"... for in that city [New York] there is a neurosis in the air which the inhabitants mistake as energy."
— Evelyn Waugh
"Men fight for liberty and win it with hard knocks. Their children, brought up easy, let it slip away again, poor fools. And their grandchildren are once more slaves."
— D.H. Lawrence
Early in his first term, he regretted that newspapers exaggerated political discontent in the country, but added that "this kind of representation is an evil which must be placed in opposition to the infinite benefits resulting from a free press. These articles tend to produce a separation of the Union, the most dreadful of calamities: and whatever tends to produce anarchy, tends, of course, to produce a resort to monarchical government."
— George Washington 1792
"Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now." -- Lin Manuel Miranda via HAMILTON.
I recently read an excellent article in the June 20, 2015 edition of the WSJ regarding our government's inane idea of taking Alexander Hamilton's image off the ten dollar bill. Tell me please... who comes up with these things?
The article was entitled "First Aaron Burr, Now Jack Lew— Alexander Hamilton, the man who made America’s money, is losing his place on it. That’s a fine thank you for the first Treasury Secretary."
This is just amazing to me... our current Treasury Secretary Jack Lew (at the encouragement of President Obama) wants to remove... or perhaps "demote"... an orphaned immigrant who not only fought heroically in our revolution and almost single-handedly wrote The Federalist Papers, but was instrumental in creating our governmental structure and our banking and economic system... still in use today. He was our first Secretary of the Treasury for God's sake. We're really going nuts in this country... that's all I can say.
If they MUST remove someone from our currency in order to make room for a woman— although I'm not sure why they can't simply create another practical currency for such a purpose instead of continuing down the road of wanting to change our history— perhaps they should consider our 7th President Andrew Jackson... a slave owner, amongst other things.
Nonetheless... in my view, this entire concept is not only asinine and stupid but will be extremely costly to the American people. Aren't there more import things in this country that our government in Washington should be dealing with?
What oh what will become of us?
July 6, 2015
"Where there is no vision, the people will perish." PROVERBS 29:18
IN A MOTHER'S WOMB were two babies. One asked the other: “Do you believe in life after delivery?” The other replied, “Why, of course. There has to be something after delivery. Maybe we are here to prepare ourselves for what we will be later.” “Nonsense” said the first. “There is no life after delivery. What kind of life would that be?”
The second said, “I don’t know, but there will be more light than here. Maybe we will walk with our legs and eat from our mouths. Maybe we will have other senses that we can’t understand now.”
The first replied, “That is absurd. Walking is impossible. And eating with our mouths? Ridiculous! The umbilical cord supplies nutrition and everything we need. But the umbilical cord is so short. Life after delivery is to be logically excluded.”
The second insisted, “Well I think there is something and maybe it’s different than it is here. Maybe we won’t need this physical cord anymore.”
The first replied, “Nonsense. And moreover if there is life, then why has no one has ever come back from there? Delivery is the end of life, and in the after-delivery there is nothing but darkness and silence and oblivion. It takes us nowhere.”
“Well, I don’t know,” said the second, “but certainly we will meet Mother and she will take care of us.”
The first replied “Mother? You actually believe in Mother? That’s laughable. If Mother exists then where is She now?”
The second said, “She is all around us. We are surrounded by her. We are of Her. It is in Her that we live. Without Her this world would not and could not exist.”
Said the first: “Well I don’t see Her, so it is only logical that She doesn’t exist.”
To which the second replied, “Sometimes, when you’re in silence and you focus and you really listen, you can perceive Her presence, and you can hear Her loving voice, calling down from above.” - Útmutató a Léleknek — with David Clark.
February 25, 2015
What Has Become Of Us?
A friend recently told me about his plans for a weekend of intensive show-going which included spectacular circus acts, a bevy of gorgeous female impersonators, and a retrospective production similar to the famed Legends in Concert— he couldn’t recall the title.
So I asked him when he would be leaving for Las Vegas and he replied “Vegas?I’m staying right here on Broadway!”
Indeed, what have we wrought?
The 2013 TONY Award presentation was telling in many ways.In one sense, it could have been packaged ‘as is’ and plastered across a Las Vegas casino.What did the majority of those performances have to do with ‘Broadway’ except for the fact that all just happen to be playing in a Broadway theater?
Right from the Opening Number, the audience was inundated with a palimpsest of acrobatic and prestidigous spectacle over heart; theatrical flash over meaning and emotion.And entertaining though it was, it all left me cold.And that was just the Opening Number…
Take for example two of the shows nominated this season for “Best Musical” Award had received rather weak reviews and thus achieved less than stellar advance ticket sales.In fact, both had already closed months before the TONY Production even loaded-in to the Music Hall.That alone cuts one’s competition by 50%; a contemporary producer’s dream.
Of the other two musicals… the first— Kinky Boots— is a stage interpretation of the same-named British film, and although it is extremely well done…it’s true heart, my opinion, had been stripped out and it became then a disappointingly heartless extravaganza.They simply missed it… in my view, the story is about the shoe factory owner; not the drag queen. But alas, the creators chose to go the easy route…with sequins and spangles and glamorous gowns and towering men in even more-towering high heels in order to create visual appeal and some dizzyingly glitzy dance numbers.Entertaining though those moments are, they are essentially irrelevant and meaningless in telling what could have been a very moving story.
