Posted in musical, Musical drama, musical theater

Swing time

5007History lives through the music of an era and its lessons often resonate  with us across our own times.

Bandstand, at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre in an open run takes us back to the swing era just after WWII. America is on a road to recovery, as veterans are returning from overseas battles.

5025Big-band music, written by Richard Oberacker (music, book and lyrics) and Robert Taylor (book and lyrics), is a welcome and original addition to the big Broadway musical mix. Bandstand, with orchestrations by Bill Elliott and Greg Anthony Rassen, is indeed, as it claims, The New American Musical. Jazz is the all-American musical idiom, after all, and this blockbuster is jazzy.

The music devised to cheer up a post war world offers a big backdrop for a big-hearted theatrical feast.

5019On its face, the story has an old-fashioned movie plot feel, but Bandstand goes much deeper. Donny Novitski (Corey Cott) comes back from fighting overseas to create a band with his fellow vets. He teams his band mates with a lovely war widow, Julia Trojan (Laura Osnes) and enters them in a national contest. He intends to win. After this, lots happens to change it from the ordinary. Suffice it to say, you will enjoy the twists, which we won’t reveal.

The band Donny puts together include the level-headed Jimmy Campbell (James Nathan Hopkins) and the charismatically off-the-rails Davy Zlatic (Brandon J. Ellis). Each man leads him to another one who served. Nick Radel (Alex Bender) is an ambitious horn player. The shell-shocked Wayne Wright (Geoff Packard) attempts to reset the world by tidying everything he touches. Johnny Simpson (Joe Carroll) still keeps time with his drums, but is locked in to a moment in time.

5008Donny’s–check that– their fallen comrades people their on-stage memories and act as inspiration for the band.

Each of these talented actors plays his instrument in the on-stage band, backed by a full-pit orchestra under Fred Lessen’s baton.

The songs that Rob Taylor and Richard Oberacker have created for the show move the story along, and tell it in so many special moments. Julia’s mother, Mrs. June Adams (the wonderful Beth Leavel) has one great one, when she encourages her daughter with a particularly apt tune, “Everything Happens” in the second act.

Bandstand is directed and choreographed by Tony-winner (for choreography for Hamilton) Andy Blankenbuehler.  Both his direction here and his choreography for the large ensemble are memorable. The Jacobs theater is chock-full with talent, and sound, and dancing. In fact, this joint is jumping. Watch the jitterbug explode on stage.

The costumes by Paloma Young are terrific; the sets by David Korins magically represent the places in the story.

In emotional and stirring roles, Osnes and Cott are overwhelming and genuine, as are the rest of the cast. Of course, they also shine as musicians and singers. Bandstand is a thrill and a gas.

For more information about and tickets for Bandstand, The New American Musical please visit http://bandstandbroadway.com/

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Posted in Gala, Keen Company, Manhattan Theater Company, New York City Ballet, Paul Taylor American Modern Dance, Paul Taylor Dance Company, Playwrights Horizons, riff, Roundabout Theatre Company, The Mint Theatre

Raising funds

KeenGala
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Ticket prices are a frequent topic of discussion among theater-goers. Not much wonder when the cost of a seat to see Hello Dolly! or Hamilton for instance can go as high as $1600+. Of course, the savvy buyer will find tickets for these attractions at better prices as well. Even the less hyped Broadway show sells in the range of $99 (discount for the orchestra) and $239 (premium). I get it, it’s expensive to mount a Broadway attraction. When a show closes before its scheduled time, the producers don’t get back their investment.

The fact that the arts are a business in no way detracts from their art. In any given season, despite the iffy-ness of ROI, there are some 35+ (this 2016-17 season, it’s 39) productions put on the Broadway stage.

For the for-profit theater, revivals and transfers of off-Broadway hits seem like the better bet. Musicals always seem to drive the market, although I read a stat that those who go to musicals, generally go to 4 vs those who like a straight play see 5 in the same period.  The not-for-profit houses have different mandates: Playwrights Horizons produces new, often commissioned, work, for instance.

On the other hand, The Mint revives plays that have not seen the stage for a long while, with the motto, “Lost Plays Found Here.”

The struggle to get investors to back a project can be complicated. Predicting the public’s taste can be a risky business. For producers, raising money for each production involves looking beyond their own pocket. Theater Resources Unlimited (TRU), for instance, has an annual bootcamp for perspective investors.  This past February the workshop was called Raising Money for Theater: Who, How and When to Ask. TRU offers seminars on the business all year round.

