The Playgoer: May 2008

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Friday, May 30, 2008

Cut Bertolt Some Slack

"If we can reconcile ourselves to Richard Strauss and - alarmingly - Leni Riefenstahl, surely it's time the Brecht-bashing came to an end."

-UK playwright Mark Ravenhill, offering a heartfelt plea against the increasing trend in critical and intellectual circles to write off Brecht as just some Stalinist hack. Of course, this will always be the simplistic argument from the right. And even leftists should not overlook the, um, complexity of the compromises Brecht had to make in his East Berlin final days.

But as with all undue hero-worship, we should be focusing more on the work than the man, anyway. (At least that's how I deal with Ezra Pound, Wagner, etc.)

Here's Ravenhill:

[Brecht] may well not have been a trustworthy or noble man. But there are many Brechts, not just the monolithic communist his detractors portray. The early Brecht was a wild, anarchic poet. Productions of his 1928 Threepenny Opera often struggle to find in it a consistent political line. And yet it's a brilliantly confused collage of rage and cynicism with lashings of cruel, sexual poetry.

For a short time in the 1930s, as German society became more divided, Brecht's plays took a decidedly Leninist turn. His play The Mother shows a working-class woman struggling to reconcile individual needs with the demands of a political cause. It's a beautiful, moving piece, painfully ignorant of the horrors of Stalinism that were to follow. How strange that this play is considered beyond the pale in Britain and no longer performed - yet the Economist can declare, in 2003, that Triumph of the Will, Leni Riefenstahl's film of the 1934 Nuremberg rally, marks her out as "the greatest female film-maker of the 20th century".

Brecht was very clear about one thing: his resistance to fascism. Before the Nazis came to power, Hitler's brownshirts were disrupting performances of Brecht and Weill's 1930 opera Mahagonny, claiming that it brought the contamination of black and Jewish musical influences into the German opera house. Brecht dedicated the next 15 years of his writing - plays, film scripts, poetry - to the anti-fascist cause.

Reminds me of how often I still--amazingly--hear Brecht described in the media as "humorless." Reporters who've never read any of his work just assume he was some commissar.
Also, one would think BB's anti-Hitler credentials would redeem him in the West. But his problem was just that he was what the McCarthyites would later call a "premature anti-fascist." Because only a vicious commie would have a beef with Hitler before he started treading on other countries' turf.

Correction: Dummkopf that I am, I misspelled BB's first name initially in the subject heading. So much for late Friday afternoon blogging...

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Flash: Witty Repartee NOT "Dialogue"

I don't know anything about young playwright Annie Baker, but she sure has gotten some press this week for her upcoming Atlantic show Body Awareness.

Who knows if the play's any good. But I do like hearing someone say this:

“Most naturalistic plays I see are a bunch of middle- or upper-middle-class people being witty,” Baker notes. “I don’t actually find wittiness that funny.… The tragedy of bourgeois society is that we’re never that funny. People write these plays where everybody onstage is saying what we all would say—days later, when we think up what would have been the funny thing to say. But I think we are actually incredibly earnest and serious and kind of pathetic. That’s funnier to me.”
Amen, sister.

Of course that's one sure way to raise the expectations of your own work...

Correction (6/1): Didn't realize I initially wrote Barker instead of Baker. Apologies to the playwright.

Welcome Back, Václav

Havel's back. On stage, that is. After two decades of, oh, running the country.

Here's a tantalizing rundown of the new play, Leaving:

Set in a cherry orchard - deliberately reminiscent of Chekhov and not dissimilar to Havel's own country retreat, Lany, where he used to host the foreign press with sausages and beer - Leaving tells the story of Vilém Rieger, the leader of an unknown country, who cannot cope with discarding the trappings of power and finds that his world falls apart. Taking his cue from King Lear, he rails that he is "a man more sinned against than sinning". But the vain, philandering ruler is eventually forced out of his government villa by political rivals. They build a shopping mall, casino and brothel on the site, a clear critique of how the seedier sides of consumerism have secured a strong foothold in the Czech Republic since its velvet revolution.
The playwright-president's only words to the audience at his curtain call? "Thank-you to the audience for switching off their mobile phones. Truth and love must triumph over lies and hatred. The audience may now switch their phones back on - goodnight and pleasant dreams!"

Man, those cell phones make trouble everywhere!

"Cursed Be He That Moves My Bones"

Famous epitaph aside, the Bard's final resting place needs a makeover:

[T]he stones above his grave are starting to flake and fall apart. Clergymen have trod on the stones for nearly four centuries, and the foot traffic is taking its inevitable toll.

People who love the church and its place in British literary history want to fix it — provided they can do so without digging up Shakespeare's remains and facing the mysterious threat.

"We're avoiding the curse," said Jospehine Walker, a spokeswoman for the Friends of Shakespeare's Church group. "We are not lifting the stones, we are not looking underneath, and the curse is for the bones underneath, so the curse is irrelevant for this work."

I say it's a result of old Will turning in his grave from some recent productions.

And, yo, Oxfordians, no cries for DNA tests, ok?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Tale of 2 Cities

Backstage reports on yet another small NYC company losing its space:

Ginny Louloudes, executive director of the Alliance of Resident Theatres/New York, a service and advocacy group, said small theatres have always struggled to acquire and maintain space, but the problem has gotten worse during the real estate boom in large urban areas (the current home-mortgage crisis notwithstanding).


For the Women's Interart Center in NYC, a happy ending is far from certain. Its conflict began in 2001, when the company entered into a contract of sale for 549 W. 52nd St., a property then owned by the city. In 2002 the city canceled the contract, sparking a series of lawsuits by WIC against the city. In August 2007, WIC received eviction notices from the Clinton Housing Development Co., a nonprofit organization that now owns the center's rented spaces.

The battle has been fought at the federal and state levels. The city and the CHDC won in U.S. District Court, and the decision was upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals. Three related cases pending in New York State Supreme Court may be combined into one. Despite a request from WIC, the eviction notice has not been stayed, though no date has been set by which the company must vacate the properties.
Meanwhile, from Chicago comes news of new theatres being built!
For $3 million, a group of eight principal investors have purchased the grand (19,000 square feet), recently landmarked classical revival-style building at 1425 W. Fullerton that was briefly the home of the Fullerton State Bank. And, under the auspices of a unique not-for-profit foundation, the 1923 building (designed by K.M. Vitzhum & Co.) will be transformed into the Lincoln Park Theater, a new cultural center in the heart of that North Side neighborhood.

Porchlight Music Theatre -- the enterprising musical theater company responsible for recent hit revivals such as "Ragtime" and "Nine" -- will be the principal anchor of the space, with other theater companies, chamber music groups and even small dance troupes invited to rent the planned 299-seat proscenium space with its small balcony, fly space, trap and orchestra pit.

Behind the project is a consortium of investors (who prefer to be unnamed) who were wooed by Porchlight's tireless artistic director and producer, Walter Stearns (who had been searching for a permanent home for his company), and who decided to take advantage of a depressed real estate market.

Okay, knowing some rich people willing to pool together $3 mil doesn't hurt. And I'm sure things aren't all rosy in Chi-town.

But I can't imagine $3 million even coming close to making such a thing happen in Gotham. Am I right?

Broadway Billions!


Despite the stagehands strike, which shut down most of Broadway for 19 days, the 2007-2008 Broadway season grossed nearly $1 billion at the box office.

The Broadway League announced May 28 that the season just ended — May 28, 2007-May 25, 2008 — took in $937.5 million (includes an estimate for Young Frankenstein, which does not report its grosses), down slightly from the previous season, which grossed $938.5 million.

Fabulous Invalid indeed.

"Stretch: A Fantasia"

It closes tonight, alas, but if you're looking for something interesting to check out at an affordable price, I recommend Susan Bernfield's Stretch: A Fantasia, a highly original piece exploring an important corner of Americana.

As a Watergate-buff myself, I was drawn to see it by the obscure subject: Nixon's longtime secretary Rose Mary Woods--pictured above (in real life), demonstrating how she "accidentally" erased 18 and a half minutes of the Watergate tapes.

