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Jitney Review: August Wilson’s First on Broadway at Last

August Wilson

August Wilson

Eleven years after his death, playwright August Wilson answers Donald Trump’s bleak depiction of “inner cities,” with “Jitney,” the first play Wilson wrote in his ten-play American Century Cycle, but the last of the ten to be produced on Broadway, in a superbly acted and directed production that’s running at MTC’s Samuel J. Friedman Theater through March 12.

The new president’s only reference to Black America in his inaugural address was a bleak and oblique one, “mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities.”   In Wilson’s 1979 play, which takes place in 1977 in a gypsy cab station in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, we get to know the drivers, their passengers, and their family members. Some feel trapped, yes; some, defeated. But each has a story to tell, and a full life of faults and wisdom and talents that Wilson presents with humor and empathy. For all their constant bickering and occasional angry confrontations, there is a web of relationships that together fit the very definition of a community, with an always-present past and a hoped-for future. That their livelihoods are being threatened by City Hall’s well-meaning plan to demolish the cab station and the surrounding neighborhood in the name of urban renewal, adds an extra layer of irony and relevance, given the new president’s vague and ominous promises of improvement.

Click on any photograph by Joan Marcus to see it enlarged

Director Ruben Santiago-Hudson makes the play as lively and funny as it should be, but seems to locate its heart in two sets of relationships. Becker (the always magnificent John Douglas Thompson) is in charge of the car service station, and deals fairly and calmly with everybody with whom he comes into contact – except his son. Booster (Brandon J. Dirden) has just been released from prison, where he served 20 years for killing his white girlfriend. We learn why he did so – she claimed Booster was a stranger and falsely accused him of rape when her corporate executive father discovered them together. The confrontation between father and son, wrapped up in their differing notions of what it means to have dignity, is powerful and heartbreaking.

Then there is the relationship between the young driver Youngblood (Andre Holland, a rising star now best-known for the films “Selma” and “Moonlight”) and his girlfriend Rena (Carra Patterson.) Youngblood, a Vietnam veteran, is hard-working and ambitious, and chafes under the feeling that the world (i.e. the white world) won’t give him a break. “You just have to shake off that ‘white folks is against me’ attitude,” fellow driver Doub (Keith Randolph Smith) tells him. “Hell, they don’t even know you’re alive.” Youngblood was once a womanizer, and Rena, who is the mother of his two-year-old son, is worried that he hasn’t changed. She doesn’t trust him; he resents her distrust. I won’t spoil how this plays out, except to say that it is touching to the point of tears. “You already my pride. I want you to be my joy.” The hopefulness of their relationship feels like a counterweight to the hopelessness of that between father and son.

If these two relationships feel like the Yin and Yang of “Jitney,” each of the nine characters – and each actor – gets their moments. Michael Potts is amusing and spot-on as Turnbo, an incurable, sometimes menacing gossip. Anthony Chisholm as Fielding is a drunk, but a dignified one with a surprising past. As Doub, Keith Randolph Smith gets some of the most memorable lines. Two frequent car service customers add to the atmosphere of the station and the texture of the play – Ray Anthony Thomas as a doorman who is proud to have worked every day for the past six years, when many people he knows are unemployed; Harvy Banks as Shealy the numbers runner, who is dressed in one colorful now-cringe worthy 70’s suit after another. The costume design by Toni-Leslie James works in concert with set designer David Gallo to nail down the time and place, as does the original music by Bill Sims Jr, a mix of funk and blues and jazz.

The plot of “Jitney” does not conclude as artfully as those in Wilson’s later work, such as “The Piano Lesson,” which seem to spring from the characters rather than feeling imposed (rather abruptly) by the author. But Wilson’s strengths as a portraitist, and his ear for dialogue, are evident from the get-go. Each of the characters in “Jitney” gets to tell their stories, in a language that is street poetry — astute, authentic, deeply satisfying in its imagery and its rhythms. It’s fitting that in 2013 Santiago-Hudson directed radio broadcasts of all ten of what is sometimes called Wilson’s Pittsburgh Cycle. There is one play for each decade of the 20th century, all set in Pittsburgh, which Wilson wrote over more than two decades and completed the year of his death in 2005.

August Wilson's plays. The left column is organized by when he wrote them. The right column goes chronologically by the year in which the play is set.

August Wilson’s plays.
The left column is organized by when he wrote them. The right column goes chronologically by the year in which the play is set.

From the moment Ruben Santiago-Hudson saw his first August Wilson play, he was “smitten, captured, put in a spell,” he told me in 2013. “Nobody had represented me with such integrity; nobody seemed to have the love for me and the people I knew like August did.” That love comes through in this pitch-perfect production.

Santiago-Hudson was not the only one smitten.

DenzelWashingtoninFencesDenzel Washington was also smitten. He is getting wider attention to Wilson’s work right now, thanks to the movie version of “Fences” that he directed and is starring in. “Fences” was revived on Broadway in 2010 with much the same cast as the movie, the last previous production of a Wilson play on Broadway before “Jitney.”

There is convincing evidence that Wilson’s American Century Cycle will become even more popular as the 21st century continues: Washington plans to bring all ten plays to the screen. Whatever happens in the decades to come, for the moment at least, “Jitney” feels not just rewarding, but necessary.

 

Jitney

MTC’s Samuel J. Friedman Theater

Written by August Wilson; Directed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson

Original music composed by Bill Sims Jr.

Set design by David Gallo

Lighting design by Jane Cox

Costume design by Toni-Leslie James

Sound design by Darren L. West

Cast Harvy Blanks, Anthony Chisholm, Brandon J. Dirden, André Holland, Carra Patterson, Michael Potts, Keith Randolph Smith, Ray Anthony Thomas and John Douglas Thompson

Running time: 2 hours and 25 minutes, including one intermission.

