Claire Van Kampen’s new play Farinelli and the King—just transferred from London to the Belasco—is a duet for two virtuosos. It tells the mostly true story of the French-born King Philippe V of Spain, who suffered from debilitating bouts of depression and what we now know as bipolar disorder, and who found solace and, at times, even sanity in the singing of the world-famous castrato known as Farinelli. The singer—who was born Carlo Broschi in 1705 in Italy and whose family had him castrated at the age of 10 to preserve his angelic voice—served in the Spanish court for nine years, abandoning superstardom to sing privately for one troubled monarch, then retiring to Bologna, never to perform in public again.
If you look closely at the intersection of the Venn diagram of “affordable gifts” and “meaningful gifts,” you’ll find it’s mostly populated with books — and just the right book gift making its way into the hands of just the right person is one of the more pure and satisfying transactions of the holiday season. Here’s what to buy your tricky-to-buy-for friends and relatives, as recommended by Vulture’s staff and contributors.
The 40-city tour of a stage adaptation of Tavis Smiley’s Martin Luther King Jr. book, Death of a King, has been suspended, according to the New York Times. PBS suspended Smiley’s show following an investigation into sexual-harassment accusations that found “credible evidence” of misconduct, and as a result, the production company Mills Entertainment said they’d end the project. “We believe deeply in the message of this production and the importance of commemorating Dr. King in this crucial moment,” the company said in a statement issued Friday. “However, we take seriously the allegations and will be suspending our relationship with Tavis Smiley and [his company] T. S. Productions.” The tour was set to begin January 15 — King’s birthday — in Brooklyn, and Smiley was going narrate the production.
Lin-Manuel Miranda Releases New Song About Ben Franklin, Somehow Still Has Hamilton Stuff Up His SleeveBy Jackson McHenry
As previously evidenced in every single thing he does, Lin-Manuel Miranda has no desire to take a break or relax whatsoever. So it’s really no surprise that he’s decided to commit to releasing a whole year’s worth of Hamilton content once a month for the coming year. The first of his so-called “Hamildrops” comes this December with a new song, “Ben Franklin’s Song.” Sung by the Decemberists, the song’s based on an idea Miranda had for Decemberists-esque lyrics about the famous inventor, which he sent along to the Decemberists’s Colin Meloy, who turned it into an actual song with the rest of the band. If you don’t know who Benjamin Franklin is, you certainly will by the end of the song.
There must be something good in the water in Providence, Rhode Island. Something that encourages the growth of playful, ambitious but unpretentious, actor-and-text-driven theater companies. In the past decade, graduates from the Brown/Trinity Rep MFA acting program have formed at least two such ensembles — scrappy, smart, bighearted troupes that have managed to find a foothold in New York’s not-always-so-nurturing theatrical terrain. They even have similar chaos-embracing names: Bedlam (whose offbeat Peter Pan you can still catch until Christmas) and Fiasco Theater, currently in residence at Classic Stage Company with a charming, unfussy take on Twelfth Night, or What You Will.
Adam Driver, who’s been on Broadway twice before (three times, if you count the time his character from Girls did Major Barbara), is coming back to the stage in 2019. In a change of pace from playing the sulky, sexy Kylo Ren in the Star Wars films, Driver will play the sulky, sexy Pale in a revival of Lanford Wilson’s Burn This, a role played by John Malkovich in the show’s original 1987–88 run. The play, set in downtown New York in the 1980s, follows four New Yorkers who are pulled together after a young dancer’s accidental death. Michael Mayer (Hedwig and the Angry Inch) will direct. Jake Gyllenhaal was originally set to play Pale in the revival, but postponed due to scheduling conflicts and ended up doing Sunday in the Park With George instead. We’ll have to wait until Burn This premieres to really know who wins this round of the battle of the sulky, handsome, movie/stage stars.
In a development strategy roughly defined as “be as camp as possible,” the Universal theater group is working on a stage musical adaptation of Death Becomes Her with Kristin Chenoweth in the role played by Meryl Streep. While the project doesn’t have a composer, book writer, or director as of yet, according to Playbill, the project has attached Chenoweth (Wicked, Pushing Daisies, various extremely high notes heard elsewhere) as Madeline, the self- and age-obsessed Broadway star. Finally, we may get to see more of the film’s fictional musical adaptation of Sweet Bird of Youth titled Songbird!
