Broadway at the Oscars 2017: What to Watch for.

Theater fans can watch the 2017 Oscars just like sports views view the World Series. Three examples:


1. If Lin-Manuel Miranda wins an Oscar tonight for his song “How Far I’ll Go” from Moana (which he’ll also be performing on the broadcast), he will be just the 13th person ever to win competitive Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony Awards, and only the third (after Richard Rodgers and Marvin Hamlisch) to win an EGOT plus a Pulitzer.
2. If Denzel Washington and Viola Davis win the Oscars for their roles in the 2016 film Fences, they will be the tenth and 11th performers to win both Tonys and Oscars for the same role. They both won the Tony Award in the 2010 Broadway production of August Wilson’s play. (The first to win both was Jose Ferrer for the title role of Cyrano de Bergerac)
3. If Emma Stone and Michelle Williams win in their respective Oscar categories (best actress and best supporting actress), that will mean two Oscar winners who both starred on Broadway as Sally Bowles in Cabaret.

The connection between Broadway and Hollywood is always dizzying, but it seems especially dazzling at this year’s Oscars.

2017 Oscar Nominated Performers With Broadway Pedigrees

Nine of the 20 actors nominated for Oscars this year have performed on Broadway. Here is the breakdown:

Actor in a Leading Role

Andrew Garfield for Hacksaw Ridge (Death of a Salesman 2012)
Denzel Washington for Fences (Checkmates 1988, Julius Caesar 2005, Fences 2010, A Raisin in the Sun 2014)

Actress in a Leading Role

Natalie Portman for Jackie (The Diary of Anne Frank, 1997)
Emma Stone for La La Land (Cabaret, 2015)
Meryl Streep for Florence Foster Jenkins (Trelawny of the “Wells”, 1975; A Memory of Two Mondays/27 Wagons Full of Cotton, 1976; Secret Service, 1976; The Cherry Orchard, 1977; Happy End, 1977)

Actor in a Supporting Role

Michael Shannon for Nocturnal Animals (Grace 2012, Long Day’s Journey Into Night 2016)

Actress in a Supporting Role

Viola Davis for Fences (Seven Guitars 1996, King Hedley II 2001, Fences 2010)
Nicole Kidman for Lion (The Blue Room, 1998)
Michelle Williams for Manchester by the Sea (Cabaret 2014, Blackbird 2016)

2017 Oscar Nominated Actor Currently Performing on a New York Stage

Stefania Lavie Owen and Lucas Hedges

Stefania Lavie Owen and Lucas Hedges

Lucas Hedges, nominated for best supporting actor for Manchester by the Sea, is currently starring in Yen Off-Broadway.

2017 Oscar Nominated Songwriters

benj-pasek-and-justin-paul

Lin-Manuel Miranda is not the only musical theater composer nominated this year for an Oscar for a song. Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (Dear Evan Hansen) are nominated as lyricists for “City of Stars” and “Audition (The Fools Who Dream),” both in La La Land.

Stage to Screen — to the Oscars . . .

moonlight-movie

Two of the best-film nominees, Fences by August Wilson and Moonlight, are adaptations of plays by August Wilson and Tarell Alvin McCraney, both of whom are Oscar-nominated this year (Wilson posthumously) for adapted screenplay.

The list of films adapted from plays goes back to before the Oscars existed, even before the Hollywood studios were built. As early as 1900, the great theater actress Sarah Bernhardt appeared in a two-minute movie version of Hamlet, playing the title character, and in 1912, she portrayed Queen Elizabeth I in a screen adaptation of a play that marked the first full-length commercial film shown in America; the producer rented the Lyceum, then and now a Broadway theatre, in order to lend class to the new art form. Fifteen years later, in 1927, The Jazz Singer, often credited as the first talkie (some historians dispute this designation), was indisputably the first movie musical to be based on a Broadway show. The most beloved include Best Picture winners West Side Story, My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music, and Chicago. Some of the least beloved — alas, not Best Picture nominees — include A Chorus Line and The Producers (which is a movie musical based on a Broadway musical that was based on a movie).
The adaptations have not been limited to musicals. Two of the three films nominated for the very first Oscar for Best Picture, in 1928, were adapted from Broadway plays. (The winner, Wings, was not.)

