Category Archives: Commentary

‘WEST SIDE STORY’ DROPS GRANDIOSE TRAILER FOR SPIELBERG REMAKE ·

(Ryan Parker’s article appeared in the Hollywood Reporter, 9/15;  

The 20th Century film is due in theaters Dec. 10.

West Side Story dropped its official trailer Wednesday, and the Steven Spielberg remake looks as epic as the Oscar-winning original musical.

A little more than two minutes in length, the preview outlines the classic story of forbidden love between Tony (Ansel Elgort) and Maria (Rachel Zegler) and the hatred the rival Jets and Sharks gangs have for one another.

Although a remake of the 1961 film, Spielberg’s version is not a shot-for-shot copy, as can be seen in the bold, stylish trailer, which has new scenes and different dialogue.

West Side Story also stars Ariana DeBose, David Alvarez, Mike Faist, Josh Andrés Rivera, Corey Stoll and Brian d’Arcy James. Rita Moreno, who won an Oscar for her performance in the original film, also appears in the remake.

The 20th Century film wrapped in October 2019 but has been awaiting release after being delayed a few times due to the pandemic.

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CHEERS GREET THE REOPENING OF THREE MEGA-HIT BROADWAY SHOWS ·

(Mark Kennedy’s article appeared pm the AP, 9/14; via the Drudge Report;  Photo: Kristin Chenoweth; credit: AP.)

NEW YORK (AP) — Theater royalty — in the form of Kristin Chenoweth, Julie Taymor and Lin-Manuel Miranda — welcomed back boisterous audiences to “Wicked,” “The Lion King” and “Hamilton” for the first time since the start of the pandemic, marking Tuesday as the unofficial return of Broadway.

Chenoweth surprised the crowd at “Wicked” by appearing onstage for a speech on the same stage where she became a star years ago. “There’s no place like home,” she said, lifting a line from the musical. The crowd hooted, hollered and gave her a standing ovation.

Taymor, the director and costume-designer of “The Lion King,” congratulated her audience for the courage and enthusiasm to lead the way. “Theater, as we know, is the lifeblood and soul of the city,” she said. “It’s time for us to live again.” And Miranda at “Hamilton” summed up the feeling of a lot of people when he said: “I don’t ever want to take live theater for granted.”

“The Lion King,” “Hamilton” and “Wicked” all staked out Tuesday to reopen together in early May after then-New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo picked Sept. 14 for when Broadway could begin welcoming back audiences at full capacity.

The trio of shows were beaten by Bruce Springsteen’s concert show in June and the opening of the new play “Pass Over” on Aug. 22, as well as the reopening of two big musicals — “Hadestown” and “Waitress.”

But the return of the three musicals — the spiritual anchors of modern Broadway’s success — as well as the return of the long-running “Chicago” and the reopening of the iconic TKTS booth, both also on Tuesday, are important signals that Broadway is back, despite pressure and uncertainty from the spread of the delta variant.

The crowds virtually blew the roof off the three theaters. At “Wicked,” they stood and applauded the dimming of the lights, the welcome announcement, the arrival and departure of Chenoweth, the opening notes of the first song and several moments during that song, especially when Glinda says: “It’s good to see me, isn’t it?”

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***** ‘MASTERCLASS’: A MAGNIFICENT SEND-UP OF THE ANXIETIES OF THE AGE (SV PICK, IRELAND) ·

(Chris McCormack’s article appeared in the Irish Times, 9/13; Materclass: Adrienne Truscott plays opposite Feidlim Cannon.)

Dublin Fringe Festival 2021: Brokentalkers and Truscott’s fruitful collaboration feels like a direct response to #MeToo

MASTERCLASS

Project Arts Centre: Space Upstairs
Dublin Fringe Festival

★★★★★
This magnificent send-up of James Lipton’s Inside the Actors Studio is the latest play to feel like a direct response to #MeToo. What sets Brokentalkers and Adrienne Truscott’s fruitful collaboration apart is how it resembles an outward sign of inward changes: an industry reckoning with its own direction.

On the set of an absurd talk show, Truscott appears as a laughably macho playwright whose adversarial new drama is igniting the gender wars. (The sideburn-scratching pretentiousness of early 1990s Greenwich Village will feel like a specific flashpoint for anyone who remembers the depressing uproar accompanying David Mamet’s Oleanna.)

