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Annie Baker, Taylor Mac win MacArthur Genius Awards. Is Acting Dangerous? Week in New York Theater

Playwright Annie Baker and multidimensional theater artist Taylor Mac are among the 24 winners of the 2017 Macarthur Foundation “Genius” Grants.

Baker, 36, whose “The Flick” won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize, was recognized for “mining the minutiae of how we speak, act, and relate to one another and the absurdity and tragedy that result from the limitations of language.”

Mac, 44, whose 24 Decade History of Popular Music  took place over a continuous 24 hours and was a Pulitzer finalist, was recognized for “engaging audiences as active participants in works that dramatize the power of theater as a space for building community.”

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Sweat wins Pulitzer Prize in Drama 2017; Hilton Als Wins Criticism Pulitzer

Lynn Nottage has won her second Pulitzer Prize in Drama for the play Sweat.

 

Hilton Als, the theater critic for the New Yorker, has been awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Criticism

The citation for Nottage’s Sweat reads:

“For a nuanced yet powerful drama that reminds audiences of the stacked deck still facing workers searching for the American dream.”

My review of Sweat:

Like Grapes of Wrath, Lynn Nottage’s Sweat offers a devastating look at social and economic breakdown, told not with rants or statistics, but through a riveting tale about good people in a bad situation.  The characters in Sweat live in Reading, Pennsylvania, which 2010 U.S. Census data identified as the poorest city in America.

Nottage was a previous winner, in 2009, for her play “Ruined.”

The finalists for the Drama Pulitzer were

A 24-Decade History of Popular Music

The citation for Hilton Als reads:
“For bold and original reviews that strove to put stage dramas within a real-world cultural context, particularly the shifting landscape of gender, sexuality and race.”
Walter Kerr was the last theater critic before Hilton Als to win the Pulitzer Prize for criticism, in 1978, and indeed only the second theater critic since the category of criticism was created in 1973. (In that time, six TV critics won.)
“For the drama prize, a jury, usually composed of three critics, one academic and one playwright, attends plays both in New York and the regional theaters. The award in drama goes to a playwright but production of the play as well as script are taken into account.”

This year the jury for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama was:

Elysa Gardner (Chair)

(former) Entertainment Critic, USA Today

Annie Baker* (a Pulitzer winning playwright herself)

Playwright, New York, NY

Jesse Green

Theater Critic and Contributing Editor, New York (soon to be the co-chief theater critic at the New York Times)

Jonathan Kalb

Professor of Theatre, Hunter College, CUNY

Wendy Rosenfield

Theater Critic, Philadelphia Inquirer (now editor of Broad Street Review)

pulitzer500

Below is the complete list of prior Pulitzer Drama winners, with links to their citations (Since 1983, the Pulitzers have made public the finalists, which has become its own form of accolade.)

2016

Hamilton by Lin-Manuel Miranda

“A landmark American musical about the gifted and self-destructive founding father whose story becomes both contemporary and irresistible”
2015

Between Riverside and Crazy, by Stephen Adly Guirgis

A nuanced, beautifully written play about a retired police officer faced with eviction that uses dark comedy to confront questions of life and death.

Finalists:

2014

The Flick, by Annie Baker

A thoughtful drama with well-crafted characters that focuses on three employees of a Massachusetts art-house movie theater, rendering lives rarely seen on the stage.

Finalists:

2013

Disgraced, by Ayad Akhtar

A moving play that depicts a successful corporate lawyer painfully forced to consider why he has for so long camouflaged his Pakistani Muslim heritage.

2012

Water by the Spoonful, by Quiara Alegría Hudes

An imaginative play about the search for meaning by a returning Iraq war veteran working in a sandwich shop in his hometown of Philadelphia.

2011

Clybourne Park, by Bruce Norris

For “Clybourne Park,” a powerful work whose memorable characters speak in witty and perceptive ways to America’s sometimes toxic struggle with race and class consciousness.

2010

Next to Normal, by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey

A powerful rock musical that grapples with mental illness in a suburban family and expands the scope of subject matter for musicals.

2009

Ruined, by Lynn Nottage

A searing drama set in chaotic Congo that compels audiences to face the horror of wartime rape and brutality while still finding affirmation of life and hope amid hopelessness.

A 24-Decade History of Popular Music Review: Taylor Mac’s Epic Queer Americana

I’ve only sat through nine hours of A 24-Decade History of Popular Music, Taylor Mac’s outrageous, outlandish, offensive, embarrassing, raunchy, insightful, inspired, clever, sometimes hilarious, sometimes moving, sometimes thrilling, once-in-a-lifetime theatrical event.I feel deprived for having to miss the other 15 hours worth of concerts. The term “concert” feels inadequate – just as calling Mac a drag act doesn’t get anywhere close to describing the artist’s extraordinary talent and breadth of theatrical ambition . The Mac voice is a flexible instrument that serves all genres, the body a canvas for fabulousness, the mind a weapon against mainstream complacency.

“A 24-Decade History of Popular Music” has been running at St. Ann’s Warehouse since September 15 in three-hour segments (actually closer to three and a half hours), each covering three decades. The shows will culminate in a continuous 24-hour performance on October 8th and 9th in which Mac will perform all the songs from 1776 to the present. There are no intermissions, for the three-hour concerts or for the 24-hour marathon. Audience members are encouraged to leave whenever they have to.

