The Playgoer: December 2010

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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Quote of the Day

"For a major critic to review a Broadway musical, or play for that matter, after only the twentieth preview, is disappointing and uncalled for."

-Spider-Man press agent Rick Miramontez

Only the 20th preview???

Monday, December 27, 2010

Oh, What a Tangled Web

"To him, life is a great big bang up
Whenever there's a hang up
You'll find the Spider man." 

-theme song to 1960s animated Spiderman TV show

The actual plunging of a Spider-Man actor into the orchestra pit after his, um, magical powers failed to save him from a dodgy harnessing method has catapulted the show's offstage drama into even greater tsuris, if that were even possible.

This latest accident has now triggered more organized concern and even protest from the acting community, both through union reps and, now, politicians coming to the defense of "workplace safety."  Crain's reports:
Assemblyman Rory Lancman, chairman of the Assembly Subcommittee on Workplace Safety, staged a press conference Thursday at Foxwoods Theater, where two performances of the show were canceled Wednesday in light of the accident. Mr. Lancman said the code of necessary safety conditions for theater productions may no longer be relevant for such technically complicated shows as Spider-Man, which has 38 aerial maneuvers that involve actors being hoisted into harnesses and flying through the air. “The current legislation that governs these kinds of performances dates back to 1953 and has not been materially updated since then,” Mr. Lancman said. 
Less politic are the online outbursts of various show people, named and unnamed:
Many actors voiced their displeasure on social media, including Adam Pascal from RENT, who wrote on Facebook: "They should put Julie Taymor in jail for assault!” On Twitter, Tony-winning actress Alice Ripley posted "Does someone have to die? Where is the line for the decision makers, I am curious"....And quoted an anonymous “theatrical insider” at length railing against the effects of the show, saying “It's made me angry that this level of technology and that people's safety being at risk is being allowed. Someone needs to STOP Julie Taymor NOW!”
While such accusations are not pretty, I would still advise Taymor's lawyer not to take the asshole approach:
Seth Gelblum, a partner at Loeb & Loeb, and the attorney for Julie Taymor and a number of the production's investors, said actors get hurt in the theater all the time. For example, Fela! was forced to cancel a performance last year when three dancers couldn't perform because of injuries.Mr. Gelblum said the incidents are receiving outsized attention because the musical didn't work out the kinks in an out of town run, but is doing so on Broadway under the scrutiny of the New York media. “Broadway musicals are very strenuous and people always get hurt unfortunately,” Mr. Gelblum said. “But everything is magnified on this show because of the unprecedented attention.”
Of course. It's the internet and Michael Riedel that gave Christopher Tierney "a hairline fracture in his skull, a broken scapula, a broken bone close to his elbow, four broken ribs, a bruised lung and three fractured vertebrae." And actors wind up in "serious condition" at Bellevue from strained jazz-hands all the time!

Stage Directions has a very helpful rundown of all the backstage technical issues involved, as well as a roundup of industry reactions.


When I posted a while back about my surprise at the NY Times' reporting on the show's first preview, I was actually not, as some of my bloggy friends assumed, condemning the paper.  I just wanted to be sure everyone took note of what may be a "rubicon" moment in the whole etiquette of press reviewing.  It may well be that in the age of the internet, it makes no sense for a critic to hold his peace while everyone else in the world is holding forth online 24/7.  At least, that's what a couple of bigtime critics have decided...
In articles that ran over the holiday weekend, Linda Winer of Newsday and Jeremy Gerard of Bloomberg News both wrote about their recent experiences at “Spider-Man,” which is scheduled to open at the Foxwoods Theater on Feb. 7. Both Ms. Winer and Mr. Gerard acknowledge that under typical circumstances, it is customary for a theater critic to see a show in the days just before it opens, when the production presumably will not undergo major changes, and to publish the review after the show opens. They both also make the case that the lengthy preview period for “Spider-Man,” not to mention its $65 million price tag, do not necessarily constitute typical circumstances.


Mr. Gerard said Monday morning in a telephone interview that his review was “an interim report” and that he intended to revisit “Spider-Man” for its official critics’ previews in February. That said, Mr. Gerard added, “Critics should be part of the conversation, ultimately. We don’t serve the producers, we serve our readers, and I thought that it looked stranger and stranger, and my editor agreed with me.”

