Category Archives: Events


By Bob Shuman

Iceland, both the title and central metaphor for an opera by O-Lan Jones (director) and Emmet Tilley (music)–now playing at La MaMa through April 2–is like this year’s slow crawl out of winter in New York, as well as the country’s measured reawakening after COVID.  The show portrays heterosexual constraint,  the difficulties of forming social and physical relationships, oft standard musical theatre fare, to be sure, except that it gets stuck, like Stevie Nicks realizing that she has been singing the same song all night, at practice with Fleetwood Mac, none willing to finalize a song cut. Iceland, similarly, like the glaciers, echoes at the same emotional level for much of its 90 minutes; Act II does not evolve from the previous, where a young architect (Nancy McArthur), whose luggage is lost in a flight from Oslo, meets a mountaineer in Iceland (Oliver Demers), who has been caught in an avalanche (which might be more dramatic if it happens within the frame of the drama, instead of before it). All signs would point to a Rose-Marie or a hippy musical, set in the tundra (if not a show like Brigadoon; the cast includes characters of Icelandic legend, the hiddenfolk and landvaettir); here, though, the lyric is, “Come to me–I need your open arms” instead of “Come to me, Bend to Me.” The score is classically inspired, making use of four trained opera singers, as well as a chorus, with an eleven-piece live orchestra (music direction/conducting is by Robert Kahn).  Additionally, Iceland offers folk-pop songs, which may be reminiscent of the early music of Galt McDermot, Stephen Schwartz, Webber and Rice, and even Crosby, Stills & Nash.  Our time is clearly not that era, though, or the ‘40s and ‘50s and classic Broadway musicals, or of ‘20s operetta, but theatre-crafting, for now, despite incredible technological means, still must authentically find the wherewithal to figure itself out.

At times, an audience can only see how hard a show is trying and not its realization as dramatic art. Part of the issue, which may be affecting Iceland is that the tried-and-true boy-meets-girl formula does not automatically lend itself to the way life is being lived currently.  The show’s soulful self-seriousness is also reinforced by an October article in Psychology Today, by Greg Mattos, “Why Are So Many Young Men Single and Sexless,” which highlights Pew Research, indicating that “over 60 percent of young men are currently single, whereas only 30 percent of young women are.  Women, additionally, have prioritized “academic, professional, and financial goals” more firmly, solidifying men’s “generational inclination toward avoidance and withdrawal.” La MaMa has traditionally championed physical over language-based theatre, but here plot and story have been eclipsed by generalization, with lyrics that don’t automatically register. When they do, they seem sentimental, too generic, as if from a radio tune, on which anyone can be projected, and not from a character’s history and identity.  Yet, the setting, the movement and spiral dancing are well staged, with imaginative earth-toned costumes (Matsy Stinson) sets, lights, and stage pieces (Matthew Imhoff) and animation (Kayla Berry), even if they remain apart from accumulating, dramatic action. Trying to get so much right about a generation, the theatre-makers have not allowed themselves to be wrong enough to tell a specific human story.

Copyright © 2023 by Bob Shuman. All rights reserved.


Ariel Andrew, Marieke de Koker, Oliver Demers, Perri di Christina, Clayton Matthews, Nancy McArthur, A.C. “Ace” McCarthy, Matthew Moron, Matt Mueller, Carlos Pedroza, Isabel Springer, Andrew Wannigman, Angela Yam, Daiyao Zhong

Creative Team:

Composer/Librettists: O-Lan Jones and Emmett Tinley

Director: O-Lan Jones

Music Director: Robert Kahn

Assistant Director: Livia Reiner; with production support from BARE opera

Lighting and Scenic Design: Matthew Imhoff

Costume Designer: Matsy Stinson

Projection Content Design: Melody (Mela) London

The piece is arranged for two leads with a contemporary singer-songwriter sound, four classically trained operatic vocalists, and an SATB ensemble. It is orchestrated for Violin, Viola, Cello, Bass, Harp, Keyboards, French Horn, English Horn/Oboe, Flute, Guitar and Percussion.