A copy of Taylor Mac's pink costume for 1956 to 1966, by Machine Dazzle, on display on a mannequin in the lobby of St. Ann's Warehouse

A copy of Taylor Mac’s pink costume for 1956 to 1966, by Machine Dazzle, on display on a mannequin in the lobby of St. Ann’s Warehouse

Taylor Mac has been putting this project together for years, with director Niegel Smith (now artistic director of The Flea) and a stellar design team that includes MacArthur “genius” fellow Mimi Lien as the set designer and the costume designer known as Machine Dazzle, whose costumes are so intricately flamboyant that a facsimile of them are on display in the St. Ann’s Warehouse lobby, as if at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I saw the work-in-progress 1900s to 1950s concerts at New York Live Arts in January, 2015, and this past weekend caught the 1956 to 1986 concert, which has proven to be the most popular.

“A 24-Decade History of Popular Music” is as much an American cultural and political history – and the weirdest fashion show this season — as it is a history of the nation’s music. It is decidedly a queer history, if there is room in that label for other marginalized groups beyond LGBT.

The first decade of the three I saw over the weekend, 1956 to 1966, was focused on the March on Washington and the civil rights movement. Mac came out dressed in a pink dress suit and pillbox hat reminiscent of Jackie Kennedy’s, with an American flag undergarment, and a shawl of Campbell soup cans – as well as sundry accessories I couldn’t quite identify. Mac first sang “Turn, Turn, Turn,” the 1950’s Peter Seeger song whose words come directly from the Biblical Book of Ecclesiastes. Then Mac ordered  all the white people in the center section “to stand and move to the suburbs” – the seats at the edge. He welcomed the people of color to take their place at the center. This was a pointed illustration of segregation, and amusing, if only because it’s not your usual concert patter. But it went too far when Mac spotted a white man still in the center, and ranted until the man was more or less chased out of his seat. This turned out to be one of the tamer examples of audience involvement, although the others were more outwardly affectionate. Theatergoers not familiar with his work should be aware that Mac’s aggressive commitment to novel audience participation seems to be a full-fledged part of the artist’s boundary-crossing aesthetic.

The songs selected from the decade were by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick, The Supremes, The Staple Singers, Bob Dylan and several from Nina Simone, concluding with her “Mississippi Goddamn.” Mac introduced the song by observing that “My three favorite singers can’t really sing. Nina Simone always sung slightly above or below pitch.” But her singing was deeply effective, because she was singing her rage. I suspect rage motivates Mac’s art as well.

For the next decade, Machine Dazzle came on stage to undress Mac. Bald, wearing nothing but beige underwear and some glittery makeup, Mac resembled a cyborg from a science fiction series, or at least a warehoused mannequin.

Mac, re-dressed in a tie-dyed miniskirt, a psychedelic light show of a bra, and a hat that looked like a disco ball, launched into 1966-1976, and a focus on the Stonewall riots and what led up to them. The theme of gay oppression and liberation gave a new meaning to the lyrics of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run.”

Stripped once again, Mac was re-dressed as a feathery, glittery disco diva all in purple, and sang some disco anthems, as well as “the greatest make-out song ever written” – Prince’s “Purple Rain.” The subject of this decade was sex – specifically, backroom sex. “I like anonymous sex,” Mac said at one point. “I get you’ve never heard anyone say that from a stage….unless you went to one of those progressive schools.”

The decade, and the evening, ended with what Mac called “a bummer,” Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” written in 1979, a year before the band’s lead singer and lyricist, Ian Curtis, committed suicide. Mac said nothing about that, but didn’t have to.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Off Broadway Fall 2016 Guide

SmithNottageParksDuring the Fall 2016 season, three of the most celebrated playwrights in America are offering some acclaimed plays: Anna Deavere Smith, Lynn Nottage and Suzan-Lori Parks. That the three are black women tells the savvy New York theatergoer that their shows are all Off-Broadway.

OffBroadwaystarsFall2016

David Oyelowo, Daniel Craig, Sutton Foster, Judith Light, Rachel Weisz, Jason Sudeikis, Tony shalhoub

Yes, Off-Broadway can be as starry as Broadway – this season’s shows Off-Broadway will feature David Oyelowo, Daniel Craig and his wife Rachel Weisz (in separate shows), Sutton Foster,, Tony Shalhoub, Saturday Night Live’s Jason Sudeikis.

But it’s instructive to realize that the work of Lynn Nottage, the Pulitzer Prize winning author of “Ruined,” has never been on Broadway.  Her award-winning play, “Sweat,”  is set to run this season at the Public Theater.

Similarly, MacArthur “genius” Anna Deavere Smith has been on Broadway only once, for two months, 22 years ago. Smith, who has made her mark in American theater by exhaustively researching one urgent issue after another, putting together solo shows in which she portrays the characters on all sides, has done it again.  Her “Notes from the Field: Doing Time in Education” will be performed at Second Stage.

Suzan-Lori Parks, who won the Pulitzer for Top Dog/Underdog is the artist-in-resident this season at the Signature.

TaylorMac1940s

Taylor Mac

There are exciting offerings this season that one cannot imagine fitting on Broadway — Taylor Mac’s “24-Decade History of Popular Music “at St. Ann’s Warehouse; “The Gabriel’s,” Richard Nelson’s three-part series on the effect of the 2016 Presidential election on a single family, at the Public  — and some that one can — the New Group’s revival of “Sweet Charity” and the Irish Rep’s of “Finian’s Rainbow.”