Tickets: $79.00 – $159.00

“Jitney” is scheduled to run through March 12, 2017

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Broadway Spring 2017 Preview Guide

spring-2017-broadway-logo-collage

Yes, Glenn Close, Sally Field, Jake Gyllenhaal, Kevin Kline, Patti LuPone, Bette Midler, and Cynthia Nixon are all returning to Broadway in Spring 2017, and Cate Blanchett and Danny DeVito are making their Broadway debuts. But Broadway is more than its divas and hunks.

The Spring 2017 season begins with a new play based on Chekhov and ends almost four months later with a new play based on Ibsen. Frequently revived plays by Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller and Lillian Hellman are all back again, while the one play by August Wilson that was never produced on Broadway finally gets there. Pulitzer Prize winning playwrights Lynn Nottage and Paula Vogel make their Broadway debuts with serious new works that were hits Off-Broadway. And the 41st Broadway house is being inaugurated this season with a Sondheim revival.

Or, yet another way to look at the season, three big beloved Broadway musicals are back, and seven new musicals (four of them based on movies) are making their debuts.

Below are the plays and musicals opening on Broadway from January through April, 2017, going chronologically by opening dates. Things are likely to change — additions, subtractions, rescheduling —  in the weeks and months ahead.

JANUARY

the-present-logoThe Present

Theater: Ethel Barrymore
Playwright: Andrew Lipton
Director: John Crowley
First preview: December 17
Opening: January 8, 2017
Closing: March 19
Cast: Cate Blanchett and Richard Roxburgh
A new play based on Anton Chekhov’s Platonov, with the action transposed to the 1990s.

website

Twitter feed: @thepresentbway

Buy tickets to The Present

 

Jitney

jitney-logoTheater: MTC’s Samuel J. Friedman
Playwright: August Wilson
Director: Ruben Santiago-Hudson
First preview: December 28, 2016
Opening: January 19, 2017
website
Tweeter feed: @MTC_NYC

website

Broadway premiere of Wilson’s first play, the only work from his The American Century Cycle never previously seen on Broadway. Set in the early 1970’s, the story follows a group of men who drive unlicensed cabs or jitneys.

Buy tickets to Jitney

February

sunset-boulevard-logoSunset Boulevard

Theater: The Palace
First Preview: February 2, 2017
Opening: February 9, 2017
Written by Christopher Hampton and Don Black (book/lyrics), and Andrew Lloyd Webber (music)
Director: Lonny Price
Cast: Glenn Close
Revival of the 1994 musical based on the 1950 Billy Wilder movie about a faded Hollywood silent film goddess who tries to make one last comeback. This production was seen in a spring 2016 revival in London.

website

@sunsetblvd

Buy tickets to Sunset Boulevard

Sunday in the Park With George

sunday-in-the-park-logoTheater; Hudson
First Preview: February 2, 2017
Opens: February 23

Closes: April 23
Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim; book by James Lapine
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal and Annaleigh Ashford
Transfer of the New York City Center‘s fall 2016 concert version of the Pulitzer-winning 1984 musical about pointillist painter George Seurat.

@hudsonbway

website

Buy tickets to Sunday in the Park with George

March

Significant Other

Significant Other logoTheater: Booth

Previews: February 14, 2017
Opens: March 2, 2017
Playwright: Joshua Harmon
Director: Trip Cullman
Cast: Gideon Glick, Barbara Barrie and Lindsay Mendez
Transfer of the Roundabout Theatre Company’s 2015 Off-Broadway hit about a gay bachelor looking for love in the big city.

@SignificantBway

website

Buy tickets to Significant Other

The Glass Menagerie

glass-menagerie-logoTheater: John Golden
Playwright: Tennessee Williams
Director: Sam Gold
First preview: February 14, 2017
Opening March 9, 2017
Cast: Sally Field, Joe Mantello, Finn Witrock, Madison Ferris
The eighth production of Tennessee Williams play on Broadway.

website

Buy tickets to The Glass Menagerie

Come From Away

come-from-away-logo
Theater: Schoenfeld
Previews: February 18, 2017
Opens: March 12, 2017
Book, music and lyrics by the Canadian husband-and-wife team Irene Sankoff and David Hein.
Director: Christopher Ashley
Cast: Chad Kimball, Jenn Colella, Joel Hatch, Rodney Hicks and Caesar Samayoa.
New musical that explores the lasting connection forged between a group of travelers whose planes were diverted to a small Newfoundland town on Sept. 11, 2001.
The show had its world premiere at the La Jolla Playhouse in summer 2015,

website

@wecomefromaway

Buy tickets to Come From Away

The Price

theprice-logoTheater: Roundabout’s American Airlines
Playwright: Arthur Miller
Director: Terry Kinney
First preview: February 16, 2017
Opening: March 16, 2017
Cast: Danny DeVito, Jessica Hecht, Tony Shalhoub, John Turturro
website
Tweeter feed: @RTC_NYC

website

A revival of the 1968 drama about two estranged brothers who reunite to sell their the remainder of their parents’ estate.

Buy tickets to The Price

Miss Saigon

Miss Saigon logoTheater: Broadway
Previews: March 1, 2017
Opens: March 23, 2017
Written by Claude-Michel Schönberg (music), Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg (lyrics), Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg (book)
Director: Laurence Connor
Cast: Jon Jon Briones and Eva Noblezada
An American soldier named Chris marries Kim in Vietnam before departing for the US. Three years later, he returns to find Kim still alive and raising Tam, a boy he fathered. With the Viet Cong closing in on the city and two women wanting the only place in his heart, Chris has big decisions to make.

@MissSaigonUS

website

Buy tickets to Miss Saigon

Sweat

sweat-logoTheater: Studio 54
First previews: March 4, 2017
Opens: March 26, 2017
Playwright: Lynn Nottage
Director: Kate Whoriskey
Cast: Carlo Albán, James Colby, Khris Davis, Johanna Day, John Earl Jelks, Will Pullen, Miriam Shor, Lance Coadie Williams, and Michelle Wilson
Broadway transfer of the hit Public Theatre production of Nottage’s drama about blue-collar workers in a Pennsylvania town at the turn of the millennium.