If anything is to be gained from the skewered machismo of a male artist bleeding at his typewriter, inscribing quotes on penknives and carrying a shotgun like an accessory, it might be the desire to purge a broken system. Opposite Truscott’s playwright sits a bluff interviewer (Feidlim Cannon) whose questioning devolves into a bungling pep talk, as if art criticism is complicit in preserving myths about male geniuses.

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ARTISTS AND ARTS WATCH: THE WRITING’S ON THE WALL FOR KABUL’S STREET ART SCENE ·

(Amy Kazmin’s article appeared in the Financial Times, 9/9; street painting depicting Farkhunda Malikzada, a 27-year-old woman who was lynched by a mob in Kabul in March 2015 © Yaghobzadeh Alfred/ABACA/Reuters.)

The city’s domineering blast walls were a canvas for colourful murals 

They were afraid of these murals and they had a very clear plan for them,” says artist Omaid Sharifi, co-founder of the grassroots movement Artlords, which mobilised Afghans to paint more than 2,000 murals across the country. “They knew that these murals were the soul of Kabul city, and they wanted to destroy — silence — the soul of Kabul.” The first Taliban regime, from 1996 to 2001, was a time of extreme hardships for the country’s artists, as an extreme, dour, joyless interpretation of Islamic law was enforced. Arts and entertainment — even television and videos in private homes — were banned by fundamentalist leaders who believed photography violated the Islamic injunction against idolatry. In their zeal, the Taliban blew up two monumental 6th-century Bamiyan Buddhas — an act of cultural vandalism that provoked global outrage.

Music was prohibited, instruments smashed, with brutal punishments for anyone who broke the rules. Many Afghans hoped the Taliban — who have embraced social media with gusto — might have grown more tolerant of arts and cultural expression over the past two decades. But the destruction of Kabul’s murals, Sharifi said, has made clear that the new regime will not tolerate any voices other than their own.

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ARTISTS AND ARTS WATCH: PUSSY RIOT’S ALYOKHINA GIVEN ONE YEAR OF ‘RESTRICTED FREEDOM’ AS ANOTHER RUSSIAN OPPOSITION FIGURE IS CONVICTED IN ‘SANITARY CASE’ ·

(Johnny Tickle’s article appeared on RT, 9/11; Photo: (t0p) Russian political activist and member of the punk band and activist group Pussy Riot Maria Alyokhina. © Vasily MAXIMOV / AFP.; (bottom) Pitchfork.com.)

One of the leading stars of the Russian punk rock protest group Pussy Riot, Maria Alyokhina, has been sentenced to one year of restricted freedom in the so-called ‘sanitary case’ that has also seen measures placed on five others.

The court found Alyokhina guilty of inciting people to gather for unauthorized protests in violation of restrictions aimed at preventing the spread of Covid-19. Some opposition figures have slammed the charge as a convenient way of silencing an anti-Kremlin voice.

Accusations of breaking sanitary rules have been leveled against 10 associates of jailed opposition figure Alexey Navalny, who took part in protests earlier this year to demand that he be released from prison. Navalny is currently serving time behind bars for breaching the terms of a suspended sentence handed to him for his involvement in a fraud scheme concerning French cosmetics firm Yves Rocher. His supporters claim the judgment was politically motivated.

Alyokhina is the latest to have her freedom restricted by court order, following in the footsteps of Navalny’s close ally Lubov Sobol and his spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh, among others. Liusya Shtein, another Pussy Riot member, has also been given a similar sentence.

The restrictions include a curfew and a ban against traveling outside Moscow Region. Two of those who received court orders, Sobol and Yarmysh, fled abroad before their sentences could be imposed.

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REVIEW: ‘COME FROM AWAY’ LOSES NONE OF ITS FOLKSY CHARM ON SCREEN ·

(Charles McNulty’s article appeared in the Lost Angeles Times, 9/9; Petrina Bromley, from left, Emily Walton, Jenn Colella, Sharon Wheatley, Astrid Van Wieren and Q. Smith in the musical “Come From Away.” (Sarah Shatz / Apple TV+)

On the 20th anniversary of 9/11, as the world confronts another zeitgeist-defining emergency, it’s good to be reminded of simple human kindness, the kind of charity too modest for fanfare, something as basic yet profound as a stranger bearing a blanket or plate of food in an hour of need.

