Summer can mean brisk business on Broadway: Tourists flood midtown seeking a great theatrical experience. But woe betide the show that hasn't gained box-office traction, due to bad reviews, lack of Tony Award love or poor marketing. This week we learned that two shows are closing in coming weeks. First, the Tupac Shakur-scored Holler If Ya Hear Me shutters on Sunday. Notices were mixed but attendance was lousy; last week they only filled 45 percent of the house. Yesterday, an even bigger property threw in the towel: Rocky announced an August 17 end date. Apparently boxing fans would rather see a real bout. Not all the news is dire: A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder is having a smashing summer, with sold-out houses and a box-office take—$901,681 last week—that brings it tantalizingly close to the million-dollar club. Still, summer is long and fall brings a bunch of new shows, so you can bet producers are nervously eyeing advance sales. Looking into our somewhat cloudy crystal ball, we can speculate on who might be getting ready for final bow in January, if not sooner. To be clear: We don't know about any individual show's finances or advance sales, we're just going off box-office trends and instinct. Bullets Over Broadway might be running out of ammunition. It's a harmless, frothy diversion, but there was no critical consensus as to whether smooth gangsters and sexy chorus girls deserved grumbles or chuckles. People seemed to expect more from Woody Allen and Susan Str
TONY exclusive! Solo star Ben Rimalower gets into (his) debt in the new show <em>Bad with Money</em>
Ben Rimalower is getting used to pouring his guts out on stage. Back in 2012, he made his debut as a writer-performer in the hit solo show Patti Issues; though slated for five performances, the play wound up running for more than a year, earning raves and propelling Rimalower to tour it around the country and the world. Now TONY has learned that he will return to The Duplex on September 4 for a two-month run of a brand-new show called Bad with Money. Patti Issues intertwined Rimalower’s love for Broadway icon Patti LuPone with the story of his tormented relationship with his gay father. In Bad with Money, he divulges his secret history of massive overspending, which may sound less personal but is actually more so. The show is described as a “sometimes hilarious, sometimes harrowing” tale of “a journey that takes him through drug addiction, prostitution, fraud and multiple betrayals.” Having seen an early workshop of Bad with Money—Rimalower is a friend of mine—I can attest that this description is true. (Some of the show's breathlessly tragicomic episodes put the graphic in autobiographical.) Debt is a popular subject right now—see Funny or Die’s new web series The Program, a goof on Debtors Anonymous—and although Rimalower’s story is more extreme than most, he thinks people will be able to relate. “Considering how many people suffer from the same problem, it’s staggering how seldom it’s discussed,” he says. Red ink–stained wretches everywhere may have more in common with
If you heard any opera news in recent days, it’s probably about how the Metropolitan Opera is threatening to lock out workers if an agreement isn’t reached with unions by next Thursday. Such an impasse would cause a delay—if not the wholesale cancellation—of the season.While we hope Peter Gelb settles the dispute, we’re here to tell you that the Met isn’t the only game in town. Although many were dismayed by last year’s implosion of New York City Opera, small and resourceful companies exist to put on new work for younger, diverse audiences. These groups hit high Cs in apartments (Loft Opera) and bars (Opera on Tap); they repurpose more obscure chamber works (Opera Moderne); or they incubate avant-garde novelties (Experiments in Opera). Development hubs such as American Opera Projects and American Lyric Theater are crucial to the creation of new repertoire. And the much-admired opera-theater hybrid festival Prototype heads into its third year in January with a fresh lineup. (That includes a world premiere from yours truly. More on that below.)So there’s no shortage of intimate, inexpensive opera to be had. For example, this Saturday night you can catch composer Daniel Felsenfeld’s She, After, a presented by The Secret Opera—one night only in Williamsburg. In this pair of monodramas we follow two 19th-century fictional ladies—Nora of A Doll’s House and Alice of Alice in Wonderland—after their literary adventures have ended. This show especially caught our eye due to the librett
If you have art or design chops and are a fan of The Phantom of the Opera, oh boy, are you in luck. The longest running show in Broadway history (11,023 performances as of yesterday’s matinee) invites you to download a PDF of the Phantom’s iconic mask, then jazz it up and submit to win. Judges will select 26 illustrated masks, which will be displayed in a pop-up gallery on the ground floor of the Paramount Hotel (235 W 46th Street). The 26 artists will also get tickets to see The Book of Mormon. Ha ha! We’re only kidding. You have to see The Phantom of the Opera again (currently starring Norm Lewis, above). Enter The Art of the Mask contest via the show’s Facebook page.
