Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Random Happenings - February 2012

Late night celebrates thirty years of David Letterman. Soul Train creator Don Cornelius puts a bullet through his head. Audiences walk out during the intermission of Look Back in Anger. The Oak Room closes. Jordan Roth saves the day and brings Clybourne Park to Broadway. Joy overtakes New Yorkers as the Giants win the Superbowl. The intersection of Broadway and television occurs with Smash. Mandy Patinkin likes viagra. Surprise, study finds that NYC ranks low for black-Latino-white equality. The Phantom of the Opera has its 10,000th performance. Whitney Houston is laid to rest in NJ. Shatner beams his way to Broadway? Another surprise - study unearths that smoking pot and then driving increases the risk that you will CRASH. The inaugural season of the Signature Theatre in its new Frank Gehry designed space kicks off with Blood Knot, Hurt Village and The Lady from Dubuque. Grammy award winning Adele shows pop singers what real singing is about. I enjoy a wonderful performance of Merrily We Roll Along. One Taymor vs. Spidy producers' dispute settled. And Angelina Jolie's right leg steals the show at the Oscars.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Quote from Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman"

Spoken by Willy Loman to his sons Biff and Happy in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman:
The man who makes an appearance in the business world, the man who creates personal interest, is the man who gets ahead. Be liked and you will never want.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

An Afternoon of African American Spirituals

Sherry Boone, Harriett D. Foy and Brandie Sutton
February - the month that some celebrate the history and accomplishments of blacks - features several productions about the black experience on the New York City stage. By far, the most moving and impressive seen to date is The African American Spiritual: A Black History Month Tribute Concert. The passionate soprano Sherry Boone, the deep and soulful Harriett D. Foy, and the classic and elegant soprano Brandie Sutton took the audience (and me) on a journey of pain, slavery and hope through song. When tears emerged from these wonderful singers' eyes as they sang, I was filled with emotions that I have not felt at a performance on the New York City stage in recent memory. Wiping the tears that swelled in my own eyes, I left the Merkin Concert Hall on February 5th reflective but somehow alive. Thank you to these three women. What a honorable and memorable event.

Monday, February 20, 2012

My Week at The Pershing Square Signature Center

I spent a wonderful week taking in the rustic modern design of the new Frank Gehry designed Signature Theater center in midtown. I discussed the architecture and intimacy of the performance spaces, perused the bookstore, peeked at the cafe, played with the interactive screens, noticed playwright Kenneth Lonergan and NY Post drama critic Elisabeth Vincentelli, and lauded the $25 ticket initiative for the next 20 years. Oh yeah... I also checked out the performances in the inaugural season in the new space: Athol Fugard's Blood Knot, Katori Hall's Hurt Village, and Edward Albee's The Lady From Dubuque.

On February 16th, Blood Knot, directed by Fugard, opened in the 199 seat Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre to largely good reviews. Luckily, Fugard's The Road to Mecca now at the Roundabout prepared me for Blood Knot - slow first act and then a final act with a punch. However, while Colman Domingo and Scott Shepherd are wonderful in this story about the mark of apartheid on two brothers - one white looking and the other black looking - living in a shantytown in South Africa, the play failed to bite me the way it should have.

On February 27th, Hurt Village opens in the 199 seat Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre. Katori Hall recently made a splash on Broadway with The Mountaintop. However, from previews of this story about a black family about to relocate from a broken down housing project in Memphis TN due to a government grant, I am not sure this one will resonate with some theatergoers due to its length, overwhelming use of abrasive language, and lack of originality - we've seen the dead beat dad, gun-toting, drug dealing black man before. Furthermore, Corey Hawkins seems a little too clean cut to play Buggy - the shell shocked drug dealer. And I pray pray pray that theater audiences will no longer be forced to watch "sweet" Tonya Pinkins relegated to only playing the cynical bruised black mother. 

On March 5th, The Lady From Dubuque opens in the 299 seat The End Stage Theatre. Surprisingly, this play which was a complete and utter flop when it first opened on Broadway in January 1980, is the most entertaining of the three performances at the new Signature Theatre center. Perhaps it is my secret fascination with actor Peter James, who is absolutely delicious in the role as Oscar, the companion of the mysterious lady from Dubuque (Jane Alexander) to the home of a married couple on the eve of the wife's death from a terminal illness. Perhaps it is the enjoyable breakdown of the fourth wall. Or perhaps I simply experienced it after Blood Knot and Hurt Village. Whatever the reason, quite entertaining, but I must admit, the true spotlight needs to shine on the new center. Oh, how I look forward to the rest of the Signature season. 

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Artistic Inspiration or Just Plain Theft?

