Monthly Archives: December 2017



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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Shakespeare’s best known, most quoted and longest play, written c1599 – 1602 and rewritten throughout his lifetime. It is the story of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, encouraged byhis father’s ghost to take revenge on his uncle who murdered him, and is set at the court of Elsinore. In soliloquies, the Prince reveals his inner self to the audience while concealing his thoughts from all at the Danish court, who presume him insane. Shakespeare gives him lines such as ‘to be or not to be,’ ‘alas, poor Yorick,’ and ‘frailty thy name is woman’, which are known even to those who have never seen or read the play. And Hamlet has become the defining role for actors, men and women, who want to show their mastery of Shakespeare’s work.

The image above is from the 1964 film adaptation, directed by Grigori Kozintsev, with Innokenty Smoktunovsky as Hamlet.


Sir Jonathan Bate
Provost of Worcester College, University of Oxford

Carol Rutter
Professor of Shakespeare and Performance Studies at the University of Warwick


Sonia Massai
Professor of Shakespeare Studies at King’s College London

Producer: Simon Tillotson.


(from Broadway World, 12/28; via Pam Green.)

The longest active career in entertainment history has come to an end. Rose Marie, Star of Broadway, Film, Radio and TV (The Dick Van Dyke Show / The Doris Day Show / Hollywood Squares) has passed at the age of 94 on December 28th in Van Nuys, CA.

Just two months ago, in early November Sardi’s Restaurant unveiled a long-awaited caricature of the showbiz legend after a BroadwayWorld interview (timed to the release of her must-watch documentary) revealed that her famous face was not on the restaurant’s walls.

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(from Menafn, 12/28.)

(MENAFN – UkrinForm) President Petro Poroshenko has stated that Ukraine is making every effort to release all Ukrainians illegally held in Russian prisons, including Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov and Ukrinform journalist Roman Sushchenko.

He stated this at the airport in Kharkiv where he met with the released Ukrainian soldiers, an Ukrinform correspondent reports.

“Ukrainian hostages are still held captive in the country-aggressor – Russia. And we will fight to ensure that both Sushchenko and Sentsov, and all the others who are being kept in Russia and occupied Crimea be released as soon as possible. International solidarity and our determination are a guarantee of this,” Poroshenko stressed.

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(Ben Brantley’s article appeared in The New York Times, 12/17.)

His Majesty is not himself today. His most unserene highness, the King of Spain, does not know who or what he is, except that he’s not where he belongs. Approach him with caution: He bites. And allow me, if you will, to advise you never to take your eyes off him.

Not that you’ll want to.

As was observed of another stark raving royal (named Hamlet), “Madness in great ones must not unwatched go.” This is especially true when a great one is portrayed by one of the greatest actors on the planet.

Uncork the Champagne and unfurl the straitjacket. Mark Rylance is once again ruling audiences at the Belasco Theater, where the strangely enchanting “Farinelli and the King,” Claire van Kampen’s shimmering fairy tale for grown-ups, opened on Sunday night.

Mr. Rylance, a three-time Tony winner (and an Oscar and Olivier Award winner) was last seen at the Belasco four years ago, during the triumphant residency of the London-based Shakespeare’s Globe. At that time, he alternated in the roles of the uncertain Countess Olivia (in “Twelfth Night”), for whom falling in love becomes an existential crisis, and the demonically assured title character of “Richard III.”

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FILE PHOTO: A combination photo showing the 2017 Kennedy Center Honorees: Actress, dancer and choreographer Carmen de Lavallade (L to R), singer-songwriter and actress Gloria Estefan, hip-hop artist LL COOL J, television writer and producer Norman Lear and musician and record producer Lionel Richie. REUTERS/Staff/File Photos

(Ruhl’s article appeared in The New York Times, 12/25; via Pam Green.)

On Tuesday night CBS will air the Kennedy Center Honors, and President Trump will not be on the screen, because he declined to attend the eventwhen it was held on Dec. 3 in Washington. What does it mean that Mr. Trump didn’t have the nerve, for a single night, to be in a room with artists who have criticized him?