Spending my nights at the theater, I’m cut off from the yoots more than most, but I’ve noticed something recently: plot devices—sorry, characters—that could be lumped together as Evil Millennials. These are twentyish or teenage boys and girls who are having super-unsafe sex while chain-tweeting, preposterously self-confident about their historical ignorance while feeding the consumerist-digital machine and scheming to get older rivals fired in disgrace. Okay, maybe you’re in your forties and I just described an average weekend, but my point stands: Evil Millennials (EMs) are the go-to ciphers/villains of new plays.The latest example is Ethan (Billy Magnussen, above) in Laura Eason’s Sex with Strangers. Ethan is a Tucker Max–type 28-year-old fameball who shacks up with 39-year-old, frustrated novelist Olivia (Anna Gunn). He seduces her, bullies her into e-publishing, and nearly wrecks a career comeback, all the while making us ask, Who is the real Ethan: Manic Pixie Dream Guy or tweet-addled sex maniac?You would expect such terrifying creatures to spring from the laptops of paranoid Gen X or Baby Boomer scribes, but many of these plays are by young writers themselves—which goes to show that in the theater, no one ever lost money by selling out their generation. Movies and pop music are understandably less eager to broad-brush Gen Y; that would seem both uncool and bad business. (Lena Dunham is able to play both sides of the game, which may partly explain the success of Girls.)
Artists are in the business of exposing themselves—their hopes, fears and joys—but Write Out Front (through Aug 31) takes the idea to a literal extreme. The brainchild of playwright Micheline Auger (whose comedy Donkey Punch recently opened), WOF invites more than 125 playwrights to sit in the storefront at the Drama Book Shop and—what else?—write, in plain view of passersby. Each writer signs up for a two-hour time slot and agrees to work on something. A screen shot of the laptop is projected onto a 42-inch monitor visible to the street. Yes, it’s nerve-wracking. Yes, it’s embarrassing. But hey: You get work done.How would I know? I’m not just editor of Time Out New York’s theater section, I’m also (God help me) an early-career playwright and librettist. My first full-length play, Otherland, will be read at Symphony Space in December, and my first full-length opera, The Scarlet Ibis, will be performed at HERE in January. There are other projects on the boil here and there. (As I like to explain: I’m not a failed artist; I’m a failing artist.) When Auger invited me to do WOF, I was terrified but tempted. Like most writers, I value my privacy and need seclusion to focus. Also like most writers (just speaking for myself) it’s easy to feel like a fraud. You sit there impotent, foolishly waiting for words; the angel of despair flutters in your periphery and you wonder why bother. If anybody saw me, you think, staring off into space, fidgeting or making stupid faces, muttering to
Broadway troupers share the spotlight with students from Newtown, CT in A Rockin’ Midsummer Night’s Dream
If you see a show outside New York and notice Broadway credits in the program, you’re probably at a regional theater or summer festival, which draw professional talent during the off-season. This past weekend, I saw some hoofers and crooner from the Great White Way—but not in summer stock. It was A Rockin’ Midsummer Night’s Dream and the venue was unfamiliar to me: Newtown High School’s impressive 1,200-seat auditorium. This is the same town, as you may have guessed, that experienced unimaginable tragedy on December 14, 2012.The show (in rep with a musical version of 101 Dalmatians) is the latest offering of the 12.14 Foundation. The nonprofit initiative is the brainchild of Newtown resident Dr. Michael Baroody, working with Broadway producer Van Dean (co-founder of Broadway