Nov 28, 2009

Typo of the Day

A tiny oops in an email from friends of mine who did a "rock camp" in my neighborhood this past summer:
The Havens and BEA Rock Camp want to invite you to celibate with us at our Volunteer Appreciation Party!

Sounds like fun!

Nov 27, 2009

Herzog's Burglars

I'm on vacation but I felt I had to post a line I read this morning. It's from a Q&A with Werner Herzog in my hometown newspaper, and it's an indelible and fitting image of a kind of artistic inspiration:
Q: Your movies are so diverse. Where do your ideas come from?

A: I'm always wrestling with the burglars that sneak into my home in the middle of the night. I've never planned a career, what would I do next, should I acquire the rights of a bestselling book and write a screenplay and make a film out of it? It's never occurred to me like this. It's always been like home invasion.

Nov 23, 2009

Quote for the Day

"There’s nothing better than an amazing musical, but an okay musical can be one of the worst times you’ve ever had." Laura Benanti in New York

Nov 18, 2009

I Have No Words


Glengarry, Hedwig, and Maria

A close competition over at the American Theatre Facebook page, where today's question is: What's the best film adaptation of a play or musical?

UPDATE: My favorite answer so far, from Tim Doyle:
My pick would have to be "Saving Private Ryan" (1998) based on the 1949 Yip Harburg/Burton Lane musical "Normandy, Schmormondy."

Nov 17, 2009

Freeman at Last

In a Time Out Q&A about his new meta-play Exposition, the indispensable Matthew Freeman seems lukewarm on the blogging:
I’m increasingly wary of blogging because I am a playwright first, and feel no particular urge to piss off literary departments or get caught saying unkind things about Charles Isherwood or whatever. As I’ve become aware that people actually do, in fact, read what I write, I’ve become a lot more careful. Which is a good thing and a bad thing. I can’t imagine I’m alone in that. I used to think that new bloggers would show up and enliven the conversation. They may yet. But now with status updates and Twitter and whatever, I think that dilutes the need to become a major content creator of your own. So, theater blogging may sort of fizzle out, or it may be just waiting for a new Rachel Corrie scandal or something interesting to happen. Because I think bloggers can still drive conversation; they just need something to chew on and fight about.

Ragtime Revisited

Marcia Mitzman Gaven and John Dossett

Critics are mostly warmish to the new Broadway revival of Ragtime. I saw it in a very early preview (for an essay I've written about race on Broadway for the December American Theatre), and am thus duty-bound not to say too much about the current production.

But I can't keep mum about one thing. Many critics, most prominently Ben Brantley at the Times, have less than loving memories of the original production--i.e., the one that opened in January, 1998 at the Ford Center (now the Hilton). But that's not the "original" I remember, and with perhaps overweening fondness: The show's U.S. premiere was at L.A.'s Shubert Theatre in June, 1997, and that production--starring Marcia Mitzman Gaven, John Dossett, LaChanze, John Rubinstein, and Brian Stokes Mitchell (and later the incomparable Kingsley Leggs, as the best Coalhouse I've yet seen)--was a knockout on every level. I still remember the sound in the house when the show's opening night audience witnessed the opening number's tripartite climax: WASPS, immigrants, and African-Americans in triangles facing off on the stage, then turning and belting out that final, ringing chorus. An ecstatic buzz of recognition would be one way to describe it. Some members of the cast later confirmed to me the specialness of that moment; they said that after doing a tryout in Toronto, in L.A. the show had its first all-American audience, black and white and every other shade, and the response was galvanizing.

It was puzzling for me, then, to hear the muted reception of the 1998 Broadway production--that is, until I saw it. It just wasn't as good at the Ford Center. It did feel overproduced; the theater space itself was over-produced. (And now we understand a little bit why.) Was that L.A. Ragtime, which I went back and lapped up four more times after that opening, just lightning in a bottle? Because Livent had recently produced a triumphant Show Boat, was I seeing Ragtime in perhaps too rosy a light? Was it really a musical for the ages, fit for a place on the shelf with Guys and Dolls and My Fair Lady and Fiddler and Gypsy and Cabaret and Sweeney, or was it just a happy convergence of hype and circumstance?

