April 1, 2022 Update
The Oscars Nod to New Acceptance of Screening Platforms and Greater Casting and Storytelling Diversity
The most suspenseful tragedy dominating a any entertainment currently available to see live or on small and large screens is, of
course, the Ukrainian people's heroic battle for their country. One can only hope and pray that their country will survive and that actor-turned-statesman Volodymyr Zelensky too will survive to collect the Nobel Peace Prize likely to be awarded to him.
Given the heartbreaking scenes flooding the news, the altercation at the Oscars between its comedian presenter and best actor nominee seems trivial and hardly worth all the media attention it has gotten.
That said, the Academy did break ground with numerous Oscars to films that deserved the media coverage a lot more than the now-famous slap has been getting.
This year's awards repeatedly nodded
to Me-Too, gender, race, and other diversity issues. This more politically correct sensibility also applied as well as the ceremony's setup, courtesy of three female hosts.
The most surprising ground-breaker was a CODA with a first best picture award given to a film produced by a small streaming company and with a story featuring deaf actors.
Actually, for theater buffs the Deaf West Company is not an unknown quantity. During my more active days as Curtainup's chief critic, I had the privilege of seeing the musical Spring Awakening three times, the last when revived by Deaf West (my review).
While Deaf West has been in the forefront of calling attention to theater-making with deaf actors, they're not the only ones. To wit, a powerful non-musical play by Nina Raine, that I saw and reviewed was Tribes.
As for the capitalized title and the award's designation as best adapted screenplay .— CODA is an acronym for child of deaf adult and the play is based on a 2014 French film called La Famille Bélier.
Since this is a commentary about the award choices and not a review, a tweet-sized plot summary: It's a coming of age take on the tension between the hearing teenager Ruby's desire to sing and her deaf parents' refusal to support her dream.
The Persistent Dilemma of When Audiences Can Watch a Movie on their Home Screens
The new West Side Story was widely praised, for its updated text by Tony Kushner, smart casting and direction, and had a fairly long run only in theaters. However, while I did think it made a case for big screen viewing, it probably attained maximum viewership when it became available at HBO. On the other hand, King Richard, for which the fist-wielding Will Smith did nab the Best Leading Actor award, opened simultaneously in theaters and at HBO. I doubt Smith's uncalled-for behavior sent people rushing to seeing his performance in their nearest theater. However, it certainly ratcheted up online views.d
Why CODA is a Double Groundreaker
Actually, CODA is a double-groundbreaker since it beat out the .Power of the Dog, which was the front runner and supposed to finally have the Academy recognize a film originating at streaming pioneer Netflix.
In choosing CODA the Academy managed to tip its hat to political correctness with a feel-good crowd pleaser. The darker, more complex Power of the Dog did give the best director award to Jane Campion. For discriminating screeners, Power of the Dog truly is a screened filmmaking at its best. And the Academy at its usual aim-to-please-all.
Don't expect Netflix programmers to abandon maximum clickbait fare. While they are indeed to be commended for giving those seeking challenging, top quality entertainment and introducing us to the pleasures of binging, they continue to jump on the mass appeal bandwagon, not to mention often over-producing trendy formats. More on this another time.
February 24, 2022 Update
My favorite recent headline
Mitch McConnell Is Part of the Cowardly Lion Wing of the G.O.P. (Gail Collins Feb. 14th New York Times).
Lots of Screening News
The Gilded Age rides Downton Abbey's coattails in New York. . .The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is back and so is Borgen. . . Another chance to see The Chinese Lady. . . my latest forget-your-troubles online gem: The American version of Shall We Dance. . . and a strange but true documentary, Four Seasons: The Total Documentary
The Gilded Age
The culturally linked headline above once again proved that being being familiar with the works of book, stage and screen legends will help anyone—even social media posters — to be more effective communicators. On the other hand, If I hadn't read Edith Wharton's Age of Innocence and seen the terrific film adaptation, would I have found HBO's The Gilded Age mini-series good enough to rival Wharton's more powerful prose and characterizations? Probably not.
But then, neither was Downton Abbey, whose juggernaut coattails The Gilded Age rides, a great literary work. As he did then, Julian Fellowes has once again created a terrifically atmospheric costume drama chock-full of upstairs-downstairs characters who provide fodder for subplots to keep viewers watching.
While Downton Abbey did finally end, its millions of followers kept wishing for another visit to the Crawleys and their servants, as well as a brand new series with similar appeal.
Fellowes may not be a wonderfully nuanced writer, but he's not one to disappoint viewers hooked on his stylish historic storytelling. To cater to fans' yearning for another visit to the Abbey, he made a movie that forwards to 1927 and has the beloved characters and the actors who originally portrayed them welcoming the British King and Queen for a visit. The movie played in theaters in 2019 but is currently available to rent or buy to watch on screen. Seeing the movie on your home screen is certainly less expensive, especially if you're seeing it with another family member.
As for the new series that HBO is doling out an episode at a time, my take follows.
The series format is not better than the more tightly structured adaptation of Wharton's Age of Innocence . The footage of the New York neighborhood in which it's set could be a lot more varied and interesting. However, with top-tier thespians like Christine Baranski, Cynthia Nixon and Carrie Coons in the leading roles and eye-popping costumes, The Gilded Age is not a disaster.
Baranski, who initially seems miscast, takes hold of her role. The numerous other notable stage and film actors add to the rewards the series offers. Theater enthusiasts will have fun spotting them, especially those who appear only occasionally or not as key players.
It's also interesting to see Louisa Jacobson, Meryl Streep's youngest daughter, follow in her mother's footsteps.
The move from England to America is still long ago enough for an upstairs/downstairs setup that takes us to rich and entitled New Yorkers' homes. What's more, the Fellowes and his team have managed to differentiate the series from Downton Abbey by adding a major Black character and her Brooklyn family. This nod to relevqncy begins in the very first episode when Jacobson's Marianne meets and becomes friends with a young Black woman (Dené Benton as Peggy Scott). This aspect of the series takes center stage in the third episode when we meet Peggy's prosperous Brooklyn Family played by musical theater star Audra McDonald and outstanding Shakespearean John Douglas Thompson,
The push to add relevancy to the series along with a touch of #Me too may not be subtle but it works, even though often predictably so, with some episodes a bit boring.
As live theater productions are often followed by talkbacks, there's a Gilded Age podcast, which makes for a very informative and enjoyable addition to each episode. In addition to guest appearances by members of the production, it fills listeners in on the actual historic events and characters. Given the starry cast and smart insertion of a Black family to add an authentic relevance, it's not surprising that a second season has already been announced.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel .
Another popular series coming back to your home screen is The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, This one is at Amazon and is being made available two (of eight) episodes at a time. But unlike The Gilded Age, which I have found worth watching despite its weaknesses, this is just not my cup of fun entertainment. (my review). The show did have plenty of fans. So far, however, even critics who found Mrs. Maisel marvelous have been disappointed in the first two episodes they were allowed to review.
Like all fans of this terrific Danish political series, I'm looking forward eagerly to the soon-to-arrive season four at Netflix. Since it moves ten years forward
from the third season's very satisfying finale. Brigitte's delightful little boy will be gone, but apparently all the other actors will be with us. Since it's been quite a while since I saw all 30 episodes I decided to take a quick look at the earlier seasons. To my
surprise, I found myself totally absorbed all over again. Wow!! A show good enough to binge through twice. That makes the upcoming new season my most anticipated return of a series.
BorgenMy review of the first three sasons.
The Chinese Lady Live at the Public Theater With link to Curtainup's Review
Lloyd Suh's fascinating play that was
inspired by the true story of the first Chinese woman to step foot in America is getting s well deserved second life at the Public Theater. Curtainup covered it during its run at Barrington Stage in the Berkshires and again when it was presented by the Ma-Yi Theater Company at the Beckett Theater onTheater Row. The original production's cast is back on board at the Public Theater where it will run through March 27th, with an officisl press openng on Mrch 8th.To see why it's likely to collect more raves, check out the Curtainup review here.
Shall We Dance with Richard Gere
Given the stressful world we live in it's nice to end the day watching a fun, light-hearted show. My latest favorite escapist screener gem is the 2004 American version of the much earlier Japanese hit movie, Shall We Dance. Though heavily Hollywood-izrd this reboot os great fun and has a terrific cast headed by Richard Gere and Jennifer Lopez.
It's free to screen on Hulu, or to rent or buy at Amazon.
Four Seasons: Total Documentary
about Rudolph Giuliani's during bizarre Philadelphia press conference that actually took took place before the 2020 presidential campaign— not at Philadelphia's Four Season Hotel but at a business that happened to have the same name.
The event's effect on the owners on the Four Seasons Landscape owner and her family's lives made for a quirky comedy of errors.
However, it ultimately left me more sad than amused since it came off embracing media fame and easy money as the American dream. And like the flood of fake and unsubstantiated stories the producers left out a lot.For one thing who did these people vote for? Neither mother or son seem the least concerned about the political landscape we live in and the painful pandemic. They're just enjoying her fame and the new easy money from merchandise and commercials and documentary fees.
January 15, 2022 Update
With the temperature dipping and continued cancellations and delays of planned openings and re-openings, books and screened entertainment to help us escape into another world are more and more essential.
