The frequent collaborators John Tiffany and Steven Hoggett seem to be everywhere these days, not just geographically but narratively. Whether the tale they’re telling is psychological (as in the recent Broadway Glass Menagerie) or sociopolitical (Black Watch) or mytho-historical (the Alan Cumming Macbeth) or just groovy (What’s It All About?, the Burt Bacharach revue Hoggett put together) they almost always manage the difficult trick of cutting to the bone while raising the emotional temperature. To do this, they bring a certain amount of magic to their realism, as when Laura in that great Glass Menagerie made her first entrance and final exit through a kind of memory-wormhole in a sofa. But they also bring a certain amount of realism to their magic, and that’s an iffier proposition. At any rate, it’s a problem in their production of Let the Right One In, a vampire romance now at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Dumbo. The show — directed by Tiffany, with Hoggett as associate director and also in charge of movement — finds the pair at the top of their form visually and emotionally but intellectually overwrought, if not sucked dry.
Larry David regarded a brown leather messenger bag on the floor of a studio above West 42nd Street and announced, to no one in particular: “I never had a purse before in my life. Now all of a sudden I have a purse.”
“It’s not really a purse,” his co-star Rita Wilson assured him. “It’s a satchel.”
“No,” David insisted, “it’s a purse. There’s stuff in there that’s purse-y.”
“It has a long strap,” Wilson countered.
“How far do you ever really have to carry it?” Anna Shapiro, the director, asked. “It would be a purse if you ever had to carry it to a car.”
Looks like one more Mara Wilson movie is headed to Broadway: Alan Menken told EW Radio this week that he's currently hard at work writing the score for a Mrs. Doubtfire musical alongside the movie's own Harvey Fierstein, who's writing the book. (David Zippel is handling lyrics.) Menken cautioned that the trio was "in the early stages," but they were all "really enjoying working on it." As will, we imagine, Broadway's finest pyrotechnicians.
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.
Taxi alums Danny DeVito, Judd Hirsch, Carol Kane, Marilu Henner, James Burrows, Christopher Lloyd, Rhea Perlman, and co-creator James L. Brooks all turned out for their former cast maste Tony Danza’s star turn in Honeymoon in Vegas last night. After a post-show party at Hard Rock Café, the whole gang sat together at a long table, chatting and dancing late into the night.
“Those are the people I started with,” Danza told Vulture. “Those are the people who accepted a fighter from New York who never acted before on their TV show." He added, "I’m serious. That acceptance, that welcoming, is why I'm here. And so, for me, it was an incredible thing to have them here.”
The new musical Honeymoon in Vegas is a throwback, and not just because it’s based on a 1992 movie that was, even then, somewhat retrograde in its humor. Cancel the “somewhat”: The plot hinges on a man trying to discharge a gambling debt by pimping out his fiancée. Presumably, the backwardness of this affectionate glance at ring-a-ding-dingism was intentional; the screenplay by Andrew Bergman, who also directed, mines its humor from the kind of character who would exact such a deal (a slimebag named Tommy Korman) and the kind of character who would accept it (a commitment-phobic mama’s boy named Jack Singer). Naturally, the girl herself, Betsy Nolan, though the apex of the triangle, was not so interesting. She was just hot.
Would you like to see a two-hander in which Jake Gyllenhaal plays a hunky but bashful British beekeeper, hemming and half-smiling, while Ruth Wilson, so recently embaubled with a Golden Globe for The Affair, plays a charmingly ditzy astrophysicist? Would you like to watch the pair meet cute at a barbecue, grope their way toward romance, survive infidelity, and face tragedy together? I would; it sounds like an engaging play. Unfortunately it’s not the one now running at the Manhattan Theatre Club under the title Constellations, even though all those things do happen in it. But since Nick Payne, the author, is unwilling to give us that romantic trifle, this delightful, beautifully acted, and infuriating new drama is so much more, and less.
The Suicide, Nikolai Erdman’s biting 1928 satire of Soviet thought control, so overflows with ironies that they seem to slosh into real life. To begin with, the play died by its own hand: Erdman’s anti-authoritarian comedy (a character says he read Marx but didn’t like it) was deemed too subversive for the Soviet stage and was therefore suppressed — at least until the Soviet Union, too, self-destructed. And Erdman, in trying to have it produced in the first place, committed a kind of cultural suicide; Stalin not only sent him to Siberia but banned him from writing any more plays for adults. (He was allowed to write for children.) Nor can the play catch a break in the West: Its 1980 Broadway debut, starring Derek Jacobi as the poor schmo who just wants to be left alone to end it all, expired in two months. More recently, theaters have tried rejiggering it as a contemporary musical about paparazzi and pop stars or renaming it Goodbye Cruel World. Nothing seems to work.
