Theater at the new National Museum of African-American Culture and History

The National Museum of African-American Culture and History officially opens today in Washington D.C. Among the almost 37,000 objects in its permanent collection are photographs, programs and the like connected to the theater. Below is a sample. (Click on any photograph to see it enlarged.)

 

Also, check out the exhibition Taking the Stage

takingthestageexhibition

“Taking the Stage provides visitors with the opportunity to reconnect with some of their favorite popular culture memories as well as to contemplate how the roles black artists played on the stage and screen reflected changing aspirations, struggles, and realities for black people in American society.”

Most Produced Plays and Playwrights of 2016-17, According to American Theatre

A play starring a demonic hand puppet tops American Theatre Magazine’s annual survey of the most popular plays that will be produced by non-profit theaters throughout the country in the 2016-2017 season.”Hand to God” by Robert Askins will be presented in 13 theaters this season.

August Wilson will be  the most produced playwright.

Below are the two lists compiled by American Theatre. With the first list, of the top produced shows, I include photographs and links to my reviews of the original (or latest) New York productions where available. The number next to each title is how many productions are planned for this season.

A few caveats: The American Theatre Magazine survey is only of some 400 theaters that are members of TCG, a national service organization for non-profit theaters that is also the publisher of American Theatre Magazine. Its list does not include the perennially most popular shows  — A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, The Santaland Diaries, adapted by Joe Mantello from David Sedaris, and Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Twelfth Night.

Hand to God

Hand to God

Hand to God by Robert Askins: 13

ConstellationsSamuel J. Friedman Theatre
Constellations by Nick Payne: 10

Disgraced

Disgraced

Disgraced by Ayad Akhtar: 10


Million Dollar Quartet by Floyd Mutrux and Colin Escott: 10

The Christians

The Christians

The Christians by Lucas Hnath: 8

Peter and the StarcatcherNew York Theatre Workshop
Peter and the Starcatcher, adapted by Rick Elice from Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson: 8

TheLegendofGeorgiaMcBrideforcalendar_wayne_duvall__matt_mcgrath__dave_thomas_brown_in_the_legend_of_georgia_mcbride_(photo_by_joan_marcus)
The Legend of Georgia McBride by Matthew Lopez: 7

Sex With Strangers with Anna Gunn (Breaking Bad) and Billy Magnussen (Spike)

Sex With Strangers with Anna Gunn (Breaking Bad) and Billy Magnussen (Spike)

Sex With Strangers by Laura Eason: 7

intimate-apparel
Intimate Apparel by Lynn Nottage: 6

Oliver Chris as Prince William and Lydia Wilson as his wife Kate Middleton

Oliver Chris as Prince William and Lydia Wilson as his wife Kate Middleton

King Charles III by Mike Bartlett: 6

Denzel Washington and Sophie Okonedo in Raisin in the Sun

Denzel Washington and Sophie Okonedo in Raisin in the Sun

A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry: 6

Sister Act
Sister Act, with book by Bill and Cheri Steinkellner, music by Alan Menken, and lyrics by Glenn Slater: 6

Most Produced Playwrights in 2016-17 Season

August Wilson: 17
Lauren Gunderson: 16
(including 4 cowriting credits)
Arthur Miller: 15
Ayad Akhtar: 14
Tennessee Williams: 14
Robert Askins: 13
Annie Baker: 12
Quiara Alegría Hudes: 11
(including 6 cowriting credits)
Ken Ludwig: 11
(including 1 cowriting credit)
Tony Kushner: 10
(including 2 cowriting credits)
Suzan-Lori Parks: 10
Nick Payne: 10
Karen Zacarías: 10
Rick Elice: 9
(including 1 cowriting credit)
Lucas Hnath: 9
Matthew Lopez: 9
Lynn Nottage: 9
Mark St. Germain: 9
(including 1 cowriting credit)
Mike Bartlett: 8
Branden Jacobs-Jenkins: 8
Molière: 8

Sister Act Review: No Whoopi.

patinamillerinsisteract

Sister Act ran on Broadway between March 4, 2011 and August 26, 2012. Patina Miller went on to a Tony-winning performance in Pippin. Below is my review the night it opened, April 20, 2011:

Patina Miller, the newly-discovered diva making her Broadway debut as star of “Sister Act,” doesn’t thank God in her Who’s Who bio, and thank God for that. She thanks Whoopi Goldberg. In many ways, that makes more sense; in one way, it doesn’t. Whoopi is the lead producer and thus the major force behind making a musical adaptation out of the 1992 film whose major appeal was the performance of Whoopi Goldberg.