Records) and director Michael Unger. The idea behind the foundation is to use the performing arts as a way to heal the community—especially children and teens still processing the event. A Rockin’ Midsummer Night’s Dream is a playful, lighthearted but touching riff on Shakespeare’s comedy, with an eclectic pop-rock score by Eric Svejcar (played by a lavish 33-piece orchestra) and new lyrics by Svejcar and Unger. Leading the cast is Clarke Thorell (Annie, Hairspray) as Oberon, Marla Mindelle as Titania and a hard-working and very funny Saum Eskandani as the boisterous Bottom. These seasoned talents shared the stage with students who ranged from fifth-graders to high-school seniors—the latter no doubt huge
This week Heather Graham abandoned the Off Broadway production of Neil LaBute’s The Money Shot (previews start Sept 4) for a “passion project”—a film called Half Magic that she stars in with Josh Lucas. At the risk of rousing part-time comments-section lurker LaBute, I suggest that this might be a good thing. Last time Graham was on a New York stage, it was Craig Wright’s fascinating post-September 11 play Recent Tragic Events. In my 2003 review, I recalled Dorothy Parker’s quote about Katherine Hepburn’s emotional range—A to B—and then wished Graham could get so far. Yeah, harsh. And although LaBute attracts Hollywood names, that doesn’t always equal the strongest performances.In fact, replacements can improve matters. In the Broadway transfer of Jon Robin Baitz’s Other Desert Cities, I preferred the more subdued, nuanced acting of Rachel Griffiths over Elizabeth Marvel’s angsty agonies (and I’m a Marvel fan). When Jeremy Piven skipped out of Speed the Plow under fishy circumstances, Mamet veteran William H. Macy stepped in, a clear case of trading up. While I enjoyed the Roundabout’s re-revival of Cabaret, I am very pleased to hear that Emma Stone will be replacing Michelle Williams as Sally Bowles come November. Andrew Rannells as Hedwig? Haven’t seen him yet, but it’s possible he’ll rock it harder than Neil Patrick Harris did.Fact is, casting is not a science, but it is responsible for a large part success—or hiding defects in script or direction. Scores of factors go int
Bar reporter Robert Simonson talks about theater folk, cocktails and his newfangled book about The Old-Fashioned
Some drama critics quit the racket to turn political pundit (Frank Rich). Others switch sides, taking jobs at nonprofit institutions (Jeremy McCarter and The Public Theater). But Robert Simonson decided to hang up his reviewer's hat and do something useful for society: He covers liquor and bars. While Simonson (a Time Out contributor for Theater and Food & Drink) still files a weekly column for Playbill online, the bulk of his reporting takes place on a barstool, quizzing mixologists and liquor distributors about developments in their field. The latest fruits of Simonson’s boozy labors is The Old-Fashioned, a handsome hardback just out from Ten Speed Press that takes a good, long look (and frequent sip) at a drink that’s been having a big comeback. Whether you learned about this iconic drink from a parent (as Simonson did) or got hip to it via Mad Men (it’s Don Draper’s favorite tipple), the Old-Fashioned is alive and well in New York’s watering holes. Simonson takes us on a witty and engaging tour through the drink’s long history and ends with recipes for traditional mixes and experimental twists. Like a good old-fashioned, his writing is dry but sweet; it’s got a kick, but is also low-key and best savored slowly. If you want to catch the author chatting about Old-Fashioned lore, he will be appearing at Housing Works on Sept 3—details here.I recently talked with Simonson about the overlap of theater culture and bar culture, writing about booze, and what makes a true old-fash
Rupert Grint talks about his splashy Broadway debut and looking back (or not) on his Harry Potter years
