Damon Albarn, lead singer of Blur, and Jamie Hewlett, animator of Tank Girl, have been working together for over fifteen years, ever since they started Gorillaz in the late nineties. Over the last few years they've expanded their primate reach to include monkeys. Along with Chinese actor and director Chen Shi-zheng, they've adapted the sixteenth-century Chinese novel Journey to the West, by Wu Cheng'en, to create a stage production called Monkey: Journey to the West. Albarn worked on the music and Hewlett the aesthetic for the opera, which premiered in Manchester in 2007. The piece is now coming to New York as part of the Lincoln Center Festival. Monkey will open the festival and in total run for 27 performances between July 5 and 28. In honor of the run, Hewlett has designed new characters for the show, and has given us an exclusive look at one of them, River Demon. River Demon is kind of frightening-looking, but if you find yourself getting scared, just relax and realize he's completely in red and green — like Christmas!
Other than Hedda Gabler and A Doll’s House, Ibsen’s plays are mostly out of fashion these days, especially the folkloric early works featuring trolls and the mystical late works featuring Great Men who, come to think of it, are also trolls. The effectiveness of those in the latter category, including The Master Builder, now being revived at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, depends in part on an assumption of respect for great men in general, so that something dramatic can occur when they are found to be wanting. Our time is not perhaps sufficiently amenable to that assumption. In any case, the revival, directed by Andre Belgrader and starring John Turturro, makes an excellent case for continued neglect.
Miraculously, a theatergoer didn't break a leg or anything else after falling from the window of the Lyceum Theater on West 45th Street on Sunday. At 2:50 p.m., about ten minutes before showtime, a man in his sixties leaned against some curtains covering a french door in a second-floor hallway. He fell three or four feet and landed on the marquee for The Nance starring Nathan Lane. The man was taken to the hospital with minor injuries to his chest and the back of his head, and the show went on as scheduled.
To find out where the musical is going these days, you may have to follow it into a tent. Not Pippin’s big top on Broadway but the one nestled beneath the High Line at West 13th Street, where Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812, Dave Malloy’s enthralling take on Tolstoy, is playing. Actually, there’s some confusion about the setting: The tent, once you enter it, turns into a Russian supper club called Kazino, kitted out gorgeously by the designer Mimi Lien in miles of red velvet hung with framed czarist portraits. A light Russian dinner (including borscht, pierogies, vodka, and what unfortunately tasted one night like vintage black bread) is included with your $125 ticket. But the show presented right in the midst of 199 patrons at tables and bars has little to do with bread or circuses. Rather, it describes itself in its lyrics as both a novel and an opera (and, sure enough, is completely sung) while also incorporating flourishes of a cabaret act, a floor show, a Broadway music drama, and — why not? — a naughty stag party.
Especially after the loud uplift and confetti cannons of Broadway’s spring jamboree, one of the pleasures of Off Broadway in May is the chance to recalibrate your ears and expectations to a more human scale. Precision kicklines give way to the individual choices of actors working in the same room with you, inches away. Yes, it’s a blast watching drag queens do flips on conveyor belts, or Bette Midler crack wise in a caftan, but it’s also pretty thrilling to watch Deirdre O’Connell, as a beleaguered stepmother in A Family for All Occasions, walk into her home after a day at a factory and do nothing. She’s so stiff she can barely sit. Even the muscles around her mouth — which in the 90-seat Bank Street Theater you can easily see — are clenched. She’s the living embodiment of the word dour, down to the cellular level, it seems, and in the second act, when she tries out a three-speed electronic foot massager someone has brought as a gift, her pleasure is so surprising (and nearby) it makes you laugh as if it were happening to you.
It’s 1920 and the Dolan family vaudeville act is at a crossroads. Now that the teenaged son is old enough to date the chorines, Ma is worried: “I’ve seen nothing developing in Junior except his lower nature.” She banishes him to school to forget about hoofing and become, as Pa envisions it, “a lousy music teacher.” Indeed, jump-cut to fifteen years later, and Junior is drilling the three Bs into students who’d rather hear jazz. Thus begins (and all but ends) the sensible part of the book of On Your Toes, the 1936 musical that implicitly asks what happens when vaudeville isn’t good enough for vaudevillians anymore. What do you — yes, you, American Musical Theater — do next?
The American theater suffers from a serious case of Chekhov envy. Dead almost 100 years, the great Russian has his fingerprints on nearly every wistful drama now produced. I’m not complaining; at least it’s not Strindberg. But Chekhov is easier to ape than to assimilate. His unhurried, sideways approach to the kill is too often mistaken for gentleness, a substitution that turns tension to mush and lets the quarry escape.
Alec Baldwin really does not care for New York Times theater critic Ben Brantley. Like, at all. On HuffPo, Baldwin writes about "how Broadway has changed," but that's mostly a framing device so he can rip into Brantley, who, yes, wrote an unfavorable review of Orphans, which Baldwin stars in. (It's closing early because of crummy ticket sales.) Baldwin writes,
Despite getting nominated for two Tony awards last week, the Broadway revival of Orphans will be closing up shop on May 19. It was supposed to run through June 30, but it will be pulled early. The reason is fairly simple: No one was going to see it. This is obviously bad news for Orphans, but great news for whoever is working on a play about the beef between Alec Baldwin and Shia LaBeouf that lead up to the play. Ooo, maybe it could be a musical, with the LaBeouf character singing, “Theater belongs not to the great but to the brash, ole Alec,” and Baldwin responding, “I don’t think you’re in a good position to be giving interpretations of what the theater is and what the theater isn’t, Mr. The Beef.” It will be like a meta “The Confrontation.”
