Sep 30, 2010

El Gato Con Botas

photo by Sara Krulwich/The New York Times
Moises Kaufman directs a puppet opera this weekend. I had the pleasure of writing it up for the paper of record.

Sep 28, 2010

Płeć Farsy

My mom was part Polish, but apart from the pastries, I don't have a lot in common with my Polish neighbors in Greenpoint. Then one night last week, my wife and I were walking home and someone handed us this postcard:

This Polish version of the stewardess sex farce that played on Broadway last season (and will now play at every regional theater in America, by law, in the coming season--I exaggerate slightly) will play in Montclair, NJ, on Nov. 20 and the Tribeca Performing Arts Center on Nov. 21. I'm almost tempted to go.

A free online translator tells me that
"Boeing Boeing" story Maks, whose life emotional and erotic shall be governed by the international flight timetable...Max has as many as three fiancees, all of them are stewardesses, and each of them think of course, that it is the only. The precise organisation aid and reliable, although not avoiding from sarcastic comments, serving Maksowi always goes to coordinate visits subsequent fiancess, which also, he says he loves equally...What will become but when the minor changes to the air traffic, all of them will appear at Maks almost the same time? What role will play in the history of years of their youth friend Maks Paweł? And what the most important, whether it is found that the Max so well coping with women, whether or not it is they deal with him?

Sep 27, 2010

St. Billie

So Billie Joe himself is going to jump off the Broadway bridge in his American Idiot for a limited run starting tomorrow. Playbill calls it a "rare" instance of a pop star doing this on Broadway, but honestly I can't think of it ever happening with a rock musical on Broadway. Pete Townshend couldn't have jumped into Tommy to save his life. Could Frankie Valli fill in at Jersey Boys? I'm among the fans of Idiot who's not a huge fan of Green Day, so I don't feel the need to rush out and see this. But if this is a box-office stunt (and of course in showbiz, what isn't?), it's certainly a case of the creator putting himself on the line for his creation.

Sep 25, 2010

A Church of Art

photo by Yana Peskova for the NY Times

I've been attending Chris Wells' secular art church, the Secret City, on and off for the past few years (he even had me pinch-hit on guitar one service two summers ago). And I've been watching and loving Chris' work on stage since the mid-1990s (a review of one of his last shows in L.A. before he moved east is here). So it's really gratifying to have the privilege of writing up him and his church-performance thing for the paper of record. Even better, there's this web-only slideshow. Go in peace.

Sep 21, 2010

Sidewalk Story

Down the street from my apartment last weekend:

"Whoever took the plant from this bench on 09-16-10 at 5:30, please return it. It was not thrown out, it was purposely put out for rain, please return to Theresa."

Looks like a happy ending, unless this isn't the same plant.

Early Hamm

Jon Hamm as Czolgosz in Assassins? Pretty interesting to contemplate. Hamm as Selig in Joe Turner? Harder to picture, except that here it is, from his college days in Missouri:


What Ever Happened to Laughs?

Last week my mother got groped at Mass
What ever happened to class?
-cut lyric from Kander & Ebb's "Class"

Being funny in song is one of the hardest things a writer can do. If comedy is about timing, think about how hard it is to make a joke's rhythm work when the time is mapped out as rigidly as in song. Lots of songs make us smile at their cleverness or quirkiness, but laugh out loud? That's a high bar. In the BMI Workshop, they've talked about how the punchlines have got to always be in the same spot metrically--except when they're not, and you want to give the gift of surprise.

The above lyric was cut from the song "Class" when it was met with a "deafening silence" in a preview, according to John Kander, who did a BMI master class a few years back. "It drove my late partner crazy," Kander said then of Fred Ebb. "He never knew what was going to be funny. The only way to know is get it up in front of an audience." David Yazbek, who was on hand for the same master class, said that "Chimp in a Suit" from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is one of his own personal favorite songs he's written, even though he admitted that he "never thought it totally worked" with audiences.

I'm actually at a loss to think of songs, in musical theater or otherwise, that have actually made me laugh. A well-performed "A Little Priest" has done the trick, if I recall right. Beck's "Hollywood Freaks" almost always makes me chuckle. On a good day, Allan Sherman still gets me. As far as musical theater goes, Marx and Lopez are fine craftsmen, of course (and Lopez's work with the South Park boys is, of course, duly anticipated).

I welcome other examples, dear readers.

Sep 20, 2010

Almost English

This headline on a newspaper in my hood caught eye:

Before I Babelfish it, anyone speak Polish?

The Other Scott Brown

New York magazine has officially named Scott Brown its lead theater critic. No, not the centerfield-turned-Senator from Massachusetts but the guy who's been freelancing there for the last two years, ever since Jeremy McCarter left to become Newsweek's own junior Frank Rich. For a sample of his reviews, look here.

Sep 18, 2010

Quote for the Weekend

My method is to take the utmost trouble to find the right thing to say, and then to say it with the utmost levity.

