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Aaron Sorkin Adapting To Kill a Mockingbird for Broadway, Which Is Really Quite Something

Aaron Sorkin is returning to Broadway with a stage adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird, producer Scott Rudin announced on Wednesday. The production will be directed by The King and I's Bartlett Sher, with no word on a premiere date or location. Harper Lee's novel was previously adapted for the stage by Christopher Segel, in productions in New Jersey and London, but the West Wing creator's version will be Mockingbird's Broadway debut. Sorkin is a perfect match for the iconic novel, which is, of course, the story of an older man explaining liberal values to a young woman.

  • Posted 2/9/16 at 11:59 PM
  • Theater

Theater Review: John Patrick Shanley’s Wayward Prodigal Son

A playwright enters dangerous territory when he attempts to dramatize his struggle to become an artist: a struggle that is supposedly resolved, or at least justified, by the artistry he now puts before us. When the play turns out to be less than thrilling — as was the case, for instance, with A.R. Gurney’s What I Did Last Summer — the disproportion between the setup and the result risks bathos, if not ridiculousness. John Patrick Shanley has often seemed on the verge of this sort of self-parody even in nonautobiographical works, like Doubt, that take dramatic fiction as close to the electrified fence of narcissism as possible without getting electrocuted. But that propinquity to danger is also where his power lies, a tricky problem that animates and partly defeats Prodigal Son, the latest of 11 plays of his to be produced by Manhattan Theatre Club. Telling the story of the two teenage years he spent at the Thomas More School in Harrisville, New Hampshire, years that confirmed him in his artistic path, it displays all of his mature talents for moral inquiry, rich dialogue, and compelling scene-making — and not incidentally creates a role that the 20-year-old actor Timothée Chalamet is able to knock out of the park. But Prodigal Son, like its biblical namesake, is also a mopey and vexing testament to the confusions of self-regard. Trying to climb that electrified fence has apparently shorted some of Shanley’s circuits.

Testing new identities, and new doubts. »

  • Posted 2/8/16 at 9:30 PM
  • Theater

Theater Review: The Woodsman Gets You Home Before Dark

Ed. note: The Woodsman opened in a limited run on January 15, 2015, at 59E59. Because the production reopens tonight at New World Stages, where it will run indefinitely, we're republishing Jesse Green's earlier review.

Like “humanistic Judaism,” the term “imaginative theater” ought to be a redundancy. (Shouldn’t all theater be imaginative?) Still, some troupes seek to differentiate themselves from the mainstream with the homespun, less literal storytelling techniques the term seems to imply: puppetry, shadow play, choral speech, mime. It’s no coincidence that these techniques are also cheaper than the ones you find on Broadway; imaginative theater exists in reaction against spectacularism, and often in reaction against the kinds of narratives that invite it. Though it’s a commercial run, The Woodsman, now playing at the 59E59 theater complex, is thus a perfect example of the genre, not only offering a marvelous, minimalist staging but also taking as its text the backstory of the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz books, a tale steeped in dawn-of-the-machine-age anxiety. The production, by the young troupe Strangemen & Co. — mission statement: “to simply honor what is truthful one story at a time” — looks like what might happen if Shakers put on Wicked

"But sad is not the same as meaningful." »

  • Posted 2/4/16 at 8:00 PM
  • Theater

Theater Review: Sense & Sensibility & Speediness

My Kindle tells me that it takes an average reader some ten hours to get through Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. The delightful Bedlam stage version, which had a successful run in 2014 and is now being revived at the Gym at Judson, takes about two. (Saving extra time, the and in the title has been replaced by an ampersand.) Naturally, with 80 percent less eyeball engagement, there’s going to be some depth lost; Austen’s prose is hilarious and penetrating but not especially theatrical. Long stretches go by with no dialogue, and in shaping climactic moments she often lets the reader’s imagination do a lot of the work. Not so Kate Hamill, who wrote the adaptation and stars as one of the Dashwood sisters, Marianne. Like that character, her gloss on the masterpiece is sometimes too dramatic for its own good: bug-eyed where Austen merely lifts an eyebrow, its high points wanting only organ music to tip them into old-style soap opera. Still, it’s robust fun throughout, which is more than one can say about poor Marianne.  

A few too many modern gimmicks. »

The Hamilton Cast Will Perform a Song at the Grammys, So You’re 1/46th of the Way to Actually Seeing It

It is a truth rarely acknowledged that some of the world's most fervent Hamilton fans have not actually seen Hamilton. (Those ticket prices!) To help us poor souls, the Grammys today announced that the cast of the hit Broadway musical will perform during the February 15 telecast, finally giving us some visuals to accompany the cast recording that plays in our minds 24 hours a day nonstop. According to Lin-Manuel Miranda, the cast will perform the show's opening number, "Alexander Hamilton," from their stage at the Richard Rodgers Theatre. If it's anything like past Grammy performances, they'll be joined onstage by Eddie Vedder, Steven Van Zandt, Bono, Jack White, and John Mayer, with Keith Richards making a special guest appearance as George III.