Visit La MaMa

Publicity: Michelle Tabnick PR

Photo credits, from top: Bronwen Sharp (1, 3), Stacia French (2, 4)


(Jesse Green’s article appeared in The New York Times, 3/26; via Pam Green; Photo: Dark and vengeful: Josh Groban, Annaleigh Ashford and ensemble members in the new Broadway revival of “Sweeney Todd,” at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater in Manhattan.Credit…Sara Krulwich/The New York Times.)

Sondheim’s masterpiece, restored to its proper size and sung to the hilt by Josh Groban, makes a welcome Broadway return.

How do you like your “Sweeney Todd” done?

Stephen Sondheim, who wrote the score, favored the musical thriller take: the one that focuses on gore and shock. Blood spouts everywhere when Sweeney, “the demon barber of Fleet Street,” slits the throats of his customers; when his accomplice, Mrs. Lovett, grinds the corpses into meat pies, you wince at every crunch.

Also rather nice: the social critique version promoted by Harold Prince, the director of the original production in 1979. In that one, Sweeney, seen as a byproduct of the Industrial Revolution, isn’t so much a villain as a victim. The greed of the overlord class, mimicked by the grasping Mrs. Lovett, is what makes mincemeat of the proletariat.

Or perhaps you prefer your “Sweeney” intimate, with razors so close you recoil. Or psychological and stripped to the bone, with barely a set and Mrs. Lovett on tuba.

If there are so many worthy “Sweeney” options, that’s because the show isn’t just one of the greatest American musicals but several. Sondheim’s score, a homage to the sinister soundtracks of Bernard Herrmann, cannibalizes the book (by Hugh Wheeler) and the book’s remoter sources (a 1970 play by Christopher Bond, a 19th-century penny dreadful) until only their bones remain. But in return you get arias so beautiful, and musical scenes so intricately layered, that every possible genre seems to be baked inside.

Now comes a new special on the menu: the ravishingly sung, deeply emotional and strangely hilarious “Sweeney” revival that opened on Sunday at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater. Starring Josh Groban and Annaleigh Ashford, and directed by Thomas Kail, it has a rictus on its face and a scar in its heart.

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(Arifa Akhar’s article appeared in the Guardian, 3/39; Photo: ‘Beautiful moments of physical theatre’ … Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead at the Barbican, London. Photograph: Marc Brenner.)

Barbican, London
Simon McBurney directs a toweringly innovative adaptation of the eco-thriller by Nobel-winner Olga Tokarczuk

The opening night of this Complicité production was aborted at the 11th hour last week when its star, Kathryn Hunter, took ill. As the actor Amanda Hadingue walks on to a bare stage, house lights still on, and begins to speak about coughs and Covid, it seems to be leading to another postponement.

Complicité fans may recognise this unassuming start as a signature move, however, and know not to be fooled. From the simplicity of a single actor at a mic, this show directed by Simon McBurney grows like its own verdant forest. It becomes an almighty and toweringly innovative adaptation of Nobel laureate Olga Tokarczuk’s murder mystery eco-noir novel, written in wry, profound and glittering prose.

With the help of an autocue (entirely excusable given the gargantuan burden of narration), Hadingue plays Janina, a beady-eyed, chronically sick animal lover living in a remote Polish village rocked by a series of inexplicable murders. The dead are all from the hunting club and Janina volubly espouses the theory that woodland animals are getting their revenge.

Her friends – Dizzy (Alexander Uzoka), a former student; Boros (Johannes Flaschberger), an entomologist; and Oddball (César Sarachu), a neighbour – are all outsiders and non-conformists. Janina is a fabulous creation, both hero and antihero. She is a thorn in the side of the authorities, shooting off messages to the police and quoting government laws at the council – a Miss Marple, lady of letters and Fargo’s Marge Gunderson in one. Hadingue inhabits her so fully that we feel her grief over the death of her dogs – “my girls” – as an epic tragedy. Though Janina is, on the face of it, an animal rights activist, the core of this drama is about the condition of being human: how we live and age, our burdens, privileges and abuses.

Theatrically, this is a masterclass in how to fill a big stage, in part through sound (Christopher Shutt) and lighting (Paule Constable). The set by Rae Smith emerges organically until it seems there are forests behind and constellations above, much of it created through Dick Straker’s astonishing video design.

