The Playgoer: April 2010

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Friday, April 30, 2010

"Brighton Beach": Tony INeligible?

Did I just read on Time Out's blog that one of the finest Broadway productions of the past season, David Cromer's revival of Brighton Beach Memoirs--has been deemed by the Tony nominating committee as "ineligible" for consideration?

As if the Tonys didn't already exclude most of the best of New York theatre by excluding anything not on Broadway--now they're even ruling out the best on Broadway?

Just when you thought, after the dropping of critics from the voter rolls, that the institution's legitimacy for measuring "excellence" could not get more compromised...

Thursday, April 29, 2010


-Wanted: AD for big regional theatre.  Irene Lewis is leaving Baltimore's Center Stage after 18 years at the helm.

-The O'Neill Center's new play development summer series is announced.

-Cliff notes for theatre geeks: Smith & Krauss launches a "Playwrights in an Hour" series. (Recommended for bullshitting directors, too.)

-Eek!  What to do when mice storm the stage? Tony Shalhoub shows how it's done.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Quote of the Day

“If it created jobs, you’d have 435 members of Congress saying, ‘Let’s put in more money to the N.E.A.’...The only shovel-ready aspect of it is that they need a shovel to clean up some of the bull they believe in over there.”

-Jack Kingston, Republican Congressman from Georgia and Tea Party-panderer.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

more Off Broadway 2010-2011

Two more Off Broadway new-play subscription theatres have announced their upcoming seasons, in this case two of the smaller ones.

(In the case of new plays, by the way, it can't be said enough that these--and those I posted earlier--are among the most prime gigs for an American playwright today.)

Primary Stages
July 27 - September 4, 2010
Secrets of the Trade
A New York premiere by Jonathan Tolins

September 21 - October 30, 2010
In Transit
A World Premiere musical by Kristen Anderson-Lopez,
James-Allen Ford, Russell M. Kaplan and Sara Wordsworth

January 25 - March 5, 2011
Black Tie
A World Premiere comedy by A.R. Gurney
October 28-December 12, 2010
The Break of Noon
by Neil LaBute

March 10-April 24, 2011
The Other Place
by Sharr White

May 12-June 26, 2011
Side Effects
by Michael Weller

Monday, April 26, 2010

Nominations & Awards Updates

For those keeping score, a few of the local NYC theatre awards have recently announced their nominations, and more are soon on the way.

So far there's:

Outer Critics Circle (on & off b'way)
Drama League (on & off b'way)
Lucille Lortel (off b'way)

New York Drama Critics Circle will announce its winners this Friday, April 30.

Drama Desk will announce nominees Monday, May 3.

Tonys will announce nominees Tuesday, May 4.  They've already announced winners of "special" Tonys. (Struck with a case of the Oscars, they now have "Lifetime," "Humanitarian," etc.)

If that's still not enough of a fix for you, you can subscribe to updates from Playbill's special Awards Roundup page.

Quote of the Day II

Why couldn't a request go out to the country's leading playwrights for original plays -- one act in length or in some cases even longer -- and have them debut on a regular schedule at the White House? The list could start from the ranks of Pulitzer Prize winners: Tony Kushner, Edward Albee, Suzan-Lori Parks, Lynn Nottage, Donald Margulies, Paula Vogel, Doug Wright, David Lindsay-Abaire, Nilo Cruz. They could be linked over time by themes, or dwell on any American topic that the writers felt compelled to address. (The office of Rocco Landesman, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts and himself an influential Broadway producer, would be a natural coordinator.)
-Peter Marks, Washington Post, proposing the old  "command performance" as a model for new play commissions. 

Hey, was good enough for Shakespeare and his "King's Men."

With funding drying up, some good old fashioned monarchical patronage may be the ticket!

Quote of the Day

[Q:] Does the play have a political message?
[A:] I hope not. My take on homosexual, heterosexual, transgender relationships, interracial relationships, it's all up to you and the person you love, and frankly I've never thought that politics and marriage mixed in any way. So I'm not a big proponent of big government being in charge of weddings. 
-Self-professed Republican and new RightNetwork spokesman Kelsey Grammer, on playing one half of a committed gay couple in the Jerry Herman-Harvey Fierstein musical La Cage Aux Folles on Broadway.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Pulitzers: "Normal" or Abnormal?

There may be no new news about the Next to Normal Pulitzer win, but there are still things to learn about it.

I still find the decision of the Pulitzer Board to overrule its own appointed expert jury's recommendations in favor of a show that only questionably even qualified...upsetting.  Sure, awards are silly to those who truly value art, as some have argued.  But to the rest of the world...they actually do still matter.

