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.

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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.

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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.

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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

 

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“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.

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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

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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

Man From Nebraska: Reviews, Pics

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.

Full review on DC Theatre Scene

Valentines Day Talk with Significant Other Cast

significant-other-cast-pic

significant-other-poster-croppedBelow are brief videotaped interviews with Barbara Barrie, Gideon Glick, Rebecca Naomi Jones, and Lindsay Mendez — four of the cast members of “Significant Other,” a play by Joshua Harmon about dating, which begins previews today (St. Valentine’s Day) at Broadway’s Booth Theater, and opens on March 2, 2017.

 

 

Love and Kisses Onstage

In honor of Valentine’s Day, here are 1. 25 photographs of kisses on stage over the past century, and 2. videos of five of Broadway’s most romantic love songs,

Click on any photograph to see it enlarged and read the caption.

Theater Survives. Color Purple Grabs a Grammy. Christian Borle Joins The Staged Resistance. Week in NY Theater

Theater goes back thousands of years — driven home by newly available theater-related images from the Metropolitan Museum of Art — and overpriced Broadway ticket prices won’t finally kill it. That’s because, for every Broadway musical announcing $750 tickets, there is an entire Off-Off Broadway festival for just $9/ (See details below, under “Not Discount,” and “Performeteria.”)

More below: Christian Borle joins the staged resistance; Isherwood is out; The Color Purple’s Grammy is just one of the theater awards announced this week. Will La La Land become a stage musical? Its director replies.

Week in New York Theater Reviews

Annie Dow and Eddie Martinez

Annie Dow and Eddie Martinez

Fade

Fade” is a play about the bond that develops between a Mexican-born TV writer and a Mexican-American janitor at the studio. Its author, Tanya Saracho, is a Mexican-born TV writer/producer …”Fade” is well acted, and Saracho’s script touches on several worthwhile issues…But..it’s frankly hard to muster much outrage about the behind-the-scenes machinations of television.

The Object Lesson dinner 4

The Object Lesson

Geoff Sobelle, self-declared “maker of absurdist performance art,” is credited as the creator and performer of “The Object Lesson,” but it at least co-stars thousands of boxes. These are boxes that fill up the floor of the New York Theatre Workshop, and are stacked up to the ceiling….If Proust were a packrat, if Felix the Cat were a dramatist, they might have created something like “The Object Lesson.”

Kyle Scatliffe and Nicholas Barasch

Kyle Scatliffe and Nicholas Barasch

Big River

The Encores! production of “Big River” is a pleasant enough confection but with a bitter aftertaste.To understand why, it helps to know that, when he was 11 years old, Samuel Clemens discovered the mutilated corpse of a man named Noriam Todd – an escaped slave who had been hunted down and killed…This “Big River” [based on The Adventures of Huckleberr Finn] did not strike me as a weighty enough proaction, although there are plenty of lines…that use irony to point to the pervasive racial bigotry of the times.

Rolls Andre, Ben Langhorst, Damon Daunno

Rolls Andre, Ben Langhorst, Damon Daunno

Beardo

In “Beardo,” we are back in Russia with Dave Malloy, the composer of “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812.” Instead of a Broadway theater, the Pipeline Theater Company’s new production of Malloy’s musical has opened at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. And instead of dramatizing a novel by Tolstoy, “Beardo” tells a fictional version of an actual figure in Russian history, the enigmatic Grigori Rasputin.

The Week in New York Theater News

Awards

Color Purple album

The 2017 Grammy for best musical theater album was given to The Color Purple

Other albums nominated: Bright Star, Fiddler on the Roof, Kinky Boots London, Waitress

Rajiv-Joseph-Headshot

The Dramatists Guild’s second annual Horton Foote Playwriting Award and $25,000 has been awarded to Rajiv Joseph.

The American Wing’s Jonathan Larsen $10,000 grants go to
Ben Bonnema
Maggie-Kate Coleman & Erato A. Kremmyda
Ty Defoe & Tidtaya Sinutoke
and Michael R. Jackson

Finalists for Susan Smith Blackburn Award for women playwrights:

lin-manuel-miranda-2

Lin-Manuel Miranda will perform “How Far I’ll Go” from Moana at this year’s Oscars.

 

Production of Junk in L.A.

Production of Junk in L.A.

Playwright Ayad Akhtar (Disgraced) returns in September to Broadway with “Junk” (as in junk bonds) about greedy Wall Street traders

charles-isherwood

Yes, Charles Isherwood has left the New York Times as drama critic, and no, they are not eliminating the position.