It’s been a dramatic year for Rupert Grint. The man who will forever be Ron Weasley to legions of Harry Potter devotees made his professional stage debut last fall in a London revival of Jez Butterworth’s thriller Mojo. (Notices were mostly positive for his jittery portrayal of a thuggish speed freak named Sweets.) Now Grint is on Broadway, in an updated version of Terrence McNally’s 1986 showbiz comedy It’s Only a Play, set at the chaotic opening-night party of a new Broadway show. Of course, Grint isn’t the only Harry Potter alum to have tested his talent onstage. Daniel Radcliffe has starred in three Broadway shows in the past six years. Grint’s Great White Way debut, however, places him in the middle of a seasoned ensemble that includes Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick, Megan Mullally, Stockard Channing and F. Murray Abraham. The morning after his 26th birthday, a friendly but low-key Grint talked about his Broadway debut, a prospect he deemed “quite scary.”How did you end up in this production? Were you looking to come to Broadway?It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, ever since my first taste of theater last year in the West End, when I did Mojo. This just kind of came up. I was quite hesitant at first, but it’s such a fun play and a great cast that I had to do it.You were hesitant?Yeah, just because of the scale of it. I thought I might be a little bit out of my depth. Everyone in this cast is so experienced—people I’ve watched while I was growing up—it was quite over
Ever since the fourth season of Curb Your Enthusiasm—in which Larry David was tapped by Mel Brooks to play Max Bialystock in the West Coast premiere of The Producers—we knew the abrasive funnyman had stage aspirations. Well, dates have just been set for David’s debut as a Broadway playwright and performer, called Fish in the Dark. David will act alongside stalwarts Jayne Houdyshell, Jonny Orsini and Rosie Perez, directed by constantly in-demand Anna D. Shapiro (This Is Our Youth, Of Mice and Men). Press notes describe the play as “a comedy about a death in the family”—a topic that has generated laughs (and gasps of horror) from Loot to August: Osage County. We’re guessing that David’s character can be relied on to say the wrong thing at precisely the funniest time. Previews begin February 2; opening night is March 5 at the Cort Theatre on West 48th Street. Megaproducer Scott Rudin will try his Midas touch on this one. Tickets are on sale at Telecharge.
Bootycandy, a raucous, raunchy and rule-breaking coming-of-age satire by writer-director Robert O'Hara, just opened Off Broadway at Playwrights Horizons and we loved it. Our own Adam Feldman gave it four stars and praised the "tartly delectable anthology." I'll be reviewing it this weekend for NY1's On Stage (Saturday and Sunday at 9:30am).Back to the headline: WTF is going on in this shot from Bootycandy, taken by Joan Marcus? We didn't single it out for being cheesy or awkward—as you probably know, there's a whole Tumblr for that. The shot is vibrant, weird, goofy.Without giving too much away, here goes: As you might have guessed, this is a domestic scene around the family table. From left to right we have son Sutter (Phillip James Brannon), his young sister (Jessica Frances Dukes), his mother (Benja Kay Thomas) and his stepfather (Lance Coadie Williams). Sutter's mother has been droning on about office politics, particularly a coworker who gets on her nerves. The sister ignores them, drawing. The stepfather is immersed in his newspaper, now and then blandly interjecting that Sutter should take up a sport. Meanwhile, our misunderstood, Michael Jackson-styled hero Sutter is trying to explain that a strange man has been following him home from the library. His mother's response: "This school year. No musicals."