The other new musical— Matilda— taken from the Roald Dahl novel of the same name is perhaps the only ‘real’ Broadway musical to wow the audiences this year.Intelligent, savvy, witty, and stunning to look at, Matilda is what, to me and to many, theater is all about.How disappointing it is to realize that these truly unique new shows only seem to come from London these days.And with the “shunning” Matilda received from the Broadway community at this year’s TONYS, I’m fearful these types of shows might indeed stop coming here at all.
It seems what some might call “artistic rewards” are not necessarily given any more for excellence and daring, but rather for pizzazz and glitz.Throw in a drag queen (or two or three) and voilà… you’ve most likely got it made.
Let’s also take a look at the current revival of Pippin— Diane Paulus’ restaging of the 1972 Bob Fosse masterpiece.And when I use the term “masterpiece”… I’m referring to the true dictionary definition of the word:“a work of outstanding artistry, skill, and/or workmanship.”And that original production of Pippin (produced by the uniquely-skilled Stuart Ostrow) was indeed just that.
Bob Fosse was able to take a saccharine-sweet storyline about a boy looking for inner fulfillment in his life, and was able to create and entire world of haunting drama, intrigue, and powerful self-examination.It was the first musical ever to give a true voice to the chorus… a proto-type of sorts for the yet to come A Chorus Line in which the chorus, indeed, took center stage.
In the original Fosse version, the young Pippin wanted to be “extraordinary”.He really didn’t want to work at it, he just wanted it to be.He wanted to be masterful at something.But what Pippin finally realized at the end of his journey was that he simply was not extraordinary at all… and that if he continued on that path of endless and disappointed searching, he would never ever be happy.And of course that revelation came during the penultimate moments onstage when the audience too realized that all of the characters they’ve been watching and all of the players creating this grand illusion were not “real” at all… that they were (and are) all inside our heads.Pippin, in fact, was the only real person on that stage.
With due respect, Director Paulus was smart enough to realize that Pippin—as originally written pre-Fosse— could never stand on it’s own.In that version, it no doubt would have died on the vine in Washington DC during its 1972 tryouts if it weren’t for Fosse’s genius and Stuart Ostrow’s solid support.
But Paulus just didn’t want to recreate the show Fosse created.Rather, she no doubt assessed the contemporary Broadway marketplace and made her creative decisions based on what might sell.And so…they took some of the best of Bob Fosse-style staging (meaninglessly placed throughout the piece, I might add, for no apparent reason other than perhaps the fact that the audience would ‘expect’ a Fosse look), and then…threw in a circus.
No matter how extraordinary the circus performers in Pippin are (and they are kind of extraordinary), their presence in this show has nothing whatsoever to do with telling the story. Nonetheless, it is spectacle that sells… meaningless or otherwise.
And so I predict this Paulus’ version of Pippin will be around dazzling audiences for some time.It’s perhaps the perfect, safe yet meaningless, tourist show.And just as the decade-plus old revival of the Fosse musical Chicago sanitized that show and took out all the ‘meat’ to make it a bit more palatable for tourists, so does this version… both produced by the same Producer, by the way.
Producers seem to be afraid of the dark.Perhaps that is one of the reason sMatilda was snubbed.I wonder what we would see with a revival of Sweeney Todd?Just get rid of all the bloody murders of evil revenge and add some flying acrobats… and perhaps even a drag queen playing Mrs. Lovett!
I remember reading Stephen Sondheim’s powerful open letter a few years back regarding Diane Paulus’ remake of Porgy and Bess and how outraged he was that she and her team were taking from the original work only what they wanted to take for their restaging, and simply discarding what didn’t appeal to them.A good comparison might be to take the great American novel Moby Dick… trash the chapters you don’t like and rearrange those chapters you like in order to ‘make them flow better’… and still call it Moby Dick.And… perhaps set it all on a Carnival cruise ship instead of a Gloucester whaler. Paulus seems to have made a Broadway career of doing just that.Of repurposing from the best and calling it anew; her own.And now… she has a TONY for it.
And since both Pippin and Kinky Boots have the possibility of making lots of money “on the road” (it should be noted that both shows brilliantly announced their touring productions strategically before the TONY Award presentation) they were almost guaranteed to be the big winners.After all, most of the TONY voters these days are theater professionals from around the country, and will most likely want to insure a good supply of “Best Musical” product for their own theaters in the coming years.And no doubt the powerful yet bittersweet darkness of Matilda scared them all as well.
And do I need to say anything about Motown The Musical?Although this show is exceedingly well staged… this jukebox recreation is right out of Vegas’ famed Legends In Concert.And it’s going to sell like crazy.
No doubt I (and many of my colleagues) are saddened by this apparent evolution of the “Broadway” art and marketplace.We all should be.But things do change and perhaps they need to change.And I guess that’s ok. The Broadway we all knew and admired is slowly waning into the distance.And Las Vegas spectacle looms bigger and brighter on today’s Great White Way.
Let’s just please call it what it is.
June 10, 2013
Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They're not fond of rules, and they have no respect for the status-quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can't do is ignore them because they change things. They push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.
