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Broadway at the Oscars 2017: What to Watch for.

Theater fans can watch the 2017 Oscars just like sports views view the World Series. Three examples:


1. If Lin-Manuel Miranda wins an Oscar tonight for his song “How Far I’ll Go” from Moana (which he’ll also be performing on the broadcast), he will be just the 13th person ever to win competitive Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony Awards, and only the third (after Richard Rodgers and Marvin Hamlisch) to win an EGOT plus a Pulitzer.
2. If Denzel Washington and Viola Davis win the Oscars for their roles in the 2016 film Fences, they will be the tenth and 11th performers to win both Tonys and Oscars for the same role. They both won the Tony Award in the 2010 Broadway production of August Wilson’s play. (The first to win both was Jose Ferrer for the title role of Cyrano de Bergerac)
3. If Emma Stone and Michelle Williams win in their respective Oscar categories (best actress and best supporting actress), that will mean two Oscar winners who both starred on Broadway as Sally Bowles in Cabaret.

The connection between Broadway and Hollywood is always dizzying, but it seems especially dazzling at this year’s Oscars.

2017 Oscar Nominated Performers With Broadway Pedigrees

Nine of the 20 actors nominated for Oscars this year have performed on Broadway. Here is the breakdown:

Actor in a Leading Role

Andrew Garfield for Hacksaw Ridge (Death of a Salesman 2012)
Denzel Washington for Fences (Checkmates 1988, Julius Caesar 2005, Fences 2010, A Raisin in the Sun 2014)

Actress in a Leading Role

Natalie Portman for Jackie (The Diary of Anne Frank, 1997)
Emma Stone for La La Land (Cabaret, 2015)
Meryl Streep for Florence Foster Jenkins (Trelawny of the “Wells”, 1975; A Memory of Two Mondays/27 Wagons Full of Cotton, 1976; Secret Service, 1976; The Cherry Orchard, 1977; Happy End, 1977)

Actor in a Supporting Role

Michael Shannon for Nocturnal Animals (Grace 2012, Long Day’s Journey Into Night 2016)

Actress in a Supporting Role

Viola Davis for Fences (Seven Guitars 1996, King Hedley II 2001, Fences 2010)
Nicole Kidman for Lion (The Blue Room, 1998)
Michelle Williams for Manchester by the Sea (Cabaret 2014, Blackbird 2016)

2017 Oscar Nominated Actor Currently Performing on a New York Stage

Stefania Lavie Owen and Lucas Hedges

Stefania Lavie Owen and Lucas Hedges

Lucas Hedges, nominated for best supporting actor for Manchester by the Sea, is currently starring in Yen Off-Broadway.

2017 Oscar Nominated Songwriters

benj-pasek-and-justin-paul

Lin-Manuel Miranda is not the only musical theater composer nominated this year for an Oscar for a song. Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (Dear Evan Hansen) are nominated as lyricists for “City of Stars” and “Audition (The Fools Who Dream),” both in La La Land.

Stage to Screen — to the Oscars . . .

moonlight-movie

Two of the best-film nominees, Fences by August Wilson and Moonlight, are adaptations of plays by August Wilson and Tarell Alvin McCraney, both of whom are Oscar-nominated this year (Wilson posthumously) for adapted screenplay.

The list of films adapted from plays goes back to before the Oscars existed, even before the Hollywood studios were built. As early as 1900, the great theater actress Sarah Bernhardt appeared in a two-minute movie version of Hamlet, playing the title character, and in 1912, she portrayed Queen Elizabeth I in a screen adaptation of a play that marked the first full-length commercial film shown in America; the producer rented the Lyceum, then and now a Broadway theatre, in order to lend class to the new art form. Fifteen years later, in 1927, The Jazz Singer, often credited as the first talkie (some historians dispute this designation), was indisputably the first movie musical to be based on a Broadway show. The most beloved include Best Picture winners West Side Story, My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music, and Chicago. Some of the least beloved — alas, not Best Picture nominees — include A Chorus Line and The Producers (which is a movie musical based on a Broadway musical that was based on a movie).
The adaptations have not been limited to musicals. Two of the three films nominated for the very first Oscar for Best Picture, in 1928, were adapted from Broadway plays. (The winner, Wings, was not.)

