Watch: #GhostlightProject

My 101-second video of the Ghostlight Project, in which people gathered in theaters in all 50 states to create light for dark times ahead. I focus on the small, moving ceremony outside the Cherry Lane Theater in Greenwich Village, which ended with the recitation in both Spanish and English of “The New Colossus,” the Emma Lazarus poem (inscribed at the Statue of Liberty) that ends:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Made in China: Review and Pics of Bawdy Political Puppetry

Wakka Wakka, the theater company behind Made in China, says the show is “inspired by true events.” I suspect the true part doesn’t include Mary and her neighbor getting sucked down her toilet and winding up in the People’s Republic of China, where a dragon eats them.

This puppet musical – equal parts surreal fantasy, bawdy romantic comedy, barbed political satire, and hilariously inventive visual spectacle — does include at least one true event, sort of. In a verified story that occurred in 2012, a New York shopper discovered inside the packaging of the boots she bought from Saks Fifth Avenue a handwritten note from someone seeking help, because he said he was a captive in a Chinese prison factory.

Full review at DC Theatre Scene

Anti-Inauguration Plans. Hamilton Star Casting? The Week in NY Theater

 

The story of Inauguration Day, which arrives this Friday, has become almost as much about culture as politics. The list of performers who declined an invitation to perform at official Inauguration ceremonies certainly exceeds the list of those who accepted – and several, including Tony winner Jennifer Holliday and Springsteen tribute musicians the B Street Band, first accepted and then, after getting flack for their decision, reversed themselves and withdrew.

Meanwhile, artists are behind many Anti-Inauguration activities, such as the Writers Resist demonstration sponsored by Pen America in front of the main branch of the New York Public Library. Theater artists are most prominently involved in the Ghostlight Project on Thursday at 5:30 p.m. outside theaters in all 50 states and Washington D.C.

broadway-week-2017

Today is the start of Broadway Week, two tickets for the price of one.

Week in New York Theater Reviews

Laura Osnes and Will Swenson

Laura Osnes and Will Swenson

Blueprint Specials

In the first public performance of the four surviving musicals commissioned by the U.S. Army during World War II to boost morale among the troops, “Blueprint Specials” could not be more deftly staged, from the creation of a pop-up theater on the hangar of an actual World War II aircraft carrier (the Intrepid, now a museum) to the casting of both bona fide Broadway stars (Will Swenson, Laura Osnes) and active duty military officers and Armed Forces veterans.

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Mata Hari

We first see Mata Hari in a French prison condemned to death for espionage. The most surprising aspect of her situation in this work is not that her jailer is a nun, Sister Leonide, who swears and smokes. It is that the title character, portrayed by Tina Mitchell, doesn’t sing. That seems unusual for an opera,

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Secondary Dominance

“Secondary Dominance” is a compelling example of my long-held belief that nearly any endeavor, no matter how awful it sounds in theory, can wind up wonderful if it’s done well enough by passionate, creative and talented people.

Sarah Small calls her piece a “multimedia concert in 13 micro movements.” It is an hour long, without a discernible plot or point, without even discernible words in English, and filled with enough familiar avant-garde tropes to keep your newly arrived hipster happy for months…

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Latin Standards

“Latin Standards,” which is Marga Gomez’s 12th solo show — and, she tells us, her “final farewell concert” — is a hilarious memoir, part of this year’s Under The Radar festival. “I’ve been under the radar for 30 years,” she says, after introducing herself as Cuban, Puerto Rican and lesbian: “I don’t want to surprise any out-of-towners….Mike Pence could be here.”

But more than a stand-up routine of topical humor, the show is a coming-of-age tale that pays touching tribute to her father, who went by the stage name Willy Chevalier. A singer, songwriter, impresario, and comedian, Chevalier (born Willy Gomez) was a fixture in the Latin nightclub circuit in New York of the 1950s and 60’s.

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Time of Women

“Time of Women,” a play in the Under the Radar festival based on the true story of three women journalists and activists imprisoned by the Belarusian dictatorship for protesting the fraudulent presidential elections of 2010, differs from most of the previous works by the Belarus Free Theatre that I’ve seen in New York. There is no extensive dance-like movement or elaborate use of theatrical metaphor… But in its own way, “Time of Women” is just as powerful, or even, given the timing, even more so.

Week in New York Theater News

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The Tony Awards, held at the Beacon Theatre last year, returns to Radio City Music Hall for the June 11, 2017 broadcast. Nominations will be announced on May 2.

James Monroe Iglehart

James Monroe Iglehart

Genie comes to Hamilton! James Iglehart, Tony winner for (and the best thing about) Aladdin,  will play Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson starting in April.

