Ten years ago, a smarmy Burt Bacharach revue called The Look of Love icked its way to Broadway and closed amid much derision. Critics said that Bacharach deserved better than paint-by-numbers illustrations of the familiar standards, but I doubted he would ever get it. Though he was an incomparable pop hit-maker for 30 years, from the late fifties through the late eighties, the hits were odd both in and out of context. The context was partly the period in which they arose, the way they seemed to beat a sketchy path around the rock revolution. The context was also, unavoidably, Dionne Warwick, for whom so many of the songs were written. Warwick was a superb vocalist, making lovely sounds, but emotion was not her strength; while singing Bacharach’s discursive melodies, she always seemed to be thinking about her grocery list or wondering where she left her purse.
Like the earlier plays in the Apple Family saga, Regular Singing begins with the rituals of three sisters — bossy Barbara, brittle Marian, and sane Jane — as they deal with food and tablecloths and flowers in a small house on Center Street in Rhinebeck, New York. For audiences who have revisited the Apples each fall since 2010, or watched all four plays in repertory this season, this is by now a ritual of a ritual. Also familiar will be the plays’ many motifs and obsessions: regional history, theatrical stories, gentrification, Kirsten Gillibrand.
Sutton Foster is teaming up with Amy Sherman-Palladino again. Three years after winning her second lead actress Tony, the Bunheads actress returns to Broadway to star in the 1997 musical Violet, playing a "facially disfigured North Carolina girl in the mid-1960s" who believes a televangelist can make her scar disappear. Bunheads creator Sherman-Palladino is set to produce. The show goes into previews March 28, so Sutton can go ahead and start shopping for her Tony Awards dress on the 29.
It’s sometimes said that great actors disappear in their roles, but I’m not sure that’s right. Watching Ian McKellen last Wednesday in a doubleheader of Harold Pinter’s No Man’s Land (at the matinee) and Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot (in the evening), I had the opposite feeling instead: that the roles were disappearing in him. He had absorbed the two characters, and now presented each, with complete fidelity and a brilliant burnish, through the medium of his voice and body. As Spooner (in No Man’s Land) he was insinuating, seedy, with the posture of a semicolon and the wormy carriage of a lifelong mooch. His hair, beneath a dirty brown cap, was greasily pulled back into a tiny pigtail; his voice strategically honeyed. And then, a few hours later, bearded and bowlered and barely able to walk, he reappeared as Estragon (in Godot): his face scrunched shut like some homeless people you see on the subway, his voice croaky and full of burrs as if it had been used too much in the past and not enough of late.
Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark drops the curtain for good on January 4 (then splits for Las Vegas), leaving behind the biggest bill in Broadway history. Here, a breakdown.
Ian McKellen’s assistant, cook, and masseur, a lithe, bushy-bearded man named Steve Thomson, meets me at the entrance to a palatial Tribeca penthouse. “Sit wherever you like,” he says, gesturing into a vastness of blood-orange sectionals, accented with matching rugs and walls, chain chandeliers, and exposed timbers: a Moroccan bordello crossbred with a Dumbo loft.
Ladies and gentlemen, Macbeth is a mess. Some of the greatest dramatic poetry ever written in English coexists with the Grandest Guignol gore; astonishing insights into the human appetite for power are all but stifled by astrological mumbo-jumbo. Shakespeare was addressing two audiences, of course: the nobles and the groundlings, with their different tastes. But in partly pleasing both, has Macbeth ever pleased anyone entirely?
Spider-Man Writer Glen Berger on His Tell-All Book About the Musical and What He Thinks of Its Move to VegasBy Anna Silman
On Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark musical will end its Broadway run in January, with plans to reopen later at a venue in Vegas. The news comes fresh on the heels of Glen Berger’s new memoir, Song of Spider-Man: The Inside Story of the Most Controversial Musical in Broadway History, a dishy tell-all about the infighting, backstabbing, overblown egos, and near-death experiences that plagued the spandex-y nightmare from start to finish. We spoke to Berger, who co-wrote the musical's book, about the news, his détente with director Julie Taymor, and if he’s holding out for his Vegas payday.
Theater Review: Jefferson Mays Is 8 Entertainingly Dead People in A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and MurderBy Jesse Green
Even aside from the problem of an ever-shrinking chorus, there’s a reason musicals about multiple murders, unlike dramas and movies and television shows, are so uncommon. In a musical, the stakes have to be high enough to give the characters a reason to sing. Yet if the stakes are high enough for serial killing, all but the greatest songs can seem ludicrous. (I’m talking to you, Jekyll and Hyde.) So unless you’re the man who wrote Sweeney Todd, you probably want to go with satire, as Rupert Holmes did in adapting Dickens’s The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Following in Drood’s slightly mincing footsteps, the authors of the new musical A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder aim for droll comedy; especially in the knock-’em-dead performance of Jefferson Mays as various undearly departeds, they usually hit their mark.
