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Critic John Lahr on Critics As The Enemy

JohnLahrprofilepic

John Lahr with his father Bert Lahr

John Lahr with his father Bert Lahr

John Lahr reviewed New York theater for half a century, starting with a now-defunct Manhattan neighborhood weekly and ending as the longest-lasting chief drama critic for The New Yorker magazine.

He is also the son of Bert Lahr, best known as the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz, but with a long and stellar career on the New York stage. His mother Mildred Schroeder was a Ziegfeld Girl – also a theater person.
So I asked him what his family thought of theater critics.
This was during an interview with Lahr for DC Theatre Scene timed to the publication of his most recent books – “Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh,” his acclaimed biography now out in paperback, and “Joy Ride,” his 20th book, a new selection of his profiles and reviews in the New Yorker.

notesonacowardlylionLahr largely sidestepped the question about his family’s view of theater critics – “Dad was a huge star; he always got good reviews” — although he did say that when he first became a critic, his parents “were worried about me. I was outspoken. They didn’t want me to offend people.”

When I wrote up the interview, I thought it more important to focus on his views of the great theater artists he’s profiled and reviewed — Arthur Miller, August Wilson, Stephen Sondheim, David Mamet, and Sarah Ruhl – all of whom are in the new collection.

I do include some of his comments about critics in the article – for example, how he became a critic in the first place (“I don’t think anybody sets out to be a drama critic”) and how he views the New York Times as the main guilty party in the “corrupt system” of reviewing.

But, while more specialized, his take on critics seems worth further detailing here.

I asked him why theater critics are often seen as the enemy – why there is so much hostility.

“It’s not undeserved,” he replied, because of the way criticism is done, “insofar as the coverage is very shallow; critics are ill-informed, write poorly, have no sense of theater history, just write the plot. Criticism is what the play is saying, and what it says in the context of theater history and the wider culture.” The faulty approach “is not necessarily because of the critics but because of the magazine owners.”

Lahr concedes that “nobody likes to be judged. I don’t like it when I get a bad review. If you hold yourself up, sometimes you get slapped.” But what theater artists don’t like about critics “are the cheap shots. Most of the people who talk in that nasty way have never made anything. If you’ve made anything, your voice has a different tone.
Criticism is a life without risk.”

Lahr says he personally has received no hostility from the people he’s reviewed. “My experience is even if you’re critical of the play, if they feel you’ve engaged with the play, and seen it, even if you can’t embrace it in its entirety — being taken seriously is enough for them.”

His view of critics is partly shaped by having been on the other side of the relationship. When he was literary manager of Lincoln Center, Lahr says, “the first production we did was Tennessee Williams’ Camino Real, with Al Pacino.” He felt despondent the night that the critics attended. “I saw it as a totally botched performance. Tennessee arrived drunk. Al Pacino forgot the golden gloves
I wrote in my diary: This is a very sad night.
“7:30 the next morning, I get a call from Julius Irving,” the producing director of Lincoln Center theater. “He read the first paragraph of Clive Barnes’s review – a rave. Julius said: ‘Learn anything?’
“When you’re working in a theater, you get 50 reviews. Hardly any of them interpret the play. They tell you what the play was. They don’t tell you what it meant.”

The hostility to critics, he says, is specific to America. “In other theater cultures, the critic is seen as an essential part of the process. If you make a play or a book, you think you’ve done something, but a lot of writers I know don’t quite know what they’ve made. Critics are a bit like biofeedback. You need the eyes.”

Read:

Critic John Lahr’s theatrical joy ride

JoyRidebookcover

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Beijing Opera Star Zhang Huoding Debuts in New York

One of China’s most celebrated stars, Zhang Huoding, is making her U.S. debut in two classic Beijing Operas at Lincoln Center, The Legend of the White Snake and The Jewelry Pouch.

 

Scenes from The Legend of the White Snake. Click to enlarge.
Zhang Huoding

Zhang Huoding

As Jim O’Quinn noted in a recent article on Huoding’s debut, “Those unfamiliar with Beijing Opera (known in previous generations as Peking Opera) will have a great deal to become accustomed to. The faces of the actors are painted red, white, black, yellow or green to indicate character and status, the action is highly styled and artificial; the performance is presentational, taking place in front of an embroidered curtain, with minimal decorative props…; the score, rather than being created specially by a composer, is based on sets of commonly used tunes, played by a small onstage orchestra dominated by a stringed instrument called jinghu and supplemented by plucked strings and percussion. The story of the play is told in recitation, while the singing is more concerned with expression of emotions.”

“Classic” Beijing Opera began only two centuries ago, a modern art form compared to the 2,000-year history of Chinese Opera in general. But The Legend of The White Snake is based on one of what the Chinese call the Four Great Folktales, a legend that goes back before the Ming dynasty, about an immortal snake (though looking like a very lovely woman) who falls in love with a man but is done in by a monk. This doesn’t do the story justice of course, but it isn’t the plot that engages. And, truth be told, the aspects of Beijing Opera most likely to appeal to untutored Western audiences  —  the acrobatics and martial arts — are less literally spectacular than we’re used to, given such productions brought to New York, such as Monkey Journey to the West in 2013.

BeijingOperaacrobatics

What does come through, above all, is Zhang Huoding’s grace and charisma.

