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Saturday, June 24, 2017

Art Times: Is Broadway Invulnerable?

My latest essay is up at Art Times:
The original title of this essay was “Is Broadway Committing Suicide? And Does It Matter?” But the more I thought about it, the more I came to admire Broadway’s dogged longevity. (read more)

             





Thursday, June 22, 2017

1984

The stage version of George Orwell's 1984, grippingly adapted by Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan, might not be the masterpiece the book is, but it's pretty damned good just the same. It's beautiful to look at, slickly performed, jarringly paced, and terrifying. It also has the ability to fuck with your head in much the same way the book does. Well, I can't speak for your head, I guess, but I can certainly attest to mine.


Much of the novel makes it into the swift stage adaptation. So too does the book's famously unfamous appendix, The Principles of Newspeak, which Orwell worded to seem as if it had been written several decades following the events described in the novel. I don't think I'm in the minority in admitting to have never before glanced at said appendix, despite having read the book twice. For the stage, Icke and Macmillan, who also direct, use the appendix as a framing device. As the play begins--some fifty years after the reign of Big Brother, and presumably long after the Party has fallen--a group of people sit, seminar-style, around a long table and discuss who Winston Smith was, what his world was like, and why newspeak never overtook oldspeak as the common vernacular.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Pacific Overtures

I am not a fan of John Doyle's, as evidenced in my review of his production of Passion, so I didn't plan to see his production of Pacific Overtures at CSC. But three things changed my mind: (1) a friend saw the show and said that the singing was excellent; (2) the stage had been reconfigured from the CSC's usual awkward layout with its problematic sight lines; and (3) inexpensive tickets became available through the Theatre Development Fund. So I decided to go, just keeping my expectations low.

And I had a wonderful time.



(By the way, if you're not familiar with Pacific Overtures, you can find out more about it here and here.)

Monday, June 12, 2017

How'd We Do? Tony Predictions 2017

Liz wins the Show Showdown “Predicting the Most Tony Wins Award of 2017,” with 15 correct (out of 24 categories). Sandra is first runner up, with 13. And Wendy brings up the rear with 12. It’s interesting to compare our results with those of last year (aka, the year of Hamilton), when we managed to predict from 16 to 20 each. As much fun—and as well-deserved—as the Hamilton wins were, it was even more fun to have such a competitive year this year. In 2017, Broadway is alive and kicking.


Musical: Dear Evan Hansen
Liz, Sandra, Wendy

Play: Oslo
Liz

Musical revival: Hello, Dolly!
Liz, Sandra, Wendy

Play revival: Jitney
Liz


Thursday, June 08, 2017

Show Showdown's Tony Picks

We're cutting it a little close on the Tony forecast this year, but can you blame us? We've all been super busy reading the news, watching hearings, and calling our representatives all the time--and to top it off, there's no slam-dunk this year, like Hamilton was last year--this year's picks were tough! Wendy, in fact, notes that whereas last year, she often blindly went with Hamilton, this year there are categories that are much tighter and harder to call, since so many nominees are deserving. This might speak to the caliber of talent on Broadway these days, but it makes for tough guessing. As you'll see below, in many cases we are all over the map.

And yet we at Show Showdown are undaunted! Here we are, ready to march into the fray, with our Tony picks for 2017. Who will win? Who the hell knows? Still, it's fun to prognosticate, and also to take our minds off what's going on just about everywhere else in the entire universe, so here goes:


Musical:
Come from Away
Dear Evan Hansen
Groundhog Day
Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812

Sandra, Liz, Wendy: Dear Evan Hansen
Liz is a little preoccupied with the fact that Hansen didn't win as much as it was expected to Off Broadway. But then, on Broadway, it's almost as hot a ticket as Hamilton is.


Play:
A Doll's House, Part 2
Indecent
Oslo
Sweat

Sandra: Sweat won the Pulitzer, but Doll's House got better reviews. Oslo could also take this, but I'm leaning toward Hnath's slow-growing hit.

Liz: I'd love to see Indecent win, but that's likely not going to happen. So my hopes fall on Doll's House, though I suspect Oslo will take it.

Wendy: This is an exciting category. It's fun that they're all American and all on Broadway for the first time (though both female playwrights should have been on Broadway long ago!). And it's fabulous that they're all strong nominees. But my vote goes to Sweat.


Revival, Musical
Falsettos
Hello, Dolly!
Miss Saigon


Sandra, Liz, Wendy: An easy one! Duh. Dolly.