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Meanwhile, in the Chicago production of Hamilton, Wayne Brady has been cast as Aaron Burr, prompting Chicago Sun-Times critic Hedy Weiss to write:

“It’s not as if the show — like many productions playing on Broadway in recent years — needs a celebrity to generate interest or boost ticket sales. …Why did the show’s producers and creative team shift the balance in this show by introducing a high-profile actor into an airtight ensemble of performers who are superbly talented yet far from household names? And why, given all the talk about how much they admire the Chicago theater scene, have these same people not drawn on Chicago’s fine stable of actors for any major role?”

martha-swope

RIP Broadway and ballet photographer Martha Swope, February 22, 1928 – January 12, 2017

(L-R) Director Hal Prince & composer Stephen Sondheim in a rehearsal shot fr. the Broadway musical "Merrily We Roll Along".

(L-R) Director Hal Prince & composer Stephen Sondheim in a rehearsal shot fr. the Broadway musical “Merrily We Roll Along”.

15 pictures by Martha Swope from 1957 to 1994.

Jennifer Holliday singing "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" in a scene from the Broadway production of the musical "Dreamgirls".

Jennifer Holliday singing “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” in a scene from the Broadway production of the musical “Dreamgirls”.

Lisa Kron and Daniel Zaitchik have been awarded the 2017 Kleban Prizes for writing in musical theater. … Kron, 55, the book writer for the Tony winning Fun Home, won for most promising musical theater librettist. Zaitchik, 36, won for most promising musical theater lyricist.

NYC is giving $2 million to increase diversity to 11 theaters and theater organizations. Recipients: BAM, BRIC, Epic Theatre Ensemble, Harlem Stage, MTC, New York Theatre Workshop, Roundabout, Teatro, TBTB (Theatre Breaking Through Barriers), TDF

Khris Davis and Will Pullen as friends who wind up in prison.

Khris Davis and Will Pullen as friends who wind up in prison.

The Sweat Broadway cast will be largely intact from Off-Broadway (Only one of the nine may not b come along in the transfer.) The play opens March 26

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Tyne Daly to star in Jerry Herman’s 1969 musical Dear World (based on Madwoman of Chaillot) Feb 25-March 5, York Theatre.

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The Greatest Show on Earth will be no more. Ringling Bros Barnun and Bailey Circus is shutting down in May after 146 years.

 

The Big Apple Circus, the 38-year-old non-profit that has provided family-friendly entertainment on tour around the U.S. has announced it will be selling off its assets.

 

“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory “is part of an ambitious theater slate at WB, which includes a brewing musical version of “Beetlejuice” — recently seen in New York in a reading directed by Alex Timbers and starring Chris Fitzgerald (“Waitress”) — as well as a “Night Shift” musical and a play adaptation of “Dog Day Afternoon” penned by Pulitzer-winner Stephen Adly Guirgis” – Variety

Humans 2

The Humans ends its run in NY . Thanks Stephen Karam and cast for proving a straight play that matters can make it on Broadway

Reading List

Inside The Front Page state-of-the art look (words, photographs, videos) of what it takes to put on The Front Page each night. – The Washington Post

Breaking records ... The Lion King, Wicked and Hamilton.

Broadway Blockbusters: Why Theater’s at an All-time High – The Guardian

Five Predictions for the Theater in 2017 – . (e.g. 3. Introspective Theater Is Out, Political Theater Is In) – Theater Mania

Originality versus the Arts

“In the last century, originality has killed one once-flourishing art form after another, by replacing variation within shared artistic conventions to rebellion against convention itself.” – The Smart Set

Northern Kunqu Opera TheatreÕs Victory on Luding Bridge, part of the 2016 Shanghai China International Arts Festival.

Northern Kunqu Opera TheatreÕs Victory on Luding Bridge, part of the 2016 Shanghai China International Arts Festival.

Bridging Cultures at China’s Shanghai International Arts Festival – American Theatre Magazine

 

Time of Women Review: Belarus Free Theatre Vs. Tyranny

“Time of Women,” a play in the Under the Radar festival based on the true story of three women journalists and activists imprisoned by the Belarusian dictatorship for protesting the fraudulent presidential elections of 2010, differs from most of the previous works by the Belarus Free Theatre that I’ve seen in New York. There is no extensive dance-like movement or elaborate use of theatrical metaphor, as in such works as “Trash Cuisine,” which was presented at La MaMa in 2015. But in its own way, “Time of Women” is just as powerful, or even, given the timing, even more so.

Belarus Free Theatre was founded in 2005 in Belarus, a former part of the Soviet Union that is now widely viewed as the most repressive and backward nation in Europe. Many consider the members of Belarus Free Theatre to be heroes for standing up to the dictator of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, whose regime arrested and eventually banned the troupe. Though the husband and wife founders Nicolai Khalezin and Natalia Kaliada have been political refugees in England since 2011, they continue to oversee productions that have toured 42 countries – and that continue underground, in private apartments, in Belarus.

It was in Belarus in 2014 that “Time of Women” debuted, which may be why, in the 40-seat Shop Theater at the Tisch School of the Arts, the setting is a simple apartment, where the actresses depicting  Irina Khalip, Natalya Radina and Nasta Palazhanka gather for a holiday reunion. There is a Christmas tree near the couch. But the most prominent pieces of furniture in the apartment are a three-tiered bunk bed whose bottom “bed” is the floor, and an office desk. The bunk bed represents the prison where the women were confined, and their everyday activities – drying hair after a shower, baking a cake – mix uneasily with their recollection of their time imprisoned, which they relate (in Russian with English surtitles) but also relive, lying on the bed in a strained and strange light, unable to separate their past from the present, the living nightmare of the confinement with their daily waking life.

