Tuesday, May 24, 2016

NYCB: Belles-Lettres; Mothership; American Rhapsody; and Concerto DSCH

For my final ballet outing of NYCB's spring season, I attended a 21st century choreographers program.

First up was a repeat viewing of Justin Peck's Belles-Lettres, a chamber piece (of sorts) that premiered at the 2014 Fall Gala. (I saw it a couple of weeks later.) Featuring nine dancers, including the newly minted principal Taylor Stanley, Belles-Lettres plays with shapes and formations, and the way things look from different angles. (I can imagine Peck thinking about how the choreography looks from the orchestra as compared to how it looks from the fourth ring—a head on view compared to a bird's eye view.) It's a pretty ballet, with nice moments for each of the four couples (Kristin Segin and Jared Angle; Indiana Woodward and Adrian Danchig-Waring; Brittany Pollack and Stanley; and Rebecca Krohn and Tyler Angle), and a well-integrated creator/tinkerer in Anthony Huxley.

After a brief pause was Nicolas Blanc's first ballet for NYCB, Mothership, which debuted a few weeks ago at the Spring Gala. Featuring only corps de ballet members and apprentices, Mothership has an entirely youthful feel. In fact, Blanc choreographed to Mason Bates's "Mothership," a "large-scale work for orchestra and electronica," repertory notes state, "that was commissioned by the YouTube Symphony Orchestra." Did you even know there was a YouTube Symphony Orchestra? How's that for youthful and modern?

The movement matches the music well. Like the score, the choreography is continually going; there is a sense of urgency in the piece. (Mark Stanley's lighting on the backdrop complement this, with the lines appearing to always be in motion.) Powerful exceptions are sprinkled throughout; there are moments when a note is held, drawn-out, and so is the movement (a slower port de bras, for example). The title makes sense, too. The electronic sounds and the younger dancers suggest something fresh, a new start, like a new life-form coming to earth on the mothership and starting anew.

The third ballet was the most anticipated piece of the afternoon, American Rhapsody, the new Christopher Wheeldon ballet set to George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue," and featuring Robert Fairchild and Tiler Peck. There was a lot to live up to. First, it's a Wheeldon ballet, which is exciting enough. Then it's Wheeldon using Gershwin as his muse, as he did so winningly with An American in Paris, in which, you'll remember, Fairchild starred. So this was a homecoming, of sorts, with Wheeldon and Fairchild returning to NYCB, where they got their respective starts. And it once again paired Fairchild with his wife, the resplendent Peck. I'm loathe to say this, but the backstory made the ballet more interesting than the choreography.

To be sure, American Rhapsody is a good ballet. It just isn't great.

"Rhapsody in Blue," which was originally title "American Rhapsody," is perhaps the most quintessentially New York pieces of music, so Wheeldon created a quintessentially New York ballet. There are all these people around, almost in a dreamscape, the city whirling around you. (Leslie Sardinias's scenic design evokes this dream-like state.) You're continually moving about, and you have your friends (in this case, featured couple Amar Ramasar and Unity Phelan), but you're really just looking for "the one."

Fairchild enters (to entrance applause, something I've never experienced at the ballet), and tries to take up with his friends, exploring the city. Everyone disperses, and Peck comes twirling out, a vision dancing into our lives. Some of her steps mimic Fairchild's, foreshadowing that they belong together. Before long they, of course, do get together. What's remarkable about their pas de deux is, honestly, how unremarkable it is. Of course it's lovely and they dance beautifully, and as an audience member who knows they are married, I projected intimacy and passion, but the actual dance was just ho-hum. It was nothing like the 12-minute ballet that is the climax of An American in Paris; it lacks the potency of Wheeldon's A Place for Us (a pas de deux choreographed on Fairchild and Peck). It's just some nice dancing. That's not a bad thing, it's just a little disappointing.

I did like that Fairchild and Ramasar had sections together. They have great chemistry together. Likewise, it was nice to see sections for just Peck and Phelan, with Wheeldon-the-storyteller developing camaraderie among the women. I also enjoyed the costumes, designed by former principal dancer Janie Taylor, which give the feel of New York's working class in the 1920s, when "Rhapsody in Blue" was written. And it was also a treat to see Wheeldon playing with formations, some incredibly modern. It's almost a throwback to some of his earlier work, like Mercurial Manoeuvres, and, combined with the male-male and female-female partnering, and having Taylor design the costumes, is almost as if Wheeldon was inspired by Justin Peck, who is, inarguably, following in Wheeldon's footsteps. I'll be seeing this again in the 2016/2017 season, and I'll be looking forward to seeing how my opinion changes upon a repeat viewing.