Ticket prices at the profit-making theaters are certainly a ticket to recouping the cost of mounting a production. How do the not-for-profit productions–both on and off-Broadway– make ends meet? Concerns over government defunding of the arts makes this year a particularly critical one for the not-for profit theater and its counterparts in dance.

Asking for money becomes an art of its own. Inventive ways of getting donations crop up all the time. A gala is, often, called for, and will attract a reasonable amount of money. Galas usually include dinner and a chance to mingle with the talent after a performance. Some galas have themes, like for instance the Ballet Hispanico’s 2017 Carnival Gala Celebrating Trailbrazing Latina Leaders which honors Rita Moreno and Nina Vaca. The black-tie event is on May 15th at the Plaza Hotel.

The honored guest is a standard approach. Keen Company, a subscription house with a long history off-Broadway, for instance, holds its 2017 Benefit Gala on May 22nd with guests Molly Ringwald and Amy Spanger. The Pearl Theatre Company and Playwrights Horizons are under similar constraints to raise funds beyond the monies brought in by subscribers by throwing parties for patrons and offering opportunities to support them.
The latter brings Patti Lupone, Christine Ebersole and Kelli O’Hare to the Playwrights Horizon gala on May 8th. The Pearl offers classes through its Conservatory.

1TrusanvoecGoodePrintempsMost of the dance troupes hold Galas at season kickoff; for New York City Ballet this corresponds with the Fall and the Spring openings. Paul Taylor American Modern Dance generally has theirs on the second night of performance each spring at the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center. (The theater is in itself an example of major fund-raising efforts, with Koch having paid for a renovation of the house which is home to @NYCballet and visiting dance cos.)

Youth America Grand Prix galas are a little like a serues of awards ceremonies. (We’ve talked of past YAGP galas on several occasions at VP.com.)  The American Ballet Theater, although they have a gala as well,  takes a slightly different approach to year round fundraising. It has patrons supporting dancers, an individual member of the troupe can be billed as being sponsored by a donor.

Love Love Love OFF BROADWAYDRAMA LAURA PELS THEATRE 111 W. 46TH S., NEW YORK, NY 10036 Sparked in the haze of the 60s, Love Love Love explores a relationship charred by today's brutal reality, paranoia and passion. Starring: Richard Armitage, Alex Hurt,Subscription tickets are supplemented by sales of regularly priced tickets but that is far from enough to cover the costs of running a theater. Roundabout Theatre Company and MTC hold benefit evenings, inviting their subscribers and other patrons to dine with theater luminaries. Second Stage are holding their “Spot On” gala with honorary chair Bette Midler on May 1st. They also hold an annual bowling with the artists event; you can’t spell fundraising without fun.

10. Pearl_Vanity Fair(c)Russ Rowland
(L-R) Debargo Sanyal, Joey Parsons, Kate Hamill, Ryan Quinn, Tom O’Keefe. Photo by Russ Rowland in The Pearl’s production of Vanity Fair.

Subscription houses depend on membership support (see the Pearl’s program of offers) to be able to offer their programming; subscribers are asked to give a little more. Seat-naming is another popular–and fairly democratic– way to bring cash into the house; the average donor can generally afford to put a plaque on a seat. On a grander scale, we have patrons who fund an auditorium or a theater (see David H. Koch above) or a patron’s lounge. Sometimes the sponsor is corporate like American Airlines for whom Roundabout’s 42nd Street house is named. With sponsorship come other perks, of course, like good seats, and access to staff.

Theater is a demanding artform. Give a little, get a lot.

Posted in family drama, Playwrights Horizons, politics, Roundabout Theatre Company

Identity Politics

Identity is both personal and political.

For the Fischer family in Steven Levenson’s new play, If I Forget, closing at the Laura Pels on April 30th,  the realities of their identity are fraught.

Of the siblings, Michael (Jeremy Shamos), sees the Jewish Studies he teaches at an university from the perspective of liberal politics gone awry. He is not observant, and his book on Jewish ties to Israel is causing a rift with his sisters, Sharon (Maria Dizzia) and Holly (Kate Walsh) and their father, Lou (Larry Bryggman). Michael also feels that the connection to Israel that his non-Jewish wife, Ellen Manning (Tasha Lawrence) encourage in their daughter is not in keeping with his beliefs.

