Monday, October 24, 2016

A Life

Sometimes, you really need an intermission. An intermission gives the audience an opportunity to reflect on what they've just watched, to think about what certain things mean, to wonder about what might happen next. In the subsequent act(s), they can build upon their intermission musings, connecting the dots and truly figuring out what's going on. But sometimes you don't get that chance. Sometimes, in theatre, there's no intermission, and sometimes, in a life, there's no second act.

Playwright Adam Bock presents an examined life from the perspective of Nate Martin (David Hyde Pierce), a middle-aged gay man who is keen to makes sense of his life via astrological charts. (He's not a wack-a-doo, I promise.) The play begins with Nate directly addressing the audience, as if we're a psychiatrist to whom he's proving his mental health.

I was unexpectedly moved by Pierce's performance. Maybe it's leftover (petty) resentment that he won the Tony Award in 2006 (for Curtains) instead of Raul Esparza (for Company), but I always think he's trying on stage, going for laughs or pastiche rather that verisimilitude. For example, in my review of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, I quipped that Pierce was doing his best Mark Rylance impression. But in A Life, Pierce proves worthy of his Tony, fully inhabiting a real person. It's a touching and sensitive portrayal, one that instantly hooked me, and made me care deeply about Nate.

Layers and insights are revealed in time (thanks to director Anne Kauffman and scenic designer Laura Jellinek), and I savored Bock's Annie Baker–like silences and extended moments of stillness, of seemingly nothing happening on stage. I also cottoned to the couple of scene transitions in which we watch the set transformations. The transition from one moment and scenic set up to another takes time, giving us those moments of reflection, time to ponder the ending tableau, with everything stripped away, nothing but a plain pine box and Nate, once again, addressing the audience—that's a life.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Week in Review 10.21.16

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Nominees

The nominees for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Class of 2017 have been announced. Artists are eligible (though not always nominated and, certainly, not always chosen for induction) 25 years after their first release. First time nominees include Pearl Jam (first year eligible), Tupac (first year eligible), and Bad Brains, while Janet Jackson, Chic, Chaka Khan, Journey, and Yes are among repeat nominees. Fans can see all the nominees and vote for their choice on Rolling Stone. Those artists selected for induction into the Rock Hall will be announced in December. The ceremony will be held in Brooklyn in April 2017, and HBO will air an edited version of the ceremony in May.

Coming to Broadway and the West End

  • Emmy winner and Tony nominee Allison Janney (The West Wing, 9 to 5) and Tony winner John Benjamin Hickey (The Normal Heart) are heading back to Broadway in a revival of John Guare's Six Degrees of Separation. Directed by Trip Cullman (The Layover), the revival will play the Barrymore Theatre beginning in April 2017. has more.

  • The previously announced Broadway bow of the original musical Bandstand has set its opening night for April 26, 2017. A theatre and preview dates have yet to be announced. It's also been confirmed that Tony nominee Laura Osnes (Cinderella) and Corey Cott (Gigi) will lead the company, reprising their performances from the Paper Mill Playhouse production. has more.

  • It is now confirmed that Tony nominee Andy Karl (Rocky, On the Twentieth Century) will star in the Broadway iteration of Groundhog Day (he led the London company). Previews will begin March 6, 2017, and, as previously announced, opening night is set for April 17. Groundhog Day will run at the August Wilson Theatre. has more.

  • The most recent Broadway revival of The Glass Menagerie, the one with the reflecting pool surrounding the playing area, is heading to the West End. John Tiffany will once again direct, and Broadway stars Cherry Jones (Amanda Wingfield) and Brian J. Smith (Gentleman Caller) will reprise their roles. (The Broadway creative team is also on board.) Joining the UK company are Michael Esper (American Idiot, The Last Ship) as Tom and Kate O'Flynn as Laura. Performances at the Duke of York's Theatre begin January 26, 2017, and opening night is set for February 2. The limited engagement is scheduled to conclude April 29. Esper, who is in London reprising his role in Lazarus, told fans via a tweet, and later provided more information.
Broadway for Hillary

On October 17, the Broadway community gathered for a fundraiser in support of Hillary Clinton's presidential bid. Tony winning songwriter Marc Shaiman took to Facebook (see below) to share the "Comedy Tonight" parody lyrics to "Hillary Tonight," host Billy Crystal's opening number. Elsewhere, Tony nominee Leanne Cope (An American in Paris), who danced during a rendition of the Hedwig song, "The Origin of Love," helpfully posted pictures of the set list—act one, act two—and NBC News producer Monica Alba posted the lyrics to Tony winners Lin-Manuel Miranda and Renee Elise Goldsberry's performance. The pair performed a rendition of Hamilton's "Ten Duel Commandments," which Miranda rewrote to tell us the ten things we need to know about Clinton and the election. Other stars who appeared or performed at the event include Jake Gyllenhaal (who's performing in a Sunday in the Park with George concert October 24-26, and is returning to Broadway this spring), Ayodele Casel (an incredible tap dancers and artist), Alan Cumming, Sarah Paulson, and Rebecca Naomi Jones.