Congratulations, James Corden, You’re Hosting the Tony Awards This Year

In less than 18 months, James Corden has gone from "who?" to America's favorite karaoke singer, and now he's capped his ascent with a gig hosting this year's Tony Awards, which, like Corden's Late Late Show, will be broadcast on CBS. Corden is a past Tony winner, for Best Actor in a Play in 2012, for his role in One Man, Two Guvnors. He is also British, which means that if he doesn't come out dressed as King George III from Hamilton, we should all ask for our money back.

  • Posted 2/1/16 at 11:20 AM
  • Tv

Grease: Live Is the First TV Musical to Feel Like Actual Theater

If theater is a hot medium, musical theater burns, making it a particularly bad match for the coolness of television. The three recent live musicals on NBC (The Sound of Music, Peter Pan, The Wiz) have been more or less successful — usually less — on their own terms but in no case came close to convincing a theatergoer of the worth of the attempted temperature translation. The cold silence of the studio, the absence of human connection, and especially the phenomenon of actors belting to an unblinking lens all contributed to their eerie, dead affect, even when those actors were excellent and the material fine. The resounding success of last night’s live production of the 1971 musical Grease on Fox was therefore a huge surprise, and a relief, even if it was the result of just a few relatively sensible innovations on the part of its producers and its director, Thomas Kail. It’s not too much to say that they may finally have cracked open this recalcitrant egg — though, sadly, what was inside it was still Grease

That's the way it should be. »

  • Posted 1/29/16 at 8:00 AM
  • Theater

Talking With Stephen Karam, the Brilliant Young Playwright Behind The Humans

Stephen Karam’s Chinatown apartment, which he moved into after the success of his 2011 play Sons of the Prophet, is a huge step up from his last place. Yes, the elevator is tetchy, and the door to the sixth-floor landing features a graffitied penis that someone has attempted to disguise with more scratches. The sort-of-one-bedroom layout is small and irregular, like a piece of a jigsaw puzzle that fell off a table. Still, it’s the kind of place a parent, noticing the scripts organized by color, the cheerful troll statuettes, and the light streaming in everywhere, might call “surprisingly nice.” No one would have ventured that phrase to describe his old place, the subterranean lower half of a duplex on the Upper West Side whose one window looked onto the bottom of an air shaft. “It was spooky,” he says, “in an effortless way.” There was no outer world except when it rained. Then, as the drain backed up, he could perceive in the darkness a rising lake of cigarette butts.

Read More  »

  • Posted 1/27/16 at 8:54 PM
  • Theater

Theater Review: I and You and a Plot Twist, Too

Every year, American Theatre magazine publishes a list of the country’s most-produced playwrights. It makes sense that Ayad Akhtar topped the latest edition: His award-winning plays, many performed in New York and one (Disgraced) on Broadway, are compelling and topical and fairly easy to mount. Familiar names including August Wilson, Tennessee Williams, and Arthur Miller (in his centenary year) filled out most of the rest of the top ten — except for a writer, tied for seventh spot with John Patrick Shanley, I’d never heard of before: Lauren Gunderson. Based in California, Gunderson has several plays in active circulation; they’ve had a total of more than 70 productions around the country in the last few years, virtually none here. That anomaly has now been corrected with the arrival at 59E59 of her most popular work, the 2011 drama I and You, in a production from the Merrimack Repertory Theatre of Lowell, Massachusetts. I’m not sure which is more dispiriting: the play itself or what it says about the theatrical scene in the hinterlands. 

Two characters, one set. »

  • Posted 1/20/16 at 10:00 PM
  • Theater

Theater Review: Linda Lavin Has a Secret, in Our Mother’s Brief Affair

Anna Cantor, the title character of Our Mother’s Brief Affair, is a suburban matron, a passive-aggressive parent, and, even in the throes of semi-dementia, a genius with a barb. (As long as he’s celibate anyway, she asks her gay son, “Would it kill you to not sleep with a woman?”) If the playwright Richard Greenberg didn’t write the role for Linda Lavin, he might as well have, so perfectly does it suit and flatter her. It may in fact suit and flatter her too well; sometimes one would like to see Lavin clawing her way out of a role instead of slipping so smoothly into it. Here, she wears Anna as fetchingly as Anna wears the perfectly cut Burberry trench coat she imbues with talismanic powers of mysterious romance. It is just such a romance that forms the central (and really the only) plot of this entertaining but threadbare play, staged for Manhattan Theatre Club by its longtime artistic director, Lynne Meadow. Really, the title tells you all you need to know: Anna, in the hospital for one of her many near-death theatricals, reveals to her adult twin children the story of, well —

But I can’t say. And neither, until just before the first-act curtain, can Greenberg.

