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  • Posted 9/28/15 at 10:01 PM

Theater Reviews: Daddy Long Legs and Fondly, Collette Richland

Theater composers seem to have a thing for “beloved” novels about ambitious girls, usually orphaned, making their way in an unwelcoming world. There’s a good reason for it, too: Such novels are typically in the public domain. Certainly it’s not because Jane Eyre (1847) and Little Women (1868) and Anne of Green Gables (1908) and The Secret Garden (1911) have made good musicals; only the last, which opened on Broadway in 1991, is bearable. Something about the very belovedness of these works makes them resistant to adaptation, perhaps because they encourage a worshipful approach to a process that benefits more from benign disrespect. 

An epistolary mystery with no suspense. »

  • Posted 9/27/15 at 10:00 PM

Theater Review: A Signed (But Not Silenced) Spring Awakening

The fall Broadway season unofficially begins tonight with the opening of Spring Awakening, the first of six revivals in a row. It’s not surprising that with so many déjà vus, and more to come, people are asking whether we really need to have Fiddler on the Roof for the sixth time, or The Gin Game ever again. Didn’t The Color Purple just close? And it’s true that, too often, old shows are remounted merely because some stars are available to squeeze the last juice out of them. But other times the motives are purer, if never pure: We get revivals not because we “need” them but because artists do, or because a perfect alignment of interests provides a unique opportunity. Occasionally — and Deaf West Theatre’s production of Spring Awakening is a superb example — something latent in the material meets the mood of the time to make a revival not just a necessity but a great pleasure. 

Not an obvious choice, but not a random one either. »

Theater Review: Juliette Binoche and That Downed Malaysia Airlines Jet Inspire a New Antigone

The Belgian director Ivo van Hove almost always has the term avant-garde attached to his name, but with four major New York productions this season, including two on Broadway, he probably needs a new adjective. Not that he’s completely abandoned the techniques and tics that make the style so recognizable, and thus faintly ridiculous, to regular theatergoers. Murky video, drony music, indeterminate or clashing settings are all still part of the vocabulary. His production of Sophocles’s Antigone, now at BAM, takes place both in a desert outside ancient Thebes and, downstage, on a lower level of the set, in some sort of contemporary municipal office, with a leather sofa and file cabinets. The costumes, mostly black of course, would not be unwelcome in a Soho shop window, and look particularly terrific on his star, Juliette Binoche. 

"This production does everything it possibly can to argue rather than move." »

  • Posted 9/17/15 at 10:00 PM
  • Theater

Theater Reviews: The Christians, Iphigenia in Aulis, and Hamlet in Bed

Most plays about religion are really about politics or psychopathology. In Saint Joan, Agnes of God, and Doubt, for instance, it’s not dogma that gets dramatized — how could it be? Theology is glacial. Instead, we are shown real-world consequences of intense belief, including damage done to innocent bystanders. But in his extraordinary new play The Christians at Playwrights Horizons, Lucas Hnath grapples directly with dogma itself. There’s no pedophilia, no stigmata, no financial shenanigans with the collection plate; the fate of France is not involved. There’s just a question for a congregation to answer: How do we change and yet remain faithful?


  • Posted 9/10/15 at 10:00 PM
  • Theater

Theater Reviews: Artifice Wrecks, in Isolde and Desire

Richard Maxwell’s Isolde, opening the season at the Theatre for a New Audience, belongs to the Mad Libs school of dramaturgy, in which various more-or-less random elements are fitted together to fashion something absurd. Ideally, the way the elements fit or don’t should produce sparks of emotion along the seams, or at least, as in Mad Libs, peals of laughter. Isolde doesn’t do much of the former or any of the latter; it just sits there, complacently making no sense.

Promising material, ill-handled. »

  • Posted 9/6/15 at 5:25 PM
  • Theater

Even Homer Revs: A Biker Odyssey in the Park

Art for art’s sake is sometimes a diet too rich to maintain, yet art that sets out single-mindedly to feed a political agenda almost always fails to satisfy. The Public Theater, whose mission is, in essence, to search for ways of resolving that paradox, never succeeds better than in its Public Works program: a year-round collaboration with community groups in all five boroughs that culminates in a work of participatory theater in Central Park. This year’s production, a 100-minute musical-pageant version of The Odyssey conceived and directed by Lear deBessonet and written by Todd Almond, involves five Equity actors and about 200 nonprofessionals representing youth arts programs, domestic workers organizations, post-incarceration social-service societies, and just about any other kind of group not normally represented onstage. Did I mention the bikers?