(Since no one actually reads Bloomberg or Newsday for theatre coverage, this is all from the Times, of course.)

This is notable because Gerard and Winer are no gossip-mongers. They are two of the most oldschool reputable critics around.  And Gerard has a point there, I think, about the "stranger and stranger."  It's the same question that increasingly faces all "traditional media" outlets today. Does it make sense to let the old journalistic practices keep you from talking about the thing that everyone else is talking about.  (Everyone in a particular field, at least.)

One could argue maybe that's best left to beat reporters and not critics--as with the Times sending Patrick Healy, not Ben Brantley to Spidey's first preview.  But then again: isn't your critic the writer on your staff best qualified to report on performance?  As Winer is quoted as saying, "There’s something a little nuts that critics are now the only interested parties who can’t see the bride before the wedding."

There's also the question of how long a show can reasonably keep the critics waiting.  This all might not be happening if Spider-Man had a normal two-week preview process and opened on schedule.  Instead the opening has been repeatedly delayed and now has been pushed back to February 7.  As Bloomberg culture editor Manuela Hoelterhoff  puts it to the Times, "“I worried that by the time the show opened, I might be in a rest home with [Gerard]."  Asked to comment, the Times' own culture editor makes the valid point that all this time the show's producers are pleading a grace period, they "are raking in the cash, charging some people more than $200 a ticket," adding that while the Paper of Record won't break the embargo, "We’ll wait, but not forever."

Finally, the Times also has someone's 8-second cellphone video of the notorious accident.  But here's a more accurate filmed record:

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Theatre Flicks

Here's a nice holiday time-waster, or even a shopping list!  Howard Sherman's lists of notable (if not always good) movies about the theatre: one for features, one for documentaries.

Titles I wholeheartedly second are: Looking for Richard, Topsy Turvy, Me and Orson Welles, The Libertine, The Cradle Will Rock, A Chorus of Disapproval, The Dresser, The Bandwagon, All That Jazz, and, yes, even Hamlet 2 (or at least the first half of it).

Your picks?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Only "Christmas Carol" I Would Sit Through

Yes, the Klingon version.

(sorry about the opening ad)

Now this is what supertitles are for!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

No, this is not High School Theatre

Patrick Healy has the awesome job of recounting the backstage shenanigans of the already ill-advised commercial Off Broadway revival of that creaky old Dracula play from the 20s. (The play that was the basis of the 1931 Bela Lugosi film--and hence the reason that movie bears no resemblance to the novel.)

Basically the lead actress, Thora Birch (of American Beauty and Ghost World) was fired due to no fault of her own, other than the bad luck of having the most insane stage-father ever.

This online update of the story gives even more, um, colorful detail than the print edition:

[Birch] was playing the central female character, Lucy Seward, the love interest of Count Dracula. [Director Paul] Alexander said that Ms. Birch was fired because her father, Jack, had threatened another actor during a rehearsal on Thursday night. Mr. Birch, in an interview, denied making any threat.

Mr. Birch, formerly an actor in pornographic films...
Yes, you read that right.  But there's more.
Mr. Birch, formerly an actor in pornographic films who is now Ms. Birch’s manager, had attended most rehearsals to provide support and guidance for his daughter. At one point during Thursday’s rehearsal,  Mr. Birch confronted an actor who had been working on a scene with Ms. Birch. [...] Mr. Birch asked the actor why he was rubbing Ms. Birch’s back during the scene. The actor – whom none of the sides would name – said that he had been directed to do so as part of the scene. Mr. Birch objected, saying that the back rub was unnecessary, and told the actor to stop. (It is unusual for anyone other than a production’s director to instruct an actor.)

