Category Archives: Current Affairs

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

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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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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LIZA MINNELLI OPENS UP ABOUT MOM JUDY GARLAND, WORKING WITH FOSSE AND GOING TO REHAB ·

(Marc Malkin’s article appeared in Variety, 2/4.)

Liza Minnelli is getting ready to be photographed for the cover of Variety. She’s wearing an off-the-shoulder black beaded shirtdress and perched on a director’s chair. As she adjusts herself, trying to find the right position to extend her bare legs, she screeches, “I’m getting f—ed by a chair!”

As if on cue, the room goes silent. But before anyone can blink, Minnelli’s distinctive throaty cackle bounces off the walls. It’s the permission everyone in the room needs to howl at what they can’t believe they just heard.

At 73, Minnelli is still the consummate entertainer, taking an awkward moment and turning it into a bawdy joke about getting intimate with a piece of furniture.

Minnelli isn’t a Hollywood icon — she’s a show business legend. Over the course of her career, she’s won four Tonys, two Grammys, an Emmy and an Oscar. But even before she danced her first step, sang a single note or memorized a line of script, she was famous.

“I was born and they took a picture,” Minnelli says.

That’s what happens when your mom is Judy Garland and your dad is Vincente Minnelli.

A few days before the shoot, Liza is settling in for a rare interview. She’s sitting on the couch in the living room of her modest Los Angeles-area apartment. The room is cozy, with a grand piano squeezed into the corner. Her Oscar for “Cabaret” sits on a low table alongside a copy of a 1972 Time magazine with Minnelli on the cover. On a table next to the couch are her Tonys, while a collection of additional awards crowd a sideboard near the entryway.

Hanging on one wall are reproductions of iconic Warhol paintings of Minnelli and her parents. The unending fascination with Garland continued last year with the release of “Judy.” Renée Zellweger is the favorite to win the Oscar for her transformation into Garland during the last months of her life. Minnelli has no interest in seeing the film. All she will say right now is “I hope [Zellweger] had a good time making it.”

Minnelli is wearing her signature black turtleneck and leggings, a look that originated out of comfort rather than fashion. “It’s what I’d wear to dance class because it was easy,” she explains.

She is a dancer at heart. She insists that’s all she ever wanted to be, but she was raised on movie sets and in concert halls. Singing and acting were inevitable. In fact, a one-sentence report in Variety on May 7, 1947, reads, “Liza Minnelli, 14-month-old daughter of Judy Garland, makes her acting bow in Metro’s ‘The Pirate,’ which her father is directing.” The headline: “In Ma’s Footsteps.”

When she was 19, Minnelli became the youngest person to win the leading actress in a musical Tony for her turn in the 1965 Kander and Ebb musical “Flora the Red Menace.” Four years later, she received her first Oscar nomination for her performance in the romantic comedy “The Sterile Cuckoo.”

Then came “Cabaret” in 1972. The Bob Fosse-directed big-screen adaptation of the Broadway musical of the same name earned eight Oscars, including one for Minnelli’s work as American expat Sally Bowles in 1930s Berlin during the rise of Nazism.

Joel Grey, Minnelli’s “Cabaret” co-star, who took home an Oscar for his role as the Master of Ceremonies, first met her through Hal Prince when she made her nightclub debut at the Cocoanut Grove in Los Angeles. “She was this fresh, bursting, bright-eyed talent,” Grey remembers. “You could see that connection to her mother and father. You just knew that she was somebody that was going to happen. She was so tender and frail and fragile and strong at the same time.”

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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)

 

FOR 13 YEARS, HE HAS HUMANIZED THE VILLAIN OF ‘OKLAHOMA!’ ·

(Laura Collins-Hughes’s article appeared in The New York Times, 1/20; via Pam Green.)

There was blood on the floor as usual, and on the costumes, too, when “Oklahoma!” finished its Broadway run on Sunday night at the Circle in the Square Theater. During the long, raucous curtain call, Patrick Vaill’s white shirt was sodden with red as the director, Daniel Fish, pulled him in for a hug.

Vaill, 34, was a 21-year-old undergraduate when Fish first cast him as the farmhand Jud Fry in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!” at Bard College in 2007. Eight years later, when Fish morphed that show into a professional production for Bard SummerScape, Vaill got the part again, and kept it for the 2018 version at St. Ann’s Warehouse that would transfer to Broadway last spring and win the Tony Award for best musical revival. (His sassy Twitter feed captures some of the accompanying glamour, which included a trip to the Met Gala.)

In Fish’s contemporary staging, which plunged two scenes into near-total darkness, Vaill imbued Jud with extraordinary vulnerability, playing him as a sympathetic odd man out who loves the heroine, Laurey, but stands no chance against the hero, Curly.

Not long after his final bow, Vaill took a seat in the theater to talk about Jud, and defend him. Here are edited excerpts from that conversation.

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Photo: Krista Schlueter for The New York Times

TOM STOPPARD INTERVIEW: ‘I ASPIRE TO WRITE FOR POSTERITY’ ·

(Douglas Murray’s article appreared in The Spectator, 1/27.)

Tom Stoppard talks about inspiration, growing older and his new play, Leopoldstadt

Sir Tom Stoppard is Britain’s — perhaps the world’s — leading playwright. He was born Tomas Straussler in 1937 in Zlin, Czechoslovakia, which his family left as the German army moved in. The Strausslers were Jewish. In adulthood he learned that all four of his grandparents had been killed by the Nazis. His father was killed by the Japanese on a boat out of Singapore as he tried to rejoin his wife and two sons in Australia. In India his mother married again, to an English army officer who gave his stepchildren his last name.

Stoppard has lifted the lid on his early life only once before, in a 1999 piece for Talk magazine. He said there that in the 1990s, following his mother’s death, his stepfather asked him to stop using his name after feeling some imagined ingratitude in his famous stepson. ‘Don’t you realize I made you British?’ seemed to be his resentful message.

Today, at the age of 82, Stoppard lives in an old rectory in the south of England with his third wife, Sabrina Guinness, whom he married in 2014. After lunch together in the kitchen and a walk around the rectory gardens, the famously private author agrees to talk about his life and work, including his new play, Leopoldstadt, which opened in London at the end of January.

We talk in the drawing room with a log fire roaring beside us. In his still unmistakable Mitteleuropean drawl he explains that the right subject for a play ‘is not that easy to find’. Perhaps it is only now, towards the end, that Stoppard feels ready to go back to the world which produced him?

‘This one actually was hiding in plain sight. I’d been circling it for quite a long time without quite admitting that I was writing a play about it. It’s a Jewish family — 1900 to 1955 — and the main reason that they’re Viennese is that the latter part of the play impinges on my own experience, this mental experience, and I didn’t want it to be about me because it wasn’t supposed to be about me. But it was about… yes, it was about part of myself.’

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Photo: The Spectator