The president’s team claimed that he did not attend so that the artists could celebrate in peace rather than having a political distraction. But the president votes, as we all do, with his feet.

Though the arts have never been neutral politically, the honoring of artists is a bipartisan ritual. The Kennedy Center was a place where the left and the right could agree that the arts occupy a central place in our culture, worthy of our attention and respect. Artists chosen for the Kennedy Center awards generally have fans on the left and the right and everywhere in between. The checkbooks of art patrons are not marked with their party affiliations.

I came of age in the culture wars of the 1980s, when Ronald Reagan planned to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts, and, instead, ended up whittling down its budget by a small percentage. Still, in 1984, before putting medals on Arthur Miller and Lena Horne among other luminaries, he reflected on the way Americans had developed “a culture that was as fertile as this new land” and had continued to innovate in arts and entertainment.

“And today our nation has crowned her greatness with grace, and we gather this evening to honor five artists who have helped her to do so,” he said.

Continue reading the main story


Illuminating the Stage

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“Without light there is no space”. Robert Wilson

With glowing lights dispelling the dark of the season, Fiona Shaw explores theatrical lighting.

“I have worked for nearly four decades in the theatre, mainly as an actress, but in the last decade, I’ve dared to cross the footlights and direct a series of operas – the first thing I discovered was how central to any theatrical event, lighting is. When it’s good, everything is good… but when it’s bad… oh dear. Did you know it was the lighting that held your avid attention in that opera, play or dance? And is why you can remember it today?”

For thousands of years, audiences had been spellbound by the ingenious use of mirrors, sunlight and fire; the use of candlelight in the early modern English theatre is described by delighted witnesses, and it’s revealed in the play texts at the Globe as much as in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse in London. We’ll hear about the brilliant pageants and theatre lighting designs of Inigo Jones – as ingenious then as the marvels we find today.

We explore our deep, atavistic relationship to light – invisible and material light – and what that means to the space, design, and for the words. We’ll bask in the limelight with some of the world’s greatest lighting obsessives: the contemporary theatre-making master of light, Robert Wilson; Deborah Warner and Simon McBurney; lighting designers Paule Constable, Jean Kalman and Peter Mumford; stage designer Michael Levine and historians Martin White and Scott Palmer – and actor Edward Petherbridge.

“Today stage lighting is more crucial than ever – challenged by the addictive LED of screens and the private drama that sits in computers; the flamboyant lighting of our streets and shops. The world is more lit and the lighting more complicated, so that a show – a play, a dance, an opera – needs a lighting designer to make sense of the almost infinite choices.”

A Cast Iron Radio production for BBC Radio 3.



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He was one of the most famous Broadway composers of his time, and many of his songs remain popular today, this week Donald Macleod explores the life and music of Cole Porter. On his deathbed, Porter said to a close friend, “I don’t know how I did it”. His remarkable achievements include a huge catalogue of witty, sophisticated, and sometimes risqué songs, plus a raft of successful shows like Anything Goes, Can-Can and, his most popular musical, Kiss Me Kate. The opulence of these lavish productions was matched by Porter’s glamorous lifestyle; the parties were legendary, and his apartment at the Waldorf Hotel was photographed for Vogue magazine. Yet there were parts of his life that Cole Porter needed to shield from public view; he lived at a time when being gay was not considered acceptable.

Cole Porter was born in Peru, Indiana, where his father ran a drugstore. His maternal grandfather was something of a tyrant, but also one of the richest men in the state. It was Porter’s mother, Katie, who encouraged her son in music, and she who published his first song, from 1901. 

Porter scraped through his college years, graduating in 1913. His mind was on other things than his education, including the composition of four musicals and over one hundred songs. Porter was refining his ability to write witty patter songs, including I’ve a Shooting Box in Scotland from 1916, and When I Had a Uniform On, also known as the Demobilisation Song.

Cole Porter’s activities during the First World War are somewhat sketchy. He journeyed to France where he acquired a number of uniforms, including a colonel’s which he wore with total disregard for the regulations. In Paris, Porter held a number of lavish parties, and it was there that he met the American divorcee who would become his wife.


(Gardner’s article appeared in the Guardian, 12/15.)

