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Watch Toni Braxton in After Midnight on Broadway

AfterMidnight5

Toni Braxton and Babyface are the guest stars of the Broadway musical After Midnight, which offers an evening of the kind of entertainment that was in Harlem’s Cotton Club in the 1930s. The two are performing through March 30th. Then Vanessa Williams will take over from April 1 to May 11, then Fantasia returns May 13 to June 8th.
My review of After Midnight when Fantasia was the guest star the first time around.

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

After Midnight Review: Ellington on Broadway

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Fantasia in 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. Entitled “Cotton Club Parade” when it originated in City Center’s Encores! series,  the revue celebrates the years that Duke Ellington presided over that famous Harlem nightclub, which coincided with the era of the Harlem Renaissance.

Encores! artistic director Jack Viertel, who conceived “After Midnight,” cleverly borrows a practice used by the Cotton Club known as “Celebrity Nights,” an excuse to feature the reigning talents of the day. 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.”

Dule Hill in After Midnight

Dule Hill, song-and-dance man and MC in After Midnight

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 — “The Jazz at Lincoln Center All-Stars,” 17 musicians billed as “hand-picked” by Jazz at Lincoln Center artistic director Wynton Marsalis. (Are they normally picked by machine?)  They are well-named; stars they are. Indeed, this is the only current Broadway musical that puts the orchestra so front and center – figuratively and literally: The musicians are visible on stage for the entire time, and the bandstand even slides up to the very lip of the stage for “Braggin’ in Brass,”  one of the several purely orchestral pieces.

While just 11 of the 27 pieces in the show are by composer Ellington and his collaborators, bandleader Ellington played all the music with his Cotton Club Orchestra; “After Midnight” uses Ellington’s original orchestrations, to magnificent effect.

These are pros up on the stage of the Brooks Atkinson, and they have us from the get-go. Adriane Lenox, who is a veteran of nine Broadway shows, moves her dangerously sultry way through the bluesy “Women Be Wise,” sipping from a half-empty whiskey bottle. Carmen Ruby Floyd, previously on Broadway in Avenue Q and Porgy and Bess, sings wordlessly in the almost unbearably exquisite duet for voice and trumpet of Ellington’s “Creole Love Call.” Karine Plantadit, who was so impressive in her dancing for the Sinatra-Twyla Tharp collaboration “Come Fly With Me” and the Billy Joel-Tharp “Movin’ Out,”  here outdoes herself in Ellington’s Black and Tan Fantasy.

A stand-out among the dancers making their Broadway debuts is the shockingly gifted Virgil J. Gadson, nicknamed “Lil O” whose short height is to his advantage, since it is easier to spot him in the many numbers – although we would be sure to notice him anyway, mischievous and agile as he tap-dances,  leaps, flips and breakdances. Yes, that’s right, he and Julius Chisolm (also making his Broadway debut; also with a nickname, “iGlide”; and also easy to spot, because of his braided hair) incorporate into several of their traditional jazz dancing some unmistakable Michael Jackson moves.

It seems nearly an injustice to omit mention of any of the cast, since this is a show full of what would normally be show-stopping numbers, except this show doesn’t stop. Director and choreographer Warren Carlyle, who is sure to get the recognition already well-deserved for his work on such shows as “Finian’s Rainbow,” “Follies,” “Chaplin,” and “A Christmas Story,” makes sure this show keeps moving; what’s best about it is how much variety and pacing is built into the presentation, including some musical numbers that more or less tell their own story; one takes place at a funeral. But “After Midnight” is not so much a Broadway musical as a nightclub revue; you almost wish the Brooks Atkinson had replaced their normal seats with little round cloth-covered tables.

Click on any photograph to see it enlarged, with caption

Dule Hill, best-known for his roles in The West Wing and Psych on television, turns out to be a song-and-dance man of the old school, cooly covering such standards in “After Midnight” as Arlen’s “I’ve Got The World on A String” and “Ain’t It De Truth.” He is primarily employed as the host, the Master of Ceremonies, with a different snazzy suit and a new poem by Langston Hughes in-between almost every number.
On paper, the choice of Hughes’ poetry as the sole text in-between the musical numbers makes sense. Hughes is a central figure of the Harlem Renaissance and an innovator of jazz poetry.
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.
First, Dule Hill doesn’t so much recite Langston Hughes poems as drop snippets from them in the guise of a jive-talking hipster; all that’s missing is the zoot suit. This is the same Langston Hughes who wrote the poem entitled “Harlem”:

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

It was the poem from which Lorraine Hansberry got the title for her play A Raisin in the Sun, and it reflects an undercurrent of frustration and oppression that is absent from “After Midnight.”
Did you know that the Cotton Club was founded under a different name by the African-American boxing champion Jack Johnson, but was taken over by Owney Madden while the gangster was in Sing Sing prison? Did you know that the club barred blacks from attending in the audience even while it featured on its stage the biggest black stars of the era? Did you know that Duke Ellington, a bandleader who led his orchestra for 50 years, wrote some 1,700 compositions. This is information that is not in the show (nor in the program), the lack of historical context what I consider the second missed opportunity.
“After Midnight” does not in any intellectual or historical way bring the Broadway audience back to the era it is supposedly depicting. Few, though, will even notice. It may not take us back in time, but “After Midnight” does transport us.

AFTER MIDNIGHT Song List

After Midnight

Brooks Atkinson Theater

Conceived by Jack Viertel, selected text by Langston Hughes, music directed by Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center All-Stars, music conducted and supervised by Daryl Waters.

Directed and choreographed by Warren Carlyle, scenic design by John Lee Beatty, costume design by Isabel and Ruben Toledo, lighting design by Howell Binkley, sound design by Peter Hylenski

Cast
Fantasia (October 18 – February 9)
k.d. lang (February 11 – March 9)
Dulé Hill
Adriane Lenox
Julius “Iglide” Chisholm
Virgil J. Gadson
Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards
Karine Plantadit
Jared Grimes
Everett Bradley
Carmen Ruby Floyd
Rosena M. Hill Jackson
Monroe Kent III
Cedric Neal
Bryonha Marie Parham
T. Oliver Reid
Marija Abney
Phillip Attmore
Christopher Broughton
Taeler Elyse Cyrus
C.K. Edwards
Danielle Herbert
Bahiyah Hibah
David Jennings
Erin N. Moore
Justin Prescott
Desmond Richardson
Monique Smith
Daniel J. Watts
Jazz at Lincoln Center All-Stars (Wynton Marsalis, Artistic Director)

Tickets:  $60 – $142

Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission.