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Don’t Miss: ‘Confucius’ at Lincoln Center

December 29th, 2016 Comments off
CAEG's 'Confucius' at Lincoln Center. (Photo: Liu Haidong via The Broadway Blog.)

CAEG’s ‘Confucius’ at Lincoln Center. (Photo: Liu Haidong via The Broadway Blog.)

China Arts and Entertainment Group (CAEG) returns to the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center this winter with Confucius, a new dance drama performed by the China National Opera & Dance Drama Theater. The production will make its American debut January 5 – 8 at The David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center, followed by a January 13 – 15 engagement at The Kennedy Center Opera House in Washington, D.C. The production is directed and choreographed by Ms. Kong Dexin, a 77th-generation direct descendent of Confucius.

Confucius is a part of CAEG’s Image China cultural exchange initiative, which seeks to introduce traditional and contemporary Chinese performing arts to audiences around the world. Since its inception in 2009, Image China has presented works at performance venues across the globe, including Lincoln Center in New York, The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and stages throughout Europe and Australia.

CAEG's 'Confucius' at Lincoln Center. (Photo: Liu Haidong via The Broadway Blog.)

CAEG’s ‘Confucius’ at Lincoln Center. (Photo: Liu Haidong via The Broadway Blog.)

With traditional Chinese music, opulent costumes, and expressive choreography, Confucius tells the story of the legendary scholar’s journey through the kingdoms of Zhou Dynasty China, and his quest to instill codes of ethics, honor, and benevolence among the empire’s rulers. Told in six sections, “Inquiry,” “The Chaotic Time,” “Out of Food,” “Great Harmony,” “Mourning for Benevolence,” and “Happiness,” the dance drama’s structure reflects the inner and outer struggles of Confucius in expressionistic passages of dance and song, through one of the most turbulent and significant periods in China’s history.

Confucius had its world premiere in 2013 at the National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing, China, and has since played throughout Asia, Europe, and Australia.

“Confucius is one of the most enduring and influential figures in the long history of Chinese culture,” Said Zhang Yu, President of CAEG. “We hope that this dance drama, performed with artistry and grace by the China National Opera & Dance Drama Theater, will engage the hearts and minds of audiences everywhere and bring the story of Confucius to life in unexpected and exhilarating ways.”

The cast of Confucius includes Hu Yang (“Confucius”), Tang Shiyi (“Concubine”), and an ensemble of 55 performers. Confucius is directed and choreographed by Kong Dexin, who is a 77th-generation descendent of Confucius. Confucius is written by Liu Chun, with music direction by Zhang Qu, scenic and lighting design by Ren Dongsheng, costume design by Yang Donglin, and makeup design by Jia Lei.

For tickets and more information, visit http://davidhkochtheater.com/Season-Tickets/16-17-Season/Confucius.

 

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Teacher’s Pests: ‘The Babylon Line’

December 8th, 2016 Comments off

by Samuel L. Leiter

'The Babylon Line' (Photo: Jeremy Daniel via The Broadway Blog.)

‘The Babylon Line’ (Photo: Jeremy Daniel via The Broadway Blog.)

In Richard Greenberg’s latest play, The Babylon Line, set in an adult-education creative writing class in 1967 Levittown, Long Island, one student’s stories show a propensity for violence. This prompts another student, Frieda Cohen (Randy Graff), to ask the teacher, Aaron Port (Josh Radnor), if this constitutes a genre. The line gets a laugh but the same might almost be asked of this and Greenberg’s two most recent plays, The Assembled Parties and Our Mother’s Brief Affair (whose story is actually referenced in The Babylon Line). Each is, in its own way, a bittersweet memory play mainly occupied by middle-class, Jewish characters, for whom the past is always very present.