After a while, a young man passes through the apartment and sits at the desk. He is Orlov, the bureaucrat who interrogates them one by one, as he casually slurps instant noodles and tries both the carrot and stick approach – if they only sign a statement, they can be released instantly, and be back with their ailing mother or their husband, beaten up during a peaceful protest. If they don’t sign, their ovaries will rot in prison, and they will never be able to have children. At times, he sounds reasonable; at times, he yells in their faces, making ugly threats. But his paroxysm of angry shouting is nowhere as terrifying as the final, desperate scream by Nasta.

“Time of Women” feels like an accurate depiction of the surreal life under a capricious, power-hungry head of state, and Belarus Free Theatre offers a role model for creating art in the face of authoritarian opposition.

Time of Women was presented for six performances through January 15, 2017.

Written by Nicolai Khalezin and Natalia Kaliada
Director Nicolai Khalezin

Cast: Maryia Sazonava (Iryna), Maryna Yurevich (Natalya), Yana Rusakevich (Nasta), Kiryl Kanstantsinau (Investigator)

 

 

Anti-Inauguration Schedule: Artists in Outrage

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

Below is a list of Anti-Inauguration activities — some of the events initiated by artists to turn the feelings of shock at the outcome of the Presidential election into a a show of solidarity and protest that is intended as prelude to ongoing resistance:

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Writers Resist: #LouderTogether

2 p.m., January 15

Steps of Main Branch of the New York Public Library

PEN America’s literary protest on the steps of the New York Public Library will bring together hundreds of writers and artists alongside thousands of New Yorkers on the birthday of Civil Rights icon Martin Luther King, Jr. Broadway Kids Against Bullying sing “I Have a Voice” (More than 90 other Writers Resist protests are scheduled at the same time throughout the U.S.)

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The Resister Project

January 4 to 15

Kraine Theater

A variety show, put together by The Dirty Blondes theater collective,  featuring 10-new plays, stand-up comedy, music and poetry. Proceeds donated to the American Civil Liberties Union.

bealight8-5x11

 The Ghostlight Project

January 19 at 5:30 p.m.

Many locations throughout the nation and the city

Inspired by the tradition of leaving a “ghost light” on in a darkened theater, theaters in (as of this writing) 43 states (around 50 in New York City alone) have agreed to hold some kind of ceremony at 5:30 p.m. (in each time zone) “to stand for and protect the values of inclusion, participation, and compassion for everyone-regardless of race, class, religion, country of origin, immigration status, (dis)ability, gender identity, or sexual orientation.” They ask you to bring a light.

(The photographs above of theater artists holding posters “I am….I fight for” is part of the Ghostlight Project.)

List of participants

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J20 Art Strike

January 20

More than 100 visual artists and critics have signed a petition calling for cultural institutions to close on Friday, January 20.

“We consider Art Strike to be one tactic among others to combat the normalization of Trumpism—a toxic mix of white supremacy, misogyny, xenophobia, militarism, and oligarchic rule. Like any tactic, it is not an end in itself, but rather an intervention that will ramify into the future. It is not a strike against art, theater, or any other cultural form. It is an invitation to motivate these activities anew, to reimagine these spaces as places where resistant forms of thinking, seeing, feeling, and acting can be produced.”

This has not gotten much traction, according to an article in the New York Times.

“The struggle is long, and I would say it is not our role to close,” said Tom Eccles, the executive director of Bard College’s Center for Curatorial Studies. The Whitney Museum, for one, will remain open, but will implement pay-what-you-wish admission.

The Hillary Speeches

January 20, noon

Streamed online

A concert of two of Hillary Clinton’s speeches set to music, and sung by such Broadway performers as Chilina Kennedy of “Beautiful.”

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Concert for America

January 20, 3 p.m.

Town Hall and Facebook.

concert4americaaA concert featuring a parade of Broadway stars — Betty Buckley, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Jessie Mueller, Javier Munoz,  Kelli O’Hara, Billy Porter and on and on. The proceeds for “Concert for America: Stand Up, Sing Out”  will be donated evenly to Planned Parenthood, NAACP, Sierra Club Foundation, Southern Poverty Law Center, and the National Immigration Law Center. While the concert is reported to be sold out, it will be streamed live on Facebook as well.  It’s intended to be the first in a series of monthly benefit concerts and will be streamed live on Facebook.

“Hate comes from a lack of love, so we can’t fight it with more of its own toxicity, we have to fill it with love,” Jessie Mueller told the Associated Press. “There are really big things at stake. Things we can’t save or solidify or safeguard alone. We have to think bigger, we have to ask for help, we have to reach out to one another and band together. I hope this concert can be an example of that.”