. . . And From Screen (to Oscar) — to the Stage

It took a few decades for theater and film adaptations to go in both directions. It wasn’t until 1970 that a Broadway show based on a movie won the Tony for best musical. Fittingly, the musical was Applause, inspired by All About Eve. Now every major Hollywood studio has a theatrical division, looking to create shows for Broadway, and every Broadway season includes a number of musicals that are based on movies — or that use the same name, basic story, and source material (such as a book or a play) as a well-known movie.
Looking just at this season’s openings , there are seven shows on Broadway based on (or “inspired by” or with the same name and story as) a movie: Holiday Inn, A Bronx Tale, Sunset Boulevard, Amelie, Groundhog Day, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Anastasia. Five more still running on Broadway opened in previous seasons: Aladdin, Kinky Boots, School of Rock, The Lion King, Waitress.

Unique Stage to Screen to Oscars Story

the-salesman

The Salesman, a film from Iran by Asghar Farhadi nominated for Best Foreign Language Film, tells the story of Emad and Rana, a young couple from Tehran performing in a local theater’s production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman.

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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.)

Fences Movie Trailer, Play Review: Denzel Adapts August Wilson

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 — and below that my 2010 review of the Broadway production, starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis (the same stars as in the movie.)

Fences Review: Denzel Washington Bats It In

Troy Maxson, the character played by Denzel Washington in the must-see revival of August Wilson’s “Fences,” is greeted by foot-stamping cheers from the audience in the Cort Theater, surely the most ecstatic whoops of delight ever for a Pittsburgh garbage collector.

There was a time, though, when Troy was himself a star. “Ain’t but two men who ever played baseball as good as you,” his best friend Bono tells him. “That’s Babe Ruth and Josh Gibson.” Bono might just be telling Troy what he wants to hear, but, however good he actually was, he lived at a time when people of Troy’s race were barred from major league baseball – and from much else in American life. But Troy did play in the Negro Leagues, and hit seven home runs off the great Satchel Paige. “You can’t get no better than that,” he tells the youngest of his two sons. He says this proudly, defiantly, but also angrily, and in resignation.

It is a phrase that, perhaps unconsciously, he means literally. It is 1957, he is 53 years old, and however hopeful others might be about the change that will be coming for African-Americans, Troy is convinced that things will in fact never get any better.

Denzel Washington is not as physically large as the actor who, to great acclaim, originated the role of Troy on Broadway in 1987, James Earl Jones. But through the magic of his performance, Washington sometimes seems as big as a bear, whether giving a tremendous hug to his wife (the incomparable Viola Davis) or growling warning at his son. Other times, he seems both small and small-minded. Troy is a compulsive storyteller (“you got more stories than the devil got sinners”), an expansive charmer, and also an embittered, limited and illiterate black man; orderly, hard-working, dutiful; stubborn, unreasonable, irresponsible — a complex and believable human being, and Washington embraces this character in all his mercurial contradictions.

It is a different interpretation than the original one of a giant fenced-in by circumstances, but it is one of the many things that work in a production that does justice to August Wilson’s deeply moving play.

“Fences” is part of what is sometimes called the Pittsburgh Cycle, 10 plays, one for each decade of the 20th century, that was August Wilson’s singular achievement, written over more than two decades and completed the year of his death in 2005. They all offer specific details of time and place and character and yet, individually and taken together, provide nothing less than a portrait of the African-American experience. “Fences” was only the second he wrote in the cycle, and is not the best of them – although good enough to have won every big theater award, from the Tony Award for Best Play to the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and for Frank Rich to have written: “’Fences’ leaves no doubt that Mr. Wilson is a major writer, combining a poet’s ear for vernacular with a robust sense of humor (political and sexual), a sure instinct for crackling dramatic incident and a passionate commitment to a great subject. “

Wilson’s later work more smoothly integrates the turns in the plot so that they seem to spring from the characters rather than feeling imposed by the author. In “Fences,” Troy makes a sensational revelation to his wife in the second act that seems to come out of nowhere. (A careful reading of the script shows that Wilson had actually planted clues in the first act, but it still feels abrupt). In a lesser production, the play might from then on have felt derailed, veering into domestic melodrama.

Viola Davis, best-known on stage for her Tony-winning performance in Wilson’s “King Hedley II” and on screen for her Oscar-nominated performance as the mother of the (possibly) abused student in “Doubt,” seemed to me almost single-handedly responsible for keeping the play on track, her feelings shaded, moving, and not melodramatic. She and Washington are well-matched. I am not sure I have ever witnessed two actors angrily yelling at each other with such clarity and control.

