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Broadway Tag

Theatre never ends in New York, but the 2015-2016 Broadway theatre season, a useful marker, wrapped up in late April with the musical Shuffle Along. Next week’s Tonys will send awards season, which holds sway for a few weeks after Broadway’s last premiere, shuffling along. Last night, the spotlight fell on the Drama Desk, my organization, which announced its awards, drawn from Broadway, Off Broadway, and Off Off Broadway.

Unlike the Tonys, the Drama Desks were entirely Hamilton-free–that blockbuster began its awards spree last year, with its

exit-lines-logoWaitress, an indie hit in 2007, has been reborn as a delightful Broadway musical, now playing at the Brooks Atkinson. The star of the show is the phenomenal Jessie Mueller, who dominated the “revisal” of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever before winning a Tony as Carole King in the jukebox musical Beautiful. This is her first opportunity to originate new material, provided by Grammy nominee Sara Bareilles, and she raises the roof with one number after another. A wonder she is.

header-home-sm5_01While Mueller more than earns her tips, she doesn’t have to carry the show. The weight is equally distributed. The guiding spirit of filmmaker Adrienne Shelly is felt throughout Waitress, which taps, deeply but gently, into a

exit-lines-logoSpring has arrived in New York, or so it’s rumored. We’re currently in the grip of February weather. So, too, is the theatre season blowing hot and cold, on Broadway and off.

Gale force entertainment is on view at Studio 54, where a sensational revival of She Loves Me is brightening the Roundabout Theatre Company’s 50th anniversary season. The original 1963 production was somewhat lost in a shuffle of shows that included Funny Girl and Hello, Dolly!, but the Roundabout revived it in high style in 1993, and now it’s back to delight a new generation. The source material, Hungarian playwright Miklos Lazlo’s Parfumerie, is well-traveled, having inspired the classic film The Shop Around the Corner (1940), the 1949 musical In the Good Old Summertime, and the modernized hit You’ve Got Mail (1998). An outstanding cast led by my No. 1 Broadway crush object, Laura

exit-lines-logo“The death of the American dream” is something we hear a lot about, particularly this election cycle, as the GOP presidential candidates attempt to out-doom one another with each utterance. But the definitive autopsy was written during the Carter administration, when Sam Shepard’s Buried Child premiered at San Francisco’s Magic Theater in 1978. A sensation there and in New York a few months later, the play won the Pulitzer Prize the following year. I caught up with it in 1996, when, via Chicago’s Steppenwolf, it made its Broadway debut, in a production I have yet to shake.

Part of it was the acting–under Gary Sinise’s direction, James Gammon and Lois Smith gave indelible, Tony-nominated performances as woebegone parental figures, adrift in their

exit-lines-logoAs the song goes, “Everything old is new again.” Let’s see how three Broadway revivals honor–and shake up–some classic shows.

 

 

Noises Off

Original Broadway Production: 1983

Revived: 2001

What I’ve Seen: Both, plus the 1992 film version

What’s New? Nothing–nor should there be. Michael Frayn’s Tony-nominated farce is airtight and bulletproof, the perfect armament against winter’s chill. It’s pretty much the only “old” play that I can recall

exit-lines-logoRace, November–plays so poor you would think that David Mamet hated theatre and was taking out some some of revenge on Broadway. The Anarchist, part of a double bill with a revival of Glengarry Glen Ross in 2012, was a germ of an idea frustratingly undeveloped. Reviews were brutal for his latest, China Doll, which opened in early December, and closes Sunday after a limited run. Critics, charitable toward his run of flops, had out their shivs this time. When you walk past a Broadway theatre whose exterior isn’t plastered with rave notices, you know the occupant has been left for dead inside.

