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  • Posted 5/25/16 at 10:00 PM
  • Theater

Theater Reviews: Stew’s The Total Bent and Cirque du Soleil’s Paramour

Which would you rather experience in the theater: too many ideas or too few? The Total Bent, at the Public, is in the maximalist camp, offering in less than two hours a dense sociological history of the evolution of black church music into mainstream American pop. But even that is an insufficient characterization of the ambition evident in this musical by the mononomic Stew and his writing partner, Heidi Rodewald. (He wrote the text; they wrote the music.) If their previous Public musical, Passing Strange, was about a young man and his mother, The Total Bent is about a young man and everything else. Fathers, funk, televangelism, integration, appropriation, protest, Birmingham, homophobia, and innumerable other issues come into it. What comes out of it is harder to specify, a problem the authors are unable to reframe as a virtue despite taking their title from a speech by Martin Luther King Jr.: “God does not judge us by the separate incidents or the separate mistakes that we make, but by the total bent of our lives.”

Paramour: no. »

  • Posted 5/25/16 at 4:00 PM

This Artist Makes the Trippiest Dripping Paint Videos

Derick Smith's colorful, drippy studio experiments are obvious Instagram fodder. 

Produced by Eva Hill, written by Cait Munro. 

Francis Ford Coppola Is Going to Publish the Glorious Behemoth That Is His Godfather Notebook

Touting the "publishing sensation of the year for every film fan," Regan Arts announced Tuesday that Francis Ford Coppola is reproducing his famous Godfather notebook for public consumption. “This notebook was my private work reference to The Godfather film, and after many years, I’m excited to share it with those who may be interested," the director said in a statement. The book includes initial impressions of Mario Puzo's novel of the same name, as well as ideas that would inform Coppola's creative process during production. It is also roughly 720 pages. Check out the beautiful anvil cinematic treasure in action:


Eclipsed’s Danai Gurira’s Advice to Young Female Writers: ‘Go Where You Are Loved’

Tony-nominated Eclipsed playwright and The Walking Dead star Danai Gurira knows something about writing. While speaking at the Lilly Awards, which honored her Monday night, Gurira gave some key advice to young female writers. She remembered sitting at the inaugural Lilly Awards as a guest when fellow playwright Sarah Ruhl told her she had just read her play, Eclipsed. “She told me how she thought it was beautiful, powerful, and important,” Gurira said. “I remember being filled with so much hope, inspiration, and fuel to know that I was on the right track and doing the right thing even though the world may not tell you so all the time.”


  • Posted 5/24/16 at 3:03 PM

How Philip Guston, America’s Great Painter of the Night, Completely Reinvented the Sublime

As late as he came to the style, by 1957 Philip Guston was a highly admired first-generation Abstract Expressionist — a phrase he hated. How "late" was Guston? In the 1940s peers like Arshile Gorky, Franz Kline, Jackson Pollock, and Mark Rothko were finding their ways into all-over abstraction. Yet Guston experimented with figures, grounds, solid spaces, and objects until 1950. Pollock — whom Guston went to high school with in Los Angeles (the two were expelled for designing satirical leaflets) and who urged Guston to move to New York in 1935 — had been making abstract paintings since 1939. Gorky had done so since 1932; Rothko and Willem de Kooning reached these further shores by the early 1940s. Guston didn't go fully abstract until about 1950! History is lucky; had he waited a minute more the Ab Ex train would have left without him and we might never have heard of him.


Watch Cynthia Erivo Perform Her Big Number From The Color Purple on Colbert, If You Like Witnessing Beautiful Things

If you've yet to experience the magic that is Broadway's revival of The Color Purple, Stephen Colbert has a real treat for you. He invited the show's breakout star and now Tony nominee, Cynthia Erivo, to perform her standout solo number, "I'm Here," on Monday's Late Show. Erivo's turn as Celie has been one of the most-talked-about performances of the season, and if it wasn't yet clear why, allow her to blow you away.

Jake Gyllenhaal Will Embrace His Inner Post-Impressionist for a One-Night-Only Show of Sunday in the Park With George

Time to break out your easel and brush up on your color theory. Jake Gyllenhaal, for a special performance on October 24 to raise money for the New York City Center, will be portraying post-impressionist artist Georges Seurat in the musical Sunday in the Park With George. The Pulitzer Prize–winning musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine chronicles the various, often humorous life exploits of a fictionalized Seuret as he works on his seminal painting "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte." Gyllenhaal previously showed off his musical chops as a plant-shop employee last summer during a brief production of Little Shop of Horrors. Tickets for Sunday will be on sale beginning May 25, so alert your former art-history professor.

