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Theater Review: A School-Massacre Story on a Severe Canvas, in Soderbergh-Directed The Library

If you want a vivid example of how a director can shape (or reshape) a play, compare the author’s description of the set for The Library with what actually appears on the Public Theater’s Newman stage. In his script, Scott Z. Burns details the scene of a Columbine-like massacre with (among other naturalistic indicators) backpacks, bookshelves, books scattered everywhere, a charred sofa, fallen chairs, and bloodstains on the carpet. But what the director Steven Soderbergh (working with the designer Riccardo Hernandez) gives us instead is the antiseptic inside of a white lacquer box. It looks like the meditation room of a moon colony, with almost no props, let alone those bloodstains. Which is apt, I suppose; The Library is the chicest high-school mass-murder drama yet.

A chill descends. »

Theater Review: How Much Can Audra McDonald Sound Like Billie Holiday?

You will undoubtedly hear that what Audra McDonald is doing as Billie Holiday in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill is not an impersonation. It is, though. However much more it eventually becomes, it starts with capturing that eccentric, heartbreaking voice — and the capture is uncanny. Right from the first syllables of “I Wonder Where Our Love Has Gone,” which opens the show, McDonald nails the pinched tone, side-mouth delivery, and precipitous register leaps of Holiday in her heyday. Consonants are negotiable: “love” is more like “luhw.” Final vowels become dramatic opportunities: “Hear my plea-uh and hurry home to me-uh!” Pitch is obscure or even absent; some notes sound fried in place yet remain part of the melody. McDonald’s Holiday doesn’t so much sing as play her voice, like a saxophone, with perfect confidence in (or indifference to) its expressive powers. 

Why it works. »

Theater Review: Misfires in Bullets Over Broadway

Whatever musical comedy is, there hasn’t been much of it this season. We’ve seen plenty of musical drama, sure. A few revues and bio-jukeboxes. Even, God help us, a rock-star rabbi. But of the four new shows that could possibly be considered heirs to the once dominant Broadway category, one feels more like an operetta (A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder), one’s a Disney retread (Aladdin), and one (First Date) was basically a skit and died. That leaves only Bullets Over Broadway — Woody Allen’s stage adaptation of his charming 1994 movie, with Susan Stroman directing and choreographing — to hoist the pinstripes-and-marabou flag above midtown. Unfortunately, as musical comedy goes, it’s neither.

Polished problem-solving and a fun premise aren't enough. »

  • Posted 4/10/14 at 8:05 AM
  • Theater

Marin Mazzie on Holding Her Own in Woody Allen’s Bullets Over Broadway

If Marin Mazzie were to play herself in a hack Broadway show, she’d be the plucky, hardworking stage veteran finally landing the role of a lifetime at 53. But Woody Allen, whose Bullets Over Broadway—about a delusionally bad playwright and his mobster producer—is being remade as a Broadway musical, probably wouldn’t get many gags out of that. And if he could, Mazzie wouldn’t get a chance at her own star turn as the show’s relentlessly actressy Helen Sinclair, a character made famous by Dianne Wiest and her overwrought directive “Don’t speak!”

Mazzie has three Tony nominations, an enviable bod, and a rock-solid résumé of theater work. »

  • Posted 4/10/14 at 8:00 AM
  • Theater

The Tony Traffic Report: Insiders Analyze the Jockeying for Nominations

Shows opening late in the Broadway season tend to do better at the Tony awards—which is one big reason so many now make their debuts in April. Here, experts break down the odds.

Best Musical and Best Revival of a Musical
The most commercially valuable award—Best Musical—is a real contest. Bullets Over Broadway and the already opened The Bridges of Madison County, After Midnight, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, and If/Then are all competing for the four (or occasionally five) slots; Beautiful and Rocky, too, despite uneven reviews. But Violet and Hedwig and the Angry Inch, both of which have had substantial Off Broadway runs, are wild cards. If they are ruled eligible in the new-musicals category, either could knock one of the weaker titles off the list. If they’re revivals, they’ll be front-runners in a sparse category. As for who’ll win Best Musical, it’s still early, but Bullets is the kind of feel-good show voters like, and its buzz is good, apart from the Dylan Farrow factor.

Hollywood casting has jammed up best actor in a play. »

Michael Cera Headed to Broadway in This Is Our Youth

Michael Cera, Kieran Culkin, and Tavi Gevinson will be making their Broadway debuts later this year in Kenneth Lonergan's 1996 play This Is Our Youth, the Chicago Tribune reports. The production will open at Chicago's Steppenwolf Upstairs Theater in June and move to New York in August. The show, set in 1982, follows three characters over the course of two nights: Cera will play Warren, the maladjusted 19-year-old who just stole $15,000 from his lingerie-magnate father; Culkin will play Dennis, the small-time drug dealer; and Gevinson, in her first stage role, will play Jessica, an antsy fashion student. Cera and Culkin were in an Australian production of the show in 2012, and Gevinson played an antsy high-school student in Enough Said, so everyone seems to be on familiar footing. Watch out, Regan-era hopelessness!

