Opening — ‘Speakeasy: John and Jane’s Adventures in Wonderland’

February 8th, 2016 View Comment(s)

SpeakeasyBefore there was Hedwig and the Angry Inch, there was the wildly evocative underground theatrical world in New York City during Prohibition. This comes to live in a new production by written and composed by Danny Ashkenasi.

Speakeasy: John and Jane’s Adventures in the Wonderland shares the sexual freedoms
explored in the 1920s and 30s, and how those freedoms were ruined with the end of Prohibition. It is a love song to queer life in New York City and to forgotten entertainers such as Gene (Jean) Malin, the openly homosexual headline act of New York’s short-lived Pansy Craze of 1929; Vaudeville’s famous Dolly Sisters; the larger-than-life black lesbian singer Gladys Bentley of Harlem’s “Negro Vogue” fame; and the popular female impersonator Julian Eltinge, to name a few. The music in Speakeasy is based on various styles of the era, but with a modern twist, including Tin Pan Alley, musical theater, jazz, swing, cabaret, operetta as well as classical and agitprop strains of the time.

It’s 1929 in New York City. John and Jane Allison are newlyweds. Although they love each other, they have desires they haven’t even acknowledged to themselves, let alone explored. But after giving her neighbor, Roberta White, a kiss, Jane goes “down the rabbit hole,” entering the strange world of a Speakeasy, where time and space and identity don’t appear to follow conventional rules.

On accepting a sexual proposition in a public men’s room, John mysteriously slides “through the looking glass,” and in one fantastical magical realist dream night, they explore their sexuality through the course of two simultaneous and intertwining magical adventures. Lewis Carroll’s literary characters and events from “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass” are transformed into real-life, historically significant entertainers and events from NYC’s Prohibition-era queer culture, with which Jane and John enjoy friendships and love affairs.

After a night of speakeasies, buffet flat parties, police raids, drag balls, and a bizarre trial, will they reveal their “dreams” to each other and “speak easy” about their truths?

Speakeasy: John and Jane’s Adventures in Wonderland
Theatre for the New City
155 First Avenue, NYC
February 18 – March 13

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A Bittersweet Bite: Company XIV’s ‘Snow White’

February 5th, 2016 View Comment(s)
 Hilly Bodin as Snow White and Courtney Giannone as The Prince in 'Snow White.' (Photo: Mark Shelby Perry via The Broadway Blog.)

Hilly Bodin as Snow White and Courtney Giannone as The Prince in ‘Snow White.’ (Photo: Mark Shelby Perry via The Broadway Blog.)

Austin McCormick—founder, choreographer, and artistic director of Company XIV—is back with his signature brand of unique storytelling that mashes up Baroque dance, circus, opera, ballet, inventive design, and just about anything else he can toss in his theatrical kitchen sink. But in spite of the vast array of genres converging in his latest endeavor, Snow White (playing through March 12 at the Minetta Lane Theatre), lacks cohesion and emotionally engaging storytelling.

Company XIV's 'Snow White' (Photo: Steven Trumon via The Broadway Blog.)

Company XIV’s ‘Snow White’ (Photo: Steven Trumon via The Broadway Blog.)

Returning, once again, to the Brothers Grimm as source material, McCormick leans heavily on the German influence, incorporating an unintelligible narrator to shuffle along the familiar story. We follow Snow White (Hilly Bodin)’s battle for survival against the evil Queen (Laura Careless), who would like nothing more than to see the girl dead so she can reign as the fairest one of all. Banishing her to the forest, the Queen orders a huntsman to kill the girl, but unable to commit the crime, he kills a forest creature instead. In a bit of ineffective stagecraft, the Queen—keen on eating the girl’s innards—hacks away at a suspended block of ice that glows red from within.