My Feel Good Streaming Gem of the past week: That Night We Sang
That Night We Sang isn't a great movie musical with songs to leave you humming. Nor is the romance of two middle-aged people for whom being part of a children's chorus was more exciting than anything they've experienced since a thrilling new Romeo and Juliet.
But it's a British charmer created by Victoria Wood for the 2011 Manchester International Festival, five years before her death in 2016. The better late-than never love affair of Enid (Imelda Staunton) and Tubby (Michael Ball) is a heart-tugging romance, unashamedly and unsurprisingly sure to end happily. What is surprising are the clever detours into musical
territory. The imaginative presentation of the songs within the dual time frame of
1929 and 1960 — the former when 250 children traveled to the Free Trade Hall to record Purcell's setting of Nymphs and Shepherds with the Hallé orchestra, and the latter when a Granada documentary reunited Wood's leading characters, Enid and Jimmy, now nicknamed Tubby.
The way those long-ago children and the current adults connect is a tribute to Wood's gift for merging the dreams of youth with the realities of all too often disappointing adulthood.
The initial format of That Night We Sang was as a live theater piece.
Ball and Staunton came aboard when it was filmed. Both are seasoned actor-singers with resumes filled with more high-profile roles. Small wonder that they bring Enid and Tubby fully
to life. If the songs they sing don't really stick to the ear, they are nevertheless delightful, with lyrics that capture Enid and Tubby's struggle to grab hold of the ring on the romantic merry-go-round that's so long eluded them.
Some of the musical segues are set in the present but there are also some spectacular scenes in which Staunton and Ball morph into Ginger and Fred. The ensemble players also get a chance to shine, and Harvey Chaisty is especially endearing as young song-smitten Jimmy Baker. Like Enid and Tubby, his being part of the chorus isn't all smooth
sailing since his mother has her own reasons for not encouraging his singing. But no worries. This is a show about hope, so dreams do come true and misunderstandings are resolved. It's a 95-minute visit to a world where good rather than bad things happen to good people— a musical that's hokey yet sophisticated in its concept and performances. Definitely a show that validates titular "prime" of the Amazon streaming platform.
My Page Turners Of the Week: The Plot and
An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good
Mysteries aren't my favorite genre but then murders don't make you laugh out loud as I did often while reading Jean Hanff Korelitz's new thriller and a Swedish mystery author's five short stories about a little old lady who, unlike Miss Marple, isn't on the right side of the law since she uses her cane and walker to administer her own idea of justice.
My Take on The Plot
The central character of The Plot is a writer named Jacob Bonner whose first published novel was followed by his next books failing to become hits, or even replicate his debut work's modest success. But with Crib he finally hit the jackpot — world-wide fame, fortune, and
his first genuine love relationship.
But this isn't a feel-good romance like Rachel to the Rescue which I wrote about in my recent Books to Help You Forget Pandemic Worriesl feature. Though it is a delicious and quite funny satire of the literary world.
As Jacob adds "Finch" to his name as a bow to To Kill a Mockingbird's heroic Atticus Finch, the title of his best seller is a sly reference to the thriller-triggering way he came to write himself out of a go-nowhere career into literary stardom. It seems that the book's twisty plot was actually told to him by a student at a program for wannabe writers at a second-rate college. While Jake thought Evan Parker, the student, was not up to his inflated self-image, the story he told to him during a student-teacher meeting was intereting. And so, when three years after that meeting he learns about that student's death, he decides to use the story for his own next novel.
Since Crib is all Jacob's writing he rationalizes his use of that student's story as being exactly the kind of retelling by revered scribes like Shakespeare. However, this being a mystery, there's someone who thinks Jake is a thief who is determined to expose him. Jake can't shrug off these threats and becomes increasingly fearful of the mysterious accuser whose various missives are signed "Taletented Tom."
Fortunately, the bulk of the novel is a lot of fun to read with its many scenes set in Jake's now busy life as a media superstar interspersed with his frantic search to identify and deal with the mysterious Talented Tom. The scenes when the lovely and enterprising Anna he met in Seattle comes to live with him in New York are also entertaining. Theater enthusiasts will recognize their outing to an immersive show in Chelsea as the long-running Sleep No More, at the McKittrick hotel.
While The Plot is enough of a good read for me to recommend it you don't have to be a Sherlock Holmes or Hercules Poirot to idenntify Talented Tom and guess this cat-and-mouse game won't end with the sort satisfying end you'd find in a Holmes or Poirot mystery. Unortunately, the .too obviously planted spoiler makes for a disappointing final part and takes the bite out of the concluding epilogue.
My Take on
An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good
Former dentist turned prolific and successful Swedish mystery writer Heene Tursten has spun off her Inspector Huss series into a series of short stories about an unusual anti-heroine named Maud. Like The Plot, we quickly realize that Maud will do someone in during each story. However, Tursten rounds out this elderly lady's persona in a way that's more amusing than appalling.
Inspector Huss does make an appearance in the final story puts it, you would be joining Maud for tea at your own risk. But then spending time with this elderly lady is a guilty pleasure, which is why my friend and colleague Lauren Yarger who recomended this collection — and I herewith pass her recommendation on to you.
December 23, 2021 Update
December 23, 2022 Update
Just as I was going to take advantage of the return to more normalcy by actually venturing forth to attend a live performance, the scary new Omicron reared its head. Actors and staffers who tested positive resulted in more and more canceled performances. Concerns about the Omicron blizzard has led to daily announcements of closings, at least until after Christmas.
Being in a super-high-risk age group, my own plans to see and review the musical adaptation of David Lindsay-Abaire's non-singing version of Kimberly Akimbo were canceled. But it is a show that affords plenty of opportunity for the sort of commentary that's taken the place of reviews based on my attendance at a press performance. .
And so, to begin this update, here's my take on how the current Kimberly Akimbo seems to answer the question "Does the show's current version make a case for musicalizing a successful play?"
I saw Kimberly Akimbo without anyone singing when it opened Off-Broadway and again when it moved to Broadway, My review, which includes links to the other plays in the trilogy of which it's a part is still available to read if you type Kimberly Akimbo into the special Google Search box on my front page — or you can link to it directly here.
Lindsay-Abaire is one of the contemporary theater's most original voices. His quirky storytelling has never been for everyone. However, thanks to strong casts and stagecraft, it made the leap to Broadway. The story of a teenager suffering from a disease that made her old before her time is still timely and doesn't really seem to need songs to have a second life. Yet, since the playwright has written the book and lyrics and enlisted director Jessica Stone and choreographer Danny Mefford to make it stageworthy it, has indeed resonated with enough musical theater lovers and critics for talk of a Broadway transfer from its Atlantic Theater run to be more than just talk.
Best of all, the singing Kimberly is Victoria Clark, one of the the musical theater's outstanding performers. Actually, if this show does move to Broadway, this may be a problem as Clark may be too hard to replace.
Unfortunately, for Mrs. Doubtfire, a movie hit that's made the leap from screen to Broadway as a musical, has met with mostly negative responses. In fact, the the once sensational story
about a divorced straight man who disguises himself as a woman so that he can get to spend time with his children has become so dated that it seems to be unnecessary to bring it to a Broadway stage in any format. That's despite a topnotch team and the terrific Rob McClure to take on the role made famous by the late Robin Williams. This isn't the first time McClure has been praised more than the show he's in. I still remember a floundering musical about Charlie Chaplin that McClure almost kept going (just type Chaplin into the special Google search box or click it on here.
Bringing a show to Broadway is a risky business at any time. That's why the tendency to mount safe but sure-fire crowd pleasers prevails.
While Kimberly Akimbo has a better chance than Mrs. Doubtfire to weather the pandemic's uncertainties and usual post holiday slowdown at the box office, the return to normalcy is once again a dark cloud overhanging everything.
That said, the hope for another groundbreaking juggernaut like Hamilton seems behind Lincoln Center's not presenting proven classics like My Fair Lady, South Pacific or The King and I. Instead they're reopening the Vivian Beaumont with Flying Over Sunset, a brand-new musical with a book by frequent Sondheim collaborator James Lapine.
Lapine, who also directs, has concocted a rather strange fantasia about three people who were 1950's household names — movie star Cary Grant, (Tony Yazbeck), playwright-ambassador-congresswoman Clare Boothe Luce (Carmen Cusack), writer-philosopher Aldous Huxley(Harry Hadden-Paton). Set in the 1950s the titular trip of this trio is fueled by LSD.
Lapine depicts them all at critical points in their lives which unifies their acid drenched fictional get-together.
Clearly Lapine can't be faulted for lack of imagination, nor Lincoln Cemter for not supporting this venture with a top-notch production. The cast is first-rate and the music is in the solid hands of Tom Kitt and and Michael Korins who shared a Pulitzer for Next to Normal..
Still, spending two-and-a-half hours without something to make me feel more into that trip with these once famous, but probably unfamiliar to younger audiences, didn't exactly make me sorry I wasn't there to see how this all played out. And, according to some of my theatrical colleagues who were there, it does indeed feel long, as well as too often tedious and confusing. If Linoln Center does film it I'd certainly have a look but in the meantime, I'll watch Boothe's The Women and some of Cary Grant's movies, all still available' free or for modest rental fees at Amazon Prime.