Theater Review: The Underworld on East 4th in Hadestown

When the very first lyric of a sung-through show like Hadestown attempts to rhyme “flames” with “hurricanes,” you know you’re in for a crossover experience. And though I doubt that the songwriter Anaïs Mitchell did it deliberately, as if to signal “We’re not in Oklahoma! anymore,” it would have made sense if she had. Certainly, the scenic design — an egg-shaped amphitheater snuggled within New York Theatre Workshop’s usual space — offers that useful information straight up. I say “useful” because in the case of Hadestown the likelihood of enjoyment may depend on your willingness to accept that what you are watching is not in fact a musical but more of an illustrated pop concert, if a very pretty one. On the other hand, if you go in hoping for a story told through song, the traditional province of musical theater, you will be very much disappointed. The songs are sung and the story is told, but rarely are the two things one. 

A sassy Eurydice, a feckless Orpheus. »

Even That One Guy From Shark Tank Couldn’t Get Into Hamilton, Because No One Can Get Into Hamilton

Ahem. "There's nothin' rich folks love more / Than going to Midtown and havin' tantrums at the door." It is a truth you can go ahead and hold self-evident that tickets to Hamilton are harder to get than ... oh, there’s no equivalent item. Hamilton tickets are the hardest thing to get right now. According to the New York Post, Shark Tank guest judge and venture investor Chris Sacca and his wife, Crystal English, arrived at Hamilton’s Richard Rodgers Theatre last Thursday with what they thought were two valid tickets. Unfortunately, they discovered upon entry they had been scammed; the tickets they'd purchased through StubHub were fake. You might say they were Ham Scammed. That’s when Sacca, well, put himself into the narrative. “Do you know who I am?” he allegedly asked a theater employee. A source also claimed, “He said he was a ‘shark’ on Shark Tank and warned it wouldn’t be good if they couldn’t get in.” After demanding to see a manager and unsuccessfully trying to finagle a way into the show, the pair eventually went to see Mike Birbiglia’s Thank God for Jokes, which seems wonderful in a completely different way. Just another reminder that even if Alexander Hamilton himself crawled out of the grave, he would probably still have to wait in the #Ham4Ham line with the rest of us plebes.

  • Posted 5/20/16 at 1:21 PM

Morley Safer Hated Contemporary Art. He Also Made Paintings. He Once Sent a Bundle of Them to Me.

Morley Safer, the legendary TV newsman, died Thursday at age 84. So why am I, an art critic, writing about him? Like a lot of people in the art world, I feel I have a sort of history with him.


Should You Revisit the Recast The King and I?

Many a Golden Age musical has grown musty with overfamiliarity and rote revival. And many a hit show, unable to maintain discipline or accommodate replacements, grows ragged during a long run. Lincoln Center Theater’s production of The King and I, which opened last April to rave reviews, had already avoided the first problem; Bartlett Sher’s staging of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic uncovered new reserves of emotion in the piece while demonstrating why it was a classic in the first place. Happily, this King and I has also avoided the second problem. More than a year later, and with new actors in the two title roles, it is still, as I wrote upon its opening, too beautiful to miss

Subtle shifts in the leads' dynamic. »

Lin-Manuel Miranda Cannot Emotionally Handle Patti LuPone’s Presence in Today’s Ham4Ham

For those unlucky theater enthusiasts who haven't had a chance to see Hamilton yet, there have been lots and lots of free preshows called Ham4Hams in which creator Lin-Manuel Miranda often brings out a special guest to give a short-and-sweet performance in front of the fawning fans outside the Richard Rogers Theater. Today was no ordinary Ham4Ham, though. Miranda, theater god, brought out Patti LuPone, theater goddess, for a rousing rendition of "Give My Regards to Broadway," except Miranda was so smitten with LuPone that all he could do was stare longingly, giggle, and sit down for a little bit. We can't blame him.

Could We Just Lose the Adverb (Already)?

I’m cursed with a mind that looks at a sentence and sees grammar before it sees meaning. It might be that I’m doing math by other means, that I overdid it with diagramming sentences as a boy, or that my grasp of English was warped by learning Latin. Translating Horace felt like solving math problems. Reading Emily Dickinson began to feel like solving math problems. You might think this is a cold way of reading, but it’s the opposite. You develop feelings. Pronoun, verb, noun — I like sentences that proceed in that way, in a forward march. Or those tricked out with a preposition, another noun, and a couple of adjectives. Conjunctions and articles leave me unfazed. If these combinations result in elaborate syntactical tangles, it thrills me. It’s cheap words I hate, and I hate adverbs. 


Chuck Palahniuk Launches Kickstarter for a Lullaby Movie With Indie Filmmakers, Files His First Screenplay

Chuck Palahniuk's Lullaby could make the leap to celluloid thanks to a Kickstarter launched earlier this morning by the author and two Portland filmmakers. The 2002 novel marked Palahniuk's fifth major release, coming six years after Fight Club; it tells the story of a reporter who tries to eradicate a "culling song" responsible for a rash of infant deaths. As Palahniuk explains in the campaign's teaser, he got the idea during the real-life trial of his father's murderer in 1999. "Lullaby is the book about dealing with whether or not I advocated the death penalty after the man was convicted of killing my father," he says below. "Lullaby is about this supernatural form of ancient power."