For all those plays’ sharing of Greenberg’s richly droll dialogue, seasoned with familiar Jewish inflections and Yiddishisms, only The Assembled Parties manages to embrace its audience in the warmth of a sentimental hug that perfectly mixes comedy and sadness within a consistently believable narrative. The Babylon Line, while highly listenable, never finds the right balance between its contrived storyline, self-conscious dialogue, and colorful but artificial characters. In other words, while superficially charming it lacks sustained credibility and structural stability.

Josh Radnor in 'The Babylon Line.' (Photo: Jeremy Daniel via The Broadway Blog.)

Josh Radnor in ‘The Babylon Line.’ (Photo: Jeremy Daniel via The Broadway Blog.)

The central character is Aaron, a bitter, married, 38-year-old, wannabe writer, with only a single published story, who commutes once a week via the Babylon line from his Greenwich Village apartment to Levittown for his low-paying teaching job. Everything transpires in a classroom, realistically designed by Richard Hoover, and expertly lit by David Weiner; on an elevated platform is a teacher’s desk backed by large windows looking into the night.

Levittown is a postwar community created by a developer so arrogant that, when someone criticizes him, the audience sharply applauds because of his resemblance to a certain other developer. It has often been accused of being the kind of homogenized community that, in its Southern California version, currently is getting its knocks in Dan LeFranc’s Rancho Viejo at Playwrights Horizons.

We see this in the cookie-cutter behavior of the three gossipy, Long Island-accented, Jewish homemakers, Frieda, Midge Braverman (Julie Halston), and Anna Cantor (Maddie Corman), who take the class; their main concerns are things like whether Truman Capote was a homosexual. Two are there because they couldn’t get into the classes they wanted.

Their initial uniformity is sharply contrasted with pretty Joan Dellamond (Elizabeth Reaser); she’s lived here for 18 years but is clearly of an alien species. The others are a peculiar, possibly autistic, young man, Marc Adams (Michael Oberholtzer), writing a “magnum opus,” and an older man, Jack Hassenpflug (Frank Wood), obsessed with his war experiences.

The play is built upon Aaron’s memories, as he narrates them in spotlighted moments; we watch his frustrated interactions with his students; his confrontations with the carping Frieda, who, unconvincingly, can’t think of what to write about; and, among other things, his growing, but oddly aloof, intimacy with the unhappily married, surprisingly talented, and sensually inviting Joan. Classroom sessions include readings by the students of their writings, sometimes acted out by the others.

Just when you think the play is nearing its end, Aaron provides a detailed account of what later happened to each student (information most teachers would never know or even care about); something of a trick ending ties it all together. All this adds a questionable chunk of time to the two hour, 20-minute production.

Director Terry Kinney hypes up the energy, creating a mostly comedic atmosphere, but the humor is spotty, and the darker scenes are hard to reconcile with some of the broad accents and eccentric behavior. And Greenberg’s characters are sometimes inconsistent. When, for example, Frieda, who complains of having nothing to write about, fires off a powerful stream of invective that a good teacher might have turned into a springboard to inspire her, Aaron totally ignores it.

Josh Radnor captures Aaron’s unappealing sourness, Randi Graff makes Frieda’s nastiness sting, and Julie Halston mines her every moment for comic treasure. Elizabeth Reaser’s Joan, with her Tennessee Williams drawl, is interesting and definitely seductive. It’s a shame, though, that she seems as out of place in The Babylon Line as Joan herself does in Levittown.

The Babylon Line
Lincoln Center Theater
Mitzi E. Newhouse Theatre
150 West 65th Street, NYC
Through January 22

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).

 

‘Dragon Boat Racing’ Sets Sail in New York City

January 12th, 2016 Comments off

by Ryan Leeds

'Dragon Boat Racing' (Photo provided by Guangdong Song & Dance Ensemble via The Broadway Blog.)

‘Dragon Boat Racing’ (Photo provided by Guangdong Song & Dance Ensemble via The Broadway Blog.)

Watching Dragon Boat Racing, a limited engagement presentation that recently played Lincoln Center’s David H. Koch Theater, is similar to eating cotton candy; it’s visually appealing and provides enough instant sweetness to cure a craving, but ultimately it lacks substance.