Other theatrical effects, particularly the use of live video feed, deliver much more punch. Snow White—like a cat with nine lives—defends herself against the Queen’s continued vicious attacks. This includes an exquisitely choreographed sequence where the Queen disguises herself as a bodice-selling pauper and literally tries to constrict her to death. But to no avail, for when Snow White later falls under the spell of a poisoned apple and is placed in a glass coffin (imaginatively created through a ritualistic envelopment of plastic wrap), the Prince (Courtney Giannone) enters to deliver a resurrecting kiss followed by a celebratory “Rhoedenrad”-inspired performance, a German circus act where the performer manipulates a hoop or wheel as it rolls about like a coin.

Laura Careless as The Queen in Company XIV's 'Snow White." (Photo: Mark Shelby Perry via The Broadway Blog.)

Laura Careless as The Queen in Company XIV’s ‘Snow White.” (Photo: Mark Shelby Perry via The Broadway Blog.)

In the Company XIV tradition, the multi-talented ensemble dances, sings, and flips their way through the production, outfitted in fantastical (if occasionally clumsy) costumes by Zane Pihlstrom. But McCormick is unable to extract a narrative that engages the audience beyond the wow factor. Bodin and Careless (as Snow White and the Queen respectively) are captivating, setting the bar high in terms of technique and utter abandonment. The others do due diligence with McCormick’s athletic choreography but fail to capture a deeper sense of connection to the source material.

Those who haven’t seen Company XIV before will revel in its imaginative interpretation. If you are familiar with McCormick’s work and a fan, as I am, you might find yourself feeling a bit restless at this production and wondering how the company may next interpret “happily ever after.”

Snow White
Company XIV
Minetta Lane Theatre
18-22 Minetta Lane, NYC
Through March 12

Matthew Wexler is The Broadway Blog’s editor. Follow him online at @roodeloo.

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Three to See: February

February 3rd, 2016 View Comment(s)

It’s been a mild winter but things are heating up Off Broadway. Take a look at our top picks of the month!

Company XIV's 'Snow White' (Photo: Steven Trumon via The Broadway Blog.)

Company XIV’s ‘Snow White’ (Photo: Steven Trumon via The Broadway Blog.)

Company XIV’s Snow White
Artistic director Austin McCormick is back with another voluptuous, adult-only fairly tale inspired by the Brothers Grimm. Expect a dark, dangerous and decadent evening of circus, opera, dance, theatre, music, high fashion and lavish design. The show contains partial nudity—16 and over admitted.

Company XIV’s work is a unique mash up of classical texts, Baroque choreography, eclectic music, pop culture, opera, burlesque, ballet, gender bending, high fashion, theatrical staging and sumptuous design that has wowed both audiences and critics. Taking his cue from theatre/dance/opera under the reign of Louis XIV, director/choreographer Austin McCormick creates a compelling 360-degree experience for audiences. The players of Company XIV are theatrical libertines, who tempt, delight and fully immerse their audiences in the experience of their performances, inviting them to be seduced and liberated!

Snow White
Minetta Lane Theatre
18-22 Minetta Lane, NYC
Opening night: February 3
Through March 12

(l to r) Bill Irwin, Shaina Taub, and David Shiner in 'Old Hats.' (Photo: Kevin Berne from the ACT production in San Francisco.)

(l to r) Bill Irwin, Shaina Taub, and David Shiner in ‘Old Hats.’ (Photo: Kevin Berne from the ACT production in San Francisco.)


Old Hats

What’s old is new again at Signature Theatre Company, where Bill Irwin and David Shiner bring their whimsical theatrical combination of music, technology and movement back to the state. This production reunites the clowns with original director Tina Landau and introduces their new songstress and comic foil Shaina Taub, hailed as “a young Judy Garland meets grown-up Lisa Simpson” by the San Francisco Chronicle.

