Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Eighth Annual David Desk Awards

Annaleigh Ashford and Jake Gyllenhaal in
Sunday in the Park with George
Credit: Matthew Murphy
The Tonys, Drama Desks, Outer Critics, Lortels, Obies and all those other theatre awards have been handed out long ago. Now it's time for the Eighth Annual David Desks, the high points from the past theater season on and Off-Broadway. Unlike the Tonys, Drama Desks and OCC, I am including Sunday in the Park with George. The producers of the Sondheim revival declared the show ineligible for all theater accolades because their run was so short and they did not wish to give comp tickets to the various voters which would eat into their profit margin. Since I am the sole judge of these awards and I saw the show, I am free to include it. I have tried to limit the number of honorees in each category to six, but there are a few instances where I have stretched it to seven, just like the Emmys. The Drama Desks have also not been strict about the number of nominees in the categories. In previous years, they ballooned to as many as seven and this year, some were only five and some six. Like the DDs and OCCs, I considered Dear Evan Hansen last season for its Off-Broadway run. Among the honorees who were largely ignored by the other award dispensers are Annette O'Toole in Tracey Letts' Man from Nebraska, cast members from Hadestown, and Janet McTeer, brilliant as always in Les Liaisons Dangereuses.

The Antipodes (Annie Baker)
A Doll’s House, Part 2 (Lucas Hnath)
Indecent (Paula Vogel)
Man from Nebraska (Tracey Letts)
Oslo (J.T. Rogers)
Sweat (Lynn Nottage)
Vietgone (Qui Nguyen)

The Band’s Visit
Come from Away
Groundhog Day

Saturday, June 24, 2017

MacTrump, A Shakesperean Farce Act Two

(Continued from a previous blog post)


Scene One: The King's Private chamber, garish, tacky and gaudy. It is the dead of night, MacTrump sits up in bed, tweeting like crazy.

King MacTrump: They dare to mock me? Tis like spitting on the flag.
I'll fix their asses with a witty hashtag.
(Presses send)
(Tosses I-phone onto the bedstand.)
This tree-like Comey invades my thoughts like a giant ghost
The bastard is too tall by half, thinks he can hide amidst my draperies
I shall contrive to have him removed ere he can pin a scandal on my royal head
But how without appearing craven and afrighted?
For MacTrump must never appear weak, low, or unsure like mere mortals.
(Picks up his phone again and scrolls through his cabinet list)
Sessions, that Southern Keebler elf
Will provide cover for my royal self.
I'll call him on the morrow
To relieve me of my Comey-caused sorrow.
And now to bed. But first a visit to mine Queen. She owes me one.

(Exits and re-enters another bedchamber on the other side of the stage. He rouses Queen Melania, sleeping)

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

MacTrump, A Shakespearean Farce, Act One

In light of the controversy surrounding Shakespeare in the Park's Julius Caesar featuring the assassination of a Trump-like would-be dictator and Trump's King Lear-ish cabinet meeting, here is a parody of the current administration employing a Shakespearean template:


Scene One: a wood somewhere in America. Enter Three Witches

1st Witch: When shall be the next meeting of we three?
On blogs, airwaves or on TV?

2nd Witch: When the hurlyburly's done
When the ratings are lost and won.

3rd Witch: There to meet upon the hump
And greet the coming of MacTrump.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Broadway Goes to the Beach for 2017-18

The Spongebob Musical
Credit: Joan Marcus
Broadway is headed to the beach for the 2017-18 season. Two new musicals with seaside settings, The Spongebob Musical and Escape to Margaritaville, have just announced definite dates for the fall. The Spongebob Musical, based on Spongebob Squarepants, the popular NIckelodeon cartoon series, will wash up at the Palace Theatre for previews beginning Nov. 6 before it officially docks for a Dec. 4 opening. The family-oriented musical premiered at Chicago's Oriental Theater last year and features original songs by Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith, Sara Bareilles (Waitress), Cyndi Lauper (Kinky Boots), John Legend, The Flaming Lips, They Might Be Giants, and T.I. with an addition song by David Bowie and additional lyrics by Jonathan Coulton. Tina Landau (Superior Donuts, Bells Are Ringing) directs. Leads from the Chicago
Spongebob: "I'm going to Broadway!"
run will repeat their performances including Ethan Slater as the titular sponge, Gavin Lee (Mary Poppins) as the sour octopus Squidward, Lilli Cooper (Spring Awakening, daughter of Tony winner Chuck Cooper) as Texas squirrel Sandy Cheeks, and Danny Skinner as dim-bulb starfish Patrick. BTW, Lauper is also set to do the score for Working Girl. a stage version of the 1988 film comedy.