These old movies are fun and relaxing visits to the era of Hollywood's heyday. For more recent screen entertainment where storytelling is stretched out into a series, there's a Hulu original, Only Murders In This Building starring Steve Martin and Martin Short. It's a spoof of TV detective series with a ridiculously silly plot but it's just the sort of diversion to make us forget what's happening. For me much of the fun was spotting some of my favorite actors playing bit parts; also seeing scenes shot in the courtyard of one of Manhattan's elegant buildings — in this case the Belmord on 86th Street where I had a number of friends (all, sad to say, gone). Apparently, I'm not alone in binging my way through all the half-hour episodes in two big bites since a follow-up season is said to be in the works.
Whatever you watch and where, here's wishing you a better new year, one that will conquer this awful pandemic we've been living with for all too long.
December 7, 2021 Update
Tick, Tick. . .Boom! Annie; The Power of the Dog; and more
New Yorkers were breathing a bit easier and feeling a little less nervous about getting together with family and friends, as well as attending live entertainment But the leftover turkey wasn't even finished when in an instant another variant has arrived, threatening to make even double doses and boosters to make us wonder if life can ever return to normal. Many of my friends from Outer Critics Circle and Drama Desk have bravely decided to trust their vaccines and theater managers' safety precautions to see and report on the shows that have reopened.
That said, for those in high-risk age groups extra caution is the watchword and the availability of quality at-home entertainment is more important than ever. Given my own high-risk status and decision to limit my duties as Curtainup's editor-and-critic-in-chief to my film-and-theater-centric blog and features, below my report on what I have been and will be watching without leaving home.
Tick, Tick. . .Boom!— Lin-Manuel Miranda's directing debut.
It looks as if Miranda can do no wrong. His very first musical, In the Heights, won a Tony, and was recently excitingly filmed on HBOMAX.
Now Netflix is featuring the movie Miranda has made as a tribute to Jonathan Larson, who tragically died just when he made musical theater history with Rent. The title refers to how Larson, on the cusp of his thirtieth birthdy, was still a struggling artist and desperate to finish and get his musical Superbia produced while still working as a waiter to pay the rent. While the workshop production went nowhere, writing about his struggles to complete it did become the precursor for his legendary hit. Alas, h e didn't live long enough to create more shows, which left it to talented devotees like Miranda to carry the torch forward with Rent-inspired groundbreaking musicals .
Though . i>Tick, Tick. . .Boom! will be instant clickbait mostly for followers of anything Miranda does and fans of the amazingly versatile actor Andrew Garfield who portrays Jonathan Larson. But this is an instantly relatable story of a dream pursued regardless of hardships and disappointments. Rather than slavishly sticking the story he's filming, Miranda's choices for his adaptation are, like everything he does, original. And it works to pull in even those who'll miss the numerous real actors and musical theater makers who appear as extras in some scenes. Since you're watching the film on your home screen you could, of course, go back and see if there's anyone you can spot, especially in that diner where Larson worked.
Annie—the latest TV movie of the perennial kid pleasing musical
I don't have young kids to see NBC's
latest movie of this family-friendly, feel-good adaptation of the popular comic strip curly-haired orphan and Sandy, her furry friend. Except for its signature breakout number, "Tomorrow," it's not likely to make anyone's list of top quality musicals. Yet it's upbeat, hopeful mood, the energetic dance numbers and the lovable dog have resulted in movies, stage shows and high school productions for half a century. Movies, stage shows and high school productions. Annie, the nasty Miss Hannigan, Daddy Warbucks, and his devoted secretary Grace Farrell have been played by countless stellar actors.
Living as we in times as difficult and politically charged as the show's Great Depression era setting, I was curious enough about NBC's latest adaptation to watch it. Has the current creative team
brought something really new and NOW to this dated but beloved show. Unsurprisingly Annie is now African American . But w, it's the same old Annie and with very so-so production values.
Celia Smith is a cute enough Annie and Megan Hilty gamely and ably stepped in as Ms Burgess when Jane krakowski cane down with COVID and the ensemble will have the kids watching jumping up and down in their seats. Unfortunately Harry Connick is an underwhelming Daddy Warbucks and Taraji P. Henson is probably the worst Miss Hannigan.
Hannigan I've ever seen.
To sum up: The show's primary appeal remains the hokey story with its cheery message of a better tomorrow in the face of a darker reality. The kids in your house might still buy into it.
A more potent update of a genuine musical classic, West Side Story
For a more adult and potent update of a much produced and previously filmed musical, there's Stephen Spielberg's take on West Side Story. This is a true musical classic — great source story, superb music and lyrics.
But for all its deserved accolades, its casting and unauthentic character types has prompted calls for updhating before now. Apparently Spielberg and Pulitzer-Prize winning playwright Tony Kushner have managed to finally do it right.
Though not available for at-home watching, at least not currently, the original movie is available to rent or watch free on Amazon Prime.
And speaking of screening freebies, The Mint Theater has made one of the plays from its archive of past productions filmed before closing available to screen free through December 26th. No fee, no special password or specific date. Just go to https://minttheater.org and click on Hindle Wakes.
The Power of the Dog — a pitch-black psychodrama directed by Jane Campion.
If you're looking for a new movie to brighten your day or evening this isn't it. But if you like complex dramas with interesting historic backgrounds and great acting, director Campion's return to film directing is very much it. It's a period Western, but more than that, it's a psychological thriller, so deep and complex that you might have to see at least the last part twice to fully understand the relationships between two of its main characters — Benedict Cumberbatch's aggressively male cowBoy Phil and his step-nephew Pete (Kodi Smit-McPhee).
Both Cumberbatch and Smit-Mc Phee capture the inner workings of the older and younger man's minds. And Kirsten Durst and Jesse Plemmons also tap into the feelings of the characters who round out the plot. She's Rose, she as Rose, the widow George (Plemmons) marries, thereby putting an end to the brothers' share-everything lives— that includes sleeping in the same bedroom, in boy-sized beds.
My own initial viewing sent me back to Campion's memorable 1993 movie, The Piano at Amazon Prime. While it stayed with me all these years, this repeat viewing highlighted similar psychological complexities and unforgettable performances and visuals. Film buffs will want to take advantage of this opportunity to see both.
November 29, 2021 Update
Stephen Sondheim, A Life Well Well Lived
Unlike the many theater notables who knew him personally, I never knew Stephen Sondheim. But I knew and loved his groundbreaking contributions to the musical theater. Thanks to his masterful Sweeney Todd and under-appreciated Passion I became attuned to his brilliant mix of tonal and d atonal chords. As a writer i was in awe of his character-building, emoton-triggering, witty lyrics.
Since founding CurtainUp I've been fortunate enough to see most of his shows, often freshly staged and cast as proof of his being as timeless and adaptable as Shakespeare's plays. To read them, just go to the "Enhanced by Google" box and type in "Sondheim" and you'll be able to read them.
For now, I'm re-posting my review of Meryle Secrest's excellent biography, Stephen Sondheim, a Life — but began it wit her refrain from Sunday In the Park With George which sums up Stephen Sondheim's wonderfully well lived life.
I want to move on.
I want to explore the light.
I want to know how to get through
One of the routines of my Berkshire summer is a Thursday drive to Williamstown,
alternating between openings at the Williamstown Theatre Festival's two stages in
the Adams Memorial Theatre building. The Adams Memorial Main Stage was the magnet
drawing sixteen-year-old Stephen Sondheim to enroll at Williams College. It was also the
venue for, Phinney's Rainbow, a collegiate spoof on the hit musical Finian's Rainbow, which
was given four performances in 1948.
A motto adorning the steps of one of the dorms inspired his first original musical Climb
High. Anyone reading Meryle Secrest's richly detailed biography will also find that, while
there were plenty of stops and starts along the way, these words could also serve as a motto of
Secrest while not a musical expert, is an expert biographer. Since a biographer is very
much a puzzle solver, it's easy to understand her interest in a man with a well-known
fascination for puzzles. Her previous subjects include people of diverse artistic
background, only one of whom, Leonard Bernstein, was a musician. It was in fact while
trying to get a handle on Bernstein's creative lapse, that she first sought out Sondheim.
(He told her Bernstein had a bad case of "Important-itis").
Your goal the sky
Your aim the star
As she did in the Bernstein book, Secrest again skillfully traces the evolution of
Sondheim's work by carefully chronicling the personal influences that shaped his artistic
development. Her interviews with the composer-lyricist are woven through with comments culled
from interviews with friends, relatives and colleagues as well as secondary sources. In addition, there are a fair amount of biographer-as-analyst observations.
would have been nice to have more details about her methodology, especially about the
dates and circumstances pertaining to her meetings with Sondheim. Instead, she guards
the steps taken to piece together the puzzle of what makes her subject tick, as much as
Sondheim for all his cooperation seems to have controlled what he wanted in print. In
spite of this, Stephen Sondheim: A Life succeeds admirably in drawing a well-rounded and richly embroidered psychological and professional portrait. The emotional
deprived silver-spoon childhood -- a mother aptly called Foxy and a father who
abandoned the family for another woman -- are not just thrown in for the sake of a tell-all
expose flavor, but to show how artists generally and this artist in particular reprocess such
painful experiences. This savvy integration of the personal story , Broadway
insider anecdotes and the process of writing lyrics and composing makes for a
book that should please musical theater buffs as well as the general readers who make
biographies one of the best-selling categories of the book business.
