To find out where the musical is going these days, you may have to follow it into a tent. Not Pippin’s big top on Broadway but the one nestled beneath the High Line at West 13th Street, where Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812, Dave Malloy’s enthralling take on Tolstoy, is playing. Actually, there’s some confusion about the setting: The tent, once you enter it, turns into a Russian supper club called Kazino, kitted out gorgeously by the designer Mimi Lien in miles of red velvet hung with framed czarist portraits. A light Russian dinner (including borscht, pierogies, vodka, and what unfortunately tasted one night like vintage black bread) is included with your $125 ticket. But the show presented right in the midst of 199 patrons at tables and bars has little to do with bread or circuses. Rather, it describes itself in its lyrics as both a novel and an opera (and, sure enough, is completely sung) while also incorporating flourishes of a cabaret act, a floor show, a Broadway music drama, and — why not? — a naughty stag party.
Viewed in a certain light, the thousands of inscribed clay tablets unearthed over the past century on Crete and mainland Greece are profoundly boring. Essentially the scattered files of an early civilization’s accounting department, the tablets list rations of wheat and figs, record the results of the local census, and keep track of broken versus unbroken chariot wheels. Fully 800 of them are, as Margalit Fox writes in her new book, The Riddle of the Labyrinth, “quite literally devoted to counting sheep.” In short, they are not the world’s most fascinating reading material. But for a long time after their discovery that didn’t matter, because no one had any idea at all how to read them.
First, some explanation, in case you have not finished your assigned YA reading and/or just happen to be a grown adult: Shailene Woodley is the star of not one but two adaptations of major YA best sellers currently in the works; the first is Divergent, the Hunger Games-y trilogy written by Veronica Roth, and the other is The Fault in Our Stars, a weepy (but funny!) cancer story by John Green. Since these are big-deal movies, the Tumblr set has been busy fretting over the rest of the casting choices, and last weekend they finally got a big one: Augustus Waters, the male lead and love interest in The Fault in Our Stars, will be played by 19-year-old Ansel Elgort. As it turns out, Elgort also has a role in Divergent, which seems like reasonable teen synergy until you find out that he plays Woodley's brother. Now The Fault in Our Stars is a cancer story about Shailene Woodley making out with her onscreen relative.
Way harsh: An Internet Famous painting of a nude Bea Arthur went for just $1.915 million after auction house Christie's estimated its value at anywhere between $1.8 and $2.5 million. You've already seen it. John Currin's infamous portrait, titled Bea Arthur Naked, is not necessarily an accurate rendering of the late Arthur's bosom (the actress never sat for Currin), but has made quite a stir online. With its viral fame already firmly intact, I guess the anonymous buyer didn't really need to pay extra? Or perhaps being famous on the Internet isn't actually related to your monetary value? We've censored her up top, but if you wanna see the real thing, it's (of course) on the Internet.
For the first time in eleven years, the hand on the tiller at Lincoln Center is changing. Reynold Levy, who raised staggering amounts of money and oversaw the $1.2 billion renovation of the campus, is retiring at the end of the year, and his successor, the Broadway impresario Jed Bernstein, now president of Above the Title Entertainment, inherits the next major construction project: the renovation of Avery Fisher Hall.* Bernstein spoke to Justin Davidson from the office that will become his on January 26, 2014.
Especially after the loud uplift and confetti cannons of Broadway’s spring jamboree, one of the pleasures of Off Broadway in May is the chance to recalibrate your ears and expectations to a more human scale. Precision kicklines give way to the individual choices of actors working in the same room with you, inches away. Yes, it’s a blast watching drag queens do flips on conveyor belts, or Bette Midler crack wise in a caftan, but it’s also pretty thrilling to watch Deirdre O’Connell, as a beleaguered stepmother in A Family for All Occasions, walk into her home after a day at a factory and do nothing. She’s so stiff she can barely sit. Even the muscles around her mouth — which in the 90-seat Bank Street Theater you can easily see — are clenched. She’s the living embodiment of the word dour, down to the cellular level, it seems, and in the second act, when she tries out a three-speed electronic foot massager someone has brought as a gift, her pleasure is so surprising (and nearby) it makes you laugh as if it were happening to you.