Revival, Play
Jitney
The Little Foxes
Present Laughter
Six Degrees of Separation

Sandra: Present Laughter.

Liz: Can it please go to Jitney? I loved everything about that production--even though when I saw it, a senile old man sitting next to me mumbled and cursed under his breath through the entire first act, so I had to move. If a mumbly dude who's only half in his right mind can't totally derail a show for me, then believe me, it's a really fucking good show that deserves prizes.

Wendy: The Little Foxes.


Book of a Musical
Come from Away (Irene Sankoff and David Hein)
Dear Evan Hansen (Steven Levenson)
Groundhog Day (Danny Rubin)
Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 (Dave Malloy)

Sandra, Wendy, Liz: Steven Levenson.


Score
Come from Away (Irene Sankoff and David Hein)
Dear Evan Hansen (Benj Pasek and Justin Paul)
Groundhog Day (Tim Minchin)
Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 (Dave Malloy)

Sandra, Liz, Wendy: Hansen
Liz: This for me usually has less to do with quality than with ear-worminess, and lately, I cannot get "Sincerely Me" out of my head for more than an hour at a time, and when it goes away, it's only so "So Big/So Small" can get in there for a while to take a turn tormenting me. So there you have it.


Actor, Play
Denis Arndt, Heisenberg
Chris Cooper, A Doll's House, Part 2
Corey Hawkins, Six Degrees of Separation
Kevin Kline, Present Laughter
Jefferson Mays, Oslo

Sandra: Kevin Kline. It's his Fish Called Wanda moment....but on Broadway!

Liz: Oh, MAN what a revelation Denis Arndt was. Truly a magnificent performance that came and went too quickly and too early in the season. Would but that a huge upset be in order for this one. If not, though, whatever, they're all fine, yay to whoever wins.

Wendy: Chris Cooper.


Actress, Play
Cate Blanchett, The Present
Jennifer Ehle, Oslo
Sally Field, The Glass Menagerie
Laura Linney, The Little Foxes
Laurie Metcalf, A Doll's House, Part 2

Sandra: Laurie Metcalf. She deserved a Tony, as well, for The Other Place. She'll get it this year.

Liz: I too suspect--and hope very much--that it'll go to Laurie Metcalf.

Wendy: Laura Linney.


Actor, Musical
Christian Borle, Falsettos
Josh Groban, Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812
Andy Karl, Groundhog Day
David Hyde Pierce, Hello, Dolly!
Ben Platt, Dear Evan Hansen

Sandra: Josh Groban surprised me with the depth of his performance, but Ben Platt will win.

Liz: If it doesn't go to Ben Platt, we are without a doubt living in the bizarre upside-down world I've secretly suspected we've been stuck in since the November election.

Wendy: Yup, it'll go to Platt.


Actress, Musical
Denee Benton, Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812
Christine Ebersole, War Paint
Patti LuPone, War Paint
Bette Midler, Hello, Dolly!
Eva Noblezada, Miss Saigon

Sandra, Liz, Wendy: Bette Midler! Another easy one! But Sandra gives a special shoutout to Denee Benton, who made her feel much the same way Audra McDonald did years ago in Carousel.


Featured Actor, Play
Michael Aronov, Oslo
Danny DeVito, The Price
Nathan Lane, The Front Page
Richard Thomas, The Little Foxes
John Douglas Thompson, Jitney

Sandra: Nathan Lane.
Fun fact: Lane made his Broadway debut in the 1982 revival of Present Laughter!

Liz: Hell if I know with this one, but I'd love to see Thompson take it.

Wendy: Danny DeVito.


Featured Actress, Play
Johanna Day, Sweat
Jayne Houdyshell, A Doll's House, Part 2
Cynthia Nixon, The Little Foxes
Condola Rashad, A Doll's House, Part 2
Michelle Wilson, Sweat

Sandra: Cynthia Nixon, who will edge out the two Doll's House nominees

Liz and Wendy: Condola Rashad.


Featured Actor, Musical
Gavin Creel, Hello, Dolly!
Mike Faist, Dear Evan Hansen
Andrew Rannells, Falsettos
Lucas Steele, Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812
Brandon Uranowitz, Falsettos

Sandra and Wendy: Gavin Creel.

Liz: Mike Faist.


Featured Actress, Musical
Kate Baldwin, Hello, Dolly!
Stephanie J. Block, Falsettos
Jenn Colella, Come from Away
Rachel Bay Jones, Dear Evan Hansen
Mary Beth Peil, Anastasia

Sandra: I'm torn here between Jen Colella and Mary Beth Peil.

