Dec 28, 2010

Snow Love

No, my title doesn't refer to the blizzard that just hit my hometown while I sit in sunny California (a neighbor just told me our Brooklyn street hasn't even been plowed), but to this NY Times story from just before Christmas:
It closed a month after it opened Off Broadway. Entertainment Weekly selected it as one of the worst shows of 2006. Most New Yorkers don’t even remember it. Yet John Cariani’s “Almost, Maine,” an earnest 19-character play about the romantic happenings one cold night in northern Maine, has since been produced around the world, including in Australia, Dubai and South Korea. A Spanish-language version will be presented this spring in Mexico City. More than 600 companies, amateur and professional, have put it on in the United States and Canada.
As I recall, I was one of the few critics working at the time who actually liked the show, so count me warmed this holiday season, and not just by the West Coast sun.

Dec 22, 2010

Dec 21, 2010

The New York TMZ

To me the surprising news about the latest Spider-man injury isn't that an actor got hurt, but that the Times' coverage includes, to my knowledge, a first: an embedded video of the fall, taken by "a New York Times reader" who apparently ignored the no-recording-at-the-theater rule. This, more than the Times' reporting from the first preview, strikes me as the crossing of a media Rubicon. I guess the widely reposted Hugh Jackman cellphone video from a few years back semi-qualifies. But this video posting, combined with the rubbernecking-at-a-Broadway-train-wreck aspect of the coverage, is a pause-giving moment for arts journalism.

Dec 17, 2010


Not to pile onto the troubled new Spider-man musical, but I can't resist repeating the quote of a waggish colleague who saw a preview last week:
"The show stopped once because of a technical problem, and stopped several other times for songs."
I should add that though my friend didn't much care for the show, he did feel that its combination of pop and spectacle may actually be a box-office winner.

Dec 16, 2010

Safety Nets

The indispensable Matt Yglesias, riffing off David Leonhardt's point about how a welfare state's safety net can actually be a spur to entrepreneurship and innovation (a point I've highlighted before), comes up with this clarifying analogy:
Typically when you see a safety net in place, you’re not really looking at someone who’s trying to be safe. You’re looking at someone who’s trying to do something dangerous. Because it’s dangerous, there’s a safety net in place. But the main point of the net is to facilitate risk-taking behavior not to make you safer than the average person.

Dec 15, 2010

A Lyric You Won't Find in Finishing the Hat

Sorry, can't resist another Sondheim post today. As a huge admirer of both him and Kurt Weill, I've been pained to hear Sondheim, over the years, vehemently dis Brecht and Weill. (The man who wrote Sweeney Todd, really?) So it's nice to see him on the record as preferring Weill's American scores to his German and French ones, though he apparently makes an exception for Threepenny, which he says he loves. Fair enough, there's no accounting for tastes, etc. I was also just tipped off that Sondheim happened to write this parody lyric for Leonard Bernstein's 70th birthday in 1988 to the tune of Weill and Gershwin's "The Saga of Jenny," from the 1940 show The Lady in the Dark. Choice lyric from "The Saga of Lenny":
Lenny made his mind up When he was three, He'd write a show, a ballet, And a symphony. But once the winds were tootled And the first strings plucked, He decided it was terrible-- He'd have to conduct.
It's cutting but loving, and I'm not 100 percent sure, but I think Sondheim slips in a reference to Lenny's bisexuality (if "Schlemozzle" is supposed to be a bottom). In any case, musical theater nerds, enjoy this unlikely marriage of words and music, and just think--if Weill hadn't died in 1950 (at age 50), he might have lived to be among the illustrious slate of composers for whom the Hammerstein-schooled wunderkind from the San Remo wrote lyrics.

A Guy Who Feels Music

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Stephen Sondheim
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire Blog</a>March to Keep Fear Alive

From one Steve to another. Nice "Day Off" quote at the end.

Dec 14, 2010

Whenever I Get Down About Theater...

...I'm reminded that it can still be a lovably freaky place.