. . . And From Screen (to Oscar) — to the Stage

It took a few decades for theater and film adaptations to go in both directions. It wasn’t until 1970 that a Broadway show based on a movie won the Tony for best musical. Fittingly, the musical was Applause, inspired by All About Eve. Now every major Hollywood studio has a theatrical division, looking to create shows for Broadway, and every Broadway season includes a number of musicals that are based on movies — or that use the same name, basic story, and source material (such as a book or a play) as a well-known movie.
Looking just at this season’s openings , there are seven shows on Broadway based on (or “inspired by” or with the same name and story as) a movie: Holiday Inn, A Bronx Tale, Sunset Boulevard, Amelie, Groundhog Day, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Anastasia. Five more still running on Broadway opened in previous seasons: Aladdin, Kinky Boots, School of Rock, The Lion King, Waitress.

Unique Stage to Screen to Oscars Story

the-salesman

The Salesman, a film from Iran by Asghar Farhadi nominated for Best Foreign Language Film, tells the story of Emad and Rana, a young couple from Tehran performing in a local theater’s production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman.

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New York Theater Quiz February 2017

How well were you paying attention to the theater in February? Answer these 13 quiz questions to find out.

Sunday in the Park with George: Sondheim and Seurat, Gyllenhaal and Ashford

A Sunday on La Grande Jatte - 1884
“Art isn’t easy,” Jake Gyllenhaal as George sings in the fourth Broadway production of Stephan Sondheim and James Lapine’s “Sunday In the Park with George,” inspired by one of the most popular paintings in the world.
“Sunday” opens tonight at the newly rechristened Hudson Theater, which is both one of the oldest theaters on Broadway (built in 1903), and the newest (presenting its first Broadway show in 49 years.)

If some theatergoers were uneasy with the unusually structured musical when it premiered in 1984, audiences have come around so completely to the art of Stephen Sondheim, that when the characters in Georges Seurat’s painting bow to him in Act II, it seems nearly autobiographical.
Click on any photographs below by Matthew Murphy of the current production to see them enlarged. (Below the photographs, a plot summary by Sondheim himself.)

Stephen Sondheim’s synopsis: “Act One concerns the French painter Georges Seurat (1859-1891) and his creation of Un dimanche apres-midi a l’Ile de la Grande Jatte (A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte), which took more than two years to complete…and depicts approximately fifty people in varying perspectives and proportions strolling and relaxing in a public park outside of Paris..Act Two deals with the artistic crisis experienced by his great-grandson, an American conceptual artist in his forties, named George.”

Everybody Review: Morality Meets Mortality, 600 Years Later

everybody-for-calendarWith “Everybody,” Branden Jacobs-Jenkins adapts “Everyman,” the 15th century morality play, for a modern secular New York audience. The idea here is inspired, and the world premiere production at the Signature can be inspiring; it even provoked some reflection on my own mortality. “Everybody” can also be very funny. But both the playwright and director Lila Neugebauer seem hell-bent on deliberately “destabilizing” the story, making it less accessible.

In the original allegory, Death summons Everyman before God to make an accounting of his life, and one by one, he is let down by Fellowship, Strength, Beauty, etc. Only Good Deeds comes through for him.

In Jacobs-Jenkins’ version, Death is the genial if impatient Marylouise Burke, and Everybody asks for help from some of the same allegorical aspects of his life, here renamed Friendship, Kinship, etc. (My favorite new name is Stuff.) Everybody wants them to accompany him in his accounting before God. Most initially react the same way – “So are you saying ‘God’ is real?” — and each one in turn makes up excuses to turn Everybody down.

The most hilarious of these exchanges is with Friendship, who swears fealty to Everybody with the words “I would literally go to hell and back for you,” shortly before Everyman asks her to accompany him.

“OH HEEEEELLLL NO!….”

“But you promised me ‘to hell –‘?

“’And back.’ Remember I said: ‘And back?’ We’ve always had these communication issues.”

It’s worth quoting some of what Friendship says to Everybody when we first see them together, because it is such a spot-on satire of contemporary friendships:

“I was just thinking about you, too! Oh, man! I miss you! What is going on? You seem a little depressed! Is it still the election? Is it the weather? Is it Global Warming? Or is it just politics? Is it identity politics? Or is it your job? Is it your career slash lack of a career? Is it that person we both hate? Oh no! It’s not that person we both love, is it? Is it your relationship slash lack of a relationship? Is it our relationship? Remember that time we sort of hooked up? That was weird, right? But it’s good we got over it, right? Right? We got over it, right? Oh man, Sports? Sports! Hey, have you seen that movie? Have you watched that cable show everyone’s talking about?…”

This is just one of the several moments that would clearly mark Branden Jacobs-Jenkins as a substantive talent, if he hadn’t already been established as such from his spate of recent plays, including “Gloria” and “An Octoroon,” which was a modern meta-theatrical adaptation of a 19th century melodrama about what was called miscegenation (the mixing of the races.)