One of the most exciting recent developments in theater is the hi-def broadcast. As the Metropolitan Opera has been doing for years, theater companies are starting to realize that they can grow audiences through the big screen. There’s been NT Live, bringing new British theater to the cinema. And while Broadway has been slow to catch on, recent shows such as Of Men and Men and The Nance have been shot for the multiplex. (Of Mice and Men will broadcast nationwide on November 6.) Outside of that, you have to wait an eternity after a show closes to see it broadcast—maybe—on Great Performances.Well, local PBS affiliate Thirteen is about to correct the visibility problem—for smaller shows you might have missed. Starting October 2, Sigourney Weaver will host Theater Close-Up, weekly broadcasts of Off Broadway shows that were pre-taped, partly before live audiences, partly for the cameras. Weaver hosts the show and introduces each play. Call it Masterpiece Off Broadway. The inaugural season lineup includes: The Mint Theater Company’s London Wall; Richard Nelson's The Apple Family Plays, presented by The Public Theater (pictured above); Hamish Linklater's The Vandal, presented by The Flea Theater; Denis O'Hare and Lisa Peterson's An Iliad, presented by New York Theatre Workshop; Brian Richard Mori's Hellman v. McCarthy, presented by Abingdon Theatre Company; and an encore presentation of The Flea's Looking at Christmas by Steven Banks.“The broadcasts will extend the life of these pla
This morning playwright Samuel D. Hunter awoke to learn that he was a genius—or rather, he was one of 21 recipients of a 2014 MacArthur Fellowship, also known as a genius grant. According to the release, the MacArthur Fellows receive “a no-strings-attached stipend of $625K with no stipulations or reporting requirements, allowing recipients maximum freedom to follow their own creative visions.” For Hunter, that vision will probably take place in his home state of Idaho (where most of his plays are set) and detail—with heartbreaking insight and empathy—lives of quiet Midwestern desperation.We always knew that Hunter was a smartie. We got there first with Helen Shaw’s 2012 profile. Choice quotes:On experimental urges“When I was writing in college, I thought I wanted to be Richard Foreman; I wanted theater that exploded theater. And experimental downtown theater is still my favorite. But the way my mind works, it doesn’t start with form; it starts with content. I was trying to shoehorn what I wanted to write into abstraction, and I was just winding up with puddles.” On graduate school in Iowa“I felt alone. But then I met my now-husband there in my second year, and—this is the first time I’ve articulated this—that’s when the plays really started to be about people on the fringes, about isolation, but also connection.”On facing fears“When my mind goes, ‘Don’t write about that part of yourself!’ I know I have to write it.”We’ve reviewed his work all along, most recently Adam Feld
Microtrend alert: Next month brings not one but two new plays that share an esoteric title: The Uncanny Valley, playing at the Brick Theater from Oct 8–19; and Uncanny Valley, at 59E59 from Oct 2–26. If you have shelf space at home devoted to Star Trek and Doctor Who Blu-rays, you can probably guess what they're about.For the uninitiated: The “uncanny valley” is a theory that the more that robots resemble human beings, the more fear and disgust, or even dread, they will inspire. (On Doctor Who, it’s called “robophobia” or "Grimwade's Syndrome.") Creepy humanoid androids are the most obvious example, but the phenomenon can extend to the irrational anger one can feel at tone-deaf Siri or endless phone trees and dinner-hour robocalls. We personalize our tools and then get upset when they depersonalize us. (Your friendly neighborhood theater editor even co-wrote an opera on the very subject.)That two similar sci-fi plays are opening in October is pure coincidence. (Unless, of course, our lives are being controlled by a vast, unseen matrix of cyborg overlords.) The Brick offering, The Uncanny Valley, is written and directed by Francesca Talenti, and it concerns a young man (played by Alphonse Nicholson, pictured above) who wants to escape a “digital doppleganger” and thus agrees to participate in an experiment that will make him rich—but will require him to upload his mind into Dummy, who is played by “RoboThespian” press notes indicate.Interestingly, the show at 59E59 also involv
