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  • Posted 1/15/18 at 10:09 PM

Theater Review: Dark Flights of Fancy in Ballyturk’s Small Town

It’s scarier when Godot does show up.

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Theater Review: John Lithgow Talks, Reads, Charms Everyone Silly

As much as I dislike the automatic applause given to celebrities when they make their first Broadway entrances, the cheers that greet John Lithgow — all six-feet-four of him — as he lopes onto the stage of the American Airlines Theatre are nothing if not earned. Is there an American actor with a career as wide-ranging, as simultaneously illustrious and eccentric, as Lithgow’s? The 72-year-old showman has won, among other accolades, two Tonys, six Emmys, two Golden Globes — even four Grammys for his albums of stories and song for kids. He’s written children’s books (with irresistible titles like Marsupial Sue and The Remarkable Farkle McBride). He’s been nominated for an Oscar twice — back-to-back for The World According to Garp and Terms of Endearment in 1983 and 1984. He’s played alien professors (three of those Emmys were for his performance as Dick Solomon on NBC’s 3rd Rock From the Sun), diminutive fairy-tale dictators, an elephant nurse called Mabel Buntz in his own adaptation of Camille Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals (in which he performed with the New York City and Houston ballets), and roles as weighty as King Lear and Sir Winston Churchill. That last masterful performance on Netflix’s The Crown earned him his most recent Emmy — not to mention the undying respect of all us Anglophiles who thought we’d never see an American actor play an Englishman as effortlessly and impressively as they seem to play us all the time.

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Theater Review: Mankind, Where Wokeness Conquers Most

“Is it possible to write a feminist play with no women in it? And that a woman did not write?” asks Tim Sanford, artistic director of Playwrights Horizons, in the program for Robert O’Hara’s new play Mankind. It’s a question — and a play — specifically calibrated to prick up our ears in this #MeToo moment. Both are supposed to provoke us, Make Us Think, even anger us. In an interview in the Times, O’Hara — whose plays Bootycandy and Barbecue have earned him a reputation for biting satire — asserted to Alexis Soloski that he tells casts of his shows, “Have your bags packed. They’re going to run us out of town.” Sanford’s program note for Mankind strikes a similar tone — equal parts titillating, cautionary, and ambitious: “Prepare to have your minds blown.”

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23 Exciting Theater Productions Taking the Stage in 2018

It’s a tricky thing to pull together a “Most Anticipated Shows” list, partly because most of the productions generating buzz this early in the year have enough resources to hitch a ride on the Hype Machine, which runs on cash. I have no doubt that some of the coming year’s most exciting shows remain unfunded mysteries at this point, but of the dozens (hundreds, really) that are out there vying for attention already, there’s still plenty to look forward to. Broadway’s got some heavy-hitters on the way, and there are several killer classical revivals coming from across the pond — but I’m most excited about the number of fascinating new plays Off Broadway that are written and directed by women. Now, if only there were a single woman director of a major classical revival on this list. I’m looking at you, 2019.

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Ben Vereen Accused of Sexual Assault While Directing Florida Production of Hair

Ben Vereen, a Broadway veteran known for his performances in musicals like Hair, Jesus Christ Superstar, and Pippin, has been accused of sexual assault, intimidation, and other abusive behavior by several women he directed in a volunteer production of Hair at the Venice Theatre in Florida. The women claim that during the 2015 production, Vereen made aggressive, unwanted physical contact including kisses and hugs and made degrading comments toward them. Two, both in their early 20s, claim that Vereen, then 69, took them to his rental home for “private rehearsals,” pressured them into a hot tub with him, and pressed his erect penis into their legs.

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  • Posted 1/3/18 at 9:58 AM
  • Theater

How Ethan Slater Became Broadway’s SpongeBob SquarePants

Literalists who arrive at SpongeBob SquarePants: The Musical hoping to see a man sing and dance in a big, yellow, sponge-shaped outfit are bound to be disappointed. Instead of mimicking a cartoon, the show’s young star Ethan Slater somehow inhabits its spirit. He wears a red tie and a pair of squarish pants, and exaggerates the right angles in his gymnast’s silhouette. “Three years ago, I was doing a pretty good impression of Tom Kenny,” Slater says of his attempts to mimic the man who voices the famous sponge on the Nickelodeon TV show in the musical’s early workshops. “But it’s become important that it’s not just an impression, but the voice is the embodiment of the character, and my version of the character.”

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Two Critics Review One Show: Farinelli and the King

Claire van Kampen’s new play Farinelli and the King — just transferred from London to the Belasco — is a duet for two virtuosos. It tells the mostly true story of the French-born King Philippe V of Spain, who suffered from debilitating bouts of depression and what we now know as bipolar disorder, and who found solace and, at times, even sanity in the singing of the world-famous castrato known as Farinelli. The singer — who was born Carlo Broschi in 1705 in Italy and whose family had him castrated at the age of 10 to preserve his angelic voice — served in the Spanish court for nine years, abandoning superstardom to sing privately for one troubled monarch, then retiring to Bologna, never to perform in public again.