 Mr. Birch had been a frequent presence at “Dracula” rehearsals. Ms. Birch’s contract had called for her to have a bodyguard, and Mr. Birch said that he was serving that role because “Thora had had some stalking issues in the past.” But he and Ms. Birch also said he had been on hand to offer support and advice to Ms. Birch and confer with her about upcoming projects, including a film that Ms. Birch said her father was co-producing. “My dad is my support, and he is the best support that I could ever have,” Ms. Birch said.
I'll refrain from commenting on that eerie sounding daddy-daughter "film" project.  Only because you can't make up something funnier than this next bit:
At another point during Thursday’s rehearsal, Mr. Alexander said he noticed Mr. Birch peering through a window that was part of a library set while a scene with Ms. Birch was underway. “I couldn’t believe my eyes and turned to a crew member and said, ‘Is that Jack Birch looking through the window at Thora?’ ”

Mr. Birch said that he had been backstage at that moment examining  “a loose, very wobbly platform that Thora and others had to walk across.”

Mr. Birch and Ms. Birch said that he had been her manager for years. Mr. Birch and Ms. Birch’s mother, Carol Connors, were stars in pornographic films in the 1970s.  Ms. Connors is best known for “Deep Throat.”  Mr. Birch has been on film sets with Ms. Birch before; a gossip column in The New York Post reported in 2007 that he had been present during Ms. Birch’s taping of a sex scene for her movie “The Winter of Frozen Dreams.”

Always nice to see the child go into the family business, eh?  (And how about that "How I Met Your Mother" story!)

And now for the coda...
Ms. Birch has been replaced by her understudy, Emily Bridges, whose father is the actor Beau Bridges; Ms. Bridges’s role will be played by Katharine Luckinbill, whose parents are the actors Laurence Luckinbill and Lucie Arnaz.
Well I'm sure these parents will behave themselves.  After all, what diva-rights do they have. They weren't in Deep Throat!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The New Provincetown Playhouse

Jennifer S. Altman for The New York Times                                          

NYU has unveiled their renovated Provincetown Playhouse, part of a new Law School building complex that almost destroyed the legendary downtown theatre.

From this angle at least, kinda looks the same to me, no?  Still, the controversy continues.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Quote of the Day

"Being here with tonight’s honorees, reflecting on their contributions, I’m reminded of a Supreme Court opinion by the great Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. In a case argued before the Court in 1926, the majority ruled that the state of New York couldn’t regulate the price of theater tickets, because, in the opinion of the majority, the theater was not a public necessity. They argued, in effect, that the experience of attending the theater was superfluous. And this is what Justice Holmes had to say: 'To many people the superfluous is necessary.'

The theater is necessary. Dance is necessary. Song is necessary. The arts are necessary -- they are a necessary part of our lives."

-President Barack Obama, saluting this year's Kennedy Center Honorees.

Monday, December 06, 2010

John Simon Fired by a Website

After being bumped from his longtime perch at New York Magazine five years ago, that critic you love to hate, John Simon, now can't even hold down his cushy sinecure at  (Where the expenses of keeping him surely can't be much damage to the conglomerate.)

But the old man ain't going away yet.  Behold!

Like a giant tortoise from its shell, I am re-emerging on this web site. Here I will continue, freer and more independent than ever, to dispense my opinions, critiques and enthusiasms about our arts and culture. I hope to be as interdisciplinary as all get-out and separate with might and main what might remain from what must go.
Well I guess the internet won't suffer from yet another angry old white guy.

Welcome to the blogosphere, John!  And in the eternal spirit of your "independent reviews" let me say that I wish your site better "legs" than what you're showing us on that profile pic!

Friday, December 03, 2010

"So What Have I Seen You In?"

Another gem made possible by the self-animation Xtranormal site.  Here, an obviously experienced fellow named "InsaneActor" offers a cartoon sketch of "the conversation you've had with every member of your family."

My favorite: "You should go do Phantom!"

Oh, our poor, naive relatives... And the folks we meet at parties.

(In case you've never seen an Xtranormal video before, don't read too much into the bears. It's just the basic character lineup for this DIY animation kit.)

Wednesday, December 01, 2010


The past week has brought an onslaught of Broadway closings and closing announcements for shows that aimed for more than the usual entertainment:

A Life in the Theatre--closed November 28
Elling--closed November 28

Scottsboro Boys--closing announced for December 12
Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson--closing announced for January 2

Meanwhile, despite what you'd think was pretty bad publicity this week, Spider-Man just sold over a million bucks in advance sales!