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The Good Person of Szechwan — Bertolt Brecht's fable of a kind-hearted hooker forced to disguise herself as a hard-hearted pimp in order to survive the predations of her underclass peers — has been approved for college curricula since the 1960s at least, making Die Gute Mensch von Sezuan one of the prolific author's most-produced plays. (Formerly known as “The Good Woman of Setzuan,” the gender-neutral "mensch" is nowadays more often translated as "Good Person.")
William Glick's play, Kin Folk, proposes a trio of sisters on the brink of major change. Following the death of their parents, the plan is to sell the family house in the suburbs and follow their respective blisses in glamorous Chicago.
"Summer theater" usually suggests Shakespeare-under-the-stars, song-and-dance spectacles in a barn, or retro-cabaret on the patio. The city offers some of these citronella-circuit treats, but you can also find plenty of serious warm-weather thrills, too—and you don't need to wear bug repellent or sunscreen to the theater.
Light and sweet:
For theatergoers whose impressions of New Orleans circa 1830 derive from Barbara Hambly's Benjamin January detective series, it might be easy to picture the women in Marcus Gardley's new play, The House That Will Not Stand, as courtesans like those found in Dumas's La Dame Aux Camellias, and the intricacies of the cultural phenomenon called "placage" as a New World equivalent to the career mapped out for Collette's Gigi.
Over the past two nights we watched the 1962 “Long Day's Journey into Night,” directed by Sidney Lumet, on Turner Classic Movies. The film stars Katherine Hepburn as Mary Tyrone, Ralph Richardson as her husband, James, and Jason Robards, Jr. as their son Jamie, Dean Stockwell as Edmund, and with Jeanne Barr as Cathleen.
The 70th annual Tony Awards, named in honor of the 30s and 40s actress/producer/director Antoinette Perry and co-presented by the American Theater Wing and the Broadway League, will telecast live from the Beacon Theater on CBS from 8–11 PM. There’ll be the traditional red carpet arrivals, and an additional hour, not telecast, for honorary and design awards.
Lindsay Ann Crouse, the daughter of playwright Russell Crouse and his theater activist wife Anna, was born in 1948. During summers when her father was writing with his partner Howard Lindsay and others, she and her brother Timothy, a critic and author, grew up in Annisquam a village in a cul de sac near Gloucester. My sister Pip was Lindsay's age, and I was a few years older than Tim. Through his effort, I repCROUSE:ed him as rock critic for the Herald Traveler when he left for Boston After Dark and then Rolling Stone.
In the United States—particularly in the Southern mountain regions—it's known as "gutbucket" music, based in Appalachian string-band harmonies (guitar, banjo, fiddle, mandolin, harmonica), but frequently augmented by instruments improvised from implements indigenous to the immediate environment. These may encompass spoons, saw blade, cowbell, duck call, bottle-neck tuba, comb-and-tissue kazoo, washboard-and-thimble percussion, coffee-can drum or just about anything that makes a noise when struck, shaken, rubbed or aspirated.
On Broadway: From Rent to Revolution (Rizzolli; 8x12 Hardcover; Color and B&W designs, photos, and posters; Credits; 224 pages; SRP $45), written by Drew Hodges with a Foreword by designer/author Chip Kidd, Introduction by author David Sedaris, and a Cast section, is a history of the past 20 years of razzle-dazzle window-card design from the SpotCo ad agency that brought shows visually alive and helped create the buzz that helped fill theater seats.
“All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances…” wrote the Bard of Avon in As You Like It.
Late in Ike Holter's play Sender, 20-going-on-30 Jordan, in a burst of pantheistic zeal, hurls his cigarettes off the third-floor back porch to the street below. Almost immediately, he regrets his action, lamenting, "I just threw my addiction off the roof!"—to which his companions reply, "The only addiction you need now is us."
"Three-named people are like three-legged dogs — stubborn and scrappy!" an Englishman declares upon meeting Ruth Alice Bennett.
His assessment is correct. After the young photographer's proper Yankee family and fiance disapprove of her nude self-portraits — this is 1930, by the way — her quest for a freer environment takes her to the international artists' colony centered in Berlin. There she earns acclaim for her films, and falls in love.
A new block of seats for the Off Broadway revival of Joel Paley and Marvin Laird’s musical romp, Ruthless!, are on sale for the announced extension of the show through June 18, 2016.
Shakespeare lovers, want to impress with your knowledge of the Bard of Avon? Declaim lines from Othello? Be a Cleopatterer rapper? Learn more about Much Ado about Nothing? To be or not to be with Hamlet? Know when all’s well that ends well in dozens of comedies, tragedies, and sonnets?
Who in the world had the clout to have the immortal George and Ira Gershwin and Gus Kahn song, "Liza," introduced by Ruby Keeler in a 1929 Ziegfeld show, pulled out of mothballs and sung by none other than Judy Garland to her newborn? None other than Miss Liza Minnelli. The tune not only became a Garland classic, but has been forever connected to Liza with a Z.
