Carmen Jones: Pics and Review

When Carmen Jones opened on Broadway in 1943, one critic hailed it as “something more than a major theatrical event.” Seventy-five years later, the Classic Stage Company is presenting what it bills as the show’s first major New York revival since its Broadway debut. If it may no longer be “more than” a theatrical event, it’s still pretty damn exciting, thanks to a cast led by Anika Noni Rose and the show’s fascinating history.
Between Oklahoma! and Carousel, Oscar Hammerstein II took a break from Richard Rodgers to collaborate with Georges Bizet, the long-dead composer of Carmen, the 19th century French opera that features two of the most familiar tunes in all of Western music – Habanera and the Toreador Song. Hammerstein kept intact both the opera’s music and its spicy story of a tragic love triangle in which a fiery seductress brings down a naïve soldier. But he changed the locale from Spain to the American South during World War II, and turned the Spaniards and Romani into African-Americans.

Full review on DC Theatre Scene

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

Let The Awards Begin. Loving Santino, Anika. The Week(s) in New York Theater

TheaterAwardslogos2014Judgment is nigh; now that the theater season has ended,  the awards season begins. The Pulitzer Prize for Drama has already been bestowed (see April 14 below.) The winners will be announced tonight, May 4th, for the Lucille Lortel Awards for Off-Broadway (Lortel nominees). Lortel winners. Then:

New York Drama Critics Circle: May 5

Outer Critics Circle: May 12, announced (ceremony May 22). Outer Critics Circle nominees

Drama League Awards: May 17. Drama League nominees

OBIEs: May 19

Drama Desk Awards: June 1 Drama Desk nominees

Tony Awards: June 8. Tony Award nominees

The Theatre World Awards, for performers making their Broadway debuts, will be announced soon as well.

For a run-down of the differences in these awards, please see my 2013 Theater Awards Roundup and Guide. For my take on theater awards, see my piece for Howlround: Tony Snubs, Pulitzer Flubs, Theater Award Excitement

The Week(s) in New York Theater

Monday, April 14, 2014

ouisa Krause and Aaron Clifton Moten in an awkward touching and funny moment in Annie Baker's "The Flick" at Playwrights Horizons

Louisa Krause and Aaron Clifton Moten in an awkward touching and funny moment in Annie Baker’s “The Flick”

2014 Pulitzer Prize for Drama Winner: Annie Baker’s The Flick 

Now that it’s won the Pulitzer, The Flick will reopen at Barrow Street Theater, says producer.

Pulitzer finalists:

Fun Home

Fun Home 7

The Curious Case of the Watson Intelligence

Watson the robot

Watson the robot



Santino Fontana’s Act One, The Unluckiest Lucky Actor in New York


Ofmicenandmen3O'Dowd, Franco-Photo by Richard Phibbs
My review of Of Mice and Men: James Franco, Chris O’Down Relive The Great Depression


Meryl Streep’s advice to new actors: “…educate yourself in everything but acting. Learn about the world”

Act One Vivian Beaumont Theater

My review of Act One: Moss Hart’s Beloved Theater Memoir Brought To Broadway


Broadway trivia, courtesy of Broadway Trivia:

1. The lead of Funny Girl was originally offered to Carol Burnett, who turned it down.

2. Hair was the first Off Broadway musical to move to Broadway. #Broadwaytrivia

3. Two people who have played roles of the opposite gender won Tony Awards: Harvey Fierstein (Hairspray), Mary Martin (Peter Pan)

4. Away We Go, a musical based on the play Green Grow The Lilacs, changed its title to its most popular song, Oklahoma.


My review of The Cripple of Inishmaan: Daniel Radcliffe Back on Broadway

Joshua Henry, Sutton Foster and Colin Donnell

Joshua Henry, Sutton Foster and Colin Donnell

My review of Violet: Sutton Foster on a Bus to Beautiful



Jonathan Lethem’s novel The Fortress of Solitude will be a musical by Itamar Moses & Michael Friedman, at the Public Theater, from September to November.


My review of The Velocity of Autum: Estelle Parsons and Stephen Spinella Fight, Age


2014 Outer Critics Circle Nominations: Gentlemen’s Guide, Aladdin, Fun Home Lead. 

Hedwig & the Angry InchBelasco Theatre

My review of Hedwig and the Angry Inch: Neil Patrick Harris Rules, and Rocks, and Licks


Rude Mechs in Stop Hitting Yourself

Rude Mechs in Stop Hitting Yourself

The most prolific playwright in New York City this season — Kirk Lynn – lives in Texas.


Sex, Death, Marriage, Greed and Football: The Plays of Kirk Lynn


Shakespeare at 450

He isn’t personally eligible for #TonyAwards, but his plays have earned 71 nominations & 9 Tonys.

The first Shakespeare performed in NYC was King Richard III in 1750. The latest on Broadway was Macbeth, in Jan.

Boys from Syracuse, Kiss Me Kate, West Side Story, Two Gentleman of Verona, The Lion King: What do these musicals have in common?