 

Old Hats
Signature Theatre Company
The Pershing Square Signature Theatre
480 West 42nd Street, NYC
Opening night: February 18
Through April 3

Dot Vineyard Theatre

Dot
Susan Stroman momentarily puts her dancing shoes aside and sidesteps from musical theater to helm Dot, a new play by Colman Domingo. The holidays are always a wild family affair at the Shealy house. But this year, Dotty and her three grown children gather with more than exchanging presents on their minds. As Dotty struggles to hold on to her memory, her children must fight to balance care for their mother and care for themselves. This twisted and hilarious new play grapples unflinchingly with aging parents, midlife crises, and the heart of a West Philly neighborhood.

Domingo (Wild With Happy) reunites with Stroman at The Vineyard following his solo show A Boy And His Soul and his Tony Award-nominated performance in The Scottsboro Boys, also directed by Stroman.

Dot
The Vineyard Theatre
108 East 15th Street, NYC
Opening night: February 23
Through March 20

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Categories: The Buzz, Three to See

Breaking: ‘Hamilton’ Set to Perform at GRAMMY Awards

February 3rd, 2016 View Comment(s)
Leslie Odom Jr. and the cast of 'Hamilton' (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Leslie Odom Jr. and the cast of ‘Hamilton’ (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

The GRAMMY®-nominated musical Hamilton ushers Broadway back to the GRAMMY Awards® stage after a more than five-year hiatus. GRAMMY winner Lin-Manuel Miranda and his extraordinary cast will perform a number from the acclaimed musical on the 58th Annual GRAMMY Awards®, directly from the legendary Richard Rodgers Theatre in New York, marking one of only four times that the GRAMMY telecast has featured a performance live via satellite.

Previously announced performers include Adele, James Bay, Andra Day, Ellie Goulding, Sam Hunt, Tori Kelly, Kendrick Lamar, Lady Gaga, Little Big Town, Carrie Underwood, and The Weeknd. Entertainment icon and two-time GRAMMY winner LL COOL J is set to host Music’s Biggest Night® for the fifth consecutive year. Taking place at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, the 58th Annual GRAMMY Awards will be broadcast live in HDTV and 5.1 surround sound on the CBS Television Network, Monday, Feb. 15, 2016, at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT. Additional performers will be announced shortly.

(l to r) Phillipa Soo, Renée Elise Gold, and Cephas Jones in 'Hamilton.' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

(l to r) Phillipa Soo, Renée Elise Gold, and Cephas Jones in ‘Hamilton.’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

The Hamilton performance will be the eighth time in history that musical theater has been featured on the GRAMMY Awards. Previous Broadway productions featured on the telecast include Godspell (1972); The Magic Show (1975); Sophisticated Ladies (1982); La Cage Aux Folles (1984); Will Rogers Follies (1992); Riverdance and Bring In Da Noise, Bring In Da Funk (1997); and, most recently, American Idiot (2010).

“The Hamilton cast and crew are absolutely thrilled to be a part of this year’s GRAMMY Awards,” said Miranda, “Hamilton” creator, writer, and lead performer. “The music community’s response to our cast album has been overwhelming, and we’re honored to be a part of such a special night. To perform from our home at the Richard Rodgers Theatre is a dream come true.”

The Hamilton segment also marks the fourth time that a performance will be broadcast live via satellite on the GRAMMY Awards. The last time the awards telecast included a performance from another location was when Amy Winehouse performed “You Know I’m No Good” and “Rehab” in London during the 50th Annual GRAMMY Awards in 2008, the same year Winehouse earned her five GRAMMYs®.

“Melding contemporary hip-hop into a musical set in the year 1776, Hamilton reimagines the traditional musical in a unique and extraordinary way that has brought Broadway — and our nation’s history — to new audiences,” said Neil Portnow, President/CEO of The Recording Academy. “With the GRAMMY Awards on a Monday this year, we have a wonderful opportunity to highlight this important musical art form on an even bigger stage for our millions of viewers worldwide to experience.”