The personal history isn't all Mommy Dearest and Daddy-Out-to-Lunch. Sondheim
was lucky in many of his friendships and family connections --
knight in shining armor in the latter department being Oscar Hammerstein 2nd whose Bucks
County retreat provided the young Sondheim with a nurturing home away from his mother's
unnourishing nest nearby. This surrogate father also became Sondheim's musical mentor and
the four-part program he prescribed for his protege as lessons in the art of writing musicals is
one any young aspirant might do well to follow:
First take a play that you like and musicalize it. Then take a play that you like but that you feel
has flaws and try to improve them, and musicalize it. Then take something that is not a
play but that somebody else has written, a novel or a short story, so that you don't have to invent
the characters or plot, and musicalize that and make it into a play. And then finally, write an
original, your own story, and dramatize that.
Sondheim began on Hammerstein's lesson plan during his junior year at Williams, starting with Beggar on
Horseback. Part four was the already mentioned Climbing High. Hammerstein saw much to like in this but was
disturbed that Sondheim took so much trouble with a character he didn't like. One of his written
notes in the margin of the script was "Don't bristle."
Ms. Secrest does not dwell unnecessarily on the darkness of her subject's childhood.. Instead she
moves through the stages of his life and work at a crisp enough pace to take us through his
stints as actor and TV scriptwriter and the genesis of his whole oeuvre of successful and not so
successful musicals. (An appendix with a chronological list, main original cast members and
performance dates would have enhanced the book's reference value).
Having reviewed a
revival of A Little Night Music just a few weeks before starting this book, the
chapter on this collaboration with Harold Prince and Arthur Laurents (one of several) was particularly
enlightening and enjoyable: The way Hermione Gingold fought for the role of Madame
Armfeldt, Prince's stated vision for an effect that would be "whipped cream with
knives", the reason for the lyrical construction of the big hit song "Send In the Clowns" and the stage disaster that sent all the china crashing and destroyed two costly antique candelabras.
While perhaps not as explicit as some tell-all biographies, Ms. Secrest does not skim over
Sondheim's homosexuality. In fact, with many memorable photographs generously
sprinkled throughout the text, the only thing missing in these 466 pages (including a 15-page index) is a CD with a little Sondheim music --
especially the refrain from Sunday In the Park With George which she uses to sum up
her story and Stephen Sondheim's continuing saga:
I want to move on.
I want to explore the light.
I want to know how to get through
Through to something new . . .
In looking back on this season of Broadway reopening its doors, we might well tag it Broadway's Never-Before -Season — never before have audiences been required to wear masks throughout a performance. . . never before did theaters rely on those able to get to Broadway by foot, car, bus or train rather than for tourists from abroad . . .never before did so many prestigious venues book plays usually seen only Off-Broadway. And never before were so many of these works by Black playwrights.
LaChanze and Chuck Cooper
A 66-year old Play Finally On Broadway
Unlike new Black-authored new plays like Pass Over, Lackawanna Blues was written and well received at the at the Public Theater's intimate LuEsther Hall 20 years ago so. Ruben Santiago- Hudson's chance to finally wow audiences with the way he inhabits all his memoir's characters owes its long overdue Broadway production to the Black Lives Matter movement that's escalated during the pandemic. And the 20-year delay of the
Lackawanna Blues Broadway debut seems short compared to the 66 years it took for this to happen for Alice Childress's Trouble In Mind.
While Santiago Hudson was able to showcase his play elsewhere and even write the script for a star-cast movie version, similar opportunities eluded Alice Childress. If her attempts to bring Trouble In Mind uptown after its brief run at Greenwich Mews Theatre hadn't been totally fruitless, she, rather than Lorraine Hansberry, would have been the first African-American woman to have a play produced on Broadway.
The failure of producers to welcome Black playwrights, especially women, challengrf how she was able to cast and define characters in a racist society. Thus Trouble In Mind made it too controversial to tackle. But that's exactly why this better-late-than-never production now at the Roundabout's American Airlines Theatre has proved itself to be very much of the moment. According to the many critical raves it's entertaining, relevant and feels totally fresh — as if just jumped off the page, even though when Childress wrote it she stilll used a typewriter.
A Better-Than-Ever Revival
Another widely praised Roundabout production is the revival of . Caroline, Or Change, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner's first musical theater venture at Roundabout's other Broadway venue, Studio 54. The critical reception has been even more thumbs up than for Trouble In Mind. Many who saw Caroline, Or Change at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre, as I did (My Review), found it to be even more dynamic and relevant currently. Since i was still covering new York theater as critic and editor-in-chief found the Broadway production richer. If I hadn't streamlined Curtainup into its present format, I'd have done a doubleheader, with a dinner break in between the matinee and evening event.
Eager as everyone is to once again enjoy all that New York has to offer, which of course includes attending plays and musicals in person, some shows will have a harder time staying open than others. While plenty of shows have failed despite critical raves, I hope that the super positive reviews will benefit these apparently great theatrical outings. Though sometimes even less worthy enterprises have survived critical pans, Diana, the Musical will have to overcome the double battering it got from both film and theater critics.
Spencer, the more narrowly focused Diana movie , seems to have fared sligtly better with that medium's pundits. Justin Chang of The Los Angeles Times managed this semi-positive sumup: " It's a historical fantasia, a claustrophobic thriller and a dark comedy of manners, all poised on a knife's edge between tabloid trash and high art." As I wait for the next series of The Crown which encompasses the whole Windsor Corporation, I can't help wondering what fantasia could be next. How about having Diana survive that accident?
Sondheim's Assassins May Be Too Close To our Real World
As Princess Diana has her cult following so does Stephen Sondheim.
I'm a fan myself and the Classic Stage, where his musical about the people who've tried to kill an Amerian president is currently being revived,
has long been one of my favorite downtown theaters. I've admired John Doyle's minimalist approach to Sondheim's musicals, and I don't doubt that the cast is topnotch. But I can't help wondering, if this is a good time to revive it. Granted, these characters are fascinating, and Sondheim's lyrics are, as usual, clever. But a musicsl satire about men and women violent enough to kill peole who don't agree with them, as well as government legislators, may be just a little bit too clever nowadays.
Update Of Our Lsst Update
As several readers pointed out, our list of stories in which a trio of siblings play central roles omitted one of the most famous trios: The Bennett sisters of Pride and Prejudice.
November 5, 2021 Update — Solo plays with multiple actors to narrate . . . the continuing popularity of trios of sisters, brothers and succeeding generations of one family as plot- driving characters
Twilight: Los Angeles, 1993
As Rubin-Santiago Hudson did for Lackawanna Blues, Anna Deveare Smith wrote the script for her solo play Twilight: Los Angeles, 1993 and performed its many characters. However, while Santiago-Hudson
continued to do it all for the play's long delayed Broadway production. Deveare Smith's solo is now performed by a small ensemble.
Deveare Smith's many interviews still require the five actors who take over from her to assume many roles. But the restructured presentation isn't the only change. Deveare Smith has updated her take on civil unrest script to incorporate events all too pertinent to the original into the production currently at the Signature Theater's Diamond Stage to November 14th.
Karl Kenzler, Elena Hurst, Wesley T. Jones,
Tiffany Rachelle Stewart, and Francis Jue
While there's something special about virtuoso solos all who've seen this new version Anna Deveare Smith's clever script changes, the work of the actors and Director Taibi Magar offset any loss by giving the audience a more panoramic experience. I wouldn't be surprised if the praise heaped on the show extended that closing date by a few weeks.
And, in case you're wondering if Santiago-Hudson has any plans turning over his role to an ensemble cast, he already did so for a 2005 movie. It featured a terrific cast and can be still be seen at YouTube.It's well worth your time.
Trios of Sisters, Brothers and succeeding generations of one family
Stories in which a trio of siblings play central roles are perennial winners as on stage and screen. In Shakespeare taught King Lear wouldn't be one of Shakespeare's great tragedies without the King's failure to to read his three daughter's all wrong — hitching his retirement plan to the nasty Regan and Goneril and banishing the true-bllue Cordelia.
One of Chekhov's great and frequently freshly reinterpreted plays pivots around the three sisters yearning to leave their dull lives to go back to their days in Moscow.
Beth Henley's Crimes of the Heart has provided meaty parts to actors playing her Magrath sisters. Tracy Letts won a Pulitzer for August: Osage County, his 2007 play about the Weston clan. The Weston sisters attracted top drawer actors for the movie adaptation as well as on stage. And lets not forget the Apple sisters of Richard Nelson's Rhinebeck panorama that just concluded this epic cycle with an independent production at the Hunter Theater (see my September 14th update).
The Gibbs Sisters who live in neighboring houses in a small town dominate Paul Osborne's 1939 family comedy. Mornings at Seven . Osborne added a fourth sister — an added acting opportunity. Too bad, the always wonderful Judith Ivey who's in the rare current revival at The Theatre at St. Clements had to drop out due to an injury. But plenty of stellar actors to round out the cast.
While there's often a brother who figures importantly in the sister trio stories, for a trio of brothers you can currently see the Broadway transfer of The Lehman Brothers. While one of the brothers of the Armory cast has left and is now played by an actor of color. Apparently there have also been some slight changes to add relevancy, but no concession has been made to its length. It's a long sit, even without masks, but apparently this hasn't fazed serious theatergoers, many of whom were unable to nab tickets during its run at the Armory.