To suggest that this is a controversial position for a play on a Jewish subject to voice is a gross understatement. The subtlety of Michael’s arguments is lost on his family, but not on the audience.

Rounding out the cast of characters in this excellent production under Daniel Sullivan’s direction are Holly’s husband, Howard Kilberg (Gary Wilmes) and her son Joey (Seth Michael Steinberg).

If I Forget is thoughtful and thought-provoking, although it loses some credibility with a mystifying and seemingly mystical ending.

For tickets and information, please visit the Roundabout production’s website.


“Staying out of the dark ages,” as Michael would have it, may be the cri du coeur for secularists of all stripes.

The ProfaneMarch 17, 2017 – April 30, 2017 Peter Jay Sharp Theater Written by Zayd Dohrn Directed by Kip Fagan World Premiere 2016 Horton Foote Prize winner
Francis Benhamou and Tala Ashe in The Profane by Zayd Dohrn at Playwrights Horizons. Photo by Joan Marcus.

In The Profane, playing at Playwrights Horizons through May 7th, identity is as much a tetter-totter for the Arab-American Raif (Ali Reza Farahnakian) who has distanced himself from his heritage, and his daughter Emina (Tala Ashe) who is running to connect with it, as it is for the Fischers.

Zayd Dohrn’s intelligent play is inspiring and provocative. (For my more in depth analyses, click here, or here, or here.

For moe information and tickets, please visit PHnyc’s website.

Posted in Daily Prompt, dysfunction, family drama

Little glass figurines

via Daily Prompt: Opaque

The Glass Menagerie
Sally Field and Joe Mantello in The Glass Menagerie at the Belasco through July 2nd. Photo by Julieta Cervantes.

In memory, everything is swathed in a delicately lovely light. It is not always clear, however, as many of our reminiscences are actually opaque. They are obscured by time, which as Tennessee Williams’ alter ego, Tom Wingfield (Joe Mantello in the current Broadway revival of The Glass Menagerie at the Belasco through July 2nd) says is “the longest distance between two places.”

His memories cannot be outpaced by those of his mother, Amanda (Sally Field) whose fierce devotion to her children and their future are part willful delusion and part artful discernment.

The Glass Menagerie
Madison Ferris-Sally Field and Joe Mantello in The Glass Menagerie Photo by Julieta Cervantes

Even when Amanda reflexively flirts with Jim O’Connor (Finn Whittrock), the “gentleman
caller” she hopes will be there for her daughter Laura (Madison Ferris), we never doubt her loyalty to her children. Amanda cannot resist the impulse to pour on her charm as she did in Blue Mountain in her youth. Her intentions are for Laura to benefit from meeting the visitor Tom brought into their home.

Minimalism is the principle course of action for the stagecraft in The Glass Menagerie. The impetus is to allow the play to speak for itself.

The Glass Menagerie
Finn Wittrock and Madison Ferris (with Sally Field in background) in The Glass MenageriePhoto by Julieta Cervantes

I applaud and understand the method behind the production, though I still do not like its sometimes puzzling choices.

The scenery, designed by Andrew Lieberman, lacks adornment with its centerpiece being a plain table and a neon sign for the Paradise Dancehall. The lighting by Adam Silverman leaves the house lights up for  a full 25 minutes, and then, later, plunges us into darkness for a while. The costumes by Wojciech Dziedzic for the most part look to be the actors’ streetware. .

Memory is clued by a single symbol, triggered by a simple key. Director Sam Gold and his creative team set the stage for it to exercise its power. Williams’ words, and the talents of the cast take it from there.

For more information and tickets, please visit The Glass Menagerie website.

Posted in domestic drama, drama, family drama, revival, Tennessee Williams

Unicorns

Handle with care

Memories are amongst our most personal possessions.

The Glass Menagerie
Finn Wittrock and Madison Ferris in The Glass MenageriePhoto by Julieta Cervantes

The Glass Menagerie, at the Belasco through July 2nd, is Tennessee Williams look backwards with love and regret. His reminiscences could also be said to have the brittleness of glass ornaments.

Amanda Wingfield (Sally Field) lives in fantastical remembrance. Her son, Tom (Joe Mantello) spins a web of care and concern. His sister Laura (Madison Ferris) and a Gentleman Caller, Jim O’Connor (Finn Wittrock) are fragile figments of  Tom’s and Amanda’s collective and conflicting recollection.

Mother Love

 

The Glass Menagerie
Joe Mantello and Sally Field in a scene from The Glass Menagerie Photo by Julieta Cervantes.

