Theater Blog Roundup: AI and Theater? Award Season! Sondheim!!

Deep dives into specific Sondheim shows bookend the theater blog roundup below, which also features an old radio broadcast and a comparison of Huck Finn to Hamlet. Much here attests to theater bloggers attachment to the past…even as we look ahead — most notably Onstage Blog’s Ashley Griffin to the threat of Artificial Intelligence, but also Ken Davenport to his producing of “Harmony” on Broadway, and others to the season’s theater awards, which simultaneously look backwards (savoring the evanescent moments onstage) and forwards (who will win.)

The photograph of Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein circa 1965 comes courtesy of the theater blog by Kim Corcoran, who laments that she hasn’t gotten to see most of the shows nominated for Tonys this year,  “So I’ll have next to NO KNOWLEDGE tuning in. …Ah well. I ‘ve sort of turned into a Broadway historian anyway, pretending that the Golden Age is still with us, that Comden and Green are still wordsmithing in a booth at Katz’s, and that Stephen and Lenny and Lerner and Bock were still talking shop and modulations (whilst sipping martinis, and smoking Camels in shiny suits).”

In The Bad Boy of Musical Theatre, Scott Miller excerpts his chapter about Sondheim’s The Frog from his new book He Never Did Anything Twice: Deconstructing Stephen Sondheim: “When Nathan Lane rewrote The Frogs and turned it into a musical comedy in 2004, he didn’t understand that, as interesting as it may be, it’s not a musical in any conventional sense; it’s ritual. Like Hair, The Frogs is not meant to be experienced the same way as Company or Sweeney Todd. Aristophanes’ original production was part of the theatre competition at the Lenaia, one of the annual Festivals of Dionysus in Athens, a religious ritual.”

In her blog Broadway and Me, Jan Simpson offers a rundown of the most frequent nominations in the various New York theater awards, including the Tonys, in  Reveling in the 2022-2023 Award Season; consensus choices include “Leopoldstadt” and “&Juliet.” “The one big takeaway I’ve had this week is that the 2022-23 season was a damn good one..”

Jan will be interviewing Patrick Hoffman, the director and curator of The Theatre on Film and Tape Archive at New York’s Library for the Performing Arts on June 1, as she elaborates in Celebrating The 50th Anniversary of TOFT — which you can attend for free

The day of the Tony nominations, Philip Boroff gave his take on the nominations (Access to Broadway Journal articles requires a free subscription.) While “Some Like It Hot” got the most nominations, recent trends suggest to him that voters will more likely favor the smaller “Kimberly Akimbo.”

“Both new musicals need good news. Some Like it Hot, an adaptation of the 1959 Billy Wilder comedy, requires a published weekly gross of at least $900,000 to break even, according to a budget estimate circulated to investors in 2021. Since it began previews, on Nov. 1, 2022, it achieved that milestone for just five weeks.

Kimberly Akimbo — about a teenager with a disease that causes accelerated aging — has averaged $525,000 a week in sales since it opened late last year, below what most Broadway musicals can sustain…

“As Broadway’s first full season in four years draws to a close, the recovery from the pandemic remains a work in progress.”

Philip also reports on the two-year extension and expansion of New York State’s three million dollar Broadway tax credit. He gives examples (with more details than I’m recounting) of what it would mean in practical terms: “Parade” would normally take an estimated 33 weeks to recoup its investment. With the tax credit, it would just 15 weeks. This provides an incentive for investors. Boroff quotes a critic of the credit from the non-profit advocacy group Reinvent Albany (which, on its own website, calls it a corporate handout.)

Among those shows that have received the entire $3 million tax credit: Moulin Rouge!Tina: the Tina Turner Musical, which closed at a loss last summer; and Disney’s Aladdin

“Adventurous new plays that failed commercially last season also received the state credit: Pass Over ($887,000); Chicken & Biscuits ($1 million) and Thoughts of a Colored Man ($1.4 million).”