Scenes flare up out of darkness, with no visible setting up or dismantling. Present and past zoom back and forth so smoothly that it looks entirely seamless. The back-screen is used to brilliant effect, Janina’s projected nightmares of her dead mother appearing almost Hitchcockian.

Metatheatricality – nothing over-excitable – brings humorous flourishes: “May I borrow your microphone?” says Boros, who proceeds to tell us his backstory. “Will you turn that fucking music off?” shouts Janina as a stage instruction.

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(Michael Paulson’s article appeared in The New York Times, 3/24; via Pam Green; Photo: Andrew Burnap, top, as Arthur in the new Broadway revival of “Camelot,” with Jordan Donica as Lancelot and Phillipa Soo as Guenevere.Credit…Jingyu Lin for The New York Times.)    

The screenwriter overcame a stroke as he worked to revise the beloved but befuddling Golden Age musical for a Broadway revival.

“Camelot” opened on Broadway 63 years ago, an eagerly anticipated new musical from the makers of “My Fair Lady.” But happily-ever-aftering took a while.

Out-of-town, while trying to trim the overlong production, one writer was hospitalized with an ulcer, and the director collapsed of a heart attack. In New York, despite starring Julie Andrews and Richard Burton, “Camelot” took months to find its footing, and only did so following a televised segment on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”

Today the musical, written by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, is remembered as one of the last of Broadway’s Golden Age shows, but its traditional narrative — Arthurian legend with all of its romance, politics, swordplay and sorcery — has never quite clicked.

“Unfortunately, ‘Camelot’ is weighed down by the burden of its book,” the New York Times critic Howard Taubman wrote of the opening. That assessment has persisted. “It has one of the great scores of all time,” said Theodore S. Chapin, the former president of the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization, “but the plot starts to go haywire.”

On April 13, a new version of “Camelot” is scheduled to open on Broadway, with its book rewritten by Aaron Sorkin. The Hollywood screenwriter is familiar to many as the creator of the television series “The West Wing,” and he won an Oscar for writing the movie “The Social Network.” He is also an accomplished playwright, whose first Broadway drama, “A Few Good Men,” became a hit film, and whose most recent Broadway outing, an adaptation of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” was a critical and commercial success.

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 (via Michelle Tabnick PR)

 La MaMa presents 

in association with Overtone Industries 


a re-Creation Myth

an interdisciplinary opera theater work by O-Lan Jones and Emmett Tinley

Executive Producer of the Iceland Project, Michael Harris 

March 24 – April 2, 2023

(Photo credit: Stacia French; Performers (L to R) Angela Yam as The BIRD & Nancy McArthur as Vala)

Overtone Industries presents the World Premiere of ICELAND, a re-Creation Myth, an original multidisciplinary work of opera theater by O-Lan Jones and Emmett Tinley from March 24-April 2, 2023 at La MaMa, 66 E. 4th Street, 2nd floor, NYC. Tickets are $35 (students/seniors $30). For more information and to purchase tickets, visit

A contemporary love story that plays with the ancient mythology of the country itself, ICELAND begins with a seemingly chance encounter between Vala, a disillusioned architect in search of answers, and Mundi, a dispirited wilderness guide mentally scarred by a climbing accident some years before. The heroine and hero embark on separate journeys across the physical and emotional terrain of a glacier, which catapults them into the realm of The Hiddenfolk and the Mythic Beasts. Through Vala and Mundi’s opposing trajectories and eventual union, ICELAND explores – using movement, music, and design – how longing, courage, and the transcendent power of love create a vibrant relationship between the intimacy of human life and the vast dynamic life of the earth.

The piece features an ensemble cast of 14 and an 11-piece chamber orchestra. Jones’ music scores the Hidden World, home to the Huldufólk or Hiddenfolk, beings who live in a parallel world to humans. Tinley’s songs – based in a singer-songwriter folk tradition – give voice to Vala and Mundi’s human desires. The two composers’ styles weave together to create a rich texture in which the Human and the Hidden coexist.