— George Bernard Shaw


Sep 16, 2010

The Only "King Kong" Music I Want To Hear

In 1928, a banjo player named Chubby Parker recorded his own odd, totally mesmerizing variation on the chestnut "Froggy Went a-Courting." His title was an inspired bit of nonsense he repeated throughout: "King Kong Kitchie Kitchie Ki-Me-O." That's a five full years before the groundbreaking 1933 monster film that may now, improbably, become a Broadway musical. I'm much less excited about that, frankly, than about this flimsy excuse to share one of my favorite recordings.

From Barlow to Shaw

This year's Top 10 Playwrights list, as I promised, is here.

Sep 15, 2010


Well, it doesn't look like Tyler Perry is taking the period-piece route. (h/t David Ng)

Got Robot Milk?

photo by Scott Beale
My old neighborhood gets odder and odder as it gentrifies, and who would have it any other way? When I first lived in Echo Park in the mid-1990s, there were still drive-bys and stray gunfire at night. Now there's a place called the Allston Yacht Club next to the beloved House of Spirits, and even odder, there's this: something called the Echo Park Time Travel Mart. Turns out it's a storefront for the nonprofit tutoring program 826LA, and I guess there's also a storefront in Brooklyn I should check out.

Sep 14, 2010

Torey "South Side" Malatia

If you follow This American Life or Sound Opinions, as I do, you can't miss the hosts' de rigeuer gently mocking shout-outs to producer Torey Malatia. I happened to grow up hearing Malatia as a DJ himself, and in an entirely un-humorous context: During the early 1980s he was the voice of KHEP, the classical music station in Phoenix, where I was such a junior-high nerd that I actually taped some of his broadcasts by placing my cassette player on top of my clock radio. I have no idea what Malatia is like to work with, but when I think of him on KHEP, announcing Mozart concerti in dulcet tones to Reagan-era retirees tooling around the desert in air-conditioned towncars, gentle mockery seems only fair.

Black Fest

It's official.

What Friends Are For

To send make-my-day photos like this:

Which of course makes me look it up.

Season of the List

For those who remember last year's lively discussion over American Theatre's annual Top 10 Plays list, get ready for another one, which I've teed up over at my company blog.

Sep 13, 2010

Pretty Flimsy Stuff

I know it's somehow Ben Brantley's job to come up with a narrative for the coming Broadway season, but really, this is it?
More than ever Broadway this season is the land of second chances: for celebrities looking to reignite their careers or upgrade their images (Paul Reubens, Justin Guarini, Brendan Fraser); for plays that failed miserably in their first Broadway outings (“La Bête”); for troubled shows that the gossip vultures predicted would never make it to town (“Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” and — maybe — “Love Never Dies”). Once a place where stars were born, New York’s theatrical main stem has become a sort of makeover salon for those of faded glory looking to be reincarnated.
Really? Peewee, Brendan Fraser, and an Idol also-ran constitute the celebrity half of this trend, and a trio of totally unrelated shows that might or might not be in trouble is the other half? I can't even summon the energy to get very upset about this, but I do think Mr. Brantley's energies might be better spent contemplating other things. I'll just keep looking forward to the return of Brief Encounter.

Sep 11, 2010

A photographer I know, Jeff Jacobson, was living in Jersey nine years ago today. He took this photo from that vantage point, near the Katyn statue. More information about Jeff is here.

Sep 9, 2010

The Critic's Dance Card

At the American Theatre Facebook page this morning, the question is: "Have you ever run into a critic who gave you a bad review?" Within minutes, we got this gem from Hester Kamin:
Several months after I got the most scathing, sarcastic review of my life, I went to a wedding, where the reviewer and I had been placed next to each other at dinner and were expected to be dance partners.
Sounds like a blast!

Sep 7, 2010

Part of the Problem

If I had a Twitter account, I guess I would have just tweeted my observation that Riedel is a cancer on the American theater. But I don't do Twitter, so here it is on my blog, where I also have space to highlight his new dump-on-the-new-season piece's dumbest, most offensive anonymous quote, on why the revival of Time Stands Still reportedly isn't doing great advance business:
"It's scary. We thought there'd be some interest because of 'The Big C' [Linney's new cable show], but I guess cancer isn't box office."
Actually, maybe all the people who wanted to see Laura Linney and Brian D'Arcy James in a drama about a war photographer somehow already found their way to the Manhattan Theatre Club six months ago.

Born in the Bloody USA

Just saw this image in the subway this morning. Kinda reminded me of...

Not that that's a bad thing. Who doesn't warm to the sight of a hinder and a flag?

Escape From New York

According to residents, the mass exodus was triggered by a number of normal, everyday New York City events. For Erin Caldwell of Manhattan, an endlessly honking car horn sent her over the edge, causing her to go into a blind rage and scream "shut up!" at the vehicle as loud as she could until her voice went hoarse; for Danny Tremba of Queens it was being cursed at for walking too slow; and for Paul Ogden, also of Queens, it was his overreaction to somebody walking too slow.