It’s 1920 and the Dolan family vaudeville act is at a crossroads. Now that the teenaged son is old enough to date the chorines, Ma is worried: “I’ve seen nothing developing in Junior except his lower nature.” She banishes him to school to forget about hoofing and become, as Pa envisions it, “a lousy music teacher.” Indeed, jump-cut to fifteen years later, and Junior is drilling the three Bs into students who’d rather hear jazz. Thus begins (and all but ends) the sensible part of the book of On Your Toes, the 1936 musical that implicitly asks what happens when vaudeville isn’t good enough for vaudevillians anymore. What do you — yes, you, American Musical Theater — do next?
The American theater suffers from a serious case of Chekhov envy. Dead almost 100 years, the great Russian has his fingerprints on nearly every wistful drama now produced. I’m not complaining; at least it’s not Strindberg. But Chekhov is easier to ape than to assimilate. His unhurried, sideways approach to the kill is too often mistaken for gentleness, a substitution that turns tension to mush and lets the quarry escape.
Alec Baldwin really does not care for New York Times theater critic Ben Brantley. Like, at all. On HuffPo, Baldwin writes about "how Broadway has changed," but that's mostly a framing device so he can rip into Brantley, who, yes, wrote an unfavorable review of Orphans, which Baldwin stars in. (It's closing early because of crummy ticket sales.) Baldwin writes,
Despite getting nominated for two Tony awards last week, the Broadway revival of Orphans will be closing up shop on May 19. It was supposed to run through June 30, but it will be pulled early. The reason is fairly simple: No one was going to see it. This is obviously bad news for Orphans, but great news for whoever is working on a play about the beef between Alec Baldwin and Shia LaBeouf that lead up to the play. Ooo, maybe it could be a musical, with the LaBeouf character singing, “Theater belongs not to the great but to the brash, ole Alec,” and Baldwin responding, “I don’t think you’re in a good position to be giving interpretations of what the theater is and what the theater isn’t, Mr. The Beef.” It will be like a meta “The Confrontation.”
The best advice I ever got about reading came from the critic and scholar Louis Menand. Back in 2005, I spent six months in Boston and, for the fun of it, sat in on a lit seminar he was teaching at Harvard. The week we were to read Gertrude Stein’s notoriously challenging Tender Buttons, one student raised her hand and asked—bravely, I thought—if Menand had any advice about how best to approach it. In response, he offered up the closest thing to a beatific smile I have ever seen on the face of a book critic. “With pleasure,” he replied.
1. In 1971, Carol Goodden, age 31, was living with her artist boyfriend, Gordon Matta-Clark, whose work involved stunty urban conceptual acts—cutting slices out of old buildings and the like. They shared a loft on East 4th Street. One evening, after a big birthday dinner party, the couple hatched a plan to open a place to eat in what was becoming known as Soho. (There were few options around, apart from Fanelli’s and some Greek diners.) The idea: provide jobs for friends while feeding others. Goodden got it started with a bit of family money.
Jeff Koons Is the Most Successful American Artist Since Warhol. So What’s the Art World Got Against Him?By Carl Swanson
Honk Honk Honk! Honk!
Jeff Koons’s 5-year-old son, Eric, is blowing a yellow plastic toy horn in his face, and the preternaturally unruffled artist is, for a human second, irritated.
“Stop,” says Koons. “No blowing the horn.”
“It’s mine,” Eric says.
“It’s not yours,” Koons says. “It’s Dad’s.” Then he deftly takes it from Eric, handing it off to one of the children’s caretakers.
We are standing in the middle of Koons’s quarter-city-block West Chelsea studio complex with the six children he has with his wife, Justine, who worked here before she married him; their nannies; and his extremely nice assistants, who exude an almost midwestern courteousness.
In a show of Atticus Finch-like determination, Harper Lee is suing her literary agent over the copyright to her Pulitzer Prize-winning 1960 novel To Kill a Mockingbird. The reclusive 87-year-old author alleges that Samuel Pinkus "took advantage of her declining hearing and eyesight seven years ago to get her to assign the book's copyright to him" without payment after his father-in-law, Lee's longtime agent Eugene Winick, became ill. The lawsuit also claims that Pinkus ignored Lee's previous attempts to get the copyright reassigned, and that he failed to respond to offers to make the novel available as an e-book. Lee is asking that the copyright be turned over to her, along with all the To Kill a Mockingbird commissions Pinkus received from 2007 onward. If people are still taking legal action over books, then how can they be coming to an end?
