Stephen Sondheim had spent years working on with David Ives, based on two films by Luis Bunuel (The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie and The Exterminating Angel), is scheduled for a run in September at The Shed, entitled “Here We Are” produced by Tom Kirdahy, and directed by Joe Mantello. This joins revivals of “Sweeney Todd” opening on Broadway this week and “Merrily We Roll Along” which just announced a first preview at Broadway’s Hudson Theater on September 19th.
As the Times reports: “Like I ❤️NY, We ❤️NYC is making use of Broadway stars. At the event this morning, Anna Uzele, who plays Francine Evans in t“New York, New York,” will sing the title song from a show the producers describe as “a glittering love letter to the greatest city in the world.” (opening April 26, the last show of the Broadway season.)
The Week in New York Theater Reviews
In 1929, a group of avant-garde artists in Kharkiv, the second largest city in Ukraine, put on a jazz musical revue called “Hello, This Is Radio 477!” celebrating the city’s lone radio station, with music by 26-year-old rising composer Yuliy Meitus “The audiences loved Meitus’s music, the wild jazz dances, the set and costumes. But the Communist Party bosses did not. By the end of 1929 the first jazz show about Kharkiv disappeared.” As did some of the artists who created it, shot dead in Stalinist purges. A radio anchor named Fish (Susan Hwang) is explaining this in the middle of “Radio 477!”, a lively, fascinating if somewhat confusing mix of poetry, commentary, sketches, music, song and dance inspired by the 1929 revue
“The Harder They Come” is a largely faithful stage adaptation of the 1972 movie starring Jimmy Cliff that is said to have introduced the world to reggae music; its fidelity to the original is both a boon and a bust. The stage musical, at the Public Theater through April 9, offers some terrific tunes — including eternal hits like the title song and “You Can Get It If You Really Want It” — turned into musical numbers enhanced by lively choreography. But the musical also essentially replicates the plot of the movie, which begins freshly, offering a glimpse into Jamaican culture and society, but ends as a genre picture – what movie critic Roger Ebert at the time called “a Jamaican version of the standard black exploitation movie, with guns and gangsters and a flashy superhero turned folk hero.”
It’s too tempting to mock this austere version of Ibsen’s play as Broadway’s answer to the movie that just swept the Oscars. Call it: Nothing Nowhere With No Intermission! Jessica Chastain and the other actors wear hip black or midnight blue modern dress, and rarely move out of their chairs, which are the only objects on an otherwise empty black stage devoid of a set or props. The only way we know it’s supposed to be 1879, is the projection of “1879” on the back wall.
Yet, despite my urge to scoff, I was won over by the end of this fourteenth Broadway production of “A Doll’s House,” running at Hudson Theater through June 10. Or, to be more precise, there are two main reasons I was happy to have attended director Jamie Lloyd’s often off-putting production — playwright Amy Herzog’s refreshingly idiomatic rewrite of the usual stodgy translations from Henrik Ibsen’s Norwegian, and Jessica Chastain’s performance in the last fifteen minutes of the play.
“Dear World” was a vehicle for Angela Lansbury, though one that otherwise crashed when it ran on Broadway for a mere 132 performances in 1969, even as Jerry Herman’s other musicals on Broadway at the time, “Hello Dolly” and “Mame,” kept running on and on. But the Encores concert version of this flop proves more than just a vehicle for Donna Murphy, who has taken on the role of Countess Aurelia, the Madwoman of Chaillot. It’s also a vehicle for other terrific talent, especially two of Broadway’s funniest character actors, Christopher Fitzgerald and Anne Harada, as well as a wonderful dancer named Kody Jauron who plays a French mime. Yet, for all the loving care that Encores has poured into “Dear World” – the 28-piece orchestra led by new Encores music director Mary-Mitchell Campbell is a dream; even Toni Leslie James’ Old World Parisian costumes are a delight – the show remains only a vehicle.