Bringing the afternoon, and my spring season, to a close was Alexei Ratmansky's Concerto DSCH. This is a good ballet that feels bigger than it is. (To wit: Reflecting on it just now, I thought it had a large ensemble. Looking at the program, I realize it didn't; there are fewer than 20 dancers in the entire piece.) Set to Shostakovich's "Piano Concerto No. 2 in F major, Opus 102," Concerto DSCH has a militaristic feel, accordant with the composition. Throughout, the company looks like a regiment getting into formation. There are softer moments, of course, mostly in the pas de deux between Sterling Hyltin and Adrian Danchig-Waring. But even those moments are not focused on the most beautiful or graceful combination that could be made. Rather, the pas de deux is typified by incredible lifting. (Seriously: Danchig-Waring seems like an body builder.) With a nice mix of the classical movements and modern poses, and some Russian zeal thrown in for good measure, Concerto DSCH was a lovely way to close out the season.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Week in Review 5.20.16

Coming to the Boards

The New Group has announced its 2016-2017 season, and it will begin with a revival of Sweet Charity, starring Sutton Foster. The production will be directed by Leigh Silverman (with whom Foster worked on Violet) and choreographed by Joshua Bergasse (On the Town). The season will also include The Whirligig, a new play by Hamish Linklater, starring Zosia Mamet and Maura Tierney; Wallace Shawn's Evening at the Talk House; and All the Fine Boys, written by Erica Schmidt. Playbill has details. ... MTC has added the Broadway debut of August Wilson's Jitney (directed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson) to its 2016-2017 season, as well as Martyna Majok's Cost of Living (directed by Jo Bonney). Broadway.com has more. ... The Public Theater has announced, in full, its 2016-2017 season. Highlights include the world premiere of Saint Joan, reuniting Here Lies Love collaborators David Byrne and Alex Timbers; a revival of David Hare's Plenty, starring Corey Stoll and Rachel Weisz; the New York premiere of Lynn Nottage's Sweat; an adaptation of Tiny Beautiful Things, a book written by Wild author Cheryl Strayed; and the latest from John Leguizamo, Latin History for Morons. Broadwayworld.com has more.

Taylor Stanley, Principal Dancer

The terrific Taylor Stanley has been promoted to principal dancer at New York City Ballet! Stanley is a fantastic dancer, and one of my favorites to watch. The good news was reported via a tweet from NYCB and an Instagram post by Company soloist Craig Hall, and Dance Spirit magazine provided a brief overview of Stanley's rise. Later in the day, NYCB posted Stanley's reaction to the promotion on its Instagram feed. Get to know Stanley in this February New York Times interview, and catch him on stage in these last two weeks of NYCB's spring season. Merde to Stanley!

Award Season Update

The 2016 Astaire Award winners were announced this week. Honoring excellence in dance and choreography in Broadway, off-Broadway, and film, winners include Andy Blankenbuehler (Hamilton), Savion Glover (Shuffle Along...), and Sergio Trujillo (On Your Feet) in a three-way-tie for Best Choreographer. (All three are current Tony nominees.) The Shuffle Along... ensemble won for Outstanding Ensemble in a Broadway Show. Visit Playbill for the full list of winners.

Later in the week, Off-Broadway Alliance Award winners were announced. The Robber Bridegroom won for Best Musical Revival, and Lois Smith (John, Marjorie Prime) was honored as a Legend of Off-Broadway. Playbill has the full list of winners.

Drama League Award winners were announced today (5.20). A View from the Bridge won for Outstanding Revival of a Play; The Color Purple won for Outstanding Revival of a Musical; The Humans won for Outstanding Play; Hamilton won for Outstanding Musical; and Lin-Manuel Miranda won the Distinguished Performance Award, an honor a performer can win only once in his/her career. Congratulations to all the winners.