The real plot in “Fences” is in the artful revelation of character, not just Troy’s but the people who surround him — his wife Rose, his long-time friend Jim Bono (Stephen McKinley Henderson, a veteran and exquisite interpreter of Wilson’s work); his brain-damaged brother Gabriel (Mykelti Williamson), the older son Lyons whom he all but abandoned (Russell Hornsby), the teenage son Cory (Chris Chalk) — ensemble acting at its finest. Their characters come through in the niggling little arguments (humorous to outsiders) that families repeat endlessly, and in the many stories told to one another of past events and future dreams. Much of what’s happening, as told through incidents on stage but also through recollection, is a tale of fathers and sons, battling one another, escaping one another and becoming one another. Cory wants to play football and has been recruited by a college football team; Troy wants him to work at the local supermarket:

“The white man ain’t gonna let you get nowhere with that football noway. You go on and get your book-learning so you can work yourself up in that A&P or learn how to fix cars or build houses or something, get you a trade. That way you have something can’t nobody take away from you.”

Times have changed, more than one family member tells Troy, his son is just trying to be like him. Times haven’t changed, Troy says; the last person I want him to be like is me.

In addition to Santo Loquasto’s solidly realistic set, Brian MacDevitt’s lighting, and spot-on costumes by Constanza Romero (the playwright’s widow), Branford Marsalis has composed bluesy music for the beginning of each act. It’s nice, but it’s not necessary. This production of “Fences” fills the Cort Theater with music.

Fences by August Wilson at the Cort Theater (138 West 48th Street) Directed by Kenny Leon Original music by Branford Marsalis Set design by Santo Loquasto, costume design by Constanza Romero, lighting design by Brian MacDevitt, sound design by Acme Sound Partners Cast: Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Chris Chalk, Eden Duncan-Smith, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Russell Hornsby, SaCha Stewart-Coleman, Mykelti Williamson Running time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with one 15 minute intermission Ticket prices: $61.50 to $131.50. Premium seats as high as $326.50. There are apparently no rush or student tickets available. Recommended for age 13 and older. Under 4 not permitted. Through July 11th, 2010.

stAgeism: Anti-Elderly Attitudes In The Theater

Anti-elderly billboard in Slings & Arrows, satirizing ageism in the theater (stAgeism)

Anti-elderly billboard in Slings & Arrows, satirizing ageism in the theater (stAgeism)

“The sometimes ugly rhetoric that people use about older audience members is in part fueled by resentment over their dominance and power. It is also, let us be frank, because there is a high correlation between audience member age (on either end of the spectrum) and likelihood of inappropriate behavior.”

So writes Isaac Butler in a blog post meant as a direct response to an article I wrote in Howlround entitled “Is Diversity A Codeword for Exclusion?”

So the elderly are both dominant and childlike, powerful and unable to control their behavior? It is one of the several shocking responses that confirmed for me what I had detected: The theater community has a problem in its attitude towards older people.

As George Hunka points out in his post, The Graying of The Theatre,  “The hostility to older audiences that Mr. Mandell discusses runs parallel to a hostility to older artists, critics, and administrators as well.”

My article for Howlround is in three parts. The first part offers examples of the dismissive attitude towards the elderly – so widespread that it was satirized in the backstage comedy Slings and Arrows: The fictional New Burbage Theatre Festival launches a marketing campaign that deliberately insults its elderly subscribers in order to get them to stop attending. (One billboard shows an old, ill woman in a hospital bed holding two tickets, and the tagline “Don’t Bother.”)

David Henry Hwang: “Ageism is a valid concern. I believe diversity includes older people."

David Henry Hwang: “Ageism is a valid concern. I believe diversity includes older people.”

Because so many of the people who exhibit this attitude are ironically self-declared advocates of “diversity,” the second part is a series of questions that such hypocrisy prompted me to ask, grouped into ten sections. For example:

Is “diversity” a codeword for a different kind of exclusion? Is it a zero-sum game, where the current losers replace the current winners? Are some groups more worthy of inclusion than others?

And:

When is it appropriate for a character to be played by an actor who does not fit the playwright’s description? Does this depend entirely on a director’s conception? Are there some characteristics (race, height, ethnicity) that are more acceptable to change than others? Such as age: Denzel Washington and Orlando Bloom were both heavily criticized for being older than the characters they played, in “A Raisin in the Sun” and “Romeo and Juliet” respectively, but I don’t recall anybody criticizing Washington played Brutus  (usually played by a white actor) in the 2005 Broadway production of Julius Caesar.