Liz: Rachel Bay Jones.

Wendy: Jenn Colella.


Scenic Design, Play
David Gallo, Jitney
Nigel Hook, The Play That Goes Wrong
Douglas W. Schmidt, The Front Page
Michael Yeargan, Oslo

Sandra and Wendy: David Gallo.

Liz: Nigel Hook. Why hasn't "Nigel" become popular in the states like "Simon" has? Just wondering.


Scenic Design, Musical
Rob Howell, Groundhog Day
David Korins, War Paint
Mimi Lien, Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812
Santo Loquasto, Hello, Dolly!

Sandra, Liz, Wendy: Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812. Sandra rightly notes that the brilliantly immersive set is an important part of what makes this musical sing.

Costume Design, Play
Jane Greenwood, The Little Foxes
Susan Hilferty, Present Laughter
Toni-Leslie James, Jitney
David Zinn, A Doll's House, Part 2

Sandra and Liz: David Zinn

Wendy: Jane Greenwood.


Costume Design, Musical
Linda Cho, Anastasia
Santo Loquasto, Hello, Dolly!
Paloma Young, Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812
Catherine Zuber, War Paint

Sandra and Liz: Linda Cho. The costumes? Like butter, but not nearly as smeary.

Wendy: Catherine Zuber.

Lighting Design, Play
Christopher Akerlind, Indecent
Jane Cox, Jitney
Donald Holder, Oslo
Jennifer Tipton, A Doll's House, Part 2

Sandra: Jennifer Tipton.

Liz: Christopher Akerlind.

Wendy: Donald Holder.


Lighting Design, Musical
Howell Binkley, Come from Away
Natasha Katz, Hello, Dolly!
Bradley King, Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812
Japhy Weidman, Dear Evan Hansen

Sandra, Liz, Wendy: Bradley King.


Direction, Play
Sam Gold, A Doll's House, Part 2
Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Jitney
Bartlett Sher, Oslo
Daniel Sullivan, The Little Foxes
Rebecca Taichman, Indecent

Sandra: Sam Gold. Lots of predictions have Sher winning this one, but I hope they're wrong.

Liz: What Sandra says, but for Ruben Santiago-Hudson.

Wendy: What Sandra says, but for Rebecca Taichman.


Direction, Musical
Christopher Ashley, Come from Away
Rachel Chavkin, Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812
Michael Greif, Dear Evan Hansen
Matthew Warchus, Groundhog Day
Jerry Zaks, Hello, Dolly!

Sandra and Liz: No one works with space quite as brilliantly as Chavkin does. She's incredibly deserving for how deftly she fills a huge theater with a piece born in a tiny Off Off Broadway house.

Wendy: Michael Greif.


Choreography
Andy Blankenbuehler, Bandstand
Peter Darling and Ellen Kane, Groundhog Day
Kelly Devine, Come from Away
Denis Jones, Holiday Inn
Sam Pinkleton, Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812

Sandra: Andy Blankenbuehler, whose dances were the best part of Bandstand.

Liz: Maybe Pinkleton? No idea on this one.

Wendy: Peter Darling and Ellen Kane.


Orchestrations
Bill Elliott and Greg Anthony Rassen, Bandstand
Larry Hochman, Hello, Dolly!
Alex Lacamoire, Dear Evan Hansen
Dave Malloy, Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812

Sandra: Larry Hochman.

Liz and Wendy: Alex Lacamoire.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Soot and Spit

JW Guido and Ensemble; Photo: Nina Wurtzel
Five years in the making, Our Voices' world premiere of Soot and Spit at the Ohio Theatre tells the story James Castle, a profoundly deaf man born in 1900, who makes a life of his art despite those seeking to discourage him -- redefining what it means to be disabled: something the production does as well.

Playwright Charles Mee (Obie winner, Big Love), who calls himself "an old crippled white guy" in the program notes, and Kim Weild (director and musical staging)--whose brother Jamie, deaf since birth, has also communicated through drawing--showcase diversity in both topic and casting with the lead role deftly played by deaf actor JW Guido (artistic director for New York Deaf Theatre) and two ensemble members (Karen Ashino Hara and Chris Lopes from "Orange Is the New Black") who have down syndrome. Bent over, curving his back like a Neanderthal, Guido shows Castle as stubborn and caustic, yet relentless in his drive to produce art.