Ran, 10 Things I Hate About You, O, She’s The Man, Deliver Us From Eva, Forbidden Planet. What do these movies have in common

Drama League 2014 Nominations 

Larry Pine and Patrick Page

Larry Pine and Patrick Page

My review of Casa Valentina: Straight Men in Dresses on Broadway


James Earl Jones will star in revival of Moss Hart-Kaufman 1936 comedy “You Can’t Take It With You,” starting in August.

More than 20 Broadway shows will perform in #StarsinTheAlley Shubert Alley, Wed May 21, 11am-12:30 pm rain or shine.

Brian Stokes Mitchell,John Glover join Lily Rabe, Hamish Linklater in Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare in the Park June 3-July 6


Time Mag’s 100 Most Influential People include Diane Paulus, and Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez.

To director Diane Paulus, writes Audra McDonald, “nothing is sacred and everything is sacred… she’s willing to try anything.”


Cabaret Willkommen

My review of Cabaret: Second Cumming on Broadway


2014 Drama Desk Awards Nominations



Shakespeare deniers are not just harmless; their contempt for scholarship is toxic, argues Fintan O’Toole.



Hollywood beckons to characters on Broadway shows The Cripple of Inishmaan, Of Mice and Men, Violet, and Act One.


My review of Bullets Over Broadway: Woody Allen’s Contempt for Theater


Signature Theater is the first-ever New York City theater to win the Regional Tony Awards.

NBC has competition: Fox says it will broadcast a 3-hour live version of “Grease” with (unnamed) “young ensemble cast”



Complete Tony nominations, with links to my reviews.

9 am: Estelle Parsons Tony- nominated for The Velocity of Autumn. 4 pm: Show announces closing Sunday.

April 30

Leslie Odomjr joins Lin-Manuel Miranda and Karen Olivo in Jonathan Larsen’s tick,tick..BOOM June 25-28 Encores! Off-Center.

New “special guest stars” After Midnight:

Patti LaBelle, June 10 – 29

Gladys Knight July 8 – Aug 3

Natalie Cole (making her Broadway debut August 5 – 31


May 1, 2014

Tony Snubs, Pulitzer Flubs, Theater Award Excitement.



Back on Broadway in September: Matthew Broderick as nervous playwright,Nathan Lane as backbiting pal in Terrence McNally’s It’s Only a Play

Kelli O'Hara and Steven Pasquale

Kelli O’Hara and Steven Pasquale

What a shame:  The Bridges of Madison County will close May 18 after just 137 performances.

Randy Harrison has joined the cast of Atomic, about the creation of the atomic bomb, June 26-Aug 16 Theater Row.

Congratulations to musical theater creators Nathan Tysen and Arthur Perlman for their $100,000 Kleban Prize

April 2014 Quiz

April 2014 Theater Quiz


May openings

A Raisin in the Sun Review. Denzel Washington, Anika Noni Rose: Age-blind Casting in a Masterpiece

Raisininthesun5“Me and my family…we are very plain people,” Denzel Washington says in “A Raisin in the Sun,” at the start of a monologue that by the end – “we are very proud people” — is one of the most moving in all of American theater.

But Lorraine Hansberry’s 1959 play,  being given a worthwhile production at the Ethel Barrymore Theater , is not just an affecting family drama.  The first play by a black woman ever produced on Broadway, it is a richly layered, well-structured, poetically-inspired work of literature; an often amusing entertainment; an insightful character study; a prophetic piece of social commentary – it is a masterpiece on just about every level.

Much of the reaction from the moment this new production was announced concerned Denzel Washington’s age. He is 59; the character he is portraying, Walter Lee Younger Jr., is supposed to be 35 (the script has been changed to make him 40.) Washington doesn’t look 35 or even 40; he looks his age.  This continues to bother some people. His age doesn’t bother me.  Consider it a new form of innovative casting — age-blind casting – and it’s not the first time for this show:  In the original Broadway production, and then the 1961 movie, Sidney Poitier as Walter Lee Younger Jr. was only 10 years younger than Claudia McNeil, who played his mother Lena Younger. Yes, Washington is only five years younger than the actress playing his mother, LaTanya Richardson Jackson. But if a movie star like Denzel Washington wants to play Younger, I say: Bravo. Washington’s the reason this great play is back for its second-ever Broadway revival.

Click on any photograph to see it enlarged

Director Kenny Leon, who gave the play its first Broadway revival in 2004 starring Audra McDonald and Phylicia Rashad (who both won Tonys for their performances), and a game if inexperienced Sean Combs, has rethought this play, in ways that work better, and perhaps a few ways that don’t work as well. Denzel Washington works better as Walter Lee, a man with big dreams and bigger frustrations. He is a chauffeur who lives with his wife, son, sister and mother in their mother’s rattrap of a Chicago tenement apartment, but hopes to convince his mother to give him the $10,000 from the life insurance payment after the premature death of his father. Walter Lee wants to invest that money in a liquor store. Lena, who moved as a young woman to Chicago from the South and has faced a lifetime of disappointments with an adamant religious faith, doesn’t want to be in the liquor-selling business. She has other dreams for that money – to save some of it for medical school for Walter’s younger sister Beneatha (Anika Noni Rose), and to buy a house in a better neighborhood. In Act II, we learn that she has spent some of the money on a down payment for just such a house, in Clybourne Park.