Twitter: @SweatBroadway

website

My review of Sweat off-Broadway

Buy tickets to Sweat

APRIL

The Play That Goes Wrong

play-that-goes-wrong-logoTheater: Lyceum
First preview: March 9, 2017
Opens: April 2, 2017
Written by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields
Director: Mark Bell
Cast: Matthew Cavendish, Bryony Corrigan, Rob Falconer, Dave Hearn, Henry Lewis, Charlie Russell, Jonathan Sayer, Henry Shields, Greg Tannahill, and Nancy Zamit.
Olivier Award-winning comedy about an amateur university production that goes hopelessly awry

Twitter: @BwayGoesWrong

website

Buy tickets to The Play That Goes Wrong

Amelie

amelie-logoTheatre: Walter Kerr
First preview: March 9, 2017
Opens: April 3, 2017
Written by Dan Messé (music), Nathan Tyson (lyrics), Craig Lucas (book)
Director: Pam MacKinnon
Cast: Phillipa Soo and Adam Chanler-Berat
A musical adaptation of the  2001 film, which starred Audrey Tautou as a shy waitress with a wild imagination.

@AmelieBroadway

website

Buy tickets to Amelie

Present Laughter

present-laughter-logoTheater: St. James
Target Previews: Early spring 2017
Opening: April 5, 2017
Playwright: Noël Coward
Director: Moritz von Suelpnagel
Cast: Kevin Kline

Revival of the 1940s comedy about the tribulations of a popular matinee idol.

website

@laughteronbway

Buy tickets to Present Laughter

War Paint

war-paint-logo
Theater: Nederlander
Previews: March 7, 2017
Opening: April 6, 2017
Writers: Book by Doug Wrights; music and lyrics by Scott Frankel and Michael Korie
Director: Michael Grief; choreographer: Christopher Gattelli
Cast: Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole
Musical based on the rivalry of cosmetics titans Helena Rubenstein (LuPone) and Elizabeth Arden (Ebersole)
Premiered at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago in summer 2016.

website

@warpaintmusical

Buy tickets to War Paint

oslo-logoOslo

Theater: Vivian Beaumont
Previews: March 23, 2017
Opens: April 13, 2017
Playwright: J.T. Rogers
Director: Bartlett Sher
Cast: Jennifer Ehle, Daniel Jenkins, Jefferson Mays and Daniel Oreskes
Transfer of Lincoln Center Theater’s Off-Broadway production of the play about the top-secret, high-level meetings between the State of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization that culminated in the signing of the historic 1993 Oslo Accords.

My review of “Oslo” Off-Broadway

website

@LCTheater

Buy tickets to Oslo

 Groundhog Day

groundhog-day-logoTheater: August Wilson
Previews: March 2017
Opening: April 17, 2017
Music and lyrics by Tim Minchin, book by Danny Rubin
Director: Matthew Warchus
Cast: Andy Karl
A musical adaptation of the 1993 Bill Murray film about a cynical Pittsburgh TV weatherman who is sent to cover the annual Groundhog Day event in Punxsutawney, PA, when he finds himself caught in a time loop, forced to repeat the same day again and again…and again. Will he ever unlock the secret and break the cycle?
Produced in London in summer 2016.

website

@Groundhogdaybwy

Buy tickets to Groundhog Day

Six Degrees of Separation

six-degrees-of-separation-logoTheater: Barrymore
Target Opening: April 2017
Playwright: John Guare
Director: Trip Cullman
Cast: Allison Janney and John Benjamin Hickey
Revival of the 1990 drama about a young con man who is embraced by wealthy New Yorkers after passing himself off as Sidney Poitier’s son.

website

@SixDegreesBway

Buy tickets to Six Degrees of Separation

Indecent

indecent-logoTheater: Cort
Opening: April 18, 2017
Playwright: Paula Vogel
Director: Rebecca Taichman
Cast: TBA

A behind-the-scenes look at the true story of the controversial 1923 Broadway debut of Sholem Asch’s “God of Vengeance” — “a play seen by some as a seminal work of Jewish culture, and by others as an act of traitorous libel,” in part because of its lesbian lovers.

My review of Indecent Off-Broadway

website

@IndecentBway

Buy tickets to Indecent

The Little Foxes

Theater: MTC’s Samuel J. Friedman
Playwright: Lillian Hellman
Director: Daniel Sullivan
First preview: March 29, 2017
Opening: April 19, 2017
Closing:
Cast: Laura Linney and Cynthia Nixon

The fifth Broadway production of the 1930 drama about a ruthless Southern belle.

website

Buy tickets to The Little Foxes

Hello, Dolly

Hello Dolly logoTheater: Shubert
Authors: Music and lyrics by Jerry Herman, book by Michael Stewart
Director: Jerry Zaks, choreographer Warren Carlyle
First preview: March 13, 2017
Opening: April 20, 2017
Closing:
Cast: Bette Midler and David Hyde Pierce
website
Tweeter feed: @HelloDollyBway

The fifth Broadway production of the 1964 musical about a matchmaker who sets out to find a match for herself at the turn of the 20th century.