Especially, the Pulitzer Prize in drama matters.  Let's start with the $10,000 prize itself.  You don't get cash for a Tony.  And I see plenty of evidence that in the media coverage of theatre that the Pulitzer does indeed matter more than the Tony, making it the most prominent award a dramatist can win in this country.  Go ahead and google a playwright who has won both awards, like Mamet: note he is almost always identified as "Pulitzer Prize winning playwright", not "Tony Award winning playwright."  Same for Tony Kushner. In fact, I remember when ads started appearing for the HBO Angels in America, the tagline was: "based on the Pulitzer Prize winning play," even though it also won the Tony and nearly every other award imaginable. Maybe they thought "Tony-winning" would bring to mind flashy musicals?  That it would sound just

Probably because of the Pulitzers' other high-minded categories like literature, classical music, not to mention all those "civic" journalism citations that are its bread and butter...the Pulitzers denote a certain class that other prizes don't.  In the arts--short of a Kennedy Center lifetime achievement honor, maybe, or the MacArthur "genius" awards--they are our ultimate "legitimation."  Indeed, the halo of their "civic" obsession--typified the awards' own self-romanticized "fourth estate" heroism--washes off on the arts as well.  Thus the plays we associate most with the Pulitzer (from Death of a Salesman to Angels to the recent Doubt and last year's Ruined) tend to be "serious" plays of outward civic engagement.

So, long story short--one gets the sense with the Pulitzer art prizes, it's not about the art, really.  It's about bestowing a social honor on an artist that a big majority of the entire Pulitzer board of 17 newspaper execs, columnists, and non-arts professors can feel proud of.  While the board every year appoints an expert jury to adjudicate with their inside knowledge on what represents the best in their field, the jury's findings are treated merely as a "recommendation."  (Like some blue-ribbon policy panel in Washington.)  The ultimate award--especially in the case of drama--is not decided by experts in the field at all.  Again this year's board includes not only no theatre specialists, but no one evidently with any arts experience at all.  Of the total eighteen, eleven are basically executive editors and/or publishers of major news outlets. (Even the online DC gossip-rag Politico, for chrissakes) .  There are two professors, but one is from social sciences, the other from history. I'll grant that Columbia University President Lee Bolinger has a long history of arts patronage.  But that's the best I can do at finding arts expertise in that body.

No wonder, then, that, when it comes to theatre, such a body would be fatally biased toward only the most visible examples of the artform--those on display in New York City, especially on Broadway.  In other words, the (like much of the cultural cognoscenti of our land) our fatally stuck in 1955, when it comes to theatre.  (Just like art-lovers who still expect paintings to look like something from life, or music-lovers who wait for the tune.)

So the Pulitzer is a middlebrow award. What else is new.  The list of past winning plays certainly proves that's always been the case, even when the plays are good.

So why am I still upset?

First, there's the sheer arrogance of the Board, once again, brazenly overruling (i.e. ignoring) their own expert jury of respected critics and practitioners.  For the third time in recent years.  (Once to award Rabbit Hole, once to deny any award at all.)  Either the board believes it knows better about theatre.  OR--perhaps more unsettlingly--is determined to not let the experts go against what they feel is popular opinion.  Or, frankly, just their own personal tastes.

That this happened in the Next to Normal case is clear.  The jury recommended three plays: The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity by Kristoffer Diaz; Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo by Rajiv Joseph; In the Next Room or the vibrator play by Sarah Ruhl.  These are all works of a new generation of playwrights, who bend the old dramaturgy in different ways to allow for more free-association, magical realism, and linguistic unorthodoxy.  They also are more likely to breech the standards of "good taste" and decorum of earlier generations.  (I mean, can you imagine the vaulted Pulitzer going to a play with the word "vibrator" in the title?  My, what would the Board tell their grandchildren! or their newspaper subscribers...)

Of the three, In the Next Room should have had the best chance, by standard Pulitzer practice.  It was on Broadway, under the aegis of the prestigious Lincoln Center Theatre.  The playwright was one of the most lauded of her generation--including being one of those MacArthur "geniuses".  So what's not to like?

Well it didn't help that it had already closed.  And that it's Broadway run ended over the Christmas holidays when no one on the Board would have thought to see it--if the subject matter had not already turned them off.  The Board would have had the chance to read the play, but I wonder if on the page all the rampant orgasming

I haven't seen the other two finalists so can't discuss in detail what the Board might have found objectionable. (And I hope some of you can--please tell us!)  But some things I do notice about those plays by the way--their authors aren't MacArthur geniuses, their plays didn't run on Broadway, and their titles are just, you know, weird.

A majority vote of the entire Board is required to give any jury recommendation a seal of approval, and none of these three reportedly received those nine out of seventeen votes that would win it the prize.  (Again look at the board list and imagine any nine of them voting for any interesting new play that wasn't already a "hit.")
So what happens next?  The Board consulted the jury's complete list of apparently 70-odd first round finalists--basically all plays of note that opened in the 2009 calendar year.  One title stood out: Next to Normal.  Why?  Maybe some had already seen it (it had been playing on Broadway for almost a year).  Maybe some of the Board's DC contingent caught it at Arena Stage in the pre-Broadway (post off-Broadway) tryout of its revised edition.  Maybe some had heard about how much Bill and Hillary Clinton loved it after (coincidentally?) just seeing it on April 3, a week before the award. Or maybe some had just read this NY Times article on March 28 about a plucky little musical that could--because one thing these folks do is read newspapers, especially NYT.

I'm not implying anything nefarious here.  Probably just a really good marketing campaign by the Next to Normal pr team to lobby for that Pulitzer, once they realized they were in contention in what was basically an open field.