“When I heard Emmett’s song ‘Come to Life,’ it connected with a song I’d written many years before, and the initial idea for ICELAND appeared with a visceral jolt,” said O-Lan Jones, who marks her return to both New York and La MaMa with this production, after first appearing on the La MaMa stage in 1968. “One of the most exciting things about putting ICELAND together is creating a contemporary story permeated by another reality – a parallel world inhabited by the timeless Hiddenfolk. It is also exciting to give voice to Mythic Beasts in a way that is grand, yet personalized enough, to make The Bird, The Giant, The Bull and The Dragon engaging characters. Emmett and I have worked together to develop the story while keeping The Hiddenfolk’s mission alive: their wish to remind us there is a Hidden World of magic and possibilities, which seems so appropriate to the times we live in, when so many people are looking for meaning and connection in the externals provided by the contemporary culture, rather than the mysterious world alive inside. Live theater is a unique way to experience this story, through the depth and presence of the performers. We cannot imagine a better place to present ICELAND than La MaMa – and give audiences a reason to get out of the house and back into live theater spaces!”


“When O-Lan contacted me about collaborating on ICELAND, I was on the lookout for a writing challenge,” said Emmett Tinley. “Although I’ve provided songs for dance performances, most collaborative projects I’ve worked on were studio recordings or concert performances. The challenge in this instance is to compose songs specific to ICELAND that will carry their share of the story but which must integrate with all the other elements of this interdisciplinary work. My interest in anthropology had already led me to some studies of Iceland so when O-Lan outlined the story and setting I was immediately excited by the possibilities. Iceland is a very modern country which remains deeply attached to its rich mythology and this provides a powerful backdrop for the telling of Vala and Mundi’s modern, yet mythic, love story.”


Ariel Andrew, Marieke de Koker, Oliver Demers, Perri di Christina, Clayton Matthews, Nancy McArthur, A.C. “Ace” McCarthy, Matthew Moron, Matt Mueller, Carlos Pedroza, Isabel Springer, Andrew Wannigman,                                      Angela Yam, Daiyao Zhong

Creative Team:

Composer/Librettists: O-Lan Jones and Emmett Tinley

Director: O-Lan Jones

Music Director: Robert Kahn

Assistant Director: Livia Reiner; with production support from BARE opera

Lighting and Scenic Design: Matthew Imhoff

Costume Designer: Matsy Stinson

Projection Content Design: Melody (Mela) London

The piece is arranged for two leads with a contemporary singer-songwriter sound, four classically trained operatic vocalists, and an SATB ensemble. It is orchestrated for Violin, Viola, Cello, Bass, Harp, Keyboards, French Horn, English Horn/Oboe, Flute, Guitar and Percussion.

…groundbreaking new opera… ingenious use of movement…Jones has gotten a lot of talent to do a lot of disarming things on a grand scale.”

– Los Angeles Times


Overtone Industries has a penchant for…creating an enduring experience that balances beauty of landscapes and soundscapes with thought-provoking theater.”

– Stage and Cinema


Beautifully experimental…perfectly translated for modern ears, ideals, and sensibilities. They are dark, full-bodied, delicious, and potent.”

– BroadwayWorld

O-Lan Jones (Composer, Writer) is an award-winning composer, sound designer, writer, and actress who has been consistently involved in experimental theater, music, and opera since the age of sixteen. The press has referred to her as an “uncategorizable legend.” She has created original sound designs and scores for over fifty productions in San Francisco, Los Angeles, London and New York, in collaboration with Padua Hills Playwrights, LA Woman’s Shakespeare Company, the Taper Too, Playwrights Horizons, and Bay Area Shakespeare Festival among others.

As an actress, she has originated roles in productions and readings of over 100 plays including

those of Sam Shepard, Julie Hébert, and Beth Henley. Her screen credits include iconic works like Natural Born KillersThe Truman Show, “Seinfeld,” “The X-Files,” “Shameless” and three of Tim Burton’s films including Edward Scissorhands.