Buy tickets to Hello, Dolly

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory logoTheater: Lunt-Fontanne
First Preview: March 28, 2017
Opening: April 23, 2017
Written by David Greig (book), Marc Shaiman (music & lyrics), Scott Wittman (lyrics), Roald Dahl (novel)
Director: Jack O’Brien
Cast: Christian Borle as Willy Wonka
When Charlie wins a golden ticket to the weird and wonderful Wonka Chocolate Factory, it’s the chance of a lifetime to feast on the sweets he’s always dreamed of. But beyond the gates astonishment awaits, as the five lucky winners discover not everything is as sweet as it seems.

website

@CharlieOnBway

Buy tickets to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Anastasia

anastasia-logoTheater: Broadhurst
First Preview: March 23, 2017
Opening: April 24, 2017
Music by Stephen Flaherty, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, book by Terrence McNally
Director: Darko Tresnjak
Cast: Christy Altomare, Derek Klana, Ramin Karimloo, Mary Beth Peil, John Bolton, and Caroline O’Connor
Inspired by the 1997 film about a young woman who may be the last surviving member of the Russian royal family. The score includes songs from the movie, including the Oscar- nominated “Journey to the Past,” plus an entirely new score from the Tony Award-winning team.
The musical had its world premiere at Hartford in 2016.

website

@AnastasiaBway

Buy tickets to Anastasia

Bandstand

bandstand-logoTheater: Bernard Jacobs
First Preview: March 31, 2017
Opening: April 26, 2017
Music by Richard Oberacker and book and lyrics by Robert Taylor and Richard Oberacker
Director/Choreographer: Andy Blankenbuhler
Cast: Laura Osnes and Corey Cott
This “big-band musical” chronicles a mismatched band of WWII veterans who join forces to compete in a radio contest.
The show debuted in 2015 at Paper Mill Playhouse

website

@BandstandBway

Buy tickets to Bandstand

A Doll’s House, Part 2

a-dolls-house-logoTheater: Golden
First Preview: April 1, 2017
Opening: April 27, 2017
Playwright: Lucas Hnath
Director: Sam Gold
Cast: Laurie Metcalf, Chris Cooper, Jayne Houdyshell, Condola Rashad.
Sequel to Henrik Ibsen’s play, following up after Nora has left her husband and children.

website

@DollsHousePart2

Buy tickets to A Doll’s House, Part 2

 

Also check out my monthly calendar of theater openings, which includes Broadway, Off-Broadway and Off-Off Broadway.

Full 2016-2017 Broadway season, including my reviews of the shows that have opened.

Fences directed by Denzel Washington: Second Trailer

Pictured: Denzel Washington (Troy Maxson) & Viola Davis (Rose)

Denzel Washington’s movie adaptation of “Fences,” August Wilson’s 1987 play, will be in movie theaters nationwide on December 25, 2016. Below is a first movie trailer from Paramount Picures

Click here for the first trailer and for my review of the play when it was on Broadway, directed by Kenny Leon, starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis (the same stars as in the movie.)

How I Learned What I Learned Review: August Wilson’s Portrait Of The Playwright As A Young Man

How I Learned What I Learned Signature TheatreHow does one become one of the greatest playwrights of the 20th century?

The answer is not directly forthcoming in “How I Learned What I Learned,” the memoir written and performed by August Wilson in 2003, two years before his death at age 60, which is now being revived by masterful Wilson interpreter and devotee Ruben Santiago-Hudson at the Signature Theater. As Wilson, Santiago-Hudson tells us he dropped out of school at the age of 15, when, he implies, his education began in earnest – first in the library, and then, at age 20, in “the clutches of a group of poets and painters” in the Hill District of Pittsburgh. It was in the streets and bars of his impoverished but enriching hometown community that Wilson got the equivalent of his MFA.

But his route to dramatist is only implied. In one of the few explicit mentions of theater at all, Wilson talks about his seventh grade Christmas pageant, in which Sister Mary Eldephonse assigned him to play the cymbals. “A non-speaking role! I was outraged.”  It was an experience most memorable to him – the point and the punch line of the story – because it was the first time he kissed a girl.

As it turns out, Wilson’s funny, pointed stories, his portraits of neighborhood characters and his mini-lectures about racism offer a random sampling of his power as a storyteller. Spoken in the cadences of the characters we know from his 10-play American Century Cycle,  Wilson recalls his  encounters with a murderously jealous husband; three days he spent in jail for breaking into his apartment that the landlord had padlocked because he was late with his rent; his experience listening to the great jazz saxophonist John Coltrane with hundreds of other men on the street outside the club where the musician was playing – none could afford the cover charge.

“My ancestors have been in America since the early 17th century,” he says at the start, “and for the first 244 years, we never had a problem finding a job.” But he finds little humor in the slights and indignities that he and his mother experienced because of the color of their skin.

The costumes, by Wilson’s widow Constanza Romero, include a t-shirt we first see from the back, imprinted with the words “I Am An Accident This Did Not Turn Out Right,” and then, when he turns around, “I am Supposed To Be White.” The set by David Gallo offers an abstract feel of building blocks, against which he projects words that serve as chapter titles.

This allows for a discordant note at the end of the show, a final gesture that feels overly reverent, when the names of Wilson’s ten plays (“Fences,” “The Piano Lesson,” etc.) appear in starry lights, as Santiago-Hudson looks up at them as if in worship.

More in keeping with Wilson’s own down-to-earth poetry is a tale he tells of his older friend Chawley, a poet and a heroin addict, who slammed a fellow junkie against the wall for asking 20-year-old Wilson if he wanted to shoot up. “Chawley saw something in me. And Chawley didn’t want me to become a heroin addict like him… I realize that all of these years, I have worked to reward that thing that Chawley see in me.”

Click on any photograph to see it enlarge

August Wilson’s How I Learned What I Learned

At the Signature Center

In collaboration with Ruben Santiago-Hudson; performed by  Santiago-Hudson; co-conceived and directed by Todd Kreidler; sets and projections by David Gallo; costumes by/associate artist, Constanza Romero; lighting by Thom Weaver; sound by Dan Moses Schreier.

Tickets: After December 18, $55

Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission

“How I Learned What I Learned” is scheduled to run through December 29, 2013

Fantasia! Julie Taymor! Daniel Craig! Dr. Ruth! The Week in New York Theater

WeekinNewYorkTheaterOct28toNov3

Fantasia in After Midnight; Kathryn Hunter as Puck in Julie Taymor’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream; Debra Jo Rupp as the dimunitive sex therapist in Becoming Dr. Ruth

“After Midnight” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” opened during the week in New York theater: We are clearly in the middle of the theater season. I reviewed these shows as well as “Becoming Dr. Ruth” and “Betrayal” with Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz. Also below, news about Ewan McGregor and Carol Lawrence, Stephen Sondheim and Tony Kushner, August Wilson, another way to celebrate Wicked’s 10th anniversary on Broadway…and Tracy Lett’s 10 Rules For Being Creative.