But it’s short-sighted to treat Off-Broadway in the same way as Broadway — as a collection of individual potential hits or misses. (See my Broadway 2016-2017 Preview Guide.)   As most serious theatergoers will tell you,  Off Broadway has far richer, more adventurous and more diverse offerings, at a lower price.  Off-Broadway is also harder to get a handle on —  more spread out,  less publicized, and more numerous; there are  some 200 theaters/theater companies, more than five times the number of Broadway theaters. What’s more, most of the Off-Broadway theaters present entire seasons of (mostly) rewarding shows. These theaters generally offer subscriptions and/or memberships for the season.

That is why I organize my Off-Broadway preview below largely by the theaters in which they are being produced, in order of my preference for these theaters (determined by such factors as their recent track record, the promise of the new season, and by the overall experience I’ve had with the theater.)

Still, I’ve put a red check mark —  — besides a handful of shows opening in the Fall about which I’m especially excited, or intrigued, or at least notably hopeful. This can’t count as a recommendation, because I haven’t seen them yet. A few less promising-looking shows are sure to wind up more satisfying.  Expect to be surprised.

(The asterisk *, explained more fully at the bottom, indicates those theatrical empires that are both on and Off Broadway.)

PLAYWRIGHTS HORIZONS playwrights horizons logo

416 W. 42nd St. Twitter: @PHNYC

Annie Baker’s “The Flick” is one of six plays that originated at Playwrights Horizons that have won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The theater offers new plays and musicals that are consistently worthwhile, in an environment that feels dedicated both to the theater artists and the theatergoers.

PlaywrightsHorizonsFall2016

Aubergine

August 20 – October 2. Opens September 12.

Julia Cho’s new play focuses on food. A man who shares a bowl of berries, a young woman who falls in love; a mother who prepares a bowl of soup to keep her son from leaving home; and a son who cooks a meal for his dying father.

A Life

September 30 – November 13. Opens October 24.

After another breakup, Nate resorts to astrology. In this new play by Adam Bock,  “the answer he receives, when it comes, is shockingly obvious — and totally unpredictable.”

Rancho Viejo

November 11 – December 23. Opens December 6.

In Dan LeFranc’s comedy of anxiety and awkward neighbors, the residents of Rancho Viejo drift from one gathering to the next, wrestling life’s grandest themes while fending off existential despair — set against the lustful, yearning strains of a distant bolero.

Spring, 2017

The Light Years by the Debate Society

The Profane by Zayd Dohrn

Bella: An American Tall Tale, Book, Music, and Lyrics by Kirsten Childs

THE PUBLIC THEATER

publictheaterlogo425 Lafayette Street. Twitter: @PublicTheaterNY

Having originated both Hamilton and Fun Home, the Public is on a roll, the latest of many in the successful downtown empire that Joe Papp created half a century ago. The Public is so popular these days that members have been complaining that their membership doesn’t guarantee tickets to the Public shows they want to see.

Public Works’ Twelfth Night
September 2-5

Twelfth Night Public Works

Twelfth Night
Public Works

Director Kwame Kwei-Armah, artistic director of Baltimore Center Stage, and songwriter Shaina Taub team up to present this Shakespeare comedy with professional actors such as Jose Lana and Nikki James and some 200 community members.

What Did You Expect?

September 10-October 9

What did you expect gabriels

The second in the three play cycle by Richard Nelson, “The Gabriels: Election Year in the Life of One Family.” The first play in the cycle, Hungry, opened March 4, which is the date in which it is set.

Plenty

October 4 – November 6

Rachel Weisz and Corey Stoll star in a revival of David Hare’s play about  Susan Traherne, a fiercely intelligent British secret agent flown into France during the second world war, who has trouble adjusting in the years after the war.

Sweat

October 18 – November 27

Scene from a previous production of Sweat

Scene from a previous production of Sweat

The much-praised play by Lynn Nottage, getting its New York premiere, about a group of friends who have spent their lives sharing drinks, secrets and laughs while working together on the line of a factory floor. But when layoffs and picket lines begin to chip away at their trust, the friends find themselves pitted against each other in the hard fight to stay afloat. “Sweat,”  winner of this year’s prestigious  Susan Smith Blackburn Prize for a play by a woman, is the result of two years of research in Reading, Pennsylvania, which the U.S. Census Bureau proclaimed the poorest city in America.

√ Women of a Certain Age

November 4 – December 4

WomenofaCertainAge

The third play, and culmination of, “The Gabriels” trilogy, which will be both set and open – and which the playwright will finish writing – on Election Day, November 8, 2016.

Party People

November 1 – December 4

PartyPeople1

The complicated legacies of the original Black Panther Party and the Young Lords are explored in a play developed and directed by Liesl Tommy (Eclipsed), and starring the ensemble known as Universes (Steven Sapp, Mildred Ruiz-Sapp and William Ruiz aka Ninja), in their Public Theater debut.

Tiny Beautiful Things

November 15 – December 31

Strayed/Vardalos

Strayed/Vardalos

Nia Vardalos (My Big Fat Greek Wedding) plays Sugar, an anonymous online advice columnist in a Vardalos’ stage adaptation of the book of the same name by Cheryl Strayed. Directed by Thomas Kail (Hamilton.)

Under the Radar Festival, 13th edition

January 4-15, 2017

Cutting-edge theater from around the U.S. and the world.