Discounts

sally_field_joe_mantello_Glass Menagerie“The Glass Menagerie” starring Sally Field and Joe Mantello will have $30 front-row rush tickets until it opens March 9

Annaleigh Ashford and Jake Gyllenhaal

Annaleigh Ashford and Jake Gyllenhaal

“Sunday in the Park with George” starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Annaleigh Ashford will have $41 front row rush tickets until it opens February 22.

Not Discount

Bette Midler

Bette Midler

“Front Row Premium” seats for Hello, Dolly starring Bette Midler now on sale..,for $550 – $750.

mondaycompanies

Off-Off Broadway Festival – Performeteria

For two nights only (Monday, March 20 and Friday, March 24), TDF will present Performeteria – 10-minute snippers of site-specific works from 15 Off-Off Broadway theater companies. Tickets are just nine dollars.

 

mare-winningham

Mare Winningham has joined the cast of “Joan of Arc: Into the Fire” by David Byrne, running Feb 14- Ap 16, at the Public Theater.

NYSpectacular7

There will be no Radio City New York Spectacular in 2017, say producers, while they work to make it better

 

wtfestival2017graphic

The Williamstown Theater Festival this summer will include four world premieres

6-3545_Ana Villafañe as Gloria Estefan in ON YOUR FEET! (c) Matthew Murphy

On Your Feet begins a 31-city tour in October in (where else) Miami,

lalaland

Will La-La Land be a stage musical?
‘I know people have mentioned it. I’m not closed to the idea,” [Damien] Chazelle said. “I will say though that part of the intention of this movie was to try to make something that had to be on the screen, to make a true screen musical in the fullest sense of that term, not an adaptation, not something that was kind of cross-media, but something that was made and written and intended and composed and sung and danced for the screen. So it’s not to say it couldn’t work on the stage, but it would have to be completely re-conceived and I don’t know if I’m even the person for that job.’”
(quoted by Deadline’s Pete Hammond)

Staged Resistance

2017 Shakespeare in the Park: Julius Caesar (“never felt more contemporary”) 5/23-6/18 Midsummer Nights Dream (escape?) 7/11-8/13

ChristianBorleheadshot

Christian Borle to play lead in Woodshed Collective’s rstagedeading of Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui at Judson Church February 20 (Presidents Day) The Brecht play is the first in the company’s 20/20 Reading Series of “anti-fascist & political plays speaking to current political climate”

 

What do we do in the time of Trump? The theater community is trying to figure out the answer.

 

 

 

The N-Word on Stage

The wrangling over a production of Ragtime in a New Jersey high school demonstrates that the use of the word on stage remains, “complicated”—and confusing, and dizzying in the array of questions it provokes, among them: How far can a work go in order to be historically accurate, or (if a contemporary piece) authentic? How alienating are stage characters allowed to be? How much must playwrights and directors and producers keep audience sensitivities in mind (does it depend on the particular audience?) or is their only mandate to present the truth? Whose truth? Does it matter who the “truth teller” is?

RIP

lichtenstein
Harvey Lichtenstein, 87, who led the Brooklyn Academy of Music for 32 years, turning into a center of cutting edge arts. During his tenure, he presented such once-in-a-lifetime theatrical events as
Peter Brook’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”
Philip Glass’s “Satyagraha,” an opera about Mahatma Gandhi’s youth in South Africa
“The Gospel at Colonus,” a freewheeling adaptation by Lee Breuer and Bob Telson of a work by the Greek tragedian Sophocles
Philip Glass opera, “Einstein on the Beach”
Brook’s “The Mahabharata,” a nine-hour dramatic voyage through Hindu theology and mythology.

Arthur and Barbara Gelb

Arthur and Barbara Gelb

Barbara Gelb, O’Neill biographer, playwright, 91

corey

“Professor” Irwin Corey, seven-time Broadway veteran and a comic who styled himself the World’s Foremost Authority, 102

Beardo Review: Russia’s Rasputin via Great Comet’s Dave Malloy

In “Beardo,” we are back in Russia with Dave Malloy, the composer of “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812.” Instead of a Broadway theater, the Pipeline Theater Company’s new production of Malloy’s musical has opened at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. And instead of dramatizing a novel by Tolstoy, “Beardo” tells a fictional version of an actual figure in Russian history, the enigmatic Grigori Rasputin.