Well, I saw it again in 2003 at the Civic Light Opera of South Bay Cities, in a production that was a carbon copy of Frank Galati's and Graciela Daniele's original (right down to the Model T and the casting of Leggs), and at Musical Theatre West, where I saw the best Tateh yet (Eric Anderson, currently appearing in South Pacific). I also caught the tour when it came back to Orange County. Each production only burnished my appreciation of the show, and confirmed my basic first impression that Ragtime was not just the music of something beginning but of something lasting.

I desperately wish I'd seen the February production in Astoria, which sounds like it successfully rendered the show as a chamber piece. (There was a similar production in L.A. just last year.) And here's where I will offer my central criticism of Marcia Milgrim Dodge's sturdy, affecting new Broadway production: that it is stripped back in the direction of a chamber version, with accordingly salutary focus on words, music, and character over spectacle, but that because it's still on a big Broadway stage, with huge girders that hint at Eugene Lee's original set, it feels like a certain grandeur is missing. Without a sense of sweep, the show's second act, in particular, just feels like all book. And the casting, for my taste, is a little on the bland side. And so I do fear that this new version--though it's making a strong case for a show I love to some audiences and critics who didn't "get it" last time--doesn't make the absolute best case possible for the show's merits, which to my mind that initial L.A. bow amply did.

I'm willing to concede that I may be holding on a little too tightly to that memory, but then, what are we critics made of if not our theatregoing memories? The silver lining, in any case, is that the popularity of this new revival may be enough to insure that it will come around again, possibly in another generation--and with any luck, thoroughly reimagined.

RELATED: I liked Peter Filichia's confident closer today:
Ragtime will be one of the six musicals that first lost the Best Musical Tony but eventually won the Best Musical Revival Tony. (Sweet Charity, Gypsy, Chicago, Into the Woods and Hair are the others.) I’d say it’s the revival of the century, but there are 91 years to go. Nevertheless, I hope that it’s still running in seven years so that its original producer Garth Drabinsky can get to see it, too.

Nov 13, 2009

What People Are Seeing

Our weekly question on American Theatre's fan page, as usual, yields an odd, fascinating cross section of theater of all sizes and shapes nationwide.

This weekend, folks are seeing:

On the Town at Paper Mill Playhouse, Millburn, NJ
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead in NYC
Post No Bills at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater NYC
Esperanza Rising @ Emerson
Tree @ [Inside] the Ford
The End of Civilization @ Sidewalk Studio Theatre
Sweeney Todd @ Chandler Theatre
The Winterling by Paragon Theatre in Denver
Playback @ McDaniel College in Westminster, MD
Dog Act at
Blackbird at City Theatre in Pittsburgh
A New Brain at Dark Horse Company Theatre (SLC)
Taylor Mac's The Lily's Revenge
Inside Out at BAM
Americana Kamikaze at PS122
Tiny Kushner at Berkeley Rep
Saturn Returns by Noah Haidle and South Coast Rep
Dwarfman at Lane Community College
I Love My Wife at Montgomery Theatre
Slasher at Luna Theatre

Nov 12, 2009

Alive and Welles

I just saw a brand new movie with Orson Welles in it. I swear to God: Christian McKay, in the new Richard Linklater movie Me and Orson Welles, is so good as the young Welles it's uncanny, almost occult. I don't think I've ever seen anything like it--Geoffrey Rush's Peter Sellers and Robert Downey's Chaplin were good but they never made you feel, My God, that is the man himself.