Escape from Margaritaville is derived from the music of Jimmy Buffett (you know, he had that big hit with the tune about the outlawed shaker of salt), and is set for previews at the Marquis on Feb. 16 before a March 15 opening. Currently playing at the La Jolla Theatre and ready to tour New Orleans, Huston, and Chicago before its Broadway bow, the show's plot concerns a laid-back bartender at a beachside resort falling in love with a urban-oriented tourist. Christopher Ashley (Come from Away) directs. Tom Kitt (Next to Normal) is music supervisor. Kitt will also serve in the same capacity for Jagged Little Pill, a musical based on Alanis Morrisette's Grammy-winning output, which will have a reading starring Idina Menzel. The Wicked Tony winner is scheduled to star in Joshua Harmon's Skintight Off-Broadway, so she is not set to appear in Pill's planned April 2018 run at the American Repertory Theatre.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

More Critical Shrinking: Rex Reed Out at the Observer

Rex Reed
Just as Trump has pulled out of the Paris climate change accords, New York-based media is pulling out of theater coverage. As I have noted in previous blogs, print and web outlets are cutting back on stage critics or eliminating them altogether. Someone on Facebook said being a theater critic these days is like being in a long, slow version of Ten Little Indians, the Agatha Christie murder mystery where guests on an isolated island are picked off one by one. Rex Reed, the longtime film critic of the New York Observer, was recently let go after 25 years, according to IndieWire. Reed also covered theater for the publication which was bought by Jared Kushner in 2006. The president's son-in-law divested himself of the paper to take a position in the White House and sold his interest to his brother who is apparently running it into the ground (or so Reed claims). Reed's theater coverage has been sparse, mostly Broadway or Off-Broadway only if there are major names involved. The last stage production he reviewed was War Paint. His last Off-Broadway review was Yen, probably because it featured Oscar nominee Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea).

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

2017 Tony and Drama Desk Award Predictions

Dear Evan Hansen with Ben Platt will clean up at the Tonys,
but is ineligible for Drama Desks. Credit: Matthew Murphy
Usually the results of the Tony and Drama Desk Awards are pretty much the same, even though the Tonys are only for Broadway shows and the DDs combine on and Off-Broadway. The 120 or so DD voters, a group of theater critics, reporters, and editors, usually vote for Broadway with occasional departures for Off-Broadway hits such as Hamilton when it played the Public. The 868 Tony electorate consists of the members of the Broadway League (the producers' organization), the American Theatre Wing, boards of directors of various professional unions and guilds such as Actors Equity and the Society for Stage Directors and Choreographers, and the members of the New York Drama Critics Circle (full disclosure: I am member and so also a Tony voter as well as a Drama Desk voter).

This year the two theater accolades may vary somewhat because many Tony-eligible shows have won or been nominated for Drama Desk Awards for previous seasons when they played Off-Broadway. These include Dear Evan Hansen and Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812. Plus the Drama Desk nominating Committee (seven DD members) didn't seem to like Groundhog Day very much--they gave it one major nomination for lead actor Andy Karl--while the Tonys have nominated the show for seven awards. Here are my predictions for both awards, indicating where I think they will vary. The Drama Desks will be held on June 4 and the Tonys are handed out the following week on June 11:

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Xi in Florida: A Modern Opera

(A modern opera in the style of Nixon in China)

An airport in Florida. PRESIDENT TRUMP is standing amid a crowd of reporters and staff. Repetitive dissonant music in the style of Philip Glass or John Adams plays. Trump sings.

Fake news. Fake news.
You are all fake news.
I am the one real news.
You are all fake.
I am real. You are fake.
News. Fake or real.
Who knows? Who knows?

Do you? Do you? (he points to members of the audience)
There is no true. There is no lie.
It's what I say it is.
Fake news. Fake news.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Oscars So Diverse: Predictions

Will Hidden Figures upset LaLa Land at the Oscars?
This year's Oscars did not dominate the national zeitgeist as much as usual. Perhaps it's the Trump circus overshadowing every other event of normal obsession such as the Super Bowl and the Westminster Dog Show. Anyway, I predict the speeches will be more political than usual with many denunciations of the President's fascist regime. The awards will be a repudiation of his racist rhetoric and a reaction to last year's lack of diverse nominees with #OscarsSoDiverse replacing #OscarsSoWhite.

