We have given up a lot to the coronavirus. For our own safety and that of those around us, we voluntarily restricted our freedom of movement (#Stay_Home) and our love of congeniality (#SocialDistancing). We traded our daily routines of work and cocktail hour for being at home and meeting via Zoom. We have become shutins and anti-social. We don’t go out except to walk six feet apart from others, just for the sake of getting some air.
What we give up when we indulge in at-home theater viewing is
1. the live-actors-in-real-time theater experience
2. the 4th wall
2a. “great seats”
3. the chance to go out, dress up and make a night of it
4. the spontaneity of a flubbed line and a good save
1. The action is pre-recorded, or, if contemporaneous, involves only one actor
2. The distance between you and the stage is filtered through a screen.
2a. You still have the best seats in the house.
3. You may well be in your pjs, as so many of us are these days, or workout clothes.
3a. Your dinner may have been oreos or a box of mini-wheats.
4. If there is a flub or a falter, it ceases to be spontaneous once taped.
5.. You are likely watching alone on a laptop or tablet.
5a. At most, you are likely part of an audience of 2.
The privacy of your home is a sanctuary into which you are bringing a sacred event. Cool. But not the same as experiencing theatrical expressions in a theater space.
As I said in a recent post, theater artists also yearn to stay active, contribute and engage in what they love. Audiences are part and parcel of what they love to do. Broadway World is sharing updates about shutdowns and “Living Room Concerts” with me as well as “Songs from the Vault” and “157 Musicals and Shows You Can Watch Online.” Their “Broadway Rewind” took me down memory lane to some productions I really enjoyed over the years.
Roundabout Theatre Company sent an email with encouraging tidbits, including this montage from last season’s Kiss Me Kate:
Dance Theater of Harlem reached out with a newsletter on their 50 Forward which includes a video of a signature dance by Louis Johnson, who died in March, created by him for the company in 1972. Forces of Rhythm remained in the DTH repertory alongside works by Arthur Mitchell and George Balanchine.
New York Theatre Workshop’s email announced Virtual Programming; it is no great wonder that these companies are also looking for donations to help them tide over in these tough “shutdown” days. It is remarkable how much creativity is being put to alternative use!
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.
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!
There are those who do not believe that anything happens by accident. Dr. Freud most famously disdained the idea of the inadvertent.
For instance, it is a matter of fact and history that my husband has crossed paths with several composers of pop tunes. Meeting famous people is a trick of Burt’s. We have spoken to stars like Jerry Stiller, and Burt sat next to him at Avenue Q when it opened on Broadway. He spoke to Stiller’s old castmate, Jerry Seinfeld at the Brooklyn Diner as well. Burt shook hands with Donald Sutherland on a New York street, and with Debbie Reynolds in Vegas back in the day, just to name a few.
On his pop circuit, Burt came in contact with the famous early on. Joe Shapiro was head of the English Department at Lafayette High in the 1950s. Shapiro’s hit song (written with Lou Stallman) was Round and Round, recorded by Perry Como and topping the charts in 1957. Also hitting #1 was Stallman and Shapiro’s Treasure of Love (1956) but for some reason there was less buzz over that Drifters hit in the school corridors when it did.
Manny Kurtz was related to one of Burt’s neighbprs. His Let It Be Me was a big success, Recorded by The Everly Brothers and Elvis Presley (among others) it hit the top of the pop charts more than once. Kurtz worked as Mann Curtis and Manny Curtis as well, and it turns out has a very extensive and impressive discography.
Some years later, when Burt met his first wife, it turned out, she was also related to the pop world through a cousin. The name Phil Spector is both infamous and famous. His pop star bona fides range over many decades of rock and roll. Spector has known a lot of the greats in his career.
The biggest of all the musical stars was one Burt met as a teenager, One of his boys dated Carol Klein for a while. They all hung out in Flatbush, Brooklyn. Her name in lights today is Carole King. Coincidently, we ran into her when she was on her way to her starring role in Blood Brothers on Broadway (she replaced Petula Clark during the musical’s run.) Naturally Burt introduced us. That was very exciting, and isn’t that justBeautiful.
Everything has an origin story, and Chicago, The Musical, has one in this 1926 play. Maurine Dallas Watkins provided the inspiration for the show that’s been running on Broadway since forever. Like it’s lead characters, Chicago had a rocky start, opening June 3, 1975 and closing two years later on August 27, 1977; it reopened in revival in November of that year in the West End and then hit Broadway with a flair. Ann Reinking, using the Fosse style, choreographed the revival under Walter Bobbie’s direction to resounding success.
Watkins wrote Chicago for a class assignment at the Yale School of Drama. It, too, went on to have a resounding success, not least because it provided the story for the musical. The story of Roxie Hart and her fellow inmates also inspired a 1927 film named Chicago and in 1942 one named after our anti-heroine. Watkins’ version of her the tale was based on her coverage on the crime beat of the Chicago Tribune, and opened on Broadway in 1926, where it lasted for just 172 performances, under the direction of George Abbott. It’s after-life is a matter of record.
The Gingold Theatrical Group (GTG) will perform the play that spurred the famous Broadway hit on Monday, July 23rd at Symphony Space at 7pm.
Theater reflects who we are in broad strokes and microcosms. Our identity as a people can be seen in the diversity on our stages.
This year we’ve been introduced to many American families. The Profanebrings us two Muslim-American families in a powerful version of the old theme of star-crossed love. Zayd Dohrn’s play depicts conflicts between secularism and adherence to religious traditions. It also reveals how practitioners on either path are ultimately assimilated into America. It is who we are, a nation of many different faiths and backgrounds.
If I Forgetpresents a similar dilemma of identity for a Jewish-American family, for whom the crisis centers on an allegiance to Israel.
Bella: An American Tall Tale casts a look backward at the role of African-Americans have held in our culture. Unsung contributions loom large in this musical celebration from playwright Kristen Childs. (Bella…plays at PHnyc through July 2nd.)
Napoli, Brooklyn shows an Italian-American family at a time of social flux with the matriarch admonishing herself to speak English even in her talks with God. (This Roundabout production at the Laura Pels Theatre runs through September 3rd.)
Sweat, Lynn Nottage’s take on the working classes, gives us another glimpse at what defines America. The Pulitzer Prize winning drama, which closes today at Studio 54, focused on laborers in a Pennsylvania factory; united by work, but still divided by race. America still has not found its post-racial moment; perhaps now more than in the previous nearly dozen years, it is less likely to reach that ideal.