While personally I would have liked more explicit reenactment of this hilarious historical moment (and more exploration of the scandal in general) Bernfield is up to something else. First, a critique of the Great Man theory of history (something directly invoked and ridiculed in the play) by way of taking us inside the experience of a not only a woman, but a woman who stumbled into history by playing what she proudly accepted as a subservient role. Woods also provides a window onto a whole culture of what we now consider 1950s femininity. But her life, as presented by Bernfield, both exemplifies and subverts the stereotypes. On the one hand Woods' tragic flaw, so to speak--in that it relegated her to both fame and infamy--was her blind loyalty to a powerful man and a willingness to remain in the shadows (his shadow, specifically) till her dying day. Of course, her career as a secretary--the Boss's Secretary at that, to the Boss of all Bosses--encapsulated this image to a tee. And one of Stretch's chief charms is how it exploits the iconography of the old-school corporate secretary to the max--most prominently in a specially commissioned score by Rachel Peters, performed live and "scored for violin, trumpet, bass & IBM Selectric typewriter."

On the other hand, in Bernfield's script and in Kristen Griffith's delectably-retro performance, Woods is also a highly ambitious professional, a tough-talking broad, who, after all, typed her way up to the most powerful office pool in the land. Unmarried--except to the Prez, of course--she keeps her secrets to the end, which in the play is an Ohio nursing home in the days surrounding the 2004 election. (Indeed Woods died in early 2005 in such a setting.) While the play is framed by naturalistic interactions in the nursing home, the fun part of Stretch are the "fantasia," Woods' flights of fancy, dreaming herself a history far more glamorous and powerful than what really was.

The 2004 setting--an election after all where evidence of fraud in Ohio itself was ignored with a collective shrug--serves to contrast Woods' feisty commitment to the relative apathy of the current age. A subplot involving two stoner kids (one of whom works in Woods' nursing home) represents the next generation somewhat heavy handedly, and I wouldn't have minded less of their intentionally vapid dialogues. (Though a dismissive and confused description of the movie All The President's Men is amusing and very much to the point.) But the use of this counterpoint to show the eventual "radicalizing" or "conversion" of Woods' attendant from apathy to political consciousness and involvement is a compelling, if unsubtle, narrative.

Those who still consider Woods a notorious "co-conspirator" and criminal equal to Tricky Dick will be disappointed in Bernfield's surprising sympathy for her. But the point here is not refighting old political rivalries, but contemplating the changing roles of women in our polity. In a way, Rose Mary Woods took the only route into politics available to her, even if it was a demeaning one in service of a tyrant. And--more to the point of the play--at least she got out of her home town, saw herself as something beyond a babymaker and a housewife and got involved. Griffith's star turn--morphing constantly between moxie and doddery, grandeur and dotage--sells this concept with great fun, creating a Rose Mary Woods that probably is nothing like the real person, but serves a much more fun dramatic purpose.

Addendum: I should also mention this is a production of New Georges (of which Bernfield is Artistic Director) and is handsomely produced and designed, all under the stylish coordination of director Emma Griffin.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Critics' Revenge

For every critic out there who's shaken his or her fist at a misleading quote of theirs in an ad and thought "there oughta be a law against that"... this one's for you:

British theaters will no longer be able to hoodwink potential audiences with out-of-context review quotes that seem to show the production is a hit, when the review actually conveys something different.

Beginning Monday, it will become a criminal offense when the biggest overhaul of consumer protection law in Blighty for decades takes effect.

The law comes under European Union regulations covering consumer protection from unfair trading designed to protect consumers against misleading or aggressive marketing practices.

Prosecutors must prove theatergoers were misled. If guilty, theater operators could be fined up to £5,000 ($9,900) and/or face a maximum of two years in prison.

That's right, the slammer! Think about that next time I slam your show! Mwah, ha, ha, ha...

Interesting that it falls under "consumer protection." Oh well, such are the consequences of treating criticism as consumer guides.

Nonprofits Beware!

Fascinating article in Sunday's Times, reporting a Minnesota State Supreme Court decision with possibly far-reaching consequences:

Authorities from the local tax assessor to members of Congress are increasingly challenging the tax-exempt status of nonprofit institutions — ranging from small group homes to wealthy universities — questioning whether they deserve special treatment.

One issue is the growing confusion over what constitutes a charity at a time when nonprofit groups look more like businesses, charging fees and selling products and services to raise money, and state and local governments are under financial pressure because of lower tax revenues....

In a ruling last December that sent tremors through the not-for-profit world, the Minnesota Supreme Court said a small nonprofit day care agency here had to pay property taxes because, in essence, it gave nothing away.

In other words: Uh-oh.

Now this story is pretty much exclusively about traditional "charities" (like health- and day-care). And also wealthy universities! But it won't take long for those local counties skeptical of these institutions to start looking at arts org's, too.

After all, as the article states: "The idea behind tax exemptions is that the organizations provide a public service or substantially reduce the burdens of government." (Notice how uniquely American an approach to public interest this is.) And it is the "tax-exempt" clause in the nonprofit social compact that is at issue here. Since, obviously, lots of state and local governments would like to now have some of that potential tax revenue. (One of the many revelations to me in the article was that it's each state that decides nonprofit status, not the federal IRS.)

The trap some nonprofits are falling into, of course, is that you'd hardly know a lot of these places are operating as a public service as opposed to a good old regular "business." As one quoted expert from the nonprof field pleads:
“The nonprofit sector is being pressed to be more business-like and to find new ways to fill the gaps between what government will pay and what services cost, but then assessors want to treat us like businesses, which pay taxes.”
Sound familiar?

It certainly does to anyone who's seen Mike Daisey's searing indictment of A-level nonprofit theatre world.

And it certainly would to a bunch of commercial producers currently griping how the Tonys will be "stolen" from them by supposedly not-for-profit behemoths who get to play in the same Broadway game but unhandicapped by taxes and helped out by lower advertising rates. (Hence Shubert chairman Gerald Schoenfeld's famous adage that the Roundabout and Lincoln Center should simply be called not nonprofit institutions, but simply "untaxed.")

Look, I'm not saying this is good news. Given the lust for tax dollars at the local level (thanks, of course, to the deceptive federal Bush tax "cuts") a lot of truly worthy and, yes, charitable institutions are going to be threatened. But--maybe this is a good moment to look to our nonprofit theatres and ask them: "So what are you 'giving' back to our community? Not just 'offering' (at $60-$75 a ticket). But truly giving. What public service do you provide than cannot be found on Broadway?"

For most theatres, the easy answer is: Education! Hence the busloads of middle-schoolers herded in for yet another 10am "student matinee" of The Glass Menagerie or The Crucible. Fair enough. (Although those schools usually do indeed pay for tickets.) But it's also why an often dumbed-down "Education Department" at the theatre far eclipses any genuine dramaturgy or new play development.

But given the philosophy of the founding of the tax exemption for Not For Profit'd think we're entitled to a number of free shows! All the time!

Of course, the economics of our times--and the pitiful lack of subsidy to supplement the tax-exemption--make this impossible. Hence, these institutions have to pump up their revenue enhancement, which usually means to maximize income from pure sales. Hence, this leads to increased revenues, which is great if you're a business. But bad, it turns out, if you're supposed to be a "charity."
Almost 88 percent of overall nonprofit revenues in 2005, the most recent year for which figures are available, came from fees for services, sales and sources other than charitable contributions, according to the National Center for Charitable Statistics.


“We’re all seeing the growth of revenue in this area we call earned income,” said Audrey R. Alvarado, executive director of the National Council of Nonprofit Associations, adding that the Minnesota court decision “is saying, ‘Wait a minute, charities are supposed to give things away for free.’ ”
Wait a minute, indeed.

Again, the article doesn't touch upon the arts at all. And maybe there are other clauses and loopholes that redefine "charitable" for their purposes.

But just look at the institution involved in the lawsuit itself (fittingly named "Under the Rainbow") and tell me if you don't see similarities:
The agency, the Under the Rainbow Child Care Center, charges the same price per child regardless of whether their parents are able to pay the full amount themselves or they receive government support to cover the cost.
And therefore:
The court concluded that because the center charged all families the same amount, regardless of their ability to pay, and because its rates were not lower than those of its competitors, it was not an institution of “purely public charity” under the law and thus was subject to thousands of dollars in property taxes — $16,000 in 2006 and in 2007.
Or, to put it another way:
The Oregon tax court denied property tax exemption to a residential substance-abuse treatment center because it catered to “addicted professionals” and, like Under the Rainbow, did not give away its services.
And so let us ask, are our theatres only for the "addicted professionals" in the audience, those who can afford to pay market-prices for tickets? What will they do to satisfy the fix of those drama junkies unable to afford their services.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Live on Screen, 1964

Thank you to commenter Jeremy below for reminding us that nation-wide simulcasts of theatrical performances is an idea tried not only in the American Film Theater of the 70s, but as far back as Richard Burton's Hamlet in 1964.

