‘THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH’ FROM JOEL COEN ·

(Odie Henderson’s article appeared on Roger Ebert.com 12/23; via Pam Green; photo: Roger Ebert.com)

My high school senior year English teacher, Mr. Kilinski would be proud that I remembered every single stanza and line from Macbeth he made his students memorize. As Denzel WashingtonFrances McDormand, and others worked through the Bard’s words as adapted by director Joel Coen, I felt myself lip-syncing under my mask. I covered the greatest hits, and lines I didn’t even realize I knew. Keep in mind that I learned these words 35 years ago, yet they were as fresh in my mind as if I’d committed them to memory that morning. The Scottish Play holds a special place in my heart, because it forced me to do a complete 180 on William Shakespeare. After my freshman year run-in with Romeo and Juliet and my sophomore year’s Julius Caesar, I was through with this dude and his fancy writing about topics that put my adolescent self to sleep.

Macbeth made me reconsider. Back then, I couldn’t put my finger on why it spoke to me so powerfully that it made me want to read more Shakespeare. But, as an adult, I understood. This play is like a film noir and I was a budding noirista as a teen. “The Tragedy of Macbeth” visually leans into my noirish interpretation. It’s shot in silvery, at times gothic black and white by Bruno Delbonnel, has a moody score by the great Carter Burwell, and takes place on incredible (and obviously fake) sets designed by Stefan Dechant. It also has more fog than San Francisco, the setting for so many great noirs. This makes sense, as Coen and his brother Ethan visited neo-noir’s genre neighborhood more traditionally in their 2001 film, “The Man Who Wasn’t There.” One might consider their debut, “Blood Simple” a neo-noir as well.

Like those films, this one also features McDormand as a shady lady, namely Lady Macbeth. She’s married to Washington’s Macbeth, the Thane of Glamis. As the casting indicates, this couple is older than the one the Bard envisioned, which changes one’s perception of their motivations. Youthful ambition has given way to something else; perhaps the couple is way too conscious of all those yesterdays that “lighted fools/The way to dusty death.” At the Q&A after the free IMAX screening of this film, McDormand mentioned that she wanted to portray the Macbeths as a couple who chose not to have children early on, and were fine with the choice. This detail makes the murder of Macduff’s (Corey Hawkins) son all the more heartless and brutal, an act Coen treats with restraint but does not shy away from depicting.

Since The Scottish Play was first performed 415 years ago, all spoiler warnings have expired. Besides, you should know the plot already. Banquo (Bertie Carvel) and the Thane of Glamis meet three witches (all played by theater vet Kathryn Hunter) on his way back from battle. They prophesize that Macbeth will eventually be King of Scotland. But first, he’ll become the Thane of Cawdor. When that part of the prediction becomes true, Macbeth thinks these medieval Miss Cleos might be onto something. Though he believes chance will crown him without his stir, Lady Macbeth goads him to intervene. As is typical of Shakespeare’s tragedies, the stage will be littered with dead bodies by the final curtain, each of whom will have screamed out “I am slain!” or “I am dead!” before expiring. Coen leaves that feature out of the movie, as you can see quite graphically how dead the bodies get on the screen.

King Duncan’s murder is especially rough. Washington and Brendan Gleeson play it as a macabre dance, framed so tightly that we feel the intimacy of how close one must be to stab another. It’s almost sexual. Both actors give off a regal air in their other scenes, though Washington’s is buoyed by that patented Den-ZELLL swagger. He even does the Denzel vocal tic, that “huh” he’s famous for, in some of his speeches, making me giddy enough to jump out of my skin with joy. Gleeson brings the Old Vic to his brief performance; every line and every moment feels like he’s communing with the ghosts of the famous actors who graced that hallowed London stage.

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BROADWAY’S ‘THE MUSIC MAN’ HALTS SHOWS AFTER HUGH JACKMAN TESTS POSITIVE FOR COVID-19 ·

(from Breitbart; Photo:  Phil Walter/Getty Images.)

Dec. 28 (UPI) — Actor Hugh Jackman announced Tuesday that he tested positive for COVID-19, as his Broadway show, The Music Man, canceled performances through the weekend.

The Wolverine star made the announcement on his Twitter account.

“I just wanted to make sure you heard this from me. I tested positive for COVID,” he wrote. “Mild symptoms and looking forward to getting back on stage ASAP!”

