Here's some Jellicle news for Jellicle people. The infamous Grumpy Cat will apparently be joining the cast of Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical Cats on Friday, September 30, making her the first genuine mouser to participate in the production. Why, exactly, is an internet-celebrated cat starring in this long-running Broadway musical, and how is that even logistically possible? Your guess is as good as ours, as her specific role and involvement in the production have yet to be revealed, though a spokesman for the show told the Associated Press that she'll be "worked into the end of the show." Assuming Grumpy Cat is like every other real-life feline who refuses to follow simple commands like "Don't scratch the couch" or "Stop whining for food in the middle of the night," we're going to bet this is more of an honorary gig.
Judith Light can do no wrong onstage, which isn’t to say she can save a play that gets so little right. Without her, All the Ways to Say I Love You, the hour-long monologue that opened MCC Theater’s new season tonight, would be very minor Neil LaBute. Not quite as minor as the similarly stunty and stunted Wrecks, performed by Ed Harris at the Public in 2006, but still too lightweight to fend for itself. Like that earlier work, which LaBute cites as a companion piece, All the Ways to Say I Love You borrows a problem — not even a theme — from Greek drama, in this case from Phaedra, of whom we’ve seen a bit too much lately. But whereas Wrecks (as the pun in its title suggests) was concerned rather narrowly with incest, All the Ways to Say I Love You is about a slightly larger and yet more ambiguous crime. That’s an improvement, if still a doodle; Light makes it a monument.
Narratives don’t get much more contested than that of Nat Turner, the leader of the infamous slave revolt in Southampton County, Virginia, in 1831. To begin with, our knowledge of the events is largely based on Turner’s “confessions,” which were recorded, supposedly verbatim, by a white lawyer named Thomas Gray in a series of jailhouse interviews after Turner was captured. Gray’s account may or may not be accurate; in any case it inflamed white hysteria in the South and depressed anti-slavery efforts in the North by suggesting that the rampage, in which 55 white men, women, and children were killed, was just the beginning of a violent revolution. (It was not as much noted that many more slaves with no connection to the rebellion were killed in its wake by whites.) Later, the story formed the basis of William Styron’s controversial novel The Confessions of Nat Turner, which though generally sympathetic to its protagonist also presents him as a kind of holy fool. And Nate Parker’s film The Birth of a Nation, a Turner retelling that will open wide in two weeks, is itself mired in controversy, albeit for mostly external reasons.
Like “humanistic Judaism,” the term “investigative theater” proposes an invidious distinction. All theater investigates. What the Civilians do under that rubric is merely more literal than what most companies do. Many of the their productions are created by choosing a topic and then interviewing lots of people with knowledge of it, whether expert or lay; the interviews are then edited and cobbled into a script and enacted onstage. In this way the Civilians have covered such themes as loss (in Gone Missing), the porn industry (Pretty Filthy), evangelicals (This Beautiful City), and divorce (Tales From My Parents’ Divorce). The results are usually informative, sometimes obvious, frequently becalmed, especially in comparison with the spellbinding results that Nilaja Sun, Anna Deavere Smith, Sarah Jones, and other fact-based dramatists achieve using similar methods. Is the difference that those three women work solo?
Sarah Tubert is the captain of the National Deaf Women’s Volleyball Team, and she’s got a whole lot of soul in those hands. Watch her put a new kind of life into Hamilton’s “Alexander Hamilton” and feel inspired to love the musical phenomenon in even more ways than you already do. The Facebook video of Tubert, who comes from family of performers with an actor for a father and a singer for a mother, is tagged with the Deaf West Theater, a Los Angeles–based company that stages shows containing both sign-language and spoken-word delivery. Deaf West recently earned three Tony nominations for its revival of Spring Awakening, and has done past productions of Pippin and Big River.
The Trailer for PBS’s Hamilton Documentary Will Take You to the Room Where It Happens, Without the $500 Price TagBy Devon Ivie
No need to make a pilgrimage to the Richard Rogers Theater to fulfill all of your Hamilton needs anymore. (Although, yes, that would certainly be wonderful, and all of your friends and family would still envy you for all eternity.) The trailer for PBS's Hamilton documentary, titled Hamilton's America, has arrived, and the 90-minute special will explore and chart the history of the revolutionary musical. As previously reported, the doc will include interviews with subjects such as George W. Bush, Barack Obama, , and Questlove, as well as feature exclusive access of the show's beloved creator Lin-Manuel Miranda. Willing to wait for it until October 21?
On September 15, Taylor Mac began the world-premiere run of A 24-Decade History of Popular Music, an immense theater-music-performance-art piece presented in three-hour segments over eight evenings. (Each decade gets about an hour.) The real extravaganza, though, is on October 8, when the artist (who gender-fluidly avoids “he” and “she” in favor of “judy”) does the whole thing in 24 hours, for an audience of folks who’ve agreed to stay for the duration. We asked Taylor Mac to explain how these 20 songs — out of the show’s 246 and the millions in American history — made the cut.
Even from the beginning, Edward Albee was rarely photographed smiling — or, rather, photo editors seldom chose to print any smiling portraits that might have been taken. The truth was that he had bad teeth, but the glower went along with his reputation as an angry young man, and seemed to say: What is there worth being happy about, anyway? By the time he was an older man, when I met him, he’d grown so deeply into his implacable face that it seemed like one of the African masks that lined his Tribeca loft; even his mustache pointed down. And yet, of the foundational 20th-century American playwrights — the others were Eugene O’Neill, Arthur Miller, and Tennessee Williams — he was, in his writing, by far the funniest. All four men had essentially tragic outlooks, but Albee’s was howlingly so; he alone saw humanity’s struggle to understand itself as a cosmic joke.
Richard Nelson’s Gabriel family plays, like the Apple family plays before them, are studded with topical political references; Nelson sets each installment on the day of its opening and adds material nearly up to curtain time to make it absolutely current. In What Did You Expect? — the second part of the Gabriel trilogy, which opened last night at the Public Theater — the characters cite Hillary’s pneumonia, Bill’s “creepy” charm, Trump’s appearance on Jimmy Fallon, and liberal panic about the polls. But though these references sparkle brightly, they quickly fade, like tweets. Indeed, for a series subtitled Election Year in the Life of One Family, politics is oddly recessive. Whether Hillary will “be human” in the first debate has no more obvious weight in the 100-minute play than the hundreds of other matters, from historical picnics to Edith Wharton’s pornography, that rise up briefly in the conversation as another meal is prepared in the family’s well-worn kitchen.
Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Edward Albee died today at his home on Long Island. The detail was confirmed by his assistant, Jakob Holder, but no cause of death has been given at this time. He was 88 years old. Albee was one of America’s greatest playwrights, penning more than 25 works over the course of his lifetime, including Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and A Delicate Balance.
Edward Albee died today in his Long Island home at age 88. We are republishing this piece, which originally ran on September 30, 2012.
African sculptures lined up in ranks as if at a tribunal glare implacably at visitors to Edward Albee’s Tribeca loft. Albee himself, though noticeably frailer since undergoing open-heart surgery in June, nevertheless holds his own among them. He sits quite erect in a black leather chair, hawkeyed and beaky, all but growing into his collection. For someone whose 30 or so plays — including such masterworks as The Zoo Story, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, A Delicate Balance, and Three Tall Women — amount to an encyclopedia of human weakness, he remains at 84 reassuringly tough, both with himself and with others. His cane, that ancient sign of human decline, could still, the way he wields it, be a weapon.
When Taylor Mac first emerges through the power-chord fog of a 24-piece orchestra at St. Ann’s Warehouse, he is dressed in an outfit that looks as if Marie Antoinette, having survived an explosion in a party store, was then left out in the rain for centuries. Glammed up with fantastical makeup but nearly naked beneath a tattered farthingale and panniers by the designer Machine Dazzle, he is an anti-macho post-Colonial diva, a monument to ambiguity on every possible axis. For the next three hours, or many more if you choose to attend the entirety of his 24-Decade History of Popular Music, he will explore those axes, and grind them, ten years at a time.
The first thing I noticed when I took my seat in the Upper West Side's Triad cabaret theater was Rachael Ray. She, her husband, and a group of friends were sitting at a table right up against the stage for a performance of Spamilton, Forbidden Broadway's parody of Hamilton (which was just extended for a second time, now through December 31). As I continued to scan the room, I heard the whispers of audience members seeing famous people — and looking over toward the bar tables to my left with "RESERVED" signs on top, I recognized theater agent John Buzzetti from my time in the agency world, then Hamilton director Thomas Kail, and then Lin-Manuel Miranda, with his newly 21st-century haircut. At that point, I knew: I wasn't just going to watch Spamilton. I was also going to watch Miranda watching Spamilton.
Head on over to your preferred ticketing Realtor fast, because ticket prices for The Humans are about to skyrocket. Last year's Tony Award–winner for Best Play will end its run at the Schoenfeld Theater on January 15, a spokesperson confirmed to the New York Times. The Stephen Karam–penned play, which our critic Jesse Green called "rackingly funny even as it pummels the heart and scares the bejesus out of you," chronicles a dysfunctional family that comes together for Thanksgiving dinner in Manhattan. The closure will make room for a new musical, Come From Away, which is scheduled to open on February 18. Hey, it's only human to move on to different things.
Update: While The Humans' time at the Schoenfeld is coming to an end, the acclaimed play isn't necessarily done with the New York theater scene. A spokesperson clarifies: "The Humans will continue at the Schoenfeld through January 15. This is a play that has had wildly successful runs at three different New York theatres over the past year. We'll see what happens next."