So here's some unexciting--though intermittently hilarious--promotional footage for the event.

And, yes, this is the Hamlet the Wooster Group so mischievously screened themselves in their own "live on film" project recently.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

From The Onion...

Just a headline:

Play Within A Play Also Boring
As is so often the case, right?

Live on Screen

"Going to your favorite theater doesn't mean just going to the movies anymore. Audiences everywhere enjoy sharing special events with their friends and family in public places – it's just not the same at home. Our mandate will be to identify the one-of-a-kind and sold-out events that people around the country most want to see and we will work to present them to audiences everywhere."

-Roy Bruer, Sony Pictures.

He's talking about this:

The Hot Ticket, Sony Pictures Releasing's new business unit, which will... distribute event programming, including popular music concerts, the performing arts, and sporting events in high definition digital projection to select movie theaters nationwide.
This basically the same approach the Metropolitan Opera has taken, with their highly successful HD screenings of productions staggered around the country.

Now Sony is doing it for Rent. (The big closing night, that is.)

What's that you say, wasn't there already a Rent "movie"? (Released by Sony Pictures, no less.) All the more reason why this is notable. It's the "liveness" that's in demand, now.

So this may be good news for theatre and other live performing arts (like opera). One thing technology will never change is the hunger for liveness. Which is why even though "theatre" per se may be in a period of decline in the way of audience and market interest, "live entertainment" in the broader sense is certainly not. Concerts, standup, Cirque Du Soleil, you name it.

Now of course... this is anything but live. "Live on tape" as they used to say. But interesting there'll be more hoopla about this Rent than the proper Hollywood feature film "in the can." (Yes, pun intended.)

But there's another factor here leading to this trend. The decline in attendance at bona fide movies as well. So what we have here is a convergence of two failing industries--theatre and feature film theatrical distribution--leading the major cinema chain owners to find new "content" to program into their real estate. (Just like Broadway theatre owners are increasingly happy to rent their houses to bands like Duran Duran and, this summer, Cirque Du Soleil itself.)

Hence: "Going to your favorite theater doesn't mean just going to the movies anymore." You may have also noticed more screening rooms cropping up that are basically "dinner theatres" that show movies or even sporting events.

As we say in the theatre: What good is sitting alone in your room...?

Those Met opera screenings surprisingly sell out often. Of course, they're on one screen for usually just one showing. But, hey, at least it's not wasting empty seats--as with that 2pm showing of "Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium."

A historical footnote: wide distribution/exhibition of theatre on film was tried in the 70s by the American Film Theater project, which produced some fine (and some lame) results. And they weren't even doing musicals! I'm talking Pinter and Ionesco.

So Sony may just be onto something...

I Hate You, You're Awful, Now Go

Good news from Playbill...

I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change, which opened at the Westside Theatre Aug. 1, 1996, will play its final performance at the Off-Broadway venue July 27.

When it closes, the musical revue will have played a total of 20 previews and 5,003 regular performances.

I Love You is the second longest-running musical in Off-Broadway history. The Fantasticks holds the number-one spot.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

OBIEs '08 Potpourri

My at-the-scene OBIES account is out in today's Voice.

It was a fun night, and short, but maybe it just felt that way because last year they gave out a reportedly unusual high amount of awards. Committee chair Michael Feingold and crew put on a classy yet humble show, and I especially appreciated Michael's opening the ceremonies with a little Brecht in the original German. (In English the quote was: "If the cattle could get together and talk things over, the slaughterhouse wouldn't last long.") Indeed it was a night for the critics to let the artists run the asylum.

Miscellaneous highlights:

Host Bill Camp plugging his wife/co-host Liz Marvel's star Broadway turn in MTC's Top Girls adding "And stay for the 3rd act." Not everyone has, y'see...

David Henry Hwang accepting for the autobiographical Yellow Face: "I want to thank the judges for rewarding my megalomania."

Watching grown professional actresses in the audience whip out their cell phones to snap pics of presenter Jonathan Groff.

The youthful Sean McNall (leading man of the Pearl Theatre) recalling first learning of OBIE existence as a teenager leafing through the Sam French copy of The Indian Wants the Bronx, for which Al Pacino won one. More different the two actors could not be. Yet a touching passing of the torch moment nonetheless.

Stew--who made no bones about having enjoyed the open bar throughout the evening--starting his Passing Strange set looking out over the Webster Hall proscenium and reminiscing, "This used to be Ritz, y'know that? I saw Gang of 4 here!"

And the number they did from Passing Strange? Yes, that TV-censored menage a trois cha-cha, "We Had Sex." Way to get back at WCBS, guys!

Francis Jue, winning actor for Yellow Face, invoking with pride his parents' admonition to him as a little one: "You're a Jue! You'll have to work 10 times harder than everyone else!"

Finally it was hard not to ponder during Passing Strange's triumph how this may all be repeated at the Tonys next month. How lucky the show played both Off Broadway (last summer) and Broadway in the same season. Its chief Tony competitor, In the Heights, opened OB earlier and so was saluted at last year's OBIE's. But--when the Stew crew received their award from one Priscilla Lopez (a star of said Latino musical) was I alone in picking up on the rivalry to come?...Who will prevail? Tune in next month for the Tonys--or shall we say OBIES II. (This time it's uptown!)

If you still haven't seen a list of all the individual awards, here you go...


PLAYWRITING Horton Foote Dividing the Estate; David Henry Hwang Yellow Face

PERFORMANCE Veanne Cox Sustained excellence of performance; LisaGay Hamilton The Ohio State Murders; Joel Hatch Adding Machine; Francis Jue Yellow Face; Sean McNall (Sustained excellence of performance); Kate Mulgrew Iphigenia 2.0; Heidi Schreck Drum of the Waves of Horikawa;Rebecca Wisocky Amazons and Their Men; Ensemble of Passing Strange: de'Adre Aziza, Daniel Breaker, Eisa Davis, Colman Domingo, Chad Goodridge, Rebecca Naomi Jones, and Stew

DIRECTION David Cromer Adding Machine; Krzysztof Warlikowski Krum

DESIGN Jane Greenwood (Sustained excellence of costume design);Takeshi Kata (set) and Keith Parham (lighting) Adding Machine; Peter Ksander (set) Untitled Mars (this title may change); David Zinn (Sustained excellence of set and costume design); Scenic design for The Slug Bearers of Kayrol Island Ben Katchor (drawings), Jim Findlay and Jeff Sugg (set and projection design), and Russell H. Champa (lighting)

SPECIAL CITATIONS David Greenspan The Argument;Nature Theater of Oklahoma No Dice

BEST NEW AMERICAN THEATER PIECE Passing Strange by Stew and Heidi Rodewald in collaboration with Annie Dorsen

THE ROSS WETZSTEON AWARD Cherry Lane Theatre Mentor Project

OBIE GRANTS Keen Company; The Theater of a Two-Headed Calf

The "Safety First" Awards

The Tony nominations, in short, have become an exercise in ratifying the obvious -- and how could they be anything else? Broadway consists of 39 houses, four of which are run by Lincoln Center Theater, the Manhattan Theatre Club and the Roundabout Theatre Company, a trio of nonprofit outfits that are marginally more adventurous than their commercial counterparts. As for the remaining 35, they're so costly to operate that anyone who dares to bring a new show into one of them is all but begging to throw his money away....

All this explains why the Tonys have grown so lackluster in recent years: Their unsurprising nature merely reflects the safety-first institutional culture of Broadway. Of the eight new shows nominated in the Best Play and Best Musical categories this year, only one, Stew's "Passing Strange," is truly out of the ordinary.
Terry Teachout, keeping it real in the WSJ.

One might add that the only reason to open a show on Broadway today is the possibility of a Tony nomination. After all, if only 8 musicals open and 4 get nominated....gotta like those odds! For someone with money to throw around, is that in itself worth the investment? ("Tony-nominated producer" doesn't look too shabby on the resume. Or on your corporate letterhead.)

This all becomes even more ridiculous and pathetic when you realize that the Oscars also nominate a handful of nominees in each category (usually 5)--but out of hundreds of films released! (Both major studio releases and "indie" flicks.) Under such circumstances it plausibly is "an honor just to be nominated." At the Tonys it can be downright embarrassing not to be.