Some of the elements familiar from “Great Comet” are present in “Beardo,” most notably Malloy’s classically tinged, eclectic score offering everything from rock ballads to hearty drinking songs, as well as a game and talented cast. But “Beardo,” which premiered in Berkeley in 2011, a year before the premiere of “Great Comet” at Ars Nova, feels in comparison like a work in progress. The book and lyrics by Jason Craig are playful, sometimes clever, silly, ribald, deliberately anachronistic, joyfully shocking and in-your-face weird. They are too accomplished to be labeled juvenile….but “adolescent” might fit.

Click on any photo by Suzi Sadler to see it enlarged.

 

A snippet of dialogue:

BEARDO: Dude, what’s your deal?

YUSAPOOF My deal? Dude? Don’t slang this place up with your bumpkin parlance And your weird twaddle!

BEARDO Oh ya? You wanna see my twaddle waddle?

YUSAPOOF I don’t need to listen to you, ok? I am a fucking count

 

“Beardo” makes no pretense of presenting a faithful biography of Rasputin, the peasant mystic who became an influential adviser to the last Tsar of Russia — which didn’t end well for him or the Tsar. “Beardo” doesn’t even mention the name Rasputin (although the program does include an advertisement for a new biography by Douglas Smith entitled: “Rasputin: Faith, Power, and the Twilight of the Romanovs.”) Instead, the musical plays with the myth that has built up around the bearded faith healer.

We first see a dirty, ragged Beardo (Damon Daunno) outside a peasant’s shack with his hand stuck in a hole, and a voice in his head. The shack man (Rolls Andre) takes him into his home, where Beardo eventually empowers the man’s sister-in-law to speak for the first time in 15 years – and to kill her abusive sister. He also yanks out the man’s tooth, and demands that the man whip him 24 times. Beardo considers his cruelty sinful, but he starts to believe, as he tells this family, that sinning is good for you – “You get loose” which “causes you to get a bit fun” – as long as you apologize for you sins afterward.

Armed with this insight, he barges his way into the castle of the Tsar (Willy Appelman) and his wife the Tsarista (Alex Highsmith), and, in the words of the play, he grabs her ass – “because,” he explains to her, “this will help us both.”

Beardo soon beds her, calms her sickly son, and gains the confidence of the shy Tsar; he also becomes a prolific womanizer. All of this wins him the ire of all of Russia, aristocrats and peasantry alike.

Director Ellie Heyman keeps the eight-member cast in motion, climbing up and down the scaffolding inside the church (I wondered whether this was set up specifically for the show, or whether St. John’s is undergoing extensive renovations. It’s the former.) The band, with Sam Kulik as the conductor and guitarist, is a lovely string quartet that does great justice to Malloy’s music. But one of the two most memorable moments of “Beardo” occurs without the band’s accompaniment, when, right before the intermission, a huge choir in peasant attire suddenly appears in the church’s rafters, to sign Malloy’s song called “Russia’

Inside palace gates

sits a Tsarista and her mate

This strange Beardo
puts a hood over our heads bamboozling blinded state …

God Help Us

Give Us Courage…

 

It is melodic, with beautiful harmonizing, and (however one may quibble with the lyrics), deeply stirring .

The second moment begins ludicrously — two hefty men appear in tutus (Andre and Ben Langhorst). But they turn out to be two of the three assassins (the third is that count, Yusapoof, portrayed with appropriate villainy by Brian Bock.) Incredily, the three non-dancers in silly costumes turn a mock Russian ballet into both beautiful and chilling. How they accomplish this is almost as mystical as the sway that the infamous Mad Monk had on the last of the Romanovs.

 

Beardo

Pipeline Theatre Company at St. John’s Lutheran Church

 

Book & Lyrics by Jason Craig
Music by Dave Malloy
Directed by Ellie Heyman, choreographer by the Kuperman Brothers, scenic design by Carolyn Miraz, costume design by Katja Andreiev, lighting design by Mary Ellen Stebbens, sound design by Dan Moses Schreier and Joshua Reid
Cast:Damon Daunno as Beardo, Rolls Andre as Shack Man/Murderer, Shaye Troha as Shack Woman/Woman, Liz Leimkuhler as Shack Sister/Woman, Alex Highsmith as Tsarista, Willy Appelman as Tsar, Brian Bock as Yusapoof, Ben Langhorst as person of the court/murderer.

Band: Blake Allen (viola), Ezra Gale (bass), Sarah Elizabeth Haines (violin), Sam Kulik (conductor/guitar), Susan Mandel (cello), Hajnal K. Pivnick (violin), and Charlotte Munn-Wood (violin alternate).
Tickets: $25-$40.

“Beardo” is set to run through March 5, 2017