Yet the playwright’s shrewdly observed moments apparently seemed insufficient to the creative team, who insisted on lots of extra….fiddling.

To begin with, the roles that five of the nine cast members portray during any performance are chosen by lottery (we see the performers line up in front of the stage behind the lottery cage – that’s what’s being pictured in the photograph above.) There are 120 possible combinations of role assignments, we’re told, and the five actors have memorized all the roles. (The night I saw the show, the character of Everybody was portrayed by Louis Cancelmi.) The reason for the lottery? An usher explains: “It is required that the actor’s roles be decided by lottery every night in an attempt to more closely thematize the randomness of death while also destabilizing pre-conceived notions about identity, blah blah blah…”

(Just to be clear, the “blah blah blah” is hers, not mine.)

The “usher” also turns out to be God. Jocelyn Bioh portrays them, and later in the show also plays Understanding. (Bioh is one of the four actors who don’t have to submit to the lottery.)

Some of the time the characters talk in complete darkness. Other times, the house lights go up, and stay up, during whole scenes. The actors don’t stay on stage, or even in the front of the theater, but often travel to the back, forcing the playgoers to twist around if we want to see what’s going on. Until the last few minutes of the 100-minute play, when there are a couple of surprising and entertaining stage effects, Laura Jellinek’s set design is simply a row of seats on stage that look exactly like the ones on which we’re sitting.

What is the message here – that life is difficult and dreary, so this show will be too?

The playwright also gives his characters too much to say that is digressive, repetitious or overlong (As terrific as it is, Friendship’s monologue is three times longer than my excerpt) – and there are several bouts of meta-theatrical interruption. Perhaps Jacobs-Jenkins is saying that modern life complicates things, and undercuts itself. We can no longer have a simple instructive play like “Everyman” anymore.

Maybe he’s even offering a counterargument to all those less benign people who are looking to impose their “strict” interpretations of old texts on 21st century life.

The result of what seems to be a kind of creative over-thinking, though, is that unlike the aim of its 15th century source, “Everybody” is not for everybody.

 

Everybody
Signature Theater
by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins; Directed by Lila Neugebauer
Set design by Laura Jellinek, costume design by Gabriel Berry, Lighting design by Matt Frey, music and sound design by Brandon Wolcott, choreographed by Raja Feather Kelly
Cast Jocelyn Bioh, Brooke Bloom, Michael Braun, Marylouise Burke, Louis Cancelmi, Lilyana Tiare Cornell, David Patrick Kelly, Lakisha Michelle May and Chris Perfetti
Running time: 100 minutes, no intermission
Tickets: $30 until March 14, $40 afterwards
Everybody runs through March 19.

Kid Victory, Kander’s New Musical: Review, Video, Pics

There is one song by John Kander in Kid Victory that recalls the composer’s collaboration with Fred Ebb in both Cabaret and Chicago – “What’s the Point?” a jaunty, satiric tap-dance. It’s one of the few such moments in Kander and Pierce’s somber, often harrowing musical, now Off-Broadway, about the aftermath of a kidnapping….In Kid Victory, his second collaboration with playwright and lyricist Greg Pierce, a half century his junior, Kander employs his arsenal of blues and hymns, ballads and dirges to tell a story that might work without any music, but stays with you all the more because of it.

Full review in DC Theatre Scene

 

Click on any photograph by Carol Rosegg to see it enlarged.

Broadway Black. The Week in NY Theater

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Theater artist Anna Deavere Smith received the George Polk Career Award, one of the top awards in journalism.

“This was not a traditional choice for us, because she doesn’t fit neatly in the category of journalist. ” John Darnton, curator of the Polk Awards, told Deadline, but the awards committee “realized she’s first of all a reporter in the way she goes about researching her topic.”

Smith, a familiar face as a performer, has created seminal theater pieces as “Fires In The Mirror,” about the Crown Heights riots. Recent works include “Notes from the Field,” about the school-to-prison pipeline and “Let Me Down Easy,” about healthcare in America.

2

Okieriete “Oak” Onaodowan is the new Pierre in “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812,” taking over from Josh Groban on July 3, 2017. He portrayed the original Hercules Mulligan and President James Madison in the musical Hamilton.