Scenes from the Jewelry Pouch. Click to enlarge.

Broadway Revealed, From Wicked to Kinky Boots: NYPL Exhibition

Broadway Revealed: Behind the Theater Curtain, an exhibition at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center through January 31, offers an odd glimpse of what goes into shows, through the 360-degree photographs of Stephen Joseph, as well as costumes from the library’s collection and lent by such shows as Wicked and Kinky Boots.

Click on any photograph to see it enlarged, then scroll down to “view full size,” click on that — and be patient.

 

The Oldest Boy Review: Sarah Ruhl on Tibetan Buddhism and Separation Anxiety

The Oldest Boy Saito Keenan-Bolger SchneiderWhat would you do if a Buddhist monk appeared at your door, claiming your three-year-old son was the reincarnation of a revered Tibetan Lama, and wanting to take him from you and raise him in a monastery in India?

If you’re the lapsed Catholic mother from Cincinnati married to an immigrant Tibetan chef in “The Oldest Boy” Sarah Ruhl’s new play at Lincoln Center, the answer is: Give him up.

Since, for a New York audience, this constitutes an altogether unlikely scenario, “The Oldest Boy” is probably best appreciated as a parable. At one point (the otherwise unnamed) Mother wonders how Mary and Joseph felt about Jesus running away to teach when he was 12 years old, and then asks: “Once you have children, does worry become a placeholder for thought?” Later she says: “Sometimes I think good mothers have to think they’re bad just in case, and it’s only bad mothers who think they’re good. Like: to keep a plane in the sky you have to constantly worry that it will fall down.”

What “The Oldest Boy” offers, besides a meditation on the anxieties of motherhood and an introduction to Tibetan Buddhism, is a visually splendid production overseen by director Rebecca Taichman, with performances that range from luminous to beatific.

Celia Keenan-Bolger, who was so wonderful as Laura in The Glass Menagerie, here plays the mother, a former professor of English literature who no longer saw the virtue of her calling after her mentor died, and, one senses, has been on a quest for fulfillment ever since. In what counts as a long flashback, we see how one rainy day she walked into the restaurant of the man who became her husband, although she was engaged to somebody else and his family was arranging a marriage with a Tibetan woman for him. James Yaegashi plays the husband (Father) as only slightly less patient and calm as the two religious men who come visiting, the monk (Jon Norman Schneider) and the lama – a higher-ranking monk – portrayed by James Saito so convincingly that it comes as a surprise that he’s had roles in “30 Rock” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” The son, the oldest boy, is a bunraku puppet voiced by Ernest Abuba, an adult – an excellent idea, in my view; let’s have fewer child actors and more puppets.

Ruhl says in a note that she met in real life somebody whose biography more or less matches that of the puppet character – the child of an American mother who was recognized as a reincarnate lama at the age of three, and “enthroned” in a monastery in India. Still, the complete and repeated certainty with which she establishes the fact of her character’s reincarnation makes the audience feel a bit force-fed.

The most hardened skeptic, however, can be won over by the work of the designers, especially on a second stage that resembles a huge rectangular picture window above the main stage, where we are treated to one gorgeous tableau after another.

Click on any photograph to see it enlarged. 

 

The Oldest Boy

At the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, Lincoln Center

By Sarah Ruhl

Directed by Rebecca Taichman; sets by Mimi Lien; costumes by Anna Yavich; lighting by Japhy Weideman; sound by Darron L West; puppet design/direction, Matt Acheson; choreography, Barney O’Hanlon; stage manager, Charles M. Turner III..

Cast: Ernest Abuba (the Oldest Boy), Celia Keenan-Bolger (Mother), James Saito (a Lama), Jon Norman Schneider (a Monk), James Yaegashi (Father) and Tsering Dorjee, Takemi Kitamura and Nami Yamamoto (Chorus).

Running time: 2 hours, including one intermission.

Tickets: $87

The Oldest Boy is scheduled to run through December 28.

 

Titanic Returns With Original Broadway Cast

Brian d'Arcy James singing from Titanic, as he did 17 years ago.

Brian d’Arcy James singing from Titanic, as he did 17 years ago.

Seventeen years after “Titanic: The Musical” won five Tony Awards, including Best Musical, the musical will be presented by Manhattan Concert Productions Monday, February 17,  as a concert at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall with most of the original Broadway cast, including Michael Cerveris, Victoria Clark, and Brian d’Arcy James, as well as “newbies” Ryan Silverman and Jill Paice.  They will be accompanied by the New York City Chamber Orchestra and a chorus featuring nearly 250 singers from across the country.

“The chance to get together with all the family we had on board was something I wasn’t going to miss,” says Michael Cerveris in one of the videos below.

“I think they felt sorry for us; we were supposed to do ‘Rebecca,’ and that didn’t happen,” says Ryan Silverman in a video below, explaining why he and Jill Paice were cast. (He’s kidding.)

Coincidentally or not, with preparations for the Lincoln Center concert already underway, last month producers David Mirvish and Barry and Fran Weissler announced that they will be presenting the first Broadway revival of the musical, with a different cast, in the Fall of 2014.

Brian d’Arcy James and Martin Moran sang at the rehearsal, first “The Proposal/Night Was Alive” and the end of the opening from “Last call for Boarding!” 