The third part is an interview with playwright David Henry Hwang, a long-time advocate of diversity, who answers some of the questions and offers his perspective.

Those who have criticized my piece have done so because of the middle section, which some see as “bashing the legitimacy of cultural and racial diversity,” in the words of playwright Keith Josef Adkins.  That was not my intent. I believe in the importance of having many voices on stages, and many different kinds of butts in the seats.

But I believe these voices (and butts) should include the elderly.

The problematic attitudes, of course, are not limited to the theater. I was struck by an article a few days ago about Norman Lear, the ground-breaking television producer (All in the Family, Maude, and The Jeffersons), who said he cannot interest any network in his latest show, a comedy set in a retirement village. “They don’t want to touch the demographic.” (Norman Lear Goes Archie Bunker on Ageism)

Betty-White__140608220621

But is she the only one?

 

Norman Lear (All in the Family) can't interest networks in TV series set in retirement village

Norman Lear (All in the Family) can’t interest networks in TV series set in retirement village

But ageism manifests itself in particular ways on stage — and some of its causes in the theater may be unique. Call it stAgeism.

Although unhappy with my article, Keith Josef Adkins, the artistic director of New Black Fest, acknowledges the dismissive attitudes in the theater towards older people. As he wrote in the comments section:

“As many have pointed out, the 60 and over demographic play a significant part in ticket sales and subscriber base for most theaters. Many theaters plan their seasons around the needs, interests, anxieties and curiosities of their 60 and over demographic. Tradition? Perhaps. Safety? Definitely. Rethinking the formula? Many are. Like Mr. Mandell, I have heard dismissive and insensitive blanket remarks about the 60 and over crowd. In my observation, there is a fear and a frustration that a large portion of that demographic is not interested in younger, African-American, LGBT, Latino, women and/or Asian theater practitioners. Substantiated or not, (I’m sure Mandell has his opinion) it is how many feel and what they believe about the power of the elderly in American theater. So, yes, perhaps a genuine conversation about the future of theater and the upside and downside of the 60-and-over demographic is paramount.”

Denzel Washington is playing Walter Lee Younger in "Raisin in the Sun" at age 58; Sidney Poitier was 34. Orlando Bloom is playing Romeo at age 36. Leonard Whiting was 18.

Denzel Washington is playing Walter Lee Younger in “Raisin in the Sun” at age 58; Sidney Poitier was 34.
Orlando Bloom played Romeo at age 36. Leonard Whiting was 18. Both Washington and Bloom were criticized for, well, not acting their age.

 

Excerpts from two other worthwhile comments:

Kerry Reid: “The seemingly widespread idea that older audiences can’t engage with “edgy” material is one that bugs me. It may well be that “older” audiences (many of whom were young people during the Woodstock era — not that all of them were there!) have seen what passes for “edgy” so many times that it simply bores them at this point. ..

“I would add that there is an element of sexism to the ageism as well — when one talks about “bluehairs,” one is usually sneering about women. And of course, as Hollywood reminds us over and over again, old women are basically invisible. Strange that a demographic that is so important in the ticket-buying public is so resented at the same time.”

Karla: “I agree that ageism is rampant in theater — it’s especially blatant in acting, particularly for females…

“Another reason older people are less accepted in theater and find it harder to get any breaks is profoundly shallow; young people are prettier. You want a younger cast on stage because everybody prefers looking at attractive faces, and you want younger playwrights because not only are they prettier but they’re assumed to be more relevant, more interesting, more innovative than older playwrights (I don’t know what impact ageism has on directors). I call this “The Hollywood Effect.” We may distain Hollywood movies as youth-obsessed, shallow, formulaic, and lacking true artistry, but man, do they know how to get an audience, including us!
“It’s also easier to write and market plays about the problems of youth — love, lust, job opportunities, first-time ethical dilemmas — than it is to write and market about the issues arising with age — infirmity, loss, death, grief, one’s personal culpability in accommodating with a less-than-ideal world, regret over missed opportunities or poor choices. These issues are thematically more difficult to present dramatically. They are also less attractive to theaters because they’re less likely to offer the sex and violence that help attract that elusive younger audience….

“I don’t understand why many theaters assume older audience members are less tolerant and less risk-taking than are younger audience members. One would think that, as experienced theatergoers, older audience would be more avid to see something fresh. I know I am.”