The 1990’s Reno lounge singer is now a 1970’s Philadelphia aspiring disco queen (a change that allows for original songs that imitate the Philadelphia Sound), but otherwise the plot is much the same: Deloris Van Cartier, born Deloris Carter, witnesses a mob murder, and is put into a witness protection program by disguising herself as a nun in a convent. The church to which the convent is attached is about to shut down for lack of attendance. The fake nun (spoiler alert) teaches the real nuns how to boogie in rousing gospel numbers that fill the pews and the collection basket, and she thus saves the day.

“Sister Act” the musical originated for some reason in London, but first-rate Broadway talent put it together, including composer Alan Menken (Little Shop of Horrors, Beauty and the Beast, etc.) and director Jerry Zaks (Guys and Dolls, Assassins, some 20 other Broadway shows, including — let’s not forget — The Addams Family.) There is even “additional book material” by Douglas Carter Beane (Xanadu, The Little Dog Laughed).

There are some 30 cast members, and it sometimes seems as if each and every one gets at least one number to do, and every number reveals a startling talent, such as Marla Mindelle as the meek novitiate who finds her voice and her courage in her two renditions of “The Life I Never Led.” Fred Applegate shines as the deep-voiced, dignified Monsignor O’Hara not above a little wheeling-dealing. Even the three thugs dispatched by the mob boss to kill Deloris (Caesar Samayoa, Demond Green and John Treacy Egan) get the funny and soulful “Lady in the Long Black Dress” about how, as ladies men, they’ll have no trouble winning over the nuns in order to gain entrance to the convent.

Much of the musical, of course, relies on the sinuous presence and brassy pipes of Patina Miller, with a graceful assist by the lovely-voiced Victoria Clark (Light in the Piazza, Titanic, Urinetown) as Mother Superior, who was not in the West End cast. Of particular note in the production is Klara Zieglerova’s terrific set, which alternates between an awe-inspiring church (stained glass windows and huge stone archways) and ticklingly tacky disco. More often than not, however, my reaction during this rich parade of talent was: I cannot wait to see him/her in a better show. There is no disguising how bland and silly “Sister Act” is, another in the nuns-are-fun genre, requiring not just a suspension of disbelief but an unwavering faith in the hilarity of a sister in sequins. (Lez Brotherston’s costumes are over-the-top glittering show biz nun ensembles in precisely the way you’d expect.) Patina Miller does not exhibit the comedic chops of Whoopi Goldberg, and (although there is plenty of comic shtick), “Sister Act” the musical is less about wit than it is about fabulousness. Make no mistake, Patina Miller is fabulous; she has the God-given talent that surely would have brought her to Broadway without Whoopi, which might have been a better idea.

 Sister Act at The Broadway Theater Music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Glenn Slater, book by Cheri Steinkellner and Bill Steinkellner. Additional book material by Douglas Carter Beane. Directed by Jerry Zaks, choreographed by Anthony Van Laast, set design by Klara Zieglerova, costume design by Lez Brotherston, lighting design by Natasha Katz, sound design by John Shivers Cast: Patina Miller (Deloris Van Cartier), Victoria Clark (Mother Superior), Fred Applegate (Monsignor), Sarah Bolt (Sister Mary Patrick), John Treacy Egan (Joey), Demond Green (TJ), Chester Gregory (Eddie), Kingsley Leggs (Curtis), Marla Mindelle (Sister Mary Robert), Audrie Neenan (Sister Mary Lazarus). Caesar Samayoa (Pablo). , Jennifer Allen, Natalie Bradshaw, Charl Brown, Christina DeCicco, Holly Davis, Madeleine Doherty, Alan H. Green, Blake Hammond, Wendy James, Carrie A. Johnson, Kevin Ligon, Louise Madison, Marissa Perry, Ernie Pruneda, Corbin Reid, Lance Roberts, Rashidra Scott, Jennifer Simard, Lael Van Keuren, Roberta Wall, Alena Watters Running time: Two and a half hours with a 15-minute intermission Ticket prices: $51.50 – $136.50 premium tickets as high as $201.50. Rush Tickets: $26.50

Miss Saigon Ticket Giveaway Contest

miss-saigon-the-movieWin two tickets to see “Miss Saigon: The 25th Anniversary Performance” in a movie theater near you on September 22.

