Hopefully, you've had a few minutes to play around with our Fall Entertainment Generator. But if you're looking for straight and simple lists of things to look out for by medium, we'll be breaking them out separately. Here's a look at fall theater.
Sure, we could have given you a list of 300-some odd things to watch, listen to, read, attend, and experience over these next several months. But where's the fun in being so limited? You're omnivorous and you want it all — Interstellar and the new Ken Burns documentary; the new David Mitchell novel and the new Taylor Swift; the Metropolitan Opera and Bob Seger. So here's our fall entertainment generator. Choose a type (a blockbuster, an indie, or something adventurous or trashy) and a feeling (something to make you laugh, cry, scared, thrilled, inspired, or feel smart) and see what pops forth. Then write down all those options and enjoy as many of them as you can. Happy autumn.
The Met’s labor crisis is over; the spiritual crisis goes on. There’s a lot to be thankful for in the way contract negotiations unfolded. All through a treacherous summer, rehearsals never stopped. Costumes kept being fitted, lighting adjusted, blocking practiced, and props assembled. Stagehands continued the colossal task of figuring out how to jump between centuries and continents in a matter of hours. As a result of all this coordinated effort, chandeliers will rise and necklines will drop on opening night, just as they do every year. James Levine will conduct the National Anthem, and, as always, a few retired sopranos in the audience will holler through the 3,800-person choir — their annual opportunity to be heard at the Met.
Emmy nominees Peter Dinklage and Taylor Schilling are heading to the stage together. The prestige TV dream-team will star in Ivan Turgenev's 19th-century comedy of manners A Month in the Country, starring Schilling as a bored Russian wife named Natalya who falls in love with her son's tutor, much to the annoyance of her unrequited admirer Rakitin (Dinklage). Dinklage's wife, Erica Schmidt, is directing the play, which will run for a month in early 2015 at the East Village's Classic Stage Company. And then it's straight back to TV, right, guys? Promise?
Two couples, a pleasant house, plenty of wine, and some arcing sexual current: Could there be a theatrical vehicle with a more interchangeable set of parts? Theresa Rebeck keeps squirting dramaturgical WD40 into her whirring contraption of a play Poor Behavior and, for a while, it works. Unctuously clever dialogue oozes out of Ian, the cynical Irishman (Brian Avers). His wife, the mercurial Maureen (Heidi Armbruster), careens into wittily unhinged rants. Marital arguments click smoothly along fixed tracks. It’s always entertaining to watch a weekend in the country speed so efficiently toward disaster. Soon enough, though, the machine starts to creak, giving off a clangor of whys and whines and reproaches that you can hear rumbling toward a huffy exit from ten minutes away.
Tonight, Broadway dimmed its marquee lights for one minute in honor of Robin Williams. And at last night's performance of Aladdin on Broadway, Tony winner James Monroe Iglehart, who plays the Genie in the musical, gave his own fitting tribute to the late great star, leading the audience in a sing-along of the Genie's iconic song "Friend Like Me." It was very sweet.
We're getting even more Peter Pan! The New York Times reports that Finding Neverland, a musical based on the 2004 film about Peter Pan author J.M. Barrie (played by Johnny Depp), will open for the first time on Broadway this March.
The high-profile musical marks Harvey Weinstein's first time as lead producer on a theatrical project, and it has been in the works for some time: After a tryout production drew mixed reviews back in 2012, Weinstein scrapped an earlier version of the script and hired a new team, helmed by Tony-winning director Diane Paulus (Pippin, Hair), to rework it. This is the first time a firm Broadway date has been announced, although many were predicting it after Jennifer Hudson performed a song from the production at this year's Tony Awards.