The production can neither be categorized into traditional musical theater nor dance, though it incorporates elements of both with its sprawling cast and pre-recorded music by Du Min. Written by Tang Dong, Dragon Boat Racing conveys (without dialogue) a sweeping love story between leading man Nian (Li Xing), a composer, and Ling (Li Yanchao), the object of his affection. Their shared romance becomes complicated when Nian’s father—prior to his death—requests that his son marry a different girl, Ying, (Wang Minrui) and finish the Cantonese composition, Dragon Boat Racing. To make matters even more dramatic, the trio is led by the whims of fate during the 1930s Japanese occupation of China.

'Dragon Boat Racing' (Photo provided by Guangdong Song & Dance Ensemble via The Broadway Blog.)

‘Dragon Boat Racing’ (Photo provided by Guangdong Song & Dance Ensemble via The Broadway Blog.)

Dragon Boat Racing marks the American debut of the Guangdong Song and Dance Ensemble. After premiering in its native land of China in October 2014, the production became a cultural phenomenon.  Yang Donglin’s colorful costumes and lighting designers Liu Fengshu and Qin Nianfeng certainly help to create a beautiful panorama. In addition, lead director and choreographer Zhou Liya has provided her agile ensemble  with some stunning dance movement. One simply wishes for brevity and a bit of editing.

The show makes way for another Chinese artistic contribution, the Shen Yun Chinese dance and music spectacular which will play the Koch Thursday, January 14 through Sunday, January 17  and will return in March for an encore performance (March 2-13). It is an annual New York staple that, much like Dragon Boat Racing (which at the final performance garnered multiple stage bows and standing ovations), is sure to find its fans. For the casual observer, Dragon Boat Racing is an enjoyable affair. A finicky patron of the arts might be happier sailing in different waters.

Ryan Leeds is a freelance theater journalist who lives in Manhattan. He is the Chief Theater Critic for Manhattan Digest and a frequent contributor to Dramatics Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @Ry_Runner or on Facebook.

Don’t Miss: ‘Dragon Boat Racing’

January 6th, 2016 Comments off
'Dragon Boat Racing' (Photo provided by Guangdong Song & Dance Ensemble via The Broadway Blog.)

‘Dragon Boat Racing’ (Photo provided by Guangdong Song & Dance Ensemble via The Broadway Blog.)

Following their recent sold-out run featuring the U.S. premiere of the Peking Opera star Zhang Huoding, the China Arts and Entertainment Group (CAEG) returns to the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center with Dragon Boat Racing, a production of the Guangdong Song & Dance Ensemble that blends traditional Cantonese music and history with state-of-the-art theatrical artistry, from January 7-10, 2016Dragon Boat Racing is written by Tang Dong with music by Du Ming, and is directed and choreographed by Zhou Liya and Han Zhen.

The production of Dragon Boat Racing is a part of CAEG’s Image China cultural exchange initiative, which aims to introduce traditional and contemporary Chinese performing arts to audiences around the world. Since its inception in 2009, Image China has presented works at venues across the globe, including Lincoln Center in New York, The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and performance venues in Australia and throughout Europe.
'Dragon Boat Racing' (Photo provided by Guangdong Song & Dance Ensemble via The Broadway Blog.)

‘Dragon Boat Racing’ (Photo provided by Guangdong Song & Dance Ensemble via The Broadway Blog.)

 
Dragon Boat Racing, the American debut of the Guangdong Song & Dance Ensemble, tells the story of the creation of one of the most iconic and enduring pieces of Cantonese music. Set in 1930s China against the backdrop of the Japanese occupation, Dragon Boat Racing follows two lovers whose passion for each other is equaled only by their passion for music, and tells the story of how one of the finest and most famous Cantonese compositions comes to be… and how it becomes a musical theme that inspires the entire nation.


