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Tony Fallout. Bard Targeted. The Boss on Broadway? Week in NY and San Francisco Theater

Tony Epilogue

Within days of the Tony Awards (List of winners. Best moments) and the triumph of Dear Evan Hansen, three plays announced they were closing in June. Two of them – Indecent and Sweat (both closing June 25) – marked the Broadway debuts of two acclaimed, Pulitzer-prize winning women playwrights. (Sweat did not win any of the Tony for which it was nominated, but Indecent won two!)
Indecent playwright Paula Vogel blamed the co-chief critics of the New York Times

Sweat playwright Lynn Nottage seconded

I put some blame on the Tony Awards broadcast: If they would give straight plays the attention they deserve, Sweat, Indecent etc could find their audience.

Whatever the reasons, something is amiss.

New Broadway Season

If the Broadway season had a bittersweet epilogue, we are already in the prologue to the new season, which officially launches Thursday with the opening of 1984:

Broadway 2017-2018 Preview Guide

#FreeShakespeare 

After hammering criticism on social media by advocates on the political right, both Delta and Bank of America rescinded their funding for the Public Theater’s production of Julius Caesar at Shakespeare in the Park, for depicting a Trump-like Caesar. Protesters subsequently interrupted the play.
The Public’s Julius Caesar ends its run today, but this is unlikely to stop the attacks. According to news reports, Shakespeare companies across the country are being targeted on social media for the Public Theater’s production of Julius Caesar. Are the attackers confused, or doesn’t the distinction matter to them?

More on the Julius Caesar flap – photos, news reports, commentaries, reviews.

 

Week in New York Theater News

Preliminary rating for the Tony broadcast shows steep 31% decline from 2016 – a 4.7 rating, way down from 6.8 in 2016. The number of viewers will wind up being about six million.

The Pearl Theatre Co. filed for bankruptcy, and is closing after 33 years.

2017 summer schedule for free Broadway in Bryant Park lunchtime concerts (including Come From Away, Great Comet, Groundhog Day, and Anastasia.)

Cast completed for Frozen, headed to the St. James Broadway in Spring 2018

Week in San Francisco Theater

I spent the week in San Francisco, attending the annual American Theatre Critics Association conference.

I reviewed two shows aiming for Broadway:

Stephanie Styles and Drew Gehling

Roman Holiday

“Roman Holiday,” a musical running briefly at San Francisco’s Golden Theater in a traditional pre-Broadway tryout, grafts more than a dozen songs by Cole Porter onto the 1953 movie that turned Audrey Hepburn into a star….It’s tempting to call “Roman Holiday” an inefficient delivery system for Cole Porter’s hits. There’s [little] rationale for its existence.

(foreground) Kuhoo Verma (Aditi Verma) and Michael Maliakel (Hemant Rai); (background) Mahira Kakkar (Pimmi Verma), Rohan Gupta (Varun Verma), and Sharvari Deshpande (Ria Verma).

Monsoon Wedding

Mira Nair…is directing a musical adaptation of her 2001 film Monsoon Wedding that is currently on stage at the Berkeley Repertory Theater, with plans to move to Broadway.

Let’s hope it does. The story of the many family members who converge on Delhi for an arranged marriage is lively, colorful, and tuneful. It also has something to say

From this week’s American Theatre Critics Association panel discussions:

Bay Area designers

Choreographer Kimberly Richards: Choreography is not just the dancing; it’s all the movement. That’s often overlooked.

Scenic designer Nina Ball’s advice to critics: “Get to know what we work with — scale, harmony, line, space.”

Costume designer Abra Berman: My aim in modern dress shows is for costumes to so subtly enhance the characters that they’re not noticed –

Shakespeare: The Second 400 Years with five artistic directors of Shakespeare theater companies in the Bay Area.

William J. Brown, Arabian Shakespeare Festival; Leslie Schisgall Currier, Marin Shakespeare Company, , moderator Philippa Kelly, L. Peter Callender, African-American Shakespeare Company, Eric Ting, California Shakespeare Theater, Rebecca Ennals, San Francisco Shakespeare Festival

John Simon said black people couldn’t do Shakespeare. I wanted my life to prove him wrong — L. Peter Callender, founding artistic director of the African-American Shakespeare Company.

There’s a distinction between theater and museums. We can’t separate what’s on stage from the issues affecting a present-day audience – Eric Ting, California Shakespeare Theater

We start teaching Shakespeare too late. We should be teaching it when kids are five and learning new words all the time. -Rebecca Ennals of San Francisco Shakespeare Festival

Perspectives on Criticism

Bay Area critics: Robert Hurwitt (retired from the San Francisco Chronicle), Karen D’Souza (San Jose Mercury News), Lily Janice (new critic at San Francisco Chronicle.)