Sister Rosetta Tharpe (1915–1973) was a gospel singer, pianist, and guitarist whose combination of holy rolling and louche swing made her one of the forgotten godparents of rock. (“Sister” was a nickname, not a title; she was no sort of nun.) Her protégée Marie Knight (1925–2009) had a churchier alto that blended beautifully with the older woman’s cosmic baritone and, in many senses, provided cover for her when they toured together in the late '40s. George Brant’s Marie and Rosetta, which opens the Atlantic’s new season tonight at the Linda Gross Theater, is thus a welcome mini-double-bio of the underappreciated pair; unfortunately, it’s also a classic (and literal) example of write-by-numbers dramaturgy. The scenes are basically just a delivery system for the music, which is only sufficient because the songs — including the Tharpe hits “This Train,” “Up Above My Head,” and “Strange Things” — are so ecstatically exciting. On the other hand, songs this good set a high bar, and the play leaves you wishing to have understood more, and believed more, about these women and their times than its jukebox structure permits.
Near the end of the three-and-a-half-hour slog that is Phaedra(s) — just when you’ve given up hope for it and, indeed, all existence — something wonderful happens. Until then, the production, which opened last night as part of BAM’s Next Wave festival, has been interesting mostly as a catalogue of the latest Euro-avant-garde tics and obsessions. They’re all there: the droning music, the two-way mirrors, the live video feed, the body fluids, the haute couture, the stiletto heels, the simulated sex, the fixation on plumbing. Also checking off a box on the packing list is a movie star, in this case the great French actress Isabelle Huppert. In recent years I’ve seen at least four shows that juggle these same basic elements, including the Sydney Theatre Company’s version of The Maids, which starred Huppert and Cate Blanchett. That one wrangled its clichés quite well, but make no mistake, Phaedra(s) is name-brand trash; its designer, Malgorzata Szczesniak, must have rung up quite a charge at PretensoMax.
A sensational concert performance of Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years at Town Hall last night, starring Cynthia Erivo and Joshua Henry, started the New York fall theater season off with a bang. I use that phrase advisedly and sadly; the occasion was a benefit for the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. (Erivo, Henry, Brown, and the five other musicians onstage all worked for free.) As if to emphasize the point, Brown began the evening not with the 2002 musical itself, but with a bitter new piece called “A Song About a Gun,” in which he snarled, from the piano, that he is “too busy singing songs about my daughters / And the news I have to hide from them today” to pen a paean to some gun lover’s Remington. Strange and interior and dark, it was nevertheless an apt prologue to The Last Five Years, which premiered in New York in the shut-down winter after September 11, 2001. For those of us who saw it then, this new context felt too familiar.
A month ago, word came out that The Color Purple’s Cynthia Erivo and Joshua Henry, who is going to play Aaron Burr in Chicago's production of Hamilton, would be taking on Jason Robert Brown’s two-hander classic The Last Five Years, with proceeds going to the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. Instantly, the anticipation shot to 100 percent. This is one of the most vocally demanding musicals, being sung by two of our greatest vocalists. Specifically, there was one question theater fans were asking themselves: Will they die from seeing Erivo take on the already devastating “Still Hurting”? Having seen it, I can answer that for you: Yes.
The benefit concert was held last night at New York's Town Hall and Vulture has the exclusive video of two of the performances: Henry singing “Moving Too Fast” and, yes, Erivo’s “Still Hurting.” (Both feature Brown accompanying on piano.) The first thing that’s clear is that both performers bring it so freaking hard, setting a bar against which all future Jamies and Cathys will be judged. Henry’s performance bubbles with a perfect mix of charm and pomposity. And then there’s Erivo. Her performance is the entirety of what it means to be a human who has loved and lost and must reconcile these facts, all in one song. You can watch both clips and see photos from the special night below. (Read Jesse Green's review of the superb evening here.)
With its concentric circular walls sliding this way and that, Derek McLane’s scenic design for Aubergine looked to me like a set of nesting steamer baskets. But perhaps I was being too suggestible; the play, which opens tonight, at Playwrights Horizons, is almost entirely about food. I suppose that its author, Julia Cho, means for it to be about something larger; she writes in a program note about the way food attaches to memory, and vice versa. Unfortunately, the play itself does not so much demonstrate this connection as state it over and over: a recipe for dramatic starvation.
Oooooooh, promo. Half, or at least a third, of the fun of the Oh, Hello show is watching John Mulaney and Nick Kroll crack each other up as these two miserable jerks, Gil Faizon and George St. Geegland. You can get a taste of that in these exclusive to Vulture outtakes of their promos. Also, you can get a taste of what it looks like when Gil and George ride a horse. Oh, Hello on Broadway will be at the Lyceum Theater from September 23 through January 8. Get your tickets and start building your immunity to tuna now.
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