Posted in ambition, anticipation, aspiration, avant garde, based on a true story or event, based on a true story or event and historical documents, based on true events, chronicle, drama based on real events, expectations, fictionalization_of_real_events, historical drama, history, land of opportunity, play, Playwrights Horizons, storytelling, The Debate Society, theater, theater folk

Wonders never cease

The Light YearsPlaywrights Horizons February 17, 2017 – April 02, 2017
Brian Lee Huynh. Photo © Joan Marcus

The 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, properly named the World Columbian Exposition in honor of the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ landing in the Americas, hosted 46 countries and over 25million visitors.

The 690 acres it occupied was a city of industry that represented and presented progress to the world: Juicy Fruit gum, Cream of Wheat and Pabst Blue Ribbon were introduced at the Expo.

A Ferris Wheel, a moving walkway, an electric kitchen that included an automatic dishwasher and printing press for Braille were also innovations first seen at the 1893 Fair.The Colunbian Exposition was also home to a sprawl of original architecture.

The Light YearsPlaywrights Horizons February 17, 2017 – April 02, 2017
Rocco Sisto, Aya Cash and Erik Lochtefeld. Photo © Joan Marcus

In The Light Years, co-written by Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen and directed by Oliver Butler of The Debate Society, this and the subsequent Chicago World’s Fair of 1933 provide the background for a very unusual play. The Light Years  is presented with The Debate Society at Playwrights Horizons where it is playing through April 2nd.

Steele MacKaye (a wonderfully bombastic Rocco Sisto), envisioned an ingenius theater to celebrate the arts at this grand historic event. His 12,000-seat Spectatorium, was designed by the now forgotten theatrical impresario to harness the mechanical and electrical marvels of the time.

The Light YearsPlaywrights Horizons February 17, 2017 – April 02, 2017
Aya Cash, Erik Lochtefeld and Brian Lee Huynh Photo © Joan Marcus

The Light Years is, in part, a love story, highlighted by technology and wonder and spun over 40-years. In it, we are transported to more innocent times, when novelty could inspire and awe was not an unsophisticated or naive response.

In 1893, the story centers on the progress of building and wiring MacKaye’s theater.

Hillary (Erik Lochtefeld in a star turn) and his assistant, Hong Sling (the charismatic Brian Lee Huynh) are the electricians in charge of making the Spectatorium shine. Hillary’s wife, Adeline (the appealing Aya Cash) is a very modern woman, cheerfully pedalling both iced tea and a bicycle.

The Light YearsPlaywrights Horizons February 17, 2017 – April 02, 2017
Aya Cash, Ken Barnett and Graydon Peter Yosowitz. Photo © Joan Marcus

When the scene shifts to 1933, it’s Ruthy (Aya Cash, again) who has to keep her family afloat, flipping pancakes and inspiriting her husband Lou (Ken Barnett, in an excellent awe-shucks mode) through the writing of musical ditties for this Fair’s many commercial enterprises. Their son, Charlie (the already accomplished young Graydon Peter Yosowitz) is smitten with the sensations the Fair promises.

The scenic design by Laura Jellinek and costumes design by  Michael Krass rise beautifully to the majesty of the occasion.

Every part of the theater space is treated to a bit of the performance. There are lights and things that go poof as well as narratives to explicate the drama. The ensemble engage, entertain and instruct.

The Light Years uses some of the devices Steele MacKaye introduced to turn this small-scale production into a grand spectacle.

For more information and tickets, please visit @PHnyc website.

 

 

 

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Posted in adaptation, anticipation, Chekhov, Chekhov interpretations, drama, feminism, Ibsen, Ibsen adaptation, Ophelia Theatre Group, Roundabout Theatre Company, The Pearl Theatre Company

Classics anew

opheliaMankind has had the urge to tell its stories since time immemorial. The stories told in different voices all have universal themes. Theatrical history has a long time-line.

Warping that time-line is also a stage-borne tradition. Retelling Antigone’s
tale, as Ivo Van Hove did at BAM last year, for instance, is one way to honor
theatre’s lineage.

Stephen Karam has been charged with recharging Chekhov’s classic Cherry
Orchard for the Roundabout this season. David Harrower is reworking Ibsen’s
An Enemy of the People into Public Enemy, currently playing through
November 6th over at the Pearl.

Drama poses a problem, offers solutions and catharsis. To that end, Kelly
McCready, an actress and director we recently saw at the Mint in The New Morality ,
has taken on Hedda Gabler. Ms McCready, who has re-imagined this Ibsen and is directing, at the Ophelia Theatre Group , starting on October 27th and running through
November 19th, feels that Hedda is too often maligned. She has cut the play
to 80 intermission-less minutes, and taken Hedda’s side, as an advocate and a
friend. And why not? Hedda should be a feminist hero.

To quote Ms McCready, “This production seeks to throw out preconceptions of
the play and the character herself. This Hedda is just a woman who tries to
make her new life and relationship with Tesman work, but she can’t combat
her circumstances and the expectations placed on her because she’s a woman.
She can’t change any of that.”

BTW, the Ophelia Theatre Group is in Astoria, and Ms McCready also
advocates for the “growing arts community” in this outer borough location.
She says, “Astoria has even earned the nickname “Actoria” in recent years, but
it’s obviously difficult to get audiences to venture far from Manhattan. And
that means people are missing out.”

The tickets for Hedda Gabler are available here; they are gently priced at $18 which should drag some of you from Manhattan to the wilds of, we might point out, nearby Astoria.

In another vein of adaptation altogether is David Stallings’ Anais Nin Goes to Hell, at The Theater at the 14th Street Y from October 14th through the 29th, which takes a comedic turn but looks at feminist icons. Imagine Andromeda, Heloise, Joan of Arc, Cleopatra, Queen Victoria, Ophelia, Karen Carpenter and of course Anaïs Nin, all trapped together in the afterlife. The play was a hit in the 2008 Fringe Festival, and is being re-staged here under the direction of Antonio Miniño.

Posted in anticipation, musical theater, theater, Tony

Contending

BROADWAY MELODY OF 1921

Just when it looked like Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton was 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.

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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.

To learn more about Shuffle Along, or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed, please visit http://shufflealongbroadway.com/

WAITING FOR GOOD PIE

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.

WAITRESS MUSICAL ORIGINAL BROOKS ATKINSON THEATRE 256 W. 47TH ST.
Waitress featuring Keala Settle as Becky, Jessie Mueller as Jenna and Kimiko Glenn as Dawn. Photo by Joan Marcus.

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.

To learn more about Waitress-The Musical, please visit http://waitressthemusical.com/

DEM BELLS….

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 CHANTEUSE

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 of Bright 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.