According to recent articles in the press, a battle seems to be brewing between fashion designer Tory Burch and ex-husband Chris Burch, who recently opened the moderately priced apparel and lifestyle store C. Wonder in Soho. Gold metallic logos. Preppy bold colored apparel. Absent price, one can easily see similarities between C. Wonder and Tory Burch’s high end line launched in 2004. Did Chris Burch steal the concept? Or was he simply inspired by it? Or perhaps the fashion idea was his to begin with (they were married for nine years after all)?   

Who knows? But these kinds of situations occur every day and while not exactly the same, a similar type of topic is being explored on the New York City stage in Jack Canfora’s Poetic License at 59E59 Theaters.

Meet John Greer (Geraint Wyn Davies), an articulate and esteemed university professor about to be named Poet Laureate. His ambitious wife Diane (Lisa Vann) is what a friend of mine would call a battleax; however, she is the one who has parlayed John’s talent into a successful career and decent living. The Greer’s aspiring poet daughter Katherine (Natalie Kuhn) returns home for the weekend with her boyfriend Edmund (Ari Butler), who has his own secret agenda. And as the title of the play informs us, the concept of artistic (or poetic) license is challenged - for 80 engaging minutes. Poetic License skillfully lines up both sides to the argument of artistic inspiration or just plain theft. In the case of Poetic License which runs through March 4th, the audience decides; however, in the case of Chris and Tory Burch, a court of law or some other arbiter may just have to do so.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Quote From Dael Orlandersmith's "Yellowman"

In geechie dialect, words spoken by father (Robert) to his son (Eugene) in Dael Orlandersmith's Yellowman, 2002 Pulitzer Prize Drama Finalist.
...Jes cause I made ya, don mean I love ya...  

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Broadway Talks with Jordan Roth: Harry Connick, Jr.

Broadway Talks with Jordan Roth: Harry Connick Jr.
NY Post theater gossip columnist Micheal Riedel had a field day with Broadway's On a Clear Day You Can See Forever. In one article, Riedel called the show a $12 million fiasco, the biggest flop of the fall, and wrote that "He [Connick] can barely contain his misery when he's onstage playing the the role of a psychiatrist... Connick is so unhappy, his dressing room's called the 'dark zone'...Connick...will have a hard time shaking off the perception that he can no longer carry a big musical...He demanded a star salary...but didn't deliver..."

During last Tuesday's Broadway Talks with Jordan Roth, Connick early in the evening addressed the "elephant in the room" - meaning all the rumors written by Riedel. He spoke about how he was profoundly moved when he did On A Clear Day You Can See Forever. He clarified that he never wanted out of the production and how fond he was of the cast.

Putting that behind him, Connick went on to regale a full auditorium at 92Y (where he once held his only job outside acting/singing - at the ticket office for two weeks) with tales and thoughts on family (including his daughters, father - a former DA in New Orleans, and mother - who died when he was just a teen), his love of strong women (his wife and business manager), learning Jazz in New Orleans, how he became a patent holder, and his illustrious career as an actor-musician.

After seeing On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, I do not think that the smooth crooner was the right person for the role of Dr. Bruckner. Also, the book especially as adapted was just out there commercially. However, I admired the way that Connick addressed the rumors. To me, he came off as a genuine and passionate artist. 

What's next for him? Be the first to write, compose and star in his own show. He is in talks with "hype-creative" George C. Wolfe about a potential project.  Could be interesting and after Tuesday's conversation, I wouldn't mind checking out what he comes up with.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Two Plays by Two More Black Female Playwrights

Danai Gurira and Christina Anderson

Couple the breadth and depth of theater on the New York City stage with discounts that may be easily had through programs such as TDF, Theatermania Gold Club, and promo codes and there aren't many reasons to venture outside of the city just to go to the theater. However, two plays by young black female playwrights seem like they just be worth doing so. The first is Danai Gurira's The Convert playing at the McCarter Theatre at Princeton University in New Jersey through this weekend. The second is Christina Anderson's Good Goods playing at the Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven Connecticut through Feb 25th.

Dania Gurira's The Convert
Born in Iowa but raised mostly in Zimbabwe until the age of 19, Dania Gurira (also an actress) deals with British colonialism, religion, and war in The Convert. The play received a very good review from Charles Isherwood in the New York Times. The McCarter Center website describes it as "fiery, transformative, arresting." Here is a clip, narrated by the playwright.

Dania Gurira also wrote the play Eclipsed and co-wrote the play In the Continuum.

Christina Anderson's Good Goods
Born in Kansas and writing plays since she was 15 years old, Christina Anderson deals with four lost souls who unite in a general goods store in a small fictitious Black town not on any map in Good Goods. I've read two reviews of the play. One described it as "intriguing but disjointed" and the other as "elusive yet effective". Sounds like those who are into complex story telling will like this one. Here is a clip.