In a video accompanying the post, Jackman described his symptoms as being “like a cold,” with a scratchy throat and a “bit of a runny nose.”

Jackman’s post on Twitter came minutes after it was announced that performances of The Music Man were canceled through Sunday.

“All performances of Broadway’s The Music Man are canceled through January 1,” the production announced on Twitter. “All tickets can be refunded or exchanged at point of purchase. Performances will resume on Sunday, January 2. Sending you warm wishes for the New Year from the entire company of The Music Man.”

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‘THOUGHTS OF A COLORED MAN’ AND ‘WAITRESS’ GO DARK ON BROADWAY AMID OMICRON ·

(Jesse O’Neill’s article appeared in the New York Post, 12/24;  via Drudge Report; Photo: “Thoughts of a Colored Man” will not resume after its performing shows last week.John Nacion/NurPhoto via ZUMA Press.)

The Great White Way was darker on Christmas Eve as two Broadway productions permanently closed due to surging COVID-19 cases.

The shows “Waitress” and “Thoughts of a Colored Man” said on Friday that their productions would not reopen after performing their final shows earlier this week, according to Playbill.

Sara Bareilles’ “Waitress” returned to Broadway in September and was expected to run through next month, but its limited engagement at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre was also thwarted by cases of the virus among its cast and company, the outlet said.

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THREE SHORT COMEDIES BY SEÁN O’CASEY: SCATHING, WILDLY ENTERTAINING COMMENTARIES ON THE NEW IRISH STATE ·

Rory Nolan and Marty Rea in Druid’s Three Short Comedies by Seán O’Casey. Photo by Ste Murray.

(Ciara L. Murphy’s article appeared in the Irish Times, 12/20.)

Under Garry Hynes’ direction, Druid bring a wide and eccentric range of characters to life

THREE SHORT COMEDIES BY SEÁN O’CASEY

National Opera House, Wexford
★★★★☆

Druid theatre company has brought three of Seán O’Casey’s short comedies to life in a multifaceted and high-energy production. A Pound on Demand (1939), Bedtime Story (1951) and The End of the Beginning (1937) deliver light relief amid the pandemic gloom of this Christmas season.

Seldom seen on the Irish stage, these one-act comedies are a departure from the early-20th-century politics for which O’Casey’s plays are better known. Instead these succinct performances focus on the everyday comings and goings of a wide array of characters (in the most Irish sense of the word).

These performances offer observations on authoritarianism, religious conservatism and the folly of “keeping up appearances” while delivering scathing (and wildly entertaining) commentaries on the various failures and vagaries of the (relatively new) independent Irish State. Fans of O’Casey’s Dublin Trilogy will recognise his signature dark humour and sharp social criticism amid the farcical elements of this production.

Francis O’Connor’s effective and inventive set design offers a recognisable image of 20th-century realism

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‘THE MUSIC MAN’ ONCE HAD A DISABLED CHARACTER. THEN HE WAS ERASED. ·

(Amanda Morris’s article appeared in The New York Times, 12/15/21; via Pam Green; Photo:  Michael Phelan as Winthrop Paroo and Rebecca Luker as Marian Paroo in a 2000 revival of “The Music Man” at the Neil Simon Theater in Manhattan.Credit…Sara Krulwich/The New York Times.)

At the urging of producers, Meredith Willson cut a boy in a wheelchair from the early scripts for his 1957 musical. A look back shows what was lost.

Many know Meredith Willson’s 1957 Broadway musical, “The Music Man,” as a light comedy centered on a cheeky scam artist who pretends to be a musician and sells the idea of starting a boys’ band to a small town in Iowa. The show is being revived on Broadway starring Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster, and will begin performances this month.

But several newly recognized drafts of the musical, written between 1954 and 1957, show that originally, the story focused more on the town’s persecution of a boy in a wheelchair — carrying a much more serious message than the final draft. At the time, children with disabilities were routinely institutionalized in horrid conditions and denied an education.

In the version that debuted in 1957, the only character that doesn’t fall for the scheme is Marian Paroo, a well-read single woman who has a shy younger brother with a lisp, named Winthrop. But the con man, Harold Hill, manages to charm Marian and wins her over in part by being kind to Winthrop and including him in the band.