— Steve Jobs
If you’re passionate about
ending the bullying of so many young gay teens across America, I have two words
for you:don’t ask…
None will end so long as this
very government of ours continues to deny gay men and women their full dignity
while in their military ranks; so long as our government continues to exclude
gay men and women from the very basic dignity of choosing their own life-partners…and offering them too the same basic
civil benefits as all other Americas.
Until our government— and the
society it directs— accepts their own responsibility for their own bullying of gay men and women…
reducing them to less than full and complete human beings and equal citizens of
this great nation of ours… why should we expect anything more from the everyday
bullies lurking within our schools and our neighborhoods?
Stephen Sondheim said it best…
the things you say
Children will listen
Careful the things you do
Children will see and learn
Children may not obey, but children will listen
Children will look to you for which way to turn
Go learn what to be
Careful before you say "Listen to me"
Children will listen.”
So let the bullying and the gay
teen suicides continue… with due blessing from our very own... albeit a bit "crazy"... Uncle Sam.
December 08, 2010.
What We Build Defines Us— October 6, 2010
A look at the current 2010/2011 Broadway season clearly reflects what I've been saying for years: that commercial producers today seem more and more unwilling to take creative risk. The tolerance level for for even a hint of daring continues to wane.
On the boards by my own accounting?
10 Revivals (some of which are repeat revivals)
6 Movie-to-Musical productions
4 Original Musicals
5 Original Plays
3 West End Transfers
2 Juke Box Presentations
Yet practically speaking... the strategy is correct. The success of Broadway as a business... as an industry... is counted in dollars, not in great creativity. It's about selling tickets. It's about keeping a showing running as long as possible, using any marketing opportunity available. It's about trying to make a return.. any return... on one's investors' investment.
Because it's really about maintaining investor interest for the next one to come along...
And the way to do that is not to sit back and watch and wait for the "great one" to fall in your lap, but rather to keep all fingers in the safest pie possible. Keeping investors investing in something so that the financial momentum is not lost. And the way to do that is to go with the familiar.
Is it better to have your name associated with a critically acclaimed artistic masterpiece, or with a Chicago, Mamma Mia!, Jersey Boys, or a Wicked? I doubt few would have difficulty answering that question.
Make no mistake— it's the way of the future. Theatre is no longer created to make a social statement or force an audience think. There's no need for that any longer. And America does not seem to want to think very much these days.
So I salute the non-profits like Lincoln Center. The Public Theatre, The Roundabout, and Manhattan Theatre Club. Who else, these days, would dare to bring us pieces like Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson and War Horse? But then again, who else has such a financial/operational safety net as these non-profits enjoy?
Indeed, what we build defines us.
BACK TO THE FUTURE ONLY KEEPS US BACK New York. October 12, 2009
The manner in which some Producers and theatrical General Managers respond to— and communicate with— investors these days is simply shocking. Such practices would never be tolerated in the "usual" business and/or corporate environment. Often times, the 'silence' can be overwhelming immediately after that very first investment check is received and deposited. All pleasantries, gone. In my opinion, this simply rude and quite anachronistic practice only creates a cautious and unwelcoming environment for any new investor who just may have an interest in jumping in to the Broadway pool. No one wants his money to disappear into a deep black hole, with no explanation, and with little or no follow-up communication.
On another note, we Producers have been virtually handcuffed by legacy agreements which are anachronistic as well... originally created for another time/another place. Those agreements have been enhanced nearly every four years or so without any real challenge or review. We all need to take a smart new look at such practices... and such agreements, in order to bring some necessary order to contemporary theatrical production, and to strive for... perhaps even insure.. a more efficient business operation.
"... we witness something mysterious about ourselves and our origins in the contemplation of the sea, something vast, sublime and incomprehensible. It is the image of the ungraspable phantom of life.”
— Herman Melville
PERHAPS WE SHOULD JUST GIVE UP New York— April 1, 1009
This season Broadway has no doubt seen great economic angst, as has all the world. But what was surprising and unexpected was the number of original shows which took that long and often times frightening walk to the ‘boards’, even in such a challenging environment. That took courage, for sure, in this time of ticket-buying uncertainty. But its clear that those writers and producers took to that challenge with a solid belief that Broadway need not succumb to its own self-induced coma where it might remain until the world turns around. Broadway is better than that. Broadway is bigger than that.
However some of our critics, I’m afraid, seemed to be on their own personal path. Many have shown to be quite eager to ‘pull the plug’ on any and all original endeavors, in favor of the ‘same old, same old.’
Yes… let’s indeed continue to kill new original works like Happiness, The Story of My Life, Impressionism, and the like.
And yes… let’s love nothing but the familiar… remakes of West Side Story and Hair.
Let’s love and nurture only what we know. It’s comfortable. It’s safe. Let’s challenge no one. And by so doing, let’s finally extinguish whatever little spark of enthusiasm any new writer and composer might still have burning within.
Yes… let’s kill that creative spirit all.
Broadway should never be about a handful controlling the marketplace and determining what others think and see. It must never be about caving-in to whatever a particular critic dislikes, and quickly shutting it down so no one can take a peek inside and see it for himself. Broadway must be a creative and commercial marketplace; and not be about critical censorship or personal mandate. The ‘market’ should decide, and the market alone.
Theatre MUST be about creating for the audience, not for the critics.
