“Satire is what closes on Saturday night,” said George S. Kaufman, but that was 90 years ago. Today most satire closes — that is, shuts down internally — before it ever hits the stage. Have we lost the talent, or the taste? After seeing Nick Jones’s Important Hats of the Twentieth Century at Manhattan Theater Club’s Stage 2 space beneath City Center on Friday evening, I read the script on Saturday to see whether its failure to thrive was perhaps the result of the amateurish production, directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel. It wasn’t, though the unaccountably loud acting and tedious pinball staging certainly didn’t help matters. The problem — as was also the case with Jones’s Verité, seen earlier this year at LCT3, and The Coward, from 2010 — is inherent in the concept, or lack of one. No one involved seems to have operated from the understanding that satire is a pinpoint form of criticism, not a clown car in which irrational characters with funny lines get taken for a ludicrous spin.
Dance has been part of the composer’s toolkit since at least the days of the medieval estampie, but in the modern age few have embraced it with the fervor of Thomas Adès, who writes concert music that writhes with rhythm. Adès spent the weekend presiding from the pit and the piano as four choreographers each re-created one of his scores. The production originated at Sadler’s Wells in London, and arrived at City Center courtesy of Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival, where it built to a finale of collective ecstasy usually reserved for cultish rituals and sporting events.
It must be alarming for a composer to see musical ideas metamorphose into physical ones. Notes become footfalls, beats are counted off according to an arcane system musicians don’t understand, and painstakingly crafted details slip by unremarked. But there’s a physicality in Adès’s music that lends itself to the stage, a sense of concurrent pulses, of bodies in spasm, of slowing treads and perpetual orbits that must be a choreographer’s dream.
Can you hear the helicopters in the distance? Miss Saigon, the 1989 musical from Les Misérables creators Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil, is headed back to Broadway after almost 25 years. The show, a Vietnam War–era update of the opera Madame Butterfly, tells the story of a romance between a Vietnamese bargirl and an American soldier. EW reports that the show will debut at a Shubert theater in the spring of 2017, where it will run until January 18, 2018; after that, it will launch a national tour of cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, and Boston.
How many Steves does it take to screw up a marriage? Steven and Stephen are a long-term couple with an 8-year-old son and intimacy issues. Steven’s old friend Matt, and Matt’s partner, Brian, are pushing the boundaries of fidelity with (among others) their trainer, Steve. When the two couples and their lesbian sidekick, Carrie, meet to celebrate Steven’s 47th birthday at a nice Manhattan restaurant, it isn’t long before the betrayals spill and the table settings end up on the floor — but not to worry. There to clean up the mess is young Argentine waiter-slash-dancer Esteban, who soon joins this recombinant ménage. If it’s hard to keep all of the Steve-variants straight, well, you don’t have to; none of them is.
Sting On His New $7,000 Book, Selling His Picassos and Just Maybe Returning to The Last Ship, in LondonBy Carl Swanson
Last night, high atop the great black glass Hearst Tower, Sting played a short acoustic set of songs from The Last Ship, his grand industrial lament of a musical, which, despite its beautiful music, and, for a while, in an effort to get the show to sail right, his stepping onto the stage, too, had a rather disappointing run on Broadway last winter, closing in January.
But Broadway is "a very strange world," Sting tells me, before he went up on the little stage, Central Park spread out behind him in the dark. "I mean, you either coincide with popular taste or you don’t, in any particular season," and the fact that the musical didn't turn out to be seaworthy "doesn’t really matter long term. I stand by the tone of the piece, its seriousness, its intent. It wasn’t a success on Broadway." (Its producers lost their entire $15 million investment.)
But he doesn't regret it. It is currently touring: “It’s about to go on in Norway,” he tells me, scratching his seaman’s beard, distractedly. “And we’re looking to have a production in London ... I can’t say where.”
If the saying “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” is true, then there are a slew of New Yorkers right now banking on the fact that they “knew” Andrew Rannells way back in middle school. The Book of Mormon actor took over for Jonathan Groff as King George in the hottest ticket on Broadway, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton (Groff is currently shooting the Looking wrap-up movie for HBO). “I’m only in it for two more weeks,” Rannells told Vulture at the premiere of Carol, hosted by Chanel. “I’m so sad to be leaving, and I’m so excited to be there.” But what won’t he miss? “I will not miss people reaching out to me for tickets, though. It’s like everybody and their mother is like, ‘Hey, 'member be? I went to eighth grade with you. Can you get me house seats to Hamilton?’ No, I can’t. I’m not helping you.”
Everyone from President Obama to Beyoncé has stopped backstage after seeing Hamilton, but the show’s director, Thomas Kail, says he usually leaves it to the cast to schmooze with the big names. “My tendency when these things happen is to sort of watch them interact with the cast, and that, to me, seems to be the greatest thing,” Kail told Vulture at the New York Stage and Film Gala on Sunday. However Kail did get to meet Mel Brooks, who attended the smash Broadway musical about ten days ago. “He said it was the best musical he’s ever seen," said Kail. "Except for The Producers. Which I thought was the most Mel Brooks–ian thing he possibly could have said.” So we guess he liked Hamilton better than Young Frankenstein.