Karen Olivo, back from Wisconsin. »

  • Posted 8/31/15 at 11:24 PM

King Neptune Has Answered Your Prayers, Is Bringing You a SpongeBob SquarePants Broadway Musical

Get ready to see Bikini Bottom reimagined for a real-life stage, because a SpongeBob SquarePants musical is gunning for Broadway next summer. Appropriately dubbed The SpongeBob Musical, the production will follow the titular sponge and feature original numbers by such big-time music names as David Bowie, Cyndi Lauper, John Legend, Aerosmith's Steven Tyler and Joe Perry, The Flaming Lips, and T.I. (What's right is right.) Theater vets will lead the project, including Tina Landau, who will direct; Kyle Jarrow, who's on book duty; and Tom Kitt, who will supervise music. "I was drawn to this project not only for its wild theatrical possibility, but also because I felt SpongeBob, at its core, is a layered and hilarious ensemble comedy," Landau said in a statement released by Nickelodeon, which is producing the musical. "We will present the world of Bikini Bottom and its characters in a whole new way that can only be achieved in the live medium of the theater. We're bringing the show's fabled characters to life through actors — not prosthetics or costumes that hide them."

But will the music be better than the latest movie's soundtrack? »

Mark Strong on A View From the Bridge and the British Bad-Guy Tradition

Olivier Award–winning British actor Mark Strong — square of jaw, piercing of gaze — is known Stateside for playing elegant, slightly sinister supporting characters, but he’ll be center stage in his Broadway debut this November, as Red Hook longshoreman Eddie Carbone in the Young Vic’s production of Arthur Miller’s A View From the Bridge. He spoke about finding Eddie, working with suddenly-everywhere director Ivo van Hove, and the British tradition of being a bad guy.


The Twists and Turns of Whorl Inside a Loop

If you fished Whorl Inside a Loop out of a slush pile and read only its précis, you’d probably cringe: A Broadway actress, described as the whitest person at her own Whitey McWhite party, teaches a class called Theatricalizing the Personal Narrative to a group of black men incarcerated for homicide at a maximum-security prison. You’d easily guess what’s next: Whitey McWhite will impart important lessons about taking responsibility through art, shed a tear for her own emotional imprisonment, and make the audience feel good about itself by proxy. But this is totally not how the drama develops in Dick Scanlan and Sherie Rene Scott’s new play, based to some extent on their experiences leading a similar group at Woodburn Correctional Facility in upstate New York. Or, rather, these things happen, but they are part of a story so much larger and more complicated that its liberal-orgasm outline can’t come close to doing it justice. And justice is the point.

Scott is a narcissist so wrapped up in her own story that even her attempts to satirize her narcissism come off as narcissistic. »

What Our Critics Are Really Looking Forward to This Fall

The films David Edelstein can’t wait to see.

Oct. 9
Peter Sarsgaard as Stanley Milgram, the Yale researcher who ordered test subjects to deliver shocks to a stranger, their semi-blind obedience suggesting the worst in human nature — as depicted by indie stalwart Michael Almereyda (Hamlet).

Our Brand Is Crisis
Oct. 30
David Gordon Green directs a fictionalized version of one of the most penetrating docs of the aughts, Rachel Boynton’s tragicomedy of a South American election warped by newfangled Yankee image manipulation.

Nov. 6
Saoirse Ronan as an Irish immigrant in what’s rumored to be an emotionally transporting portrait of a time and place — the Brooklyn of the ’50s.


45 Plays Premiering This Fall

Hopefully, you’ve had a few minutes to play around with our Fall Entertainment Generator. But if you’re looking for straight and simple lists of things to look out for by medium, we’ll be breaking them out separately. Here’s a look at fall theater.