“Miss Saigon” returns to the Broadway stage next March, but for one night only, the new stage production is available in a filmed version on screens throughout the United States, including three movie theaters in Manhattan. (List of locations)

To enter this contest, simply answer the question:

What is the best movie of a musical you’ve ever seen, and why?

(Alternate question: What is the worst movie of a musical you’ve ever seen, and why?)

The Rules (please read carefully.)

  1. Please put your answer in the comments at the bottom of this blog post, because the winner will be chosen through Random.org based on the order of your reply, not its content.

But you must answer the question, complete with description and explanation, or your entry will not be approved for submission.

  1. Please include your Twitter name and follow my Twitter feed at @NewYorkTheater so that I can send you a direct message. (If you don’t have a Twitter name, create one. It’s free.)

3. Tell me in which venue (from the list above) you would like to see the show.

This contest ends Wednesday, September 21, 2016 at midnight Eastern Time, and I will make the drawing shortly afterwards. You must respond to my direct message on Twitter by Thursday, September 22 at 10 a.m. Eastern Time or I will choose another winner. (The show begins in most places at 7 p.m. that day.)

 

More about the show:

“Captured live in front of a sold-out audience at London’s Prince Edward Theatre, this epic love story tells the tragic tale of young bar girl Kim, orphaned by war, who falls in love with American GI Chris – but their lives are torn apart by the fall of Saigon.” The cast features Jon Jon Briones as The Engineer, Eva Noblezada as Kim, Alistair Brammer as Chris, Hugh Maynard as John, Tamsin Carroll as Ellen and Rachelle Ann Go as Gigi. The finale features appearances by the original cast, including Jonathan Pryce, Lea Salonga and Simon Bowman.”

 

Albee Memorial. Bette’s Buddies. Audra’s Medal. Week in New York Theater

Broadway theater marquees will dim at 7:45 p.m. Wednesday in honor of Edward Albee, the Broadway League announced — as will Off Broadway theaters, the Off Broadway League announced.

Albee, 1928 to 2016, was a provocateur, both in his many plays (the photographs are of recent New York productions), and in his interviews.

A sample:

“If you have no wounds, how can you know if you’re alive?”
― The Play About the Baby

 

“Sometimes a person has to go a very long distance out of his way to come back a short distance correctly.”
― The American Dream and The Zoo Story

 

“I failed as a poet, a novelist, a short-story writer and as an essayist, but I was determined to be a writer. So I began writing plays.

“Unless you are terribly, terribly careful, you run the danger– without even knowing it is happening to you– of slipping into the fatal error of reflecting the public taste instead of creating it. Your responsibility is to the public consciousness, not to the public view of itself.”

 

Week in New York Theater Reviews

Kecia Lewis as Sister Rosetta Tharpe

Kecia Lewis as Sister Rosetta Tharpe

Marie and Rosetta

Whenever the two stars of “Marie and Rosetta” sing, it’s all that matters: Kecia Lewis swinging and soulful as Sister Rosetta Tharpe, a gospel singer and guitarist who filled stadiums and influenced Ray Charles and rockers from Elvis to Jimi Hendrix, but when she died at age 58 was buried in an unmarked grave; Rebecca Naomi Jones pretty and piercing as Marie Knight, gospel and r&b singer and pianist, who toured with Tharpe at the height of her popularity in the 1940’s.

jane-bruce-and-morgan-siobhan-green-photo-by-kevin-thomas-garcia

Missed Connections

The half dozen performers, all of whom also play musical instruments, are talented; the songs…are tuneful. There are many songs that theatergoers in the right frame of mind will surely find amusing. But…”Missed Connections” struck me as entertaining without being insightful; clever without being particularly funny. “Missed Connections” seems to miss the point of Craigslist, or at least what’s most interesting about it.

Amy Warren and Jay O. Sanders as sister and brother in What Did You Expect?,

Amy Warren and Jay O. Sanders as sister and brother in What Did You Expect?,

What Did You Expect?