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The Tony Awards Announce James Cordon as Host

February 2nd, 2016 View Comment(s)
James Cordon (Featureflash / Shutterstock.com)

James Cordon (Featureflash / Shutterstock.com)

The Tony Awards announced today that James Corden of CBS’s “The Late Late Show” will host  the 70th Annual Tony Awards live from the Beacon Theatre in New York City, Sunday, June 12 (8:00-11:00 PM, live ET/delayed PT) on the CBS Television Network. This will be Corden’s first time hosting the Tonys. He won a Tony Award in 2012 for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play for his performance in “One Man, Two Guvnors.” The Tony Awards are presented by The Broadway League and the American Theatre Wing.

“I’m absolutely thrilled to be hosting the Tony awards. Both times I’ve worked on Broadway have been amongst the happiest times of my professional life. I consider it a huge honor to be asked to host such an incredible night. It’s gonna be fun, I can’t wait to dust off my tap shoes!” said Corden.

“James is one of those rare performers whose gifts translate perfectly to both the Broadway stage and the television screen, making him the ideal choice to host the Tony Awards. The last time he was at the Tonys, he went home with one. We think he’ll have even more fun as host. This is going to be one unforgettable show,” said Charlotte St. Martin, President of The Broadway League, and Heather Hitchens, President of the American Theatre Wing.

“Carpooling on Broadway will never be the same!” said Executive Producers Glenn Weiss and Ricky Kirshner.

“We are thrilled to have James Corden not only as a member of the CBS family, but as host of this year’s Tony Awards,” said Jack Sussman, Executive Vice President, Specials, Music and Live Events, CBS Entertainment. “James is the ultimate performer – actor, singer and comedian – he’s the perfect choice to host our live television event.”

James Corden is a multi-faceted performer, host, writer and producer with accomplishments that span television, theater, film and comedy. He took the reins of THE LATE LATE SHOW on March 23, 2015, and has quickly become known for generating buzzworthy viral videos, such as Carpool Karaoke, garnering over 500 million views and 2.8 million subscribers for the show’s YouTube channel. Since Corden took the helm, THE LATE LATE SHOW has consistently been the most social talk show in its time period according to Nielson Social.

Corden came to American late night television with a growing list of award-winning and critically acclaimed credits. He is a Tony Award-winning performer on Broadway, a BAFTA-winning star of a UK television series, a feature film actor, and an acclaimed host, writer and producer in several genres of television. Corden hosts the BAFTA Award-winning UK sports-themed comedy game show “A League of Their Own” on Sky 1 and starred in, produced and wrote the BAFTA nominated comedy thriller “The Wrong Mans,” which is available on Hulu and airs on the BBC. Also, he appeared in the BBC television movie “Esio Trot,” alongside Dustin Hoffman and Judi Dench.

Outside of his native England, Corden attracted international attention as the lead in the hit comedic play “One Man, Two Guvnors,” performing first in the National Theatre and the West End in London and then on Broadway, which earned him the 2012 Tony Award for Best Leading Actor in a Play. His additional theater credits include the worldwide tour of “The History Boys” in the role of Timms, which he also played in the feature film adaptation.

On television, Corden starred as Smithy in the critically acclaimed BBC comedy series “Gavin and Stacey,” which he co-created and co-wrote. Prior to that, Corden starred in the British television series “Fat Friends” from 2000 to 2005. In 2011, Corden had a recurring role in the popular BBC science fiction series “Doctor Who” as Craig Owens, the Doctor’s roommate. In addition, Corden hosted the Brit Awards, the biggest event in the British music industry, from 2010 to 2014. Corden starred opposite Meryl Streep, Johnny Depp and Emily Blunt in the Golden Globe Award nominated feature film “Into the Woods.” His additional film credits include “Begin Again,” with Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo; “How to Lose Friends and Alienate People,” with Jeff Bridges; “Gulliver’s Travels,” with Jack Black; and “The Three Musketeers,” with Orlando Bloom.

Opening of the 2013 Tony Awards.