The meta-drama of Arthur Miller’s plays, much in evidence during this, his centenary year, is the conflict between his moral energy and the theatrical formats in which he (sometimes only barely) manages to contain it. A View From the Bridge, now in revival on Broadway, is perhaps the prime example of a Miller work in which the drama and the exhortation are equally matched. Beneath its characters’ struggle to reconcile individual passion and clan loyalty under the rule of law, you faintly sense the playwright’s struggle to make his expression worthy of what is expressed. By looking back to the Greeks for advice, he brilliantly succeeds, formatting the 1955 tale around a series of muscular gestures — a fistfight, a contest of strength, two shocking kisses — that are supremely theatrical. In Incident at Vichy, originally produced in 1964, the equilibrium has tipped, and the ideas — about complicity in evil, aesthetics vs. politics, and the limits of solidarity — get loose from the form, a problem the worthy revival now playing at the Signature Theatre unfortunately exacerbates.
It’s an odd paradox that as Broadway fare grows more generic, genre pieces flail. Suspense is especially moribund; A Time to Kill tanked in 2013, and it may be that the last really successful incarnation of the form was Deathtrap, which closed in 1982. And though I usually find thrillers vapid, I did hope that William Goldman’s Misery, based on his script for the successful 1990 movie and the Stephen King novel, might reverse the trend. A healthy industry offers a variety of products. But despite a story that’s serviceably creepy and a handsome production starring Bruce Willis and Laurie Metcalf, what this production mostly demonstrates is the futility of digging up the dead.
Critics, if not theatergoers, often bemoan the tide of revivals flooding Broadway each fall. This season, the ratio of old plays to new is about two to one. But why should revivals be considered a curse? Hamlet has not cloyed in its 400 years on the boards, nor has American Buffalo in 40. And it’s not as if the second coming of, say, Sylvia was blocking the arrival of some new masterpiece; producers who smell money are usually agnostic as to provenance. The only really relevant questions to ask when a play keeps returning are what made it so important in the first place and what the new production offers. Oh, and one more: Do the answers to those first two questions align?
“We have another reading, and then hopefully workshops,” Clueless writer Amy Heckerling told Vulture last night at the Louis Vuitton premiere of Shelter at the Whitney Museum. So far, the musical is coming together: Rock of Ages’s Kristin Hanggi is set to direct; there’s a working book of the musical; and producers are holding reads with actors from Once, Gigi, and Bring It On. But there’s still no news of who will play leading betty, Cher. Heckerling is holding out hope for Katy Perry, who has said that she’s interested.
British actors have a ritual — or at least Ian McKellen does, because I saw him do it once — of blessing a new stage by kissing it. (He then recited a Shakespearean monologue, but that part’s optional.) The British actors inaugurating the marvelous new Dumbo home of St. Ann’s Warehouse, which opened this month with a production of Henry IV, do something different. As playgoers mingle convivially in the expansive waterfront lobby, enjoying hand-roasted coffee from Bar Jolie along with the industrial concrete-and-plywood décor, guards part the crowd to make room for a charm bracelet of 12 women convicts to enter the theater en route to lockup. They are the cast.
During one of Hamilton's pre-show performances, dubbed "Ham4Ham," Lin-Manuel Miranda brought out the flawless Lea Salonga, who you may know from Broadway and you know, the voices of Disney's Jasmine and Mulan. So what else could we expect Salonga to sing besides one of Disney's best duets — "A Whole New World." Stepping into the shoes of Prince Ali, Miranda joins Salonga for a fantastic duet that deserves to be recorded and released to the masses. Until then, at least we have this video.
When a play trains its basilisk gaze on a demographic you belong to, it may seem as if the playwright took notes inside your head. That’s how I felt, anyway, at Dada Woof Papa Hot, Peter Parnell’s seriously intelligent and deadly accurate dramedy about middle-aged, gay white male New York parents like myself. As it happens, that demographic is still small enough that Parnell (and several other gay dads involved in this sleek Lincoln Center Theater production) are social acquaintances of mine; we have seen (or heard of) each other doing some of the things the characters wind up doing onstage. For the sake of my marriage, I won’t say which ones. It’s enough to point out that many men — at least among those who lead relatively comfortable lives like ours — really are involved in the drama Parnell devises for them. Even as they embrace the ultimate normality of parenting, they try to retain, within their marriages and sometimes without, a vestige of the ecstatic, undomesticated, wild-type gayness that was the historical engine of the liberation that made their parenting possible in the first place.