But never underestimate an audience’s

exit-lines-logoBack in the early 90s, when I lived in Hong Kong, Prince Charles and Lady Diana paid a royal visit. If they were visiting some other part of the vanishing British empire, or a Western city like New York, this would have been front-page news, but for the local Chinese, already looking toward the 1997 handover to China, it was a shrug. I lived on an offshore island, and ferried in and out from Hong Kong Island from the famed Star Ferry Terminal. Cue “Love is a Many-Splendored Thing”–and it was a many-splendored thing indeed the evening they arrived. I was about to take my ferry back when they alighted from the royal yacht; their security detail was small, and other than a phalanx of reporters the crowd was sparse. I stood all of twenty feet

exit-lines-logo“So soon?” I thought, when I read that Spring Awakening was returning to Broadway. Then again the Tony-winning musical has never really left me: its cast album, a Grammy winner, is my go-to theatre listening, with tunes like “The Bitch of Living,” “Mama Who Bore Me,” “The Guilty Ones,” and, of course, the irresistible “Totally Fucked” personal standards. (The last one runs through my head at least once a day, usually when I’m running late and I’ve just missed a subway.) The production, too, has stuck with me, not least for its cast of shooting stars–Jonathan Groff (Looking), Lea Michele (Glee), and Tony winner John Gallagher, Jr. (The Newsroom) played the leads, suffering the torments of adolescence in an adaptation of Frank Wedekind’s 19th century play, then bursting into Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater’s exuberant  21st century songs.

Terrific. But the show, which opened in 2006, only closed six years ago, a blip in revival time. That’s not unheard of–The Color Purple, which closed in early 2008 after a run that began in late 2005, is also coming back this season. That, however, promises to be a more familiar reworking, stripping away the cumbersome production of the original to concentrate on the songs, the book, and the performances. What we have here, however, is an

exit-lines-logoI meant to file a couple of preview/prognostication pieces before Sunday’s night’s big, big show. But…twas not to be, as a man of the theatre once said.

It started like this…

“The Tony Awards are upon us…and where plays are concerned look for the Union Jack to fly high over Broadway tomorrow night. I fully expect to see a British invasion at Radio City Music Hall tomorrow night, with The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which critics and audiences have embraced since fall, feeling the love in multiple categories, including Best Play for playwright Simon Stephens and Best Actor for the deeply affecting Alex Sharp, too. The technical categories should go its

exit-lines-logoNew York’s theatre awards season wraps up next Sunday with the Tonys, broadcast on CBS. Last night, my member organization, the Drama Desk, celebrated its 60th anniversary, which can still be enjoyed here.

The Drama Desk is the only awards body to put Broadway, Off Broadway, and Off Broadway shows in contention with one another. This results in a lively and unpredictable slate of nominees, in 29 categories (including sound design and projection design, which the Broadway-specific Tonys have either dropped, or never considered.) I was a nominator for one

exit-lines-logoBroadway’s top ticket is Larry David’s Fish in the Dark, which has set a record for advance sales. (Pretty, pretty good!) Off Broadway, it’s…Alexander Hamilton? Founding father, Federalist Papers, Treasury Secretary, Aaron Burr...that Alexander Hamilton? Yes–but not your great-great-great-etc. grandmother’s Alexander Hamilton, though she’d certainly recognize, and grow to appreciate, the resemblance.

Based on Ron Chernow’s acclaimed biography, Hamilton is the unlikely brainchild of Lin-Manuel Miranda, a Tony winner for his score for In the Heights. Or, rather, unlikely-seeming. Seizing on Hamilton’s

exit-lines-logoWhere does one of the world’s sexiest men go to transform himself into one of the more celebrated grotesques in history? Why, Broadway, of course–where Bradley Cooper, following in the footprints of David Bowie and Billy Crudup, is covering himself in burlap rags and contorting his handsome features as The Elephant Man, in a revival of Bernard Pomerance’a play, which was first performed in its current home, the Booth, in 1979. Cooper (who, largely unknown, stole Three Days of Rain from Julia Roberts and Paul Rudd and put himself on the map in its 2006 staging) says The Elephant Man inspired him to become an actor–not the play, but David Lynch’s unrelated 1980 film.