Get ready, Broadway, because here comes the Temptations biographical musical. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., announced Tuesday that Ain’t Too Proud — The Life and Times of the Temptations is running for a limited five-week run this summer at the famed arts center in a “pre-Broadway engagement.” The show follows the astronomical rise to fame of the Motown singing group, from humble beginnings in Detroit to multiple chart-topping hits. The musical premiered at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre in California last fall, where it received good reviews and became the theater’s highest-grossing production. The production is directed by Des McAnuff and choreographed by Sergio Trujillo — a team that previously worked together on a similar project, the Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons jukebox musical Jersey Boys.
“How are the children?” shouts a woman standing in a spare, roughly furnished cottage kitchen at the start of Lucy Kirkwood’s potent, aching new play. The woman is still, serious; there’s an almost alien quality about her, as if she’s processing the details of the world of human beings for the first time. She has gray hair with some wave to it, nicely kept, and a finely featured, elfin face that hints at younger days of striking beauty. She’s also bleeding heavily from the nose, and though another woman — more earthy, more energetic — will soon arrive with a washbowl and a rag and a profusion of apologies, the first woman, the alien, will spend the rest of the play with the front of her shirt marked with blood.
In 1964 in Paris, the 25-year-old Ariane Mnouchkine did what countless young theater artists, fresh out of school and full of ideas and ambition, set out to do: She founded a company with some friends. The troupe — a collective affair where each founding member put in 900 francs and committed to equal salaries for all — was called the Théâtre du Soleil. “We were looking for life, light, heat, beauty, strength, fertility,” Mnouchkine told the New York Times decades later, describing the origins of what had by that time become one of the world’s preeminent theater companies — unique in its communal spirit, the grand scope of its productions, and the multinationality of both its material and its membership. “Théâtre du Soleil is the dream of living, working, being happy and searching for beauty and for goodness. … It’s very simple, really.”
Outside Circle in the Square, the winter winds are starting to snap. But inside a different wind is blowing — literally. In Michael Arden’s vivid, celebratory revival of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty’s Once on This Island, the elements have been brought indoors. A blanket of sand covers the long oval floor of Dane Laffrey’s lush, immersive set. A pool of water contained by a sandbag embankment fills one end of the stage. A fire burns in a rusted oil drum. A child plays in the sand. A man fishes in the pool. Someone starts cooking on a makeshift hot-plate stove. A dark-eyed, wild-haired woman with a knife strapped to her thigh leads a live goat on a leash. Later, a thick white fog rolls through the space as the cast light candles, giving the effect of stars piercing through a heavy cloud. And in the staging of a storm, not only do electric pulses of lightning flash in the darkness — gusts blow through the audience’s hair.
Soon after Kristen Roupenian’s New Yorker short story “Cat Person” became a viral sensation, a Twitter account called Men React to Cat Person began compiling male responses gleaned from Facebook and Twitter. But, of course, the conversations that the story sparked — including reactions from, yes, men — were more than just a punchline. And the male response to “Cat Person” was hardly monolithic. Here’s what a few men told the Cut about their thoughts.
Thirty-two years after I, Tina, we’re getting a sequel. Tina Turner has announced her second autobiography, Tina Turner: My Love Story, published by Atria, will be out in October 2018. Her first, released in 1986, detailed the horrific domestic violence Turner endured at the hands of her ex-husband Ike, which later inspired the 1993 biopic What’s Love Got to Do With It, starring Angela Bassett as Turner. According to a statement, the singer’s latest book, co-written with Deborah Davis and Dominik Wichmann, will delve into Turner’s remarriage in 2013 to Erwin Bach and discovering nontoxic love. But on a sadder note, it’ll also reveal her battle with a “life-threatening illness” the legend had not previously disclosed. Turner is releasing the new memoir to mark her 60th (!) year in music, which will also see the debut of a new musical based on her life called Tina, starring Shuffle Along’s Adrienne Warren. As for the book, all we ask is that Bassett eventually have something to do with its adaptation, please!
For the small slice of the American population that participated in high-school musicals, and the even smaller sliver that is actually proud of that experience, listen up: ABC is airing a delightfully nerdy, bittersweet gift to you all this Sunday at 10 p.m. Hosted by Kristen Bell, a theater kid herself before she became a Disney princess, Encore follows a group of adults who restage their 1997 high-school production of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Into the Woods. They get professional help to put on the show, but only a week of rehearsals to pull it all together. For this particular cast of former theater kids, that means hitting pause on their lives as insurance salesmen, flight attendants, and stay-at-home moms to memorize pages of dialogue, remember tricky melodies, and dance while 32 weeks pregnant.
