Tuesday, June 14, 2016

2016-17 B'way Preview: Big Stars, Blasts from Past


Spongebob Squarepants the Musical
Credit: Joan Marcus
With the broadcast of the Tony Awards, the 2015-16 Broadway theater season is now officially over. It was one of the most exciting and original ones in recent memory. Hamilton transferred to the Richard Rodgers from the Public and totally transformed America's relationship to the stage, making it cool to go the theater again. Similarly, Stephen Karam's The Humans and Danai Gurira's Eclipsed made the voyage from Off-Broadway to on, allowing new, young playwrights to have their voices heard by a larger audience. Hopefully, we'll have more fresh talent on the Main Stem in 2016-17, but so far, as per usual, the majority of announced productions are revivals with big Hollywood stars or British imports. We've already started with a retread--Sean Hayes in An Act of God which we've seen just last summer with Jim Parsons. Next are two more blasts from the recent past--Motown and Cats.

There are two Off-Broadway musicals set for transfer: Dear Evan Hansen and Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812. But very few original musicals are solidified at this point. In fact the only two with a firm official  opening date are Holiday Inn based on the 1942 Hollywood film with Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby, from Roundabout Theater Company., and Groundhog DayA Bronx Tale, based on Chazz Palminteri's autobiographical one-man show, is unofficially set for the Longacre. In the Tony Award press room, the producers announced it was coming in after a run at the Paper Mill Playhouse, but there has been no press release. There is a stage version of the animated Nickelodeon series Spongebob Squarepants, opening this month in Chicago and projected for a Broadway opening sometime this season. The long-awaited stage version of Anastasia is currently at Hartford Stage and is much-buzzed for a New York production.

The Seventh Annual David Desk Awards

Shuffle Along got shafted at the Tonys,
but wins big at the David Desks.
Credit: Juliana Cervantes

Once again it's time for the annual David Desk Awards in which I select my personal favorites of all the on, Off- and Off-Off-Broadway theater I've seen this season. This time I have lined up with the more conventional New York theater awards such as the Tonys, the Obies, the Drama Desks and the Outer Critics. Like many of these, Hamilton was eligible for the Davids last season for its Off-Broadway run and so is off my list (I know, it's going to kill them at the box office.) The one production which many of the more mainstream awards ignored was the Roundabout Theatre Comany's revival of The Robber Bridegroom which did get some recognition from the Lortels, but was snubbed by the Drama Desks. Shuffle Along was totally blanked at the Tonys on Sunday night, a victim of the Hamilton tidal wave. But it wins big at the Davids.


I have tried to limit the number of citations in each category to six, the old limit for the Drama Desks. (This year they stuck mostly to five.) But there were a few where I expanded it to seven. I also included Jennifer Simard for Disaster! even though she was in the Off-Broadway production two seasons ago. She gave the funniest performance on Broadway this season and deserves as much recognition as possible.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

2015-16 Ends as 2016-17 Gets Ready


Nathan Lane will star in a revival of
The Front Page next season.
The 2015-16 Broadway and off-Broadway theater season is heading into the home stretch with a whirlwind of openings, nominations and awards about to be unleashed. Meanwhile, 2016-17 is waiting in the wings and raring to go. Though there was no official press release, an Equity casting notice revealed Nathan Lane and John Slattery will be starring a revival of The Front Page with John Goodman, Rosemary Harris, Sherie Rene Scott, and Jefferson Mays. The Great Comet (shortened from Natasha, Pierre, and The Great Comet of 1812) with Josh Groban has announced an opening date of Nov. 14 at the Imperial. We also have Hello, Dolly with Bette Midler, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The SpongeBob Musical, and lots more. Here is a breakdown of the end of this season and what we know about the next one and beyond:

