In no way does humor (or a good beat) trivialize the necessity for a cognizant citizenry. Theater can use the power of laughter to foster and encourage us towards a better world. Ionesco was a most politically conscious satirist. Conscience leads the way to express the ideals a regressive government attempts to suppress.
Theater aspiring to inspire has always been with us. Many of us feel the need now more than ever for a side order of politically awareness with our drama. We can be grateful to the many theater artists who look to elucidate while they entertain.
This season, for instance, the New York Musical Theater Festival (NYMF) has several galvanizing works on offer. In Leaving Eden, for instnace, Jenny Waxman (Book and Lyrics) and Ben Page (Music) ask us to envision a more progressive creation (myth) than the strictly Biblical one.
Donald Rupe (Book and Music) and Cesar de la Rosa (Music) offer a historical perspective inFlying Lessons, in which their heroine, an eighth grader named Isabella finds a “recipe for greatness” by looking to the past.
George Bernard Shaw was a forward thinker, and Project Shaw which celebrates his legacy in one-night only productions is showing The Stepmother by Githa Sowerby, a protege of GBS, on July 22nd. The play will undoubtedly present a case for a more “woke” world from a 1920s stance.
This is a short list of a few upcoming shows that offer a vision for a better world. (Click on each to find out where/when to get tickets.) The number of allegories and presentations that have graced our stages over the years is long. Woke theater shows us how matters civic and social sh/could unfold.
Lack of Tony® love has done to The Prom what it usually does. The show, with music by Matthew Sklar, lyrics by Chad Beguelin, and a book by Bob Martin and Beguelin and based on an idea of Jack Viertel, is set to close on August 11th.
At the Walter Kerr, across the street from the unappreciated The Prom (the cast and creatives got nods but no statuettes) is Tony® darling Hadestown, There, you will see lines waiting for tickets by lottery early on any given day. (Actual ticket distribution for Rush is around 5pm, so the folks sitting outside the theater at noon are really eager.) The musical’s ticket price skyrocketed thanks to the warm welcome it got at the Awards ceremonies. André De Shields was not the only winner from the cast of this musical, written by Anaïs Mitchell and developed with director Rachel Chavkin, also a winner that night. The scenic designer, Rachel Hauck, and the sound designer, jessica Paz, also won for their contributions to the musical as well.
Of course, if you must close, you must. The Ferryman, Broadway’s Best Play of 2019, is closing tomorrow, July 7th. Tickets for the play put it in the million dollar range over its run. Tickets for Sunday’s final performances run at $224 and up.
It’s expensive to mount a Broadway production, and that explains some of the high prices. There is also a reseller’s premium for some of the hotter shows, of course, but also the fact that demand drives costs allows the producers to write their own ticket, as it were. In fact, for the 2018-19 season, audiences ponied up an average of $123.84 for a seat at a Broadway show.
The survival of the American Songbook may well depend on youngsters like the talented Anderson Twins who keep it strong.
Each summer, the Andersons, Will (alto sax) and Peter (tenor, soprano sax and clarinet), join forces with stalwarts like Vince Giordano, Paul Wells and Molly Ryan to namedrop just a few to represent the songbook in much of its rich variety.
Here they are again to head up the Songbook Summit 2019 at Symphony Space in mid August. This year’s iteration covers the music of Duke Ellington (August 13-15) and Louis Armstrong (8/21-23).
The brothers may be young, but Peter and Will have been doing this for some years. They apply their expertise and training to performing the standards along side the older-timers on the bill.
The Andersons have a wit, style and finesse that permeates their performance and their curations. Join them later this summer to hear them and their colleagues perform tributes to just two of America’s prolific and inventive composers.
What is the Straight Pride Parade, I ask myself as I read Jamie Benson’s email. Subject line: “Queer Comedy Duo Reacts to Straight Pride Parade with “The Straight Man Celebrates Gay Pride” on June 29th.”
I Googled the “Straight” part of this new meme and found that there are many protests to its offensiveness. It is the elitist equivalent to “White Lives Matter” as if the #BlackLivesMatter movement takes anything away from people not of color. As if it could? Power and privilege really do put some of us at an advantage.