If 2016 was the frying pan, 2017 has frequently felt like the fire. In this year of daily shifts, shocks, and sucker punches, I went from being an opinionated director to being a critic, and these ten productions, ranging from intimate to epic, all touched something expansive for me in their specificity. They eschewed the great temptations of a year like 2017 — didacticism, agitprop-ery, moral grandstanding — and instead found transcendence in the execution of a deeply personal vision.
As the art world sees more demands for art to be destroyed, removed, and not made at all, and as economic pressures to simply survive are ratcheted up ever higher, a few newer artists and smaller venues must be named. Among others, Stacy Leigh’s deeply strange nudes at Fortnight Gallery; Nicholas Cueva’s mysterious paintings at the Brooklyn community space Five Myles; Louis Fratino’s weird realism at Thierry Goldberg; Jordan Casteel at Casey Kaplan; Maryam Hoseini’s complex illuminated manuscript-like paintings at Rachel Uffner; Nina Chanel Abney’s grand combinations of Stuart Davis and Jacob Lawrence, at Mary Boone and Jack Shainman (who’s become one of the better galleries in the world); Marcia Marcus’s prescient 1970s paintings at Eric Firestone; the teeny storefront 56 Henry mounted consecutive excellent shows of Cynthia Talmadge, Richard Tinkler, and Kate Shepherd; personal perennial faves shone, including Cary Leibowitz, Lisa Beck, Mira Schor, Keith Mayerson, Julian Lethbridge, Betty Tompkins, Jack Pierson, Ken Tisa, Tabboo, and Ashley Bickerton. Finally a big Obama bravo to painter Amy Sherald, 44, of Baltimore, plucked from almost-obscurity by Michelle Obama to paint her official portrait.
The artist Michael Landy spent two years making hundreds of drawings in red and white — “the colors of danger,” as he notes — for his current exhibition at the Sperone Westwater gallery, called “Breaking News.” He’d done earlier versions of the project in London and Athens, but for the New York show he was, he says, “inspired by Donald Trump when he talked about building a wall, so I thought I’d build wall of protest.” It’s a strange, somewhat bewildering accumulation of the particular urgency many of us feel today to be personally identified with what we see as necessary change: to stand up and make yourself, your body, bear the message, whatever the message is. It’s an older urge than #activism, certainly, but they go well together: In the age of social media, a pithy sign easily becomes a viral selfie which can, if not necessarily change the world, at least make it click “like” and hope for the best. Below is a slideshow of his drawings of actual protest signs. The exhibit runs until December 20.
Angela Carter was a pathbreaking English novelist and story writer. She was the one who brought magic realism into the language with brilliant novels like The Magic Toyshop, The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman, and Nights at the Circus. Her masterpiece, The Bloody Chamber, reinvented the fairy tale as a feminist form. She died young, of cancer, at age 51, but her influence now extends from her friends Kazuo Ishiguro and Salman Rushdie to a generation of younger writers like Kelly Link, Helen Oyeyemi, and Evie Wyld. Gordon tracks Carter from life with her overbearing mother, into a stifling marriage, across Siberia to Japan and back, through divorce, and from obscurity to a fame that’s only grown since her death. He pulls off the rare biographer’s feat of turning a novelist into a character worthy of her of her own novel.
Cohen’s sixth novel — he was named one of Granta’s Best Young American Novelists last spring — tracks a pair of young Israeli men just discharged from the IDF to New Jersey, where they join a moving firm and become foot soldiers in the grind of tristate area gentrification. Trained in the methods of displacement, they are now charged with uprooting evictees in Bed-Stuy, abetting another occupation. The novel wears its politics on its sleeve, but Cohen’s true gift isn’t for analogy, but for metaphor, and all the other possibilities that emerge when style is king.
Since last year’s election, America has been looking inward, wondering what’s wrong with us, searching out the Nazis hiding in our suburbs, mesmerized by the president’s every burp-like utterance on Twitter. Occasional glances are thrown toward the meddling Russian bear or the rocket-testing North Koreans, but the election’s effect has been to make a narcissistic nation more narcissistic. Hansen’s book — informed by deep reading in the history of U.S. foreign policy and CIA-engineered regime changes, as well as the writings of James Baldwin — chronicles her awakening to the way the world sees America after she moved from New York to Istanbul and became a freelance foreign correspondent: “Our American dreams have come at the expense of a million other destinies.” At a time when our wrenching politics have turned our gaze on ourselves, her book is a necessary tonic.