Morning Sun, currently at MTC's Off-Broadway venue at City Center is a new play about a trio of women playing three generation, shades of Edward Albee's Three Tall Women. While the play hasn't collected uniform raves it does have a dynamite trio moving through half a century: Edie Falco, Blair Brown and Marin Ireland.
Finally, sibling trios are also famous between the covers of a book. Most famous are the March sisters of Little Women. It's seeded numerous screen adaptations, included a very new take very recently.
For me it's also led to discovering the wit and humor of novelist Elinor Lipman. One of her funniest is The Ladies Man, which — you guessed it — follows the lives of the three Dobbin Sisters and has a brother who features importantly. Lipman is without a doubt an author whose books you're likely to do a page-turning version of screen series binging.
October 28, 2021 Update
Broadway's comeback is being given a big boost by intensive marketing campaigns with two missions --first, to entice all within walking, driving or public transport of the theater district to buy tickets; second, to assure tourists that New York is once again a wonderful town.
The heavy-duty marketing has hit its mark with Manhattan, outer borough and exurban residents eager for live entertainment, even if it still requires tolerating masking and other safety protocols — especially theatergoers who attend more than a couple of shows a year. According to reports, those play as well as musical enthusiasts have not limited themselves to huge hits like To Kill a Mockingbird but attended some of this year's extraordinarily abundant Black-authored plays. That said, with reports of gross sales still kept under wraps, it's hard to assess whether producers of these plays are only selling tickets the last minute at heavy discounts, or giving many away to organizations who in turn make them available for just a few dollar. (A practicr known as papering the house).
That brings me back to my last update's comments about Lackawanna Blues by Ruben Santiago-Hudson at MTC's Thomas J. Friedman Theatre and Chicken and Biscuits by Douglas Lyons at the Circle in the Square Theatre. What both plays have in common besides being authored by Black writers is that they are abut Black characters and their runs at prestigious Broadway houses is part of the reckoning-with-racism that gained traction during the pandemic. However, unlike other new-to-Broadway plays like Pass Over, neither is focused on issues that went viral during the awful last year and a half. That said, both differ in format, aim and history.
Playwrighrt Santiago-Hudson is also a renowned actor. In Lackawanna Blues he performs his own story and inhabits all the characters. The aim of this solo memoir was to give audiences a vivid picture of the boarding house in which he grew up, and to celebrate the woman who ran it and opened its doors and her heart to everyone in need. I just used the past tense because this is not a debut but premiered to great acclaim at the Public Theater twenty years ago where CurtainUp reviewed it (see the the "enhanced by Google box).. The long delayed Broadway production has been received enthusiastically by critics and Manhattan Theatre Club subscribers. Though a limited run (closing November 12th), this is very much a case of better late than never. This Is a Roo and Dana H, two other new plays not usually likely to be seen on Broadway haven't fared quite as well despite also garnering positive reviews. Both are closing two months early.
While author Douglas Lyons is also an actor, he's structured Chicken and Biscuits, which is his first play, more conventionally with a full cast to portray his characters. The dramedy with it's tasty title has had a generally cool critical reception. As it took way too long for Lackawanna Blues to light up a Broadway marquee, Chicken and Biscuits seems to be a case of opportunity's knock coming too soon.
Lyons' aim is to recapture the fun and laughs of Neil Simon style comedies but with the people on stage no longer the same skin color as most of the audience — certainly a worthy ain. And in the light of our having had so little to laugh about and forget continuing problems, many people who went overlooked its shortcomings, including a few critics like the former New York Times critic who's now freelancing.
To write a show about Black people just living life and yet have something fresh to say, Mr. Lyons could have used some of the TVsitcoms that did so long ago as his role models. Isae Rae's series, Insecure, is a more current example of how comedy dramas about Black people can be fun, funny and especially meaningful to more than one group. I haven't seen the series yet, but hey, it's in its fifth season so it's ovviously a hot click at HBO. The footsteps Ms. Rae and her colleagues have opted to march in are Spike Lee's.
As long as I'm talking about well-written, superbly acted comedies, here's an oldie but goodie movie, As Good As It Gets. It won Oscars for Jack Nicholson, Helen Hunt and Greg Kinnear and also features an adorable dog. I saw the movie when it first came out but forgot how touching it was — better than a lot of the trendy stuff cluttering up Netflix.
October 9, 2021 Update
I saw .Souvenir
three times and was never bored. That's because it starred
Judy Kaye as Florence Foster Jenkins, a society woman who
enjoyed a remarkably successful concert career despite the fact
that her singing was gosh-awful. Kaye, who has a magnificent
voice, managed to to sing badly and portray Jenkins
and yet invest this screeching, self-proclaimed coloratura
with a bracing humanity and spirit.
But, per my review of the Netflix film of Diana, the Musical,
even Kaye's impressive Queen Elizabeth couldn't really
make this latest version of the iconic princess's
oft-told story more extraordinary than ordinary.
Now we have another musical about well-known royals,
this one the Tudor era's wives of Henry VIII famous for
having six wives, two of whom literally lost their heads.
The many marriages, especially those two beheadings, made that
British king and his six wives as famous, or rather
infamous, as the Windsors. They too have inspired many
books, movies and plays. Unllke the Diana team, Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss found a way to make a grim slice of history fun, fresh and relevant.
In 2018, when Lizzie Loveridge was still covering London theater for Curtainup she reviewed Six during its London run (you can read her review here). To quote from her rave,"It runs like an exci ting revival of the Spice Girls,
only better, wittier and with much accurate historical information."
Lizzie also commented on the new perspective that was created
out of the importance of Henry's wives from a feminist point of view,
but with a production that is styled like a pop concert.
No wonder Broadway was ready to embrace Six. Now
that it finally had its chance to let Henry's wives have
their say, it's a wow with New York critics as well and
promises to offer people something new, catchy and timely
during these still difficult days. When Diana finally reopens, it will have a tough time competing with that.
Broadway's Most Successful Play
To Kill A Mocking Bird Is Back
To Kill a Mockingbird
was Broadway's hottest non-musical ticket long
enough for the original cast to turn over their roles to
replacements. As the note at the top of my review of
the stunningly new revival of the iconic film adaptation
of Harper Lee's seminal novel indicates. that replacement cast
was ready to take over.
However, while the show's reopening at the Shubert Theatre
features some new actors, the original Atticus Finch and
Scout (Jeff Daniels and Celia Keenan-Bolger) are back for the
play's reopening. As for the play's impact after a year
without live theater, it's greater relevancy has been
ratcheted up by the protests triggered by the George Floyd
killing as well as an uptick in racism. Thus the shadow of
Floyd now seems to sit in the courtroom trial's balcony
with the "colored folks" allowed there.
The current Mockingbird also reflects how the
MeToo movement has finally done something about disarming
sexual predators. Case in point: The show's powerful lead
producer Scott Rudin has been ousted. His dismal saga
may well be dramatized one day.
Broadway Continues To Welcome More Off-Broadway type plays, But
The Welcome Mat Is Also Still Out For a Buzzy New
It took twenty years and the greater openness to works not
usually seen on Broadway -Ã‚Â one of the few positive effect
of the pandemic For Reuben Santiago-Hudson's Lackawanna Blues
to be presented at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre. I
have no argument with the praises heaped on the charm and
substance of the play and its author's performance. Both
script and performance were already lavishly praised when
my friend and colleague Les Gutman reviewed it at the Pubic
Theater's Luesther Hall,
That review can be read by clickinghere.
Santiago-Hudson certainly is an actor who can inhabit all
the characters of his memoir play, including his beloved Nanny.
And he has the vocal chops to project to the rear
and balcony of this 650-seat house. However, there's no
denying that people with seats closer to the stage get to
experience the actor's physical charisma more fully, as
audiences at the Public's much smaller theater did. Thus,
if ever a play deserved to be filmed, not just for a more
close-up experience but to be seen by larger, more diverse
audience, Lackawanna Blues is it.
Actually, the play was already filmed a few years after
that downtown run but that one wasn't a solo. Instead of
the author as narrator, it made Nanny, as portrayed by S.
Epatha Merkerson the star and cast other actors to play the other
characters. The producers should insure a longer life for
the current production by filming a performance.
The Time Is Always Right For a Shakespeare Production
it's the rare season that doesn't include a Shakespeare play
with enough buzz about its star or director, often both. Sure
enough, the Broadway comeback lineup of shows includes
one. I've stopped counting the revivals of Macbeth
reviewed at this site and the renowned actors playing the
amoral titular character who's abetted in his villainy by his
Beginning next March 29th, it will be Daniel Craig's turn. As
directed by Sam Gold, it's unlikely to be a conventional
version. The blood will spill at the Lyceum Theatre.
My Latest Recommendations For a Theatrical Outing Without
If you think you know all about William Randolph Hearst,
click over to the PBS American Masters series and watch Citizen Kane.
The title of this documentary is obviously a link to
the famous Orson Welles film about him. That film is still
available online, as is Mank, the movie about the film's creator that I reviewed.