Titanic

Music & Lyrics by Maury Yeston

Book by Peter Stone

Starring

BECKY ANN BAKER, as Charlotte Cardoza

JOHN BOLTON, as Charles Lightoller

JONATHAN BRODY, as John B. Thayer

SCOTT BURKELL, as George Widener/Frank Carlson

MICHAEL CERVERIS, as Thomas Andrews

MINDY COOPER, as Edith Corse Evans

ALLAN CORDUNER, as Henry Etches

DAVID COSTABILE, as William Murdoch

ALMA CUERVO, as Ida Straus

JOHN CUNNINGHAM, as Captain E. J. Smith

BRIAN D’ARCY JAMES, as Frederick Barrett

LISA DATZ, as Madeleine Astor

DAVID ELDER, as Frederick Fleet

DAVID GARRISON, as J. Bruce Ismay

JODY GELB, as Eleanor Widener

ERIN HILL, as Kate Mullins

ROBIN IRWIN, as Marion Thayer

JOHN JELLISON, as Edgar Beane

JOSEPH KOLINSKI, as Benjamin Guggenheim

THERESA MCCARTHY, as Kate Murphey

DREW MCVETY, as Herbert J. Pitman / J.H. Rogers

MARTIN MORAN, as Harold Bride

JILL PAICE, as Caroline Neville

JENNIFER PIECH, as Kate McGowan

MICHELE RAGUSA, as Alice Beane

RON RAINES, as Isidor Straus

RYAN SILVERMAN, as Charles Clarke

TED SPERLING, as Joseph Bell / Wallace Hartley

CLARKE THORELL, as Jim Farrell

WILLIAM YOUMANS, as J.J. Astor

Music Director, Kevin States

Directed by Don Stephenson

Manhattan Concert Productions presents a concert performance of Titanic: The Musical live at Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center.  This concert performance will feature almost all of the original cast members from the Tony Award winning Broadway production, as well as a 220-strong chorus of singers from across the country, accompanied by the full forces of the professional New York City Chamber Orchestra.

Experience the Tony award-winning score first hand this Spring for one night only!

Creative Team includes: Liza Gennaro, Choreographer; Narelle Sissons, Set Designer; Stephen Terry, Lighting Designer; Jon Weston, Sound Designer; Howard Werner, Media Designer; Telsey + Company, Casting; Ian Weinberger, Assistant Music Director; Kimberlee E. Winters, Assistant Lighting Designer; Aubrey Russell, Assistant Stage Director; Heather Cousens, Principal Stage Manager; Jennifer Rogers, Assistant Stage Manager; Juniper Street Productions, Production Manager.

Manhattan Concert Productions’ inaugurated their Broadway Series in February 2013 when they presented a concert performance of Ragtime, which included 200 performers on stage performing to a sold out audience of almost 3,000 concertgoers at Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center.  The concert featured a star-studded cast including Tyne Daly (Cagney & Lacey, Judging Amy), Norm Lewis (Les Misérables), Patina Miller (Pippin) and Lea Salonga (Miss Saigon).

Stop Hitting Yourself Review: Rude Mechs Spice Up Lincoln Center with Lots of Cheese

Click on any photograph to see it enlarged

“Stop Hitting Yourself,” playful chaos brought to you by the acclaimed Austin theater collective Rude Mechs, is the first stage show I could call cheesy and not mean it as an insult: Before the play begins, a half-naked man is lying unconscious on his side with cheese dripping towards his navel. Near the end of the play, the seven performers smear cheese all over each other, most of it taken from a working fountain on stage that spouts queso. In-between, every now and then, somebody on stage eats some nachos.

Lincoln Center describes this show, which it commissioned for its experimental LCT3 and which runs through February 24th at its Clare Tow Theater, as “part Pygmalion, part Busby Berkeley, part self-help lexicon.” I wouldn’t describe the play this way, actually – although, yes, the half-naked man is eventually dressed on stage in a tuxedo; there’s some tap-dancing and a few songs; the audience is asked to repeat the words “improvement,” “charity,” and “queso.”  But there is so much else stuffed into this 90-minute show  — audience participation, meta fiddling around, digression upon digression — that “Stop Hitting Yourself” is hard to sum up.

Diligent theatergoers will detect something approaching a plot. The seven eccentric characters are competing to win the Queen’s Charity Ball, which each year selects a single worthy cause to benefit from its largesse. A Socialite (Lana Lesley) has kidnapped a Wildman (Thomas Graves) from the forest in hopes that his cause of saving the earth will win the contest.  She persuades him to adapt to conventional society, because “a lot of people won’t be able to initially listen because of what you look like and how you behave. So I’ve got two weeks to teach you how to be like one of us.”

There is also an obvious theme, which is established before anybody utters a word. You know something’s up just by looking at Mimi Lien’s slightly deranged, helter-skelter set —  not just the unconscious man and the queso fountain, but 17 chandeliers, a Roman arch, a piano, a full set of medieval armor, a life-sized statue of a man with a fig leaf…all of it (except the half-naked man) painted a bright gold. If that’s not clear enough, there is an enormous dollar sign in flashing lights.

