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The Lion King Turns 20 on Broadway

Today is the 20th anniversary of the opening of “The Lion King.” Now the third-longest running show in the history of Broadway, the musical is worth celebrating.

 

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M Butterfly Review: Clive Owen Impressively Unimpressive In Updated Odd Timely True Tale

“M Butterfly” has returned to Broadway after 30 years, not so much revived as revised. It was risky for playwright David Henry Hwang to tweak his career-making, Tony-winning play as extensively as he has done. How much you think that risk has paid off in the production running at the Cort Theater depends on who you are as a theatergoer. Did you see the original? How well do you know director Julie Taymor’s best work? Are you crazy about actor Clive Owen?

This seems an especially apt way of thinking about a play that is so much about the interplay between worldview and identity. It is inspired by the true story of French diplomat Bernard Boursicot (in the play renamed Rene Gallimard) who passed state secrets to Chinese opera star Shi Pei Pu (Song Liling) whom he took for years to be his female lover, but was in fact a male spy.

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New Sondheim at the Public. Fringe for Free. Black Lives Matter, On Stage. Week in New York Theater

Should a work of theater be an entertainment that allows us to escape from the world, or a piece of art that more or less forces us to engage in the world? Can it do both?
That’s the question I asked at the end of my piece about the recent revival of Runaways, and it’s especially timely now:

Peregrinus

Peregrinus

The Fringe begins on Friday, with its usual supply of silly titles (Happy Lucky Golden Tofu Panda Dragon Good Time Fun Fun Show!that’s all one show ) mixed with a trend that I noticed last year of more serious, political fare: This year it seems to have stepped up, with such shows as: Financial Slavery: College Debt Sentence, Zuccoti Park: A Musical About the Human Side of Economics,  Machine Gun America, and Black and Blue, a play about a black man trying to find common ground with a NYC police officer.

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Friday is also the last day to enter the contest to get a free pass to any and all of the some 200 shows at the 2015 New York International Fringe Festival.

 

Broadway for Black Lives Matters – The stars came out on Monday to support a  movement that began as a hashtag, in a combination concert and conference that Audra McDonald promised would only be the beginning.

New York Theater July 2016 Quiz

Julyquizcollage

Stephen Sondheim

Stephen Sondheim

The musical by Stephen Sondheim and David Ives based on two Bunuel films has found a home at the Public Theater. The target is 2017.

MissSaigonUK

Miss Saigon is coming to the Broadway Theatre March 1, 2017 to January 14, 2018 (then on tour) It opens March 23

Disney has fired Alex Timbers as director of the Broadway adaptation of Frozen, putting its timeline into doubt.

Julie Taymor (Lion King, Spiderman), says she’s back on Broadway next year, but she won’t say in what.

The 92nd Street Y is launching a new series: In the Director’s Chair (tickets start at $29)

Pam MacKinnon and Michael Wilson
Mon, Nov 7, 7:30 pm,
Pam MacKinnon: Broadway credits include: China Doll; The Heidi Chronicles; A Delicate Balance; Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Michael Wilson: Broadway credits include: The Trip to Bountiful; Dividing the Estate; Gore Vidal’s The Best Man.

Leigh Silverman and Sutton Foster

Mon, Nov 21, 7 pm,
Leigh Silverman : Broadway credits include Violet (Tony nomination); Chinglish; Well.

Sutton Foster: Broadway credits include Violet; Anything Goes; The Drowsy Chaperone; Thoroughly Modern Millie. She stars in The New Group’s forthcoming 50th anniversary production of Sweet Charity and can be seen on TV in the hit TV Land series Younger.

Kwame Kwei-Armah and Liesl Tommy

Mon, Dec 12, 7 pm
Kwame Kwei-Armah: Artistic Director, Baltimore Center Stage. Credits include Marley, One Night in Miami, Amadeus, dance of the holy ghosts, The Mountaintop, An Enemy of the People. Off-Broadway credits include The Public Theater Mobile Unit: Comedy of Errors; Much Ado About Nothing. Forthcoming – The Public Theater Public Works: Twelfth Night; Donmar Warehouse: One Night in Miami.

Liesl Tommy: directed Eclipsed on and Off-Broadway. Other Off-Broadway credits include Appropriate; The Good Negro; The Antigone Project.

Harold Prince in Bloomberg

Harold Prince:

(As a kid) I didn’t have a lot of respect for musicals…I wanted them to be more serious.

(As a young producer) I raised all my money from dressers and stagehands. Now you have to have wealthy people

Q and A with producer and director Harold Prince

Tony Shalhoub is among cast in The Band’s Visit, musical by David Yazbek based on charming 2007 film. Opens Dec. 8 Atlantic Theater

HowlRound weekly chat: Podcasts and Performing

Also: Playwrights on Podcasts

CorbinBleuCheecktoCheeck

Watch performances from the casts of Beautiful, Avenue Q, An American in Paris, and Holiday Inn at the week’s Broadway in Bryant Park lunchtime concert.