In the earlier drafts, Marian’s younger brother was a character named Jim Paroo, a boy in a wheelchair who, in some versions of the show, has limited use of his arms and could not speak. Wherever Jim goes, townspeople want to lock him up, and in some versions, this drives him to hide and live in the school basement instead of at home.

Then, Harold comes along and challenges the community’s assumptions about Jim by bringing him into the band and finding an instrument he’s capable of playing with his limited range of motion. An early title for the show, “The Silver Triangle,” highlights Jim’s instrument of choice and contribution to the band.

“I think that Jim was very much at the heart of the show,” said Dominic Broomfield-McHugh, a musicology professor at the University of Sheffield in England who discovered many of the earlier drafts in 2013 at the Great American Songbook Foundation in Indiana. These discoveries were published in May in Broomfield-McHugh’s new book, “The Big Parade: Meredith Willson’s Musicals from ‘The Music Man’ to ‘1491.’” The book explores the musical’s journey from “The Silver Triangle” to “The Music Man” we know today — and has a chapter devoted to the various early drafts of the show.

“When you read the first draft, it feels quite thin until you get to the scenes with Jim or about Jim, and suddenly it becomes very dramatic and serious,” he said. “I still feel astonished when I look at it.”

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Most of the songs and scenes in earlier drafts are also significantly different, according to Broomfield-McHugh. In one deleted song, Jim, who is nonverbal in this version of the show, starts to sing onstage alone.

“What Willson was trying to do was to sort of say, even though he can’t physically speak, he has all these thoughts and ideas going around in his head,” Broomfield-McHugh said.

Continue reading the main story

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RADIO CITY ROCKETTES CHRISTMAS SHOWS CANCELED DUE TO COVID OUTBREAK—‘HAMILTON’ CANCELED ·

(Luke Funk’s article appeared on Fox5 New York.)

NEW YORK – The Radio City Rockettes are canceling their entire 2021 season due to COVID-19 cases.

“We regret that we are unable to continue the Christmas Spectacular this season due to increasing challenges from the pandemic,” the Rockettes posted on Twitter. 

The show had canceled Friday show due to breakthrough COVID-19 cases among members of the production moments before the 11 a.m. performance.  At least some of the cases appeared to be among members of the orchestra.

The annual show features the Rockettes and is a holiday tradition in the city.  People were already in their seats when they were told the show was canceled.  Children and adults were seen crying outside the Midtown Manhattan venue after realizing they were not going to get to see the show.

NY SETS RECORD FOR SINGLE-DAY CASES

Many in the crowd were tourists who had traveled to New York City to see the show.

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‘HANGING ON BY OUR FINGERTIPS’: THEATRES FEAR OMICRON’S IMPACT ON FESTIVE SEASON ·

(Chris Wiegand’s article appeared in the Guardian 12/16;  via Pam Green; Photo: The Book of Dust – La Belle Sauvage, directed by Nicholas Hytner, is the Christmas show at the Bridge theatre in London. Photograph: Manuel Harlan.)

With a surge in cancellations across the country, the new strain of Covid might be the biggest threat to the UK’s stage industry yet

It is the crucial season for theatres when families, schools and panto-lovers traditionally crowd into festive shows and fill venues’ coffers for the year ahead. But this winter, amid rising Covid case numbers and the spread of the Omicron variant, bookings are down and performances are being cancelled at the last minute – and at an alarming rate – due to Covid infections among cast and crew. Theatres have been left “in crisis mode”, “on a knife edge” and “terrified” of what the next weeks will bring.

The producer Kenny Wax, whose hits include the musical Six and the Goes Wrong series of comedies, told the Guardian that “the industry is probably in its most precarious position”, even after almost two years of uncertainty. On Wednesday, Sir Nicholas Hytner, artistic director of the Bridge theatre in London, predicted on BBC Newsnight: “the three weeks of the year on which all live arts and entertainment businesses rely … will be a write-off”. Sarah Brigham, who runs Derby theatre, said that cast illnesses have left artistic directors around the country asking themselves with dread: “When am I going to have to walk on stage with a script?” Natalie Ibu, artistic director of Northern Stage in Newcastle, said: “What we don’t need is more uncertainty and mixed messages [from government] – that just feels like March 2020 all over again. We’ve come too far to find ourselves stuck in Groundhog Day.”