 

Denzel, Menzel, Michael C. Hall. RIP Mickey Rooney. The Broadway Effect. NYC on Stage. Week in New York Theater

NewYorkTheaterWeekApril6

If/Then with Idina Menzel, A Raisin in the Sun with Denzel Washington and The Realistic Joneses  with Michael C. Hall opened on Broadway; Adrian Lester gives a star turn portraying the first African-American actor to play Othello in Red Velvet. The actor, Ira Aldridge, performed the role in London in 1833, but he was a native New Yorker.

New York is the setting for nearly half the shows of Broadway’s Spring 2014 season (See April 1 below, but it’s no joke.)

Of course, Broadway is not the only place for shows in April. Here is a list of April New York theater openings — more than one per day.

Also, check out the update Broadway 2013-2014 Season Guide: What’s closed, what’s opening; reviews,

 

The Week in New York Theater

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With a  few exceptions (shows with “rock” in the title), Broadway shows have trouble attracting men. Men now comprise just 32 percent of Broadway audiences. Men and women go in equal numbers to sports events, rock concerts, even movies. Why not theater?

NeilPatrickHarrisasHedwig

Neil Patrick Harris AS Hedwig, Complete With Blonde Wig, Custom Heels

Red Velvet4AdrianLesterbyTristram_Kenton

My review of Red Velvet

When Ira Aldridge played Othello in London, they were still debating whether it was a good thing to end slavery in the British colonies. Aldridge is the real-life African-American actor portrayed by Adrian Lester in “Red Velvet,” the fascinating play written by Lester’s wife Lolita Chakrabarti in a production by London’s exquisite Tricycle Theatre now opened at St. Ann’s Warehouse through April 20th. It manages not just to dramatize a little-known 19th century figure but provide insight into the art of acting and of theater.
Aldridge was a native New Yorker who left the United States as a teenager in order to pursue a career on stage, becoming a successful actor throughout Europe, specializing in Shakespearean roles.

Full review of Red Velvet

Idina Menzel

Idina Menzel

My review of If/Then

In “If/Then,” Idina Menzel portrays two different versions of the same character Elizabeth, and at the beginning of the musical, I was feeling like two versions of myself as well.  Elizabeth as Liz pursues love, and as Beth goes after a career as a city planner, in order to try to make a difference in the world.  I, Jonathan, initially felt both like Joe and Nathan – as Joe, irritated at the premise, and as Nathan, excited by the promise of entertainment from so much proven stage talent,  with various past successes in Next to Normal, Rent and Wicked.

By the end, we (I) could agree: The way the premise plays out is more intelligent than it at first seems. The entertainers themselves deliver on their promise. It is terrific to see (and hear) Idina Menzel back on Broadway after an absence of nine years.  She is employed wisely — on stage nearly all the time, she’s given songs that emphasize character as much as vocal gymnastics; we must wait for the occasional  full-steam pop arias like “Always Starting Over”; making them all the more flooring.

But this is a story that would have worked better as a novel, or perhaps a serial on Netflix.

Full review of If/Then

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March 2014 Theater Quiz

New York Theater March 2014 Quiz

Stars in the Alley, The Broadway League’s annual concert, returns to Shubert Alley 11 a.m. to 12:30 pm Wednesday, May 21

More on Maries Crisis, a theater piano bar where nobody knows your name, but they know Ethel Merman’s http://bit.ly/PcxY30

Theater artists, don’t give up! Expand your skills, redefine success, bond with your network, says Jennifer Lane.

How do YOU keep from giving up as a theater artist? (Or shouldn’t I ask this on a Monday morning?)

Harriet: @harriet75
I have given up on the dream if being on bway but now I find community theatre is my outlet.

 

Sinisha Evtimov ‏@SinishaEvtimov Just move to Europa… give it a try somewhere where it is truly appreciated

Aleisha Force ‏@aleishaforce  remembering that this is my work, not my entire life.

April 1, 2014

Nearly one half of all Broadway shows in Spring 2014 are set in New York City.