  • Posted 8/24/15 at 4:06 PM

Way Off Broadway, But Maybe Not for Long: What’s Playing (and What’s Working) in the Berkshires

What used to be called the straw-hat circuit is long gone, as is the customary summer haberdashery that gave it its name. Stars no longer caravan their Broadway hits, in stripped-down versions, from barn to tent to “music fair” for weeklong engagements from June through August. But out-of-town summer theater still thrives, in new formats that have turned some venues in Western Massachusetts and the Hudson Valley from consumers of New York City product to providers of it. At the Williamstown Theatre Festival and Barrington Stage Company, for instance, you’re less likely to see a musical that recently played on Broadway than a musical on its way there. (In the past few seasons, Williamstown has premiered Far From Heaven and The Bridges of Madison County; Barrington, the revival of On the Town.) Non-musicals, too. Partnerships with major New York institutional theaters have turned Williamstown, Shakespeare & Company, Bard SummerScape, and New York Stage and Film into incubators for drama: Off Broadway’s Off Broadway.


Forest Whitaker Will Make His Broadway Debut With Hughie

The Wrap reports that Forest Whitaker will take his first turn on a Broadway stage as one of the stars in Hughie, a revival of a two-character Eugene O'Neill drama. In the short play, according to the trade, the Oscar-winning actor will appear as Erie Smith, a hustler who lives in a midtown New York hotel and tells stories of the deceased, titular Hughie and his glory days. (In other words, it's kind of like A Long, Glorified, But Very Good Monologue Starring Forest Whitaker and Friend/Talented Listener.) Michael Grandage is reportedly set to direct the production, which will debut next spring at the Schubert Theatre. The other role has not yet been cast.

  • Posted 8/23/15 at 9:05 PM

Vulture's 2015 Fall Entertainment Generator: 308 Things to Watch, Hear, and Do

You have a lot to worry about over the next few months: Booking flights for that destination wedding you're attending in two weeks (and deciding if you have to bring a gift or if you attendance is enough). Fantasy football, or the avoidance of it. Finding a good pasta salad for your cousin's Labor Day BBQ. Buying new boots. In time you'll be raking leaves, and not long after that, winterizing your speedboat. The list goes on and on.

Point is, you won't be wanting for anxiety this fall. Choosing worthwhile entertainment shouldn't add to it. That's why we dusted off our Fall Entertainment Generator and packed it full of 308 upcoming movies, shows, books, albums, and more. Simply pick a genre (blockbuster, indie, something adventurous, something trashy) and desired vibe (laugh, cry, scared, thrilled, inspired, or feel smart) and the generator will prescribe a bespoke cultural offering. There's no better way to keep yourself amused this autumn—especially once that boat's been shelved for the year.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch Closes on Broadway in September

The Hedwig and the Angry Inch revival that has graced Broadway for the last year and a half is closing next month, Variety reports. The last performance will be September 13, 3 p.m., at the Belasco Theater. "When we announced our limited 16-week Broadway engagement of Hedwig, never in my wildest dreams did I think it would run for a year and a half," producer David Binder said in a statement. "Hedwig heralded a historic year of acceptance and celebration across America." The popular musical, which centers on the story of a transsexual rock star who underwent a botched sex reassignment surgery and vies for closure, won four Tonys in 2014, including Best Revival of a Musical. The production also served as a platform for talented leading men, as Hedwig was played by the likes of Neil Patrick Harris, Andrew Rannells, Michael C. Hall, Darren Criss, and Taye Diggs. Variety notes that the show isn't going away for good, though: A national tour begins October 4, in San Francisco, so, in a way, those heels are just getting broken in.