Northern Stage’s production of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice became, on Thursday, one of the latest shows to cancel performances due to Covid cases despite having a range of measures in place to keep the company safe. Ibu said it was “hugely disappointing” and that they hoped to restart performances from 28 December. Cancellations have hit stages and shows of all sizes – from small arts centres to our grandest cultural institutions, local pantos to West End musicals including Cabaret and Hamilton – but with the same loss of vital revenue. Of similar importance is the loss of audience confidence at a time of great uncertainty and mixed messaging when Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England, has urged people not to “mix with people you don’t have to” but Boris Johnson has declared people should not cancel Christmas parties.

Ibu said that an enormous amount of work and financial support had gone into reopening theatres and rebuilding audience confidence. “What we need now is clarity to enable us to use that investment in the best way we can for our community.” Brigham added that “clear messaging and role-modelling from leadership would be really helpful. It takes us back to March 2020 when we weren’t told to close down but audiences were told not to come to us.” Certainty and reassurance for audiences and businesses were paramount, she added, not just through strong public health messaging but also strong economic measures. The playwright Mark Ravenhill, now co-artistic director of the King’s Head theatre in London, told the Guardian earlier this week that the next few months “could be the most perilous of all” for theatres. “If this turns out to be a period where theatres are technically allowed to open, but very few people want to go to them, that would be a big financial challenge.”

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TONIGHT’S PERFORMANCE OF TINA – THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL CANCELED DUE TO POSITIVE COVID TESTS RESULTS IN THE COMPANY ·

(Chloe Rabinowitz’s article appeared in the NY Post, 12/16.)

Performances are scheduled to resume on Friday, December 17.

Tonight’s performance of TINA – THE Tina Turner MUSICAL (Thursday, December 16 at 7pm) is being canceled due to positive Covid-19 test results within the Broadway company.

Performances are scheduled to resume on Friday, December 17.

Produced by Stage EntertainmentJames L. Nederlander and Tali Pelman, in association with Tina Turner, TINA – THE Tina Turner MUSICAL currently stars Nkeki Obi-Melekwe as Tina, Tony Award nominee Daniel J. Watts as Ike, Kayla Davion as Tina (at some performances), Dawnn Lewis as Zelma, Tony Award nominee Myra Lucretia Taylor as Gran Georgeanna and Jessica Rush as Rhonda. TINA – THE Tina Turner MUSICAL also features Juliet BennSteven BoothNick Rashad BurroughsGerald CaesarJulius ChaseAyla Ciccone-BurtonHolli’ ConwayLeandra Ellis-GastonCharlie FranklinJudith FranklinJosiah GaffneyMatthew GriffinAri GrooverSheldon HenryDavid JenningsRoss LekitesRobert LenziRob MarnellJhardon DiShon Milton, NaTonia Monét, Phierce PhoenixJustin SchumanAllysa ShorteEric SiegleCarla R. StewartSkye Dakota Turner, Eric A. Walker Jr., Katie Webber and Michelle West.

Written by Tony Award nominee and Pulitzer Prize winner Katori Hall with Frank Ketelaar and Kees Prins, TINA – THE Tina Turner MUSICAL is directed by Tony Award nominee Phyllida Lloyd with choreography by Tony Award nominee Anthony Van Laast, set and costume designs by Tony Award nominee Mark Thompson, musical supervision, additional music and arrangements by Nicholas Skilbeck, lighting by Tony Award nominee Bruno Poet, sound by Tony Award nominee Nevin Steinberg, projection design by Tony Award nominee Jeff Sugg, orchestrations by Tony Award nominee Ethan Popp, wigs, hair and makeup design by Drama Desk Award winner Campbell Young Associates, music direction by Alvin Hough Jr. and casting by The Telsey Office.

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YOU IMMEDIATELY TELL YOUR FRIENDS TO CANCEL THEIR TICKETS’ – WHAT’S IT LIKE TO STAR IN A FLOP? ·

(Mark Lawson’s article appeared in the Guardian 12/16; Photo: ‘I miscalculated’ … Ken Stott in The Prince’s Play, which Richard Eyre put on at the National. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian.)

