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 “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).


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

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 Images from the Met Museum Collection

Below are theater-related images from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Among them, a statuette of an actor from Attica, Greece 2,500 years old. Theater masks from first century Rome. A theater robe for an actor in 18th century China. A 19th century poster by Henri Toulouse-Lautrec. Edwin Booth in a cigarette ad!  A series of abstract paintings in 2001 inspired by Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods.
The Met this week made all of the public-domain images of artwork in their possession — around 375,000 — free for anyone to use
Click on any image to see it enlarged and to read the extensive captions, provided by the museum.


Yen with Lucas Hedges, Justice Smith: Pics, Review

Yen, a bleak British play that opens tonight Off-Broadway, stars Lucas Hedges, Oscar-nominated last week for his role in Manchester by the Sea, and Justice Smith, of the Netflix hip-hop drama The Get Down, as two teenage brothers living alone, with no school, no friends, little food and one t-shirt to share between them….Playwright Anna Jordan leaves little doubt that her play is meant to explore the damage caused by a lack of love….Particularly absorbing is the interaction between Justice Smith and Lucas Hedges, with their contrasting characterizations. …

Director Trip Cullman can take credit for a production that is always watchable, but he also must take the hit for saddling his extraordinary (American) cast with thick British working class accents, which some (American) audience members will find at times nearly impenetrable.


Full review at DC Theatre Scene,

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

Scenes From BroadwayCon 2017

“This has been a tough week, but we’re in a safe space,” said one of the organizers of BroadwayCon 2017, the second annual convention of theater fans, this time held in the Jacob Javits Convention Center.

Click on the photographs to see them enlarged. Some have captions.
Also below, four videos:
The Great Comet cast sings — for 30 seconds
Josh Groban talks (for longer)
Doug Wright on how he adapted the story of cosmetics rivals into the musical “War Paint.” (More videos as I process them.)
BroadwayCon fans wallop a half dozen fight directors (on their instruction.)

Cast member Gelsey Bell explains what this is about: “It’s a little pre-show ritual for Brittain and I that started with Pippa when we were doing Comet at Ars Nova. Now we still do it before all Comet and GQ shows. We make up new harmonies every time we sing it and it just kind of gets us smiling and singing and ready to perform. Has never been intended for an audience!”

Tell Hector I Miss Him: Review and Pics

Love puzzles, and messes up, the dozen characters in Tell Hector I Miss Him, a play wonderfully acted by a cast that includes veterans of Orange is the New Black. If the play itself sometimes puzzles, and shocks, it also marks a remarkable playwriting debut by 28-year-old Paola Lazaro.
Lazaro’s work is reminiscent of that by Stephen Adly Guirgis and August Wilson in its ability to turn street language into stage poetry, and to shine a warm center spotlight on people who are usually pushed to the edge.

Full review at DC Theatre Scene

Click on any photograph by Ahron R. Foster to see it enlarged

Tell Hector I Miss Him
Written by Paola Lazaro, directed by
David Mendizabal, set design by Clint Ramos; costume design by Dede Ayite; lighting design by Eric Southern; sound design by Jesse Mandapat
Featuring Dascha Polanca as Malena; Victor Almanzar as Jeison; Sean Carvajal as Palito; Alexander Flores as
Tono; Yadira Guevara Prip as Isis; Juan Carlos Hernandez as Mostro; Selenis Leyva as Samira; Talene Monahon as La Gata; Flaco Navaja as Hugo; Lisa Ramirez as Mami; Luis Vega
El Mago; Analisa Velez as Tati;

Scenes of #Resistance

People across the country, including New York artists, have gathered in myriad ways this month to declare their support for threatened American values. Click on the photographs below to see them enlarged and learn the details.

RIP Photographer Martha Swope, 40 Years Of Broadway


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

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


The Present with Cate Blanchett: Review, Pics

Cate Blanchett and Richard Roxburgh

Cate Blanchett and Richard Roxburgh

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

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

Full review on DC Theatre Scene

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