Philly Fanatics

Drama Queen blogger Wendy Rosenfeld confirms rumors of a Philadelphia arts surge--particularly in theatre.

In the middle of a national recession, Philly's arts are thriving and growing, which just goes to show their importance for the success of a city, and how crucial it is that government--local, state and federal--supports this growth and acknowledges the wide-ranging, quantifiable benefits the arts bestow directly upon its citizens.
Read her on why.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Drama Desk Debacle

Yes, the Drama Desk scandal continues. I know you've been wondering.

Last month Michael Riedel exposed some infighting. But now LA Times' Tom O'Neil does all the gruesome follow-up reporting.

Reading this long piece took more time than I'd ever spent in my life even thinking about the Drama Desk. But if you're that kind of 2nd-tier theatre print media junkie, then this is your kind of crack. (Sorry, 2nd-tier print media. I know full well that makes me 3rd-tier at best.)

Rather than salacious, the details are about just plain old corruption and petty power grabs. A bunch of decent journalists and reviewers do belong to the org, but the leadership has started imposing its own whims upon the procedures, making up nominating rules, for instance, as they go along to suit their tastes.

Reading this just makes me more convinced than ever that we--New York City, that is--have too many damn awards! (And that's coming from someone still hung over from last night's OBIES.)

Aside from the Tony's, we have the OBIES, the Drama Critics' Circle (major NYC print critics), the Outer Critics Circle (out of town critics), the Lortels (Off Broadway) and the Drama Desk. I wouldn't miss the Drama Desks, frankly, since I never paid attention. The others' at least have longevity on their side. (Ok, I'd lose Outer Critics, too.)

So here's my suggestion for what remains of the Drama Desk committee. By no means disband. But what if you took your budget and your passionate members and dedicated yourselves to a more niche cause in our New York theatre. We don't need yet another grab-bag. But how about exclusively focusing on new work? Or on revivals? Just plays, or just musicals.

Make a choice. Decide why you need to exist at all and further glut the scant media attention the art of the theatre gets these days.

PS. Someone at the OBIES did reference this scandal, thanking the Drama Desk for a recent award at their ceremony. "Now that was fun...," he said.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Live Streaming OBIES!

I'm off to the OBIES, which I will be writing up for the Voice in a quick turnaround for this Wednesday's edition. So look for that then.

Meanwhile, if you can't get into Webster Hall, enjoy the proceedings yourself from the (no doubt greater) comfort of your own desktop via the first ever OBIES webcast.

Downtown mistress & master thespian power-couple Liz Marvel and Bill Camp will be hosting, and Passing Strange will be performing! (However, their number will not be webcast due to copyright stuff.)

The awardees will be posted on the site soon after the ceremony comes down, around 11pm.

And don't bother looking for lists of nominees--cause there ain't none. It's the OBIES, man.

Quote of the Day

“If a producer comes along and says we want to take your show to New York, what are you going to do? Say no?”
-Eric Schaeffer, AD of Arlington, VA's Signature Theatre, on why he let his pet project Glory Days go on to Broadway infamy.

From Campbell Robertson's postmortem of the show in today's Times.

New AD for ART

And so the American Repertory Theatre of Cambridge, MA, chooses as their next artistic director...

...Diane Paulus?

An occasionally interesting director, yes. I actually quite enjoyed The Donkey Show myself. Otherwise, since she directs mostly regionally--and opera now--I haven't seen as much of her work as I'd like.

What strikes me is that this is an interesting way to go if your idea of Artistic Director is just a cool director you want to showcase, to be your "flagship" talent, as it were.

But what will she be like as an administrator and leader of a large institution, a collaborator with other artists and other such responsibilities.

Interesting note from the Globe article:

The appointment ends an exhaustive and at times turbulent search that has stretched well over a year, during which one top candidate turned the job offer down.
Hint: back in January, the word was the two top contenders were Brian Kulick and Anna Shapiro. Interesting to think about why one of those more established directors would decline. Not enough money? Is ART a wreck of an institution? Limits on outside directing?

Well, quibbles aside, I suppose it is good news that an artist of the "younger" generation (Paulus is 41) will be running such a prominent institution, and that she brings something quite other than the usual safe aesthetic. ART is a theatre with a reputation of risk taking (for better or for worse) and so we can rest assured that will continue, I bet.

And with new leadership at both big houses, Boston theatre may be brewing again on the national stage. Of her friend Huntington AD-designate Peter DuBois, Paulus says:
"It's amazing to me that Peter is also coming to Boston," she said. "Between Peter and me, we are going to make Boston the most important theater city in America."
Game on, Diane. Game. On.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Provincetown Saved!

This just in, from Crain's:

The historic Provincetown Playhouse Theater is safe from demolition, New York University has confirmed...

NYU now says it will preserve the size of the theater along with its four walls, entry way and façade. The interior will be upgraded and pieces, like the 1920’s theater seats, will be removed, refurbished and reinstalled. A new building that is “contextual” and complements the architecture of the area, meanwhile, will be build around the Provincetown Playhouse....

Announcements of preliminary plans for the site caused such a flap late last month that playwrights, producers and actors including Blythe Danner, Mercedes Ruehl, Eric Stolz and John Leguizama [sic] signing a petition to protest the proposed changes.
So just goes to show you: pressure helps.

Lord knows the pressures on the other side of these disputes is always formidable. And much more well funded. So sometimes making a stink, as unpleasant as it can seem, is necessary to protect theatre (or in this case, a theatre) from the larger social forces.

Here, I imagine NYU was not looking forward to the announced May 28 public meeting on their proposal, for which protests were already being planned.

My hat off to Andrew Berman of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation; Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer for giving a damn, and blogger Leonard Jacobs forgoing ahead being a maniac about it all.

By the way--no offense to them, but they couldn't rally a more, um, A-list group of actors...? NYU really must be powerful!

Fallen Mermaid

Remember that Little Mermaid actor, Adrian Bailey, who fell from the hanging ship in the flies (see above) before the show and broke his "wrists"?

Turns out a 20 foot plunge tends takes a little bit more of a toll than that.

The original press statement said that Bailey had broken both his wrists during the fall; the New York Times indicates that Bailey's injuries were more severe. At Bellevue Hospital Center Bailey, age 51, was treated for "fractured wrists, a broken back, a shattered pelvis, a fractured sternum, several fractured ribs and a fractured foot." The singing actor has already undergone four surgeries, according to the court petition.
And, yes, he's suing.

That's right, age 51!

Wish him well. Like the show or not, we can all agree the victims of The Little Mermaid should be limited to those foolhardy enough to buy a ticket.

Oh, and by the way, insert disaster-show metaphor here.

Cubby Bernstein

Of course, Tuesday's Tony nom's launched the official "campaign" season for the allegedly meaningful trophies.

Well forget the campaigns and bring on the meta-campaigns!

Douglas Carter Beane--who just happens to be the book-writer for Xanadu...--has created a little web-series featuring the new Harvey Weinstein of Broadway: a pint-sized, lollipop chomping 10 year old.


More dirt on Cubby here.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

NY Drama Critics Circle

As always, the real story about the Drama Critics Circle awards is not about the winners (in this case, unsurprisingly, Passing Strange and August), but the not-so-secret ballots that determine them.

Always fun to see the crits' more idiosyncratic choices by the time of the 3rd ballot, when they're voting with their hearts. Like God's Ear for Best Play. Or even more wacky pipedreams like The Slug Bearers of Kayrol Island, Blackwatch or Little Mermaid.

Today's Theatre Collective

Interesting piece in the current Stage Directions by Bret Love on "New Visions in Artistic Direction."


[M]any theatrical companies have found that the singular vision A.D. model doesn’t work for them, instead turning to more democratic systems that share the balance of power among several artistic directors, or in some cases, a whole ensemble.
The two chief examples cited are the Neo-Futurists and Atlanta's Out of Hand Theatre.

Maria Knispel, from the latter, offers an important caveat:
“Don’t do it because you’re trying to be democratic,” Knispel warns. “Do it only if it is the best artistic choice for your company. Be very careful. The key to successful artistic ‘power sharing’— which is a dangerous way to think of it — is knowing that you have the same artistic goals. You must love and respect those with whom you share something this personal and precious.”
In other it rarely, right?