What Did You Expect?, the second installment of Richard Nelson’s trilogy at the Public subtitled The Gabriels: Election Year In The Life Of One Family, is literate (the characters tell a story about Melville; read from Edith Wharton and Euripides), aromatic (they cook a meal), and, arguably, misleading: The name “Trump” is uttered only once….
Although it may be reasonable to assume from the subtitle of the series that it will focus on one family’s take on this year’s presidential election, that is not what has happened so far.

Week in New York Theater News

Will Chase as William Shakespeare

Will Chase as William Shakespeare

Something Rotten will close January 1, after 742 performances. Will Chase will leave October 9th.

ComefromAway

“Come From Away” will begin performances on Broadway on Saturday, February 18, 2017 at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre and officially open Sunday, March 12, 2017

The show portrays how “38 planes and 6,579 passengers were forced to land in Gander, Newfoundland, doubling the population of one small town on the edge of the world.”

Arian Moayed, Reed Birney, Jane Houdyshell, Loren Klein, Sarah Steele

Arian Moayed, Reed Birney, Jane Houdyshell, Loren Klein, Sarah Steele

The Humans will end its run at the Gerald Schoenfeld on January 15.  That does not necessarily mean it will end its run in New York. Producer Scott Rudin announced that it has broken even – one in about five Broadway shows ever do so.

Groundhog Day the musical in UK

Ground Hog Day, a musical composed by Tim Minchin (Matilda) based on Bill Murray film, is set to open in Broadway’s August Wilson Theater April 17, 2017

Hello Dolly logo

 

Joining Bette Midler (Dolly) and David Hyde Pierce (Horace Vandergelder) in the revival of Hello Dolly opening April 20, 2017: Gavin Creel (Cornelius Hackl), Kate Baldwin (Irene Molloy), Taylor Trensch (Barnaby Tucker), Will Burton(Ambrose Kemper), Melanie Moore (Ermengarde), Jennifer Simard(Ernestina), and an ensemble of twenty-seven.

The ensemble features Cameron AdamsPhillip AttmoreGiuseppe BausilioJustin BowenElizabeth EarleyTaeler Elyse CyrusLeslie Donna FlesnerJenifer FooteJessica Lee GoldynBlake Hammond,Stephen HannaMichael HartungRobert HartwellAmanda LaMotte,Analisa LeamingJess LeProttoIan LibertoKevin LigonNathan MaddenLinda MuglestonHayley PodschunJessica Sheridan,Michaeljon SlingerChristian Dante WhiteBranch WoodmanRyan Worsing, and Richard Riaz Yoder.

Awards

Among the winners of the 68th annual Emmy Awards (complete list of winners and nominees) there were several Broadway veterans: Courtney B. Vance & Sarah Paulson  for The People v. O.J. Simpson; director Thomas Kail  for “Grease Live”

Audra McDonald, Mel Brooks, Moises Kaufman and the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center were among this year’s National Medal of Arts winners given by the National Endowment for the Arts

Alphabetical list (click on link above for bios)

 

Mel Brooks

Sandra Cisneros

Eugene O’Neill Theater Center

Morgan Freeman

Philip Glass

Berry Gordy

Santiago Jiménez, Jr.

Moises Kaufman

Ralph Lemon

Audra McDonald

Luis Valdez

Jack Whitten

 

Jordan Harrison (Marjorie Prime) and Zayd Dohrn (The Profane) have won the 2016 Horton Foote Prize, which honors excellence in American theater every two years.

Gay Men’s Health Crisis will honor Javier Muñoz with the 2016 Howard Ashman Award for his activism in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

 

Leona Lewis as Grizabella

Leona Lewis as Grizabella

Leona Lewis will leave Cats on October 9.

Cancelled Black Lives Matter Benefit Gets a Second Chance at Joe’s Pub

 ellensstardustdiner

Labor unrest, unionization and retaliation at Ellen’s Stardust Diner

 

Reminder: #IdentityWeek Panels on access,transgender etc. Vineyard Theater,  FREE Sept 27-30 bit.ly/2bOyNMg

charmiancarr

The Sound of Music’s ‘Liesl’ Charmian Carr dies at 73

What Did You Expect Review, Pics: Election Year with Little Trump Nor Hillary

What Did You Expect?, the second installment of Richard Nelson’s trilogy at the Public subtitled The Gabriels: Election Year In The Life Of One Family, is literate (the characters tell a story about Melville; read from Edith Wharton and Euripides), aromatic (they cook a meal), and, arguably, misleading: The name “Trump” is uttered only once….
Although it may be reasonable to assume from the subtitle of the series that it will focus on one family’s take on this year’s presidential election, that is not what has happened so far.

