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Theater Review: Shuffle Along Is a Gorgeously Staged, Life-Changing Show

The Broadway musical season that began with a Hamiltonian bang in August has now ended with another historical explosion, this one detonated by the playwright and director George C. Wolfe. His Shuffle Along, or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed is explosive not simply in the auditory sense, though the shattering artillery onslaught of Savion Glover’s choreography may ring in your ears (and change the way you think about the expressive potential of tap) forever. Shuffle Along is also explosive in the way a nuclear reaction is: Wolfe bombards a core of ideas about race and culture with a billion showbiz protons to produce both a gorgeous spectacle and a big, smoking crater where your former ideas of Broadway once stood.

This review might have begun "Audra Smiles!" »

Theater Review: Jessica Lange Steps Up Into Long Day’s Journey Into Night

Apparently, Jessica Lange had a path in mind. You might call it the Tandy Trajectory: that sequence of classic American roles, all memorably played by Jessica Tandy, from Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire to Amanda Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie to Mary Tyrone in Long Day’s Journey Into Night. But Lange, despite her 1992 Streetcar and 2005 Menagerie on Broadway, and her London Long Day’s Journey in 2000, did not seem a likely candidate to complete the trifecta here. Her Blanche and Amanda had been underpowered: finely shaded but barely perceptible ten rows past the proscenium. An explosive performer onscreen, Lange onstage seemed rather to implode, a trait that would be especially disastrous for the drug addict Mary in O’Neill’s autobiographical howl of sadness. A Mary not fighting her family (and herself) with everything in her arsenal would all but dissolve in the play’s famous fogs.

How can any one of us forget? »

  • Posted 4/27/16 at 12:32 PM
  • Art

The Art World in Brussels, a Month After the Attacks

On March 22, the day of the coordinated terrorist attacks in Brussels, plans were well underway for the city’s annual art-fair week — one uneasy month away. This was the first year that the Independent chose the capital of the European Union (if not necessarily the European art world, which is divided between London, Paris, and Berlin, among other places) to expand into, adding its edgier offerings to those of the long-established Art Brussels fair, as it does in New York (where the Independent complements the Armory Show).

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Theater Review: Tuck Everlasting May Not Be for the Ages

The age of a show’s protagonist often provides a clue to the age of the audience the show is pitched to: Patrick in American Psycho is 27; Jenna in Waitress is “in her thirties”; the character Frank Langella plays in The Father is 80 going on dead. So perhaps we should be grateful that Winnie, the heroine of the 1975 “young adult” fantasy novel Tuck Everlasting, has been bumped up from 10 to 11 for the musical adaptation that just opened on Broadway: She is that much more bearable. But whether the work of so many talented people in effecting the adaptation has added anything of value beyond that one year is another matter; this is, almost until the end, a ruthlessly by-the-book treatment of a high-concept, low-wattage fairy tale. Those nostalgic for their seventh-grade enthusiasms may love it; I found it to be a musical for the child in someone else.

As safe as a musical can be. »

Theater Review: Fully Committed Returns, Offering a Seat at the Bar at 6:00 p.m. or 9:30 p.m.

I don’t know if it qualifies as part of Broadway’s ongoing diversity initiative, but in Fully Committed, the one-man comedy opening tonight at the Lyceum, that Ginger-American Jesse Tyler Ferguson plays, by my count, an astonishing 34 roles, together constituting a rainbow of assholes. Initially he’s just Sam Callahan, a struggling actor sullenly working a pre-Christmas shift taking reservations at a superhot Manhattan restaurant. But as the outside lines, the in-house intercoms, and his own cellphone start ringing, Ferguson takes on the vocal and gestural lives of all the callers: would-be guests, terrified assistants; his agent, friends, frenemies, and family; the arrogant chef, the tantrum-y maître d’, and various others, all exploding with ASAP demands. Needless to say, this being a restaurant, none of the demands is a true emergency, no matter how much the callers bully and scream — unless accommodating Gwyneth Paltrow with an all-vegan tasting menu for 15, with flattering light bulbs and no women servers, counts as an emergency.

"Ferguson is not a television star (of Modern Family) for nothing." »

  • Posted 4/25/16 at 1:12 PM
  • Titles

Anna Kendrick’s Book of Comedic Essays Has a Two-Thirds Fitting Title

It's not just bloggers who one day dream of writing a book of comedic essays described by critics as "a gimlet-eyed look at life in the big city" — critically acclaimed thespians do, too. Last year, Anna Kendrick signed a deal with Touchstone to produce one such book, and today, the Pitch Perfect star took to Twitter to announce its title: Scrappy Little Nobody. Those are two words that apply to Kendrick and one word that doesn't, so I think everyone will agree this title deserves a D-plus. Congratulations, Anna!