Spring 2017:

Joan of Arc: Into the Fire by David Byrne, directed by Alex Timbers

The Outer Space by Ethan Lipton

Latin History for Morons by John Leguizamo

 Gently Down The Stream by Martin Sherman starring Harvey Fierstein

new_york_01NEW YORK THEATER WORKSHOP

79 East 4th Street. Twitter: @NYTW79

NYTW got much attention last year for presenting David Bowie’s musical “Lazarus.” Its fare ranged from the innovative and tuneful — “Hadestown” — to the cutting edge and incomprehensible — “Fondly, Collette Richland”

Nat Turner in Jerusalem

September 7 – October 16

Nat Turner in Jerusalem

In August 1831, Nat Turner led a slave uprising that shook the conscience of the nation. Turner’s startling account of his prophecy and the insurrection was recorded and published by attorney Thomas R. Gray. NYTW 2050 Fellow Nathan Alan Davis makes his New York debut with a timely new play that imagines Turner’s final night in a jail cell in Jerusalem, Virginia, as he is revisited by Gray and they reckon with what has passed and what the dawn will bring.

Othello

November 22 – January 18, 2017

Sam Gold directs David Oyelowo (Selma) in the title role and Daniel Craig (Betrayal, Spectre) as Iago in Shakespeare’s tragedy.

 

Spring 2017:

The Object Lesson

Sojourners and Her Portmanteau

 

SIGNATURE

signature_01

480 West 42nd Street. Twitter: @signaturetheatr

As the first New York theater to win the Regional Tony Award, the Signature now has some solid proof of what has been clear to its patrons for years.  What has distinguished this theater is not only its track record, but its commitment to keep the price of all tickets for initial runs to $25.

With the recent expansion of both their facilities and their mission, some longtime subscribers have had to adjust to the introduction of work by more untested playwrights. This is the first season under new artistic director Paige Evans, who headed Lincoln Center’s LCT3   Signature’s founding artistic director James Houghton died in August.

 Master Harold….and the Boys

October 18 – November 27. Opens November 7.

A revival of Athol Fugard’s play, directed by the playwright, about  two black men and a young white boy who joke and dance together, “defying the brutalities of apartheid through their joyous love. But festering issues of family, race, and power are not so easy to ignore…”

The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World

Opens November 14.

Suzan-Lori Parks begins her Signature residency with a play that “explores and explodes archetypes of Black America with piercing insight and raucous comedy.”

Spring 2017

Everybody by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins

A new play by Will Eno

The Antipodes by Annie Baker

Venus by Suzan-Lori Parks

 

AtlanticTheaterlogoATLANTIC THEATER

Marie and Rosetta

August 24 – October 2. Opens September 14.

Rebecca Naomi Jones and Kecia Lewis Marie star in this play by George Brant inspired by Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the “queen of race records” who influenced everybody from Elvis Presley to Jimi Hendrix, but died forgotten. The play takes place during her first rehearsal with a young protégée, Marie Knight, preparing for a tour.

 The Band’s Visit

November 11 – December 23. Opens December 18.

This musical with a book by Itamar Moses (Fortress of Solitude) and music by David Yazbek (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels), and directed by David Cromer (Our Town), is an adaptation the 2007 film about an Egyptian Police Band that arrives in Israel to play a concert but is sent by mistake to a remote village in the middle of the desert.

 

LincolnCenterlogoLINCOLN CENTER THEATER*

@LCTheater

The shows at Lincoln Center’s Off-Broadway venues are inexpensive (especially at the Claire Tow theater, where initial-run tickets cost $20) and often rewarding.

The Harvest

October 8 – November 20. Opens October 24.

A new play by Samuel D. Hunter (The Whale) about a Mormon missionary who has bought a one-way ticket to the Middle East, but is confronted by his sister, who doesn’t want him to leave.

The Babylon Line

November 10 – January 22. Opens December 5.

A play by Richard Greenberg about a writer from bohemian Greenwich Village who commutes to Levittown to teach a creative writing class that includes one student that reawakens his own artistic impulses.

ROUNDABOUT* LAURA PELS

The empire that is now Roundabout includes three Broadway theaters, and that’s where most of the attention is focused, mostly on star-studded revivals, especially musicals.  But its fourth building houses two Off-Broadway theaters (one of them a tiny “Black Box” theater.) It is in its Off-Broadway facility that Stephen Karam’s The Humans originated, now transferred to Broadway, and (as of this writing) the only non-musical there.

Love, Love, Love

September 22 – December 18, 2016. Opens October 19.

A new play from Mike Bartlett (King Charles III, Cock.)  “London, 1967. Beatlemania is in full effect, the “Me” generation is in its prime and Kenneth and Sandra are in a world of  sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll….But what happens when they have babies of their own.”

Kingdom Come

October 7 – December 18. Opens November 2.

Jenny Rachel Weiner’s comedy about two people who meet from an online dating site, who are both pretending to be somebody else.

MCC THEATER

Address: The Lucille Lortel Theatre, 121 Christopher Street. Twitter: @mcctheater

All The Ways to Say I Love You

September 6 – October 9

Judith Light stars in an hour-long solo play by Neil LaBute, portraying Mrs. Johnson, a high school English teacher and guidance counselor in a loving marriage. “As she recounts her experiences with a favored student from her past, Mrs. Johnson slowly reveals the truth that is hidden just beneath the surface details of her life.”