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The Sanctuary Project

January 20 – February 17

HERE Arts Center

“The Sanctuary Project opens on January 20th with an Inaugural Ball” (at 8:30 p.m.) “and continues with a full month of work by more than 50 different artists from a wide range of backgrounds. The schedule includes new theater works; panel discussions with major arts leaders; and a variety of dance, concert, and other non-traditional works.”  A play entitled “Radical,” by Sergio Castillo, presented on January 25th, “imagines a world where American Fascism has become the law of the land.” Another play, by S.P. Monahan, presented on January 26, is entitled “The Persecution and Assassination of Hillary Rodham Clinton as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade.”

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The Women’s March on Washington

January 21,, 10 a.m. to 1:15 p.m.

Washington D.C.

Though not artist-organized, it would be difficult to omit what promises to be the largest protest march around the Inauguration. The march “is for any person, regardless of gender or gender identity, who believes women’s rights are human rights.”

womens-march-nyc

There are local chapters, such as the New York City chapter of the Women’s March on Washington , so that people can travel to D.C. as a group. There are also Sister Marches being held throughout the country and abroad (370 as of this writing.)

RIP Photographer Martha Swope, 40 Years Of Broadway

martha-swope

nypl-digitalcollections-0952a780-0eb4-0131-9b42-58d385a7b928-001-rBelow are some of the photographs by Martha Swope, who died Thursday at age 88.   In a professional career that officially spanned from 1957 to 1994, she focused on ballet and Broadway. Her 15 theater pictures below  — of Richard Burton in “Camelot,” and Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in “Private Lives”;  Bernadette Peters; Hal Prince and Stephen Sondheim in rehearsal; Ethel Merman in “Hello, Dolly”; Ben Vereen in “Pippin”; Angela Lansbury in “Gypsy”;  Jennifer Holliday in “Dreamgirls”; the original cast of “Hair”, Maya Angelou in “The Blacks”; Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin in “Evita”; Nathan Lane and Faith Prince in “Guys and Dolls”. Chita Rivera in “West Side Story” (in 1957), in “Chicago” (in 1975) and in “Kiss of the Spiderwoman “(in 1993) — were selected from some 1,520,000 images Swope donated to the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.

Click on any one of the photographs by Martha Swope to see it enlarged and read the caption.

 

Latin Standards Review: Lesbian Comic Marga Gomez, Like Her Father (without the mustache)

marga_gomez-latin-standards“Latin Standards,” which is Marga Gomez’s 12th solo show — and, she tells us, her “final farewell concert” — is a hilarious memoir, part of this year’s Under The Radar festival. “I’ve been under the radar for 30 years,” she says, after introducing herself as Cuban, Puerto Rican and lesbian: “I don’t want to surprise any out-of-towners….Mike Pence could be here.”

But more than a stand-up routine of topical humor, the show is a coming-of-age tale that pays touching tribute to her father, who went by the stage name Willy Chevalier. A singer, songwriter, impresario, and comedian, Chevalier (born Willy Gomez) was a fixture in the Latin nightclub circuit in New York of the 1950s and 60’s.

His daughter punctuates her stories with projected photographs of her family. There is her father, a Cuban charmer with a pencil mustache, an immaculate dresser who wore a pocket handkerchief and smoked with a cigarette holder. Next to him is Marga’s mother (whom she never names in the show but which an Internet search reveals as Margarita Estremera)  – the kind of person who, by the evidence of the photographs, used to be called a blonde bombshell; Marga describes her as “a dancer who wanted to be an actress and grew up poor in the slums of Puerto Rico.”

The title of the show refers to the Spanish-language songs that her father composed (“En Ultimo Escalon” and “De Mi Para Ti,” for example.) Rather than sing the songs, she introduces them, explaining how they came to be, and then, while we hear them via recording, she recites their lyrics in English.

People used to remark on how much the daughter resembled her father – “Willy Chevalier without the mustache” — and Gomez drives home the similarities with her parallel tale of her breaking in as a stand-up comic at a gay Latino drag bar in San Francisco called Esta Noche.

Esta Noche is no more – its New York equivalent, Esquelita, has also shut down — and we sense a parallel here, too, in her father’s struggles to keep going after the disappearance of the Latin nightclubs in New York. There are priceless scenes of Willy painstakingly teaching his young daughter how to make coffee –“Most important Marga: The cafe has to be Cafe Bustelo…Café El Pico is mierda” – and then of Willy making sure Marga wakes him up at the ungodly hour of noon so that he can make it to an audition as the spokesman for Café El Pico.

In “Latin Standards,” Marga Gomez offers nostalgia for what once was – and also for what may soon no longer be. “This is the first time I’ve gotten out of bed since November 8,” she says, before making pointing jokes about the threats of deportation.

Gomez says she will stop doing solo shows because “I think I might possibly have peaked in 1997 when I played Jane Edmunds in Sphere” – a movie role in which she received at least a good several seconds of screen time.

Once senses, though, that Margo might secretly be as optimistic and persistent as her father Willy, especially when she tells us: “Sign my mailing list so you never miss any of my future Final Farewell Concerts.”