It’ll be so nice to have Bette back where she belongs! Legendary composer Jerry Herman and prodigious theater and film producer Scott Rudin have announced Bette Midler will return to Broadway in one of our most cherished musicals when she takes on the role of Dolly Gallagher Levi in Hello, Dolly! The revival—the fifth since the original’s January 1964 opening—will be directed by four-time Tony and five-time Drama Desk winner Jerry Zaks, with choreography by Tony and DD winner Warren Carlyle.
L’Chaim! To life! And what a life Fiddler on the Roof has had. Since its 1964 Broadway debut, more than a half-century of sunrises and sunsets have set on the musical by Jerry Bock (music) and Sheldon Harnick (lyrics), with book by Joseph Stein, based on Czarist Russia stories by Sholom Aleichem. It’s become one the most beloved musicals of all time, with its timeless score winning the hearts of millions the world over.
Arrchie Theater Company at Angel Island, 731 W. Sheridan Rd. For its swan-song season, the 30-year-old company returns to its roots with a David Mamet play assembling the dream-team cast of Richard Cotovsky, Rudy Galvan and Stephen Walker. (Jan. 22-March 6; www.maryarrchie.com)
With the 1969 musical Dames at Sea making its Broadway debut in fall 2015, let’s take a fun look at some facts about the original staging:
The musical was originally a short sketch, based on the Warner Bros. Gold Diggers movies and the lavish production numbers staged by Busby Berkley—only on a tiny budget.
The part of Ruby was modeled—in a steal of a deal—after Ruby Keeler in 42nd Street and was suggested by the Ruby Keeler-type from those early movies.
The musical was lengthened to 50 minutes with Robert Dahdah directing.
“While in London in 1992, I had the great fortune to meet Robin Miller, then in his mid-60s. We struck up a friendship because of our mutual love of musical theater,” said West Coast-based writer/producer Ken Jillson. “When I discovered he'd written Dames at Sea, my jaw dropped because that tight little gem is one of my all-time favorite musicals since I first saw it at the Ivar Theatre in Hollywood in the early 70s.”
As soon as you enter the auditorium of the Helen Hayes Theater and see that stunning art deco red curtain, you know you're in for something fun. The curtain rises on a movie-theater screen, and the credits roll as if you're about to see a B&W RKO or Warner Bros. classic, starring the likes of Fred and Ginger and Ruby Keeler and directed by Busby Berkeley.
Scott Wise, three-time nominee and 1989 Tony winner as Featured Actor, Musical, two-time Drama Desk nominee, and winner of a coveted Astaire Award, had been absent from Broadway for nine years. He's back and playing a featured role and in the ensemble of Allegiance.Following a recent Saturday matinee, he instinctively knows what the first question will be: "What took so long?"
Allegiance, the new musical by Marc Acitom with music and lyrics by Jay Kuo and which is inspired by stories of Japanese-Americans uprooted from their homes after the Pearl Harbor attack and sent to internment camps, finally arrives on Broadway Sunday. In development for seven years, the show has undergone numerous changes since its 2012 San Diego premiere. Shepherding it to the stage is Olivier Award nominee Stafford Arima (London's Ragtime, Off-Broadway's Bare, Carrie, Altar Boyz).
You know that famous Boston TV bar, Cheers, where everybody knows your name? In theater, that would be true of New York Post's theater gossip maven Michael Riedel. Everyone who's anyone and then some know his name. Some have praise for his gotcha journalism as long as it's in praise of them. Others -well, you know. Riedel wields enormous power - as much as and maybe more than top critics. Producers take his calls and have his ear for any morsel of an exclusive.
"With a face like that," stated Meg, Margaret Smith's mom, no less, "how could you hope to be an actress? Go to secretarial school." Nat, her dad, didn't agree. Not that it mattered. Meg was stagestruck and the flames of desire to make a career there never extinguished.
A drama teacher, sensing something special, accepted her into her school and, with her instructor as Svengali, Meg, no surprise, soon was playing leads—and, at Oxford, as Maggie Smith won over audiences in several revues. The seed was not only planted but grew like the bean in Jack and the Beanstalk.
Leslie Odom plays Aaron Burr in the musical Hamilton. Giuliano photos. Our California colleague, theater critic and friend Jack Lyons, managed to score impossible-to-find tickets to Hamiltonby Lin-Manuel Miranda. The musical is sold out for the next year and likely beyond.
The Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade evoked our recent visit to New York City for an American Theater Critics Association (ATCA) mini-meeting. Most enjoyable is the hour before giant balloons, super bands, fancy dance groups, and singers adorning fancy floats march down the parade route. It's when we get glimpses of the best of Broadway musicals.
The musical Something Rotten! was one of the best musicals we have seen in ages. It is so refreshing and original! It was thrilling to have a second chance to enjoy the singing and dancing of such talented performers.