3

presidents-onstage-collage

Speaking of presidents, Toby Blackwell portrayed Barack Obama in an obscure 2012 Off-Off Broadway play entitled “Obama in Naples.” Virtually all the U.S. presidents have been portrayed on a New York stage, as my photo essay on Presidents Day attests.

4

harry-belafonte-young-2

The 115th Street branch of the New York Public Library is being renamed for Harry Belafonte, as the singer, actor, activist and Tony Award winner nears 90th birthday on March 1.

Week in NY Theater Reviews

Reed Birney and Nana Mensah

Man from Nebraska

There are three great reasons to see the New York stage debut of Man From Nebraska, without even knowing what it’s about: Its author Tracy Letts (August: Osage County), its director David Cromer (Our Town), a cast that features Reed Birney (The Humans.) These remain even when you learn it’s about a man’s mid-life crisis….We never get details explaining Ken’s spiritual crisis; there are no stimulating intellectual or theological debates. Nor do we get a resolution so much as just an ending…..If little is explained, this winds up not mattering as much as it might in the hands of lesser theater artists. These artists feel in full control.

(See below for news about Tracy Letts)

Matthew Broderick and Wallace Shawn in Shawn's Evening at the Talk House

Evening at the Talk House

“The theatre is gone, but there are new things now,” says Matthew Broderick in Wallace Shawn’s chilling comedy, which imagines a dystopian but familiar society where former theatre people have gone on to television, or to a day job, such as murderer. “My paycheck arrives with complete regularity,” says an ex wardrobe supervisor turned assassin.

…The wit and the horror of Shawn’s play is how, amid the kind of gossip, backbiting and nostalgic reminiscences standard from old troupers everywhere, the characters casually segue into conversations about “targeting” – killing people deemed undesirable.

glenn-as-norma

Sunset Boulevard

There was thunderous applause the night I saw “Sunset Boulevard” for Hillary Clinton as she took her seat right before the musical began. It would be snarky to observe it was the greatest ovation of the night, but I was struck by how much was packed into that greeting – admiration, defiance, a shared history, shared emotion, a shared loss.

There was certainly admiration for the revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical, especially for the dazzling encore performance of Glenn Close as Norma Desmond, 22 years after she won a Tony Award for the same role. But this show about a once-famous film star trying for a comeback, and the screenwriter who becomes her boy toy and her victim, carried relatively little emotional weight or complexity.

Week in NY Theater News

Arts Groups Draft Battle Plans as Trump Funding Cuts Loom

 

ct-tracy-letts-minutes-steppenwolf-broadway-20-001

“The MInutes,” a new play by Tracy Letts (August:Osage County) is planned for Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago before a Broadway set to open March 2018. Here is a description of it:

“A town’s proud history, the legend of a local hero,
the coveted privilege of reserved parking:
nothing is sacred during the town council meeting
at the heart of Tracy Lett’s new play.
This razor-sharp comedy turns from hilarious to chilling
as petty policy matters give way to the truth roiling
just beneath the surface of the town’s historical mythology.”

In Chicago Tribune: The play “was penned by Letts during the heat of the fall presidential campaign and election. Following its Chicago run (Nov. 9 to Dec. 31), the production then will move directly to Broadway with its Chicago cast intact.”

“I think our new president will love it,” said Steppenwolf artistic director, Anna D. Shapiro, in an interview Thursday. “I am excited for the tweets.”

sb-in-w

When Jessie Mueller leaves Waitress, she’ll be succeded the show’s creator, Sara Bareilles, starting March 31 for 10 weeks.

big-apple-circus-logo

Big Apple Circus saved

Full cast announced for The Little Foxes,opening at MTC’s  Samuel J. Friedman  April 19.

the-little-foxes-cast

 

Broome St Academy, a NYC public charter high schoo,l has won a American Theatre Wing Andrew Lloyd Webber Initiative grant of $12,000.  It is one of seven schools nationwide to be given grants this year.

Congratulations Laura Benanti and her husband, new parents of Ella Rose Benanti-Brown, born on Valentine’s Day

stage-kisses-collage

Stage Kisses in the last 100 years

significant-other-cast-pic

Watch the cast of “Significant Other”

When the President of the United States Tweeted that the press was the “enemy of the American people,” he (surely unintentionally) evoked Ibsen’s 1882 play “An Enemy of the People.”