Emma Stone is in talks to make her Broadway debut, playing Sally Bowles in the revival of Cabaret that is currently running at Studio 54. While the rest of the cast is staying on, the New York Times reports Stone would replace Michelle Williams when she leaves the show on November 9. Stone was actually slotted for the role before Williams, but had to drop out for scheduling reasons. Of course, she did some stage acting as a kid, but as a working Hollywood actress since her teens, she hasn’t had any major stage experience. However, she is Emma Stone. She could lip-synch the musical and still get roses thrown at her every night.
Most contemporary plays, or at least the ones that make it to New York’s big stages, can be categorized as Realism Lite: recognizable people doing recognizable things, perhaps with a powder coat of stylization for sheen. Actual absurdism, the hope of the 1960s, is dead; the theater today aspires to the condition of Mad Men.
What hath Godot wrought? The pregnant, performative style of stage dialogue revolutionized by Beckett and honed by Pinter has, over the years, devolved into a cheap lingua franca used by playwrights as high-gloss varnish on their piddly dramedies and rom-coms. In the latter category is Scott Organ’s Phoenix, a two-hander featuring no existential dread, but plenty of dreadful conversations. These consist mostly of feints and gambits that curlicue endlessly around nothing:
All the way back in January, we first heard that Larry David was working on a play, possibly for Jerry Seinfeld to star in. Well, it appears the Seinfeld part was off, but the New York Times reports David has in fact written a play, and that he will star in it himself on Broadway. Entitled Fish in the Dark, it will open on March 5 at a Shubert Theater. David wouldn't share any details about the play itself, other than that the character he is playing is “somebody very similar to Larry David — it might even be Larry David with a different name.” David says he wasn't planning on starring but was convinced by the show's megaproducer, Scott Rudin. Save his work pretending to be in The Producers on Curb Your Enthusiasm, David admits he hasn't acted onstage since the eighth grade. He was once a working stand-up, so that might help. But he was known for hating the audience and often just walking offstage mid-set, so maybe it won't. Either way, this all sounds pretty, pretty, pretty grand (it's theater, gotta class it up a little).
On a recent evening at the Delacorte in Central Park, a raccoon stopped by unticketed to watch a moment of the Public Theater’s new production of King Lear, starring John Lithgow. Following some other supernumeraries onto the outskirts of the stage, where it kept a respectful distance from the main action, the odd creature seemed briefly stunned by the doings of the other odd creatures. This was the early scene in which the elderly Lear awards portions of his kingdom to the winners of a kind of spontaneous poetry slam among his three daughters. After the older two, Goneril and Regan, played by Annette Bening and Jessica Hecht, offer slick words of fealty, and the youngest, Cordelia, played by Jessica Collins, remains mute because her love is “richer than her tongue,” the raccoon took off as Lear exploded in rage, Cordelia in tears. This is one of many Lear moments that manage to be both supremely moving and completely mystifying. What is the point of Lear’s idle contest? Why does Cordelia fail to explain herself better? Who cannot recognize the brazen falseness of the two entitled nasties? Perhaps I’m projecting, but I thought the raccoon was saying “Whaaaaat?” as it went.
It's shaping up to be a banner year for diversity on Broadway. In addition to casting the first black Phantom of the Opera, it was announced today that that Keke Palmer will be Broadway's first black Cinderella, joining the production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella at New York's Broadway Theater starting September 9. "It's honestly one of those things that I can't believe is really happening," Palmer told the AP. "I'm very excited. Very excited and nervous as well — a bunch of feelings all at once."
Even on the rare occasions when they’re legible, the notes I take in the theater are generally useless — except in those cases where boredom causes them to mutate into to-do lists. I make no apology; there are plays to which a perfectly reasonable critical response may be “wash delicates” or “order Netflix.” In fact, it’s a lack of notes that’s most telling. After Between Riverside and Crazy last night, I checked my Gold Fibre Antique Ivory pad and found that once I’d gotten past my pre-show ritual of describing the set (an excellent revolving Upper West Side apartment by Walt Spangler), I’d written … nothing. As soon as the first scene began, I was gone: lost in its world.
