Among the end of summer rituals is the revving up of the theater season. New plays will open at the subscription houses, Broadway will host revivals and original productions; the fall will be the time to re-start.
Just as the fall brings new plays to our attention, so the summer sees old ones run their course. Here’s a list of what you need to catch up on before school starts:
Finding Neverland fits one of my favorite themes. It is another example of a musical undaunted by Tony denial. The production wasn’t even nominated and they survived well over a year! That is about to come to an end, and soon, when the show closes at the Lunt-Fontaine on Sunday, August 21st. It sets off for a national tour, beginning October 11th inm Buffalo.
That day, the 4th of September, will also be the last performance of the Les Mizproduction currently at the Imperial Theatre. The epic Les Miserableswill be missed, but we know we’ll raise a glass to its return.
Fun Home will depart Circle in the Square after its final performance on September 10th.
Meanwhile,Cats has slinked into the Neil Simon, opening for a limited run through January 15th. Jogs the “Memory,” when some 40 years ago, I sat on the stage of the Winter Garden to watch T.S. Eliot’s poetry turned to motion in the original Broadway production.
The ever bouyant and dramatic Phantom, another Andrew Lloyd Webber invention, continues to startle in its long-term home at the Majestic.
Among the more resilient musicals around is still Something Rotten!, which tall-tells the history of all musicals nightly (and twice on Wednesday and Saturdays) at the St. James.The musical, which was also light on TONY recognition in 2015 when it opened, is holding ticket lotteries even as we write.
Sort of like Hamilton, but… tix for the Perfect $10 are still a lot harder to score.
You don’t have to go very far afield to find someone who disagrees with your assessments. Such disagreements, like charity, often begins at home.
By Edwin S. Porter (YouTube) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
This is the critic’s dilemma: if you cannot get those nearest and dearest to you to buy your point of view, how will you convince the larger public to accept your criticism. How do strangers feel about what you have to say? Can they trust your guidance? Will they?
Entertainment merits a very personal response. Let’s face it, there are many human beings involved in the giving and the getting.
The author creates characters, who, as anyone who has written knows, sometimes take off with their own stories. The actors, with the counsel of the director, people the plotlines and add spice and dimension. There are many other hands involved, designers of sets and lighting, sometimes musicians, and the helpful stage managers, in making a play the thing worthy of our time and attention.
The critic is the least of the equation. And like any audience, he/she is not passive. No one in theater seats is a blank slate, absorbing what the playwright, the actors, the designers, the director have put before them. You, and I, may react to something viscerally, or you may reject it outright. On a different day, and wearing a different outfit, I might respond differently to what I see. My interpretations are personal and individual, and subjective.
Their twelve wins no one’s topped
Even with just 11, Ham can’t be stopped
Try and get a ticket to see it, now– no!
That’s okay, it’ll still be there when you do go
It’s an annual ritual at VevlynsPen.com to have me flail around guessing who the winner will be on TONY’s big night. I am often wrong, and occassionally right. Congratulations, for instance, to Roundabout’s She Loves Mefor a best for sets designed by David Rockwell.
But the business of TONY is a double-edged sword. The awards celebration attracts audiences– Hamilton, we might point out, did not need the boost– andthose not getting an award…
Berry Gordy, Jr.’s career in music started when he sold a song to Jackie Wilson. It culminated when he sold the hit-making empire he built and named Motown to MCA in 1988. Motown artists and their images were carefully cultivated. Gordy co-wrote 240 songs for the catalog, which was bought by Polygram for over $330million in the early 1990s. Business aside, Gordy’s recording company became a legendary musical genre.
That musical style, the artists nurtured by the company, and its creator are celebrated in Motown-The Musical, based on Gordy’s memoir, To Be Loved, and written and produced by Berry Gordy, Jr.
Motown… had its original run in March of 2013, and is currently in revival at the Nederlander Theatre, and runnng through the end of this month.
In Motown…, the high-spirited portrayals of Gordy by Chester Gregory and the supreme Diana Ross by Allison Semmes enhance the bio-musical’s plotline, which relies a little too heavily on history for its backstory. Motown… is about the entertainers who gave us the most recognizable sound of the 1960’s.
Mr. Gregory gives a well-balanced performance as “the Chairman,” Berry Gordy, Jr. An exhilirating highlight of the production is Ms. Semmes’ Ross in her first solo appearance in Las Vegas, a sequence that asks for a happy moment of audience participation.
There was a time when Detroit rolled out great big cars, and an even bigger sound. The music of the Motor City was humming in everyone’s ears, and playing “with a brand new beat” on and off the Billboard charts.