Ibsen used “Enemy of the People” ironically. Main character actually a hero, targeted by ignorant mob.
The press=heroes; Trump=mob https://t.co/1c5swZIKn4

— New York Theater (@NewYorkTheater) February 17, 2017

 

max-ferra

RIP Max Ferra, 79, founder INTAR THEATRE, Off Broadway company producing Latino playwrights in English

Presidents, and #NotMyPresident, on Stage

Below is a photo essay of a century’s worth of stage depictions of American presidents.

One thing seems certain about the most uncertain presidency in U.S. history — Donald Trump will be depicted on stage. It’s already been happening. If the best-known caricature of him is on television, both Mike Daisey and Karen Finley  created theater pieces that revolved around Trump the candidate, and even Meryl Streep dressed up as him for a skit at last year’s Public Theater gala.

Today alone, Presidents Day has become #NotMyPresident Day, not just online but on stage, with anti-Trump performances in theaters throughout the nation, such as He’s Our President/He’s Our Problem at La MaMa. Surely some of these will include at least crude caricatures of the 45th president.

We soon will surely see more considered stage portrayals, likely to be satires akin to MacBird rather than “All The Way” (to pick two plays about 36th president LBJ, nearly 50 years apart.) — or “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” about the 7th president,  rather than, say, “Abe Lincoln in Illinois” the best-known of some dozen biographical dramas about the 16th president that have been on Broadway alone, starting with Benjamin Chapin’s Lincoln in 1906. Lincoln has been the subject of more Broadway plays than any other president by far, with George Washington a distant second — although Washington is among the three U.S. presidents (along with Thomas Jefferson and James Madison) currently on the Great White Way in “Hamilton.”

But nearly every one of the 44 presidents has been portrayed on Broadway at one time or another. In 2010, James Monroe (the fifth president) was a character in three separate shows, none of them kind representations: He was an ineffectual character in A Free Man of Color,John Guare’s look at New Orleans in the early 1800’s; the butt of a semi-racy joke in Colin Quinn’s solo showng Story Short: A History of The World in 75 Minutes; and a lascivious fop in Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. (In the latter, a rock musical about Jackson’s rise to power, Monroe at least fares better than Martin Van Buren, who is depicted as a two-faced conniver eating a Twinkie.)

Even more obscure presidents such as Rutherford B. Hayes have gotten their moments in the spotlight. Hayes and two other presidents were portrayed by Gene Wilder in “The White House,” a short-lived 1964 play by A. E. Hotchner that crammed in 24 of the presidents between John Adams and Woodrow Wilson.

In honor of Presidents Day, here is a collection of photographs of past presidents of the United States depicted on stage — all but two on Broadway — through the years. Click on any to see it enlarged and read the (sometimes extensive) captions.

 

 

In

In “Five Presidents,” a new play by Richard Cleveland not (yet?) on Broadway, five presidents pay their respects to Richard Nixon at his 1994 funeral. From left, Brit Whittle (Bill Clinton), Mark Jacoby (George H. W. Bush), Steve Sheridan (Ronald Reagan), Martin L’Herault (Jimmy Carter) and John Bolger (Gerald Ford).

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson

Benjamin Walker as Andrew Jackson in Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson, 2010. The musical by Alex Timbers and Michael Friedman, brought a campy downtown sensibility in its depiction of the seventh president of the United States as a combination sexy rock star, immature populist, and killer. They build in an ambivalence towards Jackson’s legacy with the meta-theatrical device of including a character who is a historian commenting on that legacy – until Jackson kills her halfway through the musical.

In honor of Presidents Day, I resurrect my review of “Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson,” which opened on Broadway on October 13, 2010 and closed three months later, on January 2, 2011.

Watching “Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson” for a second time, I wasn’t sure whether it reminded me more of “Urinetown,” “American Idiot” or “Springtime For Hitler.” One thing was clear: it was no “1776.”

The cheeky musical about America’s seventh president that has now moved to Broadway has turned me into Sybil, each of  my multiple personalities reacting differently. The history buff in me is appalled. The rock fan is entranced. The politico is irked that others somehow see in this sophomoric mish-mash a useful commentary on what’s going on in the country today. The would-be hipster wants desperately to talk about “emo” rock as if he knew what that meant, make knowing references to bands like Dashboard Confessional, and in general share in the downtown aura that invests this show with much of its marketing appeal. The theater aficionado is thrilled to witness the work of some intensely talented artists near the beginning of their careers, especially the actor who plays Andrew Jackson, Benjamin Walker, and the two first-time creative collaborators, director and book writer Alex Timbers and Michael Friedman, composer and lyricist.

“Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson” tries to set itself apart from your normal Broadway musical before the action has even begun, by turning the Bernard B. Jacobs Theater into a discotheque circa 1985 with a combination Wild West and Halloween theme, courtesy of set designer Donyale Werle—red lights are strewn across the ceiling along with the kind of chandeliers you can buy in bulk from ABC Carpet, a full-sized stuffed horse hangs upside down bound in chains, fake oil portraits of unnamed illustrious 19th century men line the walls, and placed throughout the theater are pelts, a Big Buck Hunter video game, a crow, a snarling grizzly bear.

None of this is on the stage, which is itself stuffed with beer cans, moose heads, faded landscape paintings, a disco ball, a dartboard, assorted bric-a-brac, like a T.G.I. Friday’s with an especially detail-oriented manager.

The visual busyness offers a glimpse into the approach of the musical itself, which presents scenes from the life and career of Andrew Jackson — frontiersman, military hero, controversial politician — in the sort of mash-up that might be cooked up by a group of clever, giddy college roommates during a drug-fueled all-nighter after attending an afternoon history lecture.

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, original Off-Broadway production

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, original Off-Broadway production

 

“Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson” is part rock concert, part Fringe show, part shock jock riff, with gratuitous swipes at gay people and the disabled. It is a mock children’s story hour mixed with a Behind the Music episode of the rise and demise of a rock star. The characters speak like 21st century adolescents, and there are a range of anachronistic allusions — to modern-day political campaigns, Internet start-ups, the Bush administration’s policy in Iraq, totalitarian dictatorships.

There is even an odd kind of romance: When Jackson meets Rachel, his wife-to-be (Maria Elena Ramirez) they sing about Susan Sontag’s “Illness as Metaphor”, and bleed each other. “Sometimes when I’m out on the battlefield, and I’m covered in blood and I have terrible dysentery and diarrhea, I think of you,” Jackson says dreamily to Rachel at one point. “Here at the Hermitage, bleeding yourself.”

The musical, which lasts roughly 90 minutes without an intermission, takes us on a quick tour of some of the highlights – and low points – in this profoundly intriguing historical figure, with particular attention to his treatment of Native Americans, focusing on the forced relocation policy, which has gone down in history as the Trail of Tears. The history is unreliable, the tone teeters from silly and fey to offensive and in-your-face. The musical attempts at times also to be pointed and poignant with only intermittent success. Yet for all its flaws and wrong-headedness, the theatergoer in me found that “Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson” largely works, because of Michael Friedman’s 13 songs. Played by a three-member band on stage and sung by Walker and the rest of the large, capable cast, they are hard-charging, tuneful, inventive — and, unlike much of the rock on Broadway stages, theatrical. Friedman, who is most associated with the seriously engaged “investigative theater” company The Civilians, is making his Broadway debut…as a composer; he was a dramaturg for “A Raisin in the Sun.” He also reportedly has written the original music for this season’s revival of Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America” at the Signature Theater. Benjamin Walker and Alex Timbers (who is also directing “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” this season) have been getting the ink for “Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson.” Michael Friedman is the member of the team I’d vote for.

BloodyBloody

Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson

Bernard Jacobs Theater (242 West 45th Street) Written and directed by Alex Timbers Music and lyrics by Michael Friedman Choreography by Danny Mefford; sets by Donyale Werle; costumes by Emily Rebholz; lighting by Justin Townsend; sound by Bart Fasbender; musical director, Justin Levine; music coordinator, Seymour Red Press; fight director, Jacob Grigolia-Rosenbaum Cast: Benjamin Walker (Andrew Jackson), James Barry (Male Soloist/Citizen/Phil), Darren Goldstein (Andrew Sr./Calhoun), Greg Hildreth (Red Eagle/University President), Jeff Hiller (Cobbler/Messenger/John Quincy Adams/Tour Guide/Florida Man), Lucas Near-Verbrugghe (Keokuk/Van Buren), Cameron Ocasio (Lyncoya), Bryce Pinkham (Black Fox/Clay), Nadia Quinn (Toula/Female Ensemble), Maria-Elena Ramirez (Rachel/Florida Woman), Kate Cullen Roberts (Elizabeth/Erica), Ben Steinfeld (Monroe), Emily Young (Female Soloist/Announcer/Naomi), Kristine Neilsen (the Storyteller) and Justin Levine, Charlie Rosen and Kevin Garcia (Musicians) Running time: 90 minutes without intermission Ticket prices: $61.50 to $131.50. Premium tickets as high as $251.50. Lottery for first two rows of orchestra, $20

Sunset Boulevard Review: Ready for Glenn Close Up

hillaryatsunsetThere was thunderous applause the night I saw “Sunset Boulevard” for Hillary Clinton as she took her seat right before the musical began. It would be snarky to observe it was the greatest ovation of the night, but I was struck by how much was packed into that greeting – admiration, defiance, a shared history, shared emotion, a shared loss.

