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.

Confucius: Review, Pics, Video


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

Making its American debut this week at Lincoln Center , the piece premiered in Beijing in 2013, conceived by Kong Dexin, its elegant 34-year-old director and choreographer. One could argue she was born to do this show. Ms. Kong is a direct descendant (a “77th generation descendant”) of Confucius (in Chinese known as Kong Zi, or Master Kong), the teacher and philosopher who lived 2,500 years ago.

Full review at DC Theatre Scene

Click on any photograph by Liu Haidong to see it enlarged.


Ring IN The Old: Broadway Stars, aged 90 to 104

For those understandably saddened by the premature deaths of so many beloved performers in 2016, here is a gallery of a dozen beloved theater artists who are still living — some still working — ages 90 to 104. Some are better known for their screen roles, one is not a performer at all, but all have been involved in Broadway productions. Click on any photograph to see it enlarged and read the caption.

Why, you may ask, is Betty White, 94, not in this gallery? She’s never been on Broadway. Now’s the time, Betty!

Memorable Moments on Stage in 2016

Among the worthwhile moments I saw on stage in 2016, a surprising number became more memorable because of off-stage events.
It’s impossible now to remember the Radio City Rockettes performing to Singin In The Rain (in the video below), without thinking of Debbie Reynolds, who became a star at age 19 because of the movie that introduced that song, and who died at the end of 2016 at age 84, one day after the death of her daughter Carrie Fisher.

Many memorable stage moments of 2016 that were connected to the outside world had to do with the politics of this surreal year. (Look at Hadestown and The Last Black Man.)

There were also moments of spectacle and spectacular tricks of stagecraft that I’m not likely to forget, and quieter moments that roped me in emotionally.

Click on any photograph below to see it enlarged and to read the extensive caption that explains the memorable stage moment.

Links to reviews and more photographs of the shows whose moments I list above:

New York Spectacular

Head of Passes


Tiny Beautiful Things




The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World AKA The Negro Book of the Dead

A Life


A 24 Decade History of Popular Music

Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812

Twelfth Night

The Last Walk

Hamilton Broadway New Cast: What Has Changed?


At yesterday’s matinee of “Hamilton,” the show did not have a single member of the original cast in a principal role. The only one who remains, Okieriete Onaodowan as Hercules Mulligan and James Madison, was not performing, and in any case will play his final performance on December 24.  So how has the show changed as a result? And how will it change when (as was announced yesterday) five new performers will take over some of the leads, four of them within the next month. (See details below.)

There are other questions as well.

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

Will the replacement cast generate some of the same excitement as the original leads, whose roles brought them awards, fame, fandom and a promising future?

What will be the future of the show? Will it wind up being a Broadway institution like “Phantom of the Opera,” or will the seeming indestructible juggernaut simply peter out, like “In The Heights,” Lin-Manuel Miranda’s last big success on Broadway, which was a critical and popular hit, but lasted only three years? (“In The Heights” has since gotten new life in productions elsewhere, including a London production that began in the Fall of 2015 and announced recently it will close next month.)

I feel it’s still too early to answer these questions,  despite the quality of the show and its impressive current popularity, hype and marketing. But the special matinee I saw yesterday — performed before 1,300 New York City high school students — was a revelation.

First of all,  I still find “Hamilton” breathtaking and groundbreaking as I did in my first review of it, when it opened Off-Broadway in February, 2015, and every review since.

michael-luwoyeI saw Javier Muñoz play Alexander Hamilton when he was the alternate, and felt that he played up Hamilton’s ambition, and played down the charisma that Lin-Manuel Miranda emphasized in his own performance. Yesterday, the new alternate, Michael Luwoye, performed the role.  I had seen Luwoye play an eager and naive African student in the Off-Broadway production of “Invisible Thread.” Luwoye’s performance as Alexander Hamilton is striking; he plays him with a level of intensity that is sometimes fierce. He also gets a look of hurt in his eyes. This interpretation meshes well with Hamilton’s recklessness and also helps explain his drive. (Luwoye is also currently the understudy for Aaron Burr.)

Brandon Victor Dixon, who took over the role of Aaron Burr in August, came to national attention  in November when (as the cast member portraying the third Vice President of the United States) he was chosen to read the letter to audience member Vice President-elect Mike Pence. Dixon is a Broadway veteran who made his debut in the original cast of The Color Purple and was one of the stars of Shuffle Along. His Burr strikes me as slyer and slicker than the way Leslie Odom Jr. played Burr — indeed closer to the way Daveed Diggs portrayed Jefferson (Seth Stewart, who was the original understudy of Lafayette and Jefferson, took over the roles in September.)

Mandy Gonzalez’s take on Angelica Schuyler, Hamilton’s sister-in-law, makes me see Angelica as less sophisticated and more emotional than the woman as played originally by Rene Elise Goldsberry. I hasten to add that her voice is heavenly, as is that of Lexi Lawson, who took over the role of Eliza Hamilton from Phillipa Soo in July.