Remember when you first listened to the Hamilton cast recording? I'm sure you do. You were hooked by the opening, pumped up by "My Shot," smiling widely at "You'll Be Back," tearing up at "Satisfied." But then you didn't know that still coming – wait for it — was "Wait For It," arguably the showstopper in a first act filled with showstoppers. Apparently, you weren't the only one blown away when you first heard the recording: The Hamilton cast's with you. In an outtake from last night's 60 Minutes, they show the recording of the song, cutting between the incomparable Leslie Odom Jr. and a completely enraptured cast. You can watch the whole 15-minute look at the cast recording below ("Wait For It" around 2:50):
Theater Reviews: The Politics of Identity Two Ways, in Taylor Mac’s Hir and George Takei’s AllegianceBy Jesse Green
The home that Isaac returns to at the beginning of Taylor Mac’s smart but deliberately disorienting new play Hir is not the one he left when he enlisted as a Marine three years earlier. His abusive father, Arnold, has suffered a debilitating stroke. His tomboy sister, Maxine, has begun a do-it-yourself gender transition with hormones bought on the internet, and has now emerged as his “sissy” brother, Max. Far from resenting or mourning these disruptions, Isaac’s mother, Paige, is electrified by them. Max’s escape from biology has provided a model for her own escape from the rigid control of a violent husband and housewifely expectation; she no longer cooks, cleans, or bothers to maintain any order in their nightmarishly cluttered home. (“We don’t do cupboards anymore,” she says. “We don’t do order.”) Rather, she joyfully indulges her formerly suppressed interests and preferences, from art to air-conditioning. And Arnold’s stroke has provided her with an opportunity for revenge. Drugging him into docility, she dresses him in a lavender nightgown and a bedazzled kitten sweater, with finishing touches that include elaborate drag makeup and a rainbow clown wig. He sleeps in a box on the filthy kitchen floor: “He has not earned the right to be cared for.”
I’m no fan of jukebox musicals. If they’re the type that tell an invented tale, like Mamma Mia! or Rock of Ages, the book is generally rendered idiotic by the effort to accommodate the songs. If they’re instead pop biographies, like Jersey Boys and Beautiful, the problem is even worse because the songs, too, are denatured, by the effort to accommodate a preexisting storyline. Furthermore, the structure of musicals in the second category can only lead to a bathetic climax: In the final scenes, the protagonists (Frankie Valli, Carole King) become exactly who we already knew them to be. That’s more than ever the case with the new Gloria Estefan jukebox musical On Your Feet! because if you don’t arrive at the Marquis Theatre knowing the billboard headlines of her story (Cuban immigrant becomes American pop star, gets hit by a truck, eventually returns in triumph), why are you there? The only real issues for me in approaching a show like this are the fun of the tunes and the ingenuity of the distraction. To say that On Your Feet! is better than most of its ilk is therefore faint praise; it means you might have almost as good a time as you would if it were merely a concert.
“Screenwriting is shitwork,” William Goldman wrote in his 1983 industry bible Adventures in the Screen Trade, source of both the famous dictum “Nobody knows anything” and the popular notion that writers are Hollywood’s janitors. At 84, he’s the exception that proves both rules: the business’s greatest living screenwriter and its savviest truth-teller, a man whom stars treat with a deference he doesn’t always reciprocate.
Lest you think Lin-Manuel Miranda's Hamilton is just some New York City obsession that Beyoncé can't wait to copy on tour, the AP reports that, according to Atlantic Records, Hamilton's cast recording is the highest-debuting Broadway musical since 1961's Camelot, starring Julie Andrews and Richard Burton. The album, released on October 16, has already sold more than 54,000 copies and has been streamed 16 million times. Most impressively, it debuted well on several Billboard charts, including No. 1 on Cast Albums, No. 3 on Rap Albums, No. 9 on the Top Album Sales, and No. 12 on the Billboard 200. The forever-sold-out show is also the highest-charting cast album since 2011's The Book of Mormon debuted on the Billboard 200 at No. 10, and is just the sixth cast album to even make it into the Top 20 in 50 years. Hamilton also caused an increase in milk sales by 23.3 billion pounds — oh wait, sorry, that was Michael Bay's "Aaron Burr" commercial.
American leaders usually don’t come under theatrical scrutiny until decades after they leave office. The first serious mainstream plays about Presidents Johnson (All the Way) and Nixon (Frost/Nixon) opened on Broadway in 2014 and 2007. David Hare’s Iraq War docudrama, Stuff Happens, was an exception — it showed up at the Public Theater in 2006, while George W. Bush was still in the White House — but like Frost/Nixon it was a London import, and British playwrights don’t wait to roast their rulers. Thatcher was pilloried onstage nearly from Day One. (By contrast, Reagan was mostly left alone.) But even within a vigorous tradition of theater as a form of permanent political opposition — a tradition that seems healthy to me — Mike Bartlett’s King Charles III, a London hit now opening on Broadway, is breathtakingly audacious and a lot of nasty fun. Not only does it not wait until its principal is out of office; it doesn’t even wait until he’s in it.
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