When the American Theater Critics Association meets in New York, a highlight of the conference tends to be lunch at Sardi’s restaurant with a stunning array of Broadway celebrities. This year, yet again co-organizers Sherry Eaker and Ira Bilowit drew upon a spectrum of actors, playwrights and directors who are currently active with Broadway productions. In several instances actors had to race from the restaurant to theaters in time for their 2 PM matinees.
The American Theater Critics Association, a national organization, hosts annual conferences in a rotation of cities. Since joining the organization, we have attended meetings in Chicago, Indianapolis, Louisville (Humana Festival), Shepherdstown, West Virginia (Contemporary American Theater Festival) and most recently in New Orleans. We are looking forward to April in Philadelphia. The following year we meet in San Francisco.
From November 11 through December 13, 2015, Huntington Theatre Company will present a new play, A Confederacy of Dunces,adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher from the novel by John Kennedy Toole. It stars Nick Offerman as Ignatius and is directed by David Esbjornson.
Days after the Huntington Theater Company severed ties with Boston University, the other shoe has dropped. As part of its expansion, Emerson College--in recent years a major presence in the Boston theater district—bought the historic Colonial Theater on Boylston Street. The performing-arts-based college manages the Majestic Theater.
The venerable Colonial thrived during an era of out-of-town tryouts for Broadway bound productions. The most successful of these shows returned to Boston during regional tours. Only the latter part of that formula remains, with ever more attrition.
For the last two decades, I could boast seven theaters located within three blocks of my front door. After the end of this coming season, however, that number will be considerably reduced.
A massive makeover of the Ettleson building at Broadway and Sheridan is displacing a pair of loft spaces housing two of Chicago's foremost pioneering companies: the 28-year-old Strawdog Theater Company will move to as-yet-undecided new quarters in the summer of 2016, while its neighbor around the corner, the Mary-Arrchie Theater Company, will strike its sets after 30 years of operation.
Sarasota's newest theater company, The Starlite Players, tries to prove “The Customer Is Always Right” as it stages five new comedies under that rubric. They play July 15-16 and July 17-18, 2015, 7-9PM, at The Starlite Room, 1001 Cocoanut Street. Sets and seats are upstairs of the restaurant that can turn the venue into a dinner theater with its discount for ticket holders on performance dates.
Post Pride Weekend, HBO will air Jean Carlomusto's “Larry Kramer in Love & Anger” on June 29, 2015 at 9 PM (Eastern). The 82-minute documentary features the trailblazing, often controversial and contentious gay-rights political firebrand and AIDS activist, author, and acclaimed playwright in "an intimate look at the inspiring and sometimes devastating measures taken by him that ultimately saved the lives of millions affected by HIV and AIDS." The telecast almost coincides with Kramer's June 25 80th birthday.
The Tony and Drama Desk Awards have come and gone; there've been winners and not-winners in the Musical categories. It was a season of great scores--one for the books with 10 musicals opening. Being avid theatergoers, you no doubt have seen all the shows. Now, you can take a few cast albums home to rekindle memories again and again. All are quite reasonably-priced, with a SRP of less than $20. In addition, there are Off Broadway cast albums and reissues of two long-out-print classics by two giants of the entertainment world - and news of more to come.
From time to time, my occasional work as a performing arts critic in Texas causes me to miss some important event here in New York. That was never truer than on last March 9, 2015 when Marc Baron, the leader of America’ oldest theatrical club, The Lambs, hosted a memorable Shepherd’s Luncheon at the Club to honor the esteemed President of SAG-AFTRA, actor Ken Howard. But all was not lost when I learned that Mr. Howard’s important union would make available a full internet video of his fascinating remarks on that gala occasion.
Sunday's 69th annual Tony Awards, presented by the Broadway League and the American Theater Wing, will be more of a social event than usual. As Kristin Chenoweth and Alan Cumming co-host the live three-hour telecast from Radio City Music Hall from 8 -11 P.M. (ET/PT time delay) on CBS, there'll be live tweeting during the ceremony.
A "revival" production, technically, is a show whose premiere run ended less than two years before its remount, the latter featuring all or most of the same cast. Nowadays, it can also refer to plays not yet old enough to be called "classics"—a term most often applied to plays over fifty years past their inception. What, then, are we to call new adaptations of venerable fixtures long assimilated into the dusty archives of "standard repertoire?"
Mandy Greenfield is in the midst of her first season as artistic director of the Williamstown Theater Festival. Sitting down to chat with her, I mentioned that, as a member of the American Theater Critics Association, I attended this summer’s Tennessee Williams Festival in New Orleans. I added that New Yorker critic John Lahr was a presenter there, since he’d recently authored the biography, “Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh.”
The word "classic" is tossed around pretty casually these days—indeed, it's not uncommon for Baby Boom geezers to affix that appellation to anything recalled from their youth, regardless of lasting historical significance ("Yellow Submarine" might qualify as "classic" pop, but should "Mellow Yellow" share that status?)
According to sages at Windy City Times, a play can be called a "classic" only if it's more than 100 years old—otherwise, it's a "revival." With that definition in mind, here are some of both to see this fall: