Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Hey, Can I Be on Stage Too?

Upon entering one of the rooms at the McKittrick hotel, a performer looked in my direction. I immediately looked around me to see the other performer she was looking at but realized that it was me – an audience member - she was looking at. She then took my hand and led me to a dark room. But wait a second, I thought. I'm an observer. I'm not a part of the show (hey, see my mask). That’s the way it should be. Right? 

Well, not for all shows. As I reminisce about my Sleep No More experience, I recall a few other instances where audience members become a part of a show. 

Gob Squad's Kitchen (You've Never Had it So Good) - Take a few random audience members, throw them into remakes of Andy Warhol films under the direction of the Gob Squad and you have one entertaining evening (even if you are not a Warhol fan).

Room 17B In this case, I actually knew the audience member who was pulled into a hilarious version of musical chairs on the small stage at 59E59 Theaters. What fun it was to watch!

Play Dead – The audience promised Todd Robbins not to give away what happens in this cross between a magic show, seance and haunted house visit.  Let’s just say that the audience better be prepared to partake in all the goriness.

Blind Date In this production Rebecca Northan as Mimi (clown nose and all) selects a guy from the audience, and together they have an impromptu blind date, with the audience watching every move (as if a blind date isn't stressful enough on its own). An absolutely clever piece of improv theater.

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee – How about getting to relive middle school for a few moments? Throw in some quirky characters and an audience member and you have one heck of a competition.

The Donkey Show – My colleague reminded me of this blast from my past. Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream set to disco in a club on the far west side. Aaah, I want to get up and dance right now.

All of these productions were so much fun. Hey producers, if you are looking for an audience member to add a little impromptu color to your interactive production, sign me up!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Cancer Be Not Proud,,,,,,,,,,

On Thursday, I saw the film 50/50 and on Friday, I saw Margaret Edson's Pulitzer prize winning Wit on Broadway. So, yes, you can say that cancer has been on my mind after seeing these two excellent pieces.

I imagine there are very few people in the country who have not been impacted by cancer. We all probably know someone who has had the dis-ease or perhaps we ourselves have it...it being this abnormal growth in you name the body part...the spine and back like 27 year old Adam in the film 50/50 or perhaps the ovaries like the 50 year old English professor Vivian Bearing in Wit.

Adam and Vivian are fictional characters. But interestingly, Will Reiser, 50/50 screenwriter and co-producer, survived cancer when he was in his 20s; his experience is the inspiration for the film. Cynthia Nixon, who plays Vivian Bearing in MTC's Wit at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, is a breast cancer survivor; Lynne Meadow, the director, is also a cancer survivor. Many compare Ms. Nixon's performance to that of Kathleen Chalfant, who first played the role to praise on the New York City stage in 1998. According to this NY Times article, after Ms. Chalfant's brother died from terminal cancer in 1998, she approached the role of Vivian Bearing with "a new level of empathy and insight".

According to the American Cancer Society, "half of all men and one-third of all women in the US will develop cancer during their lifetimes." The other day as I read a book on nutrition while taking the NYC subway to Brooklyn, I became troubled when I read that I unknowingly increased my chances of breast cancer by simply starting my menstrual cycle at an early age (wish I could have controlled that one) and never having children. Throw in my Kevin Zraly wine classes, and let's just say I better heed the advice in that nutrition book and also start popping some folate.

In Wit, Vivian Bearing has Stage IV cancer. She reminds us that there is no Stage V. The erudite college professor specializing in the metaphysical poetry of John Donne neglects to get regular medical checkups, even though her mother died from cancer (body part - breast). The play takes us through the last year of her life as she gives up the intellectual control that has been her strength throughout her life and becomes weakened physically and emotionally by experimental cancer treatments at a university research hospital and knowing that her end is near.

I highly recommend seeing 50/50 and Wit. Both use humor to portray a subject matter that will impact most of us. 50/50 is now on DVD and Wit runs through March 11th on Broadway.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Stage Door: Cast Members from "The Gershwin's Porgy and Bess"

Some members of Catfish Row leaving the Richard Rodgers Theatre on Broadway. The Gershwin's Porgy and Bess runs through June 24, 2012.