  • Posted 4/8/14 at 8:00 AM
  • Theater

The Newbie and the Emcee: Alan Cumming Welcomes Michelle Williams to Cabaret

Michelle Williams gasps: “I haven’t seen a bus with Cabaret on it, and we just drove past one,” she says from her car. “There’s no face on the bus, thank God. Oh, look—there’s a Jersey Boys bus. There’s a Newsies bus! I never noticed all these musical buses!” She’s headed to rehearsal for her Broadway debut as Sally Bowles (opening April 24), and this MTA moment is one of many novel ones she’s had lately. “Every time I rehearse, there’s a tiny bubble of a breakthrough,” she says. “And now those are happening in front of people.” She emits a nervous laugh. In her first previews, she says, she’s realized “how many things you can be thinking while you’re performing: There’s a thousand people out there … Oh, I really need to tack this slip to the dress, ’cause it’s getting stuck when I lift this … Didn’t really land that as well as I did the last time. And you’re singing and you’re dancing at the same time!”

Her co-star Alan Cumming is, by comparison, an old Broadway hand. »

  • Posted 4/6/14 at 10:00 PM

Theater Review: The Realistic Joneses Are All Talk

Is Will Eno the absurdist Neil Simon? The 49-year-old playwright, a Pulitzer finalist in 2005 for Thom Pain (based on nothing), certainly has a gift for metaphysical one-liners, especially paraprosdokians, those jack-in-the-box epigrams that seem to lead one way before feinting another. Alas, in his first Broadway outing, it’s a gift he keeps giving till it hurts: The Realistic Joneses is a four-character play in which everyone talks like the deadpan comic Steven Wright. 

And jokes, even absurd ones, aren't quite enough. »

Who Taught Denzel Washington How to Play Drunk?

There's a great moment in the middle of Broadway's A Raisin in the Sun where Denzel Washington gets up on a table and dances. His character, Walter Lee Younger, has already knocked back a few when he walks in on his sister in their shared Chicago apartment as she's celebrating her African roots with a Nigerian tribal dance. In his deliriously drunk stupor, he goes all in. "I am much warrior!" he proclaims. "Flaming spear! The lion is waking!" The moment, as our reviewer already noted, is priceless. 

Read More  »

Theater Review: A Raisin in the Sun, With a Star Who Knows What to Do in the Role

Everyone’s moaning about Denzel Washington’s age: How can a man who’s 59 play the 35-year-old Walter Lee Younger in A Raisin in the Sun, a character whose very name suggests the drama of coming into manhood? And if Walter’s that old, how can his mother, Lena, be played by an actress — LaTanya Richardson Jackson — who is just 64? Did she give birth to him as a tot?

Why that's not a problem. »

Theater Review: The Happy Return of The Most Happy Fella

Three years ago, when a panel convened by New York Magazine set out to pick the greatest musicals ever, our only discussion of The Most Happy Fella concerned whether it should be categorized as an opera, and thus outside our purview. It certainly feels like one in its scope and depth and color, and it demands, in certain roles, classically trained voices. The title character is even Italian. But Frank Loesser, who wrote the whole damn thing, score and libretto and fascinating stage directions, resisted the high-tone label, even as he poured on the Puccini. He considered The Most Happy Fella a musical with a lot of music.

And it is, at least, one of the best. »

Theater Review: What’s Your Damage, Heathers: The Musical?

Good musicals may not be getting any smarter but bad ones certainly are. Take Heathers, which at every turn vastly improves the 1989 cult movie on which it’s based. Alas, that’s a very low bar; the movie, starring Winona Ryder and Christian Slater, is such a sloppy, poorly directed mess it can’t even figure out what genre it’s in. (It ends up glorifying the brutal high school culture it ostensibly means to satirize.) A thousand deft repairs and a thoroughly professional score by the musical’s gifted authors — the book, music, and lyrics are by Kevin Murphy and Laurence O’Keefe — can’t solve the problem, but do manage to lift Heathers all the way to terrible.

Good tunes; decent lyrics. So what's wrong? »

The Wicked Movie Has ‘Started Gearing Up’

After over a decade on Broadway, it seems like the right time for the blockbuster musical Wicked to make its way to the big screen, but despite the occasional flash of interest from directors, development on the project has been stalled for a long time. That may all change soon, according to Stephen Schwartz. Vulture caught up with the Wicked composer at last night’s opening of If/Then (starring Wicked alumna Idina Menzel), and when we asked about the movie version of his Wizard of Oz prequel, he told us, “We're starting to do some work on it. We've actually started gearing up on it a little bit.”