 

willy-chevalier-and-wife

 

Latin Standards is on stage at the Public Theater through January 15.

Mata Hari and Secondary Dominance Reviews: Prototype Festival “Operas”

I once asked Luciano Pavarotti what “opera” means, a question that made him momentarily look lost. Opera in Italian literally means “work,” he replied, but you don’t need to define it. Farmers play opera to increase milk production, he told me. “Even cows understand opera.”

What would Pavarotti, and those milk cows, make of Prototype, which calls itself “the premier festival of opera-theatre and music-theatre”? Is that the same as opera? The festival, which runs through January 15, is in its fifth year, and is presenting seven full-length works. I went to two of them

 

Mata Hari

Click on any photo by Paula Court to see it enlarged

We first see Mata Hari in a French prison condemned to death for espionage. The most surprising aspect of her situation in this work is not that her jailer is a nun, Sister Leonide, who swears and smokes. It is that the title character, portrayed by Tina Mitchell, doesn’t sing. That seems unusual for an opera, which is what the creative team labels it, more or less: Composer Matt Marks calls “Mata Hari” in a program note “my first serious opera-theatre piece,” and Paul Peers, both the librettist and the director, writes that “my goal was to push the boundaries of the operatic form” (by which he means he includes “various technologies,” i.e. video.)

A non-singing Mata Hari makes sense thematically in their 90-minute work, since this “Mata Hari” offers a decidedly feminist spin on the woman most often depicted as a femme fatale — an exotic dancer and seductress turned cunning double agent. Here, she is a victim of the men in her life (hence, denied a voice.) We see her victimization from the opening, when the male characters, all dressed in identical military uniforms, strip her of her fanciful tiara and elegant dress, and leave her in nothing but a slip. (The image is striking, as are several other moments in the piece, primarily because of designer Lucrecia Briceno’s chiaroscuro lighting.)  Then in non-chronological flashbacks and in testimony before her interrogator, we learn of her abusive first marriage to a military captain who abandons her, and takes away their children, forcing her to take up dancing (and…mistressing?) to survive; the departure by the subsequent love of her life, the injured soldier Vadim; and the double-dealing and lechery of the French and German military men who recruit her. Treated abominably in prison, she reveals at the end a final and bitter long-ago betrayal.

The non-singing Mata Hari is also part of the composer’s eclectic musical approach, combining traditional arias both forceful and tender by classically trained singers (most notably Mary Mackenzie as the nun) with contemporary melodies by the jazz singer Tomas Cruz as Vadim, with a repertoire of avant-garde sounds from punk-rock to standard modern dissonance by the four-piece band (electric guitar, violin, piano and accordion)

I wish I could say all of this struck me as refreshingly innovative, but it would be easier to feel that way if Mata Hari hadn’t already been the subject of everything from Greta Garbo’s 1931 film (“Mata Hari”) to Paulo Coelho’s 2016 novel (“The Spy”)

 

Mati Hari is on stage at HERE through January 14.

 

 

Secondary Dominance

“Secondary Dominance” is a compelling example of my long-held belief that nearly any endeavor, no matter how awful it sounds in theory, can wind up wonderful if it’s done well enough by passionate, creative and talented people.

Sarah Small calls her piece a “multimedia concert in 13 micro movements.” It is an hour long, without a discernible plot or point, without even discernible words in English, and filled with enough familiar avant-garde tropes to keep your newly arrived hipster happy for months:

Lots and lots of videos — long shot video projections of mountains and waves, close-up videos of snakes and frogs, videos of naked people singing, including a really fat woman; and videos of the live performers as they perform in front of the screen.

An older couple posing for a series of tableaux-vivant typical of how young people view old people (in one the woman knits.)

A half-naked, bald bearded man in pancake makeup.

Three ballet dancers who sit down on the stage to take off their leg warmers and put on their ballet slippers.

Three other women attired alternatively in peasant dresses, bangles and flowers in their hair, or, like, Sarah Small herself, wearing comic hero style silver sneakers.

A clue to why this all works is in the title, which is a play on the phrase, secondary dominant, a musical term. The music is what matters in this piece, and the music is gorgeous. The combination of flute, cello, percussion, the harmonizing vocals, even the electronic sounds – music that, as the production puts it, “synthesizes genres from Balkan folk to contemporary chamber, industrial, renaissance, rock, rap, and punk” – is mesmerizing enough to justify (or at least excuse) all the visuals. It becomes a sonic adventure, a journey through dreamland.  I wouldn’t call “Secondary Dominance” the 21st century’s “Fantasia,” but that’s because the century is so young.

 

Secondary Dominance is on stage at HERE through January 14, 2017

Blueprint Specials Review: World War II Soldier Musicals, Entertaining Civilians At Last

In the first public performance of the four surviving musicals commissioned by the U.S. Army during World War II to boost morale among the troops, “Blueprint Specials” could not be more deftly staged, from the creation of a pop-up theater on the hangar of an actual World War II aircraft carrier (the Intrepid, now a museum) to the casting of both bona fide Broadway stars (Will Swenson, Laura Osnes) and active duty military officers and Armed Forces veterans.