Okay, the headline might be a tad misleading: “Legit” stage pros have always hobnobbed with their fancier, bejeweled cousin at the opera house. Terrence McNally and David Henry Hwang have penned several opera libretti; Danny Burstein squeezed laughs out of the fur-and-monocle set in last year’s Die Fledermaus; and superstars such as Audra McDonald and Kristin Chenoweth switch easily between brassy Broadway anthems and elegant arias. Designers and directors like to keep a diverse portfolio that mixes grand opera with nonmusical plays.Still, it’s always cheering to see theater names pop up in operaland, which can always use their showbiz savvy and razzle-dazzle—or just good storytelling chops. Here are the most recent:The Marriage of FigaroMonday night the Metropolitan Opera kicked off its season (after a white-knuckle summer of labor negotiations) with a new production of the Mozart–Da Ponte classic about a wily servant, his lascivious master, and a whole lot of skirt chasing. At the helm for this distinctly Downton Abbey–ish Le Nozze di Figaro (set in 1930s Spain) was Richard Eyre, a titan of the British stage who ran the National Theatre in the ’90s. Eyre staged one of my favorite new productions at the Met in recent seasons: a fierce, fatalistic Carmen. His Figaro is more conservative, with the period perhaps muffling the slapstick and bawdy laughs. However, Rob Howell’s monumental rotating set of Moorish ornamentation is impressive and the cast is solid. The standout is go
Hilary Mantel's doorstop Tudor novels Wolf Hall and Bring Upthe Bodies have been adapted into hot-ticket plays in London, thanks to the Royal Shakespeare Company. Now we learn that they’re coming to Broadway in March. If you live here but keep tabs on British theater, it’s actually a bit of a golden age. There are more shows than ever crossing the pond, or else broadcasting via NT Live. This fall we have The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and the U.S. premiere of Nick Payne’s Constellations. Spring will be busier, with Skylight, The Audience and now the Mantel double feature. What else should we put on our English-transfer wish list?The National Theatre is an essential pilgrimage for anyone visiting London, so we’ve got a few from there. First, we’d love to see Simon Russell Beale’s King Lear: a great actor and a raved-about production. Perhaps 2011’s London Road, a much-praised docu-musical, would fit in perfectly at BAM. This House is James Morris’s period drama about Parliamentary wrangling in the 1970s; while that sounds like it’s strictly for the Anglophiles, we could use an injection of zesty Brit political theater. And while Tom Stoppard’s The Hard Problem hasn’t opened yet and details are practically nonexistent (believe me, I tried in my interview), that must come over.Recently the Almeida had a hit with Mike Bartlett’s speculative royal drama Charles III, which imagined a future England with Prince Charles in the throne. It’s time that seasoned thespi
Not to trespass on my esteemed colleague Robert Simonson’s beat, but a recent e-mail was too—well, thirst-inducing—to pass up. Midtown hotel Andaz 5th Avenue just announced a monthly course of mixology classes in its chic downstairs bar, led by master bartenders Shane McGowan and Sean Diener. The first one took place this past Saturday and remaining ones are priced at $60.But this is not just a how-to primer with shakers, bitters and twists: Partnering with the ad agency Spotco, Andaz has given the course a Broadway spin. Each class is built around a cocktail that was inspired by a show now running on the Great White Way: Pippin, Cinderella, Motown and A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder.While I don’t normally report on bars, I know the shows and enjoy the odd cocktail, so dropped by to sample the wares. Shane whipped up a “Fair-Weather Phoenix,” (pictured above, greedily half-guzzled) the special based on Pippin.Fair-Weather Phoenix1.5 oz. Lunazul Reposado.5 oz. Ilegal Mezcal.75 oz. Sorel.25 oz. Cruzan Black Strap.25 oz. Spiced Chipotle Demerara Syrup4 dash Mole bitters1 dash Angostura bittersGlass: RocksIce: YesGarnish: Orange peel This tequila-rum concoction has an agreeable spice-and-smoke kick, due to the use of chipotle syrup and mole bitters. Shane gives it a theatrical finish, lighting up the flammable orange oil squeezed from the peel. As for the drink’s connection to the Stephen Schwartz musical, Shane says
New York is both the theater and cabaret capital of America, with a lot of crossover between the two. On any given night in the city, you can find theater stars from every wing of the business—experimental to mainstream, Off-Off Broadway to the Great White Way—singing for you at close range. Here are five of your best options in the next couple of weeks. Half Straddle: Ancient Lives Benefit (The Kitchen, Oct 5)Under the leadership of Tina Satter, Half Straddle has emerged as one of the downtown scene’s most exciting young theater troupes, with a playfully smart, female-forward aesthetic that keeps you at once riveted and off balance. Their October 5 variety show—a benefit for their upcoming full-length work, Ancient Lives—includes performances by the ferocious Erin Markey, the amusing Adrienne Truscott and the wacky hip-hop duo Yackez! The Skivvies (54 Below, Oct 4)The best cabaret joint in town to see Broadway talent up close and personal is 54 Below; the October lineup includes Sierra Boggess, Jeremy Jordan, Joanna Gleason, Randy Graff and Lesli Margherita. But Lauren Molina and Nick Cearley’s popular late-night series lets you get a whole lot more personal: Their guest stars strip down to their undies to join them for inventive medleys of pop and musical-theater tunes. Scheduled guests on Oct 4 include Asmeret Ghebremichael, Matt Doyle, Hannah Shankman, Emily Padgett and TASTiSKANK (Sarah Litzsinger and Kate Reinders). Betty Buckley: Ghostlight (Joe’s Pub at the Public
