Not being able to trust one’s senses is disorienting.
It could be said that Florian Zeller’s new play, The Father, at MTC’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre through June 12th, is about a man whose disorientation is the reason he can’t trust his senses.
Andre (Frank Langella) rages against his diminishing capacities. He recalls and imagines things that have not happened and cannot remember those that have.
Zeller’s conceit is to immerse the viewer in Andre’s dissonances. Characters, whom we may not recognize, appear, furniture and paintings disappear. (The elegant set is by Scott Pask.)
Strobe lights flicker between scenes. (Jim Steinmeyer is the illusion consultant and Donald Holder is responsible for the lighting and its effects.) Christopher Hampton’s translation makes excellent use of the ellipses, leaving thoughts suggested and unsaid.
Andre bullies his daughter, Anne (Kathryn Erbe) and bellows at home aides. He can be charming and flirtatious, as he is with one aide, Laura (Hannah Cabell), to whom he takes a liking. Andre is enfeebled by his growing dementia, but his leonine command is not weakened. There is no sentimentality in The Father, a clear-eyed portrait of a man accustomed to having his way as he loses his grip.
Anne knows that her father is a difficult man, and while she is saddened by the state he’s in, she is also tense and angry. Erbe conveys these emotions with complete equanimity. Andre’s collapse is watched over by Anne, her boyfriend Pierre (Brian Avers), an unnamed Man (Charles Borland) and Woman (Kathleen McNenny). Most of the people surrounding and supporting Andre are calm against the storm of his tantrums.
The Father is a very good play, but Langella’s performance makes it a great one. In one moment, his Andre is endearing, in the next unsettled, then intimidating. Andre, likely projecting his own tendency to browbeat, feels menaced by Pierre and by the Man.
Doug Hughes has directed this flawless cast so that we, the audience, internalize the emotions that Andre feels in The Father. Langella’s striking portrayal could so easily slip into overwrought melodrama, but Langella keeps Andre genuine and real.
Langella may be due for another Tony for this strong sinuous performance. Don’t let the strength of this central character distract from the excellent cast assembled here.
Just when it looked like Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamiltonwas an early shoe-in for the 2016 Tonys, a new sensation comes down the pike. Shuffle Along or, the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed, with previews which began in March and set for an April 28th opening at the Music Box Theatre, would be a revival but for the brand new book by George C. Wolfe. Wolfe frames the ground-breaking 1921 show within the back story of how it came to be.
Of course, despite it’s pedigree and interesting premise, chances are that nothing will unseat Hamilton, which just also won a Pulitzer, from the top of the Tony list. However, Shuffle Along…did get the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for BEST MUSICAL; Hamilton received the 2015 prize.
In May 1921, Shuffle Along…, a new musical conceived by Flournoy Miller and Aubrey Lyles with music and lyrics by Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle, became the unlikeliest of hits, unlikely because this was an African-American musical revue.
Miller and Lyles’s story for Shuffle Along was about a mayoral race fixed by one of the candidate’s campaign managers, and the ultimate overthrow of the elected official by Harry (“I’m just wild about Harry!”) Walton. Even though much of the comedy depended on minstrel stereotypes, Shuffle Along legitimized African-American talent for the Broadway stage, proving to producers and managers that audiences would pay to see black actors, singers and dancers.
Our 2016 version of the show stars Audra McDonald, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Billy Porter, Joshua Henry and Brandon Victor Dixon, with choreography by Savion Glover. Everyone associated with the production is a household name in theater circles.
In the three years following its opening at Daly’s 63rd Street Theatre on May 23, 1921, 9 musicals created and performed by African-Americans opened on Broadway.
Shuffle Along came to be treated as a template, which had the disadvantage of limiting black-themed shows from straying from the pattern it set. Nevertheless, it gave black performers and writers as well as other artists a wider acceptance on the main stem. Some scholars have credited “Shuffle Along” with starting and inspiring the Harlem Renaissance.