 

James Houghton (Founding Artistic Director, Signature Theatre Company)

James Houghton September 4, 1958-August 2, 2016, founder of Signature Theater and director of the drama division at the Juilliard School

Obituary

Michael Feingold says goodbye

Grounded Review: Anne Hathaway as a reluctant drone pilot

Grounded Public Theater/Anspacher Theater“Grounded,” a play directed by Julie Taymor and starring Anne Hathaway as a drone pilot, could not be more newsworthy: It is opening at the Public Theater just days after the news that a U.S. drone strike accidentally killed an American aid worker held hostage by Al Qaeda, which brought to public consciousness once again, as one news report put it, “the perils of a largely invisible, long-distance war waged through video screens, joysticks and sometimes incomplete intelligence.”

Since it debuted two years ago, George Brant’s one-character play has been produced in theaters all over the United States (including last year in Tribeca) and as far away as New Zealand; there are more than a half dozen opening just within the next few weeks in places like Portland and Wappingers Falls and South Brisbane.

The production at the Public is undoubtedly the highest profile, featuring both a major movie star and one of the best-known theater directors in the world.

Yet, it’s my guess I would have liked “Grounded” better in almost any of its other productions.

This is not because of the acting. Hathaway is fine as the initially cocky unnamed ace fighter pilot, who becomes credibly unmoored as the show progresses.

She tells us how she loved everything about her job, from the poetry of flight –“You are alone in the vastness and you are the blue” – to the macho camaraderie of a pilot bar, where she could “drink with my boys” and tell stories about flying. But then, as she tells us, she meets a civilian, they have a one-night stand and fall in love; she gets pregnant, which means she’s “grounded”: The military forbids pregnant women from flying. She and her boyfriend get married, she gives birth – but when she returns to work, she is informed she will be reassigned to operate military drones from a windowless trailer outside Las Vegas. “Driving to war like it’s shift work, like I’m punching the clock,” she says. She is not happy – she derides her new role as being stuck in the “Chair Force” – but she adjusts. The way she adjusts worries her supportive husband – and the audience as well.

Brant’s script seems less concerned with specific U.S. drone policy and practice than with issues that are as much cultural as political, all worth contemplating – the psychological effect that such remote-control killing has on individual members of the armed forces, the rise of a surveillance culture in daily life, the loss of privacy.

But Hathaway’s performance and Brant’s script seem themselves nearly grounded in order to allow Julie Taymor her flight into visual spectacle. There are moments here that recall Taymor’s eye-catching production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which inaugurated the Theatre for a New Audience’s Polonsky Shakespeare Center two years ago. At one point in that production, Puck seemed to pour himself slowly from the ceiling. In the very first moment in her “Grounded,” a steady stream of (what we eventually learn is) sand pours very slowly from the ceiling onto Anne Hathaway’s helmet, ominously lit by Christopher Akerlind. Sand covers the stage as well, in a deliberately disorienting set designed by Riccardo Hernandez.  Much of what Taymor does visually in “Grounded,” though, is in collaboration with projection designer Peter Nigrini, as you can see in the photographs below.

Now, I’ve been a fan of Nigrini’s work in such shows a Fela and Here Lies Love. Here, there are straightforward projections such as of Hathaway’s face on a backdrop of reflective black glass. But most is much fancier.  Everything the pilot says seems to be illustrated, sometimes quite literally — she talks of driving through the desert between her suburban home and the air force base where she works, and there she is standing on a moving desert road, with a yellow stripe down the middle and sand on both sides. She mentions Las Vegas — we get a jazzy Las Vegas.  There are startling images, sometimes vertiginous, and often accompanied by smoke effects, loud bursts of sound, and flashing lights. The overall effect is to make you feel as if you’re trapped in a video game — which, one might argue, is a conceptual fit with the script. But one senses the director is giving us this ride for its own sake. Her illuminated trip into the pilot’s mind crowds out the trip the audience should be making in our own minds, a journey guided by the pilot’s words, and the feelings they provoke.

No one would deny that Julie Taymor’s “Grounded” is visually arresting.  But it is also dramatically arrested. Her emphasis on the special effects is distracting and (excuse me) overkill.

Click on any photograph to see it enlarged.

Grounded

Public Theater

425 Lafayette Street

Julie Taymor (Director)
Riccardo Hernandez (Scenic Design)
Christopher Akerlind (Lighting Design)
Will Pickens (Sound Design)
Peter Nigrini (Production Design)
Elliot Goldenthal (Original Music and Soundscapes)

Cast: Anne Hathaway

Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission

Ticket prices: “start at $90”

Grounded is scheduled to run through May 24, 2015

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