Thursday, June 30, 2016

More Critics Axed; B'way Update

Elisabeth Vincentelli
The number of paid, professional New York theater critics has been reduced yet again. Jeremy Gerard of Deadline and Elisabeth Vincentelli of the New York Post have both been given the axe. It's becoming like a remake of Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None where ten strangers are called to a remote island for a weekend and are bumped off one by one. Gerard and Vincentelli are just the latest in a long line of scribblers to be shown the door as print shrinks, the web expands and fewer readers click on theater reviews. Media corporations are losing money, slashing budgets and cutting out marginal, niche writers. Steven Suskind, David Finkle, Jesse Oxfeld, Michael Sommers, the late Jacques LeSourd, and many others were let go from their long-standing perches. Some have landed on their feet. One such is Michael Feingold who was dismissed from the Village Voice in 2013 but was reinstated this year when the paper got a new owner. There is no shortage of bloggers and freelancers but they are paid little or nothing. In another disturbing development, Mark Kennedy of the Associated Press announced the wire service would no longer be covering Off-Broadway because their client publications felt it was a waste of money.

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.