Theatricality is a fraught concept. It can just be dramatic and thought-provoking, or it can be over-the-top, dramatic and thought-provoking. Kristen Childs has written a musical that is theatrical to the nth degree. Bella: An American Tall Talealso gives us a little slice of African-American history mixed in with the fable.
Politics and theater are getting a bad rep. Actually politics and their practitioners have had a reputation for honesty meaning any means that is necessary, aka I’ll lie if I have to, and theater has always been a forum for exposing truths. Ms. Nixon stirred the political pot a tiny bit in her acceptance speech at the 2017 Tony Awards Ceremonies. Now, it is the mixing of politics into theater that has caused quite the controversy (see what is happening with The Public’s Julius Caesar for instance.) It is unwarranted. Art is meant to comment on our realities.
At any rate, one of those realities, Lost and Guided, a play by Irene Kapustina about Syrian refuges in their own words, is on view at Conrad Fischer and The Angle Project, at Under St Marks (94 St. Marks Place, from August 3 through 27th. For tickets, click here.
A similar but perhaps more intitmate project is The Play Company’s Oh My Sweet Land another look at the Syrian refuge crisis. The play is due to launch this fall in private homes and communal spaces where people have been invited to host this multi-sensory experience. Those wishing to participate by providing a venue can do so by filling out the questionnaire here. Nadine Malouf stars, perhaps in your own kitchen, in Oh My Sweet Land, a play developed by Amir Nizar Zuabi with German-Syrian actor Corinne Jaber.
Shakespeare wrote plays reflecting timely events, for his time and all times. This may explain why The Public is in such hot water over their production of Julius Caesar. The brouhaha, perhaps like the staging, is way out of proportion. In Measure for Measure, Shakespeare also explores issues to do with power and justice. Theatre for a New Audience is presenting a new modernized staging by Simon Godwin from June 17th through July 16th. Tickets for this show which will be held at Polansky Shakespeare Center in Brooklyn are available at TFANA’s website.
Henrik Ibsen had his own take on both the personal and the political. For instnace, Ibsen’s drama, An Enemy of the People is a play about populism and its discontents.
An Enemy of the Peoplecomes to us from the Wheelhouse Theater Company under the direction of Jeff Wise, at the Gene Frankel Theater, beginning June 9th and running through June 24th is conceived as a meditation on the “tyranny of the majority.”
Following on the success of Ibsen’s feminist tale as revisited by Lucas Hnath in A Doll’s House, Part 2, see the US Premiere of Victoria Benedictsson’s 1887 Swedish original, The Enchantment in a new English translation and adaptation by Tommy Lexen. Ducdame Ensemble introduces us to the woman behind Ibsen’s Nora; Benedictsson, who wrote under the pen name Ernst Ahlgren, was not only Ibsen’s inspiration but also Strindberg’s for Miss Julie. The Enchantment opens at HERE on July 6th, with previews beginning June 28th.
Dystopia is the normal atmosphere of an Ibsen play. It is poignantly a main event in the classic 1984. George Orwell’s novel in which Big Brother government controls its citizens has been turned into a play by the same name. The play by Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan was first performed in 2013 at England’s Nottingham Playhoouse. 1984 , a place where mind control involves convincing us that up is down, “freedom is slavery,” is now at Broadway’s newly renovated Hudson Theatre, with an opening on June 22nd, and starring Olivia Wilde and Tom Sturridge.
The Hamilton “phenomena,” I contend, can actually be blamed on The Producers.
The Mel Brooks musical was lauded, and expected to win a lot of the many nominations it received. It did. Susan Stroman had a lot more to work with in the zany plot, choreographing pensioners, than Andy Blankenbuehler did with his Founding Fathers. They could be expected to dance, perhaps, a sedate quadrille. At any rate The Producersset a record in Tony wins, and everyone expects there will be another such production every year.
Best of luck to all the nominees who will be at the ceremonies tonight, June 11th at 8pm. Televised on CBS, with Kevin Spacey as the host, the Tony is always a good show.
If you are a theater-goer and a New Yorker, it’s hard to resist the annual Tony ceremonies. It’s a dapper show, and even at 71 years, young and vibrant.