Full review at DC Theatre Scene

Click on any photograph to see it enlarged

 

Edward Albee, 1928-2016. “I despise restful art.”


“Edward Albee, one of the most innovative playwrights of his generation, whose raw, unnerving dramas — and even the few comedies — scraped at the veneer of American success and happiness, died Sept. 16 at his home in Montauk, Long Island. He was 88.” Washington Post obituary

“He introduced himself suddenly and with a bang, in 1959, when his first produced play, “The Zoo Story,” opened in Berlin on a double bill with Samuel Beckett’s “Krapp’s Last Tape.” A two-handed one-act that unfolds in real time, “The Zoo Story” zeroed in on the existential terror at the heart of Eisenhower-era complacency, presenting the increasingly menacing intrusion of a probing, querying stranger on a man reading on a Central Park bench.” – New York Times obituary

Lynn Nottage: I will miss his wit, irreverence & wisdom. He enlivened the theatre landscape.

The Sandbox 3 Ryan-James Hatanaka and Phyllis Somerville

The last production of an Albee play in New York was in May: The Sandbox

Jessica Afton as the nurse

Jessica Afton as the nurse

The Death of Bessie Smith, rarely performed, in a production in Brooklyn’s Interfaith Hospital in 2014. (Can Edward Albee save Brooklyn’s Interfaith hospital?)

A DELICATE BALANCE Glenn Close

A Delicate Balance, on Broadway in 2014

Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf

Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,

The 2012 Broadway production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf

 

 

The plays of Edward Albee:

The Zoo Story (1958)
The Death of Bessie Smith (1959)
The Sandbox (1959)
Fam and Yam (1959)
The American Dream (1960)
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1961–1962)
The Ballad of the Sad Café (1963) (adapted from the novella by Carson McCullers)
Tiny Alice (1964)
Malcolm (1965) (adapted from the novel by James Purdy)
A Delicate Balance (1966)
Breakfast at Tiffany’s (adapted from the novel by Truman Capote) (1966)
Everything in the Garden (1967)
Box and Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung (1968)
All Over (1971)
Seascape (1974)
Listening (1975)
Counting the Ways (1976)
The Lady from Dubuque (1977–1979)
Lolita (adapted from the novel by Vladimir Nabokov) (1981)
The Man Who Had Three Arms (1981)
Finding the Sun (1983)
Marriage Play (1986–1987)
Three Tall Women (1990–1991)
The Lorca Play (1992)
Fragments (1993)
The Play About the Baby (1996)
Occupant (2001)
The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? (2002)
Knock! Knock! Who’s There!? (2003)
Peter & Jerry, retitled in 2009 to At Home at the Zoo (Act One: Homelife. Act Two: The Zoo Story) (2004)
Me Myself and I (2007)

 

EdwardAlbee

Q and A with Edward Albee, great playwright, difficult interview subject

Missed Connections Review: A Craigslist Musical

brandon-ellisIn “Missed Connections,” a lively 75-minute revue that turns Craigslist ads into 25 songs, one of the six attractive and musically gifted cast members sings about a dead moose. He offers it to anybody for free who is willing to take it off his property. At the same time, another member of the cast sings about his need for a dead deer – in order to pretend to his wife that he was indeed out hunting, rather than what he was really doing, spending time with his mistress. The two men sing what amounts to a duet, meeting face to face. At the end of the song, presumably full of mutual gratitude, they lean towards one another as if about to kiss, then at the last minute switch up into a manly handshake.
If we assume (as we are promised) that these were two real ads on Craigslist, it seems unlikely that any actual connection between the two posters occurred. The man with the dead moose, he tells us in the song, lives in Alaska; the man who wanted a dead deer lives in Massachusetts. Even FedEx isn’t THAT accommodating.
But more to the point, there is something disagreeable about the little gay joke that ends the song, not because it’s offensive (although some might find it so, especially in a theater on Christopher Street) but because it’s one of many signals in “Missed Connections” that we normal people in the audience at the New Ohio Theater are here to laugh at the oddballs who use Craigslist. Now, granted, it’s hard to avoid seeing something odd about, say, the man who advertised for someone to come to his empty house while he was away, put on a one-piece bathing suit and sit in his bathtub full of cooked noodles. But it was odder to me that the only explicit reference to gay people that I caught in the show was a song about a man who advertises for another man to sip coffee together and hug:
“I’m not gay
Or anything like that.
Just enjoy a cup of java with another guy
In our underwear
Kind of male bonding, sipping thing.”
This mocking song is, again, the only explicit mention of gay connection in a show about a website that for almost two decades has helped make people who felt like misfits feel less alone – including young gay people in the hinterland.