It’s a classic critical gambit to damn a show with its own words. Musicals in particular seem susceptible: Last year’s Scandalous was asking for it with a song called “How Could You?” Misbegotten revisals of Merrily We Roll Along will forever be tarred with the great Sondheim line “I liked it the way that it was.” You would therefore think it too much of a known risk for the savvy authors of the new musical version of Little Miss Sunshine to open their show with a number whose theme is the inevitability of disappointment. “Underestimate everything,” the lyric advises. “The key to contentment is to lower the bar.”
At one point in the return engagement of 700 Sundays, Billy Crystal recalls the first comedian he ever saw: an old-school tummler, circa 1958, prowling the stage at Kutsher’s “like a panther.” All these decades later, Crystal impersonates this creature, with his disowned aggression and tired shtick — “Good evening, ladies and Jews” — way too well, and not just because he quickly borrowed the material to perform for his family back home in Long Beach. Crystal, now 65, is himself a brilliant repackager of tired material, with the timing of that panther, if a humbler presentation. (He wears, instead of a tux, black jeans and a sweater.) But make no mistake, he will eat you if you let him.
If you read Scott Brown's review last month, you won't be surprised in the least to hear that Broadway's Big Fish is closing early. After premiering three months ago, the show's ticket sales have dipped below 50 percent of potential gross as of last week, thus sending it into the proverbial chum bucket after December 29.
Shakespeare in asylums and abattoirs is so 2012. I may cry if faced again with Othello in Afghanistan, or Romeo in leather, or any Henry in a Soviet regime. Outré reimaginings of the sacred texts have so overwhelmed our stages that plain modern settings, like the Santa Monica of Joss Whedon’s recent Much Ado About Nothing, seem eye-opening in their neutrality. How much more revealing, and wonderfully disorienting, to experience the plays as scholars think their original audiences, 400 years ago, might have done. Of course, you can easily get that experience in London, at Shakespeare’s Globe, which since 1997 has offered Elizabethan-style stagings in a facsimile of the original theater on a site not far from where it once stood. But to be offered this opportunity on Broadway, with all the richness and star quality that implies, is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
For Broadway, no less. Alanis Morissette is working with Tom Kitt (American Idiot) on a full jukebox version of her 1995 masterpiece, with original songs and new arrangements and the works. Workshopping begins in 2014; "going down on you in a Broadway theater" jokes begin now.
You’ve seen this couple face the cameras before: he, a politician stuttering his way through a canned apology for sexual misdeeds; she, standing silently, slightly behind him, her lips drawn tight in — what? — disapproval? Fury? Mortification? Or is it, as Bruce Norris’s new play, Domesticated, seems to suggest, a kind of triumph?
Revues these days are usually small, cheap, and tacky affairs. Six people in tuxes and gowns sing two solos each plus a few awkward medleys while clambering around a set made of cubes and obelisks. Since the great Ain’t Misbehavin’ ran from 1978 to 1982, this has not been a very satisfying genre on Broadway, theatrically or commercially. Inexpensive though they may be to produce, revues do not usually offer anything so unique in the way of stars or stories that audiences feel they must attend. Worse, material written for various other contexts and characters is expected magically to emulsify like mayonnaise, with little added to hold it together. In our story-hungry age, what takes the place of narrative?
In 1984, Laurie Metcalf made her New York stage debut with a twenty-minute monologue that still haunts Will Scheffer. The actress, one of the founding members of Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company, was playing Darlene in a storied production of Lanford Wilson’s Balm in Gilead, directed by John Malkovich and starring, among others, Gary Sinise and Glenne Headly. “I’m sorry to overhype it,” says Scheffer, co-creator of HBO’s new comedy Getting On (premiering November 24), which stars Metcalf, “but you knew you were in the presence of some sort of genius. What you didn’t know was whether that young actress was going to fulfill the promise you were seeing.”
Every week, Vulture faces the big, important questions in entertainment and comes to some creative conclusions. This week, we wrote about a bunch of scary movies, excoriated Banksy, and eulogized Lou Reed and River Phoenix. You may have read some of these stories below, but you certainly didn’t read them all. We forgive you.
Exciting news for fans of Ewan McGregor and/or Tom Stoppard plays that are not totally confusing: The actor will make his Broadway debut next year in a revival of the 1982 classic The Real Thing. He’ll play Henry, the playwright with the cricket bat; no other casting has been announced. Anyway, this should be nice.
It’s not clear if anyone expected the hit Broadway musical Wicked to last very long. The show opened ten years ago today to so-so reviews and lost the coveted Best Musical Tony Award to scrappy underdog Avenue Q. It easily could have petered out and closed after a respectable run. Instead, it became one of the highest-grossing shows of all time, making legends of stars Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth, and introducing a legion of young fans to musical theater.
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