Get ready to see Bikini Bottom reimagined for a real-life stage, because a SpongeBob SquarePants musical is gunning for Broadway next summer. Appropriately dubbed The SpongeBob Musical, the production will follow the titular sponge and feature original numbers by such big-time music names as David Bowie, Cyndi Lauper, John Legend, Aerosmith's Steven Tyler and Joe Perry, The Flaming Lips, and T.I. (What's right is right.) Theater vets will lead the project, including Tina Landau, who will direct; Kyle Jarrow, who's on book duty; and Tom Kitt, who will supervise music. "I was drawn to this project not only for its wild theatrical possibility, but also because I felt SpongeBob, at its core, is a layered and hilarious ensemble comedy," Landau said in a statement released by Nickelodeon, which is producing the musical. "We will present the world of Bikini Bottom and its characters in a whole new way that can only be achieved in the live medium of the theater. We're bringing the show's fabled characters to life through actors — not prosthetics or costumes that hide them."
Olivier Award–winning British actor Mark Strong — square of jaw, piercing of gaze — is known Stateside for playing elegant, slightly sinister supporting characters, but he’ll be center stage in his Broadway debut this November, as Red Hook longshoreman Eddie Carbone in the Young Vic’s production of Arthur Miller’s A View From the Bridge. He spoke about finding Eddie, working with suddenly-everywhere director Ivo van Hove, and the British tradition of being a bad guy.
If you fished Whorl Inside a Loop out of a slush pile and read only its précis, you’d probably cringe: A Broadway actress, described as the whitest person at her own Whitey McWhite party, teaches a class called Theatricalizing the Personal Narrative to a group of black men incarcerated for homicide at a maximum-security prison. You’d easily guess what’s next: Whitey McWhite will impart important lessons about taking responsibility through art, shed a tear for her own emotional imprisonment, and make the audience feel good about itself by proxy. But this is totally not how the drama develops in Dick Scanlan and Sherie Rene Scott’s new play, based to some extent on their experiences leading a similar group at Woodburn Correctional Facility in upstate New York. Or, rather, these things happen, but they are part of a story so much larger and more complicated that its liberal-orgasm outline can’t come close to doing it justice. And justice is the point.
The films David Edelstein can’t wait to see.
Peter Sarsgaard as Stanley Milgram, the Yale researcher who ordered test subjects to deliver shocks to a stranger, their semi-blind obedience suggesting the worst in human nature — as depicted by indie stalwart Michael Almereyda (Hamlet).
Our Brand Is Crisis
David Gordon Green directs a fictionalized version of one of the most penetrating docs of the aughts, Rachel Boynton’s tragicomedy of a South American election warped by newfangled Yankee image manipulation.
Saoirse Ronan as an Irish immigrant in what’s rumored to be an emotionally transporting portrait of a time and place — the Brooklyn of the ’50s.
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.
What used to be called the straw-hat circuit is long gone, as is the customary summer haberdashery that gave it its name. Stars no longer caravan their Broadway hits, in stripped-down versions, from barn to tent to “music fair” for weeklong engagements from June through August. But out-of-town summer theater still thrives, in new formats that have turned some venues in Western Massachusetts and the Hudson Valley from consumers of New York City product to providers of it. At the Williamstown Theatre Festival and Barrington Stage Company, for instance, you’re less likely to see a musical that recently played on Broadway than a musical on its way there. (In the past few seasons, Williamstown has premiered Far From Heaven and The Bridges of Madison County; Barrington, the revival of On the Town.) Non-musicals, too. Partnerships with major New York institutional theaters have turned Williamstown, Shakespeare & Company, Bard SummerScape, and New York Stage and Film into incubators for drama: Off Broadway’s Off Broadway.