But should they have even been in contention?  Here's a question I haven't seen seriously addressed yet in the coverage of this.  Next to Normal first opened in New York--to little enthusiasm--at Second Stage theatre company in February 2008.  Yes, this was an Off Broadway run.  But Off Broadway has never been out of bounds for the Pulitzers before.  Last year's Ruined was only Off Broadway.  So was How I Learned to Drive, Wit, Dinner With Friends, Three Tall Women, Driving Miss Daisy, and even Buried Child when it won back in 1979.  No one was talking up Next to Normal as a Pulitzer finalist for 2008.

(At this point let's clarify that in 2007 the Pulitzers switched from considering a traditional Fall-Spring season to a calendar year.  So eligibility for this year's 2010 award meant opening between January and December 2009.  What the Pulitzer Board defines as "opening" and/or "premiere", though is a question I have not yet seen resolved in any reporting.  Anyone know?)

Now, as was their right to do, the Next to Normal creators decided to give the show another try, go back to the drawing board and revise the show with a future Broadway transfer in mind.  They unveiled the "new and improved" edition at Washington DC's Arena Stage later that year, opening there in November 2008, closing in January 2009.  Then, emboldened by the tryout, they open on Broadway on April 15, 2009.

Rightfully this put the show in Tony Award contention for the 2008-2009 season as a "new musical," since the Tonys only consider Broadway by charter.  But no one else in the theatre awards business considered this a brand new property in 2009.  I remember the Drama Desk, for instance, to which I belong, ruling it out for '08-'09 contention since it had already been considered the previous season.  (Drama Desk doesn't distinguish between Broadway and Off.) I don't care how much tinkering the creators did with the show--the Pulitzers basically gave them a very rare do-over opportunity.

I imagine many would kill to have such consideration.  And I imagine many of the truly 2009 contenders might feel a little cheated by that.  Especially for those not on Broadway and as far from it as LA and Chicago, as two of the jury finalists were.  I mean competition is tough enough with Broadway for recognition as it is.  But competing with last season's shows, too?

So to me this is something perhaps to be the most upset about--that Next to Normal would never have had a chance at the Pulitzer if it didn't re-open on Broadway.  Which sends totally the wrong message to the new dramatists of today.

Back to April 2010: So, with all this new publicity one year into its Broadway run, no wonder Next to Normal would have been one of the rare titles that rang a bell for this group out of a list of 100 current American plays that opened in 2009.  Whatever the reason, the Board mustered the three-quarters majority required to place another title in contention other than the jury recs.  In this case, that means at least 12 of the 17 Board members said to their own expert jury: thanks but no thanks, your expertise is irrelevant in this category, we'll take it from here.

Talk about "everyone's a critic"!

So what next?  A bunch of Board members hop in a cab and go see Next to Normal of course!  According to NYT's Patrick Healy:

on Thursday night [April 8], several members of the board – who were in New York for their final meetings – went to see “Next to Normal” on Broadway at the Booth Theater. Mr. Gissler declined to say how many of the 17 voting board members attended the show that night. A second person familiar with the board’s deliberations, but who spoke about internal board matters on condition of anonymity, said that “a lot of them” – referring to the board members – went to see “Next to Normal” that night.
One thing not mentioned here I'm curious about...did they pay for their own tickets?  If not, who did?

The next day, April 9, according to Healy, "the Pulitzer board took at least one vote on conferring the drama Pulitzer on 'Next to Normal,' and a majority voted in favor."  Again a majority here means at least nine of those seventeen Board members voted to overrule the jury with a play of which the jury chair himself says, "The musical's rock score may be generic and its understanding of mental illness simplistic."  Hardly a ringing endorsement.

Well at the very least this is a pretty fucked up and embarrassing situation for the nation's most prestigious arts awards to be in.  But then again, how fitting for a body that is literally stuck in about 1925.  I mean for starters--there is no Pulitzer film or screenplay award.  Why? Because when the awards were founded, the Board must have believed these "photoplays" were best used for peepshow nickelodeons. Many might argue today--in the age of Mad Men, Sopranos, and The Wire--that no body can pretend to celebrate what's best in American arts without recognizing fine television writing.  But don't expect the Pulitzers to catch on anytime soon.

Take music, too.  Since its inclusion in the awards in 1943, the Pulitzer music prize has been solely concerned with contemporary classical music.  The current citation reads simply "distinguished musical composition by an American that has had its first performance or recording in the United States during the year." But as recently as 1996 it stipulated:
For distinguished musical composition by an American in any of the larger forms including chamber, orchestral, choral, opera, song, dance, or other forms of musical theatre, etc...
Yes, Wynton Marsalis once won, in 1997, but that was for his symphonic composition, Blood on the Fields.

So even now that Bob Dylan's lyrics have for years been published and studied as poetry, that the Beatles and Rolling Stones can be knighted by HRH The Queen...the Pulitzers still cannot expand their definition of "music" beyond Juilliard circa 1965.

What hope then for "theatre"?

Maybe if theatre is to advance into the 21st century, we're better off without these old fogies.

Happy Birthday, Will

"Chicago is recognized as the home not only of 'Da Bulls and 'Da Bears but also 'Da Bard..."