The Week in New York Theater

Monday, October 28, 2013

Top ten stage shows that did NOT win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama

Top10showswithnoPulitzerFun Home by Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori has been extended at ‪The Public Theater until December 1st.

The Irish Rep is reviving It’s A Wonderful Life (the 1946 radio play adapted from the Frank Capra movie). When? In December of course.

Tale of two  (really three) Shakespeares: Romeo and Juliet sold only 42 percent of its seats last week; Twelfth Night and Richard III sold 97 percent!

To celebrate its tenth anniversary on Broadway, Wicked becomes a category on Jeopardy

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American Songbook 2014 at Lincoln Center:  Patina Miller, Jonathan Groff, Ann Harada, Taylor Mac, Norm Lewis, etc. 

 36.7 million saw shows at non-profit theaters, which contributed about $2 billion to U.S. economy, reports Theater Communications Group.

DebraJoRuppasDrRuth

My review of Becoming Dr. Ruth

funny, touching, lovely solo show about the celebrity sex therapist’s remarkable life story ….Debra Jo Rupp is able to communicate Dr. Ruth’s humor and warmth and inspiring resilience in a way that only seems possible on a stage. And, though Rupp is a full seven inches taller than Ruth Westheimer, she even manages to convince us that she’s as physically short as the larger-than-life woman she is portraying.

Full review of Becoming Dr. Ruth

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CarolLawrenceWestSideStoryandnow

Carol Lawrence, original Maria in West Side Story, plays Israeli grandmother in new play Handle with Care, which opens December 15th at Westside Theater

The 46-year-old Puerto Rican Traveling Theater Co. is merging with 34-year-old Pregones Theater

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"The Impossible" - Los Angeles Premiere - ArrivalsEwan McGregor will make his Broadway debut in The Roundabout Theatre Company’s revival of Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing, Oct.2014

Stephen Sondheim attended the musical “Fun Home” at the Public Theater, which prompted Michael Schulman to observe: “The score, by Jeanine Tesori (music) and Lisa Kron (book and lyrics), is rich and troubled and psychologically nuanced, in a way that seems inescapably Sondheimian. Starting in the nineteen-seventies, Sondheim ushered in a new way of writing show tunes, one that favored liminal states—ambivalence, regret—over toe-tapping joy.”

Tony Kushner is writing “a screenplay and an opera libretto about Eugene O’Neill.”

Trey Graham ‏@treygraham A Tony Kushner opera about Eugene O’Neill. That’ll be brisk.

 

ARaisinintheSunRevisited

Miss “The Raisin Cycle” documentary on PBS, about Raisin in the Sun & its sequels? Full show here for a limited time

November 1, 2013

SpeakeasyDollhouse

Q and A with performance artist Cynth Von Buhler, creator of Speakeasy Dollhouse, combination immersive theater and gin joint

NewPLayExchange

New Play Exchange

Like many playwrights, Gwydion Suilebhan has long been frustrated by what happens after he has written a play.

“The task of figuring out, among the thousands of theatres across the United States, which ones might be both right for a given play of mine and interested in considering new work at any given moment in time,” he says, “falls somewhere between onerous and impossible.

That’s why Suilebhan is delighted by the idea of a national database of new plays—an idea, in fact, that promises to be coming soon to a theatre near you. Indeed, Suilebhan was hired this past summer as the director of the New Play Exchange, an online tool being developed at the National New Play Network, aiming to be fully operational by 2015.

Full article on New Play Exchange

Betrayal1

My review of Betrayal

Director Mike Nichols takes liberties.  The alcohol pours freely, designer Ian MacNeil’s sets glide aerodynamically into place, the actors shed British reserve to shout and grab and, instead of staring, kiss…and couple.  This is a more external, more explicit, production of what is already Pinter’s most accessible play. For me, what’s lost in subtlety is gained in clarity…

While many have been drawn to this third Broadway production of Betrayal for reasons other than, say, a love of Pinter, the three main actors (there is a fourth who plays a waiter in one scene) deliver arresting performances on the stage. These are not slumming screen stars. We see the characters transform (backwards) before our eyes: Daniel Craig’s indifferent attitude unravels into anger, resentment, hurt; Rachel Weisz’s reserve collapses into a naivete that makes her an easy target; Rafe Spall guilt turns to puppy-doggish enthusiasm  and then to a drunken sort of mercenary aggression.

Full review of Betrayal

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A dozen videos from the Howlround conference on Latino theater

MidsummerNightsDream1

My review of A Midsummer Night’s Dream

There is something terrifically apt in director Julie Taymor, so loved after creating The Lion King, and so hated after Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark, inaugurating a beautiful new theater in Brooklyn with Shakespeare’s play about the fickleness of affection.

There are echoes of her previous work in Taymor’s production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the Theatre for a New Audience’s Polonsky Shakespeare Center – the lovely delicate animal costumes that the ensemble occasionally wear recall The Lion King, the breathtaking use of parachute-size sheets and aerial acrobatics seem taken from the Spider-Man playbook. But Taymor’s inventive staging has the feel of something new, ironically because she is in a way revisiting her past  — she first worked with Theatre for a New Audience in 1984, when she was an experimental theater artist known only to the cognoscenti. Her Dream returns her to a relatively intimate scale (and lower budget) and is better because of it. It is time to love Julie Taymor again.

This is not to say that hers is a perfect Dream…

Full review of A Midsummer Night’s Dream

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Bruce Hallett, former president of Time and Sports Illustrated, has joined Playbill Inc. as its publisher, focusing on the print magazine.

Glen Berger’s book Song of Spiderman is an insider’s coroner report, says review Mark Harris. One line:  “Just watching it all disappear down the dream hole, huh?” Julie Taymor said to Glen Berger after tough Spider-man rehearsal.

