Category Archives: Events

‘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: 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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IRELAND: LAETHANTA SONA/ ‘HAPPY DAYS’: A DARING, BOLD VISION, BRILLIANTLY REALISED ·

(Éilis Ní Anluain’s article appeared in the Irish Times, Sep 3, 2021; Photo: Bríd Ní Neachtain in Happy Days: the play’s theme, the need for everyone’s voice to be heard, takes on a new meaning when a major work is heard in the language of the people where it is performed. Photograph: Andrew Downes/Xposure.)

 

Beckett sa Chreig: Laethanta Sona/

Beckett in the Rock: Happy Days

Creig an Staic, Inis Oirr
Galway International Arts Festival

“Trompe-l’oeil backcloth to represent unbroken plain and sky receding to meet in far distance,” Samuel Beckett’s stage directions say. Here no backcloth to represent but the very thing. As Yeats told Synge to go to Aran, Beckett sa Chreig: Laethanta Sona/Beckett in the Rock: Happy Days, produced by Company SJ and directed by Sarah Jane Scaife, is immersed in the landscape and language of Inis Oírr.

Having assembled at Áras Éanna, the audience proceed together, walking between high stone walls, anticipation building, to see for ourselves the limestone mound already iconic from its image subtly reproduced in monochrome on a full page on the back of the programme notes.

Seated on blocks of stone placed in a chequerboard pattern, made by the island men who constructed the mound designed by Ger Clancy, we wait for Winnie to wake. No colour is specified for Winnie’s parasol. In this production it is red, like the skirts still generally worn by women on the island when this play was written.

Of Winnie’s dress we only see the low bodice, the fabric chosen by Sinéad Cuthbert for the rare flowers that grow in the fissures between the flagstones, on which and out of which the mound is constructed. Not the low mound of stage directions but just the right size, just the right slope, to make an impact on the landscape and to support Winnie, her head resting on her bare arms.

The play’s theme, the need for everyone’s voice to be heard, takes on a new meaning when a major work is heard in the language of the people where it is performed. The dialect, in Mícheál Ó Conghaile’s translation performed by Bríd Ní Neachtain, both of them from Connemara, soars. The everyday phrases echo and reverberate.

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NEW ACTORS’ EQUITY ASSOCIATION POLICY SHOWS HOW MUCH SOCIETY FAILS BAY AREA ACTORS ·

Actor Ed Gonzalez Moreno (right) rehearses the play “Exit Strategy” with fellow actress Gabriella Fanuele (left) at the Aurora Theatre Company in Berkeley, California, on Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2019.

(Lily Janiak’s article appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, 8/31.)

Open Access came after a year of what many describe as the union’s slow or insufficient adaptation to the pandemic.

In July, the union Actors’ Equity Association surprised the theater industry, including many of its own members, with a new “Open Access” policy. Effective immediately, it said, any actor or stage manager who has been paid for any gig could join — no matter the theater company, no matter how meager the wage or honorarium.

Previously, one way members could join was by working a certain number of weeks (for many years, 50 weeks; then, starting in 2017, 25) as an Equity Membership Candidate. That process could take a very long time — actor Ed Gonzalez Moreno, who recently moved to New York from the Bay Area, said it took him a year; Oakland actor Brennan Pickman-Thoon said it took him two years.

In an email to members, the union framed the change as a racial justice issue. The old system gave too much power to employers who pick which shows to mount and which actors to cast, according to the email. The new policy came from the union’s Diversity and Inclusion Retrofit, an anti-racist initiative created following the murder of George Floyd.

“Equity theaters, and indeed all entertainment industry employers, are disproportionately led by and populated with white people,” the email read. “Our membership rule has created a disproportionately high barrier to access for actors and stage managers of color.”

But the new membership policy also follows more than a year’s worth of dire-sounding emails sent to members about paying their dues.

“We understand that many of you have a long list of competing financial obligations and very little income,” said one email from April 3, 2020, which was shared with The Chronicle. “If you can pay your dues, or even a portion of your dues, it is especially urgent that you do so.”

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TOM STOPPARD ADMITS BEING AT ODDS WITH ‘LIVELY’ LEFTWING UK THEATRE SCENE ·

(Lucy Campbell’s article appeared in he Guardian, 8/31; Photo:  The playwright seen in the Imagine episode Tom Stoppard: A Charmed Life, in which he is interviewed by Alan Yentob. Photograph: Stephen Robinson/BBC Studios.)

Playwright, born in Czechoslovakia, talks of his gratitude to UK for saving him from a life under communism

Sir Tom Stoppard has revealed how his staunch criticism of communist regimes in his plays, born out of his own past as a Jewish child refugee from Czechoslovakia, set him at odds with the “lively” leftwing strain of the UK theatre scene.

His passionate defence of writers and journalists under threat by communist and totalitarian regimes, as well as his pride in being British, did little to endear him to some parts of the British theatre establishment, Stoppard told the Radio Times.

“There was a very strong, lively, leftwing side to English life and particularly English theatre. At some point I began to resent my sanctuary [in Britain] being pissed on by everybody I knew. Thanks a bunch. You know, [without the UK] I would have been in Communist Czechoslovakia now!”

Stoppard, 84, told interviewer Alan Yentob he finally addresses a long-neglected aspect of his life in his latest and most personal play, Leopoldstadt, which has returned to the West End after a pandemic-induced hiatus.

The play centres on the unease of not quite belonging, which reflects Stoppard’s upbringing – along with subsequently growing up reconstituted as a proud Englishman and knowing little about his heritage.

“I make an appearance [in the play] as a young Englishman, Leo,” Stoppard said. The character, Leonard, had been, before his childhood escape from the Jewish quarter of Vienna before the war, a European Jew called Leopold, who doesn’t know his own history: “In Vienna they say to him, ‘By the way, what is it with Leonard? Your name was Leopold. Too Jewish? You know you had another name and you are the continuation of that person.’”

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