The production offers a landscape view of Castle's life and uses bluegrass music (by John Hartford -- a self-taught fiddle player, with original compositions/orchestrations by Daniel Puccio), dancing and multimedia projections of Castle's artwork to give insight into his silent world. The malleable yet simple set by Matthew Imhoff transforms from Castle's home to his school to picnic grounds easily and becomes a film screen filled with written narration and 150 images (out of nearly 20,000) of Castle's artwork when needed.

Castle, who spent less than five years in school and never learned sign language, used soot from his fireplace and spit to create his art after his family was instructed by his old headmaster "to keep paper, pens, and inks away from him" and to "not to let him spend his time drawing" so he could learn to speak and sign. Mee intersperses local community moments, such as picnics and gunny sack races, amid Castle's childhood and adolescence, creating a palpable link to the artist's isolation in a world that exists around him. Unfortunately, the play lags at times -- especially during the second act where Castle's art comes alive around him -- when scenes become repetitive and difficult to understand. Ultimately, though, Mee educates us in a moving story about this almost forgotten artist whose perseverance inspires as much as his art does.

Produced by The Archive Residency, a collaboration between New Ohio Theatre and IRT Theater. 

Running time: 80 minutes. Through June 17 at New Ohio Theatre (154 Christopher St. in NYC). Performances are Wednesdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. Special ASL interpreted performances for Soot and Spit are on June 8 at 7:30pm & June 10 at 2 pm, with an autism-friendly performance on June 17 at 2 pm.
  
For more information, visit http://NewOhioTheatre.org

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Animal

[spoilers throughout]

Watching Clare Lizzimore’s play Animal is an odd experience. You never quite know what’s going on, because Rachel, the main character, is unraveling, and partially because parts may or may not be real, or symbolic, or hallucinations. Unfortunately, the show—at least at the early preview I saw—doesn’t inspire the audience to spend much energy figuring things out.


(I don’t usually present my opinions as “the audience’s.” However, a lot of people fell asleep during the show. In the first row, an older man kept conking out, and his wife kept waking him up. Sometimes she’d have to nudge him a few times to get him to regain consciousness, and then he'd fall back to sleep anyway. She only gave up when she too fell asleep. It can’t have been fun for the actors.)

So, back to Rachel. She’s tired of taking care of her husband’s mom and actually commits elder abuse. She flirts with a crook who breaks into her home. She refuses to cooperate with her therapist.

Then it turns out that she isn’t really her husband’s mom's caretaker; instead, she has an infant child. The crook who breaks into her home is a hallucination with amazing abs. The therapist is real, but, in order to maintain the play's mystery, Lizzimore has him fail to mention that Rachel has post-partum psychosis until the big reveal at the end. The play would be way more interesting if we knew the diagnosis sooner. As it is, the play varies from boring to vaguely annoying. Only the scenes with the therapist work. (And there’s no way that anyone is letting this woman take care of a kid!)

Rebecca Hall is onstage throughout, talking and talking. It’s an impressive performance, but it’s also a lot of work for little return. Greg Keller as the therapist does a fine job. And the young Fina Strazza, as one of the more interesting hallucinations, gives a poised, subtle performance. The other actors are hard to judge as their roles are odd, at best.

The design is minimal, the lighting is fine, the costumes are appropriate. It’s difficult to judge the direction as it’s difficult to care.

Wendy Caster
(third row, tdf ticket)

Friday, June 02, 2017

In Memory of David Bell

Earlier this year we lost David Bell, respected playwright and Show Showdown cofounder, way too young (he was in his early 40s). If you'd like to read reviews of his play, The Play About the Naked Guy, click here, here, and here. To read a New York Times article on the founding of Show Showdown, featuring David, click here.


Aaron Riccio, an early Show Showdown contributor, has this to say:
David Bell was one of the humblest, most sincere people I ever had the pleasure of meeting, and I didn't even know him nearly as well as others, despite working with him on Show Showdown back in 2006. Back in the earliest days of this blog, we all had different motivations for covering theater, but David's--probably because he was also working as a playwright--came out of a loving and genuine place. He loved theater, and if you were abetting in that, he probably loved you a little, too. My relationship with David was largely professional--or whatever the word is for three guys racing to see the most theater in a calendar year--but it was always a joy to run into him at a performance, to get to hear his unique take on a show. And that, ultimately, is why I'll most miss David: he was a unique voice, taken far too soon.
Rest in peace, David Bell.