“This is probably a sure way to get applause in New York, but I was born in Brooklyn,” Jessie Mueller as Carole King says from the stage of the Stephen Sondheim Theatre at the beginning of Beautiful.
These are the first spoken words in this Broadway musical, which is set in locations around New York City. The line about Brooklyn does get applause, without fail.
New Yorkers may be applauding a lot this season. Nearly half the shows opening on Broadway in spring 2014 are set wholly or mostly in New York City.
“I don’t think it’s a coincidence,” says Brian Yorkey, who, with composer Tom Kitt, has written the book and lyrics for If/Then, which stars Idina Menzel as a city planner who moves to New York. “New York is our home, and it’s what we know, and what we love.” That’s true, he says, of many of the other writers of shows set in the city this season, from Woody Allen to James Lapine.

Full story: The Many New Yorks This Season on Broadway

Rosie O’Donnell to receive 2014 Isabelle Stevenson Tony Award for her commitment to arts education through her org Rosie’s Theater Kids

Touring stage productions that hold their tech rehearsals in upstate theaters to get tax break.

Noah Hinsdale, Griffin Birney, and Sydney Lucas

Noah Hinsdale, Griffin Birney, and Sydney Lucas in Fun Home

Nominations for 2014 Lucille Lortel Awards: Fun Home; Here Lies Love; Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 get the most nominations.

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Here Lies Love 4

Cast recording for Here Lies Love coming April 22, a week before show opens again at the Public Theater.

Courtney Love and Kurt Cobain

Courtney Love wants to see a Broadway musical about Kurt Cobain

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Artists are more educated and more unemployed than the general workforce. Sixty-five percent have BAs or higher (v. 32% overall). 7.1% are unemployed

TheMysteries4Jesus Baptism

A preview of The Flea’s epic irreverent The Mysteries — 48 playwrights adapt tales from The Bible

ARaisinInTheSun3

My review of A Raisin in the Sun

“… 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…His age doesn’t bother me.  Consider it a new form of innovative casting — age-blind casting… Director Kenny Leon has rethought this play, in ways that work better, and perhaps a few ways that don’t work as well. Denzel Washington works better…”

Full review of A Raisin in the Sun

 

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Aladdin1Adam_Jacobs_Cave_of_Wonders_Photo_by_Deen_Van_Meer

The Broadway Effect

The musical Aladdin on Broadway has gotten rid of Abu, Aladdin’s trusted if mischievous monkey companion, as well as the pet tiger Rajah, both of whom were in Disney’s 1992 animated film. In Rocky on Broadway, you cannot see the real streets of Philadelphia, nor in Les Miserables on Broadway can you see the performers’ nostrils; both loomed large in the film versions.

About a third of the forty two new shows in the 2013-2014 Broadway season were either adapted from a movie or so closely associated with one that the film serves both to lure an audience into the musical, and to raise audience expectations—the former a godsend for the producers, the latter a terror for the creative team. How do you offer something both comforting and exciting, familiar and surprising; what can Broadway offer as compensation for the loss of Abu, Philadelphia and Hugh Jackman’s shapely nose?

The answer is what we can call The Broadway Effect

over the past few decades have entered the standard Broadway playbook of stage effects:

Stage smoke/fog

Confetti shot out of (on-stage or off-stage) cannons

Banks of bright lights shining directly in the audience’s eyes

Shimmering stars against a deep black night (I mean the celestial bodies, but of course celebrities are also now standard.)

Weather (usually rain), accompanied by somber black umbrellas or loud crashing noises.

Magically moving scenery (via computer automation)

Video projections

It’s not just such stage special effects that contribute to the Broadway Effect; one must include Broadway’s traditional elements that continue to thrive, such as massive synchronized ensemble tap-dancing.

Complete story on The Broadway Effect

 

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Times Square Billboard

BlahTimesSquareBillboard

Paul Rudnick on straight men and theater: A straight guy’s ‘I want” song is “I want to leave at intermission”

ATCA New Play Award

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“I was a 13-year-old boy for 30 years” — Mickey Rooney, who has died at age 93. The movie star was on Broadway twice. Sugar Babies is said to have made him a star once again.

The Realistic Joneses Lyceum Theatre

 

My review of The Realistic Joneses

Ninety minutes and a dozen scenes after it began, this often comic, sometimes cosmic and thoroughly cryptic play by Will Eno, a downtown playwright making his Broadway debut, was over….Fans of Michael C. Hall expecting “Dexter”-like intrigue and plenty of plot, or those of Marisa Tomei hoping for a light comedy like “My Cousin Vinny” are likely to be disappointed, and baffled by “The Realistic Joneses.” Actually, most people are likely to be baffled by “The Realistic Joneses.” But not everybody will be disappointed. Those who know Will Eno’s work will be in familiar unfamiliar territory.