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  • Posted 12/15/17 at 2:03 PM
  • Theater

Tavis Smiley’s MLK Book Stage Adaptation Suspended Amid Sexual-Harassment Accusations

The 40-city tour of a stage adaptation of Tavis Smiley’s Martin Luther King Jr. book, Death of a King, has been suspended, according to the New York Times. PBS suspended Smiley’s show following an investigation into sexual-harassment accusations that found “credible evidence” of misconduct, and as a result, the production company Mills Entertainment said they’d end the project. “We believe deeply in the message of this production and the importance of commemorating Dr. King in this crucial moment,” the company said in a statement issued Friday. “However, we take seriously the allegations and will be suspending our relationship with Tavis Smiley and [his company] T. S. Productions.” The tour was set to begin January 15 — King’s birthday — in Brooklyn, and Smiley was going narrate the production.

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Lin-Manuel Miranda Releases New Song About Ben Franklin, Somehow Still Has Hamilton Stuff Up His Sleeve

As previously evidenced in every single thing he does, Lin-Manuel Miranda has no desire to take a break or relax whatsoever. So it’s really no surprise that he’s decided to commit to releasing a whole year’s worth of Hamilton content once a month for the coming year. The first of his so-called “Hamildrops” comes this December with a new song, “Ben Franklin’s Song.” Sung by the Decemberists, the song’s based on an idea Miranda had for Decemberists-esque lyrics about the famous inventor, which he sent along to the Decemberists’s Colin Meloy, who turned it into an actual song with the rest of the band. If you don’t know who Benjamin Franklin is, you certainly will by the end of the song.

  • Posted 12/14/17 at 7:15 PM

Theater Review: An Enticing Twelfth Night for Beginners and Pros Alike

There must be something good in the water in Providence, Rhode Island. Something that encourages the growth of playful, ambitious but unpretentious, actor-and-text-driven theater companies. In the past decade, graduates from the Brown/Trinity Rep MFA acting program have formed at least two such ensembles — scrappy, smart, bighearted troupes that have managed to find a foothold in New York’s not-always-so-nurturing theatrical terrain. They even have similar chaos-embracing names: Bedlam (whose offbeat Peter Pan you can still catch until Christmas) and Fiasco Theater, currently in residence at Classic Stage Company with a charming, unfussy take on Twelfth Night, or What You Will.

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  • Posted 12/14/17 at 9:37 AM

Adam Driver Will Sulk Back to Broadway in a Revival of Burn This

Adam Driver, who’s been on Broadway twice before (three times, if you count the time his character from Girls did Major Barbara), is coming back to the stage in 2019. In a change of pace from playing the sulky, sexy Kylo Ren in the Star Wars films, Driver will play the sulky, sexy Pale in a revival of Lanford Wilson’s Burn This, a role played by John Malkovich in the show’s original 1987–88 run. The play, set in downtown New York in the 1980s, follows four New Yorkers who are pulled together after a young dancer’s accidental death. Michael Mayer (Hedwig and the Angry Inch) will direct. Jake Gyllenhaal was originally set to play Pale in the revival, but postponed due to scheduling conflicts and ended up doing Sunday in the Park With George instead. We’ll have to wait until Burn This premieres to really know who wins this round of the battle of the sulky, handsome, movie/stage stars.

  • Posted 12/13/17 at 1:14 PM
  • Theater

Kristin Chenoweth Is Attached to Play Meryl Streep’s Role in a Death Becomes Her Stage Musical

In a development strategy roughly defined as “be as camp as possible,” the Universal theater group is working on a stage musical adaptation of Death Becomes Her with Kristin Chenoweth in the role played by Meryl Streep. While the project doesn’t have a composer, book writer, or director as of yet, according to Playbill, the project has attached Chenoweth (Wicked, Pushing Daisies, various extremely high notes heard elsewhere) as Madeline, the self- and age-obsessed Broadway star. Finally, we may get to see more of the film’s fictional musical adaptation of Sweet Bird of Youth titled Songbird!

  • Posted 12/13/17 at 12:26 AM

Temptations Musical Ain’t Too Proud Eyes Broadway Run

Get ready, Broadway, because here comes the Temptations biographical musical. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., announced Tuesday that Ain’t Too Proud — The Life and Times of the Temptations is running for a limited five-week run this summer at the famed arts center in a “pre-Broadway engagement.” The show follows the astronomical rise to fame of the Motown singing group, from humble beginnings in Detroit to multiple chart-topping hits. The musical premiered at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre in California last fall, where it received good reviews and became the theater’s highest-grossing production. The production is directed by Des McAnuff and choreographed by Sergio Trujillo — a team that previously worked together on a similar project, the Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons jukebox musical Jersey Boys.