If you happened to have stumbled, two Septembers ago, on a troupe of nearly 100 synchronized dancers wearing jesters’ caps in Brooklyn’s MetroTech Commons, maybe you wondered, in that split second before rushing on to jury duty, Who’s that stuff even for? You now have your answer. It was for Rick Moody.
It would not ordinarily be newsworthy that a performer named Gordon Sumner took over a secondary role in a struggling Broadway musical. You do not hear much about cast changes at On the Town, for instance. But the circumstances under which Mr. Sumner, better known as Sting, joined The Last Ship last week are far from ordinary. For one thing, Sting wrote the show’s songs and conceived its story, which concerns the decimated shipbuilding industry in his own hometown of Wallsend, England. The musical is thus, for him, a labor of love, which is not to say it isn’t also a commercial venture. (His longtime manager is one of the lead producers.) After ten weeks of middling box office, with some theater mavens saying audiences were disappointed to find that the new Sting musical did not feature Sting, the unusual though perhaps inevitable idea of his stepping in was announced and then promoted like crazy. The resulting turnaround eerily parallels the musical’s plot, in which the desperate shipbuilders revive their spirits, if not their fortunes, by building and captaining their own anomalous vessel. The moment Sting replaced his friend Jimmy Nail in the role of Jackie White, ticket sales leapt by two-thirds.
Aside from Frank Wildhorn, the two words I least want to hear in conjunction with a show I’m about to attend are audience participation. The prospect of being dragooned into awkward dialogue or, worse, public dancing fills me with dread — and a certain amount of resentment. Is it not the playwright’s job to write the story, the cast’s job to tell it? Aside from being an alert and openhearted observer, why should I have to be involved?
“Well, we opened in October,” says Sting, 63, about The Last Ship, the musical he co-wrote and, through January 24, will star in. “And like most of the new musicals on Broadway, we were struggling with ticket sales. And very quickly the producers came to me and said, ‘There’s one thing to do.’ And I said, ‘What’s that?’ ‘You have to go into the play.’ I said no way — I don’t want to. I wrote this for my dear friend Jimmy Nail. ‘Nope, you’ve gotta do it.’ I said they had to ask Jimmy, and Jimmy was wonderfully magnanimous and said, ‘Yep, it’s the right thing to do.’ ‘Well, okay.’ ”
This week, Vulture will be publishing our critics' year-end lists.
1. Audra McDonald in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill
Not many New York productions this year were great in all dimensions, delivering equally on the full range of theater’s potential expressivity. And those few that were great in their various parts somehow still lacked a comprehensive sense of greatness. Forced to choose, I choose the incomplete excellence of the incomparably moving. Lanie Robertson’s 1986 Billie Holiday bioplay is nobody’s idea of adventurous storytelling; having the main character provide her own context under cover of a “real” late-career performance is a lazy shortcut even when skillfully written, as was not the case here. And Lonny Price’s staging concepts sometimes bordered on tacky. Not so his work with McDonald. She began with an uncanny imitation of Holiday’s eccentric, heartbreaking voice, capturing its pinched tone, side-mouth delivery, precipitous register leaps, and often obscure pitch. Even so, the signs of vocal distress were only sparingly applied, allowing McDonald to sing as if Holiday, in her ruined 44-year-old’s body, still had a young woman’s luscious pipes. Holiday gave her voice to her songs in more ways than one; McDonald, in one of the greatest performances I ever hope to see, returned that voice to her, and also to us.
When you enter the East 4th Street home of New York Theatre Workshop, you can never be sure what you’re going to find. The blank-slate interior has been turned into an amphitheater for Caryl Churchill’s A Number, an Irish bar for Once, a television studio for The Little Foxes, and a multiplex for Scenes From a Marriage. This is not only a radical extension of “form follows function” but a message to playwrights (and audiences) that change is good — even if, on occasion, it fills you with dread.