  1. Real Magic(Inbetween Time festival, Bristol)

Forced Entertainment were on top form with a fiendishly clever and sometimes unbearable-to-watch three-hander about people trying to guess the answer to an impossible question posed in a TV-style game show. One of Forced Entertainment’s most potent political statements, it was made in the shadow of the Brexit vote and examined our inability to learn from the past – and to see answers when they are staring us in the face.

  1. Everybody’s Talking About Jamie(Apollo, London)

This brilliant British musical, created by the Feeling’s frontman Dan Gillespie Sells and Tom MacRae, first surfaced in Sheffield at the start of the year. It tells the story of Jamie New, a gay outcast at school, who is determined to become a drag queen. This is feelgood, fairytale stuff, a working-class Cinderella story in which Jamie does get to go to the ball. But it also confronts the hard realities of economic poverty – and the poverty of a culture that is afraid of difference.

  1. Hamlet(Harold Pinter theatre, London)

Just when you thought that we’d had quite enough Hamlets along came Robert Icke’s strikingly modern revival boasting the sweetest and most mercurial of princes in Andrew Scott. I paid to see it in the West End, and even from the balcony it felt like watching the play in close-up thanks to the delicacy of characterisation and Icke’s attention to detail. Almost every line seemed fresh-minted.

  1. Barber Shop Chronicles(Dorfman, London)

Stuffed full of heroes and villains, philosophers and poseurs, Inua Ellams’s exuberant show, a co-production with Fuel and West Yorkshire Playhouse, considered African masculinity and the responsibilities of fatherhood through the prism of a barbershop chair in six countries around the world. It comes braided with patois, jokes, shaggy dog stories and music, bringing a secret world into sharp focus.

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(Joanne Kaufman’s article appeared in The New York Times, 12/13; via Pam Green.)

With tickets to certain musicals going for sums in the high three figures — and don’t forget the long, snaking lines even to get in the door — Broadway audiences surely deserve a little extra acknowledgment.

Something that says, “We’re glad you’re here” — maybe in song. And shows like “Come From Away,” “The Band’s Visit” and “SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical” are obliging nightly.

“You’re asking people to spend two-plus hours,” said Kyle Jarrow, the “SpongeBob” book writer. “That’s a big ask. There’s something appropriate about a song that basically says, ‘Welcome — we’re going to be here together for a while.’”

Such songs — the classic of the genre may be “Willkommen,” from “Cabaret — are part of a tradition that dates back at least to Shakespeare. What’s a prologue if not a welcome?

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(Chris Jones’s article appeared in The Chicago Tribune, 12/21.)

Lists are fun. More importantly, they represent a chance to celebrate excellence. Hence my annual look at the 10 best performances in homegrown Chicago theater in 2017. (Sorry, Nick Cartell in the touring “Les Miserables,” you were superb.) I make due acknowledgment both of all the great work omitted and the utter absurdity of any such ranking.

Still. The formidable 2017 work that appears below was something to experience. We hope you also had the pleasure.

Bri Sudia, “Sweeney Todd” at the Paramount Theatre: Playing Mrs. Lovett in “Sweeney Todd” is highly intimidating. Musically and comedically demanding, Mrs. L is fiendishly difficult to get your teeth into. Plus look at the comparisons you invite: Angela Lansbury, Helena Bonham Carter, Patti LuPone. But despite her abiding youth, Sudia’s killer take on the famous Stephen Sondheim bakeshop proprietress truly was world-class. Neither too coarse nor too mealy, here was work drier than an oven, cleaner in technique than that of a Royal Marine, and as thoroughly tasty as a shepherd’s pie peppered with actual shepherd.

Cruz Gonzalez-Cadel, “Lela & Co.” at Steep Theatre: This Argentina-born Chicago actress had to carry “Lela & Co.” pretty much on her back. This was a formidable feat not just for the size and scope of the title role but for the toll that it takes on a performer to so deeply and truthfully inhabit a woman whose experience is of objectification, agony and abuse. All that said, Lela remains an inveterate and optimistic storyteller, and that was captured by Gonzalez-Cadel, who offered up herself in service of the emancipatory power of telling your own story.

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