Just kidding.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Livent Trial update

Not that it's so important a story. But I'm following it in expectation of many hilarious glimpses into modern day Broadway producing.

Such as...

Livent officials ordered Kofman and another associate to charge what has been claimed as up to $1.7 million on their personal credit cards to purchase tickets for the Los Angeles run of "Ragtime."

This was done, the Crown Attorney [the Canadian prosecutors] claimed, not only to paint an exaggerated portrait of the show's success, but also to increase the amount of fixed assets on the Livent balance sheet.

Kofman said he was assured he would get the money back and receive legitimate invoices to back it up, but he eventually found himself involved in "a fight of unbelievable proportions" to try to reclaim the money.

Maybe that explains the Little Mermaid sales...

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Tony Nom's 2008

They're out.

Here's a lede you won't see in any newspaper coverage tomorrow:

Grease, the universally panned production that bore the infamous distinction of being the first Broadway show cast by popular vote on "Reality TV," managed to still nab a nomination for the coveted Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical, alongside the much favored South Pacific and Gypsy and the much respected Sunday in the Park with George. Helping its chances was the fact that there are four slots for nominees, and that no other musicals were revived on Broadway other than three aforementioned.

(Am I wrong on that? I can't think of any others.)

Of course it won't win. But you know what this does mean: another chance for those two perpetual thespian innocents Max and Laura to strut their stuff on national TV. I'm sure CBS is delighted Grease is nominated.

By the way, when I say "universally panned," I mean the reviews were so bad, remember, that the producers resorted to filling out a whole page ad plastered with just the words "You're The One That I Want" attributed to various critics, who no doubt used the words at some point in their notices, in quite another context.

The nom's were broadcast on NY1 this morning, in a way that reminded everyone of why the Tonys are not the Oscars. David Hyde Pierce and Sara Ramirez (also of Spamalot--remember? probably not) read off the nominations in apparently computer-sorted random order. I think Best Play and Musical were about a third the way through, sandwiched between Lighting and Orchestration.

NY1's Roma Torre did pull off a touch of Hollywood glitz, though, by nabbing an on-air "phoner" with first-time nominee Patrick Stewart! But since it was only 8:30am and not 5:30 as the Oscar rollout is, not quite as impressive. Still, Stewart reportedly wants this trophy bad--so the campaign has begun!

Other sure-to-be headlines:

-As widely predicted, both Young Frankenstein (sorry, "The New Mel Brooks Musical Young Frankenstein," as Pierce and Ramirez had to embarrassingly repeat) and Little Mermaid were shut out of Best Musical and most of the other major categories. So, in a year where two indie upstarts (Passing Strange and In the Heights) are going to duke it out, the perceived message this time might well be that the major players are dissed and dismissed.

-If you consider that good news, then the bad news might be that the much coveted Best Musical slot #4 (after audience favorite Xanadu took #3) went to Cry-Baby! Slim pickings, I guess. Catered Affair had the classiness, but no one seems to actually like it.

-Little noted this morning was that among the dissed were David Mamet. And not only was November left out of Best Play, but neither was Nathan Lane nominated. Who have these guys pissed off at Sardis lately?

-I guess Nathan can take solace in how competitive a year it was. Especially with so many Brits! Rufus Sewell (Stoppard's Rock & Roll), Ben Daniels (Liaisons Dangereuse), Mark Rylance (Boeing, Boeing) and Captain Picard? Good luck. The one American representative had to be Laurence Fishburne for his 90 minute self-showcase.

-About Best Play, I wonder how Mr. Mamet feels about being passed over for a burlesque of an old Hitchcock film. (39 Steps) Otherwise, there's no story here, since it's the year of Osage County, even against the Anglo-Irish forces of Stoppard and McPherson.

Speaking of August, Chicago will be a big presence in general at the Tonys, what with three Steppenwolf actors nominated, along with their resident playwright and director. And the regional Tony is going to Chicago Shakespeare Theatre--whose work I've never seen but anyone that can make a serious classical rep run in the middle of an amusement park (Navy Pier) sure gets a tip of the hat from me.

That's pretty much it. Mark your calendars now for June 15th. And of course another Playgoer live Tony blogcast!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Regional Theatre dispatch

More testimony from the front lines, in Nicholas Martin's exit interview from Boston's Huntington:

Until now, the production budgets have never been cut in any way. On the other hand, a lot of staff has necessarily been cut, which makes existing staff work very, very hard. . . . I don't mean we're hurting badly, either, but the single ticket has become the event. [The purchase of a] subscription by and large is over.... If Nathan Lane [who starred in "Butley" in 2003] is going to appear in something here, we're going to sell out in a second. It's a fact, there's nothing wrong with it, you know. What's wrong is when people expect him to be singing songs from "The Lion King" instead of acting a really serious part.

Yet more evidence that as subscription renewals go down (and the subscriber-class passes on) the pressure for each show in a company's season to be a bona fide hit increases.

Mike Daisey makes much the same point in his must-see How Theatre Failed America. (Which you now can see in an extended run at the Barrow Street, starting this Friday.) There he tells how a lit mgr previously encouraging of him now lets him down easy by saying something like, "Sorry, but this season we need every show to be a 'home run.'

More on the Daisey show anon...

Podcast Radio Plays

The Coyote Company is experimenting with reviving the Radio Play, via Podcasts. Jeremy Dobrish has written one for them--more of a mini-series, actually: Deception.

May be worth a listen, just to see (or hear) the possibilities of the form.

Have any playwrights out there considered using the Podcast form to showcase their work? Works for bands on MySpace, right? Why not get some good actors together for a reading, record it, and post it on your site!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

MTC Audience: Top Girls Hard!

The story out of Manhattan Theatre Club the last couple of weeks has been all about the walkouts during their previews of Caryl Churchill's Top Girls. This production (directed by the masterful young Brit James Macdonald and starring the stunning American actress Elizabeth Marvel) is actually the Broadway premiere of the play--playing MTC's Biltmore venue. So it's a different audience from the play's original home at London's Royal Court or the Public, where it had its NYC preem 26 years ago.

So NY decided to throw together a little "interactive feature":

The pre-opening buzz about the Broadway production of "Top Girls," Caryl Churchill's 1982 play about a the lives of women over the course of several centuries, was mixed. Some people said they couldn't wait to leave at intermission; others thought the play was a masterful exploration of third-wave feminism.

In his review for The Times, Ben Brantley calls it a "well-acted" revival that is "directed with intelligence and sensitivity." To find out what audience members thought, we asked several people at the final preview to share their thoughts. Following are excerpts from selected conversations.
So take a listen. I'm glad they made the effort to get "both" sides, at least. But does the "angry subscriber" get privileged here?

Notice the title of the feature is "untangling Top Girls." As if it's this inscrutable sphinx in demand of untangling. Little do they know, I guess, it's probably the most "accessible" thing the woman ever wrote!

Among the highlights said by the haters: one says the overlapping in the first scene (scripted by Churchill) must be to lessen the running time, another feels misled that the play isn't "modern" enough (she must have left after the first scene), and another only came because Marisa Tomei was in it (she was disappointed).

Needless to say that amazing, legendary opening scene (so beloved by all who really study the play) loses a huge patch of the audience from the outset and if they don't walk out immediately they spend the next hour or two still expecting the rest of the play to "explain" that beginning. Or at least follow the same pattern.

I mean--is it even that hard to understand??? Call it a dream sequence if you have to (though I'm sure Churchill would consider that too limiting) but clearly that first scene gets you inside Marlene's head as she prepares to take a new corporate job, one that marks her ascendancy (she thinks) to becoming a powerful woman. That she fantasizes surrounding herself with the company of true feminist icons who--when you think about it--put this mere businesswoman to shame, you realize it is an ironic celebration. This all gets fulfilled in the last scene's family argument over whether Margaret Thatcher's rise really represents a victory for women (as Marlene, of course, insists, seeing herself in Maggie) or just a furtherance of policies that will continue to oppress women under the guise of one of their own.

I myself haven't seen this production. I've heard mixed things even from people who love the play. But these violently confused responses seem to me inevitable when you plop a piece of deliberately difficult, serious theatre in the middle of the Great White Way. Let's just face it Broadway is just rigged against this kind of endeavor. I guess we should applaud MTC for trying. But what has been accomplished?

Friday, May 09, 2008

Insult to Injury?

"The new musical Glory Days, which opened and closed on Broadway on the same night, will not be eligible for nomination in any category."