In these days of fewer and fewer printed newspapers, the
early Hearst years provide a wonderful a digital trip back
to when New York had dozens of newspapers all with
multiple editions that were hawked on the street. Hearst was a
fascinating man, a genius at monetizing journalism, but a
quite monstrous one given his intense racism. The scenes
from his later life are also enhanced with wonderful archival
A new PBS documentary worth your time is part of
their American Masters series. This one is about Latina
actress and social activist Rita Moreno, a decidedly more
likable subject than Hearst. We're treated to some wonderful
samples from a 7-decade spanning career in the movies, on TV
and the stage. But the still peppy and busy Moreno also
shares some of her personal traumas-- including sexual abuse
and her long and painful relationship with Marlon Brando.
Finally, Our Souls At Night is no exception. And
I've saved the best one of those little gems we often miss
on over-stuffed platforms like Netflix. This 2017 movie is
an adaptation of Ken Harouf's last novel before his death.
As in all his novels his characters live in Holt, Colorado
and the movie beautifully captures the town's downtown and
more residential neighborhood. The title refers to the
loneliness of a widow and widower, both in their
and living in houses not meant for just one person. They
know each other but when the widow proposes that he spend
the night in her bed, it comes as quite a surprise to
him since there's never been a hint of mutual attraction
between them. But romance isn't what she has in mind.
Assuming that like her, he finds the nights especially
difficult to get through alone, she thinks a bed companion
will get each to get through the night and want to get up
and move through their days more energetically.
All this may sound a bit contrived but Harouf's characters
were never anything other than genuine and their stories
were imbued with relatable big issues. Our Souls At Night
is no exception. We should all look so good
in our golden years and remain as accomplished as Fonda
September 14, 2021 Update --An in-person finale of Richard Nelson's Rhinebeck Panorama. . . the Atlantic Theater comes back to live performamces with a new play, The Last of the Love Letters, and Gingold Theatrical Group with a Shaw crowd pleaserMrs. Warren's Profession. . . .An on-screen treat, Angela's Ashes: the Musical.
It would be boorish not to be pleased by all the publicity showered on Waitress and Hadestown, the first musicals to come back to Broadway. Senator Chuck Schumer's attendance at the Waitress
opening and the fact that Sara Bareilles Ã‚Âthe show's creator
and composer will be starring through October 17th has
no doubt contributed to healthy ticket sales. Sadly, Nick
Cordero who played a major role in the Broadway production I
reviewed was a COVID victim. (Read my review here ) Here's hoping, that Hadestown, which I reviewed off-Broadway in 2016, and on Broadway in 2021 (Broadway Review Off-Broadway Review).will also continue to thrive.
While Broadway is indeed essential for the city's economic
well-beng, Off-Broadway theaters are where so many shows
begin life. These always adventurous theaters too have
suffered enormous losses and need attention and support to
keep the city's cultural heart beating.
Like the big Broadway houses, these small venues are
returning to live performances with strict safety
protocol in place. Some, especially the Irish Rep Theater
have actually used the lockdown to win new fans from far
away with previously presented plays inventively filmed for
the screen. Though they are opening the doors of their
140-seat theater again, their screened plays are still available
to rent inexpensively OnDemand. The Rep is tthe
perfect host tor the New York screen debut of the Pat
Moylan poroduction of the musical adaptation of Frank McCourt's
Pulitzer Prize winning memoir Angela's Ashes. My
comments on seeng the film's opening performance comfortably
seated at my dining table will follow my comments on
Off-Broadway plays that are or will soon be offering
plays for audiences to see in person. . All offer a chance
to go back to the theater in a less populated
What Happened?--The Michaels Abroad by Richard Nelson.
When the Michaels last shared a meal and conversation around a
table in Rhinebeck, the family matriarch Rose, a distinguished
choreogrspher, was dying of cancer. In the concluding play she's been
dead for six months, not from the cancer but COVID and the Michaels
family has been cleared to fly to France for a conference of her work.
The table around which they are gathered is the home of Rose's wife
Kate in France. As usual, the two hours are more about character than
plot. The table talk includes some dancing, but above all, these
characters are all living through the same present as all who are
Maryann Plunkett and her husband Jay O. Sanders, who've been
in every play , including the Zoom trilogy, are on board
for the finale. Their presence in the last of these
basically under-dramatized plays may have some of their many
fans conquer their Delta Variant nervousness.
For ticket information, go to https://www.huntertheaterproject.org/
The Last of the Love Letters If CurtainUp
were still in old "cover every new show coming to town"
mode, I'd certainly check out the world premiere of The Last of the Love Letters
at the Atlantic's Linda Gross Theater at 3336 West 20th Street.
It's a limited run engagement that began August 26th and
will end September 26th. Playwright
Ngozi Anyanwu also performs and Patricia McGregor directs
Playwright and player Ngozi Anyanwu is joined on stage by Daniel
J. Watts and Xavier Scott Evans, the former listed as "You No.2"
and the latter as "Person." They contemplate the thing they love
most and whether to stick it out or to leave it behind. To stay. Or to
go. That is the question. Sounds like a challenging choice.
Next up at the Atlantic is an intriguing new musical based on David Lindsay-Abaire's Kimberly Akimbo,
with book and lyrics by Lindsay-Abaire, music by Jeanine Tesory.
Directed by Jessica Stone and starring the golden voiced Victoria Clark
as Kimberly, this sounds like a show with legs to take it to Broadway.
Still, there's nothing like seing it in a more intimate space . That
opportunity will be from November 5 to December 26, 2021.
Mrs. Warren's Profession
Just once every year Gingold Theatrical Group departs from its modus
operandi of play readings to put on a fully staged play at Theater Row.
And they're doing so now with a revival of Bernard Shaw's Mrs. Warren's Profession.
The play has had its share of outstanding thespians portray the main
characters. Director David Staller too has assembled a fine cast. Tony
Award winner Karen Ziemba stars as Mrs. Warren. She's supported by
Robert Cuccioli, David Lee Huynh, Nicole King, Alvin Keith and Raphael
Nash Thompson. The limited engagement runs from October 12th to November
20th. To read the half dozen other productions of this play reviewed at
CurtainUp, see Playwrights Album chapter on Shaw here.
Angela's Ashes: The Musical enjoyed
a number of widely praised live productions in Ireland. Now the
filmed version is making its New York debut. Having that debut hosted by
the Irish Rep is an apt choice given their own history with Frank
McCourt. They successfully produced McCourt's revue The Irish and How they Got That Way,
and revived it after his death in 2009. Like the Rep's archive of past
live productions innovatively filmed for screen viewing, Angela's Ashes: The Musical
is also smartly filmed, making the Rep the premiere's perfect host.
However, unless things change, the Pat Moylan film will be available
only for its short run, unlike the ones produced by the Rep that can
still be accessed OnDemand.
To cut to the chase. . . Can the source book really work
as a musical? After all, anyone who's read McCourt's memoir about his
difficult Irish childhood, or seen the film adaptation that's still
available at Amazon Prime, may find it hard to imagine young Frank and
his impoverished family members singing an dancing.
I'll admit that I had my doubts. But that was before attending the first
performance courtesy of the laptop on my dinng room table.
Thanks to Thom Southerland innovative direction and Jacinta Whyte
and Eoin Cannon superb acting and singing as Angela and Frank, Paul
Hurt's book and Adam Howel's music and lyrics, McCourt's story does
indeed come to vivid life as a musical drama.
Hurt's book remain true to McCourt's recollecions of his
unhaooy Irish childhood in Limerick, the town to which his family
returned after failing to survive their first journey to America. That
was when Frank, the oldest, was just 5-years-old. The years of extreme
poverty resulting from his father's drunkenness and failure to supprt
the family was exacerbated by the Limirick citizenry treatment often, mistreatment. No wonder, the dream that took more than a dozen
years to realize that Frank's mantra was to go to America.
Eoin Cannon deftly jumps back and forth between Frank as the show's
adult narrator, and Frank as an active member of his large,
troubled family. I usually don't like to see adult actors playing
children, but Cannon won me over here. Jacinta Whyte inhabits the role
of a woman whose love match results in too many children and
incredible hardship. Her powerful vocals add some of the best
solos and duets to the show. While Cannon and Whyte are thhe show's
stars, The ensemble too does finw work portraying the Limerick
citizenry, many of whom add to the pain of the McCourts'
return to Ireland.
Best of all, this musical adaptation
brings some light into the memoir's darkness. The
heartbreaking moments are still there, but so are some rousing
dance numbers and funny moments. Not to be overlooked in the
musical's assets is Francis OConnor's clever stage design with its use
of a moving staircase, suspended window frames and a balcony.
For ticket details go to https://irishrep.org/tickets/
August 24, 2021 Update
With the Delta Variant ratcheting up health and safety
concerns and the hesitancy of audiences to return to the
theater, the opening of Infinite Life, a new play by
2014 Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Annie Baker has been
delayed indefinitely by the prestigious Off-Broadway Signature
Theater and the artist.