So, yes, the half dozen performers, all of whom also play musical instruments, are talented; the songs that writers Veda Hille, Bill Richardson and Amiel Gladstone put together are tuneful. There are many songs that theatergoers in the right frame of mind will surely find amusing.

And yes, there are some poignant moments too — about people who saw each other in the street or on the subway, for example, and are writing in hopes of redoing the missed connection. But Weird Al Yankovich wrote about all this (much more briefly) in his song “Craigslist” in 2009 — the same year that the first version of “Missed Connections” (with a different title) began in Canada. I won’t say that Twitter, Facebook, Snapshot and Grindr have made a musical about Craigslist outdated. I’ll only say that “Missed Connections” struck me as entertaining without being insightful; clever without being particularly funny. “Missed Connections” seems to miss the point of Craigslist, or at least what’s most interesting about it.

Missed Connections
at New Ohio Theater
Composed by Veda Hille, written by Hille, Amiel Gladstone and Bill Richardson
Directed by Phillip George
Choreographed by Amy Garner Hall
Set design by Josh Iocovelli
Lighting designed by Solomon Weisbard
Costumes design by Grier Coleman
Sound designed by Jeanne Wu
Cast: Debbie Tjong, Morgan Siobhan Green, Jane Bruce, Shawn Platzker, Brandon Ellis, Jamie Pittle
Running time: 75 minutes
Tickets:  $45
Missed Connections is scheduled to run through September 25, 2016

Marie and Rosetta Review: Gospel Rock n Roller Sister Rosetta Tharpe

Whenever the two stars of “Marie and Rosetta” sing, it’s all that matters: Kecia Lewis swinging and soulful as Sister Rosetta Tharpe, a gospel singer and guitarist who filled stadiums and influenced Ray Charles and rockers from Elvis to Jimi Hendrix, but when she died at age 58 was buried in an unmarked grave; Rebecca Naomi Jones pretty and piercing as Marie Knight, gospel and r&b singer and pianist, who toured with Tharpe at the height of her popularity in the 1940’s.

 

Although the two actresses are only pretending to accompany each other on guitar and piano, the backstage musicians who are really playing for them couldn’t be better – Felicia Collins gets in some awesome licks on electric guitar, Deah Harriott is a versatile enough pianist not just to present the eclectic style of the long-ago duo-  gospel, blues, swing, r&b, ballads, jazz, rock – but to allow us to hear the difference between Marie’s and Rosetta’s piano playing. But it is Lewis and Jones who bring it all home in song after song, a mixture of the sacred and the profane: “Rock Me In the Cradle of Your Love,” and “I Want a Tall Skinny Papa,” and the hit “Strange Things Happening Every Day,” which crossed over from gospel and is said to have helped birth rock ‘n roll.
“Marie and Rosetta” however is not a concert, nor even a musical; it’s billed as “a play with music.” Its premise recalls “Million Dollar Quartet” – a rehearsal. In this case, Marie and Rosetta, about to embark on their first tour, are rehearsing not in a famous recording studio, but in a funeral parlor.

“We not in New York anymore honey…We not in Chicago.” They are in Mississippi in 1946, and their first concert will in a huge tobacco warehouse on the outskirts of town. “Can’t stay in no hotel down here.” So Rosetta has arranged for them to sleep over in the comfortable silk-lined beds for the dead that clutter the local black-owned establishment that is the play’s sole setting.