And in my humble opinion, theatre— as we once knew it— cannot survive if this is the path we will take; and if we, as the hungry little theatergoer sheep that we sometimes might be, simply follow what we’re told to see and do.
There is a positive theatrical spirit in the hearts and minds of Londoners which has kept the West End strong and solid for decades; well able to steady any difficult financial crisis. And London today is STILL where, it seems, writers are still eager to write, to create. They write because they know their work will at least have a chance to be heard by the audience; not so here any longer.
So take note fellow New Yorkers. If you want to continue to see only the mega-hits on the new Great White Las Vegas “Strip” of Broadway… please continue to follow our critics’ advice. But those of you who wish to experience some truly clever, moving, creative, and innovative stage work… I suggest you hop the nearest plane to the Mother Country as soon as possible.
And to you new young writers out there— I'm saddened to say that some of our New York critics this year have truly begun to seal your fate here in the great USA. So I’d suggest that you too hop that same plane as well. And get out of “Dodge” as quickly as your creative feet can take you.
My Story on... The Story of My Life
By Peter Felichia February 21, 2009 THEATERMANIA.COM
It was last Saturday afternoon (February 21, 2009), 1:50 p.m. at the Booth Theatre, where I was sitting in my fourth row on the aisle seat. Suddenly a man came down that aisle and crouched next to me: Jack M. Dalgleish, one of the producers of The Story of My Life.
“Peter, thank you for coming,” he said solemnly, before adding that, yes, he and his co-producers were closing the new musical after a few performances. They felt that the money they hadn’t spent could be put to better use by making a cast album that could spur further productions; that would give the investors some return. I nodded in understanding, and said few sympathetic things before Dalgleish went on his way. Soon after, though, Richard Maltby, Jr., the show’s director, came down that same aisle to say, “Peter, I really want to thank you for coming.”
That’s what happens with a box-office failure, doesn’t it? The people involved “thank you for coming,” the way relatives at a wake show their gratitude when you’ve made the effort to travel to the funeral home. When a show is a hit, though, it’s the theatergoer who thanks the creators for giving him such a wonderful experience.
But I’d like to thank Dalgleish, Maltby, and everyone else connected with The Story of My Life. It was a smart show that never once mocked musicals or winked at us at how clever it was.
“People say nice things when you die” was its first line, and that’s true of musicals, too. We read or hear of bad reviews and then later attend the panned show and inevitably say, “Well, that wasn’t so bad” – because our expectations were greatly lowered. And that could be why I responded to so much of The Story of My Life.
But I don’t think so. There’s that famous expression that God is in the details, and, God, this story had them, thanks to bookwriter Brian Hill and songwriter Neil Bartram. They spun the tale of Thomas and Alvin, best-friends since childhood – but not now and forever.
Early on, Thomas told us that he went away to college while “Alvin stayed behind.” That expression says a great deal, because it’s a value judgment that shows Thomas believes he made a superior decision by leaving town – which started him feeling superior to Alvin, too.
But why must staying in the town in which you were born immediately imply inferiority? Alvin always loved books and inherited a bookstore from his father. That’s a fine way to spend a life. I’ve lived exactly half my life in the suburbs, and half in the Big City, and I can say with assurance that there are charms to be had in each place and lifestyle. Instead of judging one to be better than the other, each should be cherished for the wonderful things it offers its citizens. (City-dwellers: Ever shopped in a suburban supermarket with its wide aisles and wider choices? Heaven.)
From the ages of actors Will Chase (an excellent Thomas) and Malcolm Gets (a wonderfully quirky Alvin), we could tell in what era they grew up, but Bartram gave us a detail that grounded us: “Back then, a teacher hugged you when she wanted you to feel good.” Nice, and a fine tribute to “Mrs. Remington,” the score’s loveliest song. And where did they grow up? “Every single year, we made angels in the snow” was Bartram’s clever way of letting us know it was the northeast, perhaps somewhere near Bedford Falls, New York.
Why mention there? Because even at their young ages, both Thomas and Alvin had enjoyed Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life before they met. How’s this for a charming detail? Thomas showed up at a Halloween party dressed as Clarence, which thrilled Alvin to no end. And how was Alvin dressed? As his mother – who’d recently died. What a poignant way of telling us how much she meant to him, and how he needs to keep her alive in any way he can. Another fine detailed lyric underlined this: “When you’re a kid, your world is your parents.” True enough.
Are you having a hard time swallowing that contemporary men would be so enamored of It’s a Wonderful Life? After all, many of today’s thirysomethings grew up utterly refusing to watch any black-and-white movie. I doubt that the answer is that they saw the colorized version, but that Alvin and Thomas were old souls. Such people do exist, and though we rarely encounter them in art, we should applaud Bartram and Hill for giving these atypical people to us.
The lads were greatly affected by good literature, too. Made sense; Alvin’s father owned that bookstore, and (here was another nice detail) he was famous for sizing up a customer and guessing what book would influence or even change his life. Alvin did the same with Thomas, introducing him to Tom Sawyer, which Thomas loved. When assigned a book report, Thomas chose this book that was originally published in 1876, saying that, “Because that writer wrote this one amazing story, 1876 was so much better than 1875.” Think of the lyrics you’ve heard in recent years. Tell me you’ve heard many as creative or as interesting as that.