Dig This

  • Barbra Streisand will make several tour stops this August, after which she'll release her 35th studio album, Encore: Movie Partners Sing Broadway. As the title suggests, the album will feature Streisand and movie stars covering Broadway tunes. Entertainment Weekly has more.

  • Broadway.com checked in with Alice Ripley and Jennifer Damiano, who reunite on stage in American Psycho after forging a bond in Next to Normal almost ten years ago.

  • The TV adaptation of Rocky Horror Picture Show will air on Fox in October. A specific date has not been announced. This iteration features Tony winner Annaleigh Ashford (You Can't Take It With You) as Columbia and Laverne Cox as Dr. Frank-n-Furter, with special appearances by Ben Vereen and original Rocky Horror star, Tim Curry. Broadway.com has more.

  • The Hollywood Reporter has a convenient round-up of the renewals, cancellations, and new series being announced during TV's up-front period.

  • Looking: The Movie, the feature-length movie presentation that serves as a conclusion to the short-lived HBO series, Looking, will air on the premium cable channel on July 23. Looking stars Tony nominee Jonathan Groff (Hamilton). Broadwayworld.com has details.

  • Hello Dolly revival update: David Hyde Pierce (Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike) will join the previously announced Bette Midler. Performances at the Shubert Theatre will begin March 13, 2017, with opening night set for April 20. Broadway.com has more.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016


Though Paula Vogel's Indecent is a new play and tells a story I didn't know, it reminded me of stories I've heard before. With the subtitle, "the true story about a little Jewish play," Indecent tells the tale of Sholem Asch's play, God of Vengeance.

In the early 1900s, Asch was a Polish Jew and a writer. Shortly after getting married, he wrote "a little Jewish play," and tried to get it produced. The trouble was that the little Jewish play depicted Jews as—shonda alert—actual, flawed human beings, humans with desires, and, ahead of its time, lesbian characters. At first, power players in the Yiddish theatre scene were wary of producing God of Vengeance, afraid of how it portrayed Jews. Asch challenged, "Why does every Jew on stage have to be a paragon?" Why can't Jews on stage, he argued, represent the full complement of Jews in real life? The power players were unmoved.

But Asch persevered. God of Vengeance became the little play that could, with a Yiddish theatre troupe traveling and performing throughout Europe until finally, in 1923, landing on Broadway. The road to Broadway wasn't smooth, and their stay there was unceremoniously cut short. Before getting the green light, the troupe, now sans Asch, who'd become a bit of a recluse, was forced to make cuts and changes to the script. Significant ones.

Producers thought the rain scene, in which two women fall in love—compared throughout the show to the Romeo and Juliet balcony scene—was indecent. Without reading the changes, Asch signed off, but the players were not happy. They felt that without the rain scene, the relationship between the women felt predatory and antagonistic rather than like a natural, loving development. It was the only way the show would be produced, though, so up went the curtain. Citing obscenity laws and deeming the material, you guessed, indecent, the curtain quickly came back down, and the players were arrested.  (The other story I was thinking of here: N.W.A.'s struggle for stardom.)

What follows is an accounting of all that followed (sort of a la Shuffle Along, or, The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All that Followed). We see the troupe trying to fight the obscenity charges, and we see Asch so overwhelmed by his fear of judgment that he does little to aide his players. We see an Asch acolyte (circa the 1940s) try to coax Asch out of his shell and get God of Vengeance produced, to no avail. And we see a scrappy telling of the play bring comfort to Jews in concentration camps. (God of Vengeance's legacy lives on; people tell its story, in the vein of Hamilton.)

The tight ensemble includes Richard Topol as Lemmi, the stage manager, who serves as our guide. We are, more or less, seeing the story through his eyes. Another standout is Katrina Lenk, who plays one of the actors portraying one half of God of Vengeance's lesbian couple. Director and co-creator Rebecca Taichman (Familiar, Stage Kiss) incorporates Christopher Akerlind's lighting design and Tal Yarden's projection design well, setting the mood and helping us keep track of where and when we are.

Indecent is a well-crafted and interesting play (with music). Though the structure and the very conceit of digging into and reflecting on our own history did bring thoughts of other recent artistic endeavors, there are more than enough specifics—culturally, historically, and otherwise—to distinguish it from the pack. What resonates the most is Asch's original question to his peers, "Why does every Jew on stage have to be a paragon?"