Since 2015, Miz Jones has been working with Lauren Bon and Metabolic Studio as a composer as well as conductor of the Metabolic Choir weekly singing practice. During the pandemic she conducted the offshoot Interdependence Community Choir using the improvisational methods she invented for The Spontaneous Combustion Choir. This year-and-a-half long project culminated in Lauren Bon’s film, Satellite Radio Choir, recently shown by Brooklyn Rail.

O-Lan founded Overtone Industries in 1980, to develop and produce original opera-theater. Their work has been performed in traditional and non-traditional settings such as La MaMa, The Magic Theater, RedCat, The Kurt Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, The Ford Amphitheater in Los Angeles and a 25,000 sq’ empty car dealership in Culver City. In 2021 she directed 3 short opera films created in an Overtone workshop where she and Overtone’s Executive Director, Fahad Siadat, guided three teams of composer/librettists in the development of scenes from their original operas for the launch of Overtone’s new mentoring program, Original Vision. Her aim is to make lasting works of art.


Emmett Tinley (Composer, Writer) is an Irish singer-songwriter. Through the 1990s he fronted the critically acclaimed Irish band The Prayer Boat before striking out on his own to forge a solo career. He signed to Atlantic Records in New York in 2000 and went on to re-release The Prayer Boat’s final album Polichinelle in the US in 2001 (Billboard Magazine Album of the Year). This was followed by his first solo album Attic Faith in 2005 which garnered rave reviews (“Up there with the albums of Rufus Wainwright or Jef Buckley…Truly sublime.” – Irish Times; “Tinley’s first solo album, (is) filled with beautiful soundscapes, lush strings and vocal harmonies…. it’s not contemporary rock, pop or country – it strikes one as a gentle and delicate attempt at beauty….” – Sunday Tribune). The album was also nominated for the Choice Music Prize for Best Irish Album of 2005.

2011 saw the release of a second solo album Emmett Tinley through Mass Market Recordings/ V2. The album was recorded in Los Angeles and Denmark and features one of Tinley’s most popular songs, “Takes A Long Time To Heal.” Shortly afterwards Tinley took some time away from recording and touring to pursue university degrees in anthropology and Middle East studies. It was also around this time that he began his collaboration on ICELAND with artistic director O-Lan Jones, initially writing original songs for the music theater production and eventually becoming involved in co-writing the story. The first act premiered at the New Original Works festival at REDCAT in Los Angeles in July 2014. A concert reading of the production premiered at the Ford Amphitheater in October 2016, with Emmett also making his stage acting debut in the leading male protagonist role. A second concert reading of ICELAND took place at the Boston Court in Pasadena in November 2018.

Tinley has since returned to recording and touring, and a new solo album originally planned for

2020 has been rescheduled for release in early 2022.

About Overtone Industries

Overtone Industries develops and presents new multidisciplinary operas and music theater, bringing to life vivid, original stories and myths. Founded in 1980 by Artistic Director O-Lan Jones, Overtone Industries is dedicated to creating original work of mythic proportions. Overtone Industries has produced more than twenty original works across the country at such lauded venues as La MaMa in New York, The Met Theater, and the Ford Theatre in Los Angeles, and the Magic theater in San Francisco. Overtone Industries is the recipient of numerous awards including the Bay Area Critics Circle Award for Original Score, the Dramalogue Award for Best Overall Production, the Ovation Award for Best Costumes, and two Emmy Awards for best Original Score and Design.

For more information, visit


About La MaMa

La MaMa is dedicated to the artist and all aspects of the theater. La MaMa’s 61st “Remake A World” Season believes in the power of art to bring sustainable change over time and transform our cultural narrative. At La MaMa, new work is created from a multiplicity of perspectives, experiences, and disciplines, influencing how we think about and experience art. The flexibility of our spaces, specifically the newly reimagined building at 74 East 4th Street (La MaMa’s original permanent home), gives our local and remote communities access to expanded daytime programming. The digital tools embedded in the space allows artists to collaborate remotely, and audiences worldwide to participate in La MaMa’s programming. 