Casting News

  • Adam Chanler-Berat (Next to Normal, The Fortress of Solitude) will star alongside Phillipa Soo in the Los Angeles production of Amelie, which is slated to come to Broadway in spring 2017. Theater Mania has more.

  • Keala Settle, who earned a Tony nomination for Hands on a Hardbody, has played her final performance in Waitress. Her understudy, Charity Angel Dawson, is assuming the role. Waitress continues at the Brooks Atkinson theatre, with Jessie Mueller leading the company. Playbill has more.

  • Grease Live standout Jordan Fisher (he played Doody, and sang "Those Magic Changes," melting hearts everywhere) will make his Broadway debut in Hamilton. He'll take on the dual roles of John Laurens and Philip Hamilton beginning November 22. Current Laurens/Hamilton Anthony Ramos will play his final performance November 20. has more.

  • West End actor Alistair Brammer will play Chris in the upcoming Miss Saigon revival. Previews begin March 1, 2017, with opening night set for March 23. Miss Saigon will, once again, play the Broadway Theatre. has more.

  • Beginning with the June 13, 2017, performance, two-time Tony Award winner Donna Murphy will play the title role in Hello Dolly on Tuesdays. Previews begin March 15, and Bette Midler is scheduled to appear in all performances until June 13. Thereafter, Midler will switch to a seven-show week. In the Huffington Post report, Murphy said that doing one show a week is the ideal set up, as her priority is raising and being available for her 11-year-old daughter. In other Hello Dolly new, Beanie Feldstein is joining the company, playing Minnie Fay. This will mark Feldstein's Broadway debut. Opening night is set for April 20. has more.
Dig This

  • Carol Burnett is coming back to TV! The comedy legend is set to star in a new ABC series that is executive produced by Amy Poehler. The Hollywood Reporter has details.

  • Difficult People has been renewed for a third season. Led by Julie Klausner (who also created and writes the show) and Billy Eichner, the 10-episode season will premiere in 2017. Deadline has more.

  • Tony winner Jessie Mueller (Beautiful, Waitress) spoke to The Interval about her career, including her lack of social media presence, the projects she chooses, and how being a woman affects each decision.

  • Not so diggable: Brain Dead, the CBS show about alien bugs taking over our government, has been cancelled. The single-season series starred Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Aaron Tveit, and featured stage vets Tony Shalhoub and Nikki M. James. TV Line has more.

  • Josh Groban is making his Broadway debut in Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 (now in previews), and Elle Decor spoke to Mike Harrison, who designed the star's retreat-like dressing room.

  • Gotham Award nominations have been announced, with the Kenneth Lonergan movie, Manchester by the Sea, leading the pack. Lonergan was recently on the boards with Hold On To Me Darling. Playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney (Head of Passes) is also nominated; he has a "story by" credit for the film, Moonlight. Gold Derby has the full list of nominees.

  • The West End production of Hamilton will begin earlier than announced; performances will begin in November 2017, with opening night scheduled for December. Creator Lin-Manuel Miranda intends to perform in some shows beginning in 2018. has more, reporting on a tweet from UK journalist Baz Bamigboye.

  • Playwrights Horizons has a new look this season: The off-Broadway company's logo features eight versions of the word "playwrights," each written by one of this season's playwrights. The New York Times had handwriting expert Ruth Brayer analyze the playwrights' handwriting, providing possible insight into what their handwriting reveals about the authors.

  • Congratulations are in order for Audra McDonald and Will Swenson. The couple welcomed their daughter, Sally James McDonald-Swenson on October 19. See McDonald's Facebook post below.

Thursday, October 20, 2016


I don't have much to say about Plenty because I don't think that much of it. The David Hare (Skylight) play focuses on Susan Traherne (Rachel Weisz), who does some spy/undercover work during WWII, and Raymond Brock (Corey Stoll), a diplomat (of sorts) with whom Susan develops a relationship.

In program notes, Public Theatre artistic director Oskar Eustis says the play charts "the disillusionment of the post-war years." I was disillusioned with the undue hype surrounding this production. The play premiered at the Public in 1982, and this production is the first major New York revival. Many people were excited for it (I was excited to see Weisz and Stoll). What a disappointment they were.

That's not entirely fair. They were not disappointing. It's the material. Academy Award winner Rachel Weisz and Corey Stoll are terrific actors; we know this. Unfortunately, they have no chemistry on stage, leaving a void where there is supposed to be dramatic tension or intrigue. Neither of their characters is interesting, nor is the goings on around them. (A shame, since they have a great supporting cast, including Emily Bergl and Byron Jennings.)