Birth of a critic:”I was poor, I was in grad school, I couldn’t afford to go to theater” (free tix!) – Karen D’Souza

A lot of my career was pushing for more arts coverage –  Robert Hurwitt retired recently after ~40 years as a critic

I didn’t consider myself a journalist, but reporting is an important part of every review I write – Lily Janiak

 

 

A play is not complete until somebody weighs in who’s not part of the production. That’s part of theater – Lily Janiak

The Play’s The Thing: Critics and New Work.

Panel with five Bay Area playwrights: Aaron Loeb, Stuart Bousel, Christopher Chen, moderator Amy Mueller (director and producer), Michael Gene Sullivan, Lauren Gunderson.

Aaron Loeb sees critics as useful for “blowing on your ember” — which becomes a catchphrase for the hour. Loeb advice to critics: “Engage with what the thing is, not what you wish it was.” One critic said of one of his plays: “This should have been a musical.”

Critics are supportive of new plays because I think they have stake in establishing theater identity – Chris Chen

“Theater is the anti-technology. You have to show up at the same time, and listen to live human beings. It’s the opposite of our devices and computers.” – Lauren Gunderson.

 

AR Gurney

 

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Monsoon Wedding Musical: Broadway Bound at Berkeley Rep

Mira Nair, the filmmaker of such celebrated movies as Salaam Bombay and Mississippi Masala, is directing a musical adaptation of her 2001 film Monsoon Wedding that is currently on stage at the Berkeley Repertory Theater, with plans to move to Broadway.

Let’s hope it does.

The story of the many family members who converge on Delhi for an arranged marriage is lively, colorful, and tuneful. It also has something to say – about the bridging of cultures, about the effects on individual families of globalization, but mostly about love in its many forms. It would also be the first musical on Broadway since Bombay Dreams (which ran for about nine months in 2004) to feature a South Asian cast, characters, and story.

Many stories, really. If some of the subplots from the movie have been shorn from the musical, Monsoon Wedding is still an extravagantly woven tapestry whose central thread is the wedding of Hemant (the golden voiced baritone Michael Maliakel), who is from New Jersey, and Aditi (a lovely Kuhoo Verma), the only daughter of a privileged Indian family that has seen better days. Hemant and Aditi have never met – and, we learn soon enough, Aditi already is involved with a husband…which is to say, she is having an affair with a married man. There are plenty of other complications.

If the story may need some further streamlining and some of the lyrics rethinking before a New York run, the work of the creative team — especially the exciting choreography by Lorin Latarro (“Waitress,” “American Idiot”) the bright, enchanting costumes by Arjun Bhasin, and the pulsating, eclectic score by Vishal Bhardwaj — meld Broadway-level entertainment with what feels like an authentic glimpse into present-day Indian culture. The musical is full of delightful little moments – such as when the father of the bride, Jaaved Jaaferi (Lalit Verma) sings “You will learn to love each other just as I learned to love your mother” – with the music is full-out swing-era jazz, and Jaaferi… letting loose.

Monsoon Wedding
Book by Sabrina Dhawan
Music by Vishal Bhardwaj
Lyrics by Susan Birkenhead
Directed by Mira Nair
Scenic design by Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams, costume design by Arjun Bhasin, lighting design by Donald Holder, sound design by Scott Lehrer, projection design by Peter Nigrini, music supervision by Carmel Dean, music direction by Greg Kenna, and choreography by Lorin Latarro

Cast: Bissell (Shashi Chawla), Meetu Chilana (Grandmother), Emielyn D. Das (Aliya Chawla), Namit Das (PK Dubey), Sharvari Deshpande (Ria Verma), Palomi Ghosh (Vijaya/Naani), Rohan Gupta (Varun Verma), Jaaved Jaaferi (Lalit Verma), Dani Jazzar (Swing), Mahira Kakkar (Pimmi Verma), Namita Kapoor (Swing), Krystal Kiran (Saroj Rai), Michael Maliakel (Hemant Rai), Ali Momen (Vikram/Congress), Anisha Nagarajan (Alice), Andrew Prashad (Mohan Rai/Tameesuddin), Alok Tewari (Tej), Levin Valayil (Lottery), Kuhoo Verma (Aditi Verma), and Sorab Wadia (Cl Chawla)

Monsoon Wedding is on stage at Berkeley Repertory Theater through July 16, 2017.

Photographs by Kevin Berne

Roman Holiday: Broadway Try-out in San Francisco

“Roman Holiday,” a musical running briefly at San Francisco’s Golden Theater in a traditional pre-Broadway tryout, grafts more than a dozen songs by Cole Porter onto the 1953 movie that turned Audrey Hepburn into a star. It is the story of a young princess of an unnamed country who plays hooky in Rome for 24 hours with a man who she doesn’t know is a newspaperman (Gregory Peck in the movie.) He recognizes her, and with the aid of his photographer, is planning to turn her foray into a scoop.