One of the last-minute decisions handed down from the Oracle of Tony.

Also--there was apparently no "Special Theatrical Event" on Broadway between May 2007 and May 2008. So don't even think of nominating one!

Nominations announced Tuesday morning. So set your alarms. On "snooze" of course...

Amazon disses Seattle theatres

The alt-weekly Seattle Stranger is getting pissed at hometown company for not giving it up for the arts scene, as is the local custom.

Most Seattle companies contribute a lot of money—a lot of money—to the Seattle arts scene. It's considered being a good neighbor. It's not mandatory, but it is, at the very least, polite, and it's a necessary kindness, because taxpayer funds to the arts are slim and most arts organizations wouldn't be able to operate without these giant windfalls from corporate philanthropy.

Attend virtually any play and before the curtain rises, you'll hear a long list of major contributors that include companies like Microsoft, which has given to the Seattle arts scene for decades now. Boeing, though its corporate headquarters have moved to Chicago, is still one of the biggest contributors to Seattle arts events, and it also has an employee matching donation program, much of which goes to the arts.

Starbucks doesn't do quite as much as Boeing or Microsoft, but the corporation still contributes thousands on thousands of dollars to Seattle Theatre Group and Seattle Parks and Recreation and other nonprofits. The Starbucks Foundation, too, has contributed $22 million in grants to promote literacy and small entrepreneurs worldwide. Alaska Airlines contributes thousands of dollars to organizations in Seattle and Alaska.

Amazon, which posted a $476 million profit last year, has refused to return repeated e-mails and calls from The Stranger about the company's seemingly nonexistent contributions to the Seattle arts scene. Internet searches for any sign of philanthropy on behalf of the company prove fruitless. Lists of donors for organizations like the Paramount Theatre, the Seattle Art Museum, the Pacific Northwest Ballet, and the Experience Music Project read like a who's who of local corporations: Every major bank is represented and even national chains with a significant local presence like Macy's are major contributors. isn't on any of these lists.

Well, if they just don't do any philanthropy, then I can't get so worked up about dissing the fine Seattle theatre scene. What I actually take away from this article is how much so many of the other corporations there do support it!

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Ish Sets OOB back 30 Years

Ok, since no other bloggers (or none that I've noticed) have taken notice this week of Charles Isherwood's latest love letter to downtown theatre, I guess I'll have to.

By love letter, of course, I mean it in the sense of the immortal Frank Booth: "You know what a love letter is? It's a bullet from a fucking gun, fucker!" (See here.)

In an otherwise informative piece on some of the collaboration going on between Off and Off-Off Broadway (or, as I prefer to say, smallish theatres and even smaller ones). Co-productions, transfers, that stuff. Interesting topic. But Ish has to ruin it with this opening:

Casual theatergoers may have little or no idea of the difference between Off Broadway and Off Off Broadway. So here’s a quick primer.

If you are paying $65 or $75 for a full-price ticket, you are seeing an Off Broadway show. If you are fanning yourself with your program and wondering about fire-code violations, it’s definitely a double-Off experience.

Actor you recognize from television: Off. Actor you recognize because he’s your son’s second-grade teacher and he invited you (well, actually implored you) to see the show: Off Off.

Engulfed by the sound of uncrinkling candy wrappers: Off. Surrounded by tattoos and Obama buttons: Off Off.

Thanks for setting this huge swath of NY theatre back thirty years, Charles.

I know, can't I take a joke? Yes, when you write a New York Times Sunday Arts & Leisure piece I guess it can't be all "spinach" and your job is to entertain your affluent readers as they read you over their Zabar's-catered brunch.

But these opening lines just give so much away at the biases still at work at the arts paper of record, and explain why...well, why they still just don't get it.

The beginning premise is exactly what pains me about this schtick. NY Times reader really do need a primer. An intelligent one. Not one relying on obsolete cliches.

For instance: If there is a "2nd grade teacher" starring in it, it's an Actors Equity member with a dayjob--and willing to work for free when he can't get hired for any of the 2-character star-fucking plays Off-B'way is doing. True, some of what you'll find in the OOB listings on a given week are essentially vanity projects with press agents. And, yes, it can be hard for the uninitiated to separate one from the other. But experienced playgoers (and critics!) should be able to tell.

Once and for all...say it with me....Off Off Broadway is not community theatre. In this city, it's where a lot of really good, professional artists do the shows no one will pay them to do.

Likewise Off Off is not (or no longer) defined by the rattiness of the venue. Or even really the number of seats. It's the contract, stupid.

And hence what's missing from Isherwood's entire piece--the economics. Nowhere, for instance, are the words "showcase code" mentioned (indeed never in the Times at all, as far as I know). But that, if anything, comes closest to defining, in objective terms, the difference between a show you see at, say, Playwrights Horizons and one you see at PS122.

Again, it need not have anything to do with the talent, training, or pedigree of the artists. Instead it's mostly about who's paying for the space, how big is the budget, and how much are the actors getting paid.

I guess if the actors aren't getting paid, many just assume they're not "professional." What they don't realize is that most (as in, the norm) AEA actors have day-jobs, since you probably only act for a salary, at best, twenty weeks a year, and at a couple of hundred a week at that.

Ah, but if you knew about the Showcase Code, you would understand that, wouldn't you. Or if you just bothered to find out. This is why I did aim to find out last summer and learn whatever I could. (Resulting in this article.)

Anyway, I know I'm taking this way more seriously than Isherwood intended. Clearly he'd rather indulge the old cultural stereotypes that Off-Off is just an environment too filthy, too idealistic, and--yes--too liberal (the Obama buttons) for well-heeled "culture lovers" to be caught dead in.

Notice, by the way, however tongue in cheek this may be, he is not just setting up these stereotypes to debunk them in the rest of the article. If anything, the trajectory of his story implies these plays are improving by upgrading one "Off" level.

This all reminds me, by the way, of something I heard a downtown producer once say--that the whole "Off/Off-Off" nomenclature has to go, since too many people think of "off" as in bad milk.

What's so unfortunate about this is that Isherwood blows a valuable opportunity to educate the NYT readership on what really is the difference between Broadway/ Off/ and Off-Off.

In other words, the story that needs to be written is: You may think Off-Off B'way means smelly spaces and amateur acting. But this ain't your father's Off-Off anymore. In fact, most of the best and exciting theatre going on in town is happening technically "Off-Off." That's because that's where artists go when they want to make theatre that isn't necessarily commercial and star-driven and doesn't require a huge overhead.

Or something like that.

Call it cheerleading, but at least it's more accurate than what Isherwood wrote.

Again the full article itself is worth reading, and contains some interesting info on God's Ear, Sound and the Fury and other shows making "the move."

But for all the good will Isherwood intends, after that intro how can I take him seriously when he pleads: "in general the wilderness of unruly and unknown troupes is a place where many regular theatergoers fear to tread, out of sheer bewilderment." Gee, Charles, why do you think that is? Maybe because the Times keeps telling them such theatres are filthy amateur-hour firetraps?

Finally--if I may put on my own "Obama pin" for a sec--we can all laugh about bad Off-Off experiences, and there are many of them. But right now is not the time. The stakes for non-commercial, "poor theatre" (poor materially, not artistically) are too high, the future of the artform too important, to encourage this kind of unenlightened misinformation at this moment.

In short, let's be part of the solution, not the problem.


Just in time to save the Tonys, Whoopi Goldberg will host.

Personally, I liked last year's choice of no host.


REVIEWS: Yellow Moon/ Eccentricities of a Nightingale

A double-whammy of print reviews for me this week.

In the Voice, David Greig's Yellow Moon, courtesy of Brits Off Broadway. It's a Scottish play with its own special "curse"--Story-Theatre. I realize I've ridiculed plays before for bearing too much of the story-theater touch. But honestly, I'm not completely biased against it. Just to my mind, when you've seen such masters as Peter Brook, Simon McBurney, and Mary Zimmerman master it and elevate it beyond the "Up with People" model, I find myself less easily impressed at basic ensemble work I kind of take for granted...Which is basically how I felt about Yellow Moon--thoroughly competent in execution, potentially interesting story in the script, but all together it seemed like some mildly diverting Fringe Festival entr'acte (such as at Edinburgh, where it of course played.) Thus to me not worth a full evening out at theatre in this busy town.

But hey, don't listen to me. Ish and Helen quite liked it. I actually started doubting myself until I found a kindred spirit in the Sun's Laura Collins-Hughes.