Some criticized the story for not having enough drama. I found plenty of pockets of conflict, including the scene where Thomas wanted Alvin’s opinion on the essay he was sending to colleges in hopes of getting accepted. Alvin knew that approving the essay would set Thomas on the road of leaving town – and Alvin wanted him to stay. But the essay was wonderful, and Alvin knew it. “Send it,” he said – because he wanted for Thomas what Thomas wants for himself, because he had that much love for him.
Yes, love. Many critics mentioned that the show skirted around the issue of whether or not the boys – and the men they became – were gay. Aren’t there many male friendships – indeed, the vast majority -- where this never is an issue, because the guys simply don’t feel sexually drawn to the other? To deride the friendship for not going to the so-called “next level” isn’t fair. What Thomas and Alvin once had was, as Ed Kleban once wisely pointed out in one of his best songs, “the next best thing to love” – which, when you come right down to it, is love as well.
Some mentioned that while Thomas was established as straight, there was no statement on Alvin’s sexuality. I could be wrong here, but I saw him as asexual. Such people exist. But, you’re asking, don’t best friends discuss that between themselves? Not necessarily. I’ve known plenty of people for years, even decades, and I still know nothing about their sex lives. Who knows what they’re doing in the privacy of their bedrooms – or what Alvin did in his. But the words “asexual” and “circumspect” were coined for a reason.
So Thomas went away to college and a writing career in the Big City. “Nothing was changing for Alvin,” he said, which was immediately followed by Alvin’s doleful, “Everything changed” – meaning that his life was lessened by not having the chance to share with his best friend. Thomas, though, was too myopic to see that his leaving town shattered Alvin. That doesn’t mean he should have stayed home, of course, but he should have been more sensitive to what his buddy was feeling.
He certainly didn’t, and that made for an audience-gasping moment at Saturday’s matinee. Thomas invited Alvin to come to New York and visit him for a while, and the homebody was so thrilled with the invitation that he sang in joy for quite some time. Then Thomas asked him – no, told him – not to come, which crushed Alvin.
Granted, there were some good reasons for it; by that point, Thomas was living with Anne, and he never told her that he invited Alvin. (Many women aren’t thrilled at the prospect of some man crashing on the couch.) But more to the point, Thomas and Anne were going through their own problems that would result in a break-up. This sequence, though, was a smart way of showing that destiny sometimes takes a hand in ruining friendships. Here, Alvin and Thomas needed a break – but didn’t get it.
So how heartbreaking to hear Alvin state some time later, “Another Christmas, another card.” When you think of what this friendship was – and how it devolved into this. But the worst slap in the face was yet to come. Alvin’s father died, and Alvin asked Thomas to write a eulogy. Thomas used a quotation from John Donne rather than putting in the time and energy to write something himself. Don’t forget, too, that Alvin’s father and his bookstore were quite responsible for Thomas’ initially becoming interested in literature, and they provided a stepping stone to his career. Alvin’s father deserved more.
Many criticized Bartram’s score for sounding Sondheimian. In the opening minutes, to be sure, it did -- and I suspect that’s what got everyone to knee-jerk react with the Sondheim clone charge all night long. I won’t say that Bartram has a unique theater voice, but I would state that the rest of his score didn’t remind me enough of Sondheim to belittle him with that criticism. Yet the lesson is here for all composers to learn: Be careful what you offer in your opening moments; the critics and even the public may make an inference early on with which they’ll be loathe to part, no matter what else you put before them. As for the lyrics, such specifics as “carrot sticks in bunches,” “quilted squares,” and “lamb with the mint marinade” showed me that Bartram didn’t settle for the first words or rhyme that entered his head.
It’s a Wonderful Life said that every time a bell rang, an angel got his wings. But 36 years ago when Seesaw was dying on the road, producer Joseph Kipness said to Michael Bennett, “Every time a Broadway show dies, Broadway dies a little more.” I felt it here. With the town’s recent rash of campy so-bad-it’s-good musicals, glorified children’s musicals, and so-called hip musicals, there seems to be no room at all for an intelligent show that wanted to deal with emotions. “Not good enough,” many said. But plenty of the shows they’ve embraced have had many flaws, too – yet these same people greeted any criticisms of these musicals with smiles and dismissive waves.
The Story of My Life might have had a hard time finding an audience under any circumstances, and, sure, it would have been more at home in an off-Broadway house. (That its orchestration included a cello – the ultimate 21st century off-Broadway instrument – would suggest so, too.) But it deserved far more respect than it got.
The Lincoln Center Theatre Company's sweep of the Tony Awards once again this year (South Pacific
revival) clearly formalizes a trend we've been seeing over the past ten
years or so... that the future of Broadway is no longer on Broadway,
but in the hand's of the many not-for-profit theatres scattered
throughout our great country.
It's clear that the age-old
concept of original commercial production on Broadway has been slowly
dying— it's death soon inevitable. The numbers don't lie. And neither
do the dollars.
Just take a look at some of the shows currently on Broadway which originated in America's not-for-profit theatres: South Pacific, A Catered Affair, August: Osage County, Hairspray, Jersey Boys, Les Liason Dangereuses, Passing Strange; not to mention those always amazing productions originating from London (many, for the UK's own not-for-profits) such as Sunday In The Park With George, and Boeing, Boeing.
