In the dressing rooms of at least seven Broadway shows right now, men are donning wigs and dresses and other gear to appear onstage as women. Chicago, Matilda, A Gentlemen’s Guide to Love and Murder and, more overtly, Kinky Boots have built their brands on varieties of drag, whether as part of the story or just a casting gimmick. Earlier this season, too, we had male witches in Macbeth and traditional boys-will-be-girls productions of Twelfth Night and Richard III. And now, in the furious pre-Tony throes of April, the falsies are really flying. Just yesterday, Neil Patrick Harris opened as the semi-transgender title songstress of Hedwig and the Angry Inch; his falsies are tomatoes. Tomorrow, Alan Cumming opens as the androgynous Emcee in Cabaret, performing as a Kit Kat Girl in its tawdry kickline. And nearly the entire cast of Casa Valentina, opening tonight, relies on Miracle Gel inserts or plain old duct tape to portray the bosomy patrons of a Catskills retreat for heterosexual men in 1962.
The Last Testament: A Memoir by God, a comedy book by former-Daily Show head writer and executive producer David Javerbaum, is being adapted for the stage and is scheduled to open on Broadway in 2015. The book is billed as God's celebrity autobiography, as transcribed by Javerbaum, who continues to serve as a mouthpiece for the almighty on his popular Twitter account, @TheTweetOfGod. Javerbaum also co-wrote the musical Cry-Baby and penned songs for Neil Patrick Harris when he hosted the Tonys. “I am deeply disappointed that Jeffrey Finn has decided to produce this show,” Javerbaum said in a statement. “It will force me to continue my unwanted professional association with God, an abstract entity who has given me nothing but discomfort and agita. It is my desperate hope that we close out of town.” Irreverent religious humor has been working pretty well for the Book of Mormon, so hopefully Javerbaum and Finn will be able to replicate some of that success. Having The Daily Show on your resume seems to be kind of a golden ticket these days too, so we're optimistic.
He was born a boy named Hansel around 1962, on the wrong side of the Berlin wall. When the opportunity to escape presented itself 26 years later, in the form of a GI who wanted to marry him, Hansel had sex-change surgery and became Hedwig. The surgery was a botch — hence the “angry inch” — and so was the marriage; the GI dumped the partly transgender émigré a year later in a Kansas trailer park as the wall came down in 1989. Bad timing, Hedwig! And yet these disappointments started her on the path to becoming the “internationally ignored song stylist” she is today.
In the off-Broadway play Annapurna, real-life awesome couple Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman hold nothing back. From the opening scene, they rage against each other, throwing barbs and dragging skeletons out of the closet. Offerman’s character, the cowboy-poet Ulysses, wearing nothing but a grease-stained apron and his pride, is living in a trailer home and dying of lung cancer. Learning of the news, his ex-wife, Emma, played by Mullally, returns 20 years after having walked out on him.
This season, the Broadway stages are filled with men of the screen — with James Franco in Of Mice and Men, Denzel Washington in A Raisin in the Sun, Neil Patrick Harris in Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Daniel Radcliffe in The Cripple of Inishmaan, and Bryan Cranston in All the Way, among others. These five allowed photographer Andreas Laszlo Konrath to shoot portraits in their dressing rooms, and told us all about their fan gifts, celebrity visits, and pre-show rituals. Click through the gallery ahead to see them all.
In 1981, after seeing a very bad play called The Whales of August, I invented a party game. The rules are simple: Using nouns that don’t belong together — one of which ideally suggests the sad passage of time — create a portentous but nonsensical title for a future television-type stage drama. My favorites until today were November’s Carburetor and The Last Gesundheit of Indian Summer. But ladies and gentlemen, we have a new winner in The Velocity of Autumn. This new Broadway production is ridiculous not just on the copyright page of the script by Eric Coble but also on every page thereafter.
The disfigurement was an accident. The shim on her father’s hatchet came loose, the blade flew, and 13-year-old Violet, playing nearby, was forever left with a face “split in two.” Twelve years later — now parentless, friendless, and nearly hopeless — she makes a 900-mile bus pilgrimage from North Carolina to glittering Tulsa in search of a miracle. Can the TV evangelist she’s seen cure cancer also fix her face?
Who’s the worst Irish on Inishmaan? The competition is fierce. There’s the “newsman” Johnnypateenmike, who extorts food for his paltry gossip while trying to kill off his ancient and hideous mammy with drink. There’s young Helen, as nubile as she is vicious, who enjoys kicking grown men in the bollocks for no reason and pegging eggs at clergymen. (“If God went touching me arse in choir practice,” she blithely explains, “I’d peg eggs at that fecker too.”) Her dimwit little brother Bartley is interested in exactly two things: telescopes and sweets, about which he chatters at soul-numbing length. And the two old sisters who run the general store, which sells the sweets and little else, are half-mad with stage eccentricity. Eileen hoards their stock of Yalla-Mallows and Mintios, eating their miserable profit and frustrating Bartley. Kate, when anxious, talks to stones.
Every week, Vulture faces the big, important questions in entertainment and comes to some creative conclusions. This week, we were shocked by the latest episode of Game of Thrones, watched the premiere of Mad Men, and shook our heads as James Franco continued to be, well, James Franco. Naturally, spoilers follow. You may have read some of these stories below, but you certainly didn’t read them all. We forgive you.
How on earth does James Franco find the time to be, well, James Franco? By the time the rest of us have crawled out of bed and made a pot of coffee, he’s written a book, gotten the adaptation of said book into a film festival, made a cameo in a fun project, caused a scandal, and appeared onstage in his Broadway debut (during which he'll shoot another movie). For those of us observing from the sidelines — and even to some of his fellow collaborators — it can seem like a daunting schedule, as Vulture discovered when we asked the cast and crew of his aforementioned Broadway debut, Of Mice and Men, to figure out exactly how he does it.
Among the most sacred texts of Broadway is Moss Hart’s Act One, an autobiography of the once-famous playwright and director that’s plenty auto but not much biography. It’s full of lies and obfuscations. Hart’s troubled Aunt Kate did not, for instance, die a happy woman in 1925 after the free tickets he obtained as a producer’s office boy enabled him to give her one “last wonderful year.” (In fact, in 1935, she was caught setting fires backstage during rehearsals for a musical that Hart was directing.) Hart himself was manic-depressive, not that you’d know it from the book. And then there’s the matter of his sexuality, conveniently obscured by nubile red herrings. Sacrilege though it may be to say so, I find Act One to be gassy and self-serving, despite the undeniable fun of its rollicking backstage tale. Indeed, the truest thing it offers is a portrait of the theater as a “howling calliope of egomania.”
New York Times theater critic Ben Brantley was not the biggest fan of the latest stage incarnation of John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, which stars James Franco and Chris O'Dowd. (Vulture's theater critic Jesse Green, on the other hand, was.) And James Franco is not a fan of New York Times theater critic Ben Brantley, calling him a "little bitch" and suggesting an alternate job in an Instagram post that was later edited to remove the insult. Here is a screenshot of the orginal:
Just three months after its publication in book form in February 1937, Of Mice and Men was staged in San Francisco. This was unusual but not unauthorized: Steinbeck had deliberately written the tale, which he called “a kind of playable novel,” in dialogue that could be enacted “as it stands.” He was right: It stood then and it stands up now, as the new Broadway production starring James Franco and Chris O’Dowd as the odd-couple bindlestiffs proves.
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.
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.
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.
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!”
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.
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!
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!”