While Passing Over , which has already opened and the
critics who went reviewed favorably, this new, two-person take
on Beckett's Waiting for Godot has a three-fold
problem: 1, Though it garnered much praise in it's original
off-Broadway , a small and edgy play like this was always
going to have trouble attracting a Broadway audience. 2. It
is saddled with the same health and safety concerns that
prompted the Signature Theater decision to put Baker's play
on hold. 3. Being the very first play to open up on
Broadway puts an extra burden on a play that was risky to
begin with. Coming as it does after more than a year of
unprecedented suffering, loneliness, and horrendous
events, is a serious drama like Passing Over really
an ideal way start things off? Aren't we more
ready and in need of something light and bright? The anemic
ticket sales indicate something lighter would have a
better chance of holding on until the October closing date.
But there's good news about the Shakespeare in the Park production of Merry Wives of Windsor,
which officially opened August 9 at the outdoor Delacorte Theater.
If you missed the lively, handsomely staged production, it's
going to have a digital aftelife as a film. It will be
available as part of the PBS Great Performance series.
August 18, 2021 Update
When you click over to https://irishrep.org/ to reserve
your ticket tor a limited time free viewing, you'll see that
what looks like another treat is coming up next: a
musical version of Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes. And,
if you missed any of their previous screened performances,
they're available for a $25 reservation that allows you 48
hours to view it.
While the latest Broadway revival of West Side Story,
one of the most durable musical adaptations of a
Shakespeare play, is not coming back, Shakespeare's words—
whether heard or read — will continue to be a favorite
source for apt commentary on current events. And so my
favorite quote of the week was from an article entitled
"A Political Dynasty Bites the Dust." Miriam Pawel led into the
piece on Andrew Cuomo's downfall by noting that his more
successful and eloquent father's public waffling on his
presidential prospects earned him the epithet "Hamlet on the Hudson."
She then topped this with "at least in this regard, Andrew Cuomo
has indeed outdone his father as the true Shakespearean figure, whose
hubris and love of power for power's sake had tragic consequences
for so many."
Add to the real life dramas grabbing our attention the new
dark clouds the the Delta Variant is casting over the
optimism pertaining to the long list of opening dates. For
sure, screened entertainment is a more than ever vital
adjunct to our theater experience.
Below is a list of shows offering tickets starting as
of the announced opening and re-opening dates. Though
gross sales are currently not being made public, it's no
secret that even the hottest shows have tickets
available. The following list includes Broadway and
Off-Broadway, through the end of this year.
Aug. 22--Pass Over (August Wilson) -
Sept. 2--Hadestown (Walter Kerr); Waitress (Barrymore) -
Sept. 3--Blue Man Group (Astor Place) -
Sept. 14--Chicago (Ambassador); Hamilton (Richard Rodgers); The Lion King (Minskoff); Wicked (Gershwin) -
Sept. 17--David Byrne's American Utopia (St. James) -
Sept. 21--Sanctuary City (NYTW/Lortel); Little Shop of Horrors (Westside) -
Sept. 22--Come from Away (Gerald Schoenfeld) -
Sept. 24--Moulin Rouge (Al Hirschfeld) -
Sept. 26--Tony Awards (Winter Garden/CBS/Paramount +) -
Sept. 28--Lackawanna Blues (MTC/Samuel Friedman); Aladdin (New Amsterdam) -
Oct. 1--Diana premieres on Netflix -
Oct. 3--Six (Brooks Atkinson) -
Oct. 4--Letters of Suresh (Second Stage/Kiser); Sleep No More (McKittrick Hotel)
Oct. 5--To Kill a Mockingbird (Shubert) -
Oct. 7--Freestyle Love Supreme (Booth) -
Oct. 8--Tina: The Tina Turner Musical (Lunt-Fontanne) -
Oct. 9--Gazillion Bubbles Show (New World Stages) -
Oct. 10--Chicken and Biscuits (Circle In the Square) -
Oct. 11--Is This A Room (Lyceum) -
Oct. 13--Girl from the North Country (Belasco) -
Oct. 14--The Lehman Trilogy (Nederlander) -
Oct. 14--Fairycakes (previews begin; Greenwich House Theater -
Oct. 16--Ain't Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations (Imperial) -
Oct. 17--Dana H. (Lyceum) -
Oct. 21--Jagged Little Pill (Broadhurst); The Woman in Black (McKittrick Hotel) -
Oct. 22--Phantom of the Opera (Majestic) -
Oct. 27--Caroline or Change (Roundabout/Studio 54) -
Oct. 31--Thoughts of a Colored Man (Golden) -
Nov. 3--Morning Sun (MTC/City Center) -
Nov. 4--The Visitor (Public) -
Nov. 5--The Book of Mormon (Eugene O'Neill) -
Nov. 12--Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (Lyric) -
Nov. 15--Jersey Boys (New World Stages) -
Nov. 17--Diana (Longacre); Cullud Wattah (Public) - -
Nov. 18--Trouble in Mind (Roundabout/AA)
Nov. 22--Clyde's (Second Stage/Hayes) -
Dec. 5--Mrs. Doubtfire (Stephen Sondheim) -
Dec. 9--Company (Bernard B. Jacobs) -
August 6, 2021 Update
A Still Unanswered Question: To Mask or Not to Mask
The worrisome Delta variant's ability to spread the virus
make the announced comeback of live theater more
problematic than ever. As if
grappling with the financial fallout of more than a year of closed
theaters weren't enough, audiences must now be persuaded to
buy tickets at the level they once did without guaranteed herd
Exciting and fun as it is to be inside a theater, sharing
the experience with a crowd of strangers may lessen
rather than intensify the special something of the live
experience. Except for the big, legendary musicals, the real
not-to-be-missed outing will thus continue to be a
meet-up with a small group of safely vaccinated friends
and family members during which even a hug is possible. In
addition, outcomes of real life dramas like the Andrew
Cuomo scandal are unfolding on our screens, not on any
Masked or unmasked, in a full or partially
full house, what's on offer will continue to reflect the
increased focus on diversified storytellng and casting.
However, while we've seen great progress in gender and
racial diversity on both stage and screen, audiences
tend to reflect the same elitist patterns. Thus when a
talented young African-American critic visiting the
Williamstown Summer Festival she commented on the fact that
only a mostly white audience got a chance to see these
commendably of-the-moment shows.
The Problem With Audience Diversity
The Berkshire area's cultural riches have made it possible
for towns like Pittsfield, Williamstown and North Adams to
overcome the closing of factories by creating job and
business opportunities for those catering to the mostly white
visitors and residents drawn to the area's natural beauty and
many entertainment hubs. Unlike that young New York critic,
more people travel there to see some shows by car than bus.
Most year-round and summer residents are not only mostly
white, but are retired or close to retirement.
Of course, the true test of a story that will be
relatable to an audience no matter who they are and how
they live depends on the work's emotional impact and
authenticity. Two plays scheduled for anniversary Broadway
revivals likely to hit home with audiences regardless of
age or taste are Paula Vogel's How I Learned to Drive and Richard Greenberg's Take Me Out --
the first with its original stars, and the latter with a
new cast. I was fortunate to see both in their original and
subsequent runs (How I Learned to Drive & Take Me Out).
Yes, You Can See Audra McDonald Perform Right Now
To begin with the good news. Robert and Michelle King have
concocted a six-episode series for eight stellar stage actors,
with a plot so wild and weird that you hardly notice
that only the actors who are actually living together as a
couple (Audra McDonald-Will Swenson; Phllipa Soo-Stephem Pasquale)
In case you are a fan of zombie movies, you may not think
it's bad idea to turn the pandemic into a case of
having the virus caused by a bite that turns the bitten into
monstrous zombies. Since the Kings are skilled screenwriters
(their hits include The Good Wife series),
they at times do succeed to have this all come off as a
comic riff on the genre. The plot revolves around Audra
McDonald, a concierge doctor with a Zoom practice and Taylor
Shilling, a high-paid dominatrix. But not even McDonald as
the doctor , or Pasquale and Swenson as her onscreen
husband and lover respectively, can save this from turning into
a mish-mash of styles and a misuse of talent. The only
payoff for those hanging in for all the episodes is that
McDonald is allowed to sing briefly.
Docu-Series: The Streaming Platforms' Most Durable and Adaptable Genre
While Zombie and other types of thrillers will no doubt
continue to show up on streaming platforms, the most
frequently embraced genre is the documentary which lends
itself to multiple, thematically connected series. Just
click on that little search icon and a treasure trove of
interesting titles is likely to pop up. CNN is just
completing an entertaining and informative 8-part History of Comedy
that you can watch an episode at a time or binge through at
your available On Demand platform. One of this series'
frequent commentators Norman Lear got a biography of his
own five years ago that's still available as part of the
American Masters series for those with a THIRTEEN Passport.
It's nice to know that Lear, who was 94-years-young when the
piece was filmed is still one of our peppiest senior
The adaptability of the documentary format is perhaps best illustrated by Ronan Farrow's Catch & Kill: The Podcast Tapes,
a series on HBO that combines Farrow's expose of movie
mogul Harvey Weinstein in print and via a podcast into a a
series in which Farrow visually interacts with other
journalists who tried but never ma
Last Blog Entry Correction
An update about my July 18th blog entry about American Rhapsody, an
especially timely movie to catch up with. It can be seen
by Amazon Prime members. However, like some Amazon Video
features it calls for a rental or purchase fee. In a case
like this it doesn't hurt to do a search for whether it's
available for free on YouTube or another channel. American Rhapsody is indeed free to screen on YouTube.