You know the guy. Looks slightly clammy. A bit misproportioned. Often has a stain on his collar. Isn’t told when or where the parties are happening. A bit of a loner, a bit of a loser. And so maybe you’ve been tempted to mock him a little, undermine him, but only behind his back. Or maybe in front of his face, okay, but in a style you figure he won’t understand because — where did he go to school? And anyway, what’s he doing here? Wouldn’t it be better for all concerned if he got the picture and somehow was made to disappear? Things would really be simpler, clearer, cleaner that way. For him, too. Poor fellow.
With Bring It On a freshly minted Tony nominee for Best Musical and Rocky heading to Broadway early next year, it's clear that sports movies are a hot new mini-trend for the Great White Way. In 2016, we'll no doubt be hate-watching Hayden Panettiere in Air Bud: Songsational!, and the ghost of Richard Rodgers will shed another dusty tear. But even this trend could spawn a masterpiece. As at least one Internet scholar has noted, A League of Their Own is just sitting there, waiting to be turned into a song-and-dance classic. In fact, we got so excited by the idea that we decided to help Broadway along. Here's a rough treatment for A League of Their Own: The Musical, including song titles and key notes on the plot. If you're excited to see those Singin' Rockford Peaches, then please expand on our ideas in the comments. And prepare to contribute to the Kickstarter for the $4 trillion we'll need to buy the story rights from screenwriters Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel.
The American Theater Wing announced the 2013 Tony nominees this morning, with Kinky Boots and Matilda leading the pack with thirteen and twelve nominations, respectively. Tom Hanks earned a nomination for Lucky Guy, Nathan Lane picked up his fourth Tony nod with The Nance, and Phish's Trey Anastasio was nominated for co-writing the music for Hands on a Hardbody. The full list of nominees is below.
There's a Rocky musical headed to Broadway. The show, which first landed on our radar back in 2011, will open on Broadway in February, producers announced yesterday. A German-language version opened in Hamburg last year, but the show was written in English, with a score by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty (Ragtime) and book by Thomas Meehan (Annie). Yes, there's a full-on boxing ring. Behold:
Turn on. Tune in. Sing out?
The history of counterculture chic in musicals is mostly a buried one, because few of the shaggy works that exemplified the genre proved to be worth reviving. Not that every show featuring floral garlands and vests embroidered with antiwar slogans was bad, but tofu has a short shelf life.
There was a time in my life when I’d gladly have watched Bette Midler sit on a sofa as she waited for the phone to ring. Her talent, while prodigious, was only part of the reason. Of course I admired her joyful voice, her earthy humor, her rimshot timing, but it was the spectacular warmth of the woman, and her outsider nerve, that made her so completely compelling.
It looks like Anne Hathaway will be putting her drama-club-iness to good use this fall: According to the Daily Mail, Hathaway is set to star as Sally Bowles in a new revival of Cabaret — with Alan Cumming reportedly reprising his Tony-winning role as the Emcee! Hathaway performed a bunch of Cabaret numbers last fall at a benefit for the Public Theater, so she knows her willkommens from her bienvenues. This new production hasn't been officially announced yet, but Cumming did recently mention that he'd be returning to Broadway and that the show was "something [he] did before and we’re doing it again." Maybe this time you'll win, Anne Hathaway!
Update: Booo, not true, according to Hathaway's publicist. "There are no discussions going on about this project for Anne," Hathaway's rep told the Times. Uh, start those discussions, Hatha-team!
The most brutal show in town right now isn’t Macbeth or Orphans or even Jekyll & Hyde, despite their terrifying ghosts, thugs, and lyrics, respectively. No, it’s The Trip to Bountiful, that dainty little candy box of a play, tied up in ribbons of sentimentality. Or so we often remember it. After all, didn’t the original version, which Horton Foote wrote for television in 1953, star Lillian Gish? And it’s about so little: A nice old lady stuck in a cramped apartment with her passive son and bossy daughter-in-law wants to see her hometown again, so she gets on a bus and makes the trip. What could be more reassuring?
Of all the elements that can go wrong with a musical, the one that most often does is the book. It’s almost impossible to write a good one, at least in the traditional style. (Even Gypsy has flaws.) Besides the usual playwriting difficulties there are a thousand traps peculiar to the form, perhaps the most dangerous of which is the problem of proportion. Too much “play” and you stifle the lift that a program of regularly scheduled songs provides. Too little, and the story never gets off the ground.
Remember the season when every other show was about race? Or the one that got dragged down with drag? Likewise, many of this spring’s Broadway offerings seem to have conspired to address an accidental theme. What does it mean, these shows implicitly ask, to be alone — in history, onstage? Not only have there been more solo plays than usual, but their casts have stretched the definition of “solo.” Ann, a one-woman show about the late Texas governor Ann Richards, also features the prerecorded voice of Julie White as her secretary. Alan Cumming’s psych-ward Macbeth includes a doctor and orderly who hover constantly and occasionally speak. Now comes the most unusual second banana of all: a 3-year-old yellow-headed vulture named Pinhead. Before the lights go down at The Testament of Mary, when the audience is invited onstage to look around, he stands tethered to a table, staring beadily as if offended while people take pictures with their iPhones.
Had Macbeth premiered in, say, 2011 instead of 400 years earlier, Shakespeare’s handlers might have needed to book him on a mea culpa tour, culminating with Oprah, to apologize for his unseemly blurring of fact and fiction. It’s true that the real Macbeth, who reigned in Scotland starting around 1040, killed his predecessor, King Duncan. But almost everything else in the play is conflation, elaboration, invention, and blarney.
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