“Oh, look: Money,” says the unconscious half-naked man (our Wildman), once he’s stood up and plucked a twenty dollar bill from his wild hair.
“Does anybody want it?” He does in fact give the bill to a volunteer from the audience—which is wonderful for that brave soul, since tickets to the show only cost $20. Later, a different character will give out single dollar bills – but at a price. At another point, the Queen (Paul Soileau, dressed as a drag queen) telephones somebody in Row E (there’s a telephone in front of the seat), and asks that theatergoer to rank the rest of us according to our attractiveness.

That’s not the only randomly inserted scene. Several times, the actors stand before us in a row, break character, and offer random confessions about money or sharing or society –  Soileau admits sheepishly that as a teenager he enjoyed reading The Fountainhead.

Amid all this busyness are some choice lines by writer Kirk Lynn, one of Rude Mechs’ artistic directors:

The Unknown Prince (Joey Hood): “Humans made Styrofoam and hairspray and so nature made that and that is natural. If bumble bees made plastic you would say, ‘we have to protect the plastics.”

The Maid, who was a classics scholar (Heather Hanna): “I think a real artist selects the aspects of his existence he regards as really big—and then he isolates that big stuff and cuts out everything insignificant and stupid and annoying and all the accidents, so he can present his view of existence how it should be—not copying reality, but as a judgment on it. His selection constitutes a judgment: everything included in a work of art—from theme to subject to pretty colors or rhyming—all that acquires value by the mere fact of its being included, of being important enough to include.”
“Stop Hitting Yourself” may not cut out enough to be “real” art, but if you’re open to its anarchy, it’s real entertaining.

Stop Hitting Yourself

Lincoln Center’s Clare Tow Theater (150 West 65th Street)

Created by Rude Mechs

Writer: Kirk Lynn, director: Shawn Sides; sets: Mimi Lien; costumes: Emily Rebholz; lighting: Brian Scott; original music and sound: Graham Reynolds

Cast: Thomas Graves (The Wildman), Heather Hanna (Maid), Joey Hood (Unknown Prince), Hannah Kenah (Trust Fund Sister), Lana Lesley (Socialite), E. Jason Liebrecht (Magnate), Paul Soileau (Queen)

Tickets: $20

“Stop Hitting Yourself” is scheduled to run through February 23, 2014

Macbeth Reviews: Ethan Hawke on Broadway Upstaged by Witches, Set

macbethatLincolnCenterThe three male witches are the stars of the Lincoln Center production of Macbeth on Broadway, even though Ethan Hawke plays the title character, according to several of the reviews on opening night, which were not positive. “Tepid” and “mishandled” writes The Hollywood Reporter; “dismal and dark” writes the New York Times; a “turkey” writes AMNewYork.

Not all the reviews were negative: The Associated Press called it an “elegantly noir production.”

But most were disappointed that the witches and the set upstaged the lead characters. Ethan Hawke is “oddly uncharismatic and too internalized to grab the spotlight from the tall, stark, elegantly vaulting set designed by Scott Pask,” wrote Newsday.

The Daily News is more positive about Ethan Hawke — “the 43-year-old actor churns up a cauldronful of emotions” and “ably anchors Shakespeare’s tragedy” — but, again is upstaged by the the witches, especially one “wearing a furry getup that looks like she raided Lady Gaga’s closet. She’s followed by a creepy coterie of actors on all fours. Between those crawling beasts and Mark Bennett’s spooky music, there’s a not entirely welcome Halloween-party feel at times.”

“Much of the text is garbled,” writes Vulture/New York Magazine. “…there are images I won’t soon forget: a trick bouquet of wilting flowers, Banquo’s ghost in a glittering necklace of knives. Unfortunately, Macbeth is more than just what meets the eye; even the witches knew to feature tongue in their recipe.”

Click on any photograph to enlarge it


Ann Review: Holland Taylor as Texas Governor Ann Richards, An American Original

AnnHollandTaylorAnn Richards, who has come remarkably back to life thanks to Holland Taylor’s impressive impersonation of her at Lincoln Center, became a national celebrity and the governor of Texas after she lampooned the gaffe-prone patrician Republican presidential candidate during the keynote address at the 1988 Democratic National Convention: “Poor George, he can’t help it; he was born with a silver foot in his mouth.”

That most famous of her wisecracks is nowhere to be found in “Ann,” but another one from that convention speech is, and it is a better fit for the improbable career of a divorced mother of four and AA-attending alcoholic who became a national symbol and inspiration: Slyly pushing for a greater role for women in politics, she said “…if you give us a chance, we can perform. After all, Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did; she just did it backwards and in high heels.”

In “Ann,” opening tonight at the Vivian Beaumont Theater, Holland Taylor is probably less Ginger Rogers than Hal Holbrook. For more than half a century, Holbrook, a familiar character actor on television,  has gone around the country performing a one-man stage show impersonating Mark Twain.  Holland Taylor, best-known for her roles on television in “Bosom Buddies,” “Two and A Half Men” and “The Practice,” spent years researching and writing “Ann,” her first play, and has performed it in Chicago and Washington and Texas.  Ann Richards even resembled Mark Twain a bit; both were white-haired, white-suited, witty American originals.

Taylor’s play is divided into three unequal sections. In the first, Ann is addressing a graduating class, an opportunity to present some bawdy jokes and the bare bones of her biography: She grew up the daughter of a loving pharmaceutical salesman with an eighth-grade education, and a tough-to-please mother, in hardscrabble, conservative Texas. She gained her liberal outlook because of time spent in public school with a rainbow coalition of classmates in California. “From then on, I just flat never understood racial prejudice.”