The 2014 Chinese premiere of Dragon Boat Racing achieved such vast popularity among audiences that it was considered to be a cultural phenomenon throughout the nation.


“We are thrilled to present this production, which showcases so beautifully the Guangdong Song & Dance Ensemble’s theatrical artistry, as well as a vital facet of Chinese artistic culture,” said Wang Xiuqin, Executive Director of CAEG. “We hope Dragon Boat Racing will both enlighten and enchant American audiences.”
For tickets, click here.

A Gay Ol’ Time: Off Broadway’s Latest Trend

December 1st, 2015 Comments off

Broadway Blog editor Matthew Wexler review Dada Woof Papa Hot and Steve.

(l to r) Alex Hurt, John Benjamin Hickey, Stephen Plunkett, and Parick Breen in 'Dada Woof Papa Hot.' (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

(l to r) Alex Hurt, John Benjamin Hickey, Stephen Plunkett, and Parick Breen in ‘Dada Woof Papa Hot.’ (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Two gay-themed plays are on the boards this fall, so if you’re looking for baby daddies and aging chorus boys, there’s no better time to be going to the theatre. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for new works that transcend a certain demographic (in which this reviewer belongs), it might be a stretch to see beyond some of the one-note themes portrayed in these post-Stonewell tales of love and life.

(l to r) Patrick Breen and John Benjamin Hickey in 'Dada Woof Papa Hot.' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog)

(l to r) Patrick Breen and John Benjamin Hickey in ‘Dada Woof Papa Hot.’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog)

Dada Woof Papa Hot by Peter Parnell tackles gay parenting set in the bourgeois world of New York City’s upper middle class—though given John Lee Beatty’s ingenious set including a trendy restaurant, Fire Island share, and multi-room apartment on the Upper West Side—we should all be so lucky. Rob (Patrick Breen) and Alan (John Benjamin Hickey) are in the midst of raising a toddler and struggling with their own mid-life crises when they meet a younger gay couple, Jason (Alex Hurt) and Scott (Stephen Plunkett) at a gay parenting group. They become enamored with the fresh-faced duo and friendships begin, only to be derailed by an expected infidelity. But the gays aren’t the only ones bored playing house. Straight friends Serena (Kellie Overbey) and Michael (John Pankow) find themselves in a similar situation—struggling to keep the spark in their marriage while raising little ones. Michael’s wandering eye lands on Julia (Tammy Blanchard), a real Housewife of New York-type that also finds herself in a withering marriage.

And so the revelations begin amid contemporary quips full of gay vernacular and child rearing. Parnell’s script is filled with zippy one-liners:

“By the way, I still can’t get used to young gay guys using that word as a verb instead of a noun.”

“Which word?”

“Bottomed. ‘I bottomed for him,’ instead of ‘I’m a bottom.’”

The subscriber base at Lincoln Center and gay-heavy audience chuckle throughout, as the play jumps through the revelatory hoops of indiscretion and the looming question of “Is this it?”

Mr. Breen and Mr. Hickey breathe life into their characters as they suffer through revealed infidelities and the subsequent consequences. There are interesting riffs that explore what their life was versus what it has become: surviving the AIDS crisis, marriage equality, and parenthood. The younger pair doesn’t fare as well: Mr. Hurt as an artist with a monotonous cadence and penchant for extramarital activities, and Mr. Plunkett as his conservative, quasi-Republican counterpart. Gratuitous Fire Island nudity also feels contrived and begs the question, “Is this it?”

Dada Woof Papa Hot does offers smatterings that may remind of you of the works of Terrence McNally (Love! Valor! Compassion!) or A.R. Gurney (Children). But where those playwrights’ works tend to transcend circumstance and offer rich characterizations and broader social commentary, Dada Woof Papa Hot feels as though its relevance is as fleeting as its intermissionless running time.