-Mayor Richard M. Daley, officially Proclaiming today as "Talk Like Shakespeare Day" for all Chicagoans.

Anyone else out there got some wacky ways of celebrating April 23? 

I wonder if the Oxfordians hold a black mass.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Revival or Revisal

WSJ offers a helpful primer on the increasingly common practice--unique to musicals--of calling something a revival when in fact the script has been significant rewritten and even the score (or at songlist) may be altered.

I don't like to be too hardline a purist about these things.  And I don't want contemporary directors and producers to be completely straitjacketed about how they handle a classic text.  Still I find myself sympathetic too Miles Krueger's quoted indictment:

"Imagine 'Aida' with a few other Verdi favorites. Imagine 'Gone With the Wind' with scenes from a few other Clark Gable movies. New generations think they can bring an extra dimension or perspective perhaps overlooked by the creators. But the creators are the ones who did it, for God's sake. They did it. Adding songs is an admission that the original work isn't good enough to present as it was originally presented. It negates the whole point of the revival."
Seeing alternate versions is always nice.  And yes, the original "book" is often published.  But unfortunately the "revisal" may be the only version of certain musicals that we get to see fully realized on stage.

Monday, April 19, 2010


I'm facing a deadline Wednesday so I need to take a couple more blog-free days, but here's a good helping of links to keep you busy.  Tune in Thursday for some more thoughts on that Pulitzer Drama drama.

-Crain's tells us "Foundation Giving Plunged in 2009."  Surprise!  Theatermania's Solange de Santis explains what that means for theatre.

-The Ohio Theatre has had its share of real estate troubles, so what better place for a "community forum" on the issue: April 26th, 6:30, 66 Wooster St.  Join "local elected officials and members of the independent theatre community in an open forum to discuss solutions to the real estate crises affecting small theaters."  NY Innovative Theatre says it will stream it on their site, as well.

-Also on April 26, a deadline to apply for a FREE  "Boot Camp" for running your arts business, hosted by New York Foundation for the Arts.

-David Hare defends his right to write a "verbatim" play even if he isn't a "journalist."

-Someone is finally calling out the Shakespeare deniers in print: Prof. James ShapiroTerry Teachout reviews the book favorably and pithily.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


In other news...

-Rocco on The Hill: NEA Chair gives first Congressional testimony. (His full opening statement here.)

-Public Theatre & LAByrinth: splitsville!

-What's up with the South Park/Avenue Q/ Book of Mormon musical?  And why is no one saying what a political/religious made-for-Fox-News controversy this will be? (especially in the midst of a Mitt Romney presidential campaign...)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Another Juror Speaks

Drama Jury juror David Rooney (critic for Variety) takes the Pulitzer Prize override in stride:

"I think Charlie is right in thinking that you hire a jury to do a job to be supportive of their area of expertise and then to kind of disregard that because no one really got it on the page [is disappointing]... I'm thrilled at least that a prize was awarded and that it was a musical that had been in our discussions. So, I would have been very upset if we had put in all the work and they had made the decision not to give a prize this year. So, I'm less upset about it being Next to Normal, though it would not have been my choice."
In other words...better than nothing?

He also makes the following salient obervations:
"If you look at the history, particularly in recent years, I think it's very clear that things that are actually on the boards and playing in New York have a better chance.[...]Any of us who cover theatre know that the nature of theatre itself is that you are there, you are experiencing it, you have a direct emotional impact. Whatever they're seeing physically represented on a stage in front of them has a greater emotional impact than something they're reading on the page. Seeing it on the stage [is seeing it] in its intended form. Aside from the people on the board who saw the Sarah Ruhl play during its Broadway run, or perhaps who saw the Chicago or L.A. productions of the other two short-listed titles, no one is experiencing the play fully as it was intended. So, Next to Normal already has a huge advantage there. As did other things they might have seen in New York, The Orphans' Home Cycle, Next Fall."
I gotta wonder, though: did the Board bother to see Next Fall, let alone all three parts of Orphans' Home?

"If you look down the disciplines that the Pulitzer acknowledges and rewards, theatre is really the only one that is so penalized by the limitations of just appreciating it on the page. Photography, journalism, fiction, poetry, everything else, the jury whittles down to their shortlist of three, hands that shortlist onto the board, and the board gets to appreciate that shortlist to its fullest extent. Whereas in theatre, the jury wades through the scripts and the productions they've seen, passes those onto the board and the board [is] then forced to consider a play and to think in their head how that play would work on stage. Often, the majority of the board members are not people with direct experience at reading and interpreting plays and gauging what is going to work on stage. So, I think something that they actually go and see a production of has a clear advantage."
Emphasis mine--since a look at this year's Board will reveal not just a "majority" without such expertise but a flat out zero.

Brantley Weighs In

...with a world-weary shrug:

Mr. McNulty’s spleen is to be applauded and even envied, since it suggests an idealism in his perception of the Pulitzers, a belief that they can still be a progressive force in promoting original voices in theater. And I can share his agitation to some extent, having myself been the chairman of the drama jury in 2007, when our finalists (all, admittedly, fairly obscure) were overridden by the board. We picked “Orpheus X,” by Rinde Eckert; “Bulrusher,” by Eisa Davis; and “Elliot, a Soldier’s Fugue,” by Quiara Alegría Hudes. The prize went to David Lindsay-Abaire’s “Rabbit Hole,” a mainstream family drama that, like “Next to Normal,” had been seen in a Broadway production.