  • Posted 8/11/15 at 10:06 PM
  • Theater

Theater Review: A Bed-and-Breakfast Weekend Gone Awkward, in Annie Baker’s John

What interest could Annie Baker possibly have in kitsch? This was the question bothering me as I headed into her new play, John, which takes place in a Gettysburg bed-and-breakfast so encrusted with tchotchkes — teddy bears, trolls, toy trains, gnomes, angels, samplers, Christmas crap, candles — that you may come to think you are actually trapped inside one. Surely the author of The Flick and The Aliens and Circle Mirror Transformation, all of which valorize society’s strugglers and stragglers, hadn’t gone cute or, worse, parodic? No, it quickly becomes clear that the owner of the B&B, Mertis Katherine Graven, known as Kitty, is not being offered as a caricature of eccentric old-ladyhood, despite her fondness for dolls and quack diets, and despite being played by the marvelously dippy Georgia Engel, a human tchotchke herself. Nor are the other characters, with their fibs and phobias and psychopathology, here to be mocked. But what are they here for? And what is Baker up to, filling three acts and three and a half hours with the homely minutiae of love, loss, and hospitality? 

"So much of what happens in a life is really only happening near it." »

Benedict Cumberbatch Would Prefer You Not Record Him While He’s in the Middle of Performing Hamlet

Benedict Cumberbatch is starring in Hamlet at London’s Barbican Centre for a few more weeks, but before he leaves, he wants to welcome you to a phoneless future. Why? The actor (understandably) isn't a fan of staring at phones and cameras recording him from the audience while he's trying to get his Shakespeare on.

Point taken. »

  • Posted 8/10/15 at 11:00 PM
  • Theater

Theater Review: Cymbeline in the Park, With Some Streamlining

In the Shakespeare canon, Cymbeline is a late play and a long play: by line count, the third longest, with 3,753. (The Comedy of Errors has less than half as many.) Some of those lines are genius, the pungency of their imagery distilled by years of know-how and undiluted by the passage of centuries: The English Channel is a “salt-water girdle,” desire a “tub both filled and running.” But, like a turducken, Cymbeline keeps you asking, even as you swallow it, “What the heck is this?” Categorically, it’s a late romance, a term that seems to mean “hodgepodge of craziness” and that usually involves some combination of potions, false deaths, changeling princes, and gender shenanigans. Cymbeline has them all; as a result, in production, it’s usually just incoherent. 

A group selfie starts it off. »

  • Posted 8/6/15 at 8:00 PM
  • Theater

Theater Review: Is Hamilton Even Better Than It Was?

A typical musical might list 18 numbers in its program; Hamilton, with 34, is more in the range of operatic works like Porgy and Bess. Ambition is part of it, no less for Lin-Manuel Miranda today than for George Gershwin in 1935. So is scope. The true-life tale of the orphan immigrant turned architect of American federalism (with sidelines in battle, banking, bedding, and duels) could not be told, at least not with depth to counterweight its breadth, in a few ditties and choruses. Nor could Miranda’s overarching point — that the doors of history must especially be opened to those traditionally excluded from it — be made in the traditional forms. When Hamilton debuted Off Broadway at the Public Theater in February, the rapturous reviews, including mine, all hailed its “groundbreaking” incorporation of contemporary musical genres, especially rap and various forms of hip-hop, as a way of refurbishing and selling an old story. A second look, as the slightly revised musical opens on Broadway for what will no doubt be a long and profitable run, suggests that something even more significant is going on. The breakthrough isn’t so much the incorporation of those contemporary genres; after all, Miranda already did that, throwing in Latin music to boot, in the charming In the Heights. But Hamilton not only incorporates newish-to-Broadway song forms; it requires and advances them, in the process opening up new territory for exploitation. It’s the musical theater, not just American history, that gets refurbished. And perhaps popular music, too. Call it Miranda’s manifest destiny, though one dreads the caravans of poor imitators that will surely trail behind.

The show's evolution. »

  • Posted 7/30/15 at 3:33 PM
  • Theater

Lupita Nyong’o Will Make Her New York Stage Debut This Fall, in a Play Written by The Walking Dead’s Michonne

Lupita Nyong’o is headed Off Broadway! 2013's breakout star is set to make her New York stage debut when she stars in Eclipsed, a 2009 play written by The Walking Dead's Danai Gurira, later this year. The play, directed by Lisel Tommy, is described as a "feminist reading" of the Second Liberian Civil War. Set in 2003, Eclipsed follows a group of women who are abducted and made the wives of a rebel commander. The show will begin previews on September 29 and will run at the Public Theater from October 14 to November 8.


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