To wit:

Dec 10, 2010

Quote of the Week

"One of the differences between the movie business and the theater is that movie business is very social. You always have to smile and shake hands. In the movie business, it's always the first day of school. Over time, I have gotten better, but truly I am not comfortable. In the theater, you can be off in a room as your own weird self. There is acceptance in the theater that everybody is like that."
-Tracy Letts in a Los Angeles Times story that also blows the lid off the unknown (to me) Albee/Steppenwolf impasse (this is the company's first production of his work), in which the ever-quotable Albee offers this gem: "I can only hold a grudge for no more than 25 years."

Dec 9, 2010

The Thaddeus Bristol Files

A scathing review of a community theater production of Oliver! in Oklahoma City provides some choice rubbernecking. The critic, Larry Laneer, minces no words:
It’s hard to understand what director Deborah Draheim is trying to do with the show. First, she has cast 12 children — mostly girls, some very young — as Fagin’s gang. When all 12 were onstage at the reviewed performance, parents in the audience whipped out flash cameras and snapped away. This rude behavior continued for most of the first act. It was worse than a PTA talent show. Where were the announcements about no photos and the ushers to enforce it?

Second, a 30-member cast is way more than needed in the Freede Little Theater, and the actors are mostly untrained and inexperienced. What little dancing is in this production comes from the hop-skip-and-a-jump school of choreography.
His biggest issue is with the canned orchestra, a fair gripe--but I don't know if quoting Edward Albee is going to persuade any of his readers. To wit: the volatile comments section. And you thought Spider-man was controversial!

Dec 7, 2010

Theatre on Screen

I think it's great news that the Broadway phenom Fela! (which I enjoyed) is getting a London production, and good news that it will be broadcast to American movie theaters as part of NT Live, a successful new program that bowed earlier this year with Helen Mirren in Phedre and has continued apace. But given that Fela! is the first Broadway export to get this kind of platform, and given that the Metropolitan Opera has a similar program, I have to wonder: Why doesn't this happen more often with theater? PBS used to broadcast the occasional Lincoln Center show--I still remember trying to watch the Helen Hunt/Paul Rudd/Nick Hytner Twelfth Night back in the late '90s through a fog of bad-reception TV static--and there was that odd MTV airing of Legally Blonde a few years back. But why haven't the likes of Shakespeare in the Park, Lincoln Center, MTC, or Roundabout--or while we're dreaming, the Guthrie, Oregon Shakes, Stratford Ontario, Berkeley Rep, the Taper--struck a similar deal? I'm sure it's no small undertaking, and I'm sure the National Theatre's state support doesn't hurt. And I have to imagine that it might raise hackles with Actors Equity, and engender the usual fears of jurisdictional conflicts with its sister screen actors' unions.

It reminded me of this piece in the current American Theatre about Seattle's On the Boards, which delivers plays and dance or performance pieces online on an Amazon rent-or-buy, with good terms for the artists. Their roster so far includes Radiohole's Whatever, Heaven Allows and Young Jean Lee's The Shipment, both apparently considered non-union productions for the purposes of broadcast (I'd imagine they were both produced under Equity's Showcase Code). An Equity rep is quoted in the piece as saying that without an "industry standard compensation" for such filmed ventures, Equity can't get behind them.

The economics would probably have to shift so strongly in favor of broadcast or filmed performances as a supplementary income stream for theaters (and, presumably, Equity members) for Equity to give some ground, but it would nice to think that American producers and unions could get out in front of this. Especially now that the Brits are showing us up.

Dec 6, 2010

Most Unexpected Angels Resonance

No, it's not Martin Heller's talk of a permanent Republican majority or the "we will be citizens" stuff, which I already remembered going in to the recent Angels revival. It was this tossed-off comment, the blurb that no show wants given the source:
ROY COHN: You've seen La Cage Aux Folles? Ah, fabulous. It's the best thing on Broadway, maybe ever.
And now with original flavor.