Ricky Kirshner and Glenn Weiss of White Cherry Entertainment will return as executive producers of the Tony Awards. Weiss will also serve as director for the 17th consecutive year.

The American Theatre Wing’s 70th Annual Tony Awards will air on the CBS Television Network on Sunday, June 12, 2016 (8:00-11:00 PM, ET/delayed PT) live from the Beacon Theatre in New York City. The Tony Awards, which honors theatre professionals for distinguished achievement on Broadway, has been broadcast on CBS since 1978. The Tony Awards are presented by The Broadway League and the American Theatre Wing.

The official eligibility cut-off date will be Thursday, April 28, 2016, for all Broadway productions opening in the 2015-2016 season. Productions which meet all other eligibility requirements and open on or before the eligibility date are considered eligible for 2016 Tony Award nominations.

The Nominations for the 2016 Tony Awards will be announced live on Tuesday, May 3, 2016, from that Paramount Hotel in New York City.

For more information on the Tony Awards, visit www.TonyAwards.com and Facebook.com/TheTonyAwards and follow @TheTonyAwards on Instagram and Twitter.

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‘Fiddler’ to Donate a Portion of Ticket Sales to Flint, Mich.

February 1st, 2016 View Comment(s)
'Fiddler on the Roof' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

‘Fiddler on the Roof’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

The producers of the hit Broadway revival of Fiddler on the Roof announce that the production will donate $2 from every full-price ticket purchased to the show for all February 2016 performances to The United Way of Genesee County’s Flint Water Fund, which directly provides aid the Michigan city’s residents, currently suffering from a critical drinking water contamination crisis.

A beloved theatrical classic from Tony Award-winner Joseph Stein, and Pulitzer Prize- winners Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, Fiddler on the Roof is directed by Tony Award-winner Bartlett Sher (South PacificThe King and I); choreographed by the acclaimed Israeli choreographer Hofesh Shechter; inspired by the original choreography of Jerome Robbins; and has musical direction by Ted Sperling.  Fiddler on the Roof is playing at The Broadway Theatre (1681 Broadway, at 53rd Street). Tickets are now on sale via Telecharge.com or by phone at (212) 239-6200.

The United Way of Genesee County in Flint, MI has been working alongside a few core partners since the lead was discovered in late September 2015. The United Way has sourced more than 11,000 filter systems, 5,000 replacement filters, ongoing sources of bottled water to the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan and also supports a dedicated driver for daily distribution.

Funds generated through Fiddler on the Roof’s full-price February ticket purchases will be donated to the United Way of Genesee County’s Flint Water Fund, which serves both the immediate and long-term needs of the community.

Monetary donations will be used for the purchase of water filters, bottled water, emergency support services and prevention efforts in Flint, Michigan. One hundred percent of donated funds are used for Flint Water Fund and no administrative fee is assessed.

After the short-term need of Flint residents has been met, any remaining funds will be directed to the Flint Child Health and Development Fund.  This fund will provide long-term aid to children and families with interventions that support positive health outcomes.

“This is a generous gift for the people of Flint, one that will help address our immediate needs in the community,” said Jamie Gaskin, CEO of the United Way of Genesee County.

Says Fiddler on the Roof producer Jeffrey Richards, “In keeping with the great Broadway tradition of giving back, I am proud that proceeds from this iconic musical about tradition – which celebrates the human spirit’s ability to find strength, love and joy in the face of diversity – will help the people of Flint through their current crisis.”

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Weston Playhouse Announces 10th Annual New Musical Award

January 29th, 2016 View Comment(s)
Kirsten Childs (Photo provided by Weston Playhouse.)

Kirsten Childs (Photo provided by Weston Playhouse.)

The Weston Playhouse Theatre Company announces Kirsten Childs’ Bella: An American Tall Tale as the winner of its tenth annual New Musical Award.