The movie as a whole is soft slice of period pie, nothing too special. Through the eyes of a callow, starstruck teen played by Zac Efron, it portrays Welles on the eve of the Mercury's fascist-styled Caesar--arguably a more crucial milestone for him and his theatrical career than the famous voodoo Macbeth or the Blitzstein musical. (It's a rich career, however brief, to have that much to argue about.) There are welcome turns by Claire Danes and Zoe Kazan, and the historical casting is genius top to bottom--you'll have no trouble identifying who's supposed to be Norman Lloyd, John Houseman, Joseph Cotten, etc. And there are a lot of tiny references Welles fans will enjoy (to Chimes at Midnight, Touch of Evil, even The Third Man). But the main reason for any of us to see it is the privilege of spending a few hours in the virtual presence of that booming voice, those cocked eyebrows, that rolling gait and expressive arms. I'm told it will hit theaters Nov. 25.

Nov 11, 2009


Worth playing to the end--there are two parts to this possessed Peter Pan.

Nov 10, 2009

Shirley Unleashed

From his new position at the LA Stage Blog--resuming, one hopes, the essential coverage he once did for the LA Times' Stage Beat--Don Shirley takes on his old employer's New York-besotted theater coverage (full disclosure: It's a tendency from which I've occasionally personally benefited since I moved east). He has a particularly juicy target: film critic Kenneth Turan, who's taken to hawking his long overdue new Joe Papp bio, Free for All, with the arguable encomium that Papp "made theater in America both accessible and essential.” Without taking anything away from Papp's tremendous achievements, what we have here is a very common conflation of "theater in America" with "New York theater." (Another classic case here.)

Turan misunderstands what “made theater in America both accessible and essential” during Papp’s lifetime. That task was performed not in New York, where theater was already quite “accessible and essential,” thank you very much. It happened in Los Angeles and elsewhere outside New York.

Those were the decades when professional, non-profit companies appeared throughout America. Although these companies are often labeled “regional,” which carries a whiff of condescension, they deserve most of the credit for making American theater ”accessible and essential.”

It should be obvious that this decentralization of American theater was more responsible for increased “accessibility” of the art form than the actions of any single New York-based producer.

Tell it, Don.

UPDATE: 99 Seats chimes in with (mostly) praise of Papp's efforts and legacy, and some important qualifiers to the above. I do think that just as it's possible to overstate the extent to which New York theater is synonymous with American theater, it's quite possible to go too far in the other direction. Of course New York is a theater capital, and what happens here has huge, even disproportionate influence throughout the U.S. and the world. That's a self-evident, and self-perpetuating, fact of life, and it's been true for at least a century. What did change in the 1960s--and I forget who put it to me this way exactly but it stuck with me because it makes a lot of sense--is that while American theater was once centrifugal, with New York power essentially rippling outward to the rest of the nation, American theater is now more centripetal, with theatrical power more evenly distributed throughout the country but still rotating around the validating stamp of New York's theater biz. Papp was at the center of that business just as the rules were changing, and it's inarguable that just as he knocked down barriers within the city proper, he knocked them down between the city and the nation at large, and while he deserves credit for the theater he made here that poured out into the world, he obviously can't take credit for the vital theater that poured inward over those broken-down walls.

All that said, I welcome Don's post, because while it's theoretically just as possible to overstate the importance of the regional theater movement vis a vis New York theater as it is to do the reverse, in reality that almost never happens, even--perhaps especially--in the hometown papers of said regions.

Objectify This

Caught this interesting juxtaposition of posters at an 8th Ave. garage last night. Apologies for the terrible cellphone camera image...

Here's a closer look at the more distant one:

The poster does refer to a crucial costume and, er, incident in Mamet's play. And the faceless booty on the Fela! poster is hardly a misrepresentation of that show's charms. I mean, it's nice to see women of color on Broadway posters but--I'm not sure this is progress.

Nov 9, 2009

Radiohole Gets Cute

As a new father myself, I was moved to donate to Radiohole to support their latest tour of Whatever. Heaven Allows (Walker Arts Center in Minneapolis, Jan. 14-16; The Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, Feb. 12-13; PS122 in NYC, March, and UCLA Oct. 13-17). Why? Here's why:
Radiohole has just enough money to pay our artists a small stipend. So what about child care costs? At each of these stops we must raise money for the babies & the Baby-Mamma & Daddies to join us on the road. That means plane tickets, car-seats, sippy cups, the works!! This family-style tour will cost us an extra $3500!