Inclusiveness or inclusitivity needs more practitioners.
Save yourself the fare for the trip to Boston where you will be ridiculed for your life choices and poor behavior, and go instead to see Jamie Benson’s comedy duo, The Straight Man (TSM-Hannah Goldman and Benson) and others.
Their program The Straight Man Celebrates Gay Pride is at the PIT (People’s Improv Theatre) on June 29th at 9:30pm.
The comedy duo and friends perform throughout the year as well. Says Jamie Benson, co-producer of TSM: “Considering that NYC comedy is still dominated by straight males, our search for queer comedic sanctuary is still so damn relevant. It’s a sad need that we’re filling with joy.”
Finally, Shakespeare is playing with the big boys. As a businessman, he probably would have welcomed all the attention he still gets. As an artist, he might have been fascinated by the “strange new world” in which theater can be turned into a CGI experience.
There is a burgeoning technology, called weARlive, developed by Technodramatists, a new company that combines technological innovations with drama.
It uses something described as a “face-sync application” and is being premiered by their Technodramatists Performance Laboratory ; weARlive allows one actor to take on many roles through animated creations motion-captured in real time.
Their first production using weARlive is Error: A Comedy Of, in which actress Claire Tyers is the live action model for the avatars of all the characters in the play, based on the Bard’s original.
Note that the emphasis here is not on the technical but on the artistry. Artfully intelligent applications of the new are a tradition in the theater, but the new today is much more surprising than it was in, say ancient Greece when cranes were introduced as the “Deus Ex Machina.”
Be prepared to be astounded and awed at TheaterLab where the latest in technological artistry will be presented by Technodramatists beginning June 6th through June 22nd .
Family Man, Sliding Doors, and the Broadway musical If/Thenall take a deep dive into questions of alternate realities. They involve shifting time, as does the Sandra Bullock-Keanu Reeves romance The Lake House to slightly disparate effect.
Sliding Doors and Family Man are films which explore what might have been by letting it happen to Gwyneth Paltrow and Nicolas Cage respectively. Similarly, If/Then let Idina Menzel experience a different life if she made different life choices. (The alternate reality I would have liked to see is for the musical play to be honored with a Tony in its 2014 bid.)
It is a giddy fact that the divergent paths the hero or heroine takes leads to different outcomes for him/her in each of these works. Makes you wonder what you might have done had you done differently!
Of late, I’ve had this urge to see theater at the Park Avenue Armory as if I had never been there. In fact, I did see a play there. And what an iconic one it was. The Park Avenue is a sterling setting for avant garde productions and this one was decidely ahead of its time.
My namesake multi-room drama, Tamara which landed here in November 1987 from Hollywood where it went after its debut in Toronto. At the time, the structure and approach were very novel. The play was an in-situ production, making use of the space, and having the audience confront it as they moved about from room to room. Immersive theater was a relatively unusual construction for the theater when John Krizanc wrote Tamara.
The award-winning play was performed wherever a large house could be converted to a villa, as at an American Legion post in LA where it lasted for a nine-year run by public petition for constant extensions, despite near weekly notices that it was on the verge of closing.
John Krizanc’s play is based on a historical moment when Gabriele d’Annunzio invited the painter Tamara de Lempicka to his villa in Lombardy, Il Vittoriale degli Italiani. The painter hoped for a commission to paint a portrait of the poet. He hoped she would lend her voice to his universalist political ideals; de Lempicka maintained her materialist stance.
To experience Tamara, one had many choices. Stay in one room and “overhear” the actors’ conversations as they enter. Follow an actor in and out of the rooms of Il Vittoriale. You may wish to switch and stay with a different character after a while. Or, after following an actor to a different room in the villa, you may choose to stay in that room and wait to see what transpires.
In New York, the fascinations of all these possibilities had it running for five years. When I saw it, I wandered through the rooms of the set to easedrop on the actors as they came and went. Trying to piece together the plot lines made the audience an “actor” in Tamara as well.
Its form as a puzzle proved to be an enduring and fascinating element in the play’s international success. It was revived in 2003 in Toronto on its 20th anniversary, and staged for a mere six weeks in 2004 at a landmarked synagogue in Pittsburgh.