Married at 19, she eventually entered politics as a campaigner for others,  then ran for county commissioner and worked her way up – boosted to the governorship in the wake of the attention because of her 1988 keynote address.

Holland Taylor as Governor Ann Richards in "Ann"A detailed replica of the governor’s office slides to the front of the stage, and we see the life of Governor Richards, as she works the telephones (the only other voice we hear is that of her secretary, played by Julie White.) She is chummy with her pal President Clinton; she barks at her staff, then buys them presents to make up; she fixes the fraying flag in her office while she tries to mediate a dispute between her two  (grown) sons caused by a game of charades, all while considering whether to grant a stay of execution to an inmate on Death Row who killed an elderly nun, for which she is being lobbied by the Pope and Mother Teresa. They both want the governor to grant the stay.

The last and least effective section is her life after she lost her campaign for re-election (the play doesn’t say that it was to George W. Bush),  when she became a consultant based in New York, and a fixture on TV talk shows. She is back talking to the graduating class, describing her death and her funeral.

As beloved as she was, Richards was a one-term governor who died in 2006 of cancer at the age of 73.  She was, let’s face it, no Mark Twain. Is it churlish to point out that other people wrote her best-known lines?

Still, Holland Taylor has fashioned an engaging entertainment from her undisguised labor of love. Her performance is first-rate; although from Philadelphia,she gets that Texas twang down just right — the best Southern accent this season. If “Ann” is not especially insightful, it provides a useful service: It  reminds us that such a person as Ann Richards is possible, a politician who actually stood for something and also made us laugh.

Ann

At the Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center

Written and performed by Holland Taylor

Directed by Benjamin Endsley Klein

Scenic design by Michael Fagin, costume design by Julie Weiss, lighting desig by Matthew Richards, sound design by Ken Huncovsky, projection design by Zachary Borovay

Cast: Holland Taylor as Ann Richards, Julie White as the voice of Nancy Kohler

Running time: about two hours including one 15-minute intermission

Ticket prices: $75 – $125. Student rush: $30
Buy tickets to Ann

Cinderella, Carousel, Passion. Vanessa Redgrave by Jesse Eisenberg. Seth MacFarlane Sacred?

Couples in shows that opened this week, clockwise from left: Cinderella, Carousel, Passion, The Revisionist, Belleville

Couples in shows that opened this week, most who wind up smooching. Clockwise from left: Cinderella, Carousel, Passion, The Revisionist, Belleville

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella” opened this week for the first time on Broadway, marking the end of fallow February and the start of March and April madness. Over the next two months, 18 shows are scheduled to open on Broadway – 11 of them between April 14 and April 25.
Off-Broadway has heated up as well, with the first-ever New York revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Passion at the Classic Stage Company, a theater that normally focuses on classic plays; a new play by Jesse Eisenberg starring Vanessa Redgrave; a revival of one of David Henry Hwang’s first plays; a debut of a new Amy Herzog play — all reviewed below — as well as a glorious weekend staging by the New York Philharmonic of another Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, “Carousel.”

The Week in New York Theater

Monday, February 25, 2013

Was Ted's joke about Jews "edgy" or the exact opposite?

Was Ted’s joke about Jews “edgy” or the exact opposite?

When did Seth MacFarlane’s – and America’s – bigoted humor become sacred?

Humor is the greatest weapon the powerless have against the powerful. When the powerful use it against the powerless, it’s evil.

Russell Warne ‏‪@Russwarne
Good post, but there’s an elephant in the room: it’s written by a person who gave BOOK OF MORMON a positive review.

Jonathan Mandell ‏‪@NewYorkTheater
Please re-read my review: Mormons are “a cheap & easy target.” Show works because of its heart, not its vulgarity.

Russ Warne: I did re-read it. More nuanced and sensible than most. But anti-Mormon humor is still as ugly, even with “heart.”
The same society that sanctions MacFarlands misogyny also sanctions anti-Mormon, anti-Islamic, and anti-Semitic humor.

Is the Living Theatre Alive?

LivingTheatresHereWeAreLast night was the last night of legendary avant-garde ‪Living Theatre , at least at its current location. Will it go on?

The Living Theatre ‏‪@LivingTheatre Yes we will go on. We already have a new space and an encore performance of Here We Are in March! Details soon.

So what to make of this article in Playbill:

The Curtain Comes Down on The Living Theatre, a Crucible of Experimentation.
“But with co-founder Judith Malina’s announcement that she would retire from the theatre after 66 years, the writing was on the wall. The Living Theatre was, indeed, dead.
The week of Feb. 25, Malina moved to the Lillian Booth home for retired artists in New Jersey, having been forced to give up the lease on The Living Theatre’s Clinton Street space, the company’s home for the past eight years”

Tom Wopat, Dukes of Hazard star who’s become a Broadway regular, joins Cicely Tyson and the rest of the 14-member cast of ‪The Trip to Bountiful

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Today, during its 100th anniversary year,  the 49,000-member ‪Actors Equity became part of (“received a charter from”) ‪the AFL-CIO

Can you explain what your affiliation with ‪AFL-CIO means (and why it’s happening now rather than 50 years ago?)