Other incidents that prompted citizens to pick up and leave included the sight of garbage bags stacked 5 feet high on the sidewalk; the realization that being alone among millions of anonymous people is actually quite horrifying; a blaring siren that droned on and fucking on; muddy, refuse-filled puddles that have inexplicably not dried in three years; the thought of growing into a person whose meanness and cynicism is cloaked in a kind of holier-than-thou brand of sarcasm that the rest of the world finds nauseating; and all the goddamn people.

In addition, 3 million New Yorkers reportedly left the city because they realized the phrase "Only in New York" is actually just a defense mechanism used to convince themselves that seeing a naked man take a shit on a park bench is somehow endearing, or part of some shared cultural experience.
All painfully true, and yet of course, also wrong. One germ of unequivocal truth: Sometimes it's only the people here that make the struggle worthwhile; minus them, this might indeed be a place worth leaving. Cue Snake Plissken.

For me, extra-credit pangs include the reference to Scottsdale, Ariz. (essentially my hometown), not to mention the priceless closing graf:
By Tuesday night, New York was completely abandoned. At press time, however, some 10 million Los Angeles–area residents, tired of their self-centered, laid-back culture and lack of four distinct seasons, and yearning for the hustle and bustle of East Coast life, had already begun repopulating the city.
(h/t Scott Walters)

Sep 6, 2010

For Isaac Butler

A plodding but relatively amazing doc on the making of the great variety show of our time (with apologies to Carol Burnett). If you must watch only one segment, the opening of #1 is pretty stunning, but #4's piece-by-piece look at the Viking take on "In the Navy" is a particular high point.

Weekend Reading

The Dick Wolf gravy train goes West.

Peter Stein turns down factory job.

Arizona was officially "Old California" for a quarter of a decade.

My dad was upset about this, but then I showed him this.

Alastair Macauley talks crap.

Sep 3, 2010

Friday Music Post: Gypsy Yodel

Back in the '90s I got into a great Texas band called Cafe Noir, the only gypsy jazz/Texas swing band I had heard (or have heard of since). All their records are pretty great, but for two magical albums in the middle of their career, Window to the Sea and The Waltz King, they teamed with an extraordinary yodeler/vocalist named Randy Erwin. The result resembled what you might hear if Django Reinhardt and Jimmie Rodgers had formed a band--except, as this audio clip shows, Erwin is also an expert crooner. (I was at this show!)

These videos have a pretty random bunch of non-vocal samples of Cafe Noir's music. And this is Randy doing his shtick for kids. For one brief shining moment, though, at the height of their powers, the band put their skills together to come up with such unclassifiable amazements as these:

As well as out-of-the-blue classical arrangements like this transcendent bit of Stravinsky:

Sep 2, 2010

Pennies for My Thoughts

Moyra Davey, Copperhead No. 1
Pennies are worthless--worse than that, actually, since they in fact cost more to make than they are worth. I now try to get rid of them as soon as I can, but I've decided to extract some last value from the little buggers before they go: I look at the year they were made and try to conjure a memory from that year before I set aside the penny (always on a level surface, like a windowsill or a payphone top, and not on the ground). If I get a year that precedes my birth (not that often, but it happens), I think of what my parents were doing then, and of anything historical or cultural I can think of from that year. I get a lot of duplicate years, which means I have to rifle deeper, and sometimes longer, in my recollections. I must say, it's been a rewarding exercise, these shiny little beacons of reflection in my hectic days. They almost feel like prayer.

Sep 1, 2010

Criticism From Ignorance

I thought NY Times dance critic Alastair Macauley came off as a pompous know-it-all in this back-and-forth with Charles Isherwood re: Twyla Tharp's Come Fly Away, but I've got to give him props for adding this to the discourse:
I've heard people say that you should have watched 800 dance performances before you begin as a critic. I'd only seen about 250 when I began. I've heard other people say you should have been watching dance for twenty years. I'd been going frequently for less than two. A friend of mine said the other night that "There's no such thing as a good young critic." Her point was that a critic who's only seen three Ophelias doesn't know enough, whereas someone who's seen 20 does. Well, even now that I've seen more than twenty Ophelias, I still don't agree. I would rather read a fresh critic coming new to the art form with all his/her wits than an old-fart critic who's tedious to read.

Those ideas about experience propose that a critic must be an expert. I, however, believe that criticism begins not in knowledge but in ignorance. You can't prepare for a new ballet, a new dancer, a new play, a new work of music, a new trend. Expertise won't help you with the new; but an open mind will. And actually you can't prepare for the qualities that will make your 300th "Swan Lake" different from the previous 299.

Take that, John Lahr!

(h/t Thomas Cott)