Theater Review: Waitress, Sweet and Sassy

A lot of the preview press for the new Broadway musical Waitress, which opened tonight at the Brooks Atkinson, concerned its groundbreakingly all-female creative team: Sara Bareilles (songs), Jessie Nelson (book), Lorin Latarro (choreography), and Diane Paulus (direction). Even if this seemed to ignore the three men among the show’s four topline designers — not to mention earlier breakthrough work by the likes of Elizabeth Swados — it struck me as an impressive marker for the improving state of gender equity in the theater. But I didn’t expect it to signify anything further. Feminism does not suggest or hope that women can tell women’s stories better than men can, or for that matter that there is such a thing as a women’s story. Only that everyone should get a piece of the pie.

Baking as metaphor. »

Jennifer Hudson and the Cast of The Color Purple Brought Down the House With ‘Purple Rain’ in Honor of Prince

For a man as theatrical as Prince, all of Broadway had to honor him in the wake of his death: Hamilton went ham for "Let's Go Crazy" on Thursday night, while the cast of The Color Purple paid tribute to the Purple One with his signature song. Led by Jennifer Hudson, who opened with a few words about her good friend, the cast — which includes the outstanding Cynthia Erivo and Orange Is the New Black's Danielle Brooks — channeled Prince for an absolutely spellbinding cover of "Purple Rain." Listen, there are covers, and then there's what Jennifer Hudson did last night — the very definition of catching the spirit. This alone should win her a Tony.

11 Artists Poised to Have a Breakout Year

For our Art and Design issue, New York has been examining the art world's recent past — tracing the identity-politics revolution; catching up with Richard Prince, the Warhol of the Instagram age — and it's present, as we sit down with James Franco to let him make a case for his art and get a crash course in today's market from a Sotheby's advisor. And now we look to the future: ahead, 11 artists, selected by senior art critic Jerry Saltz, who are poised to have breakout years, along with a sampling of their work.

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5 Lessons in Today’s Art Market From a Sotheby’s Advisor

I love momentum. I’m not a speed freak, and I can be thoughtful and procedural at times. But I like things to proceed apace. I’m like an 8-track tape you had to fast-forward but could never rewind. Characterologically, I’m always thinking: What is the next iteration, the next thing?

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  • Posted 4/22/16 at 2:59 AM
  • Prince

Here’s the Cast of Hamilton Going Crazy to Prince’s ‘Let’s Go Crazy’

Never ones to disappoint, the Hamilton cast joined mourning Prince fans by surprising their Thursday evening show with a stirring tribute. Before production's end, everybody had gathered onstage at the Richard Rodgers Theatre for an appropriately crazy, dance-y rendition of the Purple One's "Let's Go Crazy." Creator Lin-Manuel Miranda explained afterward that Ham's musical director Alex Lacamoire had spent the day orchestrating it. "Good night guys," Miranda tweeted. "Today we laughed, we cried, we mourned, we danced. What more could we ask of that electric word, life?"

Theater Review: Gore ’88! American Psycho Hacks Its Way Onstage

Possibly the most sickening thing about the new musical American Psycho, aside from the fact that it exists on Broadway, is its transparent splash curtain, which even at the beginning of the show is smeared with the signs of recent squeegeeing. For all the simulated gore that follows — eruptions of blood are used almost like the “buttons” on traditional musical numbers as characters are hatcheted, knifed, and otherwise vivisected — it’s the streaky ghost of the previous night’s gore that, in its suggestiveness, makes the stomach sink. If only the creators of this ultimate “why” musical had paid any attention to the possibilities of that kind of subtlety, they might have come up with a bearable if not a justifiable evening. Alternatively, they could have made the curtain opaque and left it down.

Squeezed sloppily into musical form. »

The Reviled Identity Politics Show That Forever Changed Art

The background radiation is still there, two decades later, from the infamous 1993 Whitney Biennial — the so-called multi-cultural, identity-politics, political, or just bad biennial. Establishment art history circa 1993 was a broken model, built on white men and Western civilization and certain ossified ideas about “greatness” and “genius.” New artists looking for new ways to speak to new audiences couldn’t get their voices heard or work seen.

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This Company Created the Blackest Black Ever Known – and Only One Artist Can Use It

Exclusives have always been part of the art hustle. Tudor court painter Hans Holbein the Younger had a lock on portraying the infant Edward, Prince of Wales. In Madrid a few decades later, Diego Velázquez was the only artist permitted to paint King Philip IV. More recently, Jeff Koons tried to designate the artistic representation of balloon dogs as his intellectual property, to no avail.