‪Actors Equity (@ActorsEquity) We got a 1st charter in 1919 as one of several unions with equal standing, We now have our own direct ‪AFL-CIO charter

The Dance and the RailroadThe Pershing Square Signature Center/Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre

My review of The Dance and the Railroad

David Henry Hwang was barely older than his two characters when he wrote “The Dance and the Railroad,” …which I had the pleasure of seeing – for a ticket that cost me $1.50!…f Hwang’s dialogue – spare and often droll in “The Dance and The Railroad” — has become more persuasive and sophisticated over the past three decades, it is the exquisite use of movement here that gives the play much of its appeal

Full review

Macbeth — Family Friendly

‪Classic Stage  will present “Macbeth” abridged to 90 minutes and “geared to students and family audiences” March 8-22. How do you make Macbeth family-friendly?

Catherine ‏‪@Ladybirdplane: Nobody dies in the end. If they bleed they bleed a rainbow

James Sims ‏‪@SimsJames Stab characters with a Nerf knife?

Daniel Bourque ‏‪@Danfrmbourque Lady M is a relentlessly cheerful Mary Poppins type, orchestrating murder with a spoonful of sugar.

Katha Pollitt ‏‪@KathaPollitt Instead of killing Duncan, the Macbeths persuade him to adopt a puppy.

Chrisx5x5 ‏‪@Chrisx5x5 Bad dog, damn’d Spot!”

Classic Stage Co ‏‪@classicstage
It’ll be friendly for families with older children. Performances of MACBETH will be best suited for kids in grades 6-12.

Jonathan Mandell: But how is the text altered to make Macbeth suitable for an 11-year-old?

Classic Stage Co ‏:  The text is abridged to accommodate a 90-min run time, but the content is not altered. and we think MACBETH offers a thrilling intro to Shakespeare for young audiences.

Smash will fix up school theaters it selects.

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Jason Robert  Brown’s new musical Honeymoon in Vegas will reportedly debut at ‪the Papermill Playhouse in September before it hoped-for Broadway opening in 2014

Michael Feinstein’s American Songbook on ‪PBS:

Show Tunes with Sondheim, then Ode to Fred Astaire with Liza Minnelli April 5;

Radio’s heyday April 12

Judith Light, a young “theater snob” who became a “soap opera genius” & sitcom star,is finally big on Broadway

carouselGunnOhara

Carousel preview

Kelli O’Hara first learned about Carousel when she performed in it in high school. “I fell madly in love with it. It remains a very favorite.”
John Cullum had heard songs from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical – it includes such hits as “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” “June is Busting Out All Over,” and what many consider the most romantic Broadway love song ever, “If I Loved You” – before he put it together as all belonging to what Time Magazine called the best musical of the twentieth century.

Carousel continued

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Idina Menzel  returns to Broadway in 2014 for the first time since ‪Wicked  in “If/Then,” a new musical by the  “Next to Normal” team Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey

New dates for re-cast ‪Orphans: first preview, March 26; Opening April 18.

Happy Birthday Bernadette Peters,  Broadway veteran of 16 shows. Today she turns 65. May she NEVER retire.

Vanessa Redgrave and Jesse Eisenberg in Eisenberg's play, The Revisionist

My review of The Revisionist

s Jesse Eisenberg not just a movie star (“The Social Network”) but his generation’s Arthur Miller or Tennessee Williams or Alfred Uhry or Wallace Shawn? That is what Vanessa Redgrave implies in her bio in the program for “The Revisionist,” the second play by Eisenberg….certainly shows his promise as a playwright…

Full review of The Revisionist

Passion<br /> Classic Stage Company

My review of Passion

It is easy to see Stephen Sondheim’s musical as a series of problems to overcome: The plot seems unlikely,  almost creepy;  the main character is deliberately overbearing; the music is opera-like but with a minimal of catchy arias; and much of the “action” consists of the reading aloud of letters. But CSC has done right by “Passion” in the show’s first full production in New York in almost two decades, thanks to intimate staging and first-rate vocal performances, especially that of Judy Kuhn.

Full review of Passion

March 1

“I’d like to go and do theater. It seems like a more reasonable job,more manageable.”~Bruce Willis, (60+ films, 0 Bway shows)

Jane Lynch, Moose Murders, and Shia LaBeouf are all in either the questions or the answer to February's New York Theater Quiz

Jane Lynch, Moose Murders, and Shia LaBeouf are all in either the questions or the answer to February’s New York Theater Quiz

New York Theater February 2013 Quiz

Jesse Eisenberg’s ‪Revisionist with Vanessa Redgrave now extended to April 21, thanks to reviews like mine:

A play about the Pope retiring? How preposterous. Tom Attea’s “Benedictus,” May 30-June 16 ‪Theater for the New City. (He wrote it 2 years ago)

Cameron Mackintosh likes ‪#LesMiz formula so much – Big Film–>Bway revival – that he’s announced plans to do the same for Oliver!

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What does “fully staged” mean? Was ‪the New York Philharmonic’s Carousel? Was ‪Fiorello at Encores!

Carol ‏‪@busywriting‬ 
‪ Fully staged is with full sets, costumes, blocking, etc., as in a regular musical.