Berry Gordy’s memoirs turned into “Motown The Musical,” now at the Lunt-Fontaine Theatre, based on Gordy’s book To Be Loved: The Music, The Magic, The Memories of Motown, are condensed to bring us up to the 25th Motown Reunion in 1983. His Hitsville USA studios brought an exciting new formula to
pop music. Motown records was modeled after the assembly lines of Detroit automobile factories where Gordy had worked.
Berry Gordy, Jr.’s (Brandon Victor Dixon) glam vision added lavish costumes and complicated dance moves to the “short stories,” as he put, in the songs his writers created. Gordy gave each of his groups their own persona– “The Temptations,” “The…
First, Karam’s The Humans transferred from off-Broadway to Broadway, where it won the 2016 Tony as Best Play. Now, it is transferring to the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre. The original review from December 2015 of the play when it first appeared at the Laura Pels is below:
Does it seem like dysfunctional is the new normal?
Stephen Karam’s The Humans,playing at Roundabout’s Laura Pels Theatre through January 3rd, might have better been named Family Festivities, or At Home with Brigid and Rich –(two possible and still lame alternatives) –as it is, it is still more than worthy of our attention.
The people gathering at Brigid Blake’s (Sarah Steele) new duplex apartment in a Chinatown basement are there to celebrate Thanksgiving. Her live-in boyfriend, Richard Saad (Arian Moayed). who is doing the cooking, is contentedly overwhelmed by her clan and their rituals. As a backdrop to the goings-on, Grandma “Momo” (Lauren Klein) mutters dementedly and somewhat angrily throughout dinner.
To call the Blakes dysfunctional is perhaps overstating the case, although Brigid’s dad, Erik (Reed Birney) might be harboring a wretched secret, while her sister Aimee (Cassie Beck) is mourning a breakup from a bad relationship. Their mother, Deirdre (Jayne Houdyshell) foists religion–not so good-naturedly– on her children. It’s easy to relate to Karam’s family drama with its sense of familiarity.
Although I find that The Humans is an off-putting name for a play, at least for this play, this is just a quibble. The Humans is engaging and well-written.
Joe Mantello gives the afternoon, and its aftermath, in The Humans a leisurely naturalistic pace. David Zinn’s two-tier staging makes The Humans feel both expansive and claustrophobic in its confinement.
The production is “Broadway-esque” and Broadway-worthy, and headed for the “great white way” in 2016.
The ensemble are luminous, with Houdyshell, Steele, and Birney stand-outs in an outstanding cast.
Discord is so natural to the human condition that we are often shocked when matters are settled amicably.
Branden Jacobs-Jenkins does not go so far as to find a peaceable solution for his characters in War, playing at LCT3 through July 3rd, but he looks at issues of race, mortality, and identity in his family saga.
Roberta (Charlayne Woodard) is in a coma after a stroke and her children, Tate (Chris Meyers) and Joanne (Rachel Nicks) find a stranger, Elfriede (Michele Shay) at her bedside. Elfriede uses the little English she knows to tell them that Roberta is her sister.
In the meantime, Joanne’s husband, Malcolm (Reggie Gowland) calls from Roberta’s apartment to say that he’s found a prowler there. Tobias (Austin Durant) is Elfriede’s son. They have travelled from Germany to meet Roberta. For Elfriede, the journey is emotional; for Tobias it is transactional.
Like Tobias, Tate is caught up in considerations of finance. He sees the Germans as usurpers. Joanne sees them as people in need. The outstanding Lance Coadie Williams rounds out the cast in two roles, as the domineering Nurse and the authoritative Alpha.
Jacobs-Jenkins indulges in the trendlet of breaking the fourth wall. In his case the surreal and supernatural, integral to his story is aided by Roberta’s addressing the audience. His is not a realistic play.
Under Lileana Blain Cruz’s direction offers what is nearly an out-of-body experience. The techno effects, with lighting by Matt Frey and sound by Bray Poor, and a minimalist set by Mimi Lien, conspire to give Warits raw, and visceral power.
A handshake between Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin inspired J.T. Rogers to create Oslo, a play about the backdrop to the peace accords. Oslo is at Lincoln Center‘s Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, under the direction of Bartlett Sher, with a cast that includes the
charismatic Jefferson Mays, the wonderful Jennifer Ehle, and the dynamic Daniel Jenkins, and playing through August 28th. The large ensemble also features Michael Aronov, Anthony Azizi, Adam Dannheisser, Dariush Kashani, and Jeb Kreager.
Osloexplores the events that led up to the iconic moment in 1993 when peace in the Middle East seemed possible. The inevitable unravelling and descent into strife is a depressing reality today. It might be nice to go back to more hopeful times.
Ofttimes, once the curtain rises, it’s the costumes I remember. They are the shorthand trigger of what the dance I am about to see will be.