Ride the Cyclone

November 9 – December 18

“The Saint Cassian High School Chamber Choir will board the Cyclone roller coaster at 8:17pm. At 8:19 the front axle will break, sending them to their tragic demise. A mechanical fortune teller invites each to tell the story of a life interrupted”

CLASSIC STAGE COMPANY

136 East 13th Street Twitter: @ClassicStage

 

Dead Poets Society

October 27-December 11, 2016

DeadPoetsSociety

Academy Award-winner Tom Schulman adapts his own screenplay for this play about an inspiring boarding school teacher, starring Jason Sudeikis.

 

MTC AT CITY CENTER*

131 West 55th Street Twitter: @MTC_NYC

This theater was publicly criticized for the lack of diversity in its season last year, criticism they seem to have taken to heart, judging from its Off-Broadway fare this time around.

Sell/Buy/Date

Opens October 18

Sarah Jones (Bridge & Tunnel) portrays multiple characters in a new show inspired by the real-life experiences of people affected by the sex industry.

Vietgone

Opens October 25

The award-winning play by Qui Nguyen is a love story about a boy and girl who are refugees from the Vietnam War newly settled in a relocation camp inside Middle America.

OTHER  HIGHLIGHTS

√ Notes From The Field (Second Stage)

October 15 – December 11. Opens November 2.

Drawn from interviews with more than 200 people, Anna Deavere Smith explores the personal accounts of students, parents, teachers and administrators caught in America’s school-to-prison pipeline, which pushes minors from poor communities out of the classroom and into incarceration,

 The 24-Decade History of Popular Music (St. Ann’s Warehouse)

September 15 – October 8.

TaylorMac1910s

Taylor Mac’s concerts chart a history of popular music and activism in America from the nation’s founding in 1776 to the present day. I’ve seen several installments. This is the first time he is putting it all together, including for one marathon 24-hour session.

Sweet Charity (The New Group)

November 2 – December 23, Opens November 20.

A revival on its 50th anniversary of the musical by Neil Simon, Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields, starring Sutton Foster as Charity Hope Valentine, the dancehall hostess, a role famously associated with Gwen Vernon and Shirley MacLaine.

This Day Forward (Vineyard Theatre)

November 3 – December 18. Opens November 21.

A comedy by Nicky Silver (The Lyons) about a woman who made a surprising confession on her honeymoon, causing all plans to fall apart. “Nearly 50 years later, her children wrestle with their past and a mother whose secrets are quickly fading along with her memory.”

Finian’s Rainbow (Irish Rep)

October 26 – December 18. Opens November 6.

Melissa Errico stars in a reprised revival (translation: the Irish Rep has done it before) of this 1947 musical by Burton Lane and Yip Harburg about an Irishman who steals a leprechaun’s pot of gold and escapes with his daughter to the Jim Crow South.  The creative team intended this musical to be politically on the left, but its message feels nowadays something of an outdated muddle. The tunes, however, are terrific.

Always worth checking out: Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival which focuses on avant-garde experimental and European works.

Other companies worth checking out:

Ars Nova

Rattlesticks Playwright Theater

Mint Theater

Mayi Theater Company

Primary Stages

Pearl Theater

 

There are also commercial shows put together by independent producers that appear in theaters for rent, such as:

Cherry Lane Theatre
Daryl Roth Theatre
Gym at Judson
Lucille Lortel Theatre
New World Stages
Orpheum Theater
The Players Theatre
Snapple Theater Center
Theatre Row – The Acorn
Union Square Theater
Westside Theatre

*THE ASTERISK: Off-Broadway AND Broadway

*Just to complicate matters, several of the resident theaters also present shows on Broadway –  Lincoln Center, Manhattan Theater Company (MTC), the Roundabout Theater Company., and starting this season, Second Stage Theatre, which has bought the Helen Hayes. Their Broadway offerings are listed in my Broadway 2016-2017 Preview Guide.

What Is Broadway, Off-Broadway, Off-Off Broadway?

Off-Broadway theaters, by definition, have anywhere from 100 to 499 seats. If a theater has more seats than that, it’s a Broadway house. If it has fewer, it’s Off-Off Broadway.

There are some terrific Off-Off Broadway theaters, sometimes confused for Off-Broadway. These include (but are not limited to) The FleaLabyrinth Theater, and LaMaMa ETC.

Monthly Calendar of Openings

Because there are so many shows Off-Off Broadway, and their runs are so limited, I include them in my monthly theater preview calendar (along with Broadway and Off Broadway openings) posted near the beginning of each month.

 

FOR MORE INFORMATION

For more information about Off-Broadway, go to  The League of Off-Broadway Theatres and Producers (aka The Off-Broadway League).  This should not be confused with the Off-Broadway Alliance, which is a separate organization (though they should probably merge, no?)

Week in NY Theater: Motown, Miss Saigon Returning to Broadway. Holiday Treats. Where Musicals Come From.

During Thanksgiving week, there is plenty to do besides travel and talk to your relatives.

Performing Thanksgiving Day on Broadway: Chicago, Dames at Sea, Finding Neverland, On Your Feet, and The Phantom of the Opera.

The 89th Annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade - Season 89

Performing Thanksgiving Day at the Macy’s Parade: Fiddler on the Roof, Finding Neverland,The King & I, On Your Feet! and Something Rotten.

 

A whopping 28 Broadway shows have added a Friday matinee this week.

Check out the Thanksgiving week Broadway schedule

Week in New York Theater Views

In Once Upon A Mattress, Jackie Hoffman sings “Shy.” So I asked her – when has she been?