No spoilers. »

Bette Midler Is Returning to Broadway in the Hello, Dolly! Revival

It's a match! That must have been what popped up on Bette Midler's screen when she was trolling late-night Tinder looking for a classic Broadway play to revive. The Divine Miss M is returning to Broadway next year with Hello, Dolly! directed by Tony-heavy Jerry Zaks and choreography by Warren Carlyle. The play written by Jerry Herman won a record ten Tonys when it was first staged on Broadway in 1964 with Carol Channing as Dolly Levi, the matchmaking meddler. “Many times through the years I’ve been asked about bringing back Hello, Dolly! — and it has always been, ‘Who would be my dream Dolly?’" composer Jerry Herman said in a statement. "Who is out there that has the necessary stature, warmth, the incredible talent and ability, and especially the singular, outsized personality that I was looking for in a 21st Century Dolly? Only one person: Bette Midler." And she swiped right, too! If it's awkward, just pretend to get a phone call from your friend saying something bad happened, okay?

Read More  »

Lin-Manuel Miranda on Jay Z, The West Wing, and 18 More Things That Influenced Hamilton

This story was originally published on July 29, 2015. Since we're talking all things Hamilton this week, we're repromoting it.

In Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical Hamilton (which opens on Broadway on August 6 after a much-praised run this past winter at the Public Theater), the founding father emerges as an immigrant striver and Constitution architect, one who struggles with his own sense of ambition — and the odd duel — and does it while rapping and singing complex and historically accurate lyrics. Ron Chernow’s biography was a key influence, but, as Miranda told us, far from the only one.

Read More  »

  • Posted 1/14/16 at 8:00 PM
  • Theater

Theater Review: A Near-Perfect Noises Off Revival

The key thing about farce isn’t the slamming of doors but the solidity of walls; without rigid order there can be no liberating chaos. The carpentry is crucial, and I doubt there’s ever been a better-carpentered example of the genre than Michael Frayn’s Noises Off, now in a cry-your-eyes-out funny revival at the Roundabout. So precise is the play’s construction, both in terms of physics and metaphysics, that it seems to have been written with a magic wand and a nail gun. Watching it, helpless with laughter for long stretches, I was too distracted to think much about the work that went into it, but later, reading the script, which is more like an engineering blueprint for a nuclear device, I began to wonder if it wasn’t among the best-built things, farce or not, ever put on a stage, including even Megan Hilty in a pink push-up teddy. 

A perfectly matched and meshed cast. »

How to Name Your Baby After Hamilton

Do you love Hamilton? No, no; do you love it? Sure, some people have tattoos inspired by the show, and some people have devoted huge swaths of their lives to winning the ticket lottery, but the true mark of a Hamilton obsessive would be naming your child after it in some capacity. If that idea moves you, here are the obvious and less-obvious names to consider, replete with historical naming data. Fans of "Theodosia," there's still time to get ahead of the trend!

Don't ... don't pick Philip. »

Hamilton’s Ham4Ham Preshow: The Complete Compendium (So Far)

For any other Broadway production, last week's news that the preshow ticket lottery was being moved online might go unnoticed. But for Hamilton, it marked the (temporary) end of a series of short-and-sweet street performances that have come to be known (and hashtagged) as Ham4Ham. Spearheaded by Hamilton creator/star and unabashed theater geek Lin-Manuel Miranda, the shows are an eclectic grab-bag of a cappella tunes, elaborate lip-syncing, role-swaps, mash-ups, inside jokes, and special guest performances intended to lessen the disappointment of the lottery entrants who will walk away from the Richard Rodgers on 46th Street empty-handed.

The haphazard nature of the #Ham4Ham experience has made it a little tricky for non-fans to follow, but thanks to arts administrator Howard Sherman's dedicated front-row videography and blogs like The Federalist Freestyle rounding up footage from social media posts, these bite-size morsels of DIY theatrics will live on long past the announcements of the winning lotto participants' names. Below, a compendium of the first six months of Ham4Ham shows, sorted by chronology and categories, starting during Hamilton’s Broadway previews back in July. These are likely to be the last Ham4Hams that take place outside, before the preshow debuts online.

Read More  »

  • Posted 1/14/16 at 2:47 AM
  • R.i.p.

Brian Bedford, Master Stage Actor and Voice of Robin Hood, Dead at 80

Brian Bedford, the British stage veteran whose masterly performances and interpretations of classical roles captivated Canadian and American audiences for decades, died Wednesday in Santa Barbara. The 80-year-old had battled cancer for two-and-a-half years, according to a Stratford rep, who also told the Canadian Press that doctors had been "astounded by his will to live."