Waiting for that perfect fresh-made pie to come out of the oven offers a kind of thrill. Anticipating Waitress-The Musical had a similar exhilirating effect. The latter is now at Broadway’s Brooks Atkinson Theatre, having had a widely successful opening on April 24th.
To add to the sweetness, Jessie Mueller is the lead, the pie inventing Jenna in Waitress. Nick Cordero (a treat in “Bullets over Broadway”) plays her husband, Earl.
Mueller originated the role of Carole King in “Beautiful,” for which she won the Tony. We like to think we “discovered” her opposite Harry Connick, Jr. in “On A Clear Day, You Can See Forever,” one of the strangest musicals ever (but that is grist for another discussion.)
Sara Bareilles’ music and lyrics have lovingly turned Adrienne Shelley’s sad and sweet indie film into a bright pop-inflected musical. The libretto is by Jessie Nelson with choreography by Loren Lotarro. The project, which is a fine tribute to the talented Adrienne Shelley, who was murdered before her movie was released, is under Diane Paulus’ direction.
Most theaters have given up on the pre-curtain warnings. Everyone should know by now. Those that continue to try to keep the peace in the auditorium generally have a cast member make the announcement. Often, audiences are cleverly asked to turn off their cell-phones in order to preserve the period of the show they are about to see.
The Tony for Best Request, however, goes to Waitress, where the warnng was put to song with a deadline– ‘by the time I finish.’
The Tony nominations will be officially broadcast on the morning of May 3rd, with Patina Miller and Andrew Rannells doing the honors. We’re making a couple of presumptious predictions ourselves.
Neither the smalltown-friendly allure of Waitress nor the bright shine ofBright Star, nor the big concept of Shuffle Along… can take the prize from Hamilton.
The contest for Best among musicals leading ladies is always one that excites, and this year is no exception.
Audra McDonald is a powerhouse performer with 6 Tonys to her credit. Jessie Mueller is a Tony winning actor whose charm shines in every role she takes. These two are the likely contenders for the 2016 Best Lead Actress in a Musical, with Bright Star‘s Carmen Cusack giving them a long-shot’s run for the gold.
Stephen Karam (whose The Humans continues at the Helen Hayes on Broadway) is rising to the Chekhov challenge for Roundabout’s 2016-17 season. He has adapted Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, in which Simon Godwin will direct Diane Lane and an as yet unnamed cast.
Cagney: tough guy in soft shoes: “Ma, I’m on top of the world,” could have been a quote from Cagney’s life. He started in the slums of New York, and ended as a household name. He worked in Vaudeville and went on to star in many an iconic movie.
Cagney, making its cross town transfer from the York Theatre began previews at the Westside on 43rd Street on March 16th and now is in an open run. In Cagney, Robert Creighton reprises his role as the song-and-dance man turned Hollywood superstar.
Evening – 1910 comes roughly out of the same era as that of the young Cagney. Playwright, songwriter and director Randy Sharp and songwriter, guitarist and longtime Blondie member Paul Carbonara have teamed up to create Evening – 1910, a new musical about an immigrant to 1910 New York and a Bowery theater facing eviction as Edison’s kinetoscope makes vaudeville old hat. Their point of departure for this new musical is the earlier one about the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, Solitary Light. The world premiere of Evening – 1910 is presented by the Axis Company, of which Sharp is the founding Artistic Director, from April 28 – May 28.
Tennesee Williams’ Orpheus Descending gets a rare revival, directed by Austin Pendleton, from April 23 to May 14th, at St. John’s Lutheran Church. Williams’s modern recreation of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice opened on Broadway in 1957 and was revived in 1989 in a celebrated production directed by Sir Peter Hall and starring Vanessa Redgrave. It has rarely, if ever, been produced in New York since.
