Thursday, August 9, 2018

B'way Update: 'Network' 'Glengarry' News; Dziemianowicz Out at the Daily News

Bryan Cranston in the London production of Network
The new Broadway season just got more exciting. In addition to Glenda Jackson playing King Lear and Elaine May appearing on a Broadway stage for the first time in 50 years in The Waverly Gallery, Tony-Emmy-Golden Globe winner Bryan Cranston will recreate his Olivier-winning performance as crazed newscaster Howard Beale in a transfer of Ivo van Hove's stage version of the Oscar-winning Network. Lee Hall (Billy Elliot) adapted Paddy Chayefsky's screenplay. Previews begin Nov. 10 at the Cort Theater in advance of a Dec. 6 opening. No announcement if the rest of the cast will be American or British. Michele Dockery (Lady Mary on Downton Abbey) took on the Faye Dunaway role of a ruthless network exec in London. She would certainly qualify as an international star. In one of van Hove's staging coups, audience members were seated on stage enjoying a five course meal prepared in an onstage kitchen. Characters would play scenes amidst the diners. There was nothing in the press release stating if the onstage restaurant would be recreated for the Cort, but the elaborate video design and numerous giant screens and cameras will no doubt make the transatlantic trek. Network was prescient in its vision of a reality-TV-mad society where rage and flash outweighed honest journalism. In the age of Trump, Beale's rants should resonate deeply.

This just in: Tootsie has announced specific dates and a theater: previews begin March 29 at the Marquis and it opens on April 23. Also Amy Morton (Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Chicago PD) will direct an all-female version of David Mamet's profanity-laden Pulitzer winner Glengarry Glen Ross, set to open on Broadway next May. This should be interesting since all the characters are  testosterone-fueled real estate salespeople and casting them with women will shatter many stereotypes.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

On Digital Programs

The "cover" of the
Carmen Jones digital program
Along with the admonishments to turn off cell phones and unwrap their hard candy, theatergoers attending the Off-Broadway revival of Carmen Jones at Classic Stage Company are getting an unusual greeting from the volunteer ushers. "The theater is going green," they tell the patrons, "there are no paper programs. You can go online to CSC's website and view the program digitally." This came as a bit of a shock to me since, up until recently, I have saved the theater program from every single show I have ever seen--and many I haven't. I used to scour the Broadway Flea Market, used book stores and antique places in upstate NY for Playbills of significant shows, sometimes even historic flops like Dude and Carrie. But lately I've been purging my collection. Do I really need the program from the Alaska Rep production of Mrs. Warren's Profession or the 37th Off-Off-Broadway revival of Three Sisters?

But for the shows I did see, it's difficult to part with the paper reminder. If there is no physical program, it feels to me as if the experience did not exist or that it wasn't official. That's a bit irrational on my part, but it's how I feel. It's a hard habit to break and digital programs may be the wave of the future, just as digital books, the internet, and I-phones are killing print journalism, physical tomes, and photo albums.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Thoughts on Handmaid's Tale and Roseanne

WARNING: SPOILER ALERT. If you have not watched all of Season 2, spoilers ahead.

Elisabeth Moss in The Handmaid's Tale
The Internet abounds with jokes about The Handmaid's Tale, Hulu's adaptation of Margaret Atwood's classic dystopian novel, actually being a documentary. The show which just concluded its second season and received 20 Emmy nominations, provides progressive liberals a satisfying opportunity to dump on Trump by comparing its totalitarian vision of Gilead, a future America, to the Donald's administration. "Look, aren't Commander Waterford and his terrible wife Serena Joy just like those bad old Trump supporters," we say to ourselves, as an act of consolation for having to tolerate such a racist jerk for a president. For a moment, we feel our anger and frustration relieved. It was such a thrill to see Waterford and Serena kicked out of Canada and reviled by protestors after the letters from captive handmaids were downloaded. Waterford and Serena's expressions of shame were what we want to see on our Trump-loving countrymen's faces when and if he is ever exposed for the vile creature he is. But then it's back to reality.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

2018-19 B'way/Off-B'way Update

Ivo Van Hove
Credit: Stephanie Berger
Several new shows have been announced for the 2018-19 Broadway and Off-Broadway season since our last update and they all sound intriguing. International avant-garde sensation and Tony winner Ivo Van Hove will direct his first Broadway musical with a revival of West Side Story. Heaven knows what the unconventional helmer with do with the Bernstein-Laurents-Sondheim-Robbins classic. He turned A View from the Bridge, The Crucible and A Streetcar Named Desire inside out and his current production of The Damned at the Park Avenue Armory just opened to reviews praising his daring. What's really weird is the show starts begins Dec. 10, 2019 and it is
Damon Daunno in Daniel Fish's staging of Oklahoma! 
at Bard College in 2015.
slated to open Feb. 6, 2020 at a theater TBA. That's almost two months of previews! Maybe van Hove, who is extremely busy with upcoming stage productions of All About Eve in London, A Little Life in Amsterdam, and Don Giovanni in Parsi and at the Met on his plate, needs time to work out his startling ideas. West Side Story is also getting a film update from Tony Kushner and Steve Spielberg as well as current productions at the Guthrie and Glimmerglass. Oklahoma! will also get the revision treatment when Daniel Fish's production opens at St. Ann's Warehouse in October. I saw this production at Bard College in 2015 and it treats the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic in a radically new and relevant style.