(l to r) Malcolm Gets, Jerry Dixon, Mario Cantone and Matt McGrath in 'Steve.' (Photo: Monique Carboni via The Broadway Blog)

(l to r) Malcolm Gets, Jerry Dixon, Mario Cantone and Matt McGrath in ‘Steve.’ (Photo: Monique Carboni via The Broadway Blog)

The New Group has its hands on another gay play, Steve, by Mark Gerrard—ironically also set in Manhattan as well as Fire Island (one wonders if us gays have been exiled to a self-proclaimed East Coast ghetto left only with a shortlist of Michelin star restaurants and Andrew Christian underwear). But whereas Dada Woof Papa Hot suffocates in its preciousness, Steve blows the top off in an Ethel Merman-style throwdown that only escalates as the play continues.

Stephen (Malcolm Gets) and Steven (Matt McGrath) gather at a restaurant for the latter’s birthday with besties Carrie (Ashlie Atkinson) and fellow gay couple Matt (Mario Cantone) and Brian (Jerry Dixon). Little does Stephen know, but his partner has been privy to texting indiscretions thanks to their toddler’s penchant for stealing electronic equipment. The table becomes smitten with their aspiring Argentinian dancer/waiter, Esteban (Francisco Prior Garat)—especially Steven, who through the course of the play dabbles in his own extramarital affairs.

(l to r) Matt McGrath, Ashlie Atkinson and Francisco Pryor Garat in 'Steve.' (Photo: Monique Carboni via The Broadway Blog.)

(l to r) Matt McGrath, Ashlie Atkinson and Francisco Pryor Garat in ‘Steve.’ (Photo: Monique Carboni via The Broadway Blog.)

Where Steve succeeds is in its innovative theatrical convention, which explores what we want to say versus what we really say in our lives. Much of the dialogue is wickedly and hilariously biting, peppered with more musical theater references than a late-night YouTube binge of all the various actresses who have played Elphaba in Wicked (also the name of Steven and Stephen’s cat).

Director Cynthia Nixon, who directed Rasheeda Speaking for The New Group last season, approaches the piece with a surgeon’s precision and demands such intent from the well-cast ensemble. Mr. McGrath steers the ship as the narcissistic Steven, failing to acknowledge that his best friend, Carrie, is dying of cancer. Ms. Atkinson is much more than a sidekick novelty, delivering one-liners as well as heartfelt gravitas with equal sincerity. The rest of the cast follows suit, including a tech-savvy monologue by Mr. Getz, who brilliantly navigates sexting while simultaneously having a phone conversation with his mother.

Steve is tender and brassy, and perhaps sometimes too shrill for its own good. The musical theater references can become exhausting and are reinforced by an unnecessary pre show consisting of a cast sing-a-long and a curtain call lifted from The Sound of Music. It casts a thin veneer over the play, which otherwise delivers plenty of heart and humanity.

Dada Woof Papa Hot
Lincoln Center Theater – Mitzi E. Newhouse
150 West 65th Street
Through January 3

Steve
The Pershing Square Signature Center
480 West 42nd Street
Through January 3

Review: “Macbeth” at Lincoln Center Theater

December 7th, 2013 Comments off

Guest contributor Melissa Firlit visits Shakespeare’s dark side at Lincoln Center Theater’s production of Macbeth.

Ethan Hawke as Macbeth. (photo: T. Charles Erickson)

Ethan Hawke as Macbeth. (photo: T. Charles Erickson)

Boom.
Shifting lights.
Sword fighting, witches and a confounding battle that struggles to capture the audience is the launching pad in this latest revival of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, presented by Lincoln Center Theater. The scene — stylized in speed and movement feels like an attempt elevate the viewer into a new form of reality.