The musical has added two characters to the movie. Francesca (portrayed with old-fashioned seductive verve by Sara Chase) is the Italian girlfriend of the photographer, Irving (Jarrod Spector, best-known for his Tony-nominated performance in Beautiful.) Francesca is a chanteuse, which is how the show shoehorns Porter hits “Night and Day,” “Begin the Beguine” and “You Do Something For Me.” The other character, the Countess, is Princess Anne’s dotty aunt, and she may well exist simply so that the hilarious Georgia Engel could be added to the cast.

Co-producer Paul Blake and director Marc Bruni are the same team behind “Beautiful: The Carol King Musical,” which also had a Broadway try-out in San Francisco.

In my review of Beautiful when it opened on Broadway in 2014, I wrote that “the story serves as an efficient delivery system for Carole King’s surprisingly diverse hits – not much more, nothing less,” but that the cast was its secret weapon.

It’s tempting to call “Roman Holiday” an inefficient delivery system for Cole Porter’s hits. There’s less rationale for its existence. Broadway is not exactly unexplored territory for the witty and elegant composer, and Porter’s lyrics don’t quite fit the plot. But in the spirit of try-out, I’ll root for the show, which is designed by top Broadway talent, including costume designer Catherine Zuber (who delights in War Paint — especially those hats!) and set designer Todd Rosenthal (whose sets for August Osage County and The M-f with the Hat were so impressive) – although he might want to rethink the animated projection of a little cartoon scooter traveling the map of Rome, a poor substitute for the travelogue that was the movie.

I wish I could say something like: The musical’s leads are so good they nearly erase the memory of Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn in the movie. But all I can say is that Drew Gehling (who played the hot doctor in Waitress) as Joe the newspaperman and Stephanie Styles as Princess Anne are attractive performers with lovely voices.

“Roman Holiday” is on stage at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Theater through June 18, 2017. 

Photographs by Joan Marcus

All the Fine Boys Review: Abigail Breslin in (Half A) Horror Play of Lost Virginity

Isabelle Fuhrman and Abigail Breslin

Isabelle Fuhrman and Abigail Breslin

Jenny and Emily are both 14 years old, new friends in a small-town suburb in South Carolina in the 1980s; they both love horror movies; they both want to lose their virginity. In “All the Fine Boys, their differing paths after their sole scene together function as a right way and a wrong way to have a crush. But their separate scenes also demonstrate the right way and wrong way to put together a play.

Emily (Isabelle Fuhrman) has a crush on Adam (Alex Wolff.) As she explains to Jenny: “He’s smart. He’s tall. He’s old, he’s like an adult.”

“He’s 17,” Jenny says.

“He glows,” Emily replies.

By contrast, Jenny (Abigail Breslin) gets together with Joe (Joe Tippett), a man who is twice her age and, we eventually learn, is both a husband and a father.

If “All The Fine Boys,” written and directed by Erica Schmidt, had just been the scenes between Emily and Adam, the play would have been a sweet, funny, awkward, well-observed coming-of-age tale. Adam, as portrayed by Wolff, is hilariously full of himself, but he also treats Emily with respect, and we see the two of them mature just in the short time frame of the play.

But the scenes between Jenny and Joe wind up as a combination Lifetime movie cautionary tale, and campy Grand Guignol horror movie, which features Abigail Breslin (Oscar nominee at age 10 for Little Miss Sunshine) being deflowered on a couch before our eyes while eating a slice of pizza – and it gets worse from there, escalating to violence involving a birthday cake.

Even Amy Rubin’s set seems to offer a commentary on the play’s unfortunate split personality. In the scenes between Emily and Adam, the door opens onto a hallway. In the scenes between Jenny and Joe, the same door opens onto a bathroom.

 

 

 

All The Fine Boys
New Group at Signature
Written and directed by Erica Schmidt
Set design by Amy Rubin, costume design by Tom Broecker, lighting design by Jeff Croiter, sound design by Bart Fasbender
Cast: Abigail Breslin, Isabelle Fuhrman, Joe Tippett and Alex Wolff
Running time: 100 minutes
Tickets: $85
“All The Fine Boys” is scheduled to run through March 26, 2017

 

Watch 2 minutes of Robert DeNiro-directed A Bronx Tale The Musical

ABronxTale

Below is a two minute video from Papermill Playhouse’s world premiere production of A Bronx Tale: The Musical, with music by Alan Menken (Newsies, Aladdin, Little Shop of Horrors,) which marks movie actor Robert DeNiro’s debut as a musical director. He’s co-directing with Jerry Zaks

Based on Chazz Palminteri’s one-man show and 1993 film (which co-starred DeNiro), “A Bronx Tale” is set against the backdrop of racial strife and organized crime in the 1960s as an Italian-American teenager must choose between the father who raised him and the mob-boss father figure who fascinates him. Which will he choose? The bigger question is: Is this coming to Broadway, and when?

The stars include Nick Cordero (Tony nominee for Bullets Over Broadway) as the gangster Sonny, Jason Gotay (Spider-Man, Bring It On) as the teenager Calogero, as well as Joshua Colley, Richard H. Blake, Coco Jones, and Lucia Gianetta.