A recipient of the 2018 Regional Theater Tony Award, more than 30 Obie Awards and dozens of Drama Desk, Bessie, and Villager Awards, La MaMa has been a creative home for thousands of artists, and resident companies, many of whom have made lasting contributions to the arts, including Blue Man Group, Bette Midler, Ed Bullins, Ping Chong, Jackie Curtis, André De Shields, Adrienne Kennedy, Harvey Fierstein, Diane Lane, Playhouse of the Ridiculous, Tom Eyen, Pan Asian Rep, Spiderwoman Theater, Tadeusz Kantor, Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, Mabou Mines, Meredith Monk, Peter Brook, David and Amy Sedaris, Julie Taymor, Kazuo Ohno, Tom O’Horgan, and Andy Warhol. La MaMa’s vision of nurturing new artists and new work from all nations, cultures, races and identities remains as strong today as it was when Ellen Stewart first opened the doors in 1961.



(via David Gibbs, DARR Publicity,

Molière in the Park, in partnership with Prospect Park Alliance and LeFrak Center at Lakeside, will present the English language world premiere of Molière’s TARTUFFE OR THE HYPOCRITE, reconstructed by Georges Forestier, translated by Maya Slater, and directed by MIP’s Founding Artistic Director Lucie Tiberghien.

The show runs May 6 – 27 (opens May 11) at Prospect Park’s LeFrak Center in Brooklyn – enter at 171 East Drive between Ocean Avenue & Lincoln Road. Tickets are free.

For more info visit

Presenting a never seen before “Tartuffe” seems unimaginable. Yet, that’s what audiences will get a chance to see in Prospect Park this May when Molière in the Park stages the English language world premiere of Molière’s original “Tartuffe,” written in 1664, and immediately banned by the King of France.

Lost to history, this original play was reconstructed by Georges Forestier, a renowned French historian, through a process of historical genetics, and premiered at La Comédie Française in Paris in 2022. Now, it will be presented in English for the first time ever on the Molière in the Park stage. Join MIP for a more confrontational but just as hilarious TARTUFFE OR THE HYPOCRITE, censored and lost because it dared to expose the willful denialism and folly of extreme religiosity.

Photo: Moliere in the Park co-founders Garth Belcon & Lucie Tiberghien – photo by Russ Rowland

Lucie Tiberghien states, “I never thought I’d be able to say Molière in the Park is presenting a new play by Molière. Yet this is what we’re doing, at a time when the two factors that led to the banning and disappearance of the original script have re-emerged in the U.S. with furious energy: censorship, and willful denialism. Theater for all, as free entertainment, as a catalyst for empathy in our communities and as a conduit for political and social discourse is what we set out to offer when founding Molière in the Park. This English language world premiere, penned 359 years ago, gives us a distinct and immediate chance at providing all 3; an exciting AND terrifying prospect because… how exactly have we evolved in those 359 years?”

Cast to be announced at a later date.



(From RTE, 3/21; Photo: Sean O’Casey with Irish actress Siobhan McKenna in March 1953.)

Druid Theatre has announced plans to stage three landmark works by Seán O’Casey later this year.

The Galway-based company will present ‘Druid O’Casey’, featuring the trilogy of The Plough and the Stars, The Shadow of a Gunman and Juno and the Paycock.

The plays cover the period from the 1916 Rising, through to the Civil War, detailing a key period in the country’s history, as seen through the eyes of characters and families living through those times.

The production will have its premiere as part of this year’s Galway International Arts Festival, running for the entire duration of the two week event at the Town Hall Theatre.

Druid says the undertaking will allow audiences to experience O’Casey’s work like never before, with the three plays performed together in one day.

A number of single-play performances will also be staged.

The production will be directed by Garry Hynes and will feature a cast of 18 actors.

Members of the Druid ensemble will be joined by actors including Bosco Hogan, Hilda Fay and Zara Devlin.

After the July premiere in Galway, the plays will tour to the Lyric Theatre in Belfast and the Abbey Theatre in Dublin.

Ms Hynes said it had been a long held ambition of hers to combine the three O’Casey works into one theatrical saga.

(Read more)



(Michael Billington’s article appeared in the Guardian, 3/21; Will Young as Nicky Lancaster and Diana Hardcastle as Florence Lancaster in The Vortex at the Royal Exchange theatre, Manchester, in 2007. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian.)