Macbeth recap: The title character arrives as a war hero. Three witches appear and proclaim his future—which is that of King. He shares this information with his wife in a letter prior to his return. Lady Macbeth becomes determined at the prospect and helps Macbeth set those ideas into action. What better way to do it than to bump off the king of Scotland, who is so pleased with Macbeth that he visits the couple’s castle that night? No time like the present to kill him.  Macbeth does killing t but not without the pushing of his Lady. The two become obsessed with power, sleep is lost and paranoia is found. They can never rest and must secure their spots in the throne. Anyone who gets in their way is eliminated. While crazed they in turn bring themselves down. Aforementioned witches reappear, influencing Macbeth’s choices. Finally, Macduff goes to England to retrieve the late King of Scotland’s son Malcom to reclaim the throne destroying Macbeth. Next up, Lady Macbeth kills herself because of the madness. Macduff and future king Malcolm head to Scotland with England on their side. They fight Macbeth to his death for the crown and win, order is restored. While I could recap the general plot in 200 words, this production—haphazardly directed by Jack O’Brien—is virtually impossible to follow.

Beyond the blurry plot points, O’Brien’s Macbeth lacks the emotional powerhouse needed for the circumstances. When Macbeth and Lady Macbeth decide to risk everything and kill the King of Scotland, it’s delivered as mundanely as determining who is going to pick up the kids from daycare. They are about to commit an act of treason: circumstances that require a bolder sense of gravitas.

"Macbeth" at Lincoln Center Theater. (photo: T. Charles Erickson)

“Macbeth” at Lincoln Center Theater. (photo: T. Charles Erickson)

Offering much-needed distractions are the technical elements, including the epic set design by Scott Pask, projections by Jeff Sugg and costume design by Catherine Zuber. At least the design team had a sense of the play’s epic themes, creating a world that is dark, hollow and intriguing. Zuber’s androgynous witches are captivating as are the men’s military jackets — so much so that they are a welcome distraction from the vague acting choices. Lighting design by Japhy Weideman is crisp, bold and strong.

Most performances feel disconnected, anticipating of the next moment and void of using the text and its glorious rhythms to propel the story forward. How does an actor stay committed and connected to a role when the overall play feels suffocated? Lady Macbeth, played by Anne-Marie Duff, is most successful in her use of the text to drive the story forward.

And then there is Ethan Hawke in the title role. His best moments are when his voice is grounded and I have a feeling that he has more power than he’s even aware of. But this momentum isn’t harnessed, and by the end of Act II, the performance disintegrates into constant screaming that becomes a distraction more than an asset. I applaud Hawke’s desire to do theater in addition to his successful film career. It takes a lot to put yourself out there eight times a week in one of Shakespeare’s most iconic roles. I’ve seen him in The Coast of Utopia, The Winter’s Tale and The Cherry Orchard. One can tell his intentions were in the right place with this production, he’s just missing the guidance that connects the story together.

Lincoln Center, known for transcendent storytelling in both classic as well as contemporary works, unfortunately doesn’t deliver with Macbeth. Leaving the theater confused and slightly saddened by so many untapped theatrical opportunities, one can only hope that those witches have a pretty powerful spell for the next production.

Macbeth
Lincoln Center Theater-Vivian Beaumont
150 West 65th Street
Through January 12
Click Here for discount tickets.Use code MACBLOG.

Melissa Firlit is a freelance theatre director and teaching artist in the New York City area. She received her MFA from Rutgers University, Mason Gross School of the Arts. 

A Texas Two-Step: Review of “ANN” on Broadway

March 9th, 2013 Comments off

The Broadway Blog sent contributor Lindsay B. Davis to Lincoln Center for a Texas treat. Lindsay is an arts/culture journalist, actress, playwright and director. She resides in New York City.

“ANN” starring Holland Taylor at Lincoln Center Theater

At one point during the performance of Lincoln Center Theater’s ANN, a one-woman play written and performed by Emmy-nominated actress and first time playwright Holland Taylor, I turned to my fellow theatergoer and whispered, “I love her.” I no longer knew if I was referring to Taylor or the late ex-governor of Texas, Ann Richards, whom the actress portrays with warmth, intelligence and a physicality that captures the essence of her inspiration.