In Call Me Adam, Adam Rothenberg’s latest of some 1,500 interviews he’s conducted include Rajesh Bose , who is making his Broadway debut as the father in “Life of Pi,” and playwright Roger Q. Mason.

Ken Davenport has gotten rid of his blog, “The Producer’s Perspective” but he still occasionally blogs, under his own name, just one of his many activities. One of his latest blog posts, Why I’m producing Harmony by Barry Sussman and Barry Manilow, is of course promotional, but a. I happen to have loved “Harmony” and happy to see it make it to Broadway, b. it offers insight into how things happen in the theater. In his account, it’s all because of his Broadway show “Gettin’ The Band Back Together,” which many people found terrible; he admits in the post it “might not have ‘worked’ – but it led to so many other wonderful things.” He mentioned in that show that he is a massive fan of Manilow, which led to an introduction, which lead….

In Surviving in the States  on HowlRound, Christopher Bannow, who played Jud Fry in the national tour of Daniel Fish’s production of “Oklahoma!” details the very different experience he had than the one the cast received at St.Ann’s Warehouse and then on Broadway. “We had walkouts, of course, but also snickering, jeering, dumbfounded faces, searing reviews, refunds demanded, boos, audience members standing with both thumbs pointed down, vomiting in the balcony….”

In Dreaming Beyond Broadway, three Black playwrights — Star Finch, J. Nicole Brooks, and Psalmayene 24 — discuss Black playwrights on Broadway: the recent debuts of Jordan E. Cooper’s “Ain’t No Mo,” Alice Childress’ “Trouble in Mind” and Adrienne Kennedy’s “Ohio State Murders,” and their own ambivalence:
Psalmayene 24: “Broadway does hold a special place in my heart because it’s connected to my childhood.”
J. Nicole Brooks: “I really am rooting for everybody Black… But I don’t want Broadway to be the litmus for whether or not you make it as a playwright.”

George Hunka reprises his best-read blog post of all time, Huck Finn and Hamlet

“If, as Ron Powers suggests in his exemplary biography of the writer, Mark Twain is America’s Shakespeare (and this coming Saturday marks the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death), Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is his Hamlet. Comparisons are odious, of course, but that never stopped people like myself from stinking the place up a little.”

George also presents a 20-minute audio of a 1944 radio broadcast in which Robert Benchley performs Thurber’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Jeff Kyler presents his nominations for the JKTS Awards, with eleven categories, several of them unique: Outstanding Duet, Outstanding Staged Curtain Call, Outstanding Social Media Presence. He asks his readers to choose the winners by June 2nd on this ballot.

In Onstage Blog’s AI and the Future of Theater, Ashley Griffin first cites articles and posts summarizing the threat of Artificial Intelligence to screenwriters and screen actors, then asks “So, what does all this mean for the theater world?” After all, theater “requires living, breathing bodies to get up on stage eight times a week.”
Or does it?

“Digital screens and projections are already an integral part of many Broadway shows and, like theme parks, it’s also not a stretch to imagine those screens expanding in such a way as to create “immersive” experiences for audiences – allowing them to get rid of live performers (and musicians) all together in favor of digital, AI created ones.”
Among her advice: “Artists – READ YOUR CONTRACTS. Go through them with a fine tooth comb and do not sign anything that gives away the rights to your voice or likeness.”

Rob Weinert-Kendt, busy editing American Theatre Magazine and writing freelance theater pieces for the New York Times, has been spending more time on his blog. His latest post is on Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd. “Like many folks, my first exposure to Sweeney Todd was the recording of the 1981 tour stop with George Hearn and Angela Lansbury, which I confess was too grisly for my 12-year-old self to get through.” Intimate stagings in L.A. theaters turned him into a full-on fan. Both he and (current Broadway Sweeney) Josh Groban saw their first “Sweeney Todd” in 1994, starring  “Orville Mendoza, about whom Josh told me: “That performance still resonates; it still haunts me.”

“I could say a lot more about Sweeney Todd, but it turns out I’ve already said a lot” — and includes links to six more articles.

Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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