Click on any photograph by Ryan Jensen to see it enlarged.

 

The production by the Waterwell theater company for the Under The Radar Festival, weaves together the four musicals – “About Face,” “Hi, Yank!,” “P.F.C. Mary Brown” and “OK, USA” – into what feels like a variety show, straight out of vaudeville, complete with a title card placed on an easel announcing each scene/skit/musical number, and a tone that ranges from wiseass to risqué, campy to cornball, hilarious to heartfelt. The 24 musical numbers include nine by Frank Loesser, who went on to create the musicals Guys and Dolls and How to Succeed Without Really Trying. But it’s as interesting to hear the five equally tuneful melodies by somebody named Ruby Jane Douglass, and wonder: Whatever happened to her? The choreography is styled after the original by Jose Limon, by current members of the Limon Dance Company.
In true G.I. tradition, the opening skit mocks the army, showing what it took to get the Army to put on the musicals, starting with their approval by General George Washington, who is promised it will be ready in a month (“Our songwriters have already finished the theme song: ‘You Gave Me A Thrill at Bunker Hill, When I Saw the Whites of Your Eyes, Baby’”), a promise made as well to Abraham Lincoln, and then to General John Pershing during World War I.
Osnes and Swenson are the principal characters for “PFC Mary Brown,” in which Swenson (Hair) portrays the god Jupiter, and Osnes (Cinderella) is Pallas Athena, who is so bored with life as a goddess, that she travels to Earth an joins the WACs (Women’s Army Corps, as explained in the helpful glossary in the back of the program.)
Quinn Mattfeld, who was in both “Pal Joey” and the latest “The Cherry Orchard” on Broadway, gives the stand-out Broadway performance as a comic character named Sad Sack. But Emily McAleese-Jergins is especially stirring in Loesser’s “Poor Lonely MP”; her bio lists her as on active duty and a vocalist for the West Point Band. Indeed, there was something unavoidably inspiring about the finale involving the entire 34-member cast, some dressed in street clothes to indicate they are civilians, and the others dressed in the uniforms of one of the four branches of the military represented on the stage.
The show is called Blueprint Specials because, as Waterwell explains, the shows, once created, were turned into “blueprints” for soldiers themselves to put on in the field. “The Army packaged and distributed them as a complete script, with score and orchestrations, scenic and costume drawings, and instructions for how to put on the show.”
Are these Blueprint Specials replicable now beyond the few performances of the theater festival? It would not surprise me at all if this soldiers show were given a promotion to Off-Broadway. What is even more likely to come out of this production is another smart theater company performing at the Intrepid Sea Air and Space Museum, which is big enough to be its own floating Theater Row.

The Blueprint Specials

Intrepid Sea Air and Space Museum

i.e.

uss-intrepid-at-pier-86

Pier 86, West 46th Street & 12th Avenue
Adapted and Directed by Tom Ridgely
Originally conceived by The Special Services Division, Army Service Forces, 1944-45
Book principally by Arnold M. Auerbach
Original choreography by José Limón
Music Director Sonny Paladino
Choreography by Patrick McCollum
Scenic & Costume Design by Andrea Lauer
Lighting Design by Simon Cleveland
Sound Design by Josh Millican
Properties Supervisor Eitan Negri
Choreography for “Report from the Caribbean” and “Ballet” in the style of José Limón by Colin Connor and members of the Limón Dance Company
Cast includes: Laura Osnes (Cinderella, Bonnie and Clyde) and Will Swenson (Hair) are Quinn Mattfeld (The Cherry Orchard, Pal Joey), Jenny Florkowski (Wicked), Emily McAleese-Jergins (vocalist for the West Point Band), James Edward Becton (U.S. Army Veteran) and Waterwell ensemble members Hanna Cheek (The Pumpkin Pie Show) and Kevin Townley (The Talent Show). Additional casting includes U.S. Military veterans as well as Active Duty and Reserve Service Members: Brad Bong, Adrienne Brammer, Hugh Cha, Jennean Farmer, Sandra W. Lee, Nelly Saviñon, and Robert Soto; as well as civilian artists Mark Banik, Kate Berman, Lyndsey Brown,Taylor Crousore, Ethan Hardy, Kurt Hellerich, Melissa Rose Hirsch, Rich Hollman, Dea Julien, Erica Page, Eddie Rodriguez, Kelsey Shaw, Mandy Striph, and Jennifer Joan Thompson.
Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission
Theater tickets: $25
Blueprint Specials is scheduled to run only through January 11.

The theater is in the back, behind this airplane.

The theater is in the back, behind this airplane.

Spring Guides. Golden Globes as Theater Awards. Meryl Streep’s Speech. Week in NY Theater

goldenglobe-collage“Theater Nerds Everywhere”: Among the winners of Golden Globes Sunday night were a movie based on a play; a musical; and a stage full of theater people.