The Wrap reports that Forest Whitaker will take his first turn on a Broadway stage as one of the stars in Hughie, a revival of a two-character Eugene O'Neill drama. In the short play, according to the trade, the Oscar-winning actor will appear as Erie Smith, a hustler who lives in a midtown New York hotel and tells stories of the deceased, titular Hughie and his glory days. (In other words, it's kind of like A Long, Glorified, But Very Good Monologue Starring Forest Whitaker and Friend/Talented Listener.) Michael Grandage is reportedly set to direct the production, which will debut next spring at the Schubert Theatre. The other role has not yet been cast.
You have a lot to worry about over the next few months: Booking flights for that destination wedding you're attending in two weeks (and deciding if you have to bring a gift or if you attendance is enough). Fantasy football, or the avoidance of it. Finding a good pasta salad for your cousin's Labor Day BBQ. Buying new boots. In time you'll be raking leaves, and not long after that, winterizing your speedboat. The list goes on and on.
Point is, you won't be wanting for anxiety this fall. Choosing worthwhile entertainment shouldn't add to it. That's why we dusted off our Fall Entertainment Generator and packed it full of 308 upcoming movies, shows, books, albums, and more. Simply pick a genre (blockbuster, indie, something adventurous, something trashy) and desired vibe (laugh, cry, scared, thrilled, inspired, or feel smart) and the generator will prescribe a bespoke cultural offering. There's no better way to keep yourself amused this autumn—especially once that boat's been shelved for the year.
The Hedwig and the Angry Inch revival that has graced Broadway for the last year and a half is closing next month, Variety reports. The last performance will be September 13, 3 p.m., at the Belasco Theater. "When we announced our limited 16-week Broadway engagement of Hedwig, never in my wildest dreams did I think it would run for a year and a half," David Binder said in a statement. "Hedwig heralded a historic year of acceptance and celebration across America." The popular musical, which centers on the story of a transsexual rock star who underwent a botched sex reassignment surgery and vies for closure, won four Tonys in 2014, including Best Revival of a Musical. The production also served as a platform for talented leading men, as Hedwig was played by the likes of Neil Patrick Harris, Andrew Rannells, Michael C. Hall, Darren Criss, and Taye Diggs. Variety notes that the show isn't going away for good, though: A national tour begins October 4, in San Francisco, so, in a way, those heels are just getting broken in.
What interest could Annie Baker possibly have in kitsch? This was the question bothering me as I headed into her new play, John, which takes place in a Gettysburg bed-and-breakfast so encrusted with tchotchkes — teddy bears, trolls, toy trains, gnomes, angels, samplers, Christmas crap, candles — that you may come to think you are actually trapped inside one. Surely the author of The Flick and The Aliens and Circle Mirror Transformation, all of which valorize society’s strugglers and stragglers, hadn’t gone cute or, worse, parodic? No, it quickly becomes clear that the owner of the B&B, Mertis Katherine Graven, known as Kitty, is not being offered as a caricature of eccentric old-ladyhood, despite her fondness for dolls and quack diets, and despite being played by the marvelously dippy Georgia Engel, a human tchotchke herself. Nor are the other characters, with their fibs and phobias and psychopathology, here to be mocked. But what are they here for? And what is Baker up to, filling three acts and three and a half hours with the homely minutiae of love, loss, and hospitality?
Benedict Cumberbatch is starring in Hamlet at London’s Barbican Centre for a few more weeks, but before he leaves, he wants to welcome you to a phoneless future. Why? The actor (understandably) isn't a fan of staring at phones and cameras recording him from the audience while he's trying to get his Shakespeare on.
In the Shakespeare canon, Cymbeline is a late play and a long play: by line count, the third longest, with 3,753. (The Comedy of Errors has less than half as many.) Some of those lines are genius, the pungency of their imagery distilled by years of know-how and undiluted by the passage of centuries: The English Channel is a “salt-water girdle,” desire a “tub both filled and running.” But, like a turducken, Cymbeline keeps you asking, even as you swallow it, “What the heck is this?” Categorically, it’s a late romance, a term that seems to mean “hodgepodge of craziness” and that usually involves some combination of potions, false deaths, changeling princes, and gender shenanigans. Cymbeline has them all; as a result, in production, it’s usually just incoherent.