Not all overprotective mothers who have delusional expectations for their children are of one kind. We’ve seen Amanda intrepreted in any number of revivals.

Sally Field’s rendition is tender-tough. She has just enough steel to bend when disappointed, and a sense of downtrodden grandeur befitting the role.

The Glass Menagerie is a wondrous articulation of poetry written in prose. As its narrator, Mantello plays Tom as straightforward and unsentimental. He is down-to-earth and practical but not unfeeling.

Unadorned

The Glass Menagerie
Madison Ferris and Sally Field in The Glass MenageriePhoto by Julieta Cervantes

Under Sam Gold’s direction, The Glass Menagerie is presented in bare bones style. Except for a pink ballgown in which Amanda flirts with the Gentleman Calling on her daughter, the actors are for all intents and purposes in rehearsal clothes (costumes courtesy of Wojciech Dziedzic). The minimalism extends to the sets (by Andrew Lieberman) and the lighting (designed by Adam Silverman).

This is one of my favorite of Williams’ masterpieces, but this production is not among my favorites. That is not to say that the cast are not at ease in their characters’ skins; they are convincing and comfortable, showing affection for each other, as the memories unfurl. Like the setting, however, it just all feels too plain, simple and no-frills.

Theirs is an interesting interpretation, of course, and it could be concluded that the simplicity of the decor and costumes, and perhaps even the candle-lit scenes, may force us to concentrate on the words.

My take leans towards the view that rather than underscoring the beauty of the language, the lack of stage embellishments undercuts Williams’ intent.

For more information and tickets, please visit http://glassmenagerieonbroadway.com

 

 

Posted in Daily Prompt, family drama, Playwrights Horizons

Topical

via Daily Prompt: Timely

The ProfaneMarch 17, 2017 – April 30, 2017 Peter Jay Sharp Theater Written by Zayd Dohrn Directed by Kip Fagan World Premiere 2016 Horton Foote Prize winner
Lanna Joffrey & Francis Benhamou in The Profane by Zayd Dohrn, at Playwrights Horizons through May 7th. Photo by Joan Marcus.

At first glance, it seems like a subject ripped from the headlines. In truth it is so much more!

The Profane, Zayd Dohrn’s new play at Playwrights Horizons, extended through May 7th, is about two Muslim-American families, one assimilated, one tied by faith and practice to its community. They are linked by Emina (Tala Ashe), the daughter of the secular Raif (Ali Reza Farahnakian) and Naja (Heather Raffo) who is dating Sam (Babak Tafti), the son of traditional parents.

The ProfaneMarch 17, 2017 – April 30, 2017 Peter Jay Sharp Theater Written by Zayd Dohrn Directed by Kip Fagan World Premiere 2016 Horton Foote Prize winner
Tala Ashe & Babak Tafti in The Profane at PHnyc. Photo by Joan Marcus.

(Click here for a more extensive and previously published review.)

Sam’s mother, Carmen (Lanna Joffrey) wears a hajib. His father, Peter (Ramsey Faragallah), is a successful businessman. Emina’s are intellectuals, tied to Westernized beliefs. Peter and Carmen live amongst other members of their religion.

The result in The Profane is less fatal than it is in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, but it is brilliantly dramatic. Prepare to dispense with your preconceived notions and prejudices.

For more information, and tickets to The Profane, please visit @PHnyc.

Many of you might have noticed that when I am inspired by a theater work, I can’t seem to stop talking about it. That is the case with The Profane, which is also reviewed today at The Wright Wreport.

Posted in ballet, New York City Ballet

Zen fancies: Stay in the present

It sounds like there is some sort of Zen maxim in the name of the
New York City Ballet’s spring season. It features a festival entitled
“Here/Now.” It promotes a whooping 43 works by its extensive roster
of post-Balanchine choreographers. These include Christopher
Wheeldon, Alexis Ratmansky and young Justin Peck. Members of
the troupe, like Justin Peck, Lauren Lovette and Peter Walker, also
contribute dancepieces to the season’s repertory. We’ve witnessed
these imaginativre works each has created before this at there September
20, 2016 premieres and were very impressed.

The Spring programming begins on April 18th with a dash of Balanchine
and Robbins. Then it moves on to the Here/Now festivities and ends with
a touch of the perennial favorite, Midsummer Night’s Dream.

For more information, and to get tickets, please visit www.nycballet.com/