But any annoyance I felt then was tempered by a weary awareness that the Pulitzers have usually gone to firmly middlebrow works, the majority of which are highly unlikely to blaze in the annals of posterity as daring innovators. They can be read as an index of solid bourgeois tastes over the years but not much more.


[T]he Pulitzer standard, by and large, seems to be that the play be like a painting you would feel comfortable having on your living room wall. A splash of topicality is always welcome, but only if it is leavened by sentimentality and structural tidiness. 
My question is: is it just Drama or are all the Pulitzer arts prizes similarly biased toward a wide-appeal or even milquetoast aesthetic. I don't know the other arts-winners, so tell us what you think:
  • Fiction: Tinkers by Paul Harding
  • Poetry: Versed by Rae Armantrout
  • Music: Violin Concerto by Jennifer Higdon
My other question is: Patrick Healy clearly has been working on a Pulitzer story, so why did the Times instead today run Brantley's "no big deal" essay and a Healy article about The Addams Family's boffo box office?  The latter on Page One, no less.

Need I explain any further why theatre's value to the news media has only to do with revenue generation? (Next to Normal, turns out, is something of a hit too.)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

That Lazy, Lazy Pulitzer Board

NYT's Patrick Healy's has been doing more reporting on the Pulitzer Drama Prize drama (probably revving up for an article in tomorrow's paper), and reveals just how narrow minded the Board is.  Turns out, that when faced with three jury-recommended plays that they didn't warm to, a bunch of board members went to check out Next to Normal on Broadway--and voted it the prize the next day.

None of the [jury-selected] three plays achieved a majority vote from the board, which is required to win the prize, Mr. Gissler said. Board members then reviewed the jury’s report, which accompanies the three nominees, he said. Of the approximately 70 plays and musicals that had been submitted for Pulitzer consideration, the jury’s report mentioned “Next to Normal” for praise, Mr. Gissler said. He would not say if other shows were mentioned in the jury report as well.

Even though “Next to Normal” was mentioned in the jury report, the show was not among the three nominees put forward by the jury, thereby requiring a three-fourths vote of the Pulitzer board to move “Next to Normal” out of the pool of entries and into contention for the prize.

Mr. Gissler would not say if that vote for “Next to Normal” happened on Thursday or Friday. But board members had the libretto and score of “Next to Normal” for their consideration, and on Thursday night, several members of the board – who were in New York for their final meetings – went to see “Next to Normal” on Broadway at the Booth Theater. Mr. Gissler declined to say how many of the 17 voting board members went to see the show that night. A second person familiar with the board’s deliberations, but who spoke about internal board matters on condition of anonymity, said that “a lot of them” – referring to the board members – went to see “Next to Normal” that night.
I'll have more to say tomorrow.  But for now I just have to ask: does the Board treat all the categories this casually?  And imagine if they did treat any other, more "serious" category like this--and overrule its jury like this?

One thing we learn--it sure does still matter to be on Broadway.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Head of Pulitzer Jury "Ticked Off" about Drama Award

Charles McNulty goes public re: the Pulitzer Surprise:

Buried in Monday's announcement of the 2010 Pulitzer winners was the news that the board that, in effect, decides these matters had been up to its old tricks with the drama award. In honoring "Next to Normal," Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey's musical about a household grappling with a mother's mental illness, the mandarins at Columbia University's journalism school, where the prizes are administrated, ignored the advice of its drama jury in favor of its own sentiments.

It's a familiar story, but as chair of this year's jury [...] I can't help being ticked off. Two points, in particular, rankle: the blinkered New York mentality and the failure to appreciate new directions in playwriting. The board had an opportunity to correct these long-standing shortcomings, and it blew it.

In an era in which important new dramatic works rarely get their start in New York, the board's geographical myopia, a vision of the American theater that starts in Times Square and ends just a short taxi ride away is especially disheartening. Does anyone really believe that "Next to Normal" would have been chosen had it been submitted when it was at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C.?
Read on.

Among the nuggets of info: Pulitzer Board does get a majority up-or-down vote on the final prize for each category, and it just so happens the Clintons were among that "crazy" musical's biggest fans.

Theatre Critic almost wins Pulitzer

More Pulitzer news...

The "Criticism" award may have gone to Washington Post dance critic Sarah Kaufman.  But one of the runners-up was none other than the Voice's Michael Feingold.

Michael Feingold of The Village Voice, a New York City weekly, for his engaging, authoritative drama reviews that fuse passion and knowledge as he helps readers understand what makes a play or a performance successful.
(Times movie critic A.O. Scott was the other finalist.)

Kudos to Michael.  Good news not only for a hard working veteran critic, but also for the field itself to have the recognition.  Yes, America there are still full-time drama critics and they're worth keeping!

Lets hope this staves off any further cuts at the Voice!

Next to Normal--a Pulitzer?

Talk about a surprise.

This year's Pulitzer for Drama goes to...Next to Normal!