“Come From Away,” the 2017 Broadway musical with a heartwarming story set in the immediate aftermath of that September day, follows the advice that young Fred Rogers received from his mother when frightened by events in the news: “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

Written by Irene Sankoff and David Hein, this lovably hokey show, which has been successfully recorded on film, is available for streaming on Apple TV+ starting Sept. 10. It turns out that the screen provides a surprisingly hospitable frame for a musical that is quite purely and unabashedly — at times even downright earnestly — a work of theater.

The staging, which earned Christopher Ashley a Tony Award, retains its gallop even on a laptop. Despite my slight fatigue with a musical that has tenaciously hung around longer than I would have expected, I was stirred once again by a real-life 9/11 tale that takes place far away from ground zero, the Pentagon and the field in Pennsylvania where brave passengers brought the final hijacked plane down.

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***** ‘FROZEN’ REVIEW – STUNNING MUSICAL EXTRAVAGANZA CREATES ITS OWN MAGIC ·

(Arifa Akbar’s article appeared in the Guardian, 9/8/2021; Photo: Dazzling coups de theatre … Samantha Barks as Elsa in Frozen. Photograph: JohanPersson.)

Theatre Royal Drury Lane, London
Beyond the visual thrills and powerful ballads, this adaptation brings an unexpected depth to the relationship between two tortured sisters

This musical extravaganza about estranged sisters, an icy kingdom nd unharnessed supernatural powers arrives in the West End from Broadway as part of a plan to stage five Frozens around the world this year. As canny as that seems commercially, a mega-successful animation does not always translate into a stage hit, even with Disney money thrown at it.

The 2013 film was met with acclaim, Oscars and delirium. Does this adaptation live up to that hefty legacy? Yes, and perhaps it even exceeds it. This is a show every bit as magical as the animation, packed with visual thrills and gorgeous choreography (by Rob Ashford) alongside signature ballads that gain greater power in their live incarnation. It is big on spectacle yet never loses control with special effects that yield some dazzling coups de theatre.

Directed by Michael Grandage, it has music and lyrics by Kristen Anderson-

Lopez and Robert Lopez – who created the songs for the film – and a book by Jennifer Lee, who wrote the screenplay. The production takes a few scenes to come into its own and the opening appears like a too-exact replica of the animation. Young Anna (Asanda Abbie Masike in the performance I saw) wistfully sings about building a snowman with her sister outside the room in which Elsa (Tilly-Raye Bayer) has barricaded herself, playing out the same tics and vocal inflections of her cartoon counterpart. It carries that ersatz feel even as the older versions of the sisters are introduced: Stephanie McKeon’s Anna (bold, goofy, full of yearning) and Samantha Barks’s Elsa, a melancholy ice queen from the off.

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CHICAGO: THEATER AND OPERA FOR FALL 2021: WITH OUR TOP 10, A CAUTIOUS RETURN TO DRAMA ·

(Chris Jones’s article appeared in the Chicago Tribune Theater Loop, 9/8; Photo: Carrie Coon and Namir Smallwood star in the Tracy Letts play “Bug” at Steppenwolf Theatre. (Michael Brosilow photo/Handout)

No sentient Chicagoan needs to be reminded that the fall of 2021 is far from a normal autumn when it comes to the performing arts. At least it eclipses 2020, when the curtains remained closed as leaves fell. May we never go back to that.

This year, especially in the second half of the fall season, we’ll see some boffo attractions on an overall theatrical slate that still looks to be less than half as expansive as the usual offerings. Some of the regular players (especially the smaller storefront companies) aren’t amping up their in-person shows until 2022, preferring the safety of a longer pause or strictly digital programming. But others are coming back live and in person as safely as they can, which means insisting under a blanket agreement arranged by almost all Chicago-area theaters that patrons are both vaccinated and masked.

So you’ve got your shots and your N95 and you’re ready to venture out again?

Here, in the return of a September tradition, are 10 shows that should help you remember why Chicago theater is such a crucial part of this city. Plus one more for the holidays.