Friday, February 26, 2016

2016 Oscar Predictions

The Oscars are this coming Sunday Feb. 28 and it's time to make my annual predictions. This year has not been particularly exciting with no huge blockbuster dominating the proceedings. The new Star Wars has not generated much excitement, but Mad Max: Fury Road has garnered a bunch of nominations and will probably sweep the technical awards. I usually try to see all of the Best Picture and acting nominees. This time I did catch nine and a half of the top film candidates (I only got through the first hour of Mad Max on HBO.Go before I had explosion overload, I'll try to get back to the rest of it.) I've seen most of the acting nominees, three of the five feature documentaries, one each of the foreign and feature animated films, and all of the short films (I wrote them up for GoldDerby.com and here's a link). I always say some year I will see all of the nominees but I never make it. Here are my predix:

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Hitchcock's Marnie: Pure Film and Woman as Object

Tippi Hedren and Sean Connery in Hitchcock's Marnie. 
Hedren's character is more tightly wound than her hair bun.
The recent documentary Hitchcock/Truffaut prompted me to view the master filmmaker's works I had not previously seen. Top of the list was Marnie, the 1964 psychological "sex mystery" starring Hitchcock ice blonde Tippi Hedren, who became a star in his The Birds the year before. The doc also pushed me towards The Girl, the 2012 HBO film detailing the Svengali-ish relationship between director and star which was broadcast about the same time as Hitchcock, the film starring Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren, was released. The latter movie focused on Hitch's unique marriage to his collaborator Alma Reville and the production of his masterpiece Psycho. I also want to revisit Vertigo, the 1958 Hitchcock classic which topped previous champ Citizen Kane as favorite all-time film in an annual poll of film critics. In the documentary detailing the famous interviews between Hitch and the French filmmaker/critic, several scholars said that Vertigo was the essence of filmmaking and defined the movies for them. At the end of The Girl, a title reads that Hitchcock died a few years later with only a few more films to his credit and that Marnie was his masterpiece. In a behind-the-scenes featurette on the DVD of Marnie I ordered from Netflix, another scholar says "If you don't love Marnie, you don't really love movies."

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Cutting the Cable Cord, Part 4: Listening to Jack Benny

Jack Benny, Mary Livingstone,
and Eddie "Rochester" Anderson
Since cutting the cable cord, I’ve found numerous other avenues of entertainment. Earlier this week, a visiting friend from Mexico and I spent the entire evening watching GetTV’s variety Monday night including the legendary segment of the The Judy Garland Show with guest star Barbra Streisand and a surprise appearance by Ethel Merman; a Mitzi Gaynor special with fantastic dancing (I recognized several of the dancers from The Carol Burnett Show) and George Hamilton; and a Merv Griffin Show with Carol Channing walking from the St. James Theater where she was starring in Hello, Dolly! to the Little Theater (now the Helen Hayes) where Griffin filmed his talk show. She was leaving Dolly on Broadway to go on tour.

But I find myself most frequently listening to old broadcasts of Jack Benny on YouTube. Benny’s TV show was in daytime reruns when I was a kid. Today hardly anyone under 50 knows who he is and yet along with Bob Hope, he was probably the famous comedian in America. (Arthur Miller mentions him in Death of a Salesman, and Benny said that brief reference in the classic play would be his ticket to immortality. How right he was.) From 1932 to 1955, Benny did a weekly radio show (he started TV in 1950 and did both for five years.) I find it fascinating that an entertainer could have been so big and now only a small cultish figure in the public consciousness. 

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Political Thoughts

God help us!
GOP candidate Chris Christie recently said parents shouldn't have to worry about sending their kids to school and not having them come back alive. The irony is he was speaking in reference to the San Bernadino shootings by a radical Islamic terrorist couple. He's overlooking the fact that parents have been worried about their children's survival ever since the crazy guy shot up that school in Newtown, Conn. GOP candidates are picking and choosing which mass shootings to be concerned about. If they involve Muslims then it's a real cause for panic. If it's white guys then there's basically nothing we as a society can do about it because that would mean taking away someone's precious gun. You'll notice no one is doing anything about the militant ranchers taking over a government wildlife preserve in Oregon because they didn't like a judge's ruling on their court case. Could it be because these guys are white and Christian? Can you imagine what would happen if they were African-American, Native American, or Muslim?