This is not an infallible guide, as it was not with Christopher Wheeldon’s Estancia at New York City Ballet the other day. (The gaucho-rich costumes by the designer Carlos Campos, have a touch of J. Crew; the horses are sleekly outfitted for–under the circumstances– maximum stagey realism.)
A WILD RIDE
We last saw Estancia when it premiered in 2010, so the memory lapse can be forgiven. Or perhaps it should not. Estancia is brilliant, lively, original and a wild love story. A huge brava to Ana Sophia Sheller for her portrayal of the wild Country Girl who tames Adrian Danchig-Waring’s wonderfully danced City Boy. Wheeldon has set the piece to the Alberto Ginastera composition commissioned in 1941 by Lincoln Kirstein. Since his American Ballet Caravan disbanded in the next year, Kirstein never got the chance to have Balanchine choreograph. There is plenty of exotica on the pampas on which Estancia is danced; there are cowboys, and city slickers, peasant girls and wild horses (one of whom is danced by Amar Ramasar) and a singer (Stephen LaBrie) in the style of flamenco.
A GALLERY TOUR
Pictures at an Exhibition, set for New York City Ballet in 2014 by Alexei Ratmansky to Modest Mussorgsky’s piano concerto, is artsy, but a touch overly long. Not on a list of personal favorites, but it executes a clever concept, and is well danced by the company.
The cast are costumed, by Adeline Andre, in painterly outfits. Wassily Kandinsky’s “Color Studies…” are the background, in projections created by Wendell K. Harrington and lit by lighting designer Mark Stanley.
Everywhere We Go, Justin Peck’s second dance created for NYCB (in the spring of 2014)set to music by Sufijan Stevens, suffers from mood swings. These, however, cannot detract from the buoyant mood in which the piece has already put you from the moment it opens. Everywhere We Go is exuberant as it opens, and its excitement and energy is infectious, even heart-stopping. In the seventh or eighth movement, the nine-part dancework lurches into a depression. Everywhere We Go is still exhilarating, just seems to be a little less upbeat.
Among the many thrills offered up by Everywhere We Go is the pleasure of seeing Robert Fairchild and Amar Ramasar partnering. Peck is a master at this kind of male-bonding, but, with 25 dancers on stage, he gives us much much more to enjoy.
In ballet-making, as in all things in life, younger hands must eventually prevail and take over. It is progressive, and these new sensibilities need to be heard. Justin Peck can be counted upon as one of this new band of dancemakers, as can the new-to-me Nicolas Blanc, whose Mothership takes off with a distinctly electro tempo, provided by the music of Mason Bates.
In Belles-Lettres, Justin Peck uses costumes to paint a picture in which the drama of the music is reconstructed in the drama of the steps. The piece is set to Cesar Franck’s Solo de piano avec accompagnement de quintette à cordes.
The Most Incredible Thing is another Peck costume drama. Set to commissioned music by Bryce Dressner, this piece was preceded by enough hype to lift an air balloon aloft. All the hype is true and well-deserved. It is not just the 50 dancers on the stage that make this a BIG ballet. The Hans Christian Anderson fairy-tale is clothed by Marcel Dzama, supervised by Marc Happel, for maximum odd effects.
Classic meets modern
Peter Martins, @NYCBallet’s Ballet Master in Chief, has choreographed a great number of works for the company, including the overwhelming lovely Barber Violin Concerto .
She steps into his embrace, and this being ballet, the embrace is more intimate than you would normally expect. When they switch partners, one couple is wild and tender, while the second take great effort in their relationship.The conceit in this energetic and stirring piece is ballet’s flirtation with modern dance.
For many of the new wave of choreographers, the flirtation has become a collaboration, with modern steps and moves heavily incorporated into their ballet creations.
Brain matter, preserved or degenerating, makes for interesting study.
Nick Payne’s Incognito, at Manhattan Theatre Club’s City Center Stage I through July 10th, analyzes and dissects, as it were, the ideas of individality/personality and cognition/memory, along with many other entertaining propositions.
Much of the plot of Incognito hinges on the theft of Einstein’s brain and goes full circle, with 4 actors portraying 21 characters in rapid and fluid succession. The story has basis in fact: Dr. Thomas Harvey (Morgan Spector) actually did take the brain with the intent to see what genius looks like, and kept it with him for the next 40 years; it appears he did not find out much in the course of his “studies,” but you will find out a great deal from Payne’s fascinating play.
Questions of sexual identity, loss and recollection are all touched upon in the course of the exciting and novel short theatrical piece. It’s as if a science-philosophy lecture came to life on the stage.
The ensemble work is beautifully orchestrated in Doug Hughes direction of Geneva Carr, Charlie Cox, Morgan Spector and Heather Lind.
Incognito is clever, unexpected and dramatic. It maybe the most interesting and unusual piece of theater you witness for a long while.
Please visit MTC’s site to learn more about and get tickets for Incognito.