So it goes when an actress seamlessly gets out of the way to let a compelling character emerge. One doesn’t need to know anything about Ann Richards to enjoy ANN. It lives and breathes on its own as a solid work of theater, albeit a slightly uneven one as far as plot and storytelling goes. Familiar or not with the tough-talking, charming, witty political pioneer and champion of liberal values, feminism and the zingy retort, ANN satisfies beyond measure.

The play has a strong first act and immediately turns the audience into guests of a fictionalized commencement speech at a college in Texas. Taylor emerges in head to toe white, sporting Richards’s trademark coif, a power suit adorned with a diamond star brooch (representing not just the Lone Star state but the lucky star under which she believes to have been born), and smart heels. Through animated storytelling, we hear about Richards’s childhood in Waco, first foray into public service and office, various political inspirations and supporters, marriage to a civil rights lawyer, plus glimpses of her unapologetic descent into alcoholism and later, recovery.

Taylor almost dances across the stage as she entertains and tells jokes, some dirty, which she learned from her warm-hearted dad (Did you hear the one about the Terrier and Great Dane?). She speaks with the delight and skill of a seasoned cabaret artist or vaudevillian comedian. One can’t help but wonder if the real governor Richards was this entertaining but it doesn’t really matter. You’re too busy laughing to care.

Take the jump to read more!

Read more…

TO SEE OR NOT TO SEE: “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike”

November 13th, 2012 Comments off

Kristine Nielsen, David Hyde Pierce & Sigourney Weaver in "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike". Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE

Absurdist extraordinaire Christopher Durang (Beyond Therapy) tosses Chekhov (the playwright not the Star Trek character) into a blender, transplants it to Bucks County and feeds it to ace scenery chewers Sigourney Weaver, David Hyde Pierce and Kristine Nielsen.

“…a loving rejection of pretty much everything Chekhov stands for in the popular imagination.” New York Times

“…Weaver’s game but strained performance throws Nicholas Martin’s production off-balance.” New York Post

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is brainy and witty and clever and cute.” Variety

“While its surfaces might seem slight or even frivolous, this is a work by a mature playwright taking stock and illuminating countless universal truths for those of us who have hit contemplative middle age.” Hollywood Reporter

Read more…

OUR ROAD TO NAMT FEST: A Conversation with Gaby Alter and Harris Doran

October 9th, 2012 Comments off

On October 11 & 12, the National Alliance for Musical Theatre (a service organization made up of some of the top producers, presenters and theatrical educators in the nation) will present its 24th annual Festival of New Musicals. Eight new works will receive readings for industry professionals in hopes of finding assistance with further development and ultimately productions. In the second of a series of personal blogs, I will take you behind-the-scenes of the festival as my collaborators and I prepare our show Triangle for its presentation.

William Ryall, Robin de Jesus, Sarah Stiles, Damon Daunno, Nancy Opel & Nicolette Hart rehearsing "Bleeding Love". Photo by Jason Schafer.

Writing musicals can be a lonely business. Most of the time it’s just you and a collaborator in a room together. So when I was presented with the chance to talk with a few of my fellow writers presenting shows at NAMT this year, I jumped at the chance. If nothing else, it would be like group therapy. But rhymed.

Just over a week ago, I sat down with two amazing writers: Gaby Alter, composer and co-lyricist of the recent Old Globe hit Nobody Loves You; and Harris Doran, lyricist for the post-apocalyptic fairy tale Bleeding Love. With presentation preparations hitting high gear, we took a brief moment to breathe, talk about our inspirations and discuss the best part of writing versus acting in a musical (hint: booze).

Gaby Alter. Photo by Stephen Mallon.

When did you get the bug to write music theater because…how old are you?

GABY: Old.

(laughter)

HARRIS: I’m younger.

GABY: Usually people are younger than me.

HARRIS: You look younger.

GABY: Well, thank you.