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The Internet Wrote a Full-Length, Crowdsourced Hamilton Parody About Jeb Bush That Must Be Experienced to Be Believed

When you're trying to parody Hamilton, you've got to get up pretty early to get one over the likes of "HAMILTRUMP (Hamilton Musical vs. Trump Parody)," "BATLEXANDER MANILTON (Hamilton + Batman Parody)," and "'You'll Be Back' from Hamilton: Voldemort Parody." So we've got to salute the dozens of people who labored for weeks to create Jeb! The Musical, an amazingly ambitious full-length Hamilton parody about Jeb Bush that you can currently read in this Google doc. In this telling, the former Florida governor becomes "Jeb Bush Exclamation Point" (gotta preserve the scansion*), with his enduring refrain, "There's a million things I haven't done, but please just clap." Our antagonist and narrator is Donald Trump, chump, and here's his motto:

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David Hockney Talks Mass Appeal, Virtual Reality, and Lost Bohemia

David Hockney’s compound, steep in the Hollywood Hills, is anonymous from the street, but once you’ve been invited through the gray gate, everything is painted in festive and surreal Hockney colors — blue and red and pink. Inside, I find Hockney slumped, asleep, in a comfy chair in the middle of his cheery skylit studio, wheezing peaceably. It’s just after noon, but Hockney is almost 79 and not, or so it seems today anyway, a particularly young 79. His work is some of the most recognizable and beloved in the world, whimsical and serious at once. It’s so familiar that it’s difficult to not think of what, for example, Los Angeles would look like uncontaminated by the way he painted it. Isn’t his L.A. the one you fantasize about living in even if you actually live there? And it’s hard to imagine the current ecstatic swagger of the L.A. art scene existing in quite the way it does without Hockney’s mythic blessing. 

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James Franco Is, Actually, an Artist. So Why Won’t the Art World Take Him Seriously?

James Franco has famously resisted being identified as merely an actor, pursuing a simultaneous life in the art world — making videos of dollhouses split in half, painting fat pets, and restaging Cindy Sherman’s iconic 1977–1980 “Untitled Film Stills,” with Franco himself standing in for Sherman, who was (in her own version) standing in for a variety of actresses in B-movies. New York art critic Jerry Saltz called the works in that 2014 show at the Pace Gallery, Franco’s most high-profile in New York, “silly self-obsessed demi-drag re-creations,” and wrote that “at this point George W. Bush is actually a better artist than James Franco.” The New York Times pleaded, “Someone or something, make him stop” — in a review written by Saltz’s wife, co–chief art critic Roberta Smith. In almost four hours of conversation in Los Angeles this winter, the artist and critic met and talked honestly about why the art world has been so hostile to Franco and other celebrities who try to enter it — and what drives Franco to continue, hostility be damned.

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The Father’s Frank Langella Is at a Peak As a Proud Man in Humbling Decline

All stage stars seduce their audiences, but how? The winkers do it coyly, the vamps brazenly, the intensos while pretending not to notice you are there. The slightly kinky way Frank Langella does it may remind you of a ravishment: You’ve come into his lair, and he’s going to have you however he wants. There is a great deal of technique behind it, and a bristling alertness to the theatrical moment, but also a whiff of disdain, the seed of which is need. In 40 years of watching Langella onstage, from Seascape and Dracula in the 1970s through Frost/Nixon and Man and Boy just recently, I’ve never seen that need come as close to full exposure as in the just-opened Manhattan Theatre Club production of The Father — not to be confused with Strindberg’s play of the same name, which Langella headlined at the Roundabout in 1996. In this Father, the American debut of the young French playwright Florian Zeller, Langella gets so close to strip-mining the core of his gifts that you think he may cave in, or that you will. It’s a must-see performance.

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  • Posted 4/14/16 at 1:31 PM
  • Memoirs

Jeffrey Tambor Is Writing a Memoir — Good Thing Aziz Ansari Already Thought of the Perfect Title

In a move George Bluth should've thought of ages ago, Jeffrey Tambor is writing a memoir. It's on Crown Publishing's spring 2017 slate and will consist of humorous essays about Tambor's decades-long career in comedy and how he's brought everything he's learned in life to some of his most beloved characters, including Arrested Development's Bluth, The Larry Sanders Show's Hank Kingsley, and Transparent's Maura Pfefferman. He'll also talk about what it was like working with a few of his famous co-stars — Garry Shandling hopefully being one of them. “Some stories will be awkward, others inspiring, some dark, most funny, and all will, I think, be hopeful and instructive,” Tambor said in a press release. Well, we're sold. It technically already has a title — Are You Anybody — but with all due respect, none can ever top Aziz Ansari's idea. Remember when he pretty much predicted Tambor's memoir at the Golden Globes in January? Sorry, but Losing to Jeffrey Tambor With Dignity is a serious winner.

Artist Who Painted Kanye Kissing Kanye Paints Over Kanye Kissing Kanye, Sells a Print for $100,000

I just talked to Yeezus
He said, "What up Scott Marsh?"
I said, "Shit I'm chilling
Trying to stake my thousands."
That painting's 20 feet high
Now it's 0 feet high
Mi casa su Kanye
Sold a print for $100k
I am an artist
I am an artist
I am an artist
AAAHHH!
AAAHHH!
AAAHHH!

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