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.”
Elaine Stritch, who passed away today at the age of 89, became famous — as actors and actresses do — for delivering lines on stages and screens. But many of Stritch's most memorable lines came off the stage, where she was known for her salty candor. In remembrance of the legendary actress, Vulture compiled New York's coverage of Stritch's life and career, including some of the best quotes about and by Stritch. Prepare to cackle, and maybe to cry a little, too.
Can friendliness be baked into a song, the way peaches are in a pie? On the evidence of Pump Boys and Dinettes, the final presentation of the Encores! Off-Center series this summer, the answer is yes. More a country-music revue than a musical, Pump Boys offers a series of relentlessly ingratiating clap-alongs that melt sophistication as if it were a pat of butter on a steaming biscuit. Sorry for the grits-and-gravy imagery, but after sitting through the show’s 19 numbers — rockabilly paeans to roadside culture, a cappella hymns to catfishing, twangy odes to Mamaw, boot-scooting two-steps, and honkytonk declarations of a mostly notional ideal of female empowerment — my New York brain is basically Southern-fried.
After a long, full, and varied career and a long, full, and varied life, Elaine Stritch passed away this morning. She was 89.
Born in Detroit on February 2, 1925, Stritch left Michigan for New York to study at the New School's Dramatic Workshop alongside classmates Marlon Brando and Bea Arthur. She made her stage debut in 1944 and her Broadway debut in 1946, in Loco. She'd go on to a legendary stage career that included five Tony nominations, with her finally winning her first in 2002 for her one-woman show Elaine Stritch at Liberty. She is maybe best known for originating the role of Joanne in Stephen Sondheim's 1970 musical Company. (Read a full, wonderful timeline of here career here.)
Would the cast of Frozen, comprised almost totally of live-theater veterans, ever consider joining the inevitable Broadway musical adaptation? Both Idina Menzel and Kristen Bell have said they’re open to the idea of reprising their roles onstage, while Jonathan Groff begged off the idea, claiming he’s not as hot as his cartoon character: “It would be a big letdown. I’m not blond or six-foot-five.” This week, Vulture ran into Josh Gad at the New York premiere of his new Zach Braff movie Wish I Was Here, and we asked the onetime Tony nominee whether he’d be open to playing his snowman character Olaf in the live-action adaptation. “You know … never say never,” he offered, gingerly. “There’s nothing on the page enticing about dressing up in a snowman outfit eight shows a week, but I love the creative team enough to at least hear what they have to say … If they say we have an idea, I may be open to it. But when you say ‘Frozen, the musical,’ it’s not something where I’m immediately like, ‘Yes, I must do that.’” If you'd put all your hopes into a cast reunion, should you let it go? (Sorry, we'll show ourselves out.)
Looks like the doomed Tupac musical will have a pal to commiserate with in Broadway Musical Heaven: The New York Times reports that Rocky the Musical, based on the 1976 Sylvester Stallone movie, will end its U.S. run on August 17 (the original German incarnation, Hamburg's Rocky das Musical, is still going strong). While not a total disaster, Rocky received mixed reviews, had difficulty filling seats over the course of its five month run, and failed to garner a Tony best musical nomination. Here's hoping Rocky the Musicals II through V have better luck.
Broadway's Tupac musical Holler If Ya Hear Me will shutter Sunday after only six weeks of performances, the New York Times reports. One of the worst-selling musicals in recent years, the show struggled to attract an audience, with producer Eric L. Gold saying in a statement Monday that he made a "rookie mistake" in underestimating how much money the show would need to keep running and blaming the closure on the "financial burdens of Broadway." Although, if you ask us, the lack of Tupac holograms in the show was probably a factor. People love those things.
For all the glibness of his image-crafting, James Franco appears to be sincere in his regard for actual artistic production. And I say this not just in hopes of avoiding the title of Little Bitch 2. Uptown, in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men (which continues through July 27), he offers a serious and accomplished performance as the itinerant farmhand George; is it his fault if he looks hot doing so? Downtown, as the director of a new play called The Long Shrift, he’s likewise humble, the opposite of showboating. Unfortunately, the opposite of showboating, in this case, is sinking.