The only honor of its kind in the country, the Weston New Musical Award supports the production of a high-quality demo of a new work by writers and composers of notable promise, chosen from a group of national nominations.

Winners rehearse in Vermont under professional music direction with a cast of Broadway actors/singers, performing selections on the Weston stage. The cast then travels to New York for an invited concert and a recording session with Kurt Deutsch of Sh-K-Boom/Ghostlight Records. “The New Musical Award was the first of our now annual New Works Programs,” notes Weston Producing Artistic Director Steve Stettler, “and it has led to ongoing relationships with an exciting group of emerging and established writers and composers, including five productions of new musicals on our stages.”

logo-300x300Nominated by The Sundance Institute Theatre Program and commissioned by Playwrights Horizons, Bella: An American Tall Tale is a musical exploring the African-American experience in the Old West. When Isabella “Bella” Patterson boards a train headed west to reunite with her Buffalo soldier sweetheart, she encounters the most colorful and lively characters ever to roam the Western plains. Calling Childs “an under-appreciated gem of the American musical theatre,” nominator Janice Paran celebrates Bella’s “heart and hope and pizzazz.”

Author Kirsten Childs is an award winner many times over. Her Off-Broadway musical The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin won an Obie and garnered a handful of impressive nominations: Lucille Lortel, NAACP, and Drama Desk among them. She holds faculty positions at NYU-Tisch Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program and is a TDF Mentor in Wendy Wasserstein’s Open Doors Program.

Weston’s New Works Programs are supported by the Anton Family Foundation, Dramatists Play Service, the Frederick Loewe Foundation, Stacey Mindich Productions, Music Theatre International, the Rodgers and Hammerstein Foundation, Sh-k-Boom/Ghostlight Records, the Shubert Foundation, Tams-Witmark Music Library and many generous individual donors. The demo recording is supported in part by SAG-AFTRA.

Past recipients of the Weston New Musical Award have been produced around the country, have been chosen for the National Alliance for Musical Theatre’s annual Festival of New Musicals in NYC, and have received such honors as the Jonathan Larson Grant and Richard Rodgers Award.

The Vermont concert of Bella: An American Tall Tale is on Saturday, February 27 at 8:00 pm at the Weston Playhouse on the Village Green in Weston. The event is free and open to the public. The performance will be followed by a brief reception, with an opportunity to meet Childs and her cast. RSVP recommended at info@westonplayhouse.org.

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Categories: The Buzz, Way Off Broadway

A Chinese ‘Downtown Abbey’?”: Pan Asian Rep’s ‘A Dream of Red Pavilions’

January 28th, 2016 View Comment(s)

by Samuel L. Leiter

Kelsey Wang, Ej An, and Mandarin Wu in 'A Dream of Red Pavilions.' (Photo: John Quincy Lee via The Broadway Blog)

Kelsey Wang, Ej An, and Mandarin Wu in ‘A Dream of Red Pavilions.’ (Photo: John Quincy Lee via The Broadway Blog)

It must have been a challenging task for British playwright Jeremy Tiang to dramatize one of China’s four major classical novels, which he’s titled A Dream of Red Pavilions. Cao Xueqin’s 2,500-page original, Hóng Lóu Mèng, known as Dream of the Red Chamber, A Dream of Red Mansions, Red Chamber Dream, or The Story of the Stone, was written during the Qing dynasty in the mid-18th century; its 80 chapters (expanded to 120 by later writers) introduce over 400 characters, 30 or so of them being principals. Tiang’s adaptation boils the sprawling epic down to 15 characters (played by 10 actors) in 30 scenes spread over two acts, focusing on the love triangle at the novel’s heart, much as does Pauline A. Chen’s 2012 novel, The Red Chamber.