The sensuous slouch, the bowler hat placed rakishly on the tilted head, the turned-in pigeon toes, undulating abdomen, hands reaching out as if roping in their prey, or palms up in the air shaking as if in mock surrender; that last is called jazz hands by people who recognize the Fosse style. And the Fosse style is familiar to anybody who’s seen one of the Broadway musicals Bob Fosse directed and choreographed, such as “Chicago,” “Pippin,” “Sweet Charity.” Or “Dancin’,” which ran on Broadway from 1978 to 1982, and is opening tonight at the Music Box Theater, now called “Bob Fosse’s Dancin’,” revised and directed by the Tony-winning choreographer Wayne Cilento, who was a singer and dancer in the original production.
“Bob Fosse’s Dancin’” is a highly energetic if uneven two hour exploration of the Fosse style — sultry hip rolls, sure, but also athletic leaps. The show has no overall plot, and a stage set that looks designed for a rock concert tour — big, black industrial-looking scaffolding and a back wall that serves as a video screen, mostly for flashes of color. But there are dozens of sometimes dazzling dances performed by twenty-two gorgeously talented and hard-working cast members. They don’t just dance — there’s a poem here, a monologue there, occasional brief dialogue, some competent singing – but boy do they dance!
Stephen Sondheim was not a cynic; he was a romantic. That in a nutshell is the thesis Ben Francis puts forth in Careful the Spell You Cast: How Stephen Sondheim Extended the Range of the American Musical (Methuen Drama, 184 pages), a compact critical analysis of Sondheim’s musicals, organized in nine chapters, each one titled after a major mentor or collaborator, from Oscar Hammerstein to James Lapine.
Francis argues that Sondheim’s musicals are based on a “rich and intriguing” paradox: The characters in them become disenchanted, consistently fail or betray each other. “Yet counterbalancing his seeming pessimism Sondheim maintains an idealistic viewpoint in his shows, in the aspirational Rodgers and Hammerstein tradition.”
The Week in New York Theater News
Room, which was planning to open on Broadway in April, is being “postponed indefinitely,” because of “a shortfall in capitalization and following the withdrawal of a lead producer. (NYTimes.) The cast led by Adrienne Warren expressed their sorrow on an Instagram post.
Complete casting for Good Night, Oscar, a play by Doug Wright about Hollywood actor and concert pianist Oscar Levant, opening April 24 at Broadway’s Belasco:
In addition to Sean Hayes, the cast includes Emily Bergl as June Levant; Marchánt Davis as Alvin Finney; Peter Grosz as Bob Sarnoff; Ben Rappaport as Jack Paar; Alex Wyse as Max Weinbaum; John Zdrojeski as George Gershwin; with previously announced understudies Sam Bell-Gurwitz; Postell Pringle; Max Roll; and Thomas Michael Hammond and Stephanie Janssen who have joined the company.
“The Cottage” announces new cast members Saturday Night Live’s Alex Moffat, Nehal Joshi and Dana Steingold, joining the previously announced Eric McCormack, Laura Bell Bundy, and Lilli Cooper. “The Cottage,” a play by Sandy Rustin directed by Jason Alexander is scheduled to open at The Hayes Theater in July,
The first Wicked movie will be released earlier than expected! It stars Cynthia Erivo as Elphaba and Grammy Winner Ariana Grande as Glinda, Jonathan Bailey as Fiyero, alongside Ethan Slater as Boq, Michelle Yeoh and Jeff Goldblum as Madame Morrible
Digital Theater Is Here To Stay: Paula Vogel’s Bard at the Gate (HowlRound)
Vogel: “It’s great to see Broadway reopened again; I am so happy that it did. Does that impact the life of an eighteen-year-old or an elderly person my age or anyone who lives in a small town in Arizona or New Mexico? Broadway gives the ephemeral a chance at eternal life. Off-Broadway and regional theatre give plays, particularly by women and playwrights of color, a chance at four weeks. Digital theatre can change the American canon; it can inspire live productions around the world; it can make theatre affordable or free, especially for teachers and students.”
Disability and Theater
In “Dark Disabled Stories,” as Kevin Ritter in Urban Omnibus points out, “Ryan Haddad explores the indignities New York City’s infrastructure and public spaces— from buses to curb cuts — pose for disabled people like himself. But Haddad also had to contend with other infrastructures specific to the performing arts: for a play that puts access front and center, how do you find and design an accessible space for audiences and artists alike?”