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Theater Review: The Ensemble Triple Threat of Lucy Kirkwood’s The Children

“How are the children?” shouts a woman standing in a spare, roughly furnished cottage kitchen at the start of Lucy Kirkwood’s potent, aching new play. The woman is still, serious; there’s an almost alien quality about her, as if she’s processing the details of the world of human beings for the first time. She has gray hair with some wave to it, nicely kept, and a finely featured, elfin face that hints at younger days of striking beauty. She’s also bleeding heavily from the nose, and though another woman — more earthy, more energetic — will soon arrive with a washbowl and a rag and a profusion of apologies, the first woman, the alien, will spend the rest of the play with the front of her shirt marked with blood.

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Review: Theater, Terror, and A Room in India

In 1964 in Paris, the 25-year-old Ariane Mnouchkine did what countless young theater artists, fresh out of school and full of ideas and ambition, set out to do: She founded a company with some friends. The troupe — a collective affair where each founding member put in 900 francs and committed to equal salaries for all — was called the Théâtre du Soleil. “We were looking for life, light, heat, beauty, strength, fertility,” Mnouchkine told the New York Times decades later, describing the origins of what had by that time become one of the world’s preeminent theater companies — unique in its communal spirit, the grand scope of its productions, and the multinationality of both its material and its membership. “Théâtre du Soleil is the dream of living, working, being happy and searching for beauty and for goodness. … It’s very simple, really.”

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  • Posted 12/12/17 at 1:22 PM

Theater Review: The Performances That Carry Once on This Island

Outside Circle in the Square, the winter winds are starting to snap. But inside a different wind is blowing — literally. In Michael Arden’s vivid, celebratory revival of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty’s Once on This Island, the elements have been brought indoors. A blanket of sand covers the long oval floor of Dane Laffrey’s lush, immersive set. A pool of water contained by a sandbag embankment fills one end of the stage. A fire burns in a rusted oil drum. A child plays in the sand. A man fishes in the pool. Someone starts cooking on a makeshift hot-plate stove. A dark-eyed, wild-haired woman with a knife strapped to her thigh leads a live goat on a leash. Later, a thick white fog rolls through the space as the cast light candles, giving the effect of stars piercing through a heavy cloud. And in the staging of a storm, not only do electric pulses of lightning flash in the darkness — gusts blow through the audience’s hair.

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If You Were a Theater Kid, You Should Watch ABC’s Encore

For the small slice of the American population that participated in high-school musicals, and the even smaller sliver that is actually proud of that experience, listen up: ABC is airing a delightfully nerdy, bittersweet gift to you all this Sunday at 10 p.m. Hosted by Kristen Bell, a theater kid herself before she became a Disney princess, Encore follows a group of adults who restage their 1997 high-school production of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Into the Woods. They get professional help to put on the show, but only a week of rehearsals to pull it all together. For this particular cast of former theater kids, that means hitting pause on their lives as insurance salesmen, flight attendants, and stay-at-home moms to memorize pages of dialogue, remember tricky melodies, and dance while 32 weeks pregnant.

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The 10 Best Theatrical Productions of 2017

If 2016 was the frying pan, 2017 has frequently felt like the fire. In this year of daily shifts, shocks, and sucker punches, I went from being an opinionated director to being a critic, and these ten productions, ranging from intimate to epic, all touched something expansive for me in their specificity. They eschewed the great temptations of a year like 2017 — didacticism, agitprop-ery, moral grandstanding — and instead found transcendence in the execution of a deeply personal vision.

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Theater Review: Describe the Night, a Tale of Russia and Fake Truth

Watching the deliberate, origami-like unfolding of Rajiv Joseph’s dense and fascinating new play Describe the Night, directed by Giovanna Sardelli at Atlantic Theater Company, I found myself thinking of a tiger. Not the tiger you might expect, meaning the one at the center of Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, which earned Joseph wide acclaim and a finalist nod for the 2010 Pulitzer. No — I was thinking of the tiger in The Life of Pi, Yann Martel’s novel about a young Indian boy who survives for 227 days on a raft after a shipwreck, with that great striped beast as his only companion … or does he? Late in the novel, Pi offers another version of his story — one that involves no tiger, and is devastating, chaotic, and ugly. Which version is true? Pi’s answer: “Which story do you prefer? Which is the better story?”

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Adaptable, Yellow, and Porous Is He! SpongeBob Comes to Broadway

“When are you going to learn, SpongeBob? The world is a horrible place filled with fear, suffering, and despair … also, dashed hopes, shattered dreams, broken promises, and abject misery.”

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