Anniversaries offer a chance for reappraisal. Fifty years after the death of Noël Coward, it is worth asking whether, as a playwright, he still speaks to us today. You might have thought that his world had faded but the truth is that between 1924 and 1941 Coward wrote five comedies – Hay Fever, Private Lives, Design for Living, Present Laughter and Blithe Spirit – that are regularly revived. They may look like escapist diversions but their structural symmetry, verbal precision and opportunities for actors mean that they are bankers which have achieved the status of minor classics.

But, rather than dwell on the famous five, I think it is worth asking whether there is more to Coward than a mastery of quilted fun and whether we should range more widely through his 50 or so plays. Oliver Soden’s excellent new biography, Masquerade, reveals Coward to be a more complex individual than we had acknowledged: Soden even suggests that, in his combination of manic activity and deep melancholia, there was a hint of what we now know as bipolarity. Sheridan Morley, Coward’s first biographer, called his book A Talent to Amuse. But, while Coward liked to present himself to the world as a message-free entertainer, he was a finger-wagging preacher and occasionally scathing satirist. You could, in fact, write an alternative study of Coward called A Talent to Abuse.

I’ve recently reread four early Coward plays which reinforce my notion that he was far more than an amiable jester. His first major success, The Vortex, first performed in 1924, looks like a chamber-drama about an intense mother-son relationship. It is, in fact, shortly to be revived at Chichester with a real-life mother and son – Lia Williams and Joshua James – in the leading roles. But, while the final confrontation has obvious echoes of the closet scene in Hamlet, the play also feels like a condemnation of Jazz Age frenzy and hysteria.

Nicky Lancaster, the drug-addicted hero, says at one point “we swirl about in a vortex of beastliness” and we are reminded that the title refers to a whirlpool that swallows up and absorbs its victims. The Vortex gave Coward the success he craved and he followed it with the perennially popular Hay Fever. But in the same productive period he wrote the overlooked Easy Virtue: seemingly a piece of updated Pinero in which a shady lady with a past comes into conflict with her starchy in-laws.

Reading it today, what is striking is Coward’s fierce condemnation of social convention, sexual repression and upper-class philistinism. Reviewing the last major revival at Chichester in 1999, I said the play had curious affinities with John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger in that it shows a protagonist who finds no responsive chord in the surrounding world and that the most sympathetic character was a retired colonel who represented a vanished Edwardian decency.

Arguably the most curious of the early Cowards is Semi-Monde written in 1926 but never staged until 1977 when Philip Prowse did a sumptuous production for the Glasgow Citizens. This is Coward at his most self-consciously cynical as he shows the shallowness of a group of socialites as they parade through the lounge of the Ritz Hotel in Paris. With its cast of 28, the play is unwieldy but what hits one is Coward’s withering portrait of the inconstancy of his many gay, lesbian and bisexual characters. Coward’s own inclinations were never in doubt but you might conclude from this glittering kaleidoscope that he felt homosexuality was something that should be practised but not preached.

The fiercest of this early quartet is Post-Mortem written in 1930 and seen in a truncated TV version and a revival at London’s King’s Head. It is commonly described as an anti-war polemic. Since it is about a hero, killed 1917 who returns as a ghost to see how the wartime sacrifice has been squandered in peace, it is really an attack on Coward’s own times. What is extraordinary is the breadth of the assault: church, state, a mendacious press all come under Coward’s critical fire in a play about what, in a sketch from Beyond the Fringe, was called The Aftermyth of War. It is no surprise, after this, that the Observer critic, St John Greer Ervine, dubbed Coward a “Savonarola in evening dress”.

(Read more)


(Michael Paulson’s article appeared in The New York Times, 3/16/2023; via Pam Green; Photo: Stephen Sondheim’s long-in-the-works Luis Buñuel musical will be staged in September at the Shed.Credit…Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times.)

His long-gestating final show, now titled “Here We Are,” is coming to the Shed; it is inspired by two Luis Buñuel films.

Stephen Sondheim’s long-in-the-works Luis Buñuel musical, which he described as unfinished just days before his death, will be staged in New York this fall, giving audiences the chance to see the final show by one of the most important artists in musical theater history.