Viola Davis won a Golden Globe for portraying the same character in the film of “Fences,” for which she won a Tony when Fences was on Broadway.
meryl_streep_071116_florence_foster_jenkins_4c_0“Moonlight,” based on Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue” and featuring Andre Holland, who is on Broadway current in August Wilson’s ‘Jitney,’ received the award from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association for Best Motion Picture – Drama.

Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, songwriters of the current Broadway hit Dear Evan Hansen, shared a Golden Globe as the lyricists for the song “City of Stars” in LaLa Land, dedicating their award to “musical theater nerds everywhere.”

Meryl Streep made a pointed speech criticizing the President-Elect, and ending with an homage to her friend Carrie Fisher. (Scroll to the bottom for the complete transcript of Streep’s speech, and Viola Davis’s introduction of Streep.)

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Guide to 2017 Winter Theater Festivals

Off-Broadway Spring 2017 Guide

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Broadway Spring 2017 Guide

January Openings

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Tickets on sale for Broadway Week

 

Week in New York Theater Reviews

Richard Roxburgh and Cate Blanchett

Richard Roxburgh and Cate Blanchett

The Present

About halfway through The Present, an adaptation of Chekhov’s first play, Cate Blanchett, as a Russian general’s widow celebrating her 40th birthday, shoots off a shotgun, dances atop a table, and pours vodka on her head. It is an attention-grabbing moment in Blanchett’s Broadway debut performance – and one of the show’s few unmitigated pleasures…

There are those who are fans of the two-time Oscar winner who will find her performance entertaining enough to obliterate any other concerns, or who have the patience and curiosity to appreciate the production’s complex texture and thought-provoking themes of loss, regret, paralysis, desire, loneliness, fear of change — who will feel good for having experienced Quality Theater.  And then there are the rest of us, who wish it were shorter.

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Lula Del Ray

In this opening show at this year’s Under the Radar festival, a Chicago-based theater company with the completely apt name of Manual Cinema allows the audience at the Public Theater to watch a silent film about a lonely, star-gazing girl in the American Southwest of the 1950’s, and simultaneously to watch the making of that film….The essential charm of the show rests in the marvel of ingenuity on display, the rushing around of the actors and puppeteers and… overhead projector operators, to reproduce manually, on a simple screen placed on stage, the catalogue of modern film techniques – long shots of beautiful sunsets, extreme close-ups of Lula’s expressive face, panning, fade-outs, Dutch angles, tracking shots….Somebody at Manual Cinema clearly went to film school.

Hu Yang as Confucius

Hu Yang as Confucius

Confucius

The strength of Confucius, a 90-minute dance piece featuring 60 performers from the China National Opera and Dance Drama Theater, is not found in its efforts to present Confucian philosophy and biography, nor even Chinese history and culture, none of which is especially illuminating. The show’s strength lies in its visual splendor and gymnastic choreography.

The Week in New York Theater News

mark-ruffalo

Mark Ruffalo has been cast in the Roundabout’s revival of Arthur Miller’s “The Price,” replacing John Turturro, who is said to be leaving due to a conflict in his filming schedule. Ruffalo joins Tony Shalhoub and Jessica Hecht in the play, opening March 16.

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“Escape to Margaritaville,” with the songs of JimmyBuffett songs, starts its pre-Broadway tour in May at the La Jolla Playhouse, and aims for Broadway in 2018

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Jenny Schlenzka, current curator of performance MoMAPS1, has been appointed the artistic director of PS 122, the third person in the post, the first woman.

TaymorAs part of the second annual BroadwayCon, Julie Taymor will discuss The Lion King, on its 20th anniversary year on Broadway, with Whoopi Goldberg, who voiced the character of Shenzi in the film. The conversation happens January 27th.

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Nathan Lane

Nathan Lane

The Front Page, after just 15 weeks, recouped its entire $4.875 million capitalization during the week ending, Sunday, January 1, the first Broadway production of the 2016-2017 theater season to do so

Apple’s next iPhone (iOS 10.3) reportedly to have “theater mode” — button to dim screen/mute audio SO YOU CAN USE IT IN A THEATER

Javier Munoz as Eliza Hamilton and the cast

Javier Munoz as Hamilton

Hamilton’ Hits $105 Million in 2016 as Broadway Rings in $1.37 Billion

The Humansl

Closing January 15th, The Humans was the best-selling straight play on Broadway in 2016, with $22.2 million worth of tickets sold.

 

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Broadway dimmed its lights, Friday, January 6th at 7:45pm in memory of Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds.