Full review of The Realistic Joneses

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.

 

How To Be Creative. Does Age Matter? The Week in New York Theater

Broadway-bound stars pictured when they were younger. Clockwise from top left: Orlando Bloom, Norbert Leo Butz, Denzel Washington, George Takei, Diahann Carroll, Krysta Rodriguez

Broadway-bound stars pictured when they were younger. Clockwise from top left: Orlando Bloom, Norbert Leo Butz, Denzel Washington, George Takei, Diahann Carroll, Krysta Rodriguez

“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have,” Maya Angelou has said.

“Talent can’t be taught, but it can be awakened,” said Wallace Stegner.

Reward a new idea by giving yourself some chocolate, Joss Whedon advises.

MarkRavenhillWill playwright Mark Ravenhill’s advice, delivered last week at the opening of this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival, be quoted as often? Not if you go by the account of it in the BBC, which summed him up as saying that cuts to arts funding are good for the soul.

Here is a transcript of what Ravenhill actually said, and a few juicy excerpts:

To be a good artist you have to be the person who walks in to a space with integrity and tells the truth. That’s what marks you out from the audience and why they’re sitting over there and you’re standing up there: you are the most truthful person in that room.
And how do you get to be there? Chances are by being a liar, a vagabond and a thief. Now, maybe as you get to be a bigger name, you can subcontract out the shadier aspects of the job. Liar? That’s what my publicist does for me. Vagabond? That’s what my agent’s there for. Thief? What else does a producer do?…

if you meet young artists here who use the words ‘this industry’ or ‘my career path’….smile at them with sympathy….

The audience are paying money to see you be new, a freak, challenging, disruptive, naughty, angry, irresponsibly playful – whatever form telling the truth takes in your act. But always telling the truth.

The Week in New York Theater

Monday, July 29, 2013

Mark Hotton pleads guilty to inventing fake investors to con ‪Rebecca producers out of finders fee ‪

Crossing Swords from New York Musical Theater Festival

Crossing Swords from New York Musical Theater Festival

Winners of the 10th annual New York Musical Theatre Festival

LaChanzeTony winner ‪laChanze (Color Purple, Company) joins ‪Idina Menzel in cast of ‪If/Then, opening on Broadway March 27,2014.

 Inside Broadway and the musicians union http://www.local802afm.org/ Local 802  will hold “Summer Stock Jr.” Camp August 19 to 23 for 12 NYC public school students from Brooklyn ages 12-16.

BrycePinkhamKinky Boots grossed $1.6 million plus for the week ending July 28, 2013, highest ever at the Hirschfeld Theater.

Bryce Pinkham, who was in Ghost and the wonderful Orphans Home Cycle, will be Jefferson Mays’ co-star in A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, opening on Broadway Nov 17.

“I think every kid who goes through their misfit phase finds Janis” Joplin, says Mary Bridget Davies, who never left her. She is the star  of “A Night With Janis” ‪

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ReeveCarneySpiderman“Nerdy with an understated sex appeal” and don’t mind singing 30 feet in the air? Audtion for ‪Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark.
In the show from the tumultuous start, ‪Reeve Carney is leaving ‪ Sep 15th. The producers are holding open casting calls to replace him.

Open auditions is one of the lessons that television could learn from theater, according  to The Stage. The other lessons:
longer rehearsals
not sidelining writers
vocal projection
a supportive community

Joining ‪Stephanie J Block and Will Chase in Little Miss Sunshine cast at ‪Second Stages: ‪Rory OMalley (Book of Mormon), ‪Wesley Taylor (Smash), Josh Lamon (Hair, Elf, etc.)

KarenCartwrightSmash 2014 calendar – and why nobody will buy it

BadTheaterFestThey are seeking submissions for the second annual Bad Theater Festival, at The Tank Oct 29 – Nov 2, 2013.

Did anything good come out of the first annual ‪Bad Theater Fest last year?

Bad Theater Festival (@BadTheaterFest): Anything good? International press visited.  People got trophies. Crowd had fun

Sanitation, a new musical, presented for FREE, first at The for the New City, then all around the city. Sanitation schedule

“I’m going to have to do a lot of shaving and tucking,” ‪says Neil Patrick Harris,  for his role in Hedwig and the Angry Inch, opening on Broadway next Spring.