Ruben Santiago Hudson

Ruben Santiago-Hudson has been taken with August Wilson since he saw Wilson’s very first play on Broadway, as he told me during the recent taping of all 10 plays of Wilson’s American Century Cycle — each one set in a different decade of the twentieth century.

“I was smitten, captured, put in a spell,” he says. “Nobody had represented me with such integrity; nobody seemed to have the love for me and the people I knew like August did.”

Santiago-Hudson is committed to putting the last of Wilson’s plays, Jitney, on Broadway. In the meantime, he is playing August Wilson in a solo show BY Wilson, How I Learned What I Learned

Fantasia

Fantasia

My review of After Midnight

Syncopated or synchronized; scatting, swinging or serenading; in white satin or black silk, the more than three dozen supremely talented entertainers of “After Midnight” – singers, dancers and musicians – thrill with an astonishing 27 musical numbers over 90 intermission-less minutes…

The first guest artist is Fantasia Barrino, the American Idol winner who floored Broadway audiences with her performance as Celie in The Color Purple. (Future guest artists already lined up after Barrino leaves the show in February: kd lang, then Toni Braxton and Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds.) It is a different Fantasia – luscious, sparkling, dressed in celebrated fashion designer/first-time Broadway costume designer Isabel Toledo’s flattering ensembles – who floors us in a completely new way with her polished singing of the enduring jazz standards “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,”  “Stormy Weather,” and “On The Sunny Side of the Street,” as well as her fabulous scatting in Cab Calloway’s snazzy “Zaz Zuh Zaz.” But this is a show too rich in talent to have to depend on any one star. Even the orchestra is called the All-Stars …

There are two ways, however, in which Dule Hill’s use of Langston Hughes’ poetry as the sole spoken text of “After Midnight” strikes me as a missed opportunity..

Full review of After Midnight

Tracy Letts’ 10 Rules for Being Creative

Tracy Letts 10 ideas for being creative

Fall Theater 2013: Too Much Theater?

They have their new Rocky

RockyBwayThey have their new (19th?) Sally Bowles.

Cabaret-Sketch

Betty Buckley takes Manhattan -- Off-Broadway!

Betty Buckley takes Manhattan — Off-Broadway!

Michelle Williams and Il Divo are making their debuts; Neil Patrick Harris has set the date; Harvey Fierstein has a new play about straight cross-dressing males.

And that’s just on Broadway.

Off-Broadway is generating even more excitement -evidenced by my Off-Broadway Fall 2013 Guide — including new plays by August Wilson and Horton Foote, who both have been dead for years

There’s a world premiere by Terrence McNally — NOT the one on Broadway — at Pearl Theatre Company, about the entire history of theater. Heard of it?

20at20Logo

 

Off Broadway ticket giveaway –

– still time to enter — and win TWO pairs of tickets to your choice of two plays Off-Broadway out of more than 40 available.

 

Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader—not the fact it’s raining,but the feeling of being rained upon ~Chekhov

Most common misperceptions about writing: 1.Anybody can do it. 2. It makes you happy-Theresa Rebeck

The Week in New York Theater

September 2, 2013

Making theater news in August, from left: Julie Harris, Zachary Quinto, Eric Anderson and Amber Iman of Soul Doctor, Spider-Man, Zachary Levi and Krysta Rodriguez of First Date, Carole King

Making theater news in August, from left: Julie Harris, Zachary Quinto, Eric Anderson and Amber Iman of Soul Doctor, Spider-Man, Zachary Levi and Krysta Rodriguez of First Date, Carole King

New York Theater August 2013 Quiz

Answer these ten questions to find out how well you were paying attention

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MichelleWilliams

Roundabout’s 19th Sally Bowles?

cabaretsallybowles1Michelle Williams (Brokeback Mountain My Year with Marilyn) reportedly picked to play Sally Bowles in Roundabout Theater Company’s revival of Cabaret.

How many Sallys were there in the last Roundabout revival?

Rob Kendt @RobKendt It ran for six years, I lost count.

Jonathan Mandell: Wow, by my count, there were 18 Sally Bowles in the Roundabout’s last Cabaret. Is that possible?
Natasha Richardson,Jennifer Jason Leigh,Susan Egan,Molly Ringwald,Katie Finneran, Joely Fisher,Brooke Shields + 11 more

Diep Tran ‏@diepthought So I guess judging from the inclusion of Alan Cumming and Roundabout, we should expect a 6-year run with 18 Sallys?

Jonathan Mandell: That’s a new Sally Bowles on average every four months.

HollywoodtoBroadway

Hollywood movie to Broadway musical

The 2013-2014 Broadway theater season so far includes six shows – five of them musicals, one a play – that were movies.  Click on the link for a listing in the order of their planned openings on Broadway, with summaries from the original films

Jose S Piano ‏@JoseSPiano Keep in mind that both “Big Fish” and “Bridges…” were books first – which you mention in your annotations.
So was “A Time To Kill”. -Would they have eventually been adapted for Broadway if they had not been turned into films first?

Jonathan Mandell: That’s the question, isn’t it? Is it that these stories are strong or that the shows are brands? (Both? More of one?)

Nick Bailey ‏@NicholousBailey Bridges of Madison County  is based on the RJW novel, and has little to nothing to do with the film, new characters, structure, focus

Howard Sherman ‏@HESherman  Let’s remember that one of the greatest film musicals, SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN, is actually a jukebox movie musical.

London revival of Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along will be “broadcast” in U.S. movie theaters Oct 23 (in NYC: Regal Union Square)

Comet6SooandSteeleIt lives! Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 starts new 14-week run Sept. 24 in Kazino tent set up on 45th between 8th and Times Square

Will Swenson will be replacing Will Chase in Second Stage’s Little Miss Sunshine. (Chase is leaving for a movie) #WhereTheresAWillTheresAPlay

The first SIX pages of this week’s New Yorker magaizne are ads for: 1. Raisin in the Sun, 2. @Betrayal 3. The Book of Mormon.