London's West End is reviving the musical Cats once again — which is not a surprise considering the success of the previous runs and that cats are still huge on the internet. But while he isn't at the point of working Grumpy Cat or Lil Bub into a production (even my own suggestion makes me shudder!), Yahoo reports that composer Andrew Lloyd Webber is planning to spice things up with some "hip-hop flavor":
“It’s not the length,” a friend said after seeing Randy Newman’s Faust last night, “it’s the Goethe.” Indeed, the Encores! Off-Center concert of the 1995 musical was plenty swift, its book (such as it is) jettisoned by narration, most of it provided by Newman himself as the devil, that came amazingly close to not outstaying its welcome. But even a brief two hours was enough to make clear what a mess this show is, and why, after a high-power concept album and full stagings in La Jolla and Chicago, it never got to Broadway, or even off. The original story, a high point of European Romantic sublimity, has been reduced by Newman to the lowest sort of sophomoric spoofery, as the devil and the lord fight not for the soul of God’s favorite human — a despairing scholar, in the Goethe — but for a nitwit Notre Dame undergrad who fancies himself a punk rebel. With the engine of the plot thus disconnected, amusing if knee-jerk blasphemies are left to provide the only narrative spark: God is a “master of bullshit” who is bored to the point of golf. The devil is no less dull.
According to video obtained by the New York Post, Shia LaBeouf briefly chased a man through Times Square yesterday, prior to his arrest at a performance of Broadway's Cabaret. The video, which can be seen at the Post's site, is supported by testimony from an unnamed publishing-industry employee and his girlfriend, who claimed that LeBeouf was after a bag of McDonald's.
“He really wanted whatever was in that bag. He had so much focus … If there were French fries in the bag, maybe he really wanted to eat them, ” a witness said. He added, “He was dodging people and and yelling, ‘Yo, come on!’ … He was on a mission. It was so bizarre.”
TMZ, however, has photos that definitely show that the man Shia was chasing after held not a bag of McDonald's, but rather a tan cap that was presumably not made of French fries.
We will continue to update this bizarre and unfortunate story as it unfolds.
Here's another item for the long list of Shia LaBeouf's erratic behavior: On Thursday night, he was escorted out of a performance of Broadway's Cabaret in handcuffs after causing a disturbance during the first act. According to Variety, police say LaBeouf was arrested during intermission after smoking inside the Studio 54 theater and acting "loud and disruptive." Cast member Danny Burstein announced on Facebook, "Ladies and gentlemen, this is your places call for Act II. Also, to let you know, Shia LaBeouf has just been escorted from the building in handcuffs." He's been charged with two counts of disorderly conduct and one count of criminal trespassing.
The plight of promising young artists is a subject that’s infinitely fascinating to promising young artists. If they fulfill that promise, the rest of us may retrospectively find the plight fascinating as well. Gypsy, Merrily We Roll Along, even Jersey Boys show us how successful performers or creators got that way despite various adversities. We wouldn’t be interested if they hadn’t.
Vulture’s Julie Klausner is a woman of many talents: She writes books, recaps the hell out of a Real Housewives show, acts in her current USA pilot Difficult People, and hosts the podcast “How Was Your Week.” She also can sing, which she’s currently doing in a show at New York’s Joe Pub called Julie Klasuner’s Cabaret Situation.”The very Julie Klausner night of music and comedy features a wholly unique combination of songs, so we had Klausner walked Vulture's Jesse David Fox through the set and why she picked each song and as-told-to piece. Though Klausner does the show periodically, tonight and tomorrow are the last two nights of this run. You can buy tickets for the show here.
Yes This Man, the title of Mike Daisey’s slender new monologue, has a kind of “Ecce Homo” quality to it, and Daisey, declaredly, plays his own Pilate here. As a white male monologist, monologuing about the plight of women, he tries and convicts himself of “the original, Aristotelian version of mansplaining”: The notion of Mike Daisey’s telling women (and men) what’s wrong with the way all societies traditionally and persistently treat women is de facto abominable. (His original title, Yes All Women, was altered after Twitter collectively objected to Daisey’s appropriation of the meme.) How will he pull it off? Offer himself up for dude-ifixion, of course. So we brace for painful confessions and tortured self-critique, from a guy known for both.
After a seamless transition from small-screen dramas to big-screen comedies (seriously, what can't this woman do?), Rose Byrne is setting her sights on Broadway. The Damages and Bridesmaids star has joined James Earl Jones and Masters of Sex's Annaleigh Ashford in a revival of George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart’s 1936 comedy You Can't Take It With You. The play follows two families, the eccentric Sycamores and the straight-laced Kirbys, who are brought together when a Sycamore daughter and Kirby son fall in love. Byrne will play Alice Sycamore, one of the lovebirds and the "normal" daughter in a family of crazies. No word on whether she will also be the only one in the family with an Australian accent, but hey, it worked for Neighbors.
Director Julie Taymor has finished the film version of her widely acclaimed, visually stuffed production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (which ran earlier this year at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center in Brooklyn). “Many people wanted to tour, but it’s completely impractical,” Taymor told Vulture this week at a screening of Boyhood at BAMcinemaFest. “There were 17 children and 15 principals. It will probably never see the light of day again as a live production, so I feel very good about the film."