It’s finally feeling like autumn, the start of cooler temps and a new academic year. Even if your graduation was ages ago, I recommend heading back to school—just for this week. At CUNY’s Graduate Center (34th Street and Fifth Avenue), the Martin E. Segal Theatre Center is hosting its annual Prelude festival, curated by Chloë Bass, Jackie Sibblies Drury, Allison Lyman, Sarah Rose Leonard and Segal director Frank Hentschker. They’ve cooked up a terrific three-day avant-palooza of panels, performances and provocations by the city’s leading or emerging multidisciplinary theater artists. Among the talented throng are Erin Markey, Richard Maxwell & New York City Players, Aisha Cousins, Christina Masciotti & Paul Lazar, Eliza Bent, David Neumann and oh so many more. It’s all free. Details here.What more can I say but check out the lineup and see as much as you can. Actually, there is more to say: this short essay Prelude asked me to write for its tenth anniversary. Enjoy!Ten years on: looking back at Prelude As theater editor and chief drama critic for a weekly magazine (and its online version) I write brief reviews and occasional news items for a general audience. My readers are a mix of theater artists, fans, tourists, academics and savvy culture vultures. It’s a restless, motley audience with diverse needs. One thing’s for sure: My writing is not aimed at avant-garde specialists. I can’t issue windy manifestoes or theoretical proclamations without alienating my base—or simply i
The death of Marian Seldes yesterday, at the age of 86, is a profound spiritual loss to New York City. A magnificent theater actor, Seldes never coasted on her formidable powers of enchantment, but strove to communicate a sense of reverence for the stage as a sacred calling. She was everyone’s dream of a Theater Person: elegantly witty, grand yet gracious, ethereal artistry balanced by quotidian care for craft. She brought an aura of history everywhere she went; now she’s gone, and it feels as though a ghost light has been turned off. Seldes made her Broadway debut in 1947, in a production of Medea that starred Judith Anderson and John Gielgud, and made her final Broadway bow opposite Angela Lansbury in 2007’s Deuce. She originated multiple Edward Albee roles. She earned five Tony nominations—including one win, for 1966’s A Delicate Balance—plus a Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2010 and a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records for not missing a single performance in her four-year run in Ira Levin’s Deathtrap. (Magical though she seemed, she was also a workhorse. A work-Pegasus.) Her superb skill onstage was equaled by her class, generosity and lushly cultivated style. The daughter of a theater critic, she was steeped in drama, with an Edwardian edge, as though she had just stepped out of an Edward Gorey panel. Her voice was a deep, precise, extended sigh; she wore velvets and purples like no one else. (She could even pull off a cape and cowl.) In her dec
If you happen to be passing by Park Avenue and 66th Street tonight, don’t be surprised if you see fur-draped Westchester matrons knife-fighting with monocle-wearing Upper West Side pensioners. They will be battling for seats to the St. Matthew Passion, the 1727 oratorio by Johann Sebastian Bach that is the fall’s most elusive ticket. The two Berliner Philharmoniker shows—conducted by Simon Rattle and “ritualized” by mercurial director Peter Sellars—have been sold out for weeks, and folks are shelling out thousands of bucks to get in. Apparently, this night of holy music can bring out the devil in some people. Here’s a taste from the Berliner Philharmoniker's Digital Concert Hall, and a trailer: It’s just one of several much-coveted tickets in the White Light Festival, a border-dissolving celebration of classical music, innovative staging and visual splendor that pushes music appreciation past the opera house and concert hall. Besides the Passion tonight, I will be seeing genius puppeteer Basil Twist’s unique take on Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring next week. There’s also visual wizardry from South African director William Kentridge’s multimedia take on Schubert’s Winterreise; and maestro Riccardo Chailly leading Gewandhaus Orchestra of Leipzig in a program dubbed Cathedrals of Sound. If you have to beg, borrow or steal to get a ticket, do so. Just don’t hurt anybody.