Sunday, July 8, 2018

The Ninth Annual David Desk Awards


Barrett Wilbert Weed, Erika Henningsen,
and Grey Henson in Mean Girls
Credit: Joan Marcus
It's time once again for the annual David Desk Awards for outstanding work on and Off-Broadway--actually it's way past time since the Tonys, Drama Desks, and Obies were handed out a month ago. But I have been busy with finishing my first full year as a teacher and attending graduate school classes. 

There is some overlap with my accolades and the better-known theater prizes, but some significant differences. Both the Drama Desks and Outer Critics lauded such mediocre musicals as Desperate Measures and SpongeBob SquarePants since The Band's Visit, the big winner at the Tonys, was ineligible because of its Off-Broadway run in 2016-17. The Tonys consider only Broadway shows, while the DDs and OCCs combine on and Off-Broadway, so Band's Visit was part of last season's candidates, winning Outstanding Music and Lyrics and Director of a Musical at the Drama Desks and Outstanding Off-Broadway Musical and Score from the Outer Critics.

As a result of Band's Visit's absence, I only had one new musical in my list for the top--Mean Girls--which I think was unfairly overlooked by many awards. Tina Fey did win the Outstanding Book from the DD and OCC, but I think it should have won score from both groups. The New York Drama Critics Circle voted to give no Outstanding Musical award at all.

I also included many fine performances which were totally snubbed in other circles such as the always sterling Zach Grenier as a complex Communist commander in Describe the Night, Mark-Linn Baker as a hamster-loving mental patient in Good for Otto, and Seth Numrich's athletic Dadaist in Travesties. The compete list of the 2017-18 David Desks follows:

Thursday, June 21, 2018

2018-19 Broadway/Off-Broadway Forecast


The Tony Awards have been handed out and the 2017-18 New York theater season has drawn to a close. The big winners were The Band's Visit and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Band swept the evening with a near-record ten wins including Best Musical (only two shows The Producers and Hamilton have won more). Harry Potter took six accolades including Best Play and most of the design categories. Because Band played Off-Broadway last season it was ineligible for all the other theater awards this season. The Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle went for SpongeBob SquarePants while the New York Drama Critics Circle opted to give no award for Best Musical. The NYDCC and Drama Desk skipped over Harry Potter to name Off-Broadway plays, Mary Jane and Admissions respectively, the best of the season.

Will the next Broadway season be similarly lean? We can expect another pseudo-jukebox/diva musical and some of the straight plays will be Off-Broadway transfers such as Choir Boy and Second Stage's Torch Song as well as hits from London (The Ferryman, The Nap). Cher (in the fall) and Michael Jackson (in 2020) will follow Donna Summer in the latest trend as subjects of bio-musicals.
Cher is the subject of an
upcoming B'way musical

There will be a few new American plays such as American Son with Kerry Washington and Steve Pasquale as an estranged interracial couple waiting in a police station for news of their missing son. The Lifespan of a Fact will star Daniel Radcliffe, Cherry Jones, and Bobby Cannavale. The play is based on the real-life controversy surrounding an essay about the suicide of a Las Vegas teen.

Comedy legend Elaine May will make her first official onstage Broadway appearance since her comedy act with Mike Nichols played the Golden Theater in 1960. May headlines a revival of Kenneth Lonergan's The Waverly Gallery at the same theater in the role which won Eileen Heckart an Obie and a Drama Desk Award. Michael Cera and Lucas Hedges co-star. Sidenote: I said "official" because according to ibdb.com, May starred in a forgotten comedy called The Office, which only ran 10 preview performances and closed before opening in 1966. It sounds like a fascinating flop. The script was written by Maria Irene Fornes, the multiple Obie winning playwright (this is her only Broadway credit) and directed by Jerome Robbins. The supporting cast included Tony Lo Bianco, Doris Roberts and Jack Weston.
Elaine May


Wednesday, June 13, 2018

DeNiro, Trump and Tony Awards

Robert De Niro at the Tony Awards
It had been one of the better Tony Awards in recent memory. The hosts Josh Groban and Sara Bareilles were funny and charming, and not the disastrous Kevin Spacey of the year before or the over used Neil Patrick Harris or Hugh Jackman. The pop duo even wrote their own original musical material. The numbers from the nominated musicals showcased their respective shows with wit and precision. Acceptance speeches were short and the orchestra cut-offs were ruthless at times--Harry Potter playwright Jack Thorne did not get to speak at all, but mostly winners appropriately thanked their colleagues. Any political messages were subtle and not obscene or blatant. In one stunningly moving sequence, drama students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida who had suffered through a horrific school shooting sang "Seasons of Love" from Rent to honor their teacher for winning a special Tony Award. Nobody carried a Gun Control protest sign or pointed out that two years ago the Tonys were overshadowed by the Orlando Pulse Nightclub massacre. The kids singing got the message across.