The musical, now titled “Here We Are,” is inspired by two Buñuel films, “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie” and “The Exterminating Angel.” Sondheim wrote the music and lyrics; the book is by the playwright David Ives (“Venus in Fur”), and Joe Mantello (“Wicked”) will direct.

The show, scheduled to begin performances in September, will be a commercial Off Broadway venture, produced by Tom Kirdahy (“Hadestown”) in a 500-seat theater at the Shed, a multidisciplinary arts venue in Hudson Yards. The Shed, a nonprofit, is being described as a co-presenter.

It is not entirely clear when Sondheim began working on the show, but he first discussed it publicly in 2014, and there were delays and setbacks in the years following. He talked about it occasionally during public appearances; for a time it was called “Buñuel,” and then “Square One”; it was backed at various points by the commercial producer Scott Rudin and by the nonprofit Public Theater. And there were workshops over the years, including one in 2016, and one in 2021 featuring Nathan Lane and Bernadette Peters; casting for the production at the Shed has not been announced, but there are no indications that Lane and Peters have remained with the project.

In an interview days before his death in late 2021, Sondheim described it this way: “I don’t know if I should give the so-called plot away, but the first act is a group of people trying to find a place to have dinner, and they run into all kinds of strange and surreal things, and in the second act, they find a place to have dinner, but they can’t get out.”

Sondheim described the show as incomplete, as did some of his collaborators in the days following his death. It is not clear what state it was in when he died, and what kind of work has been done to it since.

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(Dalya Alberge’s article appeared in the Guardian, 3/18; via Pam Green.)

The acclaimed actor – who is to receive a lifetime achievement award at this year’s Olivier Awards – says the demise of repertory theatre is putting paid to the vocal prowess

The demise of repertory theatre, where young actors once learned their craft in a resident company, has taken its toll on vocal technique with words “becoming less important” in live performance, according to one of the nation’s most acclaimed stars of stage and screen.

Sir Derek Jacobi told the Observer that “the use of voice, the magic of voice, has all but disappeared [in the theatre]”.

He called for actors and directors “to bring back a sense of vocal expertise, to make the words more important than the sight”. He said: “One of the magic things in the theatre – the uniqueness of the theatre – is the sound. The voice that can fill an auditorium from the front row to the back of the gods is thrilling.”

He added: “It’s the use of voice to express feeling and to lift the words off the page and inhabit them and give them a soul and a sense of feeling and a life.”

Jacobi, who honed his craft with the Birmingham Rep, is about to receive the lifetime achievement award at this year’s Olivier Awards, Britain’s most prestigious stage honours.

Organised by the Society of London Theatre, the ceremony takes place on 2 April at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

It pays tribute to Jacobi’s “remarkable” 60-year career on stage and screen, with acclaimed performances in Shakespeare, both in film and theatre, on the small screen – including I, Claudius and Last Tango in Halifax – and in films such as The King’s Speech.

Jacobi won Olivier Awards for Cyrano de Bergerac and Twelfth Night, and in 1994 was awarded a knighthood for his services to theatre.

He was a founding member of the Royal National Theatre, enlisted by Laurence Olivier himself.

People think they can enter the world of acting by the back door … without putting in the basic groundwork

“He saw me at the Birmingham Rep. The first job he gave me was playing Laertes to Peter O’Toole’s Hamlet, and I stayed with him for the next seven years,” Jacobi said.

He joked that Olivier could also be “a bugger”, even making him cry in one rehearsal. “I was taking over from Albert Finney, a big star. Olivier came to watch the rehearsal. and was vitriolic to me. He hated what he saw and told me so. I was no Albert Finney and I needed to be told that.”

Asked whether Olivier gave constructive criticism, he recalled: “At the time, I thought no. I went away and cried. But of course it was. He wouldn’t destroy just for the sake of destroying. He was better than that. If he destroyed, he created at the same time.”

Of his three years with the Birmingham Rep, he recalled: “We [performed] a new play every four weeks. When I first went, I was absolutely the complete amateur. I was surrounded by very good professional actors and it was a great learning experience.”

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