Here we go again. A handful of politicians and citizens get their low-information artistic panties in a twist, get insulted by whatever work of public art they decide offends them, and start a brouhaha to remove it. The act is always the same. Even though no one else has any objections, city and state politicians become so terrified of standing up for art and alienating any voter that they roll over. Especially if there's a penis or vagina involved and if the location of the public sculpture happens to be one of the most extraordinary spaces in all of Christendom. Welcome to the farcical version of Death in Venice.
To help us close out Vulture's very funny Week O' Comedy, we asked comedian Jim Gaffigan — known for many years of stand-up only some of which is devoted to hilarious, loving bits on the topics of cake, McDonald's and of course Hot Pockets — to step way out of his food wheelhouse and sample some healthy junk food. Watch as Jim and our own Julie Klausner discuss his new book Dad Is Fat (in stores Tuesday) while tearing through chocolate-covered kale, tofu pepperonis, and sesame-topped seaweed. Spoiler alert — their eating habits aren't likely to change any time soon. For more of these two, listen to this week's edition of Julie's podcast, "How Was Your Week," Jim's a guest over there too! You can even subscribe on iTunes here.
You know the guy. Looks slightly clammy. A bit misproportioned. Often has a stain on his collar. Isn’t told when or where the parties are happening. A bit of a loner, a bit of a loser. And so maybe you’ve been tempted to mock him a little, undermine him, but only behind his back. Or maybe in front of his face, okay, but in a style you figure he won’t understand because — where did he go to school? And anyway, what’s he doing here? Wouldn’t it be better for all concerned if he got the picture and somehow was made to disappear? Things would really be simpler, clearer, cleaner that way. For him, too. Poor fellow.
This week, Joe Hill (born Joseph Hillstrom King) released his fourth book, a 700-page horror story called NOS4A2. In March, his brother, Owen King, published his first novel, Double Feature, about a young filmmaker grappling with disappointment after his first movie falls apart. The two books couldn't be more different, but what their authors have in common, of course, is that their parents are Stephen and Tabitha King. Vulture spoke with the guys about their writing approaches, how they've learned to evade (and live with) their parents' shadows, and who beat up whom as a kid.
With Bring It On a freshly minted Tony nominee for Best Musical and Rocky heading to Broadway early next year, it's clear that sports movies are a hot new mini-trend for the Great White Way. In 2016, we'll no doubt be hate-watching Hayden Panettiere in Air Bud: Songsational!, and the ghost of Richard Rodgers will shed another dusty tear. But even this trend could spawn a masterpiece. As at least one Internet scholar has noted, A League of Their Own is just sitting there, waiting to be turned into a song-and-dance classic. In fact, we got so excited by the idea that we decided to help Broadway along. Here's a rough treatment for A League of Their Own: The Musical, including song titles and key notes on the plot. If you're excited to see those Singin' Rockford Peaches, then please expand on our ideas in the comments. And prepare to contribute to the Kickstarter for the $4 trillion we'll need to buy the story rights from screenwriters Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel.
The American Theater Wing announced the 2013 Tony nominees this morning, with Kinky Boots and Matilda leading the pack with thirteen and twelve nominations, respectively. Tom Hanks earned a nomination for Lucky Guy, Nathan Lane picked up his fourth Tony nod with The Nance, and Phish's Trey Anastasio was nominated for co-writing the music for Hands on a Hardbody. The full list of nominees is below.
- 1. Could Harvey Weinstein Make History With Three Black Best Actor Oscar Candidates?
- 2. Take Vulture’s Arrested Development Superfan Quiz
- 3. Kids in the Hall Alum Scott Thompson on Hannibal and Why Being Gay Is Now Boring
- 4. Cannes: Paris Hilton Cried While Watching The Bling Ring
- 5. The Vampire Diaries Finale Recap: All’s Well That Ends Well ... for Now
- 6. Watch Amy Poehler Predict Strangers’ Futures
- 7. The Best of Streaming: What Should You Watch on Netflix, Hulu, and Other Sites
- 8. The Office Finale Recap: That’s All She Said