As Peter Pan is traditionally portrayed by a gamine actress, and Hairspray’s Edna Turnblad by a chunky actor, theatrical tradition dictates that John Merrick, the grotesquely deformed title character of Bernard Pomerance’s The Elephant Man, be embodied by an extremely handsome, seminude star eager to demonstrate his stage chops. (Among those who have played Merrick on Broadway since Philip Anglim created the role in 1979 are David Bowie, Mark Hamill, and Billy Crudup.) In the new revival, based on the 2012 Williamstown Theatre Festival production, Bradley Cooper more than qualifies: He is extremely handsome, he is seminude (at least part of the time), and not only demonstrates but proves those chops. His concept of Merrick’s physical attributes, meant to be suggestive rather than documentary, is smartly thought out and beautifully rendered: the involuted right hand, the third-position turnout, the strangled French horn of a voice, the watery diction like the slurp of a dentist’s bowl. Within the shell of these characteristics Cooper has also imagined a pearl, or at least an irritant, of a character: clever, sad, eager to be patronized and yet possessing a native skepticism that can only be expressed obliquely. Rarely has a vocabulary of so many monosyllables been made to sound so sarcastic and needling.
There’s a problem with your production of Peter Pan if the excitement level drops nearly to nil upon Pan’s arrival. But that was the case with last night’s broadcast of the inaptly named Peter Pan Live! — NBC’s second experiment in revivifying the once-mighty genre of the live-television musical. The first, aired last December, was The Sound of Music Live!, starring country star Carrie Underwood; it was considered a huge success because it reached a first-night audience of nearly 19 million and did not destroy the underlying property. But even if the second attempt does as well, which hardly seems likely given its lack of a name draw, the product itself suggests it’s time to pause and reexamine the viability of the premise. The Sound of Music Live! was weird and abrupt but had some beautiful moments; Peter Pan Live! was just turgid and awful.
Tonight, Allison Williams will don the green tunic to star in NBC’s Peter Pan Live! Since appearing in 1904, J. M. Barrie’s poignant tale, with its themes of eternal youth and defiled innocence, has inspired everything from Broadway musicals to arty erotica. Here, a timeline of the nostalgic and provocative cultural exploits of Peter, Wendy, Captain Hook, and the Lost Boys.
A Cornish knight, an Irish princess, and the king they both betray by falling in love: For centuries the tale circulated Europe in various forms. But after Wagner’s monumental Tristan und Isolde had its premiere in 1865, his idiosyncratic version seemed to supplant all others. If you know the story today, it’s probably through his music, the epitome of high Romantic sincerity. Still, writes Emma Rice, an artistic director of the Cornish theater company Kneehigh, it was a local story, “asking to be told,” and so she set out to create a less bombastic and more vernacular take, “not an epic tale of grand romantic love held at arm’s length from our own experience, but a tender unraveling of love in all its beautiful and painful forms.” The result, first presented in Cornwall in 2003 and extensively produced on tour since then, is Kneehigh’s Tristan & Yseult, which has now come to St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn. Sweet and enjoyable, alluding to sad things without being sad itself, it’s hardly what you’d expect from the tale, however you spell it.
More promos from Into the Woods equals more singing. Good! They're certainly pushing Meryl Streep's turn as the Witch, whose "Stay With Me" is as moving as it is flattering to Streep's vocal range. The singing starts at 1:03; the despair is as good as it gets.
If Mike Nichols ever produced anything as banal as a résumé, it would have looked highly suspicious, the humblebrag of a con man. He did too many things, they were too far-flung, and he was too successful at all of them. There was the career in sketch comedy with Elaine May, circa 1958 to 1962; they had three Top 40 albums and a Broadway hit and then broke up. Next came the switch to stage directing, which netted nine Tonys, from 1964 (Barefoot in the Park) to 2012 (Death of a Salesman). When he defected to Hollywood in 1966, it was cover-of-Newsweek news; soon he owned a local subspeciality, the superstar prestige pic, puppeteering everyone from Elizabeth Taylor to Cher to (inevitably) Meryl into Oscar-bait performances. Was he also a classical-radio DJ? Yes. A Broadway producer? Yes. (He made a fortune on Annie.) An amateur wigmaster? Certainly — he lost all his hair in a freak childhood reaction to a whooping-cough vaccine. It goes without saying that he was an escape artist, and not just from the Nazis in 1938. He had two countries, three names, four wives, innumerable lives. Well, not quite innumerable; he died yesterday at 83. Or let’s say he reinvented himself again.