Another rarely produced play will be presented by Voyage Theater Company from May 5th through 14th.August Strindberg’s The Pelican, is a little known psychological drama about a greedy mother who lets her children go hungry while she lives a life of luxury. Directed by Charles C. Bales and Wayne Maugans (actor in Broadway’s August: Osage County), the production runs just 75 intermission-less minutes. Strindberg’s familial tragedy is as shocking today as it was in 1907.
On the other hand, new plays are the subject on April 21st at the annual Writers Block Party at The Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse in the Samuel B. & David Rose Building. Presented by and for the benefit of The Playwrights Realm, led by Katherine Kovner, Artistic Director, and Roberta Pereira, Producing Director, Writers Block Party will celebrate its ninth anniversary with MCs Vella Lovell (“My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”) and Hubert Point-Du Jour (Sojourners).
William Kernen spent 27 years in baseball both as professional player and coach, before turning to a career as a playwright in 1997. Kernen spent two years studying at Columbia University under the instruction of Eduardo Machado. Kernen’s play And Other Fairy Tales…was a finalist in the Oglebay Institute National Playwriting Competition. In April 2001 his play, Galleria degli Angeli was produced in New York at The Independent Theatre, with first-time director Kernen at the helm. In 2005, his script In the House of Athazagora, was produced as a short film, which Kernen also directed.
Then, Kernen went back to coaching in Division 1 college baseball, building a brand new program from scratch at California State University, Bakersfield. In June 2015, Kernen again retired from baseballand returned to NYC to write and direct in theater and film.
Gallery Of Angels, Inc. brings the world premiere production of William KernenísAnd Other Fairy Tales…, directed by Kernen at The Workshop Theater from April 28 through May 22nd.
They’ve won awards for presenting little known musicals, but this year, Astoria Performing Arts Center (APAC) is presenting the Tony-winning The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee from May 5th through 28th. The musical, which runs 2 hours with one intermission, is at the Good Shepherd United Methodist Church in Astoria.
For more information about the production, please visit apacny.org.
Note: There are, as of today, April 19th, only 13 performances of Stupid F**ing Birdleft to catch at the Pearl Theatre.
Stupid… is Aaron Posner’s “sort of” adaptation (his words, not ours) of the Chekhov classic soon to be in repertory with Georges Feydeau’s The Ding Dong at The Pearl in mid March. Posner’s play is the 2014 recipient of both the Charles MacArthur Award for Outstanding New Play or Musical and the Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Resident Play.
Note that it is only coincidental that a 2014 MacArthur nominee was Michael J. Bobbitt for Three Little Birds which premiered at the New Victory Theatre last February, and that Marc Acito, one of the writers for Broadway’s Allegiance, won in 2012 for Birds of a Feather. Neither Three Little Birds, which is based on a Bob Marley song, nor Birds of a Feather, which is about Central Park Zoo penguins, is based on a work by Chekhov.
Pan Pan, an irreverent Irish theatrical company, is launching …Other Birds at the Abrons Playhouse from March 23 through April 2. Their interpretation reimagines The Seagull in a variety of genres, from straight classic play to YouTube. Chekhov’s play in …Other Birdsis integrated with works by Dick Walsh, Derrick Devine, Gavin Quinn and Dan Riordan specially commissioned by the company. This US premiere production will give audiences an unique take on the comic masterpiece.
Other examples of the challenge that Chekhov, perhaps unwittingly, still sends to playwrights so many years after he has left the stage abound. In the fall of 2014, Donald Margulies revisited Chekhov with his The Country House (at MTC starring Blythe Danner).
In another interesting variation on the theme, a chamber opera about fulfilling a Chekhov stage direction from The Cherry Orchard. The sound which Beethoven and Quasimodo both try to recreate is “impossible” because it is one of nostalgia for something lost or missing or not existent. This doomed collaboration is the premise in The Hunchback Variations, A Chamber Opera, which was at 59E59 Theaters in the summer of 2012.
Sometimes the music and movement are so in synch that any other dance steps seem unimaginable. Ideally, such inevitability is in all dance works no matter how many combinations come to mind. This score and this choreography are destined for each other.