Something new, something old. Or rather, something both old and new: Eccentricities of a Nightingale (in Time Out), Tennesee Williams' seldom performed rewrite of Summer and Smoke. Certainly a must for Tennessee completists. But I just wish it were a more alive production. Perhaps too much attention to the niceties and formalities of period at the expense of passion and poetry. A perfectly inoffensive production that I guess serves its purpose--if that is simply to air the play. But you'll have to decide for yourself whether the play itself even is an improvement upon the original. (Mark Blankenship thinks it is and that the production is just fine.)

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Glory Days it ain't

It’s been a season of thinking small for the Broadway musical. Two front-runners for the Tony, “In the Heights” and “Passing Strange,” are also intimate, personal shows imported from non-Broadway houses. I can see why the producers of “Glory Days” might have thought this was an auspicious moment for a big-time New York transfer.

Ultimately, though, they have done this little, hopeful show no favors by dragging it into a spotlight that invites close and unforgiving inspection.
-Ben Brantley, trying to be charitable in an otherwise blunt dismissal of "Glory Days," a tiny new musical, transfered from a prominent regional non-profit (who probably only put it on in hopes of its commercial prospects) amidst last-minute Tony hopes.

A lesson for all concerned, I hope.

UPDATE: Uh, it just closed.

No Sex, Please, We're the Tonys

A number from Passing Strange just got axed from the Tony broadcast.

Ok, not the awards show itself (airing June 15) but a sneak-peak "Special" scheduled for the week before to drum up for the wider television audience interest in (i.e. any knowledge at all of) the nominated shows.

The details, in Variety-speak, are as follows:

CBS' flagship O&O in Gotham has nixed a musical number from Broadway tuner "Passing Strange" from its pre-Tony special after the net's standards and practices department declared the song "We Just Had Sex" inappropriate for broadcast.

Producers of "Passing Strange" feel they cannot prepare a new number in time for a taping skedded for Friday.


Post-coital subject matter of "Sex" seems to have raised eyebrows at WCBS, although the actual content of the tune would likely strike many auds as relatively tame.

In a statement, a WCBS spokesman said station execs felt "the lyrics in the song offered by the musical's producers are inappropriate for broadcast television, especially for a 7 p.m. audience, when children are watching."

A spotlight on the tube could prove valuable to "Passing Strange," which earned critical praise from its February opening but has since struggled at the box office. Weekly sales receipts rarely hit $300,000 and sometimes sink below $200,000.

So, yes, they may not get on the show at all, now.

This pisses off not only the Passing Strange peeps, but also Oskar Eustis and the Public, which is a shareholding producer in the B'way run.

Eustis said the "Passing Strange" production team has been told there is no recourse to the WCBS decision. Currently, the show will not be featured in the special.

"We're kind of hosed," Eustis said.

Careful, Oskar. Better not say "hosed" on CBS either.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Broadway: The Bad Stats

While the Broadway League (of Broadway producers) touts their latest survey of ever-growing business, Crain's NY Business shows the underside:

For the last few years Broadway has been breaking records and churning out a never-ending string of hits. Now, 18 of the 37 shows currently on the Great White Way are less than 70% full. Some, such as the musical Passing Strange, and the Nathan Lane starring play, November, are playing to 44% and 49% capacity respectively.


Theater executives say there are too many productions to go around, especially during a recession. Twenty-one new shows opened this spring, compared to 17 a year ago.
That's right. Too many shows. That's the problem with Broadway apparently.

By the way, number of openings in the 1954-1955 season: 65. 1929-1930: 287!

Awards Season Bulletin

The Lortels--you could say, the upscale OBIES--were announced last night. They cover all "legit" Off Broadway.

And they are...

Outstanding Play: Betrayed by George Packer
Nominated: Blackbird; The Brothers Size;New Jerusalem: The Interrogation of Baruch de Spinoza at Talmud Torah Congregation: Amsterdam, July 27, 1656; Opus

Outstanding Musical: Adding Machine Original Music by Joshua Schmidt, Libretto by Jason Loewith and Joshua Schmidt
Nominated:Next to Normal; Passing Strange; The Slug Bearers of Kayrol Island (or the Friends of Dr. Rushower); Wanda's World

Outstanding Solo Show: Dai (enough) Written and Performed by Iris Bahr
Nominated: Beyond Glory; Liberty City; Tings Dey Happen

Outstanding Revival: Ohio State Murders Written by Adrienne Kennedy
Produced by Theatre for a New Audience
Nominated: Beckett Shorts; Dividing the Estate; The Misanthrope (NYTW); Seussical (Theatreworks USA)

Outstanding Director: David Cromer, Adding Machine
Nominated: Annie Dorsen, Passing Strange; Elizabeth LeCompte, The Wooster Group's HAMLET; Bob McGrath, The Slug Bearers of Kayrol Island (or the Friends of Dr. Rushower); Terrence J. Nolen, Opus

Outstanding Choreographer: Peter Pucci, Queens Boulevard (the musical)

Nominated: Marcia Milgrom Dodge, Seussical; Lynne Taylor-Corbett, Wanda's World

Outstanding Lead Actor: Joel Hatch, Adding Machine

Nominated: Jeff Daniels, Blackbird; André De Shields, Black Nativity; Morlan Higgins, Exits and Entrances; Jeremy Strong, New Jerusalem: The Interrogation of Baruch de Spinoza at Talmud Torah Congregation: Amsterdam, July 27, 1656

Outstanding Lead Actress: Elizabeth Franz, The Piano Teacher
Nominated: Lisa Gay Hamilton, Ohio State Murders; Jayne Houdyshell, The Receptionist;
Alison Pill, Blackbird; Lynn Redgrave, Grace

Outstanding Featured Actor: Francis Jue, Yellow Face
Nominated: David Margulies, The Accomplices; Brian Murray, Gaslight; Lorenzo Pisoni, Election Day; Aaron Tveit, Next to Normal

Outstanding Featured Actress: Mare Winningham, 10 Million Miles

Nominated: Veanne Cox, Paradise Park;Veanne Cox, Spain;Zoe Kazan, 100 Saints You Should Know; Amy Warren, Adding Machine

Outstanding Scenic Design: Jim Findlay and Jeff Sugg, The Slug Bearers of Kayrol Island (or the Friends of Dr. Rushower)

Nominated: Scott Bradley, Eurydice; Derek McLane, 10 Million Miles;Scott Pask, Blackbird;
David Zinn, The Four of Us

Outstanding Costume Design: Michael Bottari & Ronald Case, and Jessica Jahn, Die Mommie Die!

Nominated:Mara Blumenfeld, The Glorious Ones; Tracy Christensen, Seussical; Kristine Knanishu, Adding Machine; Jenny Mannis, The Drunken City

Outstanding Lighting Design: Keith Parham, Adding Machine

Nominated: Kevin Adams, Passing Strange;Kevin Adams, Next to Normal; Russell H. Champa, Eurydice; Peter Mumford, Drunk Enough to Say I Love You?

Outstanding Sound Design: Jorge Cousineau, Opus

Nominated: Geoff Abbas, Joby Emmons, and Matt Schloss, The Wooster Group's HAMLET; Daniel Baker, The Four of Us; Frank Gaeta, Dai (enough);Darron L. West, Dead Man's Cell Phone

Adding Machine, I concur, is extraordinary. If only I had time to write about it. (And I hope I soon will.)

On the other hand, Betrayed I've seen, and it is simply not a very good play. Important story? Absolutely. But...really???

The Livent Trial

Does anyone remember Livent? Or Garth Drabinsky, the fugitive real-life Max Bialystok (allegedly) who, built that monstrosity of a Broadway theatre (now called the Hilton), produced a handful of behemoth musicals (some praised, like Ragtime), then skipped town and the country once charges surfaced of defrauding his investors.

Well, nine years later, justice finally catches up with Livent in a Toronto courtroom:

Former Livent honcho and Tony-winner Garth Drabinsky and long-time associate Myron Gottlieb pleaded not guilty to falsifying financial statements and bilking investors out of C$500 million ($493.6 million), as the curtain rose on their long-awaited criminal fraud trial before an Ontario Supreme Court Justice on Monday.

Arrested in 2002 after a four-year probe by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the pair -- who founded the now-defunct Livent, once North America's largest producer of live theater -- face two charges of fraud and one of forgery, reduced from an initial 19 charges. The charges, which span December 1989 to August 1998, carry a maximum penalty of 14 years.