How does it feel to go back on stage night after night in a play that’s been mauled by critics and deserted by audiences? Richard Eyre and other directors and actors relive their trauma

Movies, TV shows and books can all get terrible reviews and small audiences, but the difference when this happens in theatre is that the actors have to go back on stage and remake the work just after critics have declared it disastrous. “It is so crushing for actors to have to go on night after night bearing the weight of failure,” says Richard Eyre, artistic director of the Royal National Theatre from 1987 to 1997. “And that’s one of the reasons actors are such stoics. For directors and writers, there’s a sense of disembowelment you carry round if you’ve had a major failure – but they can just fuck off to Tenerife, and some do. Actors are obliged to soak it up.”

Actor Michael Simkins, who wrote the theatrical memoir What’s My Motivation?, says: “If I had to articulate what it feels like to be in the middle of a play you feel is dying on its arse, it’s a cold sense of dread, like battery acid in your stomach. After terrible reviews, a sort of numbness sets in that is still there for the second night. You haven’t yet fully processed it. The first thing you do is tell all your friends who have booked tickets to cancel.”

Both men express sympathy and empathy for all involved in Moira Buffini’s play Manor, which received a rare one-star review in the Guardian, and an even scarcer zero rating from the Times. That mauling also brought back memories for Jonathan Moore, a playwright, opera director and librettist who, as a young actor, appeared in Nicholas Wright’s The Gorky Brigade at the Royal Court in 1979. Wright later wrote two of the National Theatre’s most successful new plays – Mrs Klein and Vincent in Brixton – but his early work about Russian politics received brutal reviews. In the Daily Mail, Jack Tinker wrote: “The writer should be sent to the salt mines of Siberia to learn how to write.” Moore remembers “looking up at one of the boxes by the side of the stage, and there was a guy reading a newspaper all through the play”.

Simkins once suffered a stark example of the unevenness of an acting career. In the late 1980s, he portrayed a young Italian-American opposite Michael Gambon in Arthur Miller’s A View From The Bridge, directed by Alan Ayckbourn. After playing to 97% capacity at the National, it transferred to the West End for six months. Over the next two years, though, Simkins featured in two legendary disasters. As a bonus for the success of the Miller, NT artistic director Peter Hall invited Ayckbourn to do anything he wanted. He chose John Ford’s 1633 revenge drama, ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore.

“The first night party was in the Olivier theatre bar,” recalls Simkins. “As I pushed open the door from backstage, four actor friends who had been in the audience all avoided my gaze as I headed towards them. They looked down into their drinks. Then someone struck up a conversation about a play he’d seen me in six months before.” According to Daniel Rosenthal’s book The National Theatre Story, ’Tis Pity half-filled (or worse) the 1,100-seat Olivier across 68 performances. Strikingly, Ayckbourn’s official website, usually maintained punctiliously, still notes that the opening and closing dates of the show are “to be confirmed”.

At a hit, people encourage each other to laugh and applaud. In a half-empty theatre, they ramp up each other’s misery

Simkins seemed assured a happier experience when cast in Michael Frayn’s 1990 play Look Look. Frayn’s previous two shows – Noises Off and Benefactors – had been big London and New York hits, and propitiously this new work returned to the meta-theatrical comedy genre of Noises Off, one of the most successful plays of the 20th century. But where that play had been set backstage, Look Look dramatised an audience, so that ticket-buyers met a mirror image of the stalls on stage.

Simkins played the man in seat G15. During rehearsals, he “had the sense it wasn’t working but I looked around and lots of people were laughing. So I thought it must be OK. There were vague murmurings between the actors at lunch, when we went off for our egg and chips. ‘Do you think this is working?’ But it was never fully articulated.”

Peter Hall once wrote that no play that seriously fails to engage an audience at its first performance can be saved. “I remember,” says Simkins, “the general sense, in the first couple of previews, that the opening 20 minutes worked wonderfully. Then it sort of died like a battery running down.” Despite the dramatist “rewriting eight to 10 pages every day, on the first night it was absolutely obvious the play didn’t work.” One critic reported that “one leaves the theatre open-mouthed at the sheer awful” spectacle, and another of “having no idea what the usually adept Mr Frayn thought he was up to”.

In commercial theatre, failure brings economic stings for actors. Yet such was the commercial confidence in Look Look that Simkins had been “signed up for 52 weeks at a grand a week, by far the most I had ever earned”. But after the reviews, he was looking at unemployment within a fortnight.

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