There was certainly admiration for the revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical, especially for the dazzling encore performance of Glenn Close as Norma Desmond, 22 years after she won a Tony Award for the same role. But this show about a once-famous film star trying for a comeback, and the screenwriter who becomes her boy toy and her victim, carried relatively little emotional weight or complexity.

Click on any photograph by Joan Marcus to see it enlarged.

There was one moment in the show that actually moved me. That was when Norma is visiting her old movie studio, ignored by everybody bustling about except for one old member of the crew, who shines a spotlight on her. The actors dressed in Samson and Delilah outfits and the camera operators one by one stop what they’re doing to look at her. She basks in the light, glows in it, but her expression is tinged with something deeper, something close to fear and sorrow. She stands there like that, soaking it in, letting us soak it in, before she starts singing “As If We Never Said Goodbye” — the most effective lead-in to a song I think I’ve ever seen on a stage.

But then the song itself, as melodic and touching as it is, ends with: “We taught the world new ways to dream.”

That is one of the lyrics that drive home what I consider a fatal flaw in much of the remaining 150 minutes of “Sunset Boulevard,” a musical adaptation of the 1950 movie that was directed by Billy Wilder and starred Gloria Swanson. In the movie, Norma Desmond is delusional. But the Lloyd Webber musical shares much of her delusion. Rather than the film’s grim and ironic satire of Hollywood, the stage “Sunset Boulevard” is really an homage to (and embodiment of) big, empty commercial entertainment.

Yes, I know, this production – directed by Lonny Price and originally presented by the English National Opera in London — is being touted as a pared down concert version. This is a, well, semi-delusional claim. There is indeed a 40-piece orchestra placed Encores-like on stage. There is also

a cast of more than two dozen

a new gorgeous costume for Glenn Close in each and every scene

a working antique car (a “Isotta-Fraschini”)

a life-sized dummy suspended above the stage (the murder victim we see at the outset of the show, that is supposed to make it a stage noir, which it isn’t)

and the pool of water where the orchestra pit is normally located, from which emerges Joe Gillis (Norma’s kept man, portrayed by Michael Xavier) in wet bathing suit and glistening pectorals.

Yes, yes, the set is surely less elaborate than the original Broadway production: In that version, Norma is alone on New Year’s Eve in her exquisite palazzo, appointed with a working pipe organ and a majestic staircase, when it is literally lifted up into the air, revealing a crowded party in a cramped Hollywood apartment in the bottom half – a living split screen, one of the most memorable stage effects ever. (I’ll confess that’s one of the few things I remember from the 1994 show, winner of seven Tonys, including best musical.) But James Noone’s set for the revival can be considered bare bones only if the bones belonged to Tyrannosaurus rex. It is an elaborate multi-tiered maze of staircases and catwalks, with the “HOLLYWOOD” sign behind it, and interspersed with the odd gold-and-crystal chandelier.

The large orchestra certainly makes Lloyd Webber’s score sound better than it would have if played by 40 kazoos, but, as tuneful as some of it is, all the violins in the world can’t turn it into Puccini.

“Sunset Boulevard” is ersatz opera of the outsized and mostly overwrought kind that Broadway audiences have been eating up, on and off, since the 1980s. It’s noteworthy, then, that this production (and the one in 1994) cast Glenn Close, whose voice is, to put it politely, far from operatic. Her power resides in her acting; her Norma manages, at its best, to be both steely and vulnerable, sinking into herself and dominating everything and everyone. Most of the other cast members hardly register by comparison. (One exception is Fred Johanson as the odd Max von Mayerling, her driver and protector, who makes the most of his one song.)

Glenn Close gets seriously into her character. But at the same time, when Joe says on meeting her “Aren’t you Norma Desmond?….You use to be big,” there’s something of an implied wink in her delivery of the most famous line in the musical (and in the movie): “I am big. It’s the pictures that got small.”  That’s a moment when the audience can say: I’m with her.