This has got to be a no-brainer to any producer
worth his or her weigth these days. And if it doesn't, that producer—
and his/her investors— might just deserve their ultimate fate.
not-for-profit world is first focused on creating art. That's the
goal. Of course finances come into the picture, but it's the art that
brings the dollars, not the other way around as it is on Broadway today.
works under different economics... union agreements and labor details
are far less costly, and therefore far more practical. For example...
Lincoln Center's South Pacific cost approximately $5 Million; if that show
were produced directly on Broadway today, its cost would at least double.
It's weekly operating costs, albeit high for not-for-profit standards
(with a cast of 40) are again far lower than they would be on the Great
White Way. HELLO!— how can anyone else compete?
addition, not-for-profit theatres have the ability to cover operating
costs via 'gifts' and 'donations'... and that fundraising is a major
part of their season. But donors and contributors want to be a part of
those supporting a great theatre that has the ability to create great
art successfully and creatively throughout it's season; a far cry from
someone investing in a Broadway Show in the hopes of hitting it big
with another Mamma Mia! or The Phantom of the Opera.
finally, not-for-profit theatres have a subscription base, allowing
weekly operations to more easily be supported, and giving the show's
cast and creative and technical teams the early feed-back they so
And so I say thank God for the
not-for-profits. They remain the only strength we have today in
creating wonderful theatre, and taking the true risks one must in this
ever changing Broadway environment.
And so keep your eye out for the big winners in the future. And do take note of from where they've come.
Support your not-for-profit NOW. It might just be our only hope for the future of the art.
Any day with George!
New York. February 1, 2008 A simply brilliant production of a brilliant musical— the current revival of Stephen Sondheim's/James Lapine's Sunday In The Park With George. I remember seeing the original production when it first moved to Broadway in the late 80s. And I will never forget the feeling I had at close of Act 1... I sat at the edge of my seat, mesmerized. The entire audience, it seemed, felt the same. Seconds passed before any of us could applaud. I had experienced no emotion like that before in a theatre... anywhere.
And so we're given a gift, with this superb production (from the West End, naturally) of this stunning work of theatrics. The cast is perfect. The direction solid. The musical, splendid yet haunting. Perfect.
The only pause I have here is the decision to use contemporary video projection techniques to support the scenic design. At first, I had chills at the opening effect... but then, as the piece moved on, I began to be more conscious of the video and the very clever technology that makes that video work, rather than the story itself. Let me also say that that video design and technology is spectacular. However I feel the show might somehow work better if some of those scenic concepts were left in one's imagination.
Video use/techniques aside... don't miss this production. In fact, anyone who loves theatre at all should make it a priority.
SEE CYRANO New York - October 28, 2007.
The biggest treat these days on Broadway is experiencing the ever likable KEVIN KLINE starring in British Director David Leveaux's new staging of Cyrano de Bergerac (Richard Rodgers Theatre).
It's a handsome production with a solid cast. Jennifer Garner is quite good as Roxanne; the handsome Daniel Sunjata (Take Me Out) is well suited for the troubled Christian. But it is Kevin Kline who truly brings this piece to life. It is on Kevin Kline's shoulders that this production is set. And all I can say is that his Cyrano is superb.
Kevin is a master... a master at every thing he touches—be it film, television, or his first love... the stage. I first worked with Kevin Kline quite a few years ago with the Joseph Papp production of The Pirates of Penzance (with Linda Ronstadt and Rex Smith). A star then... and a star today.
See this production, and see it quickly. It's a limited run — ten weeks only.
But whatever you do... do NOT sit anywhere far left or right of center. The stage masking is poorly designed and executed, and for many seats in such areas, the stage is blocked by the procenium lighting instruments jutting out into the action on steel arms. In addition, throughout most of the show, one can see right into the wings... to lighting instruments on shiny (and quite reflective) silver posts, and watch stage hands in green shorts and white socks going about their business. Quite distracting, to say the least.
WHO'S THE MONSTER? WHERE'S THE MONSTER?
New York: September 18, 2007
Last month, several avid theatre fans quickly scrambled to grab those early seats for Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein- The Musical, then in previews at Seattle's Paramount Theatre. And with the latest news regarding this show, the big question seems to be "Where or who is the real monster?"
Young Frankenstein was reviewed by several of Seattle's local critics, and all seem to agree that the show came across as flat, bland, and a bit too obvious; definitely in need of work. The effects were wonderful, some said, but the script and musical score were much too corny for current audience expectations. Nothing new; nothing innovative. The Seattle Times headlined its review with"It's Alive, But Needs More Life Of It's Own."
And so we might want to ask why?
I am told that Mel Brooks apparently knows exactly what he's doing this time around, and seems to be calling all the shots; ignoring the expert opionions of his stellar creative team (those who were the key in making The Producers what that show was on opening night).
Producer Robert F. X. Sillerman has announced that the top ticket prices for Friday and Saturday night performances of Young Frankenstein at Broadway's Hilton Theatre will be a wopping $450! 120 'Premium Seats' will be sold for $375. The remaining orchestra and dress circle seats at $120.