Audra McDonald (Bess)

Norm Lewis (Porgy)

Phillip Boykin (Crown)

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Quote by Broadway Actor Joel Grey

Quote by Broadway actor Joel Grey in the January 2012 Playbill's A Life in the Theatre by Mervyn Rothstein:
I love that moment just before the curtain goes up...It's a thrill that's unequaled anywhere.

Monday, January 23, 2012

20at20 Discounts Run from January 18 to February 6

On Wednesday, 20at20 began. Simply roll up to the box office 20 minutes before any of the 38 participating Off Broadway shows and pay only $20 per ticket, subject to availability (of course). 

There are some wonderful shows on the list this winter. Must sees (if you haven't already) include Dancing at Lughnasa, Freud's Last Session, Love, Loss, and What I Wore, Silence! The Musical, and Traces. If you want to see 7 shows in order to get a free dinner, then throw in the musicals Million Dollar Quartet and Rent.

Now, most frequent theatergoers have probably seen many of these already. However, there are a few new shows that I will be checking out if my schedule allows:

How the World Began
Catherine Trieschmann's How the World Began about a teacher who offends a deeply religious student after remarking that non-scientific theories of life are "gobbledygook" is a Time Out New York critic pick. Check out their favorable review here.  

Gabe McKinley's CQ/CX shows up on Time Out New York's 20 theater shows to see this winter. The play is inspired by the scandal from a few years ago where Jayson Blair was forced to resign from The New York Times after fabricating a bunch of news stories. Should be interesting.

Russian Transport
Erika Sheffer's suspenseful family drama Russian Transport does not open until the end of the month. However, I'm already seeing very positive reactions to this play on theater chat boards.

Rutherford and Son
Githa Sowerby's Rutherford and Son about a tyrannical father determined to do whatever it takes to ensure the success of the family glassworks business begins performances on February 4th at the Mint Theater. This theater company, which revives neglected works, is so amazing that I would see any production mounted by them.

So what are you doing reading this. Snuggle up at the closest theater and support Off Broadway!!!

Friday, January 20, 2012

American Songbook - LaChanze

On Thursday evening, curvy 50 year old LaChanze rocked a form fitting black gown and Christian Louboutins at the beautiful Allen Room, where NY (represented by Columbus Circle and Central Park South) always seems to be competing with the performer on stage for attention.

LaChanze last did an American Songbook show ten years ago in 2002. On Thursday, she sang an eclectic mix of songs including pop, jazz and R&B tunes. For this theater lover though, her Broadway medley comprised of songs from Once on This Island (first Broadway musical where she was the featured actress), The Color Purple (the musical that changed her life) and The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin was best.

The American Songbook always (re)introduces me to songs. After watching a performance, I always find my self looking up and exploring songs on iTunes. This weekend will be no different.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Stephen Sondheim Reads Phyllis McGinley "Love Note to a Playwright" at The Public Forum – Sondheim/Kushner

In Stephen Sondheim's  Look, I Made a Hat, he writes:
Finally, I have a gift to offer every hatmaker…read Phyllis McGinley’s poem "Love Note to a Playwright." Not only is it a technical marvel, it’s as important a piece of advice as you will ever get, and if I’d listened to it the way I think every artist should, I wouldn’t have written these books, I’d have written a couple of musicals instead. 
At Tuesday's Public Form dialogue, Mr. Kushner asked Mr. Sondheim to read the poem. Mr. Sondheim warned that he always gets choked up whenever he reads it. However he went ahead and yes, he did get choked up.

Here is the the poem - Phyllis McGinley's (March 1905 – February 1978) Love Note to a Playwright. Many thanks to artist Galen Fott for posting it on his blog – BLOGFOTT.  

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

As FoxConn Workers Threaten Suicide, Mike Daisey Returns to The Public

After seeing Mike Daisey’s The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs and Zayd Dohrn’s Outside People, I could not help but perk up with interest when an email entitled FoxConn Workers Threaten With Mass Suicide If Working Conditions Aren't Fixed was forwarded to my business email. 