Theater Superstitions

The origins of “Break A Leg” and other common superstitions (it’s NOT what you think.)

Shakina Nayfack and the Musical Theatre Factory

 

Shakina Nayfack performing in Post Op, her solo show about her gender confirmation surgery

Shakina Nayfack performing in Post Op, her solo show about her gender confirmation surgery

The Musical Theatre Factory didn’t exist until March, 2014. Shakina Nayfack, who had moved to New York less than three years earlier, sent out an e-mail to 40 friends—“all making musicals, all strapped for cash”—suggesting they form what amounts to a mutual aid society. The aim was to centralize resources so they won’t feel so alone: “When you’re writing a musical, you’re on a boat in the sea trying to get people to swim to you,” adds Nayfack.
Until MTF’s existence, Nayfack didn’t completely exist either, as the director, choreographer, producer, and performance artist would surely tell you. Just a few months later, Nayfack traveled to Thailand to have what is popularly called a “sex change operation” (what the transgender community prefers to call “sex confirmation surgery”), a journey she has recounted in two solo shows with music,One Woman Show, and Post-Op.
“I’ve built myself as a woman while building the company,” says the woman who was born Jared Alan Nayfack. It’s no coincidence that the initials for Musical Theatre Factory—MTF—also stand for Male To Female.
/ Full story

Week in New York Theater Reviews

Steve7

Steve

“Steve,” a play produced by The New Group at the Signature Center, begins and ends with its characters singing show tunes, which is a lovely and appropriate touch by director Cynthia Nixon, since three of the characters were once singing waiters together with dreams of Broadway. That’s how they all met, decades ago. Where they are now, as middle-aged gay men (and one lesbian), is the subject of Mark Gerrard’s play, equal parts funny and sad, and so steeped in musical theater references that one could be forgiven for suspecting that the title is in part in homage to Stephen Sondheim.

Kevis Hillocks and Arlene Chico-Lugo

Kevis Hillocks and Arlene Chico-Lugo

Mourning Sun

n “Mourning Sun,” a beautifully acted new play by Antu Yacob, two young teenagers in Ethiopia both love to sing and dance to Michael Jackson. The “sun” part of the title is clear from the get-go…The mourning part unfolds quickly: Biftu is 14 years old when she’s forced to wed the son of the wealthiest man in the community, who hits her in her head with a rock in order to consummate their marriage

NightisaRoom5

Night Is A Room

The acting starts out so fine and nuanced that one feels excited and even comforted by the promise of an assured theatrical journey…we soon learn what it’s about: Liana has tracked down Dore because Dore is the mother of Liana’s husband Marcus – an unwed mother at age 15 who was forced to give up her child to adoption. Liana wants to surprise Marcus for his 40th birthday by having him meet his birth mother….Naomi Wallace devotes the first hour of her play to the set-up, and then the shock, letting the audience absorb what’s happened in a long, well-done dramatic scene. But after that, the playwright doesn’t seem to know where to go. The characters’ reactions are one-note; the remaining plot is uninteresting and pointlessly prolonged

Week in New York Theater News

Dames at Sea 10 John Bolton, Cary Tedder, Eloise Kropp, Mara Davi, Danny Gardner in DAMES AT SEA photo by Jeremy Daniel, 2015
Dames at Sea will close January 3, after 23 previews and 85 performances.

Michael Jackson (Raymond Luke Jr.) and the Jackson 5

Michael Jackson (Raymond Luke Jr.) and the Jackson 5

Motown the musical will return to Broadway starting July 2016 for an 18-week run.

MissSaigonUK

The London production of Miss Saigon will come to Broadway in 2017, says Cameron Mackintosh, 40-person + helicopter intact.

LEASALONGA

After Allegiance, Lea Salonga will perform in Fun Home in the Philippines (her home country), portraying the mom.

After protests by playwrights & designers, @nytimestheater reportedly has agreed to restore full credits in its reviews and listings

A stage musical of movie Holiday Inn, with about 20 Irving Berlin songs (such Heat Wave), will open October 13 2016 at Roundabout’s Studio 54.

Motherstruck

Motherstruck, Stacey ann Chin’s solo show directed by Cynthia Nixon that had been canceled, is back on track, set to begin at Culture Project December 4.

Clive Barnes Theater Award nominees:

Jack DiFalco, of Mercury Fur

Sandy Mae Frank and Katie Boeck of Spring Awakening

Austin P. McKenzie of Spring Awakening,

Dave Thomas Brown of The Legend Of Georgia McBride

 

In praise of playwright Caryl Churchill

Taylor Mac

Taylor Mac

For me, performance needs to be rigorous. I like the audience to see that I have worked for them. I like them to see that someone actually cared. That I gave them my time and energy –  Q and A with Taylor Mac, author of Hir

Bullying in the arts is more prevalent than in the armed forces in UK, writes @lyngardner. (True in US too?)

How Julian Fellowes went from Downton Abbey to School of Rock  “a nice change from ladies maids and footmen.”

 

 

 

George Takei spoofing Adele

Where Broadway gets its ideas

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George Takei, Gloria Estefan on Broadway. Taylor Mac Uptown. Cynthia Nixon in Charge. Week in New York Theater

Reading 50 answers to “What’s the most exciting show you’ve ever seen?” is a lesson in the continuing power of theater — great to keep in mind as we sort through the week’s New York theater news (about Steve Martin’s Bright Star, David Mamet’s China Doll with Al Pacino, American Psycho, The Bandstand etc.) views (about history vs. theater; and actors who have become directors) and reviews (some crowd pleasers, and some surprises.) Lin-Manuel Miranda also has some more to say about Hamilton.