And I’m the oldest one in the room so shut up.

(laughter)

HARRIS: But you look younger than me.

That’s staying in the final interview.

(laughter)

My point is that when I look back and think about when I was in high school and college, music theater was not popular. There’s a renaissance right now…

HARRIS: Is there? Because of Glee?

When I talk to an 18 year-old or a 22 year-old, within a certain segment, they think music theater is cool.

HARRIS: True. There are musical movies now and Glee and something else…

And Smash. There are certainly now people wanting to get into the field. An excitement. And that wasn’t so much the case when I was that age. So how did you start?

GABY: It was sort of an accidental thing, a convergence of stuff that I did. It was after high school and I had a friend who wrote plays. He was like, “Want to write a musical?” It was over the summer. Neither of us were musical fans. It’s not like I hated musicals, I just knew very little about them except what I knew as kid. I knew the Rogers and Hammerstein stuff. He said, “Do you want to write a rock musical?” And I said, “Yeah, sure.” But I thought it was a ridiculous idea.

(laughter)

GABY: I also didn’t think we were going to do it. Especially when you’re 17 or 18, you say so but…actually he had a whole plan and he was very organized. He came over the next day and had some lyrics.

HARRIS: Oh wow.

GABY: So we ended up doing it over that summer. And it was the high of doing it. “Let’s get our friends who were actors in high school and involve everybody.” And you invite your family and you feel really cool because you’re all of a sudden on stage. I hadn’t had that experience except in a band. But it was easier for me to write stuff in that format. I was writing with him. “You do this and I’ll do that.” There are clear guidelines. Like fun homework. I really responded to collaborating and working as a group… Later I came to appreciate musicals and how difficult writing the really good ones is.

(laughter)

We can all second that.

HARRIS: I had no idea.

(laughter)

GABY: What about you guys?

Read more…

TO SEE OR NOT TO SEE: “End of the Rainbow” & “4000 Miles”

April 4th, 2012 Comments off

Every first Wednesday of the month, get caught up with what’s on stage with our review round-up. And that vaguely hollow, clinking sound you hear at the end of each segment? That’s me tossing in my two cents. This month, two shows that are polar opposites on planet Show Biz…

Tracie Bennett in "End of the Rainbow". Photo by Carol Rosegg.

END OF THE RAINBOW

Judy Garland returns to the New York stage, at least via Tracie Bennett‘s acclaimed performance, in a drama with music about the last days of the legendary performer.

“…Ms. Bennett…, as directed by Terry Johnson, is giving one of the most complete portraits of an artist I’ve ever seen.” New York Times

“Rather than turn in another technically fine, ultimately safe Garland impersonation, Bennett gives us the Garland mystique.” New York Post

“That Bennett performs this show eight times a week is a marvel indeed; seeing it just once kind of wore me out.” Time Out New York

“It’s a brave, bravura performance without a single false note.” Entertainment Weekly

Mizer’s Two Cents: Whatever they’re paying Tracie Bennett, it ain’t enough. With her fearlessly physical, emotionally committed and downright titanic performance, she not only overcomes the hurdles of a voyeuristic script but also lives up to pre-buzz expectations as she inhabits the final, drug-addled days of Judy Garland. Sure, if it were on film, we’d lament it as Oscar bait, acting as mere mimicry, but somehow seeing this transformation live, with Bennett/Garland’s exertion palpable and her ferocity electric, the very nature of the performative act gets at something essential about the flailing, fighting, frightened star. And when she sings, Bennett finds something approaching soul.

The undertow to the show, and what gives it some ghoulish depth beyond the central performance, is its depiction of the audience’s complicity in Garland’s downfall. We watch Bennett enact this train wreck and we are riveted, applauding wildly and wanting more…just as Garland’s audiences and advisors cheered/enabled her every painful comeback. I’m not sure this play satisfyingly grapples with the issue, but the production does leave you thinking about what it means and what it takes to be a star.

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