Justin Peck delivers this kind of feeling in his piece, Heatscape, set to a Bohuslav Martinů concerto. The vigor of the dance and the confidence of the composition meet in perfection. The youthful and exuberant Miami City Ballet is an ideal messenger of Peck’s exciting work, which they brought to life during their Lincoln Center debut from April 13th through the 17th.
Martinů, a modern Czech composer with a classical temperament, seems to have created his Concerto No. 1 for Piano and Orchestra (composed in 1925)for Peck’s classically inspiredand very modernHeatscape. In Heatscape, there are tweaked echoes of famous ballet tropes. Once our hero finds his swan, it’s not easy for him to keep tabs on her. Energetic partnering is a hallmark of Peck’s work, and it is well featured in this work.
Fate seems to have played a hand in bringing Lowell Liebermann to Liam Scarlett for his 2012 work, Viscera. The choreographer has also designed the costumes for this piece, dressing his ballerinas in elegantly plush bathing suits. Viscera is set to Liebermann’s Piano Concerto No. 1, classical with a modernist sensibility.
Miami City Ballet was born to perform Ballanchine. Almost literally so. Founded in 1985, under the artistic direction of Edward Villella, a principal with George Ballanchine’s New York City Ballet from the mid 1950s, retiring as a performer in 1979, MCB, currently under the Artistic Direction of Lourdes Lopez (also a former principal with NYCB), cultivates
the Ballanchine technique and showcases his works.
Balanchine’s Bourrée Fantasque gives 42 of MCB’s dancers the stage to show off their artistry. Set to the music of Emmanuel Chabrier, whose work GB admired greatly, Bourrée Fantasque was one of the first pieces Ballanchine created for his newly-formed New York City Ballet in 1949. MCB tackles the witty piece with its usual style and aplomb.
To follow the Miami City Ballet, whose rare visit to New York ends today, April 17th, go to miamicityballet.org/
As you read this, Dance Theatre of Harlem has left the building. For those of us who are NYC-centric (guilty), it is sad to see the DTH New York season at City Center end and good to look forward to 2017.
Of course, DTH is still touring, although the schedule is short for now. In mid May, the 14th and 15th to be precise, they will perform at the Virginia Arts Festival in Norfolk. From there, they come to Princeton’s McCarter Theater on May 18th.
For those who will be catching the company on the road before their return to the Big Apple next year, the repertoire is filled with breathtaking presentations.
This review of just a small sampling of the pieces the 14 member company performs is meant to keep us hungry for more DTH.
Spoken word over electronica is generally not music that makes my heart sing. Nacho Duato’s Coming Together, set to a compostion by Frederic Rzewski, captured me from the start. With its irresistible bounce, Coming Together is thoughtful and thought-provoking, despite the dark origins of its text. Duato created the piece, which DTH premiered April 8, 2015, in 1991 for Compania Nacional de Danza in Madrid. Along with the choreography, Duato is responsible for the costumes and sets in this distinctive and engaging “I think” piece.
A stalwart of the DTH repertory is the decidely crowd-pleasing Return, created in 1999 on commission by Robert Garland, a former principal with the company and also its former Artistic Director. Garland was also DTH‘s first Resident Choreographer. Returnis set to songs sung by James Brown and Aretha Franklin. It is a classic ballet with a sexy funk sensibility.
Can you frug en pointe? Shimmy while doing pirouettes? Would you do the pony or the mashed potatoes on your toes? The dancers of DTH, 12 of whom take the stage to perform ballet to Franklin’s “Call Me” or Brown’s “Superbad” most certainly can. Garland said that the style of Returnis “post-modern neoclassicism.” He calls it an “attempt to fuse an urban physical sensibility with a neoclassical one.” I beg to differ, not an attempt, Mr. Garland, a huge success!
To those of you lucky enough to be seeing DTH during the next 12 months, I confess I am jealous!