Category Archives: Commentary

IVO VAN HOVE ON ROUGHING UP WEST SIDE STORY:  “THE VIOLENCE SHOULD BE TANGIBLE” ·

(Alexis Soloski’s article appeared in the Guardian, 2/27; via the Drudge Report.)

Ivo van Hove likes it in America. Broadway rarely warms to avant-garde Belgian directors, but it has embraced this one, first for his blood-drenched A View from the Bridge, then for his unorthodox Crucible, which starred a large dog, and then for his adaptation of Network, complete with a working onstage restaurant that audiences could eat at. Now he and Belgian choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker are refashioning West Side Story, that quintessentially American dance musical – a rare story of juvenile delinquency and fatal love that you can hum along to. It will be, says Van Hove, “a West Side Story for the 21st century”.

The show is not one that either had seen on stage, though each had watched the 1961 movie version in the 70s or 80s. “I liked it,” De Keersmaeker says, seated in the mezzanine of the Broadway theatre before a preview performance of their new production, which opens later this week. “The dancing. The clarity and efficiency. The long lines.” She gets up from her chair to demonstrate.

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Above: Isaac Powell and Shereen Pimentel as Tony and Maria. Photograph: Julieta Cervantes

CONSTANT STANISLAVSKI (72) ·

Perhaps in our art there exists only one correct path—the line of the intuition of feelings! And out of it grow unconsciously the outer and inner images, their form, the idea and the technique of the role. The line of intuition at times absorbs into itself all the other lines and grasps all the spiritual and physical contents of the role and the play. (MLIA)

RADICAL NEW WEST SIDE STORY PAINTS AN ANGRY YOUNG AMERICA ·

(Brian Schaefer’s article appeared on Bloomberg, 2/13.)

Van Hove realized that the issues bubbling up in the campaign—racism, immigration, issues of integration, tribal loyalty—were all in a certain 1957 musical, van Hove realized. “I thought: Well, West Side Story talked about this in a very accessible way,” he says. “With great music.” After directing a string of critically acclaimed reinterpretations of American classics, including A View from the Bridge and A Streetcar Named Desire, among others, he decided the Shakespearean story of star-crossed lovers in midcentury New York would come next. 

One presidential election cycle later, van Hove’s West Side Story will open on Feb. 20 at the Broadway Theatre in a production that feels as urgent as its themes, thanks to a slimmed one-act structure and video projections that leave the vast stage bare for hurricanes of dancers to blow through. (The production will precede Steven Spielberg’s big-screen remake of the 1961 Academy Award-winning film adaptation, due in December.) Six decades after its debut, it seems West Side Story is again the story of our time. 

Reinventing a Treasure

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Photo: Bloomberg

‘THE MIKADO’ FROM THE NEW YORK GILBERT & SULLIVAN PLAYERS (NYGASP)—REVIEW FROM NEW YORK ·

By Bob Shuman

The New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players (NYGASP) brought their production of The Mikado to the Kaye Playhouse over the holiday season (12/27-1/5)—perhaps especially topical now since it is about a prince who runs away from his family.   The larger issue concerning the operetta is thornier than that, though, and has been since its premiere, in 1875, because of characterizations of the Japanese (a random list of role names is telling, and includes, Nanki-PooPish TushPooh-Bah, and Yum-Yum). The dramatist G. S. Gilbert, in defense, explained that “[The Mikado] was never a story about Japan but about the failings of the British government.” Even so, the work would be impossible to create today.  

Attempting to minimize the offensive, the NYGASP spoke to the Asian-American community in 2015, upholding “The Mikado’s musical score, setting, characters, storytelling, and most of its universal Satire”—you can see the difference in multi-racial, if primarily non-Asian, casting and costumes by Quinto Ott that make use of shoulder ornamentation and flow—even gowns with their backs cut out–but which are only suggestive of the East.  Director and choreographer David Auxier-Loyola, interprets the piece openly; how a Westerner would imagine Japan, in innocence and ignorance.  He has also penned a prologue—apparently based on an almost-true story, which gives a rationale for a departure into the make-believe.

New material elsewhere injects mention of the disastrous film version of Cats, presidential hopefuls, and even Trump, but the creators ensure that the cultural misinterpretation is never as outrageous as in Mel Brooks’s The Producers, for example.  NYGASP, which might be compared to a family of loving, ardent supporters, treats the work of Gilbert & Sullivan as treasure, not merely a gold mine. They may, in fact, be giving the team more accommodation than others would, as even contemporary writers, working sensitively, are typically not allowed to give voice beyond their own race and ethnicity, in the entertainment and publishing worlds.

Still, The Mikado is considered “the most popular piece of musical theatre of all time,” and today NYGASP is a needed outpost in the arts— important for students in understanding the range and history of theatre.  The organization also allows audiences to get away from cold, hyper-tech Broadway and, beyond it, stage work that is created without access to a repertory group. For those who find Gilbert & Sullivan’s Victorian sensibilities too eccentric and psychologically weightless (The Mikado actually has a stronger storyline than The Pirates of Penzance,  which relies on counting age by leap years), there is the music–which may, in part have influenced Frederick Loewe‘s score for My Fair Lady.   Tuneful, pleasant, and rousing, the songs, choruses, recitative, trios, quartets, madrigals, and more, are all ably performed by the NYGASP orchestra, ensemble, and principals, who include David WannenJohn Charles McLaughlinDavid MacalusoMatthew WagesDavid AuxierSarah Caldwell SmithAmy Maude Helfer, and Rebecca L. Hargrove.  Cáitlín Burke brings strong emotion to her role, as an elderly lady, in love with the prince—taking this Mikado from operetta to opera.

Conducted by: Albert Bergeret and Joseph Rubin.