Drabinsky, 58, and Gottlieb, 64, were also indicted in 1999 by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York on 16 charges of conspiracy and fraud, but U.S. proceedings are deferred until the completion of the trial now under way in Toronto.

Ok, I admit pausing over this at the image of the "Royal Canadian Mounted Police" literally trailing Drabinsky & co. on horseback as they attempt escape with their sacks full of pilfered investor dollars. Or maybe that was just some bad Livent musical.

Anyway, stay tuned for the trial, which is sure to be a fitting metaphor for the legacy of "the megamusical."

Monday, May 05, 2008

Legally Blonde Reality Show: It's On!

Expect to hear a lot about this this summer:

Rialto reality show "'Legally Blonde The Musical': The Search for Elle Woods" has set its preem date, bowing June 2 on MTV.

Eight-episode, pre-taped series will follow 10 actresses vying to replace Laura Bell Bundy as the star of "Legally Blonde," the 2007 tuner based on the 2001 MGM pic. Haylie Duff ("Hairspray") hosts.

Aiming to position itself more as a "Project Runway" than an "American Idol," the show will be presided over by a team of judges -- including helmer Jerry Mitchell and casting agent Bernard Telsey -- whose decisions will not be based on viewer votes. Legit vocal coach Seth Rudetsky and the show's cast members also will be on hand during the proceedings.

Well at least they've professionalized the judging a bit more. Clearly the creative team did not want to let go of quality control.

Can we assume then that the top contenders who emerge will basically be experienced Equity actresses?

And, damnit, wouldn't that be a good thing? During the "Grease/You're the One that I Want" debacle, I kept wondering: Gee, wouldn't a great idea for a "reality" show be to shadow a handful of "real" theatre actors through a real audition process? (Instead of whatever that was.) Indeed, the "Project Runway" model may be more watchable. If still, totally whoring the industry.

Mamet miscellanea

"In press notes so long, detailed, and repetitive they could only have been supervised by Mamet himself, the filmmaker is identified as a longtime student of, and purple belt in, jujitsu."

-from J. Hoberman's review of David Mamet's film, Redbelt. A martial arts film.

Anyone seen it?

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Stat of the Day

In addition to boasting that Broadway contributed over $5 billion to the New York City economy last year, the recent survey by the Broadway League (formerly the League of American Theaters & Producers) also confirmed the increasing proportion tourists and suburbanites make up of the average audience for Broadway fare:

According to the report, out-of-town audiences represent the backbone of Broadway’s economic impact. Approximately 84% of all tickets sold during the 2006-07 season were purchased by non-city residents, and 65% were bought by tourists, the largest percentage in the past two decades. Around 18% were purchased by New York suburbanites. Foreign visitors accounted for a record 15.5% of all tickets. Of the 10.3 million Broadway tickets sold to non-city residents, nearly half were sold to people who made their trip to New York specifically to see a Broadway show.

Great news for the city. And glad to know theatre still has some lure for Americans.

But when it becomes primarily a "tourist attraction" (right now the lion's share of its income) that cannot not affect the quality of this small--but most prominent--sliver of our artform.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Headline of the Day

From that king of headlines, the NY Post:


Leave it to them.

Actually, from what I hear, while not great, the show might be pretty good after all? At least Laurence Fishburne is usually worth seeing.

Today's Onion

Dying Newspaper Trend Buys Nation's Newspapers Three More Weeks

WASHINGTON—A recent glut of feature stories on the death of the American newspaper has temporarily made the outmoded form of media appealing enough to stave off its inevitable demise for an additional 21 days, sources reported Monday. "People really seem to identify with these moving, 'end-of-an-era'-type pieces," Washington Post editor-in-chief Leonard Downie, Jr. said. "It's nice to see that the printed word is still, at least for now, the most powerful medium for reporting on the death of the printed word." Downie added that the poignant farewell Op-Ed he recently penned was so well received that he will be able to hold onto his job for up to six more days

The New Spring Awakening Ads

As the musical Spring Awakening gradually morphs from edgy downtown show made good to bona fide Broadway "long run" industry, note the shifting marketing strategies to start reaching audiences of more conventional tastes:

For every generation there is a story of young love against all odds, a story of longing and wanting that haunts us forever. For this generation it's SPRING AWAKENING, the ground-breaking, heart-breaking musical that has rocked the theatre world to its core. And now this timeless love story, told by a soulful and exuberant cast has Broadway falling in love again.
What, not "confused deadly young lust against all odds"? That didn't test well?

Wait, then there's this copy that ran in the print edition of last Sunday's Times Arts & Leisure with a photo of a dreamy Wendla leaning on Melchior's shoulder:
There's a reason you never forget your first love.
Didn't wanna go with "never forget your first rape," eh?

Oh sorry, I forgot. There is no rape in the musical. Never mind.

Photo above is typical of the new ads. Note it's her hand moving on him, it's she seemingly initiating the kiss. He's passive.

Check the end of Wedekind's Act II, scene iv and you'll find something quite different:

Wendla - - Nicht küssen, Melchior! - Nicht küssen!

Melchior - Dein Herz - hör' ich schlagen -

Wendla - Man liebt sich - wenn man küßt - - - - - - - Nicht, nicht! - - -

Melchior O glaub mir, es gibt keine Liebe! Alles Eigennutz, alles Egoismus!* - Ich liebe dich so wenig, wie du mich liebst.

Wendla - Nicht! - - - Nicht, Melchior! - -

Melchior - - - Wendla!

Wendla O Melchior! - - - - - - - - - nicht - - nicht - -
Even if you don't know German, you get the idea.

(Sorry, it's the only full text I could find online.)

*For the record, this sentence translates as: "O believe me, there is no love. All selfishness, all egoism!" Too Nietzschean for a Duncan Sheik song?

I know we've debated here before the right of the musicals' creators to make their own art of this. I get that. And fair to say this further "mainstreaming" of the story is the handiwork of the advertisers.

Still, just sayin'...

Thursday, May 01, 2008

NYU compromise on Provincetown?

Curbed continues to be the most authoritative source on the NYU/Provincetown Playhouse story. Yesterday they shed a lot of light on this by publishing and linking to the actual NYU proposed models for the site (see above).

So I must far this doesn't look too bad. If indeed they are preserving the facade and at least some aspects of the interior. (I have no idea if any of that is true, of course.)

But if so, then apparently it is the result of much pushback, and so the protests may be paying off.

In fact, Adjmi's [the architect] proposed design is actually NYU's third go-round at figuring out what to do with the Provincetown site. According to the PDF, the first idea brought about by the law school was a new 8-10 story building that would have maximized the buildable space allowed under the zoning. The current building would have been demolished. NYU says it was actually the agreement struck with the community that caused them to send the law school back to the drawing board.

The second proposal would have kept the original façade, but would have included a rear addition and three new stories plopped on top. A structural engineering report deemed that design impossible. Which brings us to the third, and current, design. The Times reported that the new building would only be three feet taller with one additional floor than the current building, but that's not quite true. It's three feet taller as seen from the street, but 13 feet taller in total, and it will be seven stories compared to the current building's five. The "low-scale, contextual, brick building" will contain a new theater with the same seating capacity, and the original pre-1940s-renovation façade will be protected during construction, then restored.

The PDF referred to of the complete NYU proposal is here.

Hey, I'm all for being reasonable...

National New Play Network

I didn't know about this program before:

The National New Play Network is a means to facilitate communication between theatres that are the “new play hubs” in their region, spread across America. These are generally larger theatres, with budgets between $500,000–$4 million a year, according to General Manager David Golston’s estimates.

It works like this: The literary departments of the member theatres read scripts that are submitted to them. If they like a script, they “pitch” it at one of the monthly online meetings, or at the face-to-face meetings that happen twice a year. If other theatres are interested in the play, they pass the script between them and start a conversation between themselves as to whether or not they’d like to produce the script. If three or more artistic directors find a play worthy to produce, NNPN invests in that particular play. This investment comes in the form of a $5,000 donation to each of the theatres producing the play.

“That money can go to pretty much anything the theatre needs it to,” says Golston. “Although we do put an emphasis on the collaboration aspect of the development of the play.”
Does anyone out there know if this has been a real help?

The above, by the way, is from a recent Stage Directions article surveying various creative solutions to fostering new plays.