According to the related blog posting at zerohedge.com (submitted by T. Durden) based on an article from The Telegraph, in a protest against work conditions, 150 Chinese workers threatened to jump from a FoxConn factory roof. The workers were eventually coaxed down two days later by FoxConn managers and local officials. However, from everything that I've read, this is not the last we will hear about the one million workers who are unable to cope with the military work environment at FoxConn to produce Apple, Nintendo, Sony and other gadgets for the Western world.

Mike Daisey’s The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs returns to The Public Theater on January 31st and plays through March 4th. For those who cannot make it, check out the following TechCrunch interview with Mike Daisey.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Quote from George Bernard Shaw's "The Philanderer"

Spoken by Grace Tranfield in George Bernard Shaw's The Philanderer.
I will never marry a man I love too much. It would give him a terrible advantage over me.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Modern Beijing from an American Playwright’s Perspective

As I sat in the audience at the Vineyard Theatre waiting for Zayd Dohrn’s Outside People to begin, I overheard a gentleman behind me telling an unseen theater partner that Mr. Dohrn’s lived in hiding for 4 years as a child. At the time, I knew nothing of Mr. Dohrn’s history. But after hearing this and watching the funny and fast paced 90 minute play that is being compared to David Henry Hwang’s Chinglish on Broadway, I was intrigued by the playwright, who I assumed was American not of Chinese heritage.   

Well, Zayd Dohrn I later found out is the son of Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn. Yes, the Bill Ayers that most recently hit media spotlight during the Obama presidential campaign.  Yes, radical Weather Underground, FBI most wanted, 11 years living under assumed names, now retired college professor Ayers. Dohrn is named after murdered Black Panther Zayd Shakur and his brother is named after Malcolm X.

Dohrn lived on and off in China. After meeting in graduate school, Dohrn married writer Rachel DeWoskin. Ms. DeWoskin’s spent her 20s in China where she starred in a TV soap opera called Foreign Babes in Beijing; she speaks Mandarin and wrote a novel Repeat After Me about the romance between an ESL teacher and a Chinese radical. Dohrn and DeWorskin are now working on a HBO series based on her memoir also called Foreign Babes in Beijing.

Radical beginnings. Marriage to an ex-American soap star in Beijing. Hmmm, I guess that is how an American playwright not of Chinese heritage winds up writing a play about contemporary China. Interesting.
Dohrn's Outside People plays through the end of the month. Reviews have been mixed but this play about culture shock, fitting in, love and modern Beijing is worth experiencing. Some of the lines by Nelson Lee's character -Da Wei "David" Wang - still have me thinking (e.g., are all great countries built on some form of slavery). Check out reviews of Outside People here.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Following “The Bus” Again

Did James Lantz’s The Bus about two gay teens ever make it to Topeka to symbolically play near the hateful Westboro Baptist Church headed by Fred Phelps? 

It sure did!! 

The production team partnered with Phelps’ estranged son who left his father’s home on his 18th birthday and not only brought the play to Kansas but played to its largest audience ever and standing ovations. According to the show’s Kickstarter update: In our audience was a mother whose son died of AIDS, parents who came to understand, students who drove up to three hours to see our show, gay couples and straight folk, believers and atheists, people on the front lines fighting for LGBT rights in Kansas -- and even a couple of Kickstarter supporters.

Now, I don’t want to waste my time or your time for that matter discussing the actions of the Westboro Baptist Church which is comprised primarily Phelps family members and classified as a hate group. Check out the BBC documentary The Most Hated Family in America for that. I will never understand their anti-gay protests and hateful picketing bearing signs such as "Thank God For Dead Soldiers" at the funerals of military soldiers (even if it is protected under the U.S. Constitution). 

I do however admire the journey of The Bus and the production team's efforts to use art to take a stand against hate. Check out my prior posts on The Bus here and here.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Quote From Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest"

Spoken by Lady Bracknell in Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest
To speak frankly, I am not in favour of long engagements. They give people the opportunity of finding out each other's character before marriage, which I think is never advisable.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Which 2011 Broadway Show Closed After the Fewest Performances?