Sure, everyone’s a critic, but rarely do you see our profession represented as a job that people, y’know, do on a daily basis. While we might not lead the most exciting lives—going to screenings, reading books, eating at restaurants, then sitting and writing about it—there’s a mystique around our breed. Wait: is that mystique or mistake? Most people assume that we’re all hateful, bitter snobs who love nothing more than putting down work with cheap puns and ad hominem attacks. (Cue the dumbest example of this, Saturday Night Live’s Jebidiah Atkinson.)The latest woeful misrepresentation of our noble profession is Ira Drew, a smarmy, arrogant hack played by F. Murray Abraham (pictured above) in It’s Only a Play. I was not a fan (to put it mildly) of Terrence McNally’s limp show-folk satire; I gave it two stars and a thorough pasting for being cheap, unfunny and far too long. A lot of it makes very little sense, even to those of us inside the media. For example, Ira is attending the opening-night party of The Golden Egg, the play within the play. This is simply never done. As a rule, theater critics attend a preview performance about three or more days before opening night. Come opening night, we release our reviews; we don’t go and swill champagne with the cast and crew. I’ve been to such parties, but not if I've reviewed. It’s not clear what Ira is doing there, besides providing a straw man for critic-haters everywhere. He gets a plate of spaghetti dumped on his head (a nod to
**** [FOUR STARS] Timber! Skirball Center for the Performing Arts (Off Broadway). By Cirque Alfonse. Directed by Alain Francoeur. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 30min. No intermission. More information and tickets here. These days it's hard to stand out on the neocircus scene. The genre has evolved and expanded so quickly, finding a fresh hook is like locating a needle in a haystack. But while there's no hay in Timber!, Cirque Alfonse's rollicking lumberjack-styled show, there are plenty of tree trunks, highly dangerous tools such as axes and saws, and backwoods beards that could put any Brooklyn hipster to shame. A true family affair, the multitasking eight-member company from Québéc includes brother and sister Antoine and Julie Carabinier Lépine, their sexagenarian father, Alain, and his preschool-age grandson in an aww-inducing cameo. The loose story revolves around a day spent working hard in the woods, from sunup to the dinner bell—there are even a few funny sequences in a rickety outhouse (poor grandpa just can't crap in peace). The skills on display may be conventional but they're executed in thematically inventive ways: Performers juggle axes, balance on trunks, dive through curved saws and spin on a wagon wheel. The effect is heartstopping; it's hard not to worry for their safety (I felt sick to my stomach for about half the night). Three burly young acrobats, Antoine Carabinier Lépine, Jonathan Casaubon and Francis Roberge, do most of the heavy lifting,
All due respect to our excellent colleague, Adam Feldman, but I wasn't totally thrilled by Michelle Williams's hysterical kewpie doll act in the Roundabout Theatre Company's re-revival of Cabaret. Sure, Sam Mendes's aggressively seedy and in-yer-face staging still works smashingly, but I longed for a more memorable Sally Bowles. Perhaps Emma Stone, stepping into the role November 11, will be the one. She's currently riding the Birdman wave, also on my must-see list. This promotional shot, snapped by Richard Phibbs, has me sitting up and taking notice. Wilkommen, Emma. Photograph: Richard Phibbs