J. Kelly Nestruck ‏‪@nestruck‬ Once you figure that out, tell me how long a full-length play is.



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The good news is ‪that the Metropolitan Opera is reducing ticket prices next season. Bad news: average cost still $156 (albeit down from $174)

Chutzpah via ‪Nieman Reports:John Lahr distinguishes between critic & reviewer to put down former colleagues

Entire Winter 2013 ‪Nieman Reports is about criticism (not just of theater) ‪

Cinderellaballroomscene
My review of Cinderella

In this telling of the fairy tale, “Ella” has a political motive for going to the ball; she wants to… alert the prince to what’s really happening to the people in his kingdom…. The problem with the new material is not that it complicates “Cinderella” but that it doesn’t add up to a coherent whole.

Full review of Cinderella

Belleville<br /> New York Theatre Workshop

My review of Belleville

“Belleville” is nothing if not expertly executed,…The track record of the theater artists involved in “Belleville” is exactly why the turn that Herzog’s play takes is disappointing. The play travels from what promises to be an un-blinkered look at a complex relationship to the makings of a melodrama or even a horror story.

Full review of Belleville

Playwright Kristoffer Diaz at TedX Broadway

Scarlett Johansson Faces Broadway, Tom Hanks Face on Broadway: The Week in New York Theater

New York Theater Week January 14 to 20: Norbert Leo Butz, Anna Deavere Smith, Scarlett Johansson, Audra McDonald, Smash, Tom Hanks

New York Theater Week January 14 to 20: Norbert Leo Butz, Anna Deavere Smith, Scarlett Johansson, Audra McDonald, Smash, Tom Hanks

Scarlett Johansson made her sophomore debut on Broadway, a Broadway marquee is replaced with Tom Hanks’ face, and indie theater artist Taylor Mac lays out all that “I believe” about the theater for the visitors from The Association of Performing Arts Presenters (APAP) at the Under the Radar Festival. Also: Theatre Row settles a lawsuit from the State Attorney General, Norbert Leo Butz comes back from the “Dead” in two different ways, Audra McDonald gets a new gig, and fans of Janis Joplin and Constantin Stanislavsky (or Konstantin Stanislavski) both have something to celebrate.

This week in New York theater:

January 14, 2013

Big Fish, a new musical based on the 2003 film,  is opening on Broadway’s Neil Simon Theater on October 6 directed by Susan Stroman a with cast of 27, including. Norbert Leo Butz, Kate Baldwin, Bobby Steggert

Broadway star Sean McDermott (Grease etc) has come up in the world. He’ll be Dr. Hannibal Lecter when Silence the Musical returns starting Jan 19

My apologies for doing this to you: first hour of 2-hour season 2 premiere episode of  Smash  

 Smashseason2

Settlement in Attorney General suit v. Theatre Row for discriminating against disabled in ticket purchasing 

Nella Vera ‏(@spinstripes): There have been lawsuits in other states as well. Theaters know they need to solve the ticketing issues and many are trying.

Jonathan Mandell: I don’t get why it’s such a struggle for theaters to comply with the law and be fully accessible.

Nella Vera: It is the expense most of the time. Retrofitting old theaters is hard…. I think most theaters are very aware and want to comply and spend a lot of time trying to find solutions.

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Jason Alexander, Tovah Feldshuh in Richard Rodgers 1970 musical about Noah (of Ark fame), “Two By Two,” February 15-17 at York Theatre

Mel Brooks still working on Blazing Saddles as Broadway musical,thinks timing is right “now that Django Unchained has used the N word”

“Live from Lincoln Center” this season on PBS, with new host Audra McDonald:

AudraMcDonaldLivefromLincolnCenterThe songs of John Kander and Fred Ebb, with Marin Mazzie, Jason Danieley,Joel Grey and Chita Rivera, February 15

Kristin Chenoweth: The Dames of Broadway March 24

Josh Groban April 12

“Stephanie Blythe: We’ll Meet Again – The Songs of Kate Smith” April 19

Carousel April 26

Audra McDonald May 24.

Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway as Jean Valjean and Fantine in Les Miserables the movieThe commercial success of the Les Miz movie has sparked a debate over the worth of musical theater in general (unfairly, I think)…

David Sexton: How can anyone who loves music enjoy musicals? 

“The idea of people acting & then singing at the same time, & quite possibly dancing too, repels us.” 

Irene Patino ‏@Me_n_Mr_Guzman Ha! Who pissed in his Cheerios?

Haleh Roshan (@halehroshan)  Yikes. Don’t think that Sexton piece is a legitimate debate, it’s just a rant.

Jonathan Mandell Perhaps, but he’s not alone. I know people who feel the same way.

Lyn Gardner: Is it too easy to kick musical theatre?

 “West Side Story is as great as Romeo and Juliet, and My Fair Lady as good as Shaw’s Pygmalion…. Bad musical is harder to endure than a bad play, but that’s only because there’s so much more to get right, and can go wrong.”

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Anne Hathaway will reportedly star in film Taming of the Shrew rewritten by Abi Morgan (Iron Lady) set in mid-20th century Italy

  GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) Media Award nominees Broadway/Off-Broadway: Bring It On; Cock; The Columnist; The Whale Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike

Nobody Loves Me, Itamar Moses’s musical comedy about a philosophy student on reality dating show, to open summer at Second Stage Theater.