Watch the campaign teaser here. »

Theater Review: Rupert Everett Fully Inhabits Oscar Wilde in The Judas Kiss

Unless cunnilingus is part of the late Victorian housekeeping routine, the studly footman and nubile maid seem to have seriously misinterpreted the task of straightening the bed. How daring of David Hare to begin The Judas Kiss — his play about Oscar Wilde — with such an explicit act of heterosexuality. And yet how dangerous, too. In the drama’s desultory 1998 Broadway debut, starring Liam Neeson, this feint seemed like bad foreplay: a halfhearted apology for all the gayness about to transpire. But now, in the terrific Hampstead Theatre production that has landed at BAM after its success in England, the moment is much more fulfilling in itself and makes much more sense overall. So does the rest of the play, not least because, as Wilde, Rupert Everett apologizes for nothing. I don’t want to claim this as a victory for typecasting, but Everett (who is gay) could hardly be better in a role he seems to have grown himself toward. Not literally: What turns him into a reasonable physical replica of the fleshy poet is a fat suit, complete with what he has called “baboon moobs” and “a marvelous knee-length arse.” But Everett inhabits each facet of Wilde’s cut-glass intelligence so precisely, and commands respect for his contrariness so fully, that the man comes alive as a specific human even as his mystery is enhanced. In the process the play, too, grows toward the brilliance of its subject.


ESPN Knows You’ll Pay Attention to Its Upfront If Hamilton’s Daveed Diggs and Leslie Odom Jr. Are Performing

With upfronts in full swing for the 2016–2017 television season, networks are always on the hunt for new, exciting ways to liven up their presentations and keep snappy reporters at bay. (Do you know how many presentations there are? A lot. And often very early.) ESPN, keenly sensing an opportunity to one-up the competition, eschewed the standard complimentary brunch and instead enlisted Hamilton's Daveed Diggs and Leslie Odom Jr. to open and close the event  not with a Hamilton number, but with an original motivating and empowering performance. (Sample lyrics: "You're the stuff of comets / don't you let 'em dim your fire baby / get higher baby.") So, as of now, ESPN is essentially the Steph Curry of upfronts.

Lena Dunham Publishes Diary for Charity

Writer/actress/director/voice of a generation Lena Dunham dropped a surprise paper mixtape (a book) on Tuesday morning.


10 Great Galleys From BookExpo America 2016

The quietest BookExpo in memory dissipated in a smattering of slow meetings and short autograph lines well before the closing time of 5 p.m., as the chosen few New York publishing staffers deemed worthy of Chicago hotel rooms and airfare caught their shuttles to O’Hare. BookExpo America, the country’s largest book fair, conducted a noble experiment, leaving New York for the first time since 2008 even as publishers grow less inclined to spend money on booths in an age of seamless communication. BEA’s stated goal was to draw in more booksellers from the heartland. It worked, per officials, but at the cost of foot traffic from the East Coast. (Knopf touted a digital sampler in lieu of its anchor cocktail party; the show floor was 20 percent smaller than last year’s; houses ranging from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt to tiny Bellevue Press sat this year out entirely.) But those who did venture to the Midwest discovered the benefits of a slower pace and more elbow room.


This 8-Foot Candle Portrait Mesmerized Me

Urs Fischer’s giant wax sculpture of artist-director Julian Schnabel calls to mind a temple figure — or idol worship. Whether burning brightly or burning out, the Fischer sculpture is also a real candle. Atop Schnabel’s head a flame burns, melting the enormous wax figure in glacial time. The hair’s already gone; wax is running down the sculpture’s back. All this will dissolve into some Wicked Witch–like puddle in a few months. Schnabel likens the sculpture to Ozymandias, Shelley’s decaying stone sculpture in the desert. And me? Beyond the highly realistic Baroque sculpture, the distorted surfaces of Rodin, the superrealism of Duane Hanson, and Frankenstein via technological razzle-dazzle (body scans, milled foam, casts, wax, and wicks) — beyond all that, I see a meta-vision of two male artists as candles burning in the wind.


A Day With Ben Whishaw, From Diner Coffee to Onstage Scars

Since January, British actor Ben Whishaw has spent most days on West 48th Street, railing against a group of seemingly possessed young girls: He's playing John Proctor in Arthur Miller's The Crucible. The rest of the time, Whishaw (who also stars in this month's The Lobster) leads a relatively quotidian New York existence: trips to CVS and the local bookshop with his partner, composer Mark Bradshaw. "It's only fractionally quieter than Hackney, where we live in London," Whishaw says of the construction that plagues his West Village neighborhood. "They seem to have been digging up the road outside the apartment since we arrived."



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