In the meantime my favorite oldie but goodie is Chinatown. It IS free on Amazon Prime. There's even a sequel called 2 Jakes ,
directed by and still starring Jack Nicholson, but it's not
on a par with the one directed by Roman Polanski who left the
country to escape rape charges.
July 18, 2021 Update-- Lots of Screening and Live Theater News
Screened Entertainment News
The promotional hype for My Unorthodox Life says fans of the wonderful Unorthodox
mini-series would love the latest Netflix take on the
life of a woman raised in an ultra-Orthodox community. I
beg to differ.
Netflix captured a huge fan base with Unorthodox; and Shtisel,
an Israeli series. Both were emotionally powerful with
authentic storytelling and superb acting that captivated
enthusiastic viewers all over the world -- no matter what, if
any, their religious affiliation.
(My review of Unorthodox & \ Shtisel).
However, My Unorthodox Life, hardly makes a case
for harnessing the story of a once ultra-Orthodox
mom-turned-decidedly un-Orthodox career woman to the reality
show format. I'll admit, that this is not a genre I've
ever liked, probably even less so, given that it helped
to give Donald Trump the visibility to make a run for the
highest job in the country and actually win.
While Julia Haart is a good choice to star in this
unscripted reality series, the experiences unfolded during
its nine episodes lack the authenticity and warmth of Unorthodox and Shtisel.
Since Julia's successful flight into un-rthodxy took her to
the fashion world there's the visual appeal of that to
encourage continued watching. But for a series tackling a more
genuine exploration of this background, I recommend Shugrin which tackles the singles scene. Like Shtisel,
it's an Israeli series focusing on an
ensemble of 30-something friends who live on their own but
still observe their religion's rituals. Once again, the
well-developed and endearingly portrayed characters keep you
clicking on episode after episode. All four seasons can be
screened at Amazon Prime (free with ads).
As long as I'm recommending oldies but goodies you may have
missed here are two more still available to screen at Amazon
Prime: Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel and American Rhapsody.
The first is a 2011 documentary about the life and career of Diana
Vreeland, a legend of the fashion world famous for her time at
Harper's Bazaar and Vogue and tenure at the Metropolitan
Museum's Costume institute. The 88-minute film was directed and
produced by Vreeland's granddaughter-in-law Lisa Immordino. It
brought back memories of Full Gallop, a solo play about
this one-of-a-kind grand dame that I reviewed both in
New York and in the Berkshires
(Off Broadway review &
American Rhapsody, a 2001 fact-based biographical drama,
is about a Hungarian family that fled to America during
the Stalin era but had to leave behind their baby girl.
Though it took four years to undo that separation,
they were eventually reunited with the by then four-year
old girl,. The child
was unable to feel truly connected to her Americanized family
since the reunion abruptly separated her from the foster
parents she'd come to love. Given the thousands of
children separated from their parents in recent years, makes
this film remarkably timely. Scarlett Johansson portrays the
rebellious teen whose coming-of-age story this essentially
Another oldie but goodie film I caught up with, this one
at HBO, was Warren Beatty's epic historical drama Reds
which he directed and starred in with Diane Keaton. Both he and
Keston manged to create a film that captured a fascinating
slice of history but also managed to be a moving love
story. The f sound trsck includd a song by Stephen
News about live theater's comeback
The early reopening of the Park Avenue Armory's Drill Hall with a cutting edge adaptation of Enemy of the People
that I wrote about in my previous blog updatehad an
unplanned early closing because Ann Dowd left the show to tend
to a family crisis. Solo shows may be essier and more
economical to stage, but they often don't have understudies to
take over in case of emergencies.
In the meantime, audiences are enjoying the way
Shakespeare's characters are making merry and giving a nod
to black-is-beautiful snd same-sex msrrisge in Central Park.
But, the filmed version of In the Heights has run
into complaints about not reflecting all the ethnicities snd
skin tones in its Wahington Heights setting. Actually, the
problem of colorism was at the hesrt of Dale Oleander
Smith's 2002 Pulitzer Prize winning play
Many of the new shows that will be available for live
vieweing will indeed reflect an all-out effort to bring
more diversity to all aspects of theater. Starting on
November 3rd, Pulitzer Prize winning African-American playwright
Lynne Nottage is bringing a new comedy called Clyde's
to the Hayes Theater. The comedy about a truck stop sandwich
shop staffed by a formerly incarcerated kitchen staff is
directed by Nottage's frequent collaborator Kate Whoriskey. The
role of the workers' callous boss is probably a better fit
for Uzo Aduba than her recent role as a wealthy,
emotionally frail therapist in the HBO mini-series In Treatment.
Off Broadway News
Richard Nelson has wrapped up his panorama of Rhinebeck plays.
Except for the two plays that were Zoomed courtesy of COVID,
Chekhovian get-togethers were staged at the Public Theater.
What Happened?: The Michaels Abroad will not be
part of the Public's comebck season. Instead, Nelson has
opted to give his new play an early comeback in an intimate
setting by joining forces with Hunter Theater Project and its
producer, Gregory Mosher And so, as the Michaels will bring
actors and audiences together from August 28th to October 8th
in the intimate 74-seat Frederick Loewe Theater at Hunter
College the Michaels clan's get-together now plays out in
Angora, France as they attend a student dance festival. The
play unfolds in the present time when both the characters on
stage and the viewers are trying to find a way back from
the upheavals and heartbreak of the pandemic. Nelson directs,
as he usually does, and the cast includes the Rhinebeck
play regulars, Maryann Plunkett, and Jay O. Sanders. Running time is
one hour and fifty minutes with no intermission. Tickets are an
affordable $39.50, $17.50 for students.
Those attending must provide proof of completed immunization via
Excelsior Pass or Vax Card, upon arrival. For more information and
tickets, go to www.huntertheaterproject.org.
You can read Curtainup's reviews about the whole play
series that began twelve years ago, just go to the special
Google search box, type in
This production is made possible by a generous grant from Susie
After more than a year with little to laugh about, we can
all use a few good laughs, and who better to bring it to
us than playwright Douglas Carter Beane. With Fairycakes, he's brought us what the publicists describe as an uproarious clash of A Midsummer Night's Dream and
old-world fairy tales,
This mashup allowed Beane to create a show in which
characters must learn to get along with one another, find ways to
connect and own up to their mistakes, and forgive others for their
failings. While Beane's plays have been produced on many
stages, he's premiering Fairycakes back to his first
theatrical home, the Greenwich House Theater. Beane himself directs
the large cast of theater luminaries, many who also began
their careers downtown. So far it includes Mo Rocca, Alfie
Fuller, Jackie Hoffman, Kuhoo Verma, Ann Harada, Jamen Nanthakuma, Julie
Halston, Brooks Ashmanskas, and Jason Tam. For more invormation
And go to https://www.playbill.com to keep track of all
opening and re-opening announcements.
July 8, 2021 Update
Shows closed down or never opening continue to announce
when they plan to come back. The all-black cast at the
Delacorte Theater in Central Park will continue to make merry
an extra three weeks to September 18th.
And on Broadway, Bruce Springsteen isn't waiting until fall,
but is at the St. James Theater now for a limited run
that ends September 4th. Since this is
essentially a live concert without the big cast, sets and
costumes needed for typical Broadway musicals, it's easy to
understand the decision not to wait until fall or even next
year, like other Broadway shows. It's the same show that
had people lined up around the block when it played at the
Beacon, but longer and with some songs added to reflect the
Black Lives Matter movement that gained momentum after the
death of George Floyd.
Even if masks and distanced seating can be dispensed with
by the time all these announced openings actually happen,
will affect what will induce audiences to come back. The
most drastic change already announced pertains to the return
of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child which was
originally presented in two parts, requiring two tickets and
more than 5 hours. It's been cut in half so it can be
seen in a single performance and with just one ticket
to buy. The show's return to Broadway is scheduled for
November 16th. For my review for the original two-part version
in 2018 go here.
New takes on often presented dramas are likely to
continue, especially if it can be done in a streamlined
staging, shades of the Waiting for Godot inspired Passing Strange mentioned in my June 7th blog update. Like that show the drastically streamlined Enemy of the People
is currently running, in this csse at the Park Avenue
Armory. Not only is the titular "Enemy" the sole actor but
in this version is played by Ann Dowd. Those who nab a
ticket ( $55) will be seated at one of 45 tables and become
part of the show by voting the "enemy's" guilt. This version
was commissioned by the Armory during the pandemic. Also
expect to present proof of vaccination and a government-approved
photo ID. The show began its summer run on June 22nd and will
continue through August 8th. It's 90 minutes, unlike the
more traditional versions' 2 1/2 hours.
In the meantime, The Lehman Trilogy, -- the last show I
saw and reviewed at the Armory has announced a 99-performance
run at the Nederlander Theater on September 13th. No word
about any cuts in the original 3 1/2 hour running time that
included two intermissions (To read my review of the original
Whether the return to normalcy will continue to show that
the support of more inclusiveness pertaining to all
aspects of theater making remains an open question. For
example, one can't help wondering about why the producers
are bringing back Neil Simon's Plaza Suite
festuring Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker. The limited
run at the Hudson Theater next February with ticket-selling
stars sounds more like the old than the new normal to me.
But who knows. . . maybe director John Benjamin Hickey has some
"woke" tricks up his sleeve.