Whether based on fact or not, the setting is a vivid choice by the play’s author, George Brant, an accomplished playwright whose best-known work, “Grounded,” about a female drone pilot, is being made into a film starring Anne Hathaway. Brant is a pro, and, if the conversation between the two women never approaches the excitement of their singing, the playwright is adept at establishing the distinctiveness of their personalities – Marie straitlaced and naïve, Rosetta, ten years older, worldly and more joyful. We learn that Marie was singing with Mahalia Jackson, when Rosetta snatched her away for her own tour, much to the consternation of Marie’s mother. But Rosetta tells Marie, she’s better off with her:
“[W]hat Mahalia and all them don’t understand…God ain’t up there frownin’ down on all’a us…No God up there chucklin’ away at all’a us. All us saints and sinners. Can’t wait to see what his silly children gonna come up with next.”

She adds: “Plus (I) got to play with Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Hot Lips Page. You may go looking but you ain’t gonna find them playin’ for the Sunday service.”
Kecia Lewis, who was most recently the last-minute (stellar) replacement in the Classic Stage Company’s Mother Courage, is completely convincing as the woman who’s seen it all; Rebecca Naomi Jones (American Idiot, Hedwig and the Angry Inch) is perhaps a tad less persuasive as the wonder-struck naif.
But all would be well with the world of “Marie And Rosetta” had Brant not apparently decided that the dramatic focus on this one rehearsal kept us from learning enough about Sister Rosetta Tharp and Marie Knight’s intriguing lives and careers. Late in the play, there is an eye-rolling twist that seems to be Brant’s effort at a fix for the problem of the structure he himself chose for his play. I won’t spoil what happens. As shopworn as it is, it doesn’t spoil the service that George Brant has rendered by retrieving these figures for the stage, nor the rousing musical performances that are the heart of “Marie and Rosetta.”

Marie and Rosetta

By George Brant
Directed by Neil Pepe
Scenic design by Riccardo Hernández, costume design by Dede Ayite, lighting design by Christopher Akerlind, sound design by Steve Canyon Kennedy, music direction by Jason Michael Webb
Cast: Kecia Lewis, Rebecca Naomi Jones
Musicians: Felicia Collins, Deah Harriott
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission.
Tickets: $65-$75.
“Marie and Rosetta” is scheduled to run through October 2, 2016

Update: “Marie and Rosetta” has been extended through October 16.

Watch this hour-long PBS documentary:

Sister Rosetta Tharpe: The Godmother of Rock & Roll

Week in NY Theater: Hamilton Spamilton. DeVito and Chenoweth. Taking on Trump.

Broadway shows closing, new ones announced; much about theater on screen. But the news for individual theatergoers on a budget are the discount programs in effect now or in the near future:

Broadway Week, two for one tickets now through September 18

20 at 20 Off Broadway now through September 25

Off Broadway Week September 26 to October 9

The Week in New York Theater Reviews

The Trump Card

Mike Daisey says at the outset of his monologue about Donald Trump that the aim is not to flay him for the audience’s pleasure. But Daisey himself takes such obvious pleasure in calling Trump at various times a “dyspeptic toad,” an “orange gremlin,” an “orange goblin,” a “free-floating aneurysm.”

Full review

karenfinley-1-_unicorngratitudemystery11_huntercanning
Unicorn Gratitude Mystery

Some might consider Karen Finley’s three back-to-back theater pieces little more than profanity-filled screaming rants and non-sequiturs – and the critics this time could be more than just on the right, since Hillary Clinton gets the Finley in-your-face treatment just as bluntly as Donald Trump.

Full review

spamilton-8-dan-rosales-chris-anthony-giles-nicholas-edwards-juwan-crawley-and-nora-schell-in-spamilton-photo-by-carol-rosegg-web
Spamilton

Spamilton,” an often clever if uneven spoof of the musical “Hamilton,” is like the 26th edition of “Forbidden Broadway,”hitting “Hamilton” highlights but also spritzing barbs at targets up and down the Great White Way.

Full review

caught_01
Caught

“Caught” messes with your head in the most exquisite of ways. In part a send-up of the art scene – the conceptual artist as con artist — it is itself a form of conceptual art, and a series of cons.

Full review

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The Wolves

Nine teenage girls are members of The Wolves soccer team in Sarah DeLappe’s impressive first professional play, in a production that both shows off the playwright’s terrific ear for the way her adolescent characters speak, and respects her attempt to capture the texture of everyday life in a community of young women.