Despite its enormous place in literary history—like Talmudists, scholars of “Redology” devote their entire lives to its study—the novel, one of Mao Zedong’s favorites, has received a number of TV and film versions; however, in comparison to plays based on the three other great novels, Journey to the West, The Tales of the Three Kingdoms, and Water Margin, relatively few plays have been inspired by it. The Chinese scholar, Dr. Mo Li, who accompanied me, imagines this may be because its great reliance on female characters creates casting difficulties for male-role actors in China’s role type-based repertory companies.

Cao’s novel, reportedly reflecting his own experiences, follows four of Beijing’s most distinguished families as they fall on hard times; the play covers only the Jia family’s troubles. It begins with a dream in which a neglected stone is transformed by Fairy False (Mandarin Yu)—who reappears several times, including in the dream after which the play is titled—into Jia Baoyu (Vichet Chum). A passing monk (E.J. An) agrees to make him a human, and he’s born to the Jia family with a jade stone in his mouth. Similarly, a flower watered by Baoyu becomes a girl named Daiyu (Kelsey Wang), Baiyu’s cousin; the two are predestined to be lovers. When she and Baoyu are adolescents, the motherless, sickly girl joins his family. Romantic complications follow when Baochai (Leanne Cabrera), another cousin, joins the family. Baoyu loves Daiyu but his parents trick him into marrying Baochai, after which the situation grows darker and the heartache predicted by the monk comes to pass.

Vichet Chum and Kelsey Wang in 'A Dream of Red Pavilions.' (Photo: John Quincy Lee via The Broadway Blog.)

Vichet Chum and Kelsey Wang in ‘A Dream of Red Pavilions.’ (Photo: John Quincy Lee via The Broadway Blog.)

The story, at least as dramatized here, lacks dramatic thrust, notwithstanding its conflicted love story; it advances in incremental steps that are mainly interesting for how they introduce historical culture and family life, in which poetry holds an important role (Tiang’s verse is often charming). Among the interesting features is the Jia patriarch’s (Fenton Li) joy when his daughter, Yuanchun (Mandarin Wu), is named imperial concubine.

The story encompasses the downfall during the period of the wealthy aristocracy; Dr. Li suggests that, in its depiction of attempts to maintain the disintegrating, albeit corrupt, Qing feudal society, the novel bears an interesting resemblance to TV’s depiction of the decline of the English aristocracy in “Downton Abbey.” The exigencies of time, however, require that most of the book’s nuances—which examine numerous political, religious, legal, social, and economic elements of Qing China—be reduced, exposing only the romantic skeleton.

Although its efforts fall short, the Pan-Asian Repertory Company is to be commended for this ambitious world premiere, performed on a spare stage backed by Sheryl Liu’s attractive, Chinese pavilion-like setting. To help move the episodic play along, a maid (Amanda Centeno), like the “stage manager” in traditional Chinese theatre, rearranges the furniture as necessary. Lovely period costumes, several quite striking, have been designed by Hyun Sook Kim. Surprisingly, veteran Victor En Yu Tan’s lighting lacks the creative versatility, color, and focus required for a play like this.

Co-directors Tisa Chang and Lu Yu are correct to introduce elements of traditional Chinese theatre, especially in the graceful movements of the Fairy; more such qualities are needed, though, too much of what remains being theatrically bland. Hopefully, as the production settles in, the pace will pick up and the many scene transitions will snap instead of drag, as they do now. Although Ian Wehrle’s sound design provides occasional interpolations of Chinese music, the production might have benefitted from sustained musical underscoring to enhance its only rarely realized potential.

The Pan-Asian’s actors struggle to offer three-dimensional performances, but most are unable to overcome the distance between their modern, Western sensibilities and their 18th-century personages. What results seems more an exotic costume drama for high school students than a memorable exploration of a literary masterpiece. Regardless of its flaws, without the Pan-Asian Rep New York audiences would never have the opportunity to contemplate so significant a part of world literature and, perhaps, go on to read a translation and discover the original on its own terms.