Jesse Oxfeld ‏@joxfeld  Look at current New York, too.

The Ethan Hawke Macbeth cast at Lincoln Center will include John Glover, Daniel Sunjata, and Brian D’Arcy James

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Il+Divo

Simon Cowell’s hot opera quartet Il Divo will be singing Broadway tunes with Heather Headley for one week only, November 7 to 13 only, at the Marquis Theater.

New Romeo Julian Cihi

New Romeo Julian Cihi

Japanese-born Julian Cihi, recent graduate of the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU, is the new Rome in the Classic Stage Company’s Romeo and Juliet, replacing Finn Wittrock (Death of A Salesman) who left for a role in the film of The Normal Heart.

Meanwhile The Old Globe is doing a new musical version of Romeo & Juliet, The Last Goodbye, with Jay Johnson and  Talisa Friedman

What does it say about the world that the two hot Shakespeare plays this season are Macbeth and Romeo & Juliet?

Billy Flood @Bflood28 What does it say about #postracial myth that both casts of R&J needed 1 white actor in the pair…

Jonathan Mandell Why not see it positively? Both casts of R&J have people of color. The whole point of Bway prod. is mixed race conflict

Billy Flood: Not the point. They couldn’t cast both leads of color in either production… Very telling. Mixed race conflict has been done before. Casting both Romeo and Juliet as People of color on Broadway…hasn’t

Jonathan Mandell: So do that in your new theater in Buffalo. Race conflict is the choice by Romeo and Juliet on Broadway, so they need two races

Billy Flood: Nice side step. I will

Katie Labovitz ‏@klabovitz What does it say when the R&J tv commercial uses a quote from Perez Hilton to promote it?
“Tragically hot”

“Becoming Dr Ruth,” new play about sex therapist @AskDrRuth, w Debra Jo Rupp, (“That 70’s Show) Oct 11 – Jan 12, Westside Theater

They have little money and high unemployment but, thanks to autonomy, artists have high job satisfaction — in Europe anyway

Q&A with Kenny Leon on The Raisin in the Sun he’s directing on Broadway, and new Tupac Shakur musical, also heading (he hopes) to Broadway

AugustWilsonwindow

Too Much Theater? The New Marathons

At a time when commercial theater is moving increasingly toward productions of ninety minutes with no intermission, adventurous theater artists seem to be experimenting with elaborate works of moment and circumstance, requiring endurance..

Consider:

MikeDaisey*In All The Faces of the Moon at the Public Theater, Mike Daisey will deliver a different new monologue starting on September 5 every night for twenty-nine nights, each on the secret history of New York City. “Night after night he will strive like Scheherazade to tell the largest story ever attempted in the American theater,” the Public Theater says. Russian artist Larissa Tokmakova will paint a different painting each night to illustrate Daisey’s stories. There will also be a live, free podcast.

*Lucy Thurber’s The Hill Town Plays, also opening on September 5, tell the story of the pivotal moments in a woman’s life from age thirteen to her thirties in five different but related plays (Scarcity, Ashville, Where We’re Born, Killers & Other Family, and Stay) in five different theaters—Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, Axis Theater, New Ohio Theater, and b

From August 26 to September 28, artistic director Ruben Santiago-Hudson is gathering together some sixty performers to do staged readings of August Wilson’s entire American Century Cycle of ten plays at WNYC’s studio and theater, The Greene Space, in front of a live audience.

Full article on The New Marathons in Howlround

Marathon Theater Chat

Excerpts

Terry Teachout: @terryteachout Remember my Drama Critic’s Prayer: “Dear God, if it can’t be good, let it be short.”

Jessica Franken  @jes3ica I am drawn to excess. I binge-watched Orange Is The New Black on Netflix, and will binge-watch Aditi Kapil’s trilogy at Mixed Blod

Paul Hufker @PaulHufker the trend in modern theatre is in keeping w the trend in modern attention spans: far too short. #newplay

Tesseractt Theater @TesseractTheatr I’ve had playwriting teachers flat out say “keep it short if you want to get produced”

Trish Causey @MusicalThtreMag I’ve been told to keep it to as few characters as possible. Big casts cost too much. Grrrrr! #newplay

Jonathan Mandell: Some of the marathons might be deliberately thumbing nose at “requirement” to be short. #newplay

Tesseract Theater Sometimes a thumbed nose loosens us to start a new artistic age… i hope to see more long form

Brian O’Neal @ArtsJunkieTC On any production, I’m thinking to create an event as much as a play. A play is the protein in event sandwich

Annie

Annie is to close January 5, 2014, after just 487 regular performances.
The original Annie on Broadway ran for six years (1977-83) and 2377 performances. This second revival is ending after 14 months.

First preview of The Glass Menagerie tonight (Opening Sept 26). Student rush tickets: $35.

First preview tonight for Big Fish with Norbert Leo Butz and Kate Baldwin. Here are some of the songs

ONeill Center: Submissions to the 2014 National Playwrights Conference open Sept 20-Oct 25 http://bit.ly/n9Qn5T

Cutting-edge theater St Anns Warehouse will get a permanent home in pre-Civil War “Tobacco Warehouse” building in Brooklyn Bridge Park

To do Hamlet and Shaw’s Saint Joan in repertory with just four actors would be bedlam. Theater Bedlam begins it November 8 at the Lynn Redgrave Theater

6

The new Brooklyn theater housing Theater for a New Audience has a new name: Polonsky Shakespeare Center, (Polonsky Foundation gave $10 million)

Find a tiny snippet of Jason Robert Brown’s score on new Bridges of Madison County website .

Adultery’s been big in theater (Oedipus?) & in his life, says Mike Nichols, 81, directing Betrayal on Broadway

Barron B. Bass and Austin Trow in The Recommednation at The FleaMy review of The Recommendation

From the moment he saunters on stage wrapped only in a towel and asks a member of the audience to hold his clothes so he can get dressed, we have the character Aaron Feldman pegged. He is a son of privilege, charming and friendly but used to getting his way, always having people do things for him.