For a distinguished play by an American author, preferably original in its source and dealing with American life, Ten thousand dollars ($10,000):  Awarded to “Next to Normal,” music by Tom Kitt, book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey, a powerful rock musical that grapples with mental illness in a suburban family and expands the scope of subject matter for musicals.
So goes the citation.  But then it adds something strange:
(Moved into contention by the Board within the Drama category.) 
You know what that means.  The full Pulitzer "Board" seems to have overruled the Drama Jury.  Again.
As you may recall, back in 2007, the Pulitzer Board overruled the Drama Jury by awarding David Lindsay-Abbaire's popular favorite Rabbit Hole over three more adventurous, non-Broadway choices.

Witness this year's finalists list:
Nominated as finalists in this category were: “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity,” by Kristoffer Diaz, a play invoking the exaggerated role-playing of professional wrestling to explore themes from globalization to ethnic stereotyping, as the audience becomes both intimate insider and ringside spectator; “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo,” by Rajiv Joseph, a play about the chaotic Iraq war that uses a network of characters, including a caged tiger, to ponder violent, senseless death, blending social commentary with tragicomic mayhem; and “In the Next Room or the vibrator play,” by Sarah Ruhl, an inventive work that mixes comedy and drama as it examines the medical practice of a 19th century American doctor and confronts questions of female sexuality and emancipation.
In the Next Room did play Broadway.  But then again, it does have the word "vibrator" in the title.  Maybe some of the Pulitzer peeps blanched at the prospect of announcing that from the podium.  The other two are certainly interesting choices (haven't seen either).  I noticed that Joseph's play got an especially warm welcome in LA, where it was directed by Moises Kaufman.  And I also notice LA Times' Charles McNulty was the chair of this year's Drama Jury, which also included critics Hedy Weiss (Chicago Sun-Times) and David Rooney (late of Variety), as well as playwright Nilo Cruz and Duke Professor John M. Clum.  That looks like a good non-NYC based national perspective. 

So maybe we'll learn in the next couple of days what went down and how exactly the Board "moved" Next to Normal "into contention."  Did that allow for a Jury revote?  Or was this simply another overruling?

I don't mean to rush to conclusions.  But this is a blog after all, and I'm just recording my initial response for now.  And that postscript to the announcement sure seems odd.  But I'll try to follow up with as much fact gathering as I can.

Also, for the record, I'm making no value judgments about Next to Normal; never saw it.  And I knew it could just as easily be a musical this year as a play.  But I didn't think it would go to a musical that premiered Off Broadway two seasons ago!  Considering In the Next Room also had a professional premiere in an earlier season (at Berkeley Rep) I'd say those eligibility rules need some clarification again, don't you?

Perhaps Next to Normal was boosted by the fact the revised version debuted at Washington DC's Arena Stage (also in a previous season) where many of the Pulitzer bigwigs hang their hats.

FYI, the membership of this year's full Pulitzer Board is once again a non-impressive group arts-wise--with the likes of Tom Friedman and Paul Gigot.  Here's the full list...
The Board presided over the judging process that resulted in the 2010 winners and finalists. --Anders Gyllenhaal, chair; Sig Gissler, administrator.

Allen, Danielle, UPS Foundation Professor, School of Social Science, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, NJ

Amoss, Jim, editor, The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, LA

Beck, Randell, president and publisher, Argus Leader Media, Sioux Falls, SD

Bennett, Amanda, executive editor/Enterprise, Bloomberg News

Bollinger, Lee C., president, Columbia University, New York, NY

Carroll, Kathleen, executive editor and senior vice president, Associated Press

Dehli, Joyce, vice president for news, Lee Enterprises

Friedman, Thomas L., columnist, The New York Times, New York, NY

Gigot, Paul, editorial page editor, The Wall Street Journal, New York, NY

Gissler, Sig, administrator, Graduate School of Journalism, Columbia University, New York, NY

Gyllenhaal, Anders, executive editor, The Miami Herald, Miami, FL

Kennedy, David M., Donald J. McLachlan Professor of History, Emeritus, Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA

Lemann, Nicholas, dean, Graduate School of Journalism, Columbia University, New York, NY

Lipinski, Ann Marie, vice president for civic engagement, The University of Chicago, Chicago, IL

Moore, Gregory L., editor, The Denver Post, Denver, CO

Tash, Paul C., editor, The St. Petersburg Times, St. Petersburg, FL

VandeHei, Jim, executive editor and co-founder, Politico

Willey, Keven Ann, vice president/editorial page editor, The Dallas Morning News

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Quote of the Day

"She resists more personal questions, and recounts a recent phone conversation in which a journalist asked the seemingly innocuous question, 'Why do you write plays?' Baker began crying so hard that she had to hang up."

-Playwright Annie Baker, profiled in this week's Voice by Alexis Soloski.

Can't blame her.

Friday, April 09, 2010

The Theatre and The Museum Should be Friends

Interesting inter-institutional collaboration going on in Boston, where the two biggest theatre companies (ART and Huntington) are teaming up with the Institute for Contemporary Art to present the Emerging America festival of new work.