This is an argument many make these days when talking about the representation of women, LGBT people, and other people in minority groups (and the intersection of all the cohorts). Why, for example, does a woman on stage or screen have to be perfect at everything? Are women actually flawless? Of course not, and, most often, it's their flaws that make them interesting and give them character. So why not show that, mess and all, on stage and screen? No doubt Vogel (How I Learned to Drive) and Taichman were drawn to those parallels when delving into Asch's story.

Monday, May 16, 2016

NYCB: Dances at a Gathering and West Side Story Suite

NYCB's spring season continues. Saturday afternoon's program was All Robbins, featuring Dances at a Gathering and West Side Story Suite, two ballets I thrill over each time.

The last time I saw Dances at a Gathering in full was January 2011 (an excerpt was presented during Wendy Whelan's farewell performance in October 2014), so while it felt familiar, it also felt fresh and new.

I like the way Dances at a Gathering, set to a Chopin piano score, is an opportunity for the dancers to show off both their technique and their personality. This is also why I think Chase Finlay, dancing in blue, is so poorly suited for this; he hardly ever looks like he's connecting with his fellow dancers. On the other hand, it's why Robert Fairchild (in brown), back in the full NYCB swing after spending a year on Broadway with An American in Paris, is perfect for this ballet. I've always adored the way he brings a flair to his roles, and there was a special moment at the end between him and his sister, Megan Fairchild, who was dancing the apricot/yellow track. (Not to be left out, Megan was also on Broadway for a year, performing in On the Town.)

Sterling Hyltin (in pink) was, of course, gorgeous, as were Rebecca Krohn (in mauve) and Lauren King (in blue). Jared Angle ( in purple), Antonio Carmena (in brick), and Amar Ramasar (in green) also gave great performances; it's terrific seeing the men being asked to do something other than just make the women look good, and these guys nailed it. And I was delighted by Sara Mearns (in green), especially her pas de deux section. She has three partners, but she never touches them. It's like she's the woman who's too good, too much for these men to handle. With great moments for all, Dances at a Gathering is a beautiful ballet, and I love the ending. Out of context, it's nothing. (The dancers literally stand in place and look around.) In context, though, it's beautiful and sad and celebratory and affecting. What a gathering.

After intermission was the West Side Story Suite, which, as the title suggests, features numbers from West Side Story. I always love this ballet. This is just so damn good, dear readers. You have the best dancers in the world performing numbers from the best musical in the canon.

Andrew Veyette once again played Riff, and he's good. There's a reason he's been dancing this role for several years. Fellow principal Adrian Danchig-Waring took on the role of Tony, and his "Something's Coming" was sensational. It's amazing how he's able to convey Stephen Sondheim's lyrics without a word.

Resident choreographer and soloist Justin Peck appeared as Bernardo, and Brittany Pollack was his Anita. Georgina Pazcoguin will always be my favorite Anita, but Pollack did well, bringing spunk and sass to the role, going for broke in "America." Rounding out the featured players was Mimi Staker as Maria. I like the way she connected with Danchig-Waring during the dance at the gym, and she was lovely during the "Somewhere" ballet.

This suite always reminds me why West Side Story is the best. You just can't beat the Leonard Bernstein–Stephen Sondheim–Jerome Robbins triumvirate. Gorgeous music plus clever, evocative lyrics plus expressive, pulsating choreography equals perfection. (Shout out to librettist Arthur Laurents, of course. West Side Story has one of the best-written books I have ever come across.) What a shame that West Side Story Suite is not part of the 2016-2017 season; catch it while you can.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Week in Review 5.13.16

Royal Baby News

I don't typically include artists' personal or lifecycle event information in these posts, but I'm making an exception. Shuffle Along... leading lady, Audra McDonald, and her husband, Will Swenson, are expecting a child! (Both actors have a child/children from their respective previous marriages.) Of course, this means that a casting shuffle is due at Shuffle Along... The pregnant McDonald will continue with the show through July 24 before going on maternity leave; she intends to return to the show this winter. (This also means that the Lady Day... West End production is postponed. Broadway.com has more about that.) Filling McDonald's tap shoes will be Rhiannon Giddens, making her Broadway debut. In addition, over the summer, the show's Tony-nominated choreographer, Savion Glover, will appear in the show, though, as Broadway.com reports, it has not been announced which track he'll take on. Congratulations to McDonald and Swenson!!!