Perhaps just because but perhaps because of the lack of chemistry and interest, I found nothing compelling about the play (directed by David Leveaux), and, in fact, found the two-and-a-half hours I spent watching it to be tedious. There are multiple scenes that have a hint of climax, scenes that seem to be building somewhere, but there's no denouemont, no resolution. This just left me tired, with no reason to care or lesson to learn. There are plenty of roles for Weisz and Stoll, and plenty of plays that could be running. Why Plenty was chosen is a mystery.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Love, Love, Love

The Beatles famously sang, "all you need is love (love, love)." Were the Fab Four right? That question is at the crux of Mike Bartlett's new play, Love, Love, Love, enjoying its New York debut in a terrific Roundabout production.

Bartlett (Cock, King Charles III) is a great writer and a keen observer of relationships, and he proves as much with this decade-spanning serio-comedy that traces the relationship of Kenneth (Richard Armitage, appealing, commanding, charming) and Sandra (Amy Ryan, sharp, cunning, captivating) from the swinging 60s to present day, all under the direction of Tony winner Michael Mayer (Spring Awakening, American Idiot).

Act one begins in the 60s. Feminism is blossoming. People are exploring, trying new things. In the process, they are finding out or coming to terms with what old things mean under these new circumstances. This dynamic is explored as we meet Kenneth and Sandra, as well as Kenneth brother, Henry (Alex Hurt). Kenneth is crashing on Henry's couch but, at rise, Henry is trying to convince Kenneth to hit the road as Henry is expecting the beautiful, feisty Sandra at any moment and would like some privacy. Henry and Sandra haven't exactly established their relationship yet, though (Is it love? Lust?), and when Kenneth and Sandra have a moment alone, Sandra propositions him: "Are you ready?" "For what?" "An adventure."

Cut to act two. It's the 80s, rife with Hippies-turned-yuppies and their offspring. The boomers became exactly what they never wanted to be, but there's still some of their younger selves there, bubbling under the surface, tantalizing them with what they thought might be, what they wonder might still be possible. Their discomfort with love, or what has become of their love, is undeniably affected and has an undeniable effect on their children, Jamie (Ben Rosenfield) and Rose (Zoe Kazan, appropriately intense, a raw nerve).

In act three, we see Jamie and Rose as adults, though it's arguable how grown up or well-adjusted they are. Jamie, enabled by his father, has been allowed to settled into slacker's existence, while Rose, who still has a contentious relationship with her mother, is struggling to be a productive, contributing member of society. (As a women in her mid-30s, I most closely related to Rose. She's "the good daughter" who loves her parents and listens to them, yet somehow still ends up struggling, with what she wants just out of reach.) In a climactic moment, Rose, furious with her parents and their tough love, chastises them, claiming, "You didn't change the world. You bought it!"

And so playwright Bartlett entreats the audience to think about love, love, love, in all its shapes and sizes, in all the directions it can take you. What's it like to love when you're young and idealistic and anything is possible? When you're older and reality sets in? When love changes? Maybe love is different for everyone. Maybe it's selfish. Or maybe it's simple, and all you need.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

NYCB: 21st Century Choreographers

Notes on the 21st Century Choreographers program:

(This program was supposed to include the new ballet by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, Unframed, which debuted at the NYCB fall gala. As occasionally happens, the program was changed, and instead of Unframed, we saw the After the Rain pas de deux.)

For Clara: This marks principal dancer Lauren Lovette's choreographic debut with the Company, making her one of the few women to have choreographed for the New York City Ballet. (Lovette choreographed when she was a student, but not since joining the Company.) Lovette uses "Introduction and Concert-Allegro, Op. 134" by Robert Schumann, and has said that the title of her ballet is an homage to Schumann's wife, Clara. As this was created for the fall gala, which, for several years, has seen the fusion of fashion and ballet, fashion designer Narciso Rodriguez designed the costumes (so you can thank him for dressing Zachary Catazaro in nothing by tight dance pants).

Lovette's work is good. There are three featured women (Emilie Gerrity, Unity Phelan, and Indiana Woodward), and two featured men (Catazaro and Chase Finlay), as well as a 12-person ensemble. That ensemble needs focusing, but other than that, Lovette shows great promise with For Clara. In particular, I found the contentious pas de deux (between Phelan and Catazaro) to show Lovette's confidence both as a choreographer and in her dancers, most of whom she's grown up with. She is taking risks with the choreography, and it pays off. I also appreciate the beautiful musicality in her choreography; she helps us "see the music," as Balanchine would say.