So far this seems to be just about sharing space and resources.  But it does make me wonder--what other museum/theatre partnerships could be mutually beneficial?  Certainly could help with marketing and building audiences through combined subscriber/memberships lists.

Lots of opportunities for this in NYC, of course, but never to my knowledge capitalized upon.  (Except for MOMA hosting a Wooster Group performance and a "Sunday in the Park with George" meet 'n' greet.)

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Pulitzer Race is On!

The Pulitzers will be announced Monda, and NYT's Patrick Healy has the early handicapping on the Drama award.  Seems like Horton Foote's Orphan's Home cycle is the sentimental favorite--as well as one play that could surely use the bump right now, as it looks for a Broadway transfer.

On the other hand, it has to get around the technicality of not being an entirely "new" play.

Otherwise, recall that the official criteria are: "a distinguished play by an American author, preferably original in its source and dealing with American life."

I wonder if Kushner's new play would qualify, having had its premiere at the Guthrie last summer, even if in what the playwright considers unfinished form.

Otherwise, not a lot of obvious big contenders out there this year.  There's a Margolies (Time Stands Still) and a Mamet (Race) but neither caused major ecstasy and those guys have had their share.  Three lesser knowns who are surely in the running: Sarah Ruhl (In the Next Room), Melissa Gibson (This), and Annie Baker (Circle Mirror Transformation).

Another dark horse could be Red, believe it or not.  What's that, you say, an English play?  No, John Logan is actually an American who happened to get his play about American Mark Rothko premiered at London's Donmar Warehouse with a British cast who is now doing it on Broadway.  Is it a good play? That's another story.

More outside contenders would include Next Fall (currently struggling on Broadway), David Ives' mini-hit Venus in Fur, and previous winner Tracy Letts' underwhelming Superior Donuts.

And for a real long shot why not bet on Richard Foreman's Idiot Savant.  Certainly deals with "American life."

What else is likely?  What else would you like to see win?  Certainly not a lot of Broadway contenders this year...(making for a dull Tonys)


Lite Edition

-Ever wonder how to make a stage tatoo?

-10 tips for young directors from RSC vet, John Caird.

-I agree with Frank Rizzo: "Broadway and the Tonys need that 'Colbert Bump.'"  Petition Stephen to host the Tonys!

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Quote of the Day

"As the decade fizzled out, everything became about either big names or just two folding chairs.  Or in the case of A Steady Rain, big names and two folding chairs."

-Michael Musto, reflecting on the increasingly impoverished Broadway of the aughts.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

45 Bleecker Lives! (again)

The roller-coaster fate of the Greenwich Village 45 Bleecker space seems to be on another upswing.

Louis Salamone, executive producer of the Theatres at 45 Bleecker Street, has announced the creation of The Bleecker Street Theatre Company, a (501c3) non-profit resident theatre company to nurture and develop new works. The idea for the Bleecker Street Theatre Company, which will be headed by Peter Zinn, evolved from 45 Bleecker’s production of the Amish rave drama, Rumspringa by Zinn, which opened in February, 2009.  The new theatre company will develop and workshop new plays in its free Monday Night Play Development Series with the goal of presenting fully produced plays that evolve from the series....
With an opening event headlined by Israel Horovitz, Murray Schisgal, and Quincy Long, it's nice to see a return of the old Greenwich Village to Off Broadway.

Then again:
 “The new company is specifically interested in fostering works that speak to a new generation of theatre goers, and that are easily transferred to film and new media,” said Zinn. 
Well at least their honest about their Hollywood (and subsidiary rights?) ambitions.

Monday, April 05, 2010

What's Up with that "Times Square Church"?

Next time you're walking through the theatre district and see that building that looks like a Broadway house but says "Times Square Church" on the marquee, remember it is a church, not some new concept-musical.

And remember that it used to be the gorgeous Art Deco-styled Mark Hellinger theatre.  Michael Riedel recently told the story of what the hell is up with that:

In 1991, the church bought the Hellinger from Nederlander for $17 million and has been conducting services there ever since. The theater has not been home to a Broadway show for 22 years.
Yet Broadway's power brokers still covet it. It is the Holy Grail of Times Square theaters.
"It is the theater to have," says Philip J. Smith, the chairman of the Shubert Organization. "We chased it twice, but the church wouldn't sell..."
Happy Easter guys.  Enjoy God's revenge on our little Sodom and Gomorrah.

The Mark Hellinger Theatre, then...

Space for the Arts

The Ford Foundation is back.

The mighty philanthropy org that helped spark the regional theatre movement back in the 60s and 70s is announcing a $100 million in grants for artist work and living space.

As part of an effort to increase the impact of its giving, the Ford Foundation is to announce a plan on Monday to dedicate $100 million to the development of arts spaces nationwide over the next decade. The plan is by far the largest commitment the foundation has ever made to the construction, maintenance and enhancement of arts facilities.
The plan, called the Supporting Diverse Art Spaces Initiative, is one of several large financing projects that have resulted from a strategic overhaul of the foundation’s operations since its president, Luis A. Ubiñas, took over in 2008. He has moved the foundation in the direction of bundling its hundreds of millions of dollars in grants — which have traditionally varied widely in their focus — into large programs oriented toward specific issues.  
Way to go, Luis!