Encores! 2017 Season

The 2017 season for City Center Encores! has been announced. The season will begin with Big River, a take on Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn. It features a book by William Hauptman and a score by Roger Miller. Performances run February 8, 2017, through February 12. Next up is The New Yorkers, a Cole Porter musical (with a book by Herbert Fields) from the 1930s. That runs March 22-26. Concluding the season will be The Golden Apple, name-checked in [title of show], and not seen in New York since its original 1954 run. The Golden Apple puts an American spin on The Iliad and The Odyssey, and was written by John Latouche and Jerome Moross. The Golden Apple runs May 10-14. Subscriptions go on sale July 25, 2016, and single tickets go on sale September 26. Broadway.com has more.

Casting News

  • Almost full casting has been announced for the Broadway revival of Cats. (The exception is the role of Grizabella.) The cast includes Quentin Earl Darrington, Eloise Kropp, and NYCB soloist Georgina Pazcoguin. Previews begin July 14, and opening night is July 31. Broadway.com has the cast list.

  • Darren Criss will play Hedwig in the national tour of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Criss was one of the replacement Hedwigs in the recent, Tony-winning revival. The tour launches on October 4 in San Francisco. Broadway.com has more.

  • Two-time Tony winner Christian Borle (Peter and the Starcatcher, Something Rotten) will star in the Broadway bow of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (playing Willy Wonka, not Charlie, of course). Performances begin in March 2017 at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre. This will mark Borle's second show of the 2016-2017 Broadway season, as he'll appear in Falsettos in the fall. Theater Mania has more.

  • Tony nominee Megan Hilty (Noises Off) will appear in the upcoming CBS series, BrainDead, which comes from Robert and Michelle King, The Good Wife creators, and stars Aaron Tveit. Broadway.com has more.

  • Beginning June 7, Bryce Ryness (Hair, Fly by Night) is taking over the role of Miss Trunchbull in Matilda, Ryness previously played the role on tour. Broadway.com has more.
Theatre Award Season Updates

Winners of the Outer Critics Circle Awards have been announced. (The OCC is made up of journalists outside New York covering the New York theatre scene.) Dear Evan Hansen won for Outstanding New Off-Broadway Musical. Visit Theater Mania for the full list of winners. The Henry Hewes Design Award winners were announced. Scenic designer Riccardo Hernandez won for The Invisible Hand, and Hamilton's costume, Paul Tazewell, lighting, Howell Binkley, and sound, Nevin Steinberg, designers are the other winners. Playbill has more. New York Times theatre critics Ben Brantley and Charles Isherwood make their Tony predictions, including who will win; who should win; and who should have been nominated.

Hamilton in the News

Tony nominee Daveed Diggs spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about learning to sing for Hamilton, his daily routine, and Sunday brunch. He also stopped by The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, and showed off it unparalleled rapping skills. ... Tony nominee David Korins spoke to The Wall Street Journal about his role as a scenic designer. ... The New York Times features a profile of Tony nominee Leslie Odom, Jr. Odom talks about pursuing Burr and what comes next. ... The Hamilton national tour will make a stop in Washington, DC, taking up a slot in the Kennedy Center's 2017-2018 season. Exact dates have not been announced. Playbill has more.

Dig This

  • Jessie Mueller stopped by The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and Playbill tagged along for a peek behind the scenes. Mueller, who won a Tony for Beautiful, is nominated for a Tony this year for her work in Waitress.

  • Get a peek inside five NYCB dancers' customized travel cases, their go-to packs that they bring from gig to gig, ensuring they have everything they need. Visit AnOther to learn more.

  • Remember when, last week, Steven Pasquale teased that there would be a The Robber Bridegroom revival cast recording? It is now confirmed. The album will be recorded on June 1. A release date has not been announced, but you can visit sh-k-boom.com to sign up for alerts.

  • Variety checks in on three-time Tony winner and recent Oscar winner Mark Rylance (Twelfth Night, Bridge of Spies). His latest film, The BFG (that is, "The Big Friendly Giant) is now at the Cannes Film Festival.

  • What's in a bow? The New York Times asked several Tony-nominated actors about their bowing technique.