Sunset Boulevard

Book by Don Black and Christopher Hampton; Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber; Lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton; Based on the film by Billy Wilder.

Directed by Lonny Price; Choreographed by Stephen Mear; Associate Director: Matt Cowart

Scenic Design by James Noone; Costume Design by Tracy Christensen; Lighting Design by Mark Henderson; Sound Design by Mick Potter; Original Glenn Close Costume Designs: Anthony Powell; Glenn Close Wig Design: Andrew Simonin; Glenn Close’s Makeup Design: Charlotte Hayward; Hair and Wig Design by Dave Bova and J. Jared Janas; Makeup Design by Dave Bova and J. Jared Janas; Associate Costume Design: Abby Hahn; Associate Lighting Design: Travis McHale; Associate Sound Design: Adam Fisher; Associate Wig Design: Brittany Hartman

Cast: Glenn Close as Norma Desmond, Siobhan Dillon as Betty Schaeffer, Fred Johanson as Max von Mayerling, Michael Xavier as Joe Gillis, Nancy Anderson, Mackenzie Bell,Preston Truman Boyd, Artie Green, Barry Busby, Britney Coleman, Julian R. Decker, Anissa Felix, Drew Foster, David Hess, Brittney Johnson, Katie Ladner, Stephanie Martignetti, Lauralyn McClelland, T. Oliver Reid, Lance Roberts, Stephanie Rothenberg, Graham Rowat, Paul Schoeffler as Cecil B. DeMille, Andy Taylor as Sheldrake, Sean Thompson, Matt Wall, Jim Walton as Manfred

Musical Director: Kristen Blodgette; Music orchestrated by David Cullen and Andrew Lloyd Webber; Vocal and Incidental Music Arrangements: David Cullen and Andrew Lloyd Webber

Musical Supervisor: Kristen Blodgette; Musical Coordinator: David Lai; Conducted by Kristen Blodgette; Keyboard 1: Michael Patrick Walker; Keyboard 2: Dale Rieling; Concert Master: Kelly Hall-Tompkins; First Violin: Katherine Livolsi-Landau, Karl Kawahara, Victoria Paterson, Sebu Sirinian and Svetlana Tsoneva; Second Violin: Mineko Yajima, Elizabeth Nielsen, Louise Owen, Rena Isbin and Patricia Davis; Viola: David Creswell, Mark Holloway, Richard Brice and Jennifer Herman; Cello: Mairi Dorman-Phaneuf, Robert Burkhart and Emily Brausa; Bass/Electric Bass Peter Donovan; Bass: Lisa Stokes; Flute/Alto Flute: Liz Mann; Flute/Piccolo: Kathleen Nester; Oboe/Cor Anglais: Julia DeRosa; Clarinet: Todd Palmer; Clarinet 2/Tenor Saxophone: Rob Jacoby; Bass Clarinet/Alto Saxophone 1: Andrew Sterman; Bassoon 1: Damian Primis; Bassoon 2: Cynde Iverson; Horn 1: Mike Atkinson; Horn 2: Will de Vos; Trumpet/Piccolo: John Chudoba; Trumpet 2: Alex Holton; Trombone: Mark Patterson; Bass Trombone: Jeremy Morrow; Harp: Grace Paradise; Guitar: Nate Brown; Drums: Michael Croiter; Percussion: Daniel Haskins; Synthesizer Programmer: Stuart Andrews; Music Copying: Emily Grishman Music Preparation and Adriana Grace

Running time: 2 hours and 40 minutes, including one intermission.

Tickets: $79-$250

“Sunset Boulevard” is scheduled to run through June 25, 2017 (which is an extension of its original run.)

Wallace Shawn’s Evening at the Talk House: Review and Pics

“The theatre is gone, but there are new things now,” says Matthew Broderick in Wallace Shawn’s chilling comedy, which imagines a dystopian but familiar society where former theatre people have gone on to television, or to a day job, such as murderer. “My paycheck arrives with complete regularity,” says an ex wardrobe supervisor turned assassin.

…The wit and the horror of Shawn’s play is how, amid the kind of gossip, backbiting and nostalgic reminiscences standard from old troupers everywhere, the characters casually segue into conversations about “targeting” – killing people deemed undesirable.

Full review at DC Theatre Scene

Click on any photograph by Monique Carboni to see it enlarged