This is significant, as the play has a different emphasis. Cooper’s best moments come toward the beginning, when his pitifully deformed John Merrick, rescued from the degradation of sideshow life in Victorian London, is examined by his benefactor, Dr. Frederick Treves (Alessandro Nivola, as compellingly silky smooth here as he was in last season’s revival of The Winslow Boy). As slides of the actual Merrick are shown, Cooper, all but

In an era dominated by superheroes and other non-human factors, stars don’t mean much at the movies these days–if they did, would the likes of Nicolas Cage, John Cusack, and Robert De Niro be turning up in slenderly budgeted VOD obscurities. But they mean a lot on Broadway, where I saw, with my own eyes, Hugh Jackman auction off a sweat-stained T-shirt he had just worn in The River. The first–and only–bid was for $10,000, topping the previous night’s $7,500. Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS soon made $500,000 off those shirts and whatever else Jackman, the entertainer’s entertainer, was giving away during the fall’s donations drive.

My wife, who hadn’t seen her favorite on Broadway since his Tony-winning turn in The Boy from Oz (2003), regretted that she didn’t have $10,100 to give away. Then again, she had no reason to complain, as Circle in the Square is an intimate space, and we were no more

Jeff Giles is a fucking asshole. I know I’ve said that before. And I’ll say it again, partly because it’s fun, but mostly because it’s true. Here’s why: Longtime readers will note that we have somewhat of a code here at Popdose. It says that, if someone

Exit Lines LogoNeil Patrick Harris won’t be hosting the Tony Awards on CBS this Sunday night, leaving that task to its other perma-emcee, Hugh Jackman. In all likelihood he’ll instead be onstage winning a Tony Award, for the sensational revival of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Rightly so–besides tearing the roof off the Belasco eight shows a week, he’s won a sheaf of Emmys for hosting the telecast, so leaving merit aside he’s kind of owed.

Harris is a lock in a year that saw Broadway boxoffice reach a new peak, buoyed in part by star-driven shows that arrived at season’s end. I have to admit they gave good value. Bryan Cranston continues to work

Exit Lines LogoAs the 2013-2014 Broadway season wound down I was spending a lot of time at the theatre, which means I spent a fair amount of time at the movies, too. We’ve seen musicals of Big Fish, The Bridges of Madison County, and Kind Hearts and Coronets, and a play of A Time to Kill. The results were thumbs sideways: The funny and tuneful A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder (from Kind Hearts) is killer, leading in both Tony and Drama Desk Award nominations. Bridges boasts some good songs from Jason Robert Brown (in the vein of his evergreen The Last Five Years) and a moving performance from Kelli O’Hara as the frustrated Francesca amidst a lot of dawdling to size a rightful chamber piece to the Schoenfeld, which after an unsuccessful engagement it will depart on May 18. Big Fish and A Time to Kill faded faster.

EX RBroadway abhors a vacuum, so musicals of Rocky, Aladdin, and Bullets Over Broadway, all derived from original screenplays, have moved in. Rocky, the most improbable, is also the least successful of the three–but it’s not at all bad, just a little uninspired. The new songs, by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, aren’t their

Frozen_(2013_film)_posterOh, those Disney princesses. Girls, my own five-year-old included, adore them. Women and parents have had issues since Snow White bit into that cursed apple in 1937. And even directors of princess movies have gone to war with Disney over marketing and representation. Introduced in Frozen, Anna, the 12th Disney princess, is the princess of the nightmares of everyone without a trove of dolls, books, bedspreads, and other royal paraphernalia–scatter-brained, klutzy, and eager to marry the first boy she meets. As voiced by Kristen Bell, the once and forever star of Veronica Mars, Anna’s also thoroughly winsome…and adds a knowing dose of satire to the formula.

Disney has heard your concerns, and, in Frozen, tweaks them. Relax–thrust into a high-stakes adventure, Anna will grow up before your eyes, and, like recent

Exit Lines LogoIn all my years of attending Shakeapeare in the Park productions I’ve never seen one as goofy as Love’s Labour’s Lost, which plays (free!) through Sunday. It’s worth standing on line for, in pleasant August weather, if you don’t mind a few, um, liberties taken with the text, which has been given a raucous musicalization by adaptor and director Alex Timbers and composer Michael Friedman.