Born in Yorkshire, Bedford shared Royal Academy classrooms with the likes of Peter O'Toole and Albert Finney, before embarking on an acting career that would span nearly 60 years and take him to theaters overseas. In southwestern Ontario, Bedford acted and directed for 29 seasons at Canada's famous Stratford fest, where he would develop his proclivity for the classics and perform the works of Shakespeare, Chekhov, and Molière, among others. Stateside he took turns in 18 Broadway productions, winning a Best Actor Tony in 1971 for Molière's The School for Wives and nabbing nominations six other times. In 1997, he was inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame. Bedford enjoyed a lengthy onscreen career, too, notably voicing Disney's animated Robin Hood (1973), and appearing on such TV programs as Coronet Blue, Cheers, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Frasier, and Black Jesus. He's survived by his longtime partner and husband, actor Tim MacDonald.

Should I Listen to Hamilton Before I See It? A Step-by-Step Decision Guide

Should I listen to the cast recording before I see the show? It's a question one wonders before seeing any musical, and just like everything else in this world, it depends. Some people always go in 100 percent blank, having avoided all recordings; and some like to go in knowing every single line, being able to simultaneously hear the songs in their hearts and through their ears. Typically, the choice is whether to opt in rather than a choice to opt out, but when a show becomes as beloved and pervasive as Hamilton has, you have to really choose not to hear the music before seeing the show. That's just the power of Hamiltunes. There's no one right path, so this guide will walk you through several options.

Just you wait, just you wait. »

A Long Conversation With the Scene-Stealers of Hamilton

Two. Two-two two thousand. Two-two two thousand — 2016. A cast of wildly talented singers/rappers/actors, seemingly born to play the Founding Fathers and Mothers, in an unlikely Broadway hip-hop hit about the man who created the national bank. Lin-Manuel Miranda might be the genius composer, lyricist, and star of Hamilton, but the reason the show feels like one showstopper after the next is thanks to Leslie Odom Jr.'s layered portrayal of Aaron Burr, Renée Elise Goldsberry's acrobatic take on Angelica Schuyler, Christopher Jackson's powerful George Washington, and many more instant-classic performances.

To find out what it's like to be part of a once-in-a-generation hit, Vulture sat down with Odom Jr., Goldsberry, and Jackson, as well as the equally brilliant two-part actors Daveed Diggs (Marquis de Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson) and Jasmine Cephas Jones (Peggy Schuyler/Maria Reynolds), as they ate dinner between shows at the classic Broadway staple Sardi's. They discussed how the show changes every night, the quiet importance of director Thomas Kail, how they landed on their takes on these American icons, and when they think they will be ready to leave their parts. Each was open, warm, and passionate about being in Hamilton, thoughtfully articulating how beautiful and strange it is to be in this moment.

Read More  »

  • Posted 12/30/15 at 6:34 PM
  • Theater

Tony Winner Tonya Pinkins Quits Off Broadway Brecht Revival, Says Her Role Was ‘Neutered’

Tonya Pinkins has left the Off Broadway production of Bertolt Brecht's Mother Courage and Her Children, currently in previews, saying the production had "neutered" her character "through the white gaze," the Associated Press reports. Pinkins announced her departure in a statement on Wednesday, saying the Classic Stage Company's vision for the production had left her Mother Courage, a woman who operates a canteen wagon in the midst of a devastating civil war, "speechless, powerless, history-less and even cart-less." The root of the conflict appears to be CSC's decision to shift the setting of the play from 17th-century Europe to the modern-day Democratic Republic of the Congo — Pinkins called the move a mere "decorative motif" and said the production misled her about its intention to portray Mother Courage as "delusional." As the actress, who won a Tony for her role in Jelly's Last Jam, wrote, "Why, in 2015, in the arts, is there a need to control the artistic expression of a black woman?

Read More  »

  • Posted 12/24/15 at 11:22 AM
  • Theater

Watch What an Oh, Hello Press Conference Is Like (Very Condescending, Very Funny)

For a few short weeks, Hamilton had a rival for the title of hottest ticket in town in the form of two old jerks from the Upper West Side. From December 1 through 20, George St. Geegland and Gil Faizon, with the help of John Mulaney and Nick Kroll, had a critically acclaimed, 21-show off-Broadway run at the prestigious Cherry Lane Theatre. Each night, playwright George and his muse Gil would perform a very subtle, understated play about two schmucks named Gil and George who were in danger of losing their previously rent-controlled apartment. Afterward they would hold a press conference, because a play this complex and subtext-filled leaves an audience with many questions swimming around their stupid heads. It was all very powerful and moving and hilarious. And you missed it, you dummy! 

Watch a clip from their press conference. »

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