The broadcast on CBS at 8pm on June 11th will show you excerpts from shows you loved, and some from those you have yet to see.
Some reasons to watch
James Earl Jones is to be honored for his Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre. That in and of itself is a lot to celebrate! I first saw him in The Great White Hopeopposite Jane Alexander and most recently in You Can’t Take It With You. I had a chance to speak to him briefly since then when I encountered him as a fellow audience member at 33 Variations.
There will be production numbers from the productions in contention for a Tony Best.
It’s always a grand show. (See 2, and 1. above.)
The talented Kevin Spacey will host.
You’ve seen every play and/or musical nominated, and several that should have been but weren’t. You’re curious.
Work exhausts while giving the worker a sense of purpose and fulfillment. This is especially true of physical labor and its practitioners.
When Lynn Nottage’s characters in Sweat, at Studio 54 through November 19th, lose their jobs, and hit the picket lines, they are unmoored. Sweatis a working class story, of friends who share their lives on the factory floor and then relax at the bar over which Stan (James Colby) presides.
The characters in Sweatinclude two young men, Chris (Khris Davis) and Jason (Will Pullen) and their mothers, Cynthia (Michelle Williams) and Tracey (Johanna Day) in scenes that go back and forth starting with Jason and Chris with their parole officer, Evan, (Lance Coadie Williams) in 2008, and going back to the bar in 2000. Rounding out the cast are Oscar (Carlo Albán), in a pivotal way, Brucie (John Earl Jelks) and Jessie (Alison Wright.)
The actors all work hard to make us see them as factory laborers, and they succeed well. We engage in the life stories the characters tell but those seem distant. We don’t connect not just because we don’t share their workplace experiences, but because they are more representatives than individuals to which we can relate. There is, however, a mystery set up at the beginning of Act One which we look to solve.
The play under Kate Whoriskey’s direction transferred from The Public Theatre in March. Johanna Day and Michelle Williams have been nominated for a Tony as Best Featured roles. Sweat is in contention as the Best Play for 2017.
Lynn Nottage is not afraid of hard work. For Sweat, Nottage researched the background for her scenario, as she has for her previous projects. In her past plays she has honored her grandmother who toiled behind a sewing machine (Intimate Apparel, which won off-Broadway accolades in its 2004 run); in the equally well-received By The Way, Meet Vera Starkshe looked at the roles of black women in Hollywood’s heydey. Nottage is a two-time Pulitzer Prize winning playwright; in fact the second win was with Sweat, which won her the prize this year. (Ruinedwon the 2009 Pulitzer. )
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.
It’s a familiar scenario. Sometimes ringside seats come with that invitation to meet the senior faculty.
George(Tracy Letts) and Martha (Amy Morton) are at it again in “Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,”in a fiftieth anniversary revival through February 24th at the Booth Theatre. Theirs is a combative love story.
Tracy Letts as George, Carrie Coon as Honey, Amy Morton as Martha being subdued by Madison Dirks as Nick and in “Edward Albee’sWho’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? “ Photos by Michael Brosilow.
George and Martha duke it out in a battle royale over the course of one long and boozy night while Honey (Carrie Coon) and Nick (Madison Dirks) watch sometimes helplessly, sometimes actively. At first both Nick and Honey seem to be victims of the whirlwind that is Martha. While Honey seems oblivious, but Nick is an avid participant in the kind of games academics and battling marrieds play.
“I would divorce you,” Martha tells George, ‘if you existed.” Their huffing and puffing definitely blows this house down. This is an epic production of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.”
Tracy Letts as George, Amy Morton as Martha and Madison Dirks as Nick and Carrie Coon as Honey in “Edward Albee’sWho’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? “ Photos by Michael Brosilow.
Edward Albee, whose plays have won him a great deal of recognition– several Pulitzer, a couple of Tonys and one for Lifetime Achievement in The Theatre in 2005,– has brought recriminations and vituperation to the level of art in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”.
In its inaugural production in 1962, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” won the Tony Award. This season, “Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,” on Broadway by way of Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company and directed by Pam MacKinnon, is on pace to once again grab some prizes.