The talents behind the memorable historical pastiche Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson have ramped up, rather than tamped down, their anything goes style for the Bard. Following a loose-limbed Comedy of Errors in the park, what we have here is one of his earliest comedies done up

Exit Lines LogoFace facts–Broadway, the fabulous invalid, didn’t have a fabulous 2012-2013 season. The second, post-Christmas half improved markedly, in part because it’s couldn’t get any duller. About all I recall a scant half-year later are the stunning revivals of Golden Boy and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? New plays, new musicals? Flatline. Audiences shrugged, too.

But turn that frown upside down, put Game of Thrones and Mad Men on temporary hold (they are rerun), and let the 67th Annual Tony Awards razzle dazzle you tonight. I have my differences with the organization–relegating the design honors to a cameo appearance irritates me no end years later, and perhaps there’s no satisfying way to excerpt or encapsulate the nominated plays, thin as the crop was this season. Still, unlike most televised awards shows, it’s fun. This year’s Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, the hugely popular Motown the Musical (what else could it be?) left Tony nominators sitting on their hands, yet any one of its

Exit Lines LogoThe 58th Annual Drama Desk Awards were held Sunday night. I was there in spirit, as my group (which at long last has a viable website), celebrated the best in New York theatre on, Off, and Off Off Broadway in the 2012-2013 season.

As a former Drama Desk Board Member and nominator (2007-2008 season), I can attest to a rigorous, and fair, process in determining the nominations. My nominating committee looked at about 300 shows from top to bottom, considering all pertinent aspects of each production, and left no stone unturned. Despite some backstage antics my year (you can look it up), it was very satisfying to evaluate all those shows. (And very tiring; many Saturdays and Sundays I saw three or four shows per day, and if you thought nothing’s happening on Monday nights, think again.)

A Drama Desk nomination is especially meaningful for those toiling off the beaten path Off and Off Off Broadway, where the work isn’t as

Ann-Playbill-02-13_1363272374_1363278041“Do you like one-person shows?” I was asked before I became an awards nominator for the Drama Desk a few years back. Well, sure; Christopher Plummer as John Barrymore (Barrymore), Mary Louise Wilson as Diana Vreeland (Full Gallop), and Sian Phillips as Marlene Dietrich (Marlene) came to mind. But it was not an idle question. I saw nearly 300 shows a year from across the New York theatrical spectrum in the 2007-2008 season, and I figure about 15-20% were one-person shows. Which meant a lot of nights

Exit Lines LogoWhat makes for a great revival? Sometimes it’s a simple adjustment to well-trodden material. Take the superlative Steppenwolf Theatre Company production of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, which reverses the emotional polarity of the text by making George the aggrieved husband the aggressor and Martha the shrewish wife the more resigned party. Consequently you see these two iconic characters in a whole new light–and a Martha who is a more of a functioning alcoholic is much more comprehensible one. (Maybe a Martha who isn’t Kathleen Turner, who slurred her way through the last Broadway revival, is automatically more comprehensible, not that Turner wasn’t riveting in the part.) Of course this switch could easily go awry; thankfully, Steppenwolf veterans Tracy Letts and Amy Morton, an old married couple in a sense, have been cast (she was a Tony nominee for Letts’ August: Osage County) and under Pam MacKinnon’s direction they are sensational, drawing blood, eliciting laughs, and getting right to the heart of this classic dysfunctional marriage. Not to be missed. (Mike Nichols’ 1966 film version, no slouch itself, airs Feb. 4 on Turner Classic Movies.)

Has Picnic ever been musicalized? It should be–every character in William Inge’s Pulitzer winner, which raised a few eyebrows in 1953, expresses himself or herself in “I want” song form. It’s Labor Day in a small Kansas town, and pretty Madge (Maggie Grace) wants to be taken seriously, and respected for who she is, not that she has much idea. Mother Flo (Mare Winningham, in her Broadway debut following a variety of Off Broadway assignments) wants Madge to settle down with wealthy scion Alan (Ben Rappaport), who wants to maintain the status quo. Younger sister Millie (Madeleine Martin) wants to ditch small-town life and write provocative

Exit Lines LogoThe bad news: It’s been a weak season for new plays on Broadway. The good news: There are some worthwhile revivals. The worst  news: My very favorite, a 75th anniversary production of Clifford Odets’ Golden Boy, closes tomorrow at the Belasco. Damn. And double damn for not saying anything before it until now. With more support, a limited run might have carried on for a few more rounds.

Recently reupholstered, and still gleaming, the Belasco may be my favorite Broadway house, a true jewel box. I’ve seen several favorite plays there, among them the thrilling World War I piece Journey’s End and the musical Passing Strange (and a favorite flop, Frank Wildhorn’s Dracula tuner). A few seasons back Lincoln Center Theater revived Odets’ Awake and Sing! there, with Mark Ruffalo, Lauren Ambrose, and the late Ben Gazzara. The excitement you felt at the Belasco was that of dust being blown off a

Exit Lines LogoHow successful is the Glengarry Glen Ross revival? So successful that I, long-time theatre scribe and member of the prestigious Drama Desk, was seated in the mezzanine for my press performance. Oh, the indignity, to be plopped in the cheap seats with the hoi polloi shelling out a mere $107 a ticket for the privilege. Was I not worth the premium price of $297?

What’s driving theatregoers off the fiscal cliff? What does Glengarry have that every other Broadway show that hasn’t recouped this slumbering season lacks? (As I predicted, the no-account Dead Accounts with Katie Holmes will close Jan. 6, well before scheduled.) In a word: Al.

And not “weird” Al, the Pacino who has spent most of his distinguished, off-and-on theatre career in unembraceable plays by Wilde, O’Neill, and Shakespeare. (Salome, which had a Broadway run about a decade ago, was wack.) No, this is Al in something that audiences will pay

Amidst the 2012-2013 theatre season in New York comes a new column about the scene, long overdue. And Dw Dunphy, at least, is happy about it–he created this delightful graphic for it somewhere toward the end of the 2011-2012 one, and is probably wondering why it never opened, as it were.

We’ll begin “Exit” with entrances. Next spring Tom Hanks, who hasn’t set foot on a Manhattan stage since 1979, completes a fruitful filmic partnership with the late Nora Ephron by starring in her screenplay-turned-play Lucky Guy, about the tabloid reporter Mike McAlary. (Heirs of the Pulitzer-winning New York Daily News columnist, who died in 1998 as You’ve Got Mail was playing in theatres, are indeed lucky guys; Dan Klores’ bio-play The Wood had an Off Broadway run last fall.) With his more theatrically experienced bosom buddy Peter Scolari as co-star, Hanks isn’t the only star to hoof it to the Great White Way this season. Look for Tony winner Scarlett Johansson, in a revival (the third one in eight years) of Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hit Tin Roof. (Williams is “catnip” for actresses–Chicago audiences enjoyed Diane Lane in a well-received return of the less traveled Sweet Bird of Youth, which I hope will be migrating east.) And Shia LaBeouf will join stage vet Alec Baldwin in a Broadway mounting of Orphans, a hit Off Broadway in the 80s, and in 1987 a film with Albert Finney and Matthew Modine. Career rehabbing? Sure, but on paper LaBeouf is well cast as a troubled street youth.

JAKENumerous stars are already in play. Jake Gyllenhaal’s sagging film career got a bit of a boost with End of Watch, and in his New York stage debut he’s doing pleasing work in the Roundabout’s Off Broadway production of If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet, which, given that unwieldy title, everyone calls “the Jake play.” Except it’s not–he’s part of a tight-knit quartet of actors, and disappears

[caption id="attachment_105341" align="aligncenter" width="600"] "Hair" has never been off the stage very long since 1968; a new revival will tour the country in 2013. This artwork was used to advertise the 2009 revival.[/caption] The changing mores of the 1960s eventually reached far beyond popular music. Motion