Also: Why Hugh Jackman fell out of Houdini. »

Theater Review: In Duality and Doubt, If/Then Is a Musical of City Life Now

Elizabeth is a walking irony. An independent, die-hard New Yorker, she nevertheless moves to Phoenix to be with a husband none of her friends likes. An urban planner by training, she thus finds herself in a city so sprawly and unregulated she can’t practice her profession, and so teaches it there instead, “like teaching breathing on the moon.” After 12 years of this, she returns to New York, divorced and jobless and 38, to untangle her ironies and, in the great tradition of such stories, start over. How will she make it on her own?

Not the way you'd expect. »

  • Posted 3/26/14 at 11:30 AM
  • Theater

Benedict Cumberbatch Is Going to Be Hamlet

The production is currently only scheduled for a London run, but maybe if you're very good and tweet obsessively for the next year, they'll bring it to Broadway next. Anyway: Benedict Cumberbatch, whining about Danish stuff for three hours! It is the stuff dreams are made of.

Theater Review: A Sharp Echo of a Bleaker Time, in Terrence McNally’s Mothers and Sons

Tyne Daly isn’t in Master Class this year, but she’s giving one. And, paradoxically, rule No. 1 is: Give nothing away. As Katharine Gerard in Mothers and Sons, she doesn’t clue you in to her intentions, or tease her next moves, or make big faces to indicate her anger at the world: an anger so unrelenting she could “let that ottoman put me in a rage.” She resists crying and tells no jokes but jerks the most tears from the audience and gets the evening’s biggest laughs just by standing or sitting and doing the plainest things. She reaches for a drink to balance her nerves, then doesn’t drink it. She fishes reading glasses from her purse before looking through photos of her dead son. She stands within her secondhand fur coat as if it were armor.  

"She is willfully politically incorrect." »

Theater Review: This Time, Less Miz Is (Slightly) More

Asked to name France’s greatest poet, André Gide famously answered, “Hugo — alas!” His ambivalence might have been a reaction to the great man’s sideline in sentimental novels, especially the 1862 Les Misérables: 1,900 pages of digression interrupted by occasional outcroppings of farfetched plot. With its overly neat central conflict between the saintly ex-criminal Jean Valjean (morally right but legally wrong) and the obsessed Inspector Javert (the other way around), the tale is surely lacking in the subtlety department. That it was nevertheless an enormous international success — one of the 19th century’s biggest bestsellers — must have been galling to Gide. 

And he never even saw Les Miz.

"To say this production is not as bombastic as the original is to rate it at perhaps an eight instead of a ten." »

Theater Review: A Grim Tales From Red Vienna

A man enters a woman’s apartment and, after leaving a few bills on a tray, enters her. That the scene takes place behind a lace curtain drawn decorously across the front of a dim stage does not render it any less clear. Nor does the curtain of time obscure much. (The number of buttons on the woman’s garments tells us we’re in a bygone era.) Coital grunts and pantings are, presumably, a constant throughout history, if human nature is itself constant. But is it? Is human nature even a constant in any one life?

Great actors, completely at sea. »

Theater Review: Appropriate Explains Too Much and Says Too Little

Tolstoy never really proved his thesis that every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. But the three messed-up ménages in residence at the Signature Theatre these days — one martialist, one minimalist, and one maximalist — certainly do. In David Henry Hwang’s Kung Fu, on the Diamond Stage, Bruce Lee is constantly humiliated by his father, even from beyond the grave. The unnamed inhabitants of Will Eno’s The Open House, at The Linney, are so emotionally defective they must each be replaced, like Brand X toasters past their warranty. And then there are the Lafayettes, screaming, drinking, and hair-pulling their way through Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s Appropriate, at the Griffin. They make the other clans look like Cleavers, and make you want to wield one.

"The play is as overstuffed as the house, but at least the house gets cleaned." »

Theater Review: Why Rocky Doesn’t Fly Now

The huge Winter Garden — lately home to the inane juggernaut Mamma Mia! — is not a theater in which you’d expect to find a sad and delicate romance. Yet one is playing out there. Amid gorgeous shadows and the monumental grimness of a city in decline, a scrappy small-time boxer, pursuing modest dreams of redemption in the ring and in love, hits apparent dead ends in both. At 29, he’s past his prime as a fighter; meanwhile Adrian, the girl he likes, is withdrawn to the point of hostility. They’re each other’s “flip side,” they slowly learn: The boxer convinced he’s all body, no brain, the abused Adrian just the opposite. That he’s not as dumb as he looks, nor she as plain as her cat’s-eye glasses indicate, is hardly a novel narrative notion, but it makes for a touching theatrical combo. Unfortunately, this two-character, black-and-white kitchen-sink drama, reminiscent of Paddy Chayefsky in his made-for-TV days, is trapped inside (and eventually strangled by) a garishly colorful bloated mess of an unmusical musical called Rocky.

"The songs don’t lift: They barely even move. Instead, the set does." »

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