A Dream of Red Pavilions
Clurman Theatre at Theatre Row
410 West 42nd Street, NYC
Through February 14

Samuel L. Leiter is Distinguished Professor Emeritus (Theater) of Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center, CUNY. He has written and/or edited 27 books on Japanese theater, New York theater, Shakespeare, and the great stage directors. For more of his reviews, visit Theatre’s Leiter Side (www.slleiter.blogspot.com).

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First Look — Grease: Live

January 27th, 2016 View Comment(s)
Julliane Hough and Aaron Tveit in 'Grease: Live' (Photo: fox.com)

Julliane Hough and Aaron Tveit in ‘Grease: Live’ (Photo: fox.com)

Curious as to how FOX’s Grease: Live is shaping up? The all-star cast includes Julianne Hough as Sandy and Broadway favorite Aaron Tveit (Catch Me If You Can, Next to Normal) as Danny… along with some star turns by Jessie J, Mario Lopez, and more. Take a look at how rehearsals are going.

Grease: Live airs Sunday, January 31 at 7 p.m./6 p.m. Central.

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Categories: The Buzz

Don’t Miss: Alan Cumming at Carnegie Hall

January 26th, 2016 View Comment(s)
Alan Cumming (Photo: Steve Vaccariello via The Broadway Blog.)

Alan Cumming (Photo: Steve Vaccariello via The Broadway Blog.)

It’s going to be a wild night at Carnegie Hall come February 8, when Alan Cumming headlines in his Carnegie Hall debut in Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs with Friends. Those friends happen to include Kristin Chenoweth, Darren Criss, Ricki Lake, and a special performance by the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus.

Backed by Cumming’s longtime musical director Lance Horne on piano, Eleanor Norton on cello, Chris Jago on drums and Michael Croiter on guitar and percussion, Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs premiered in Spring 2015 for a limited run at the iconic supper club Café Carlyle, garnering such critical praise that producer Daniel Nardicio approached Cumming about bringing the show to Carnegie for a one-night-only performance.  

This evening also marks the release of Cumming’s newest CD Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs, from Yellow Sound Label, recorded live at the Café Carlyle. It includes his singular interpretations of pop hits (Billy Joel’s “Goodnight Saigon,” Miley Cyrus’s “The Climb,” Rufus Wainwright’s “Dinner at Eight”), musical theater songs (“The Ladies Who Lunch” from Company, “You, You, You” from Kander & Ebb’s The Visit, “If Love Were All” by Noël Coward) and numbers that Cumming has collected from around the world (“Mother Glasgow” from Scotland, “La Complainte de la Butte” from France, “How Do Humans Live” from Germany). The new album – produced by Michael Croiter, with Daniel Nardicio serving as associate producer – is currently available for pre-order at www.AlanCummingSingsSappySongs.com.

An actor and activist, Cumming currently plays political maverick Eli Gold on CBS’s “The Good Wife,” for which he received Golden Globe, Emmy, SAG and Satellite Award nominations and earlier this year finished his Tony Award-winning role of the Emcee in the Broadway musical CabaretHis diverse career has found him performing at venues around the globe including the Sydney Opera House; making back to back films with Stanley Kubrick and The Spice Girls; directing and starring in a musical condom commercial; creating voices of a Smurf, a goat and Hitler; entering upside down and suspended by his ankles in a Greek tragedy (in the National Theatre of Scotland’s The Bacchae); and recording an award-winning album of songs (plus a dance remix). A tireless champion for LGBT civil rights and HIV/AIDS, Cumming serves on the Board of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and works closely with amfAR, The Trevor Project and the Ali Forney Center to name but a few. 

In addition to the New York album launch at Carnegie Hall, Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs will also be performed in Tampa, FL (January 24), Toronto, CA (February 6), Bethesda, MD (February 14), Napes, FL (February 28), Detroit, MI (March 19), Minneapolis, MN (March 26) and Port Washington, NY (May 14). Details are at www.AlanCumming.com.

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Categories: Show Folk, The Buzz