Perhaps the best book about the magazine biz this side of Harold Ross’s Letters From the Editor, Hagan’s exhaustively reported and grippingly told biography of the William Randolph Hearst of the rock press led to a falling out with his previously solicitous subject. Wenner as editor is Dionysus playing Jove, a trickster impresario of the bohemian boomers who went jet set instead of Bible Belt. Come for the wild ride into the ditch with Hunter S. Thompson and stay for the petty feuding with Paul Simon. And don’t forget: Selling out was always the point. Read the full review.
Across more than half a century, the novelist Hardwick was one of America’s greatest literary critics, reshaping the landscape of book reviewing with her 1959 polemic against the shabby state of the art and co-founding the New York Review of Books. In her reflections on Martin Luther King, Selma, and the Watts riots, she brought her tragic sensibility to bear on the civil-rights struggle. A consummate stylist, she was also a clear-sighted chronicler of American life, with all the comedies and dramas transpiring on what she called, in her last essay on Nathanael West, “our transmogrifying soil.”
Sentences of spiky virtuosity follow one after the other in Zhang’s first collection of fiction. The loosely connected stories of Chinese immigrant families in Sour Heart are told by daughters with one eye on their struggling parents and the other on the micro-dramas of New York City adolescence. Zhang brings the vanished Brooklyn and Queens of the 1980s and ’90s alive on the page. What emerges is a kaleidoscope bildungsroman, a mosaic of the author’s alternate younger selves, as well as heartbreaking portraits of the poverty and humiliations of the parents who sacrifice their dreams for their children’s. Sour Heart is a work of acerbic nostalgia, and one of the funniest books of the year. Read the full review.
The second book in a projected trilogy, The Schooldays of Jesus follows three refugees — an old man, a young woman, and an orphan who form a makeshift family — as they settle in a strange city and see to the boy’s education at a school of music and dance. Bach, Dostoevsky, and Cervantes are invoked in a heady allegory that suddenly veers into a tale of murder and punishment. Just what Coetzee is choreographing his symbols to say is hard to parse, but that’s part of the pleasure of entering a land the Nobel laureate has conjured outside of time.
The American novel has yet to absorb fully the email revolution that transpired in the mid-1990s, but Elif Batuman’s autofiction about a Harvard freshman hung up on a rather dense older Hungarian mathematician (which one is the idiot?) captures the moment when teenagers first learned we could come close to beaming our thoughts into each other’s brains. The Idiot is an exquisitely droll tale of unrequited love and a stylistic tour de force. A student of Tolstoy, Gogol, and Babel, Batuman follows her Russian heroes into territory most contemporary novelists fear to tread — the chaotic zone where plots and meaning break down and the heroine has no one to talk to but herself.
Before she turned to prose, Lockwood had already made history as the profane, absurd pioneer poet laureate of Twitter. No surprise then that she has a fascinating origin story. Through a loophole in Church doctrine, her father became a priest when as a Protestant minister he converted to Catholicism. He’s the sort of priest who strums Led Zeppelin covers in his underwear when he’s not administering last rites. A medical crisis sent Lockwood and her husband to a Missouri rectory. The awkward homecoming is the frame for Lockwood’s memories of growing up by a toxic waste site, her father’s pro-life protests, misbegotten hunting trips, and much else that’s by turns tragic and farcical. Read the full review.
Here is a major novelist working in a minor key — sometimes the best books are like that. Everett is known for satire, but in So Much Blue he keeps his comic gifts in check. Three narrative strands entwine in the life of a melancholic painter in middle age: the memory of a misbegotten and death-haunted youthful journey to war-torn El Salvador; the echoes of his affair with a younger woman in Paris; and fractures in his family life as he works on a secret conceptual magnum opus he may never finish. This is a cool, restrained novel that gradually accumulates force. Class and race in America, the violence done by Americans abroad, romantic exploitation, faithlessness, artistic ambition — all come under ambivalent scrutiny and lead to a series of understated heartbreaking reckonings. It’s the sort of book only a master of the form could write.
*A version of this article appears in the December 11, 2017, issue of New York Magazine.
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