 RUTH: Clybourne Park? Mama, there ain’t no colored people living in Clybourne Park.

 MAMA Well I, guess there’s going to be some now.

 WALTER: So that’s the peace and comfort you went out and bought for us today!

 MAMA: Son, I just tried to find the nicest place for the least amount of money for my family .

 RUTH: Well—well—’course I ain’t one never been ‘fraid of no crackers, mind you—but—well wasn’t there no other houses nowhere?

MAMA: Them houses they put up for colored in them areas way

out all seem to cost twice as much as other houses. I did the best I could.

Now, of course, we know Clybourne Park, a fictional neighborhood in Chicago, because it’s the title of Bruce Norris’s play, which updates and riffs on “A Raisin in the Sun” using some of Lorraine Hansberry’s characters. “Clybourne Park” won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, an award that ironically was not bestowed on Hansberry, who died tragically young in 1965 at the age of 35.

Part of Hansberry’s craft is in weaving in so many issues – from redlining to abortion to African colonial struggles to the African-American generational shift – without making “A Raisin in the Sun” seem like a political play.  Another part of the playwright’s superior craft is in creating such complex and involving female characters. Sophie Okonedo, who was so terrific as the terrified wife in Hotel Rwanda, here makes a splendid Broadway debut as Walter’s wife Ruth, weary from the daily compromises of poverty, but still hopeful, and still loving Walter, despite how much he irritates her.

Anika Noni Rose does her usual extraordinary job as Walter Lee’s sister Beneatha, an ambitious, idealistic, intellectually searching college student. Rose has shined in everything from her Tony-winning role as Emmie in the musical “Caroline, or Change” to Lorrell the main backup singer in the film ‘Dreamgirls” to the wily candidate Wendy Scott-Carr in the TV series “The Good Wife” to the African fussbudget of an assistant Grace Makutsi in “The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency” on HBO. Nobody has complained that, like Denzel Washington, Rose is – pardon the lack of gallantry in this – 20 years older than the character she is playing (in her case, thus twice the character’s age.) Perhaps this is because she is not in anybody’s radar the way Denzel Washington is. I would prefer to think it’s because everybody realizes how protean an actress she is. She delivers once again as the clear stand-in for the playwright (who obviously had fun satirizing herself, but also captures beautifully the black woman in transition.)

LaTanya Richardson Jackson replaced Diahann Carroll at virtually the last moment, and offers a credible turn as the mother, here (as with Phyllicia Rashad) as much a meddlesome grandmother as a source of strength.

It seems unfair to single out specific cast members because Leon has populated this production with some world-class talent – the actor and director David Cromer plays the genteel racist Karl Lindner; Stephen McKinley Henderson, the wonderful interpreter of August Wilson’s work, here plays the small but pivotal role of Walter’s friend and would-be business associate Bobo.  Jason Dirden and Sean Patrick Thomas are both spot-on as Beneatha’s very different suitors, the rich college boy and the wise African exchange student (another clever way that Hansberry weaves in contemporary issues without seeming to do so.)

Together the cast creates an ensemble that makes the play feel spontaneous,  promising the audience an entertainment rather than demanding their worship. (For this reason, I quibble with some of Leon’s choices that might detract from this sense of spontaneity — putting on the curtain the Langston Hughes poem, from which the play derives its title; creating a set that has the distancing effect of sometimes being placed behind a scrim; pauses before the action begins, accompanied by dramatic lighting and jazz music “curated” by Branford Marsalis )

Denzel Washington offers a different interpretation than we might be used to– more beaten-down than explosive.  When an unknown white man shows up at their door, Walter quickly brushes down his hair as if he feels the need to present his best self. When his mother speaks to him, he paws  nervously with his foot, like a horse stuck in a stable – a movement echoed very subtly (in what must be a directorial flourish) by his son Travis (Bryce Clyde Jenkins.) When he must admit a terrible mistake he has made to his mother, he seems to grow smaller; his reaction is heartrending. The scene of his self-humiliating minstrel act shortly before the monologue about being plain and proud, is horrifying, believable, masterful.  There is no mistaking, in other words, what a fine actor Denzel Washington is, whatever his age.

A Raisin in the Sun

Ethel Barrymore Theater

By Lorraine Hansberry; directed by Kenny Leon; sets by Mark Thompson; costumes by Ann Roth; lighting by Brian MacDevitt; sound by Scott Lehrer; music curated by Branford Marsalis;. Through June 15

Cast: Denzel Washington (Walter Lee Younger), Sophie Okonedo (Ruth Younger), Anika Noni Rose (Beneatha Younger), David Cromer (Karl Lindner), Bryce Clyde Jenkins (Travis Younger), Jason Dirden (George Murchison), Sean Patrick Thomas (Joseph Asagai), Keith Eric Chappelle and Billy Eugene Jones (Moving Men), Stephen McKinley Henderson (Bobo) and LaTanya Richardson Jackson (Lena Younger).

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

Tickets: $67.00 – $149.00

A Raisin in the Sun is set to run through June 15.