The Dreamers: Peck premiere one of four! (Justin Peck is debuting four ballets with NYCB this season.) Though typically known for his great use of ensembles, Peck pared down and choreographed a beautiful, romantic pas de deux for Sara Mearns and Amar Ramasar, who danced wonderfully. What is, perhaps, most notable about The Dreamers is that you can see the history the dancers and choreographer have. Mearns and Ramasar know each other so well, and Peck knows them and their abilities so well—it is a perfect pairing. (You might recall that Mearns and Ramasar danced the gorgeous pas de deux in Peck's Rodeo: Four Dance Episodes.) The Dreamers is not overwhelming in any capacity, but it's good, and shows Peck getting even better with his pas de deux work. (The Dreamers is set to the Bohuslav Martinu composition, "Piano Quintet No. 2, II. Adagio"; costumes are by fashion designer Dries Van Noten.)

After the Rain (pas de deux): I still believe that the pas de deux, the "after the rain" section, is more powerful in context, i.e., when you see the first movement—the rain—of the Christopher Wheeldon ballet, but damn it if I wasn't crying the whole time. To be honest, I wasn't emotionally prepared to see this (as I thought I'd be seeing the new Lopez Ochoa ballet), especially because it would my first time seeing it—in part or whole—without Wendy Whelan, upon whom the ballet was choreographed. (In fact, the last time I saw this was during Whelan's farewell performance. Moreover, I believe it was the first time I saw it without Craig Hall, who had been dancing the role with Whelan for several years.) The incredible Tiler Peck and Jared Angle did not disappoint. They are making the roles their own, finding their own nuance and meaning in this always–moving ballet. 11 years after it debuted, After the Rain is still in another league. Just exquisite.

ten in seven: Company corps de ballet member Peter Walker made his choreographic debut with this soft rock ballet. Featuring a commissioned composition by Thomas Kikta and costumes by fashion designer Jason Wu, I found ten in seven to be Walker's homage to NY Export: Opus Jazz; whether or not he meant it to be an homage is another story. Some of the movements and elements are directly reminiscent of Jerome Robbins's youthful sneaker ballet (for example: the women are all in ballet slippers; it's during only one movement that only one woman on pointe), but it's mostly in the overall feel of the ballet, its modernity, accessibility, and young vibrancy that recall my favorite. There are ten dancers in seven movements (hey, there's the title!):
  1. "Bullage Aleatoire"—Like group dance/entrances; all ten dancers are on hand for this movement that is bookended with solo moments by the great, exuberant Ashly Isaacs.
  2. "Jusqu'au Matin"—Akin to "Passage for Two," or the "Byplay" section of Interplay, Gretchen Smith and Daniel Applebaum dance while the other women "play back up."
  3. "Divertissement du Blues"—The "statics"-like movement, with a main couple (Indiana Woodward and Sean Suozzi) dancing through and around the other men. 
  4. "Divertissement Harmonique"—Isaacs, Walker, and Rachel Hutsell dance a spirited pas de trois. I find Isaacs to be such an engaging dancer, and it's exciting seeing her in something out of the ordinary. 
  5. "Le son de deux"—A good pas de deux between Emily Kikta and Russell Janzen, and this is the only time a women is in pointe shoes, making this the most classical-ballet section. 
  6. "Rapide Furieux"—There's isn't a direct correlation between this solo, danced by Spartak Hoxha, and any part of Opus Jazz, but it did remind me entirely of "The Music and the Mirror," Cassie's big number in A Chorus Line.
  7. "Melodie Majestueuse"—The ballet concludes with this simple button, reuniting the entire cast.

Everywhere We Go: I. Love. This. Ballet. I can't see it enough. Every time I see it I get chills. Justin Peck (and composer Sufjan Stevens) created a masterpiece. (When are we going to get a recording of Stevens's music?!?) The first time I saw this was the night it premiered, and I was literally on the edge of my seat the whole time. It's only gotten better, deeper, and more affecting.

When I first looked at the casting for this performance (a few weeks before the performance date), I noticed that many of those dancing the featured roles would be doing so for the first time. I was delighted by what I saw.

Returning to the role he created was Amar Ramasar, who's always a welcome presence on stage. In his track, he begins the ballet by shadowing another male dancer, usually Robert Fairchild. For this performance, he was paired with Russell Janzen. Janzen is a great dancer, but he's notably taller than Ramasar, which made the shadowing seem not quite perfect. Janzen still did well, and he excelled in his pas de deux with Rebecca Krohn.

Emily Kikta, also a tall dancer, did nice work in the Teresa Reichlen track, and Gonzalo Garcia makes for a fine alternate to Andrew Veyette. I was particularly pleased to see Lauren King (dancing Sterling Hyltin's track) and Ashly Isaacs (dancing Tiler Peck's track) bring their own flair, grace, and skills to this, appearing unflappable when faced with filling their colleagues' pointe shoes. King and Isaacs are beautiful dancers, and we'll, no doubt, be seeing more from them in the years to come. Truly, everywhere we go there is something special.