Mr. Sillerman and Mr. Brooks have also told the media that they will not be releasing the weekly box office grosses and attendance figures to the media and The League. Although not a legal requirement, this information has customarily been released by ALL producers on Broadway since the Depression.
Why would this new Brooks/Sillerman show want to hide such information?
Why would this new Brooks/Sillerman show want to make ticket prices so out of reach to many theatergoers?
And so - we might ask... is the monster truly alive?
Unfortunately, it seems the monster is not only alive and well, but coming right at our throats from the box office at the Hilton Theatre.
LITTLE MERMAID, LITTLE SPLASH
Denver: August 2007
I was invited two weeks ago to view a late preview of Disney’s newest— The Little Mermaid— at the beautiful Denver Center for the Performing Arts, and for me, the debut was a bit underwhelming. Think more Beauty and the Beast here, rather than the spectacularly imaginative The Lion King.
Mermaid is… fine. The show is perhaps just what one would expect. Nice scenery. Nice costumes. Nice lighting effects. Nice staging. It was all just… nice. I was not amazed, nor wowed, nor moved, nor affected in any way.
The cast does a ‘fine’ job floating around the stage on their “heelie”s… although this new trend for political correctness in casting is beginning to get my goat. How any one is to believe that the beautiful, pale-skinned, strawberry-haired Ariel (a wonderful Sierra Bogges) is truly the Princess daughter of this Triton King (the equally wonderful African-American Norm Lewis) is truly beyond me. And isn’t Disney all about ‘believing’? It just does not work. Once political correctness begins to infringe upon art, I lose interest. It all becomes a lie in a way, and I then look further for whatever else might be dishonest.
I found the writing here (by the wonderfully talented Doug Wright) to be far from inspiring. Perhaps he was totally under the heavy Disney thumb for this one. It was just all too cute, too cliché. This one was not in his creative league at all.
Structurally, the show might be a carbon-copy (I’m dating myself with that line, for sure) of all past Disney animations… the beautiful innocent girl (or boy, as in The Lion King), the frighteningly evil character (scarey aunt or uncle), and that character’s comically-driven side-kick duo (TLK and TLM are virtually interchangeable here). It was all too predictable; right down the the deminuative spikey-haired tike (Cody Hanford and/or JJ Singleton at alternative performances) who had no purpose to be onstage except to be cute.
Yet… with all my disappoint, the show, in my opinion, will sell well; the brand is just too big for this one to fail. And all involved here— creative and strategic missteps aside— will become fabulously rich indeed.
Someone once told me early on in life “never expect, and you’ll never be disappointed”. Perhaps that was my error when taking my seat in Denver that night. For it was not long after after Ariel’s lovely opening ballad that I realized all too well I had no interest whatsoever in being a ‘part of that world’.
RSVP to The Queen
New York - June 6, 2007
I was honored to be a guest of Cunard Line Ltd and RSVP Cruises on the history-making first ever all-gay transatlantic voyage of Queen Mary 2 May 29th-June 4th, New York to Southampton. I was brought onboard as a featured guest lecturer focusing on theatre production, with a special focus on my Radio City Music Hall presentation. And what a magnificent trip it was! First off, let me say how the QM2 experience has evolved over the years, and how beautifully run Queen Mary 2 is today... she's come a long way from those early days of delayed service and confused crewmembers. Today, she sparkles in a true Cunard/White Star glow. The more I sail her, the more I appreciate what a truly special vessel she is.
And RSVP... a revelation in itself. I had always shied away from gay cruises and vacations. Just the thought of being confined with 2000-3000 gay men for six or seven days made me absolutely crazy. But I could not have been more wrong. RSVP hosted a perfectly marvelous week with a solid cross-section of the community... couples and singles alike. And they filled our days with both entertaining and educational lectures and other programs; and our nights with powerful entertainers including the amazing Anne Hampton Calloway and her sister Liz Calloway, Amy Armstrong, and the stunning Frank D'Ambrosio.
So have no more fears about sailing Queen Mary 2. The food, the service, and the accommodations will satisfy your every desire. And ditto for RSVP. I'd be honored to sail with them again, in a second.
ONE MORE DAY!
New York. November 05, 2006.
She's here; Cossette and her friends and family have returned to Broadway after a not too long (but very much empty) hiatus. I was fortunate to see the revival at the Broadhurst Theatre early on in previews with Cameron Mackintosh and his whole gang in attendance. Here's what I thought:
First off... thank God for Les Miserables. It's return alone shows us all how vapid the new era of Broadway musicals have become. How can anyone compare the writing, the musicianship, the artistry of Les Miserables with shows like Hairspray or The Producers, or even the pop AM Radio shows like Jersey Boys or Wicked? It clearly illustrates where we've been, and unfortunately to where the industry is moving. Shoot me now!