The Week In New York Theater Reviews

6-3545_Ana Villafañe as Gloria Estefan in ON YOUR FEET! (c) Matthew Murphy

On Your Feet

8-2928_Ana Villafañe and the cast of ON YOUR FEET! (c) Matthew MurphyFrom the first moments of On Your Feet, the Broadway musical celebrating the life and music of Emilio and Gloria Estefan, I thought: This show is sure to be a hit despite what any critics say.
On Your Feet is as much by-the-numbers as any other Broadway bio or juke box musical, but when the numbers are “1-2-3” – the name of one of Estefan’s many electrifying hits – the average theatergoer will surely find it easier to forgive the formulaic aspects of the show.

More on On Your Feet

Lea Salonga and George Takei

Lea Salonga and George Takei

Allegiance

Allegiance7Some 120,000 Japanese-Americans were incarcerated a few months after Pearl Harbor, by order of President Roosevelt. George Takei and his family were among them. The actor best known as Sulu in Star Trek is the reason why the musical Allegiance is finally bringing this shameful chapter of American history to life on Broadway.
The creative team behind Allegiance has worked hard to make this important musical both entertaining and illuminating, and Takei is just one of the many splendid performers, including Lea Salonga and Telly Leung, who boost the enterprise with both lively and touching moments. But the hard work and the great cast can’t completely mask the ways the show falls short.

More on Allegiance

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Comedy of Errors

The Public Theater’s Mobile Shakespeare Unit, which travels to prisons and homeless shelters in all five boroughs before performing back at the Public’s East Village theater, presents The Comedy Errors as a border conflict between the United States and Mexico. Cast members dressed in shirts that say “border patrol” arrest a cowboy-hatted Egeon (David Ryan Smith.) Egeon tells his tale of woe – how his twin sons and their twin servants were separated by a shipwreck many seasons ago – to Solina (Zuzanna Szadkowski, in place of Solinus, the Duke of Ephesus.) Solina speaks in a Southwestern twang, wears a trucker hat that says “Make Ephesus Great Again,” and, just in case you miss the reference, carries a cardboard cut-out fan of Donald Trump. Yet, moved by Egeon’s tale, Solina gives him a day to cough up the fine or face execution.

More on Comedy of Errors

HirPlaywrights Horizons/Peter Jay Sharp Theater

Hir

“Hir” is Taylor Mac’s absurd, antic, dark, affecting, and very funny family drama… Mac, the gender-bending, formidably protean downtown theater artist, tells us that “Hir” is a new genre of play he calls Absurd Realism, defining this as “simply realistic characters in a realistic circumstance that is so extreme it is absurd.” But “Hir” is only simple on the surface — Mac’s bid to write a conventional family drama in an unconventional way.

More on Hir

Week in New York Theater Views

actorsasdirectors

Actors As Directors

Somebody first asked Cynthia Nixon to be a director when she was 22 years old. “I kind of laughed at them,” she says. Although she had been acting on Broadway since the age of 14, “I was younger than the people asking me to direct their play,” she says, “and I certainly would not have had any idea how to go about that.”
More than a quarter century later, she changed her mind. The actress best known for her role as Miranda in Sex and the City is directing Steve, a new play at the New Group, her second directing job this year. She joins David Hyde Pierce (who is also directing his second play this year, an Off-Broadway production entitled Ripcord), Kathleen Turner (Would You Still Love Me If . . .), Douglas Hodge (the Broadway revival of Harold Pinter’s Old Times), and Michael Arden.
“I don’t think it’s a coincidence,” says Arden of this apparent surge in moonlighting actors. “I think people are starting to acknowledge artists for their full potential.” Arden, who is probably best known for his costarring role with Charlie Sheen in the FX TV series Anger Management, has made a spectacular debut as a Broadway director helming the widely acclaimed Deaf West production of Spring Awakening.

More on Actors as Directors in BroadwayDirect

History Vs. Theater

If both King Charles III and First Daughter Suite are too fanciful to be thought of as depicting history on stage, they still offer history lessons of a sort, stimulating the members of the audience to consider the real-life people that the shows turn into characters. These shows are among a recent spate of works on New York stages that deal in more or less direct ways with history – among them, Hamilton, Personal Arrangement, Who’s Your Baghdaddy, and Dear Elizabeth — and they raise several questions involving the competing demands of putting a historical moment on stage.

More on History vs. Theater in Howlround.

Week in New York Theater News

PacinoinChinaDoll

“…the delay will both lengthen the amount of time the team has to work on the project before critics weigh in, and reduce the effect of reviews because they will run later in the play’s limited run and after the traditionally lucrative Thanksgiving weekend.” — NY Times

AmericanPsychoCast

bandstandpapermill06

A Broadway transfer in the 2016-17 season has been announced for The Bandstand, the new “big-band musical” set in 1945 starring Laura Osnes (Cinderella) and Corey Cott (Newsies, Gigi), directed and choreographed by Andy Blankenbuehler (the choreographer of Hamilton), which is playing at the Papermill Playhouse.