Look for The New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players, at the Kaye Playhouse,  April 18-19 2020 with The Gondoliers.

Visit The New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.

Photo: Carol Rosegg

Press: Sean Katz, Katz PR

HONG KONG ARTS FESTIVAL IS WIPED OUT BY VIRUS ·

(Norman Lebrecht’s article appeared on Slipped Disc, 2/10.)

Message from HKAF:

We regret to inform our friends and supporters that the February and March performances and events of the 48th Hong Kong Arts Festival have been cancelled as a result of the novel coronavirus outbreak, the resultant closures of venues across the city, and concerns for the health and safety of our participating artists and audiences. The HKAF team is deeply saddened by these unprecedented circumstances, and our thoughts are with all those affected by the virus.

The cancellations will affect all performances of the 48th HKAF and its related events in February and March, including Young Friends activities, HKartsFestival@TaiKwun programming and most PLUS events (excluding PLUS films). The “No Limits” project will also not be held as scheduled. Ticket refund and donation details are available at https://go.hkaf.org/rfa.

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NEW APP LETS YOU HEAR CHAUCER’S THE CANTERBURY TALES IN ORIGINAL 14TH-CENTURY ENGLISH ·

(Ellen Gutoskey’s article appeared, 2/4, on mentalfloss.com; via Pam Green.)

One of the many reasons Geoffrey Chaucer’s 14th-century magnum opus The Canterbury Tales is considered a groundbreaking collection of stories is because he chose to write it not in a highbrow language like Latin or French, but in the common tongue of the people: Middle English. Since colloquial English has changed quite a bit over the past seven centuries, The Canterbury Tales that you might have encountered in high school looks and sounds significantly different than it did when Chaucer first created it.

To give us a chance to hear The Canterbury Tales in its original, lyrical glory, an international team of researchers based at the University of Saskatchewan developed an app that reads it aloud in Middle English.

“We want the public, not just academics, to see the manuscript as Chaucer would have likely thought of it—as a performance that mixed drama and humor,” University of Saskatchewan English professor Peter Robinson, who led the project, said in a press release.

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FREE THINKING: SAMUEL BECKETT & THE PURPOSE OF CULTURE ·

(Released On: 05 Feb 2020, BBC 3.)

Listen 

Lisa Dwan tells Philip Dodd what playing Beckett taught her about herself and feminism; playwright Mark Ravenhill, arts editor Jan Dalley & sp!ked author Alexander Adams discuss the proposition that the arts are increasingly expected to be uplifting and inspirational and to confirm identities. Where do the pessimism and shattered identities of Beckett’s work fit into this view of culture?

Beckett Triple Bill is at Jermyn Street Theatre, London until 8th February starring Lisa Dwan, Niall Buggy, James Hayes and David Threlfall. Endgame runs at the Old Vic in London until March 28th starring Daniel Radcliffe, Alan Cummings, with Rough for the Theatre II with Jane Horrocks and Karl Johnson.

Culture War: Art, Identity Politics and Cultural Entryism by Alexander Adams is published by Societas

Producer: Torquil MacLeod

KIRK DOUGLAS: LAST OF HOLLYWOOD’S GOLDEN AGE ·

(Robert Berkvist’s article appeared in The New York Times, 2/2; via Pam Green.)

Kirk Douglas, one of the last surviving movie stars from Hollywood’s golden age, whose rugged good looks and muscular intensity made him a commanding presence in celebrated films like “Lust for Life,” “Spartacus” and “Paths of Glory,” died on Wednesday at his home in Beverly Hills, Calif. He was 103.

His son the actor Michael Douglas announced the death in a statement on his Facebook page.

Mr. Douglas had made a long and difficult recovery from the effects of a severe stroke he suffered in 1996. In 2011, cane in hand, he came onstage at the Academy Awards ceremony, good-naturedly flirted with the co-host Anne Hathaway and jokingly stretched out his presentation of the Oscar for best supporting actress.

By then, and even more so as he approached 100 and largely dropped out of sight, he was one of the last flickering stars in a Hollywood firmament that few in Hollywood’s Kodak Theater on that Oscars evening could have known except through viewings of old movies now called classics. A vast number filling the hall had not even been born when he was at his screen-star peak, the 1950s and ’60s.

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REVIEW:  CARRIE COON IN ‘BUG’ IS THRILLING, OLD-SCHOOL STEPPENWOLF — THE GREATEST ‘BUG’ EVER (SV REVIEW PICK, CHI) ·

(Chris Jones’s review appeared in the Chicago Tribune, 2/4.)

Like a sleeping Midwestern beast loosed from its cage of self-imposed timidity and graduate-school moralism, the old-school Steppenwolf Theatre came roaring back to life Monday night with the opening of “Bug,” Tracy Letts’ seminal, skin-crawling 1996 work about, depending on how you read the play, debilitating, delusional paranoia or the government’s ongoing tendency to experiment on its own citizens.

Once again, Chicago’s most famous theater has turned to Letts, its resident playwright with two shows this season on Broadway, including a transfer of “The Minutes,” which happens to be the last show at this theater to shock its audience like this one. But this time, Steppenwolf paired Letts (building on their New York collaboration with “The Man From Nebraska”) with the director David Cromer, a theatrical genius who emerged from the very same Off-Loop milieu as Letts and is always at his best when making like an emergency locksmith with revivals of profoundly observational plays ready to burst wide open. For those of us who are longtime students of Cromer’s work, “Bug” is a thrilling addition to the Cromer Chicago canon: this is his most spectacular piece of direction in this city since his seminal “Our Town,” one of the greatest Chicago productions of all time.

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Photo: Carrie Coon and Namir Smallwood star in the Tracy Letts play “Bug” at Steppenwolf Theatre. (Michael Brosilow photo)