 Ninety-seven percent of arts groups use social media,but many see a Dark Side: public criticizing more,demanding free art 

“Always give them the old fire, even when you feel like a squashed cake of ice” ~ Ethel Merman, born today in either 1908 or 1909

IBelieveByTaylorMac1Complete text of Taylor Mac’s I Believe

Excerpt:
I believe, as a theater artist, I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know.  Because I believe, as a theater artist, I’m not a teacher; I’m a reminder.  I’m just trying to remind you of things you’ve dismissed, forgotten, or buried.

I believe if NYC had no art and only Wall Street, nobody would want to live here.  And so I believe 10% of all Wall Street salaries should go to artists.

I believe my work and all “experimental work”, is commercial theater.  I believe the non-profit sector is and has been incredible but that it’s taught audiences that theater is something most people won’t want to see.

Monica Bauer ‏(@Monicadrama): Thanks, every playwright should start each day by reading Taylor’s manifesto out loud, like pledge of allegiance

All three of Quiara Alegria Hudes’ plays in Elliot Trilogy, including Pulitzer winner Water By The Spoonful, to be performed at Second Stages on January 27th only

bloodspurtTips on making your own stage blood (Hershey’s chocolate syrup + Kool Aid dark cherry works nicely) 

Django used hundreds of gallons of blood in ‘blood bags’ strapped to actors, set off by little explosives 


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Stanislavskyat150Stanislavsky, who revolutionized modern acting, was born 150 years ago today. Without him, Brando would never have muttered

Robert Falls (@RobertFalls201): Hangin’ with my homie Stanislavsky at his 150th birthday party. I’m in Moscow with  a vodka in one hand and my iPhone in the other!

Tonight: John Lithgow stars in live broadcast of National Theatre’s “The Magistrate” in movie theaters throughout the U.S.

Five steps to get your (college-age) pals to stop hating theater. eg show videos from Joe’s Pub, or with cursing 

Flu has hit Broadway hard. At Newsies, “we can cough in character.” Others try home remedies/superstitions

Opening April 1,  Lucky Guy with Tom Hanks was supposed to run only through May 19. It’s been extended to June 16

ButzMemoryandMayhemNorbert Leo Butz has come back from the Dead(Accounts) to record his gig at 54 Below.Memory Mayhem is his first album: “I intended to be a recording artist & a classical actor”when Butz moved to NYC in 1996. But then “Rent” and Broadway and life intervened

South Park/Book of Mormon’s Parker & Stone setting up their own studio. Reportedly, their 1st project is ‘likely’ to be The Book of Mormon film

I don’t see how Book of Mormon film could work as well as the stage musical — unless the whole thing was a spoof of Les Miz film

Reach out to theatrical colleagues abroad and get grants of $5,000 or $10,000 from TCG.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Richard Rodgers TheatreMy review of Cat on A Hot Tin Roof

“Cat On A Hat Tin Roof” with Scarlett Johansson and Benjamin Walker could not possibly be so dull, I said during the first intermission; I just must be tired….

Those people who know “Cat” only from the 1958 movie with Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman are at something of a disadvantage. The performances are so indelible – and so easily available from Netflix or the local library or the occasional showing on TV – that it is difficult to tolerate a production where the actors offer a different interpretation… much less when they seem less alive.
On the other hand, the screenplay by Richard Brooks and James Poe scrubbed Williams’ play clean of all references to homosexuality, wiping out a context that gives the story more clarity and greater force. Though not explicit by today’s standards, there is more in the text than I had remembered

Full review

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Rich Little, once ubiquitous impressionist, now 74, hoping to bring his solo Vegas show, Jimmy Stewart & Friends, to Broadway.

Anna Deavere Smith, a theater artist I revere, has won the $300,000 Gish Prize. (Past winners: Bob Dylan, Arthur Miller,Robert Redford.)

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Cole Porter’s Can-Can, 1953 Broadway musical that made Gwen Verdon a star, is reportedly aiming for Bway w/new book in 2014

Tony Kushner is “slowly starting” on a new play but his “film stuff” comes first (working w/Spielberg on another history film) For the Lincoln screenplay, Kushner wrote more than 1,000 pages, whittled to 150. ” I could work on Lincoln the rest of my life.”

Janis Joplin 70Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a night on the town

I’m counting on you Lord, please don’t let me down

Prove that you love me and buy the next round,
Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a night on the town ?

Janis Joplin would have turned 70 years old today.

Bring back “Love, Janis”, the downtown musical about the life and music of Janis Joplin!

Pasadena Playhouse ‏@PasPlayhouse  “One Night With Janis Joplin” will be at Pasadena Playhouse, 3/15 – 4/11.

They’ve listened to the criticism: Tom Hanks’ face is now on Lucky Guy marquee. Gone is the red lipstick

LuckyGuyMarqueeBeforeandAfter

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Playwright Jason Greene gets inspired by visiting websites of theaters: Shelter, The Amoralists, Ugly Rhino, The Flea. I get hope by reading that other playwrights are getting produced

Jonathan Mandell: That might further irk a lesser human than you.

Jason Greene (@TheJasonGreene): I have my jealous moments.But when I see a show & get caught up in it, it kick starts my creative process.

Closing today: Glengarry Glen Ross, Lincoln Center Theater’s Golden Boy, Tribes.  Peter and the Starcatcher is closing on Broadway, but moving Off-Broadway to the New World Stage.