HappyTrailslogo

T Bone Burnett to write songs for Happy Trails, bio-musical about singing cowboy Roy Rogers & Dale Evans

Questions remaining about Happy Trail:

When will it be on Broadway?

Who will play Roy?

Who will play Dale?

Who will play Trigger?

ClareBarrownSarahDeLappe

Two playwrights share first Relentless playwriting award
Clare Barron and Sarah Delappe will split $45,000 in an award created to honor Philip Seymour Hoffman

SchoolofRockwithAlexBrightman

Lottery announced for School of Rock: $25 front row tix! Show begins previews today.

hamiltonmain60Minutes

Lin-Manuel Miranda featured on 60 Minutes

Hamiltonon60MinutesLin-Manuel Miranda: “The thing about Hamilton is he spoke in paragraphs. So the opening sentence of our show is this crazy, run-on sentence. “How does a bastard orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean by providence, impoverished in squalor, comma, grow up to be a hero and a scholar?” That’s the question we’re gonna answer for the next two hours and 45 minutes.”

Rap “is uniquely suited to tell Hamilton’s story. Because it has more words per measure than any other musical genre. It has rhythm and it has density. And if Hamilton had anything in his writings it was this density.”

Hir Review: Taylor Mac’s absurd, realistic transgender family drama

Hir Playwrights Horizons/Peter Jay Sharp TheaterThe Connor family is like any other middle class American family, except that Father Arnold is catatonic, and wearing a clown wig, makeup and a diaper; Mother Paige is morally opposed to cleaning their Prairie-style starter house, which is piled high with junk; their son Isaac is a dishonorably charged, drug addicted Marine veteran fighting post-traumatic stress syndrome; and their daughter Maxine has become their second son Max, and insists on being referred to as hir (pronounced “here”) — which is neither him nor her, but a third gender pronoun. That’s the family of “Hir,” Taylor Mac’s absurd, antic, dark, affecting, and very funny family drama, which has now opened at Playwrights Horizons.

Mac, the gender-bending, formidably protean downtown theater artist, tells us that “Hir” is a new genre of play he calls Absurd Realism, defining this as “simply realistic characters in a realistic circumstance that is so extreme it is absurd.” But “Hir” is only simple on the surface — Mac’s bid to write a conventional family drama in an unconventional way. It’s rich in allusion, layered with meaning, aesthetically and politically sly, and pervasively weird. If it’s unsettling, it’s not because of its weirdness, but because of Mac’s precise and accurate insights into each member of the family.

The play begins with Isaac (an athletic looking Cameron Scoggins with a military haircut), having returned from the Middle East, unable to open the front door because it’s blocked by junk. Once he gets in the kitchen, he’s shocked and upset by what has happened to the house. (Bravo to set designer David Zinn)

“That’s a fire hazard Mom,” he says.

“Oh, wouldn’t that be wonderful,” Paige answers. Kristine Nielsen plays Paige. As she demonstrated so well in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, Nielsen is both an over-the-top comedienne and a deeply touching actress, going from one to the other at will – and certainly gets that opportunity in “Hir.”

Paige, we soon learn, is rebelling against her husband Arnold, who has had a debilitating stroke, but was previously an angry abusive household tyrant. (He is portrayed by the unenvied Daniel Oreskes, who mostly stares vacantly, occasionally grunting.) Part of her rebellion is to keep the air conditioner on so high that Arnold shivers. Another way to assert her newfound power is to keep the place as messy as possible. And, one suspects, her rebellion extends to her embracing the sex change of Max. Max is portrayed by transgender teen actor Tom Phelan, who previously performed on the TV series The Fosters. It might be a comment on the times that it’s something of a political act for director Niegel Smith to cast a transgender actor as a transgender character. I suspect that Mac’s decision to name the play “Hir,” but not to focus it on the Max character was also a political act – as if to communicate that the transgendered are just another member of the family like anybody else.

Paige (and Mac) has a lot of fun with Max’s transition. “Max, come in here and explain your ambiguity to your brother.” On the refrigerator door, in colorful magnets, Paige has put up a lesson in gender politics and nomenclature, including the fact that “there are no longer two genders. No longer simply a Y and X chromosome but an alphabet of genders. They call it the LGBTTSQQIAA community” – which she pronounces: Lugabuttsqueehah

But Max turns out to be a typically eager, well-meaning and confused adolescent. In a quiet moment, Max and big brother Isaac talk between themselves:

Max: I don’t have friends. I mean I do, kinda, but, can you count people you’ve never met in person as friends? I mean, I guess I think you can but people should be confronted with physicality as ritual before-

Isaac: You should have friends. Actual friends.

Max: It’s not that easy.

Isaac: Find a stranger, ask a question, listen to the

answer, then ask a follow-up question.

Max: That’s a really problematic way of reducing the

issue.

In one way, yes, this is simple, but the natural warmth between the two siblings feels so real that it’s deeply touching.

Click on any photograph by Joan Marcus to see it enlarged

Hir

Playwrights Horizons

Written by   Taylor Mac
Directed by  Niegel Smith

Scenic Design  David Zinn
Costume Design  Gabriel Berry
Lighting Design  Mike Inwood
Sound Design  Fitz Patton
Production Stage Manager  Stephen Milosevich

Cast: Kristine Nielsen – Paige
Daniel Oreskes – Arnold
Tom Phelan – Max
Cameron Scoggins – Isaac

Hir has been extended through December 20, 2015

Update: Hir has been extended for the third and final time through January 3, 2016.