When we first see Dwight Barnes, he’s sitting in a jail cell, with a mean stare – and he too is a familiar figure, although more from TV and the movies.

How the two characters clash, and what it means, is more or less the subject of Jonathan Caren‘s The Recommendation, a play at The Flea through September 22 that considers the nature of friendship and attempts to offer us a glimpse at the class system in America.

Full review of The Recommendation

7

.Joel Grey made his theatrical debut in On Borrowed Time. 72 years later,he’s directing play for New Jersey’s Two River Theater 9/14-10/13

Sondheim on PBS News Hour

8

I don’t think you choose your material. I think it finally chooses you – Horton Foote

08cityroom-shakespeare-blog480

Armed with a small sign offering Shakespeare by request (“Cheaper than Broadway,” it says), Will Barnet, 23, performs regularly as Hamlet, Prince Hal, Richard III, Romeo and even Juliet. for hours in Greenwich Village and on the High Line, as well as in Central Park and at farmers’ markets, where he often gets food in addition to tips

Why aren’t there better aps for Broadway?

Recommended minimum age for Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Measure for Measure: is 18.  However, I think some shows should have a maximum age. e.g. Recommended for theatergoers under 20 (uber hip fare). or under 11 (juvenile)

9

AndyKarlThe revival of Hedwig and the Angry Inch  is opening a the Belasco Theater April 22, 2014

Casa Valentina, Harvey Fierstein’s new play about straight crossdressers in ’60s Catskills resort,opens April 23 on Broadway.

They have their Rocky. It’s Andy Karl, six-time Broadway vet (Jersey Boys, Drood) .

Broadway on Broadway, annual outdoor concert in Times Square, is canceled this year, says The Broadway League, though they don’t say why

EdwardAlbeeQ & A with Edward Albee, 85, great playwright, difficult interview subject.

Park Ave. Armory

My review of The Machine

In telling the tale of the 1997 chess match between Man and Machine – Garry Kasparov, the world’s top ranked chess player, and the IBM chess-playing computer Deep Blue — playwrightMatt Charman, director Josie Rourke (artistic director of London’s famed Donmar Warehouse) and the rest of the creative team hose a nearly mechanical bio-drama masquerading as a modern gladiator sport, staged with great flash in cavernous Drill Hall of the Park Avenue Armory, complete with arena (in-the-round) seating, mock Jumbotron video projections, TV sports commentators, a logo that looks like something that would be used for the Super Bowl. Once or twice Garry Kasparov even stands up on the table and does the kind of dance a wide receiver does on a football field after scoring a touchdown….This is presumably a fantasy, not meant to be taken literally, and it is actually a welcome relief from the little, leaden scenes of flashback biography that are threaded throughout The Machine.

Full review of The Machine

August Wilson’s American Century Cycle Project begins at WNYC!

In his twenties, Ruben Santiago-Hudson saw “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” the first play by August Wilson that appeared on Broadway, and “I was smitten, captured, put in a spell,” he says. “Nobody had represented me with such integrity; nobody seemed to have the love for me and the people I knew like August did.”
Three decades later, having performed in such August Wilson plays as “The Piano Lesson,” “Gem of the Ocean,” and “Seven Guitars,” for which he won a 1996 Tony Award, Santiago-Hudson returned last night to “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” directing the first of an ambitious project to record for radio broadcast all 10 of August Wilson’s American Century Cycle plays within the next month.
Santiago-Hudson, who will perform in “Fences” and “Seven Guitars” and direct three of the plays, is the artistic director of the project. It is the first given permission by the Wilson estate since Wilson’s death in 2005 to record all 10 plays, each set in one of the ten decades of the twentieth century. Each recording session will feature many performers who were in the original casts — the nearly 60 actors include Jesse L. Martin, Phylicia Rashad, and Leslie Uggams — and be presented in front of a live audience at WNYC’s The Greene Space. The video will be livestreamed on The Greene Space website, but only the audio will be preserved, in effect turning Wilson’s plays into radio dramas.
In the video, Santiago-Hudson explains his choices, and several of the performers for the first play, including Clarke Peters and Larry Gilliard Jr. (both from the TV series “The Wire”), as well as associate artistic producer Stephen McKinley Henderson, a consummate interpreter of the playwright who has performed in eight of his 10 plays, describe their love for his work.
AugustWilsonportrait

AugustWilsonwindow

AWRubenSantiagoHudson

Clarke Peters, Larry Gilliard, Jr. musicians and other cast of Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, the first of the recorded shows.

Clarke Peters, Larry Gilliard, Jr. musicians and other cast of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, the first of the recorded shows.

AWcake

August Wilson's plays. The left column is organized by when he wrote them. The right column goes chronologically by the year in which the play is set.

August Wilson’s plays.
The left column is organized by when he wrote them. The right column goes chronologically by the year in which the play is set.

 

Schedule at The Greene Space

The shows are sold out, but each will be presented live online at 7 p.m. at The Greene Space website

Monday, August 26
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Wednesday, August 28
Fences

Thursday, August 29
Talk: The Lloyd Richards Effect

Wednesday, September 4
Joe Turner’s Come and Gone

Thursday, September 5
Talk: August Wilson’s Women

Friday, September 6
Talk: Music and Dance

Monday, September 9
The Piano Lesson

Wednesday, September 11
Two Trains Running

Friday, September 13
Seven Guitars

Monday, September 16
Jitney

Tuesday, September 17
Talk: Bringing Black Works to Broadway

Thursday, September 19
Talk: Religion, Spirituality and Africa

Saturday, September 21
King Hedley II (Matinee Presentation)

Saturday, September 21
King Hedley II

Tuesday, September 24
Gem of the Ocean

Wednesday, September 25
Talk: Reminiscences

Saturday, September 28
Radio Golf (Matinee Presentation)

Saturday, September 28
Radio Golf