Christina Anderson also wrote the play Inked Baby (Off Broadway debut) among others.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

I Am Not a Ballet Convert...Yet...

On the rare occasions when I attend the ballet, the experience has been lovely - lovely the way a bouquet of flowers is. The experience however has never been memorable, and I never really relate to and chat about the ballet the way I do for plays, musicals and other art forms.

Last spring as I walked passed Lincoln Center on my way to the UWS to shop or engage in some other task, I noticed the New York City Ballet posters for The Seven Deadly Sins. In particular, I noticed that Broadway actress and singer Patti LuPone's was listed as a guest artist. Distracted however, I never got around to researching the piece, the performances ended and life went on.

Luckily, this weekend, The Seven Deadly Sins returns and is playing at the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center along with Vienna Waltzes and another piece which varies depending on the performance. Broadway and waltzes - the ballet really could not get any more accessible for me. So, I purchased tickets and headed to Lincoln Center earlier tonight to watch the following program:

Allegro Brillante
The Seven Deadly Sins (Music by Kurt Weill; Text by Bertolt)
Vienna Waltzes

The Seven Deadly Sins is "an ironic morality play" about a woman Anna who is split into two individuals - one is a singer (Ms. LuPone) and one is a dancer (Wendy Whelan); Anna goes on a journey to make money and encounters sloth, pride, anger, gluttony, lust, greed and envy along the way. Overall, the cabaret style piece written in 1933 in Germany did not resonate with me and while it was set in America, it seemed loss in translation.

Lucky for me, the best part of the program was yet to come. I found Vienna Waltzes to be exquisite. It reminded me of the few short days I spent in Vienna several years ago. No less than 20 coupled dancers - women in satin white gowns, men in tuxedos - floating on the stage of the David H. Koch Theater against a mirrored backdrop. What a thing of beauty. Absolutely wonderful!!

So, am I ballet convert ready to purchase a subscription to the New York City Ballet? 

Not quite. But I will be keeping my eyes open, and I know that I will be back soon.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Random Happenings - Jan 2012

New year's resolutions are made. Village Voice fires film critic J. Hoberman. Charlie Sheen declares that he is not crazy anymore. Beyone and Jay-Z act like they are the only couple to ever have a child at Lenox Hill. Another milquetoast tries to navigate China in Outside People. All four Billys perform in the final Billy Elliott. The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess opens with a new ending on Broadway. Powerball increases to $2. Unfunny Ricky Gervais is invited to host the Golden Globes once again. The Costa Concordia sinks. The glorious Betty White turns 90. Spidy producers file countersuit against Julie Taymor. The Road to Mecca lights up the American Theatre. Kevin Spacey gives us a hunchback Richard III. I wonder why in heavens atheists and non-atheists are still debating How the World Began? The Mountaintop recoups. New Yorkers say "bite me" to Travel and Leisure poll that we are the rudest. Seven year itch takes Heidi and Seal's marriage. I can't keep up with the cast changes in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Cynthia Nixon bares soul and all in Wit. The New Group redeems itself with Russian Transport. Ooh, I can't wait until the new Signature Theatre center opens...

Monday, February 6, 2012

Sam Gold’s Two Angry Brits

Photo by Joan Marcus
If you are interested in seeing some pissed off Brits on the New York City Stage, then look no further than Look Back in Anger Off Broadway or Seminar on Broadway. Both plays are directed by Sam Gold.

Now, I must admit that I do not get what the character Jimmy Porter (Matthew Rhys) is so angry about in the current Roundabout Theatre production of John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger. I do not get the squalor he lives in with his wife.  And I most certainly do not get his treatment of women, as observed for over 2 hours recently at the Laura Pels Theatre. The historical importance of the play and how it ushered in a new kind of “keeping it real” playwright in England in the 1950s - that I get. Sustained anger without inaction - that I do not. 

Head a few blocks west and audiences can encounter more anger on stage. Meet Leonard (Alan Rickman) in Theresa Rebeck's Seminar  about a literary figure who privately teaches and mentors (among other things) four young aspiring writers. Thanks to Ms. Rebeck's humor and the discoveries that the writers make about themselves, Leonard's acid is easier to digest than Jimmy Porter's.

If you are looking for anger, then grab an antacid and enjoy Seminar. In the meantime, still committed to trying to understand Look Back in Anger, I will be reserving the film version at my local library - starting with the Richard Burton version.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Quote from Keith Huff's "A Steady Rain"

Spoken by Denny in Keith Huff's A Steady Rain.
Spill my kid's blood, you spill my blood.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

100 Words Used in New York Post Theater Reviews