If you were trying to devise a light comedy for overheated August audiences (and theaters closing out their subscription seasons) you might do worse than a two-hander with a clickbait title and a chilly setting. Perhaps you’d have the curtain rise on an inn in Michigan as a March snowstorm casts cool blue light on a woman drinking a big glass of red wine while ice drips loudly off the eaves outside. Anyway, that’s what Laura Eason has done in Sex With Strangers, at Second Stage, making it seem, but only for the first few minutes, like part of the New York theater world’s late-summer ritual of dumping inventory too insubstantial for the rest of the year. For there is sexy Olivia, curled up in her stretchy separates, proofing the manuscript of her novel, for god’s sake. Is this a play or a travel ad at the back of The New York Review of Books?
With this Allison Williams news upon us, let us be neither the first nor last to point you toward the original Peter Pan starring Mary Martin. It's a nostalgia fest for those of us who wore out the VHS, but also evidence that a woman could (and did!) play the most wonderful version of Peter Pan there ever was. Williams surely has big shoes to fill. (That is, if her version of Peter Pan wears shoes.)
On Wednesday, six-time-Tony-winner Audra McDonald returned to The Tonight Show to sing the transcripts from some ridiculous Yahoo Answers, accompanied on piano by Jimmy Fallon and The Good Wife's Josh Charles. If you enjoyed McDonald's Tony-winning performance as Billie Holiday in Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill, you'll love hearing her take on classic tracks like "How can I be the life of the party?," "Does vodka really kill bees and wasps?," and "I swallowed an ice cube last night and then it disappeared, and I'm wondering if it's stuck." Truly effervescent.
Jersey Boys, which should have been a cautionary tale, has become instead a how-to guide. (Half a billion in Broadway receipts will do that.) It has not only spawned an infestation of jukebox biomusicals but also codified the key elements of the genre. First among these is that there should be a baldly narrated framing device (a Carnegie Hall concert, a death, a reunion) from which the plot flashes back to the difficulties of the songwriter’s early life (an overprotective mother, the Holocaust). The intervening years should be précised as quickly and hysterically as possible — crises only — leaving plenty of room for songs whose necks have been twisted so their unlikely emergence in the narrative will elicit a gasp of surprise. (Optional: These songs should be plunked out on a piano by a Jewish shlemiel before a trio of bespangled black singers magically materializes to apply the shamalamadingdong.) Throughout, characters should use dialogue not to advance the plot but to provide information everyone onstage would already know. And all this must lead to a curtain-call sing-along of the musician’s catchiest hit.
Elaine Stritch wasn’t the star of Company, but she sure as hell made herself the star of its making-of documentary. Dean Jones and the rest of the actors be damned; the drama of her failure to master her big number, “The Ladies Who Lunch,” all but commandeers D.A. Pennebaker’s 1970 chronicle of the marathon recording sessions for the musical’s cast album. Muttering and grimacing, and looking in her bucket hat like a geezer at the end of a weeklong fishing trip, she keeps tripping over the notes and especially the feelings of the Stephen Sondheim showstopper, as if she were just learning it. Then, having begged for and been granted an expensive extra day to record, she returns all coiffed and made up and totally nails it. Presto, the film has its arc and its climax.
Ten months ago, I stumped Elaine Stritch. As we sat around her kitchen table, I mentioned that in her one-woman Broadway show, she had said she wished she had been able to write Noel Coward’s epitaph. Who, I wondered, would she want to write hers?
Much of my two hours with her was raucous. This moment was the only time she didn’t either cackle with glee over some joke or story or bark at me for some nettlesome question she didn’t like.
“I never thought of that,” she said with wide eyes. I waited for her reply, but it became clear she really hadn’t thought much about what happened to her after her death. “A logical question. A hard question.” I gave her a few more beats to consider a response. “I know a lot of people that I’m very fond of, who I’d like to know what they thought of me.”