Lysistrata Jones closed yesterday, after a very short run. Not even Ben Brantley's favorable review could save the juvenile musical. While Hugh Jackman broke weekly grosses at the Broadhurst, other productions struggled in 2011. But which one struggled the most? As one of my college professors used to say, let's try a multiple guess question.

As of today, of the Broadway productions which opened in 2011 (not including specials and benefits), which of the following productions closed after the fewest performances?

A. Wonderland
B. Lysistrata Jones
C. High
D. Bonnie and Clyde

Clue: According to the Internet Broadway Database, Wonderland began previews on March 21, 2011, opened on April 17, 2011 and closed on May 15, 2011 - that is, 30 previews and 33 performances. High began previews on March 25, 2011, opened on April 19, 2011 and closed on April 24, 2011 - that is, 29 previews and 7 performances. The People in the Picture began previews on April 1, 2011, opened on April 28, 2011 and closed on June 19, 2011 - that is, 30 previews and 60 performances. Lysistrata Jones began previews on November 12, 2011, opened on December 14, 2011 and closed on January 8, 2012 - that is, 34 previews and 22 performances. Bonnie and Clyde began previews on November 4, 2011, opened on December 1, 2011 and closed on  December 30, 2011 - that is, 33 previews and 36 performances. Private Lives began previews on November 6, 2011, opened on November 17, 2011 and closed on December 31, 2011 - that is 12 previews and 53 performances.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

SNL Theater Skits

Saturday Night Live has been entertaining audiences since it first premiered in 1975. Unfortunately, it is harder to get tickets to SNL's dress rehearsal and live telecast than it is to the hottest show on Broadway. Recently, I passed by 30 Rock on an early Friday evening and the standby line was a block long. Die hards curled up in sleeping bags in the cold hoping to experience SNL.

I've attempted a few times to get tickets but no luck. So like everyone else, I either watch the show live on television or catch it on the NBC website. I found the 2011 holiday show hosted by Jimmy Fallon especially funny and got a kick out of the show's two theater skits. Let's take a look at them and a few others from past episodes.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

A Year at the Theater

What did I do in 2011? I spent a great deal of the year at the theater. I saw well over 100 plays, musicals, and cabarets. I enjoyed many; I also disliked many. However, I will always be a fan of live theater and look forward to 2012.

If I had to sum up 2011 in a few themes (meaningful to me of course) I would have to say the following:

Broadway is Really Gay
At the Tony Awards this summer, Neil Patrick Harris opened with a number that Broadway is not just for gays anymore. However, there was a lot of gay content on the New York City stage in 2011. I'm sure that I’ve missed a few but here they are (Broadway and Off): La Cage aux Follies, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, The Book of Mormon, The Normal Heart, Burning, Motherhood Out Loud, One Arm, Play It Cool, Sons of the Prophet, Standing on Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays, The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures, The Submission, Unnatural Acts, Wild Animals You Should Know, Lysistrata Jones, and On a Clear Day You Can See Forever.

Black Female Playwrights Represented
I wrote a series on black female playwrights and have been very impress with the representation of this demographic on the New York City stage. Congratulations to The Mountaintop, No Child, By the Way Meet Vera Stark, Milk Like Sugar, Stick Fly, Horsedreams, The River Crosses Rivers II, Desdemona and Suzan-Lori Parks’ contribution to the Broadway reimagined The Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. You go ladies! Now maybe we can see more black folks in theater audiences.

Actor-Playwrights Were a Bore
I am learning that I need to beware of playwrights who direct their own plays. Let’s see - A Charity Case and Tricks the Devil Taught Me – Need I say anything else. I am also learning to beware of plays written by actor-playwrights. After seeing All New People and We Live Here, I didn’t even bother with Asuncion. Thanks goodness because the reviews were lukewarm once again.

Sondheim is King
There is no stopping Stephen Sondheim, even at 81 years old. Revivals of his A Little Night Music and Follies were mounted on Broadway. His music was included in Broadway’s An Evening with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin. There were many cabarets featuring his music. I personally enjoyed Karen Akers at the Algonquin and Sondheim Unplugged at the Laurie Beechman Theater. Then he released the second volume of his book, Look, I Made a Hat. I won’t even get into how he made the creative team behind The Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess sweat when he sent a note to The New York Times.