Can you say no to these faces?

Left to right: Tallulah May McRae Silovsky, Mia Pearl Fliakos, and Zapata Huber Hoffman Enriquez.

UPDATE: Found a revelant link.

Nov 6, 2009

Over-and-Out Links

What Are You Seeing This Weekend?

Apart from "what showtune is stuck in your head," that's been the favorite question on American Theatre's Facebook fan page. The answers this week (and every Friday, since I think we're going to make it a regular feature) are an illuminating cross-section of, well, American theatre: from Walworth Farce at UCLA to Narnia in Memphis, from Labute's This Is How It Goes in Richmond to Angels in America in Philly...It's a fascinating (and growing) list.

The Undeciders

I don't get up to much straight-up theatrical criticism these days, but here's my bundled-together take on three current Broadway offerings: Hamlet, A Steady Rain, and Superior Donuts. All of them star vehicles, in a sense, but in only one case is the star in question the playwright.

Riedel: Times Ad Deal Killed Brighton Beach

Well, that's interesting.

Nov 5, 2009

Who's Google-Reading Who

I'm behind the times, I know, but I started to add some blog subscriptions to my Google Reader and discovered some interesting stats along the way. To wit:

Playgoer, with an average of 9.6 posts a week, has 1,503 Google Reader subscribers.

Parabasis, with an average 15.4 posts a week, has 231 GR subs.

Theatre Ideas, with 1.6 post a week on average, has 180 GR subs.

Time Out's Upstaged blog, with an average of 8.2 posts a week, has 137 GR subs.

99 Seats, with an average 5.6 posts a week, has 129 GR subs.

On Theatre and Politics, with an average of 4.9 posts a weeks, has 108 GR subs.

Yours truly averages 6.8 posts a week and claims 101 GR subs.

The Clyde Fitch Report, with an average of 20.3 posts a week, has 88 GR subs.

The Hub Review, with an average of 10.3 posts a week, has 59 GR subs.

Sign of Rain

Ripley Grier rehearsal studios are in my building, and I've recently become a fan of their well-stocked snack bar (today's soup is carrot ginger, mmm). I've become used to sharing the elevator with Jerry Zaks, John Kander, Chris Fitzgerald, Cady Huffman, and assorted leg-warmer-clad gypsies; once while rehearsing at R-G myself I ran into John Leguizamo, Haley Joel Osment, and Cedric the Entertainer, heading off for their lunch break. Today while collecting my soup I happened to notice, on the board reporting what shows are in what room, between La Cage and Billy Elliot, a room reserved for Steady Rain. Now what would a two-character show, cast with stars, that's been open for a month, want with a rehearsal room? Replacements? Understudies? A tour? Just askin'.

Idiolect Savant

Back when I was editor of Back Stage West, I used to flag stories in other magazines that would go into an informal stories-we-shoulda-done file (or, if I was more grumpy about it, the why-didn't-we-do-this-story file). The New Yorker's excellent, unassuming profile of dialect coach Tim Monich would have been at the top of the pile.

Hunka Alert

An academic sentence generator.

Nov 3, 2009

Behn There

My Time Out piece about Liz Duffy Adams' new play about Aphra Behn, Or, starring Maggie Siff (pictured), is already up.

Nov 2, 2009

A Link List

Time is tight, to quote Booker T and the MGs. A quick glance around the Internets:

  • Simonized: Proof again why Playgoer is indispensable; a good take from the LA Times; and an uncharacteristic aside from Broadwaystars' aggregator.
  • The Nov. issue of American Theatre is out, with pieces on Ivo van Hove, Ten Chimneys, Faye Armon, Victor Lodato, and the gender gap. And this is new: for a few online stories, comments are enabled.
  • Tracy Letts loose.
  • Holiday shows and Christopher Lloyd a bad match.
  • At the top of my Christmas list.
  • Halloween postmortem.