The Roundabout revival of The Winslow Boy will open Oct 17. Cast includes Michael Cumpsty, Roger Rees, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio

Actress Eileen Brennan, who was in the original Hello, Dolly on Broadway, and in films such as Private Benjamin, has died at 80.

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Today is Juliet’s birthday, as crafty actor/scholar Dan Blackbound figured out.
She turns 14 in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet on this date.

Jilting Juliet on her birthday: Finn Wittrock (Death of Salesman) exits Romeo role in ‪@classicstage production to be in a film

Good news about ‪@classicstage ‘s Romeo & Juliet: Joining cast William Hurt, TR Knight, & Daphne ‪@VegaRubin

Are Denzel Washington and Orlando Bloom too old to play their new roles on Broadway? 

Denzel Washington is playing Walter Lee Younger in "Raisin in the Sun" at age 58; Sidney Poitier was 34. Orlando Bloom is playing Romeo at age 36. Leonard Whiting was 18.

Denzel Washington is playing Walter Lee Younger in “Raisin in the Sun” at age 58; Sidney Poitier was 34.
Orlando Bloom is playing Romeo at age 36. Leonard Whiting was 18.

The better-known NYC mayoral candidates in a recent forum agreed the city should spend more $ on arts education.

Did you know State law requires a minimum amount of instruction in music, dance, visual arts and theater?
But few schools meet that minimum

EthanHawkeHamletposterRecent graduates with technology degrees are having a tougher time finding a job than their peers in the arts. The unemployment rate for recent grads with a degree in information systems is more than double that of drama and theater majors, at 14.7 percent vs. 6.4 percent, according to a recent Georgetown University study.

Thirteen years after updating Hamlet to a modern day NYC setting, Ethan Hawke is reteaming with writer-director Michael Almereyda on William Shakespeare’s Cymbeline. Hawke will star in the contemporary-set romance set against the backdrop of a war between dirty cops and drug-dealing bikers.

Hawke is also starring this season in a Shakespeare play on Broadway, “Macbeth.”

2013AveQ0081Avenue Q tenth anniversary

Thursday, August 1, 2013

IdinaMenzelAnthonyRappIt’s official: Revival of Raisin in the Sun with Denzel Washington, Anika Noni Rose, Diahann Carroll, opens April 3 at the Barrymore

Anthony Rapp joins Idina Menzel & LaChanze in the cast of If/Then on Broadway — a mini-reunion of original “Rent” cast members.

Miss Trunchbull will be played by Craig Bierko, Miss Honey by Jill Paice in Matilda on Broadway starting September 3rd

FirstDateinBryantPark

First (wet) look at First Date

BigFishwithKateBaldwinandNorbertLeoButz

First look at Big Fish

BroadwayFall2013

Poll: Which Broadway show are you most looking forward to in Fall 2013?

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NewYorkTheaterJuly2013Quiz

New York Theater July 2013 Quiz: Answer these ten questions to see how well you were paying attention to the theater news.

Zachary Levi just won Broadway Spotted’s Broadway’s Sexiest Man Alive


Should we follow up with a Broadway’s Sexiest Man Dead contest?

Robert Alda, Fred Astaire, Yul Brynner, Maurice Chevalier, Robert Goulet, Cary Grant, Jerry Orbach

The Twitter Wit and Wisdom of Brian d’Arcy James

BrianDarcyJamesMispronouncing tomato (or potato) is not cause for calling anything off, much less THE WHOLE THING.

When I’m feeling low I remember Hot Butter’s POPCORN was a hit in 1972. Then I still feel low, and annoyed.

Starting a KickStopper campaign for my new musical PAMPHLET THE MUSICAL. It’s about a pamphlet. Pay me not to do it.

The 17th annual New York International Fringe Festival is beginning a week from today. Have you figured out what you want to see? Some performances are already sold out!

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diahanncarrollDiahann Carroll, 78, will return to Bway for the first time in 30 years to play Denzel’s mother in Raisin in the Sun

You may know her only from Smash, but First Date is 29-yr-old Krysta Rodriguez‘s SIXTH Broadway show.

WoodstockyvieweratBryantPark

Woodstock at Bryant Park

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BillyMagnusseninVanya

Last day to see ‪Billy Magnussen in ‪Vanya, Sonia, Masha and Spike.  But you can always ogle him

George Takei, soon to star in Allegiance on Broadway, talks about his childhood internment as a Japanese-American, and the acting career that led to Star Trek