Rory O’Malley, who made a splash as the “Turn It Off’ red-vested song-and-dance man from “The Book of Mormon,” is the third King George III, after Brian d’Arcy James Off-Broadway and Jonathan Groff in the Broadway transfer, followed by Andrew Rannells. (d’Arcy James left to star in “Something Rotten.“) O’Malley plays up the camp.  In retrospect, d’Arcy James seemed more convincingly regal than his successors.

It’s worth pointing out that the King George role is the only one that could be seen as an example of star casting — the casting of performers who already have a fan following, which is the standard practice of such long-running hits as “Chicago.” Will “Hamilton” feel forced to go that route?

In the meantime, that’s not what’s happening. There seems little point in talking about the other principal replacement cast members I saw yesterday since they will soon themselves be replaced.  But the lesson of the matinee was that these are roles that can be interpreted differently without changing the dynamic — and the appeal.

The schedule for the new new cast members:


Alysha Deslorieux, an original cast member who was previously the standby for Eliza Hamilton, Angelica Schuyler and Peggy Schuyler, begins as Peggy Schuyler and Maria Reynolds on December 16 (tomorrow!)


J. Quinton Johnson, who appeared in Richard Linklater’s film “Everybody Wants Some,” will make his Broadway debut as Hercules Mulligan/James Madison, beginning January 6. 


Bryan Terrell Clark, a Yale School of Drama graduate who made his Broadway debut as Marvin Gaye in “Motown,” begins as George Washington on January 10.


Taran Killam, who was on Saturday Night Live for six years, will make his Broadway debut as King George on January 17 — the fifth King George III.  


Anthony Lee Medina, who’s had numerous theater and TV credits, will make his Broadway debut as as John Laurens/Philip Hamilton sometime in March. Current cast member, Jordan Fisher will play his final performance March 5.

Dear Evan Hansen on Broadway: Review, pics, video

“Dear Evan Hansen” has changed now that it’s on Broadway, in ways that make it an even more affecting musical. Ben Platt’s performance, impressive from the get-go, is even better. But what’s changed the most is the world outside the theater, turning the story of a lie that gets out of hand into something more realistic and unfortunately more relevant.

Click on any photograph by Matthew Murphy to see it enlarged.

The plot’s trajectory seemed fanciful to me half a year ago, before the subject of “viral fake news” itself went viral. It is also bracing to realize that I omitted an important and relevant matter with which the musical deals…how much Evan and his mother Heidi (Rachel Bay Jones) are struggling financially, and how resentful Heidi is..

Full review on DC Theatre Scene

Natasha, Pierre and The Great Comet of 1812 on Broadway: Review, Pics, Videos

An opera with an unwieldy title based on Tolstoy’s War and Peace seemed an unlikely crowd-pleaser, but I was thrilled when I saw it Off-Broadway, first at Ars Nova in 2012, and again in a circus tent in 2013. When they announced a Broadway run, however, I wondered how they could possibly pull it off.

They’ve done it! Now installed in the wondrously transformed Imperial Theater on Broadway, Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 is extraordinary, the freshest, most inviting show on Broadway this season. Great Comet is especially awesome in its stagecraft, as well as in its music, and in its performances. The large, exciting cast includes nearly two dozen who are making their Broadway debuts, including Denee Benton and Josh Groban as the titular characters….Director Rachel Chavkin and set designer Mimi Lien in particular deserve kudos for staging on Broadway something very close to the kind of immersive theater that’s lately been intriguing theatergoers all over the world – everywhere but Broadway, until now.

Full review on DC Theatre Scene

Click on any photographs by Chad Batka or Jonathan Mandell to see them enlarged.

Dust and Ashes


Sonya Alone

The Prologue

An Election Day Without Trump: Women of a Certain Age Review, Pics

The Gabriels: Election Year in the Life of One Family, a trilogy of plays by Richard Nelson presented in real time at the Public Theater, ends the way it began eight months ago – with the Gabriel family talking little about the election and nothing about Donald Trump. This time around, the omission is exasperating.

I left feeling that the promise and process in which the plays were put together wound up at best a gimmick. This is unfortunate, because, if it weren’t taking place (and being written) on Election Day, I could better appreciate this third play, Women of a Certain Age, as a well-acted, gentle and insightful look at a family facing many struggles, emotionally and financially.

Full review on DC Theatre Scene

Click on any photograph to see it enlarged

Anna Deavere Smith’s Notes From The Field: Review, Pics, Video

One of the first things we learn in “Notes from the Field” — in a projection on the curtain — is that nearly six million voting-age people can’t vote in the 2016 presidential election because of state felon disenfranchisement laws.

Anna Deavere Smith  portrays 17  disparate characters with her usual dazzling virtuosity. It is her most diffuse and digressive work so far, less of a subject than an argument—that in the United States there is a school to prison “pipeline” for poor people and people of color.

Full review on HowlRound

Click on any photograph by Joan Marcus to see it enlarged

From “Brother”

U.S. Representative (D-GA 5th District) Washington, D.C.

From “The Shakura Story”
Student, Spring Valley High School Columbia, SC

From “Breaking the Box”
Pastor and Founder of
Empowerment Temple AME Church
Spoken at the funeral of Freddie Gray, April 27, 2015