And so for my very brief comments on this revival...
an all-around excellent cast (except for one) takes to the barracades and makes the most of the rich material here.
unfortunately, Daphne Rubin Vega is disasterously miscast as Fantine. She's simply wrong in all ways... looks, style, and most of all, vocal ability. Ms. Vega (former star of the original company of Rent) is a talented rock singer, no doubt. But asking her to take on such a powerfully emotional role as Fantine is simply theatrical blastphemy! Her singing was horrendous... she could barely get through the number. From an audience's perspective, we were indeed on the edge of our seats... but not from the dramatic emotion of the moment or the lyrics (I Dreamed A Dream), but from sheer concern that she'd be able to get through the song at all. Sadly, the role of Fantine is such a pivitol one... the entire story is moved ahead by her presence... that my colleagues and I just couldn't get past this blatant flaw in the production. Cameron... replace her now, before it's too late!
the new (scaled down) musical arrangements are sadly lacking from the originals. The orchestra now has a somewhat tinny, more contemporary, tone to it; the lush orchestrations of the past are sadly gone. This alone left a long-time Les Miserables fan empty and disappointed.
and lastly... the 'new' staging (bringing the scenic elements out into the house) and utilizing the boxes stage left and stage right for entrances and exits (right in front of audience members!) only makes the show look silly. Les Miserables is NOT an audience participation show. It's a classic piece that needs a frame; a separation from the audience. The audience should never become a part of this show.
All in all... I suggest you see this Les Miserables for all it has to offer; for just the fact that it's a piece of musical theatre written high above anything we've seen on Broadway in twenty years or more. And for those of us who recall a lush vibrant and emotionally dramatic experience of the original Les Miserables, I suggest you simply sit back and accept the unnecessary modernization of a classic. Just hearing the music once again should, on it's own, make you smile.
Les Miserables - back on Broadway!
Queen Mary 2 - Saint Nazaire, France
Déjà Vu All Over Again
By Steven Rivellino
GENOA, July 10, 2003: It is the best of times; it is the worst of times. And a good many wandering travelers today simply do not know where to turn.
But wait. There’s a glimmer of light on the horizon; something new, yet something oh so familiar.
Her massive whistle blasts. Confettied-streamers spin a web of color to the eager crowds below. There’s a surge of excitement as the massive steel hull slips silently away from her moorings ashore. We’re off to Europe. Is it the 1930s? The 1950s? Well think again.
I have just returned from a remarkable visit to Saint Nazaire, France. This lovely coastal city, just south of that country’s thrusting Bretagne peninsular, is strikingly set at the stunning convergence of the mighty Loire and the deep blue Atlantic. It is also home to Chantier’s de l’Atlantique, the historic shipyard which created such remarkable giants as the glamorous Normandie (1935), and the magnificent the France (1962).
But something’s afoot at that shipyard these days. Something new. Something remarkable. And something perhaps which will no doubt revolutionize the way we travel to Europe. For there— sitting high atop the blocks in perhaps the largest dry dock in the world— is the magnificent new liner Queen Mary 2, now just five months from completion.
Let there be no doubt… QM2 is no condo-like cruiseship, to be sure. Her graceful lines reflect a bygone age. A three-stacker she is; yet in true contemporary style. And in oh so many ways, she’s the embodiment of history in the making. Not only is she the first true ocean liner to be built since 1968, she is perhaps the most perfect marriage of state-of-the-art technology and superb elegant design we have seen in the last forty years.
Her size is massive, to be sure. Nearly 100 feet longer than the current title-holder France/Norway, QM2 stretchers a staggering 1,132 feet… 150 feet longer than the longest lock of Panama’s Isthmus. But it’s her width (or her “breadth” as it’s called in nautical circles) which simply boggles the mind. QM2 is 131 feet wide… that’s 26 feet wider than the current QE2, and 21 feet wider than France/Norway impressive width. In tonnage… she’s nearly twice the size of Cunard’s current flagship, QE2.
In design, QM2 is a stunning ocean liner unlike any you have seen. With seemingly endless outdoor deckspace blatantly open to the world. With triple deck- high dining rooms offering sweeping vistas to the sea; and spectacular bars and lounges designed with elegance and style, yet in comforting human scale.
Indeed, QM2 is the ocean liner for the 21st century. A vessel designed not only to change the way future ships are designed and built, but to change the way we travel.
Yet statistics are not what matter here. What’s remarkable is that she exists at all. Carnival Corporation must be congratulated for their steadfast dedication to this project from the start; indeed, for initiating it at all. With her very fortunate passengers in mind, it’s clear no luxury has been spared.
Cunard Line too should be congratulated for solidly believing in their heritage and tradition, and for engaging the renowned nautical architect Stephan Payne who has made maritime history here by designing a vessel of unique beauty and true elegant function.
How ironic, it seems, that today— in an age when so many are reluctant to fly across the seas; when nearly sixty years after it’s predicted demise, a true ocean liner is about to be born.
Indeed, with Concorde’’s sad but predictable withdrawal from service later this year, and transatlantic flights being cancelled by the dozens due to a current reluctance to fly, could the introduction of Queen Mary 2 in January 2004 be just the beginning of a renewed age of transatlantic travel by sea?
Fifty years ago, Cunard Line’s marketing campaign blatantly boasted that getting there was half the fun. And now, with the introduction of Queen Mary 2 just on the horizon, its clear that they were not only far ahead of their time, but might also have created a new only way to cross.
Cunard Line’s current marketing campaign “I can’t wait” does indeed say it all. I can’t. Now, if only they (or some other very clever competitor( would place a second great liner on the coveted sunny southern route to the Mediterranean— perhaps to Genoa or Naples… now wouldn’t that be something.