A typical musical might list 18 numbers in its program; Hamilton, with 34, is more in the range of operatic works like Porgy and Bess. Ambition is part of it, no less for Lin-Manuel Miranda today than for George Gershwin in 1935. So is scope. The true-life tale of the orphan immigrant turned architect of American federalism (with sidelines in battle, banking, bedding, and duels) could not be told, at least not with depth to counterweight its breadth, in a few ditties and choruses. Nor could Miranda’s overarching point — that the doors of history must especially be opened to those traditionally excluded from it — be made in the traditional forms. When Hamilton debuted Off Broadway at the Public Theater in February, the rapturous reviews, including mine, all hailed its “groundbreaking” incorporation of contemporary musical genres, especially rap and various forms of hip-hop, as a way of refurbishing and selling an old story. A second look, as the slightly revised musical opens on Broadway for what will no doubt be a long and profitable run, suggests that something even more significant is going on. The breakthrough isn’t so much the incorporation of those contemporary genres; after all, Miranda already did that, throwing in Latin music to boot, in the charming In the Heights. But Hamilton not only incorporates newish-to-Broadway song forms; it requires and advances them, in the process opening up new territory for exploitation. It’s the musical theater, not just American history, that gets refurbished. And perhaps popular music, too. Call it Miranda’s manifest destiny, though one dreads the caravans of poor imitators that will surely trail behind.
Lupita Nyong’o Will Make Her New York Stage Debut This Fall, in a Play Written by The Walking Dead’s MichonneBy Dee Lockett
Lupita Nyong’o is headed Off Broadway! 2013's breakout star is set to make her New York stage debut when she stars in Eclipsed, a 2009 play written by The Walking Dead's Danai Gurira, later this year. The play, directed by Lisel Tommy, is described as a "feminist reading" of the Second Liberian Civil War. Set in 2003, Eclipsed follows a group of women who are abducted and made the wives of a rebel commander. The show will begin previews on September 29 and will run at the Public Theater from October 14 to November 8.
In Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical Hamilton (which opens on Broadway on August 6 after a much-praised run this past winter at the Public Theater), the founding father emerges as an immigrant striver and Constitution architect, one who struggles with his own sense of ambition — and the odd duel — and does it while rapping and singing complex and historically accurate lyrics. Ron Chernow’s biography was a key influence, but, as Miranda told us, far from the only one.
Beware short plays bearing long titles; they are usually not short enough. Such is the case with The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey, a 75-minute one-man show in which James Lecesne, who also wrote the piece, portrays nine denizens of a Jersey shore town. Chief among them is the improbable, noir-spouting police detective assigned to investigate the disappearance of a 14-year-old who is not just missing but murdered. We quickly learn why, as well: Leonard Pelkey was an outrageously flamboyant gay boy, unwilling or unable to “tone it down” for other people’s comfort or even his own safety. (Among other capital offenses, he liked to wear Capri pants.) Since only one of the townies that Lecesne gives voice to is a homophobe, there’s not much mystery here, nor, in a play consisting mostly of monologues, much drama of any other sort. Instead, we get a series of amusing, if sometimes too cute, impersonations of people who loved Leonard even if they thought he was “too much.” These include the hairstylist at the salon where Leonard liked to kibitz with the clients about their bouffants and makeup; a lisping British-expat after-school drama coach; a Mafia wife who finds one of Leonard’s rainbow platform sneakers floating in the lake; and an elderly German shopkeeper who befriended Leonard decades after — wouldn’t you know it? — having alienated his own gay son.