Nice to see that old Hitler-loving anti-semite's cash going to something good.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

The New & Improved Blogroll!

Finally realizing that my blogroll was embarrassingly out of date, I have just updated it.  Outdated links repaired; inactive/defunct blogs removed; and a few new ones added. (Scroll down for "Bloggers" in the right margin.)

If you're a blogger I removed and feel I done you wrong, please email me directly at playgoer_at_gmail_dot_com.  Also let me know of any still-incorrect links on the blogroll.

And if you have any other theatre-related blogs to recommend, please share below in Comments!  Heck, tell us about any good arts-related blogs in general, though I might not include them in the blogroll.

Hopefully Playgoer can once again be your one-stop shopping for snarky and scintillating theatre web-browsing.

Friday, April 02, 2010


-Confirmed: Roundabout's solution to its current mess of a season is to bring more autobiography solo-show in one of their big empty Broadway houses.  Sherie Rene Scott's Everyday Rapture is coming to Broadway--whether Roundabout subscribers like it or not.

-Will we start seeing some mergers of financially beleaguered companies soon?  One now being reported as imminent in the NYC dance-theatre world: Bill T. Jones (currently flying high with back-to-back Broadway plaudits for Spring Awakening and now Fela) will join his eponymous dance troupe with the equally illustrious Dance Theatre Workshop.  Any chance of this catching on the "legit" theatre?  Can you think of any two companies that would make a good fit?

-One of NYC's two big Off Broadway awards, the Lortels, just announced their nominations for 2009-2010.

-The Goodman's premiere of Rebecca Gilman's supersized "A True History of the Johnstown Flood" directed by Robert Falls, gets some big buzz from the Trib's Chris Jones.  Is this the next big play out of Chicago?

-Headline of the day, courtesy of LA Times' Culture Monster: "National Tour of '101 Dalmations' is Put Down."  Having been frightened by this poster at a commuter rail station recently, I can see why...

Thursday, April 01, 2010

"Off Broadway is Not an Option"

If you're still wondering what ever happened to Off Broadway as a commercially viable option for smaller plays and musicals (as opposed to nonprofit Off B'way), then Jeremy Gerard's analysis for Bloomberg is a must-read.

Taking us behind the scenes of two successful new musicals from nonprofit companies (Kander & Ebb's Scottsboro Boys at the Vineyard and the Zellnik brothers' Yank at the York) we see both shows eager and able to extend to a commercial run--but are finding, like many similar shows, that only Broadway makes it worthwhile economically, even if the show is better suited to (and better able to fill) an under-500 seat house.

As executive director of the Vineyard Theatre, Jennifer Garvey-Blackwell is a big believer in off-Broadway. The nonprofit company, operating in a 132-seat theater near Union Square, has developed the Tony Award-winning musical “Avenue Q” and the Pulitzer Prize-winning play “How I Learned to Drive,” among others.

Earlier in her 13 seasons at the Vineyard, Garvey- Blackwell’s options included moving to a commercial off-Broadway house such as the Lucille Lortel when one of her shows struck box office gold. Today, with “Scottsboro Boys,” the biggest hit in the Vineyard’s history, it’s Broadway or bust.

“Off-Broadway is not an option,” Garvey-Blackwell said.....

But “Scottsboro” is a high-risk show about nine young black men charged with raping two white women in the ‘30s American South. The audience for Broadway musicals isn’t typically looking for such strong brew; after all, isn’t that what off-Broadway is for? 
Indeed.  And speaking of How I Learned to Drive, that may have been one of the last major plays to come to prominence thanks to a very long commercial Off Broadway run (following its Vineyard premiere, of course).  Today it would probably be pressured to move to a 1000-seat house and meet the same fate as plays like Well--i.e. get great reviews, lots of respect, and close within 6 weeks at a total financial loss.

Why the insanity? First there's bottom line.  Off Broadway's still cheaper, but the potential payoff and profit margin is much less.
The stagehands union doesn’t hold sway over off-Broadway, eliminating one major expense. But other costs, including pay for actors, stage managers, press agents and others, are nearly as high as Broadway’s.
Plus, opening on Broadway automatically nets you tons of free publicity and attention that Off Broadway shows have to fight for--especially guaranteed reviews and wider press coverage overall since Broadway is the only New York theatre the regional and national media cover.  You also instantly get a chance at those random ticketbuyers coming to down looking only for "a Broadway show."

In other words, if you're gonna gamble, gamble big.  Would you rather risk your money for loose change at the slot machines, or for the big prize at the roulette wheel?

Second, there's a silly prestige factor going on.  And its name is Tony.  As veteran Off Broadway producer (one of the last) Ben Sprecher is quoted as saying, “The talent only wants to go where you can get a Tony, and the talent drives the business.”  I guess it's hard enough for a real box-office drawing star to take the slight salary cut, but they might do it for a chance at Tony.

Low-budget independent films don't have that problem, of course.  A little film like Crazy Heart can still get Jeff Bridges, because he smells Oscar.  And he was right!

Notice how the governance of the Tonys, therefore, really does still have an impact--a disproportional one--on how theatre gets made in this town.