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“Thank you very much. Thank you. Please sit down. Please sit down. Thank you. I love you all. You’ll have to forgive me. I’ve lost my voice in screaming and lamentation this weekend. And I have lost my mind sometime earlier this year. So I have to read.
Thank you, Hollywood foreign press. Just to pick up on what Hugh Laurie said. You and all of us in this room, really, belong to the most vilified segments in American society right now. Think about it. Hollywood, foreigners and the press. But who are we, and what is Hollywood, anyway? It’s just a bunch of people from other places. I was born and raised and educated in the public schools of New Jersey. Viola was born in a sharecropper’s cabin in South Carolina, came up in Central Falls, Rhode Island. Sarah Paulson was born in Florida and raised by a single mom in Brooklyn.
Sarah Jessica Parker was one of seven or eight kids from Ohio. Amy Adams was born in Vicenza, Italy, and Natalie Portman was born in Jerusalem — where are their birth certificates? And the beautiful Ruth Negga was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, raised in — no, in Ireland, I do believe, and she’s here, nominated for playing a small-town girl from Virginia. Ryan Gosling, like all the nicest people, is Canadian. And Dev Patel was born in Kenya, raised in London, is here for playing an Indian raised in Tasmania. So Hollywood is crawling with outsiders and foreigners. And if we kick ’em all out, you’ll have nothing to watch but football and mixed martial arts, which are not the arts.

“Hollywood is crawling with outsiders and foreigners. And if we kick ’em all out, you’ll have nothing to watch but football and mixed martial arts, which are not the arts.”

They gave me three seconds to say this, so. An actor’s only job is to enter the lives of people who are different from us and let you feel what that feels like. And there were many, many, many powerful performances this year that did exactly that, breathtaking, compassionate work. There was one performance this year that stunned me. It sank its hooks in my heart. Not because it was good. There was nothing good about it. But it was effective and it did its job. It made its intended audience laugh and show their teeth. It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter. Someone he outranked in privilege, power and the capacity to fight back. It kind of broke my heart when I saw it. I still can’t get it out of my head because it wasn’t in a movie. It was real life.
And this instinct to humiliate, when it’s modeled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody’s life, ’cause it kind of gives permission for other people to do the same thing.
Disrespect invites disrespect. Violence incites violence. And when the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose. Okay. Go on with that thing.

“Disrespect invites disrespect. Violence incites violence. And when the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.”

This brings me to the press. We need the principled press to hold power to account, to call them on the carpet for every outrage. That’s why our founders enshrined the press and its freedoms in our Constitution. So I only ask the famously well-heeled Hollywood foreign press and all of us in our community to join me in supporting the Committee to Protect Journalists, because we’re going to need them going forward, and they’ll need us to safeguard the truth.
One more thing. Once when I was standing around on the set one day whining about something, we were going to work through supper, or the long hours or whatever, Tommy Lee Jones said to me, “Isn’t it such a privilege, Meryl, just to be an actor?” Yeah, it is. And we have to remind each other of the privilege and the responsibility of the act of empathy. We should all be very proud of the work Hollywood honors here tonight. As my friend the dear departed Princess Leia said to me once, “Take your broken heart, make it into art.”

As my friend the dear departed Princess Leia said to me once, “Take your broken heart, make it into art.”

(Viola Davis’s introduction to Meryl Streep:

“She stares. That’s the first thing you notice about her. She tilts her head back with that sly suspicious smile, and she stares for a long time. And you think: Do I have something in my teeth? Or does she wanna kick my [expletive] — which is not gonna happen?

And then she’ll ask questions. “What’d you do last night, Viola?”

“Oh I cooked an apple pie.”

“Did you use Pippin apples?”

“Pippin apples, what the hell are Pippin apples? I used Granny Smith apples.”

“Oh. Did you make your own crust?”

“No, I used store-bought crust. That’s what I did.”

“Then you didn’t make an apple pie, Viola.”

“Well that’s because I spent all my time making my collard greens. I make the best collard greens. I use smoked-turkey chicken broth and my own special sauce.”

Silence. I shut her down.

“Well, they don’t taste right unless you use ham hocks. If you don’t use ham hocks it doesn’t taste the same. So how’s the family?”

And as she continues to stare you realize that she sees you. And like a high-powered scanning machine she’s recording you. She is an observer and a thief. She waits to share what she has stolen on that sacred place, which is the screen. She makes the most heroic characters vulnerable, the most known familiar, the most despised relatable. Dame Streep. Her artistry reminds us of the impact of what it means to be an artist, which is to make us feel less alone. I can only imagine where you go, Meryl, when you disappear into a character. I imagine that you’re in them, patiently waiting, using yourself as a conduit, encouraging them, coaxing them to release all their mess, expose, to live. You are a muse. Your impact encouraged me to stay in the line.

Dame Streep, I see you. I see you. And you know all those rainy days we spent on the set of “Doubt”? Every day my husband would call me at night and say, “Did you tell her how much she means to you?”

And I said, “No, I can’t say anything, Julius, I’m just nervous. All I do is stare at her all the time.”

He said, “Well, you need to say something. You’ve been waiting all your life to work with this woman. Say something.”

I said, “Julius, I’ll do it tomorrow.”

“O.K. you better do it tomorrow because when I get there I’m going to say something!”

I haven’t said anything. But I’m gonna say it now. You make me proud to be an artist. You make me feel that what I have in me, my body, my face, my age, is enough. You encapsulate that great Émile Zola quote that if you ask me as an artist what I came into this world to do, I, an artist, would say, I came to live out loud.”)