Dave Malloy has a thing for the Russian romantics. His recent electropop opera Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 — presented in a big tent fabulously tricked out as a Czarist nightclub, if there were such a thing — was based on a slice of Tolstoy’s War and Peace. (Tolstoy survived the surgery.) His new piece, Preludes, being given a spectacular production at LCT3, sets its sights on Sergei Rachmaninoff. Though subtitled (like some of some of the composer’s solo piano works) a “fantasia,” it is more faithful to the facts, if not the implications, of its subject’s life than many recent musicals purporting to be actual history. Malloy focuses on a period of several months in 1900, when the composer, at 27, was still suffering from a monumental case of writer’s block brought on by the disastrous premiere of his first symphony three years earlier. As he undergoes a course of hypnotherapy in an effort to break the dam, scenes from his past (and even his future) appear before us: his early success, his subsequent humiliation, his love affair with the cousin he would eventually marry. What holds this fragmented narrative together, to the extent anything does, is Rachmaninoff’s struggle to understand what it might mean to be a great artist. Chekhov, Tchaikovsky, and others weigh in; Tolstoy himself makes an especially unhelpful contribution.
If you're wondering what he-who-played–King Joffrey has been up to, look not onscreen but onstage. Game of Thrones' Jack Gleeson, as it turns out, has taken a hiatus from Hollywood to run an Irish theater company and produce a crazy comedy about cryogenically frozen bears with his BFFs. "Offers [for blockbuster action roles] came in, but I just had a lack of desire to do a big action movie. What I enjoy most is this kind of thing, where I can have fun with my friends," Gleeson told the London Evening Standard. "My real interest is in creating something from the ground up. ... For the time being I get far more fulfillment from being part of a project that I have helped create and have more of a stake in."
His present passion project is a production called Bears in Space, which involves puppets and is exactly what the title sounds like it would be about. It comes from Gleeson's Collapsing Horse troupe and features him and his Trinity College pals: Aaron Heffernan, Cameron McCauley, and Eoghan Quinn. One review has referred to it as a "must-see," and another has lauded it for its "razor-sharp ridiculousness" and "dry self-awareness." Sounds fun(ny)! Some fans were worried that 23-year-old Gleeson wasn't going to return to acting when he left Thrones (he had ostensibly threatened as much). Luckily, that's not the case. And there are now adorably absurd ursine cosmonauts to prove it: Bears in Space plays at London's Soho Theatre from August 3 to 22 — giving you lots of time to plan an outrageous trip.
There’s a scene in Fun Home — both the book and the musical — in which a 9-year-old girl shows her father a fanciful map she’s drawn for school. As the father grows more agitated trying to correct and improve it (“This is visually confusing,” he complains), the girl grows more defensive about preserving her vision. (“This is a cartoon!”) For the audience, the scene is a wrenching demonstration of the father’s controlling nature; by the time he explodes in frustration (“You cannot do it like that unless you want to ruin it!”), you are cringing over the mistaken application of his high standards, and his insensitivity to a budding artist’s feelings.
Are you Team Lippa or Team LaChiusa?
For theater types, the dueling musicals of The Wild Party — one by Andrew Lippa, one by Michael John LaChiusa, both somehow given their premieres in the spring of 2000 — provide an opportunity for personal branding and group identification that others may get from, say, The Hunger Games. Both derive from Joseph Moncure March’s seedy Jazz Age narrative poem about a gin-soaked debauch chez Queenie and Burrs, a vaudeville siren and her abusive lover. Both musicals use (to varying degrees) vaudeville itself as a framing device and a metaphor for the disjointed, sensation-oriented experiences that pass for their characters’ lives. And both musicals flopped, Lippa’s off Broadway and LaChiusa’s on, despite stellar casts and scores memorable enough to become quick cult items when recorded. But in almost every other way the two parties are entirely different, and for me the sensational mounting of Lippa’s version with which the “Encores! Off-Center” series is closing its third season is a fascinating opportunity to consider what those differences mean in the context of the 21st-century musical.
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