  1. “American Mariarchi,” Goodman Theatre: A much-postponed show with multiple producing partners including the Dallas Theatre Center and the Destinos: Chicago International Latino Theatre Festival, José Cruz González’s “American Mariachi” is billed as an exuberant and warm-centered new musical. The show is set in the 1970s and the action revolves around a young woman’s idea to create an all-female Mariachi band.  18 to Oct. 24 at the Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St.; 312-443-3800 and www.goodmantheatre.org
  2. “As You Like It,” Chicago Shakespeare Theater: We’ve previewed this much-postponed attraction several times now, but new Navy Pier dates are finally set for what looks likely to be an exuberant Chicago Shakespeare Theater staging of the justly beloved Shakespearean comedy with the added attraction of some 20 songs made famous by the Beatles. It’s adapted and directed by Daryl Cloran and features an all-star Chicago cast. Oct. 6 to Nov. 21 at Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier; 312-595-5600 and www.chicagoshakes.com
  3. “Bug,” Steppenwolf Theatre: It’s a reprise, but the length of the original run was cut short by the pandemic. And it’s a stunner. Director David Cromer’s staging of the Tracy Lett’s tragicomedy about mysterious government goings-on in a seedy Oklahoma motel room features knockout acting from Carrie Coon and Namir Smallwood, not to mention one of the greatest scene changes in Steppenwolf history. If you missed it the first time, don’t make that mistake again. Nov. 11 to Dec. 12 at Steppenwolf Theatre Company, 1650 N. Halsted St.; 312-335-1650 and www.steppenwolf.org

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CONSTANT STANISLAVSKI (127) ·

The words and wisdom of Constantin Stanislavski:

I have told you how we were educated in our childhood and youth. Compare our life with the life of the present generation of youth brought up on a regime of poverty and danger. We spent our youth in a Russia that was peaceful; we drank from the full cup of life. The present generation has grown up amidst war, hunger, world catastrophe, mutual misunderstanding and hate. We knew much joy and did not share it with those near to us to any great degree, and now we are paying for our egotism. The new generation does not know the joy that we knew, it seeks and creates joy in agreement with the circumstances of life, and tries each moment to regain and make its own again those years of youth that it has lost. It is not for us to condemn them for this. It is for us to sympathize with them, to follow with interest and good wishes the unrolling evolution of the new art and the new life created by the laws of nature. (MLIA)

COLUMN: ACTORS, GET VACCINATED OR GET OFF THE PUBLIC STAGE ·

(Charles McNulty’s article appeared in the Los Angeles Times, 8/19; “Hamilton’s” Javier Muñoz, shown in 2016, had a thoughtful response to a performer’s Instagram post concerning vaccination. (Walter McBride/Getty Images)

Broadway performer Laura Osnes’ exit from a one-night concert performance at East Hampton’s Guild Hall over a COVID-19 vaccine requirement has provoked an uproar in the theater world. Vaccination advocates and resisters have been thrashing it out on social media, echoing the conflict between personal autonomy and collective responsibility that has been playing out across America since the start of the pandemic.

In a nation as divided as ours, it’s only natural that policy is vigorously debated. But our polarization has reached a lethal form of decadence when governors, to score political points, are blocking mask requirements in their school systems and the misinformed and rationally unreachable defend their decision to remain unvaccinated even as ICU units reach capacity in their hometowns.

The writer Isaac Asimov, decrying “the cult of ignorance in the United States” in a 1980 column for Newsweek, identified a “strain of anti-intellectualism” running through our politics and culture that’s “nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’” This strain has been especially virulent during this pandemic, when even in the face of a common mortal coronavirus enemy, our citizenry has fallen back into the usual partisan camps or taken refuge in an American individualism that isn’t so much rugged as selfish and stupid.

I don’t know about you but I don’t have the energy for a listening session with actors who want to explain, through fuzzy math and fuzzier logic, how they decided that it was the better choice for them to put their collaborators at risk than get a shot that has saved countless thousand lives. Delta has taken over, and the fall theater season is hanging by a thread. Or more accurately, it’s relying on the incomplete bulwark of vaccinations to allow us to move forward with some semblance of normality.

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