Full review

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Aubergine

In “Aubergine,” an appealing, lyrical family drama by Julia Cho, life boils down to two essentials — food and death.

Full review

The Week in Theater Books

What accounts for the phenomenal success of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical Hamilton? Four new books offer some clues. Only one of them focuses on the show exclusively: Hamilton: The Revolution includes the complete libretto, annotated by Miranda, alternating with chapters by former critic and Public Theater staff member Jeremy McCarter chronicling the six years it took to make the musical about the “10-dollar Founding Father without a father.”

This official Hamilton book is not shy about proclaiming the show’s greatness. McCarter declares that the “widely acclaimed musical…doesn’t just dramatize [Alexander] Hamilton’s revolution. It continues it.”

Such over-the-top assessments are commonplace these days. First Lady Michelle Obama has called it “the best piece of art in any form that I have ever seen in my life.” The new books are equally enthusiastic.

Full review

The Week in New York Theater News

Jersey Boys on Broadway, current cast

Jersey Boys on Broadway

After 11 years on Broadway, “Jersey Boys” is closing on January 11, 2017

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“My Love Letter to Broadway” Kristin Chenoweth concert from the American Songook, will be presented at Broadway’s  Lunt-Fontanne from November 2nd to November 13th.

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Roundabout is bringing “Marvin’s Room,” Scott McPherson’s 1991 comic play about death and family feuds, to Broadway in June. It was made into a 1996 film starring Meryl Streep, Leonardo DiCaprio and Diane Keaton.

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Danny Devito will make his Broadway debut in Arthur Miller’s The Price, opening Marcy 16, 2017 at Roundabout’s American Airlines Theater . He joins John Turturro, Tony Shalhoub and Jessica Hecht. “When the Great Depression cost his family their fortune, Victor Franz  gave up his dream of an education to support his father. Three decades later, Victor has returned to his childhood home to sell the remainder of his parents’ estate. His wife, his estranged brother, and the wily furniture dealer hired to appraise their possessions all arrive with their own agendas.” DeVito will portray the furniture dealer.

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Dear Evan Hansen will now open December 4 at Broadway’s Music Box Theatre; the musical had been scheduled to transfer to a different Broadway theater, the Belasco

Two world-premiere one-act plays by A.R. Gurney, “Squash and “Ajax,” will open at The Flea on October 23

A concert version of Joe Iconis’ Broadway Bounty Hunter, after acclaimed Barrington Stage run, set for Joes Pub September 26. Annie Golden will star.

Broadway Supports Black Lives Matter was canceled. Scheduled for September 11th at Feinstein’s/54 Below, the concert was cancelled due to the Black Lives Matter organization’s support of sanctions against Israel.

Proposal to charge theaters more on sale of air rights sets off debate

Theater on Screen

Fences by August Wilson: Denzel Washington (Troy Maxson) and Viola Davis (Rose)

Fences by August Wilson: Denzel Washington (Troy Maxson) and Viola Davis (Rose)

The film version of August Wilson’s “Fences,” starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis, has moved its opening to Christmas Day.

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The making-of documentary Hamilton’s America will be broadcast on PBS on Friday, October 21 at 9:00 PM.

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Hamilton’s Ephraim Sykes and School of Rock’s Shahadi Wright Joseph join “Hairspray Live!” Sykes will portray Seaweed J. Stubbs. The live musical is set for broadcast on NBC on December 7. (Sykes pictured below in Newsies, which he left to go to Motown, which was followed by Hamilton.)

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FinaleGrease
Grease Live won four Emmys
-Outstanding Lighting Design/Lighting Direction For A Variety Special
–Outstanding Production Design For A Variety, Nonfiction, Event Or Award Special
–Outstanding Technical Direction, Camerawork, Video Control For A Limited Series, Movie Or Special
–Outstanding Special Class Program

The Wiz Live!

The Wiz Live! won an Emmy for Paul Tazewell for Outstanding Costumes For Variety, Nonfiction Or Reality Programming.

School of Rock 1 Alex Brightman

Alex Brightman will be the host this year’s Broadway Salutes on September 20 at 4:00 PM in Shubert Alley, the annual event that recognizes theater workers who aren’t normally in the spotlight.

 

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