Best Picture
Prediction: Hidden Figures
LaLa Land has racked up a massive 14 nominations, sharing the record for the most ever with the magnificent All About Eve and the bloated Titanic. Normally, that would mean a lock for Best Picture, but there has been serious backlash against the nostalgic musical. While the film is basically a lighthearted tribute to the Golden Age of cinematic tuners such as Singin' in the Rain, An American in Paris and The Bandwagon, many have seen it as a celebration of white culture at the expense of African-Americans. I just read a bizarre LA Weekly column comparing director Damien Chazelle to Leni Riefenstahl for creating a propaganda film by casting white Ryan Gosling as the savior of pure jazz while black characters are shunted to the sidelines. This is a more than a bit extreme but the anti-Trump sentiment might be enough for the majority of voters to pass over the feel-good musical and hand the top prize to Hidden Figures, an Oscar-bait candidate if ever there was one. There is the traditional underdog fighting the power (three real-life African-American female mathematicians battling sexism and racism in 1960s NASA) and an uplifting final triumph, plus it's a great way to say "Screw You, Racist Prez!" Of course Hollywood may want to fete LaLa as a narcissistic hurrah for itself, but I think politics will be stronger than self-love this time.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Broadway Update: Theatre Responds to Trump

Headlong and Almeida Theater's stage version of 1984
is coming to Broadway
Donald Trump has only been President two weeks, but theater is already responding to his controversial (to put it mildly) regime. Many have compared Donald and his spokespeople Kellyanne Conway and Sean Spicer's offering "Alternative facts" as truth to the doublespeak of the tyrannical dictator Big Brother in George Orwell's classic dystopian novel 1984 which is enjoying a resurgence lately (I wonder why.) A stage version of Orwell's classic will be presented on Broadway in a limited production, opening on June 22 at the Hudson Theatre, now home to the also limited engagement of Sunday in the Park with George (more on that production and its decision to stay out of the Tony race in a future blog.) This British production of 1984, originally presented by the Headlong and Almeida will arrive with an American cast under the auspices of producers Sonia Freedman and Scott Rudin. A previous stage version played the Joyce Theater Off-Broadway in the 1990s as part of a regional American theater festival.
John Hurt in the film version of 1984
There have been two movie adaptations. Edmond O'Brien, Jan Sterling and Michael Redgrave starred in the 1956 version and John Hurt (who just passed away) and Richard Burton headlined an even starker edition released in year of the title. With claims of fake news and imaginary terrorist attacks coming from the Trump administration, Orwell's prophetic work is more relevant than ever.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

B'way Update: 'Butterfly' and ' Prada'

Clive Owen will star in M. Butterfly
on Broadway this fall
Clive Owen, last seen on Broadway in Harold Pinter's Old Times, will return in a new production of David Henry Hwang's M. Butterfly, directed by Julie Taymor in her first Broadway staging since being dismissed from Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. (Her interpretation of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream played Off-Broadway.) M. Butterfly will open Oct. 26, 2017 at a theater to be announced. The original 1988 production wmade a star out of B.D. Wong as Song Liling, a Chinese opera singer engaged in an affair with a French diplomat played by John Lithgow. Based on a true story, the 20-year relationship shocked international circles when it was revealed Song was really a man. This new production will new include new material based on information about the case that has come to light since the original staging which won the Tony and Drama Desk Award for Best Play and ran for 777 performances (a rare long run for a non-musical).

Also in the works, but in a much earlier stage of development, is a musical version of The Devil Wears Prada, Lauren Weisenberger's autobiographical novel about an assistant to a high-powered fashion magazine editor not unlike Vogue's Anna Wintour. Sir Elton John, whose previous theatrical musical ventures include Aida, The Lion King and Billy Elliot, will write the music. Paul Rudnick (Jeffrey, I Hate Hamlet, Addams Family Values) will make his debut as a musical book-writer and lyricist. Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway, and Emily Blunt starred in the 2000 film version.
Anne Hathaway, Meryl Streep and Emily Blunt
in the film version of The Devil Wears Prada