BROADWAY’S CAPITALIST MODEL ISN’T PERFECT, BUT HERE’S WHY IT WORKS, AND WHAT CAN BE FIXED ·

(Chris Jones’s article appeared in the Chicago Tribune, 4/22; Photo:  Aaron Tveit and Karen Olivo during a shutdown. Olivo has since left the cast. (Matthew Murphy via AP/AP)

The anti-capitalists are gunning for Broadway.

In a recent article in American Theatre, the editor Rob Weinert-Kendt opined that regional theaters had “fallen short in a lot of ways by following a similar, Broadway-focused industrial model.” In the same online magazine, Brandon Ivie, the associate artistic director of the Village Theatre of Issaquah, Wash., wrote: “I’m looking ahead with an understanding that capitalism is the real enemy.”

And in a recent Instagram video announcing her departure from the show “Moulin Rouge!,” the Broadway artist Karen Olivo advocated for actors dropping their affiliation with Actors Equity, the traditional labor union for theater workers, as part of a decommissioning of what she sees as a corrupt system.

 “The dream of making art?,” Olivo said, referencing Broadway. “The moment we stepped into this capitalistic structure, that went away.”

Did it, though?

Consider, for example, the moment when the first Black president of the United States, Barack Obama, attended the Broadway revival of “A Raisin in the Sun,” with the lead role performed by Denzel Washington, the leading Black actor of his generation. For anyone there that night, it was a stunning example of the capitalist sector of the American theater heralding racial progress and become part of a transformation that the author of the play, Lorraine Hansberry, surely could not even have imagined. Nothing quite like that ever has happened in the nonprofit sector.

Or consider the night at “Hamilton” when an entire cast of supremely talented, diverse actors summoned up the courage to directly address Vice President-elect Mike Pence, their guts and the size of their capitalistic platform immediately making headlines around the world and infuriating Pence’s boss, Donald J. Trump, who was just learning the power of Twitter. For anyone interested in progressive reforms or the activism of people of color, this was a night to remember. And it was capitalist down to the tips of its toes.

Or think about the remarkable artist David Byrne telling a rapt Broadway audience to “say their name,” a reference to all the Black lives lost to police shootings. And many hearing that for the first time.

What about the cast of “Dear Evan Hansen?” Were they not making art when they dramatized the pain of being a teenager struggling with the micro-aggressions of everyday life? What about the cast of “Hadestown,” when they found the political potency in Anais Mitchell’s lyrics to “Why We Build the Wall?” What about the artists behind “Moulin Rouge!,” anticipating the losses we were all about to share in the pandemic?

What about playing Jasmine in “Aladdin” and making a young person smile? Can you not produce an artistic act while working for the huge publicly held company known as Disney?

Sure you can. It is one thing to call for reforms in an industry, which, in all fairness, was certainly Olivo’s intention given that she was responding to the allegations against the producer Scott Rudin, whom an article in the Hollywood Reporter alleged had been a harsh and injurious boss. But it’s another to decry the one sector of the American theater that truly can support its artists so that they may live the kind of middle-class life that come so much easier to others.

The antipathy for the commercial sector of the theater, especially from the inside and often fueled by envy or elitism, is far from new. It was common in the 1990s for academics to look down on great commercial playwrights like Wendy Wasserstein, arguing without much evidence that working in a marketplace blunted their potential radicalism. And artists from the nonprofit sector long have railed against what they saw as compromises for popularity: Joseph Papp of the New York Public Theater famously hated the soppy Marvin Hamlisch song “What I Did For Love” in “A Chorus Line” and wanted it cut. Had that happened, far fewer people would have better understood the struggles of the dancer’s life. It was an entry point. It put a lot of dancers’ kids through college.

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‘WEST SIDE STORY’: THE REMAKE OF THE 1961 CLASSIC HITS THEATERS DEC. 10. ·

(Aaron Couch’s article appeared in the Hollywood Reporter, 4/25; Photo: Twentieth Century Fox.)

The first trailer for West Side Story danced its way to the Oscars on Sunday night.

Steven Spielberg’s remake of the 1961 classic stars Ansel Elgort as Tony and Rachel Zegler as Maria.

Spielberg directed from a script by his Lincoln and Munich writer Tony Kushner. West Side Story, which draws inspiration from Romeo and Juliet, originated as a 1957 Broadway musical written by Arthur Laurents with music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and concept, direction and choreography by Jerome Robbins. It tells the story of star-crossed lovers torn between two gangs, the Jets and the Sharks.

The 20th Century film wrapped in October 2019 and has been awaiting release after being delayed a year by COVID-19. It is now due out Dec. 10.

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RARE PHOTOS OF LEGENDARY BALLETS RUSSES ON TOURS ABROAD ·

(Anna Sorokina’s article appeared in Russia Beyond the Headlines, 8/24; Photos above, credit: E. O. Hoppé; A.Botkin; The New York Public Library.)

The world glory of the Russian ballet started with these performances by Serge Diaghilev’s dancers.

At the beginning of the 20th century, impresario Serge Diaghilev organized regular tours of Russian artists abroad. The first performances were held in 1907-1908 in Paris under the title of ‘Saisons Russe’ (Russian Seasons) and included the operas ‘Boris Godunov’, ‘Prince Igor’, ‘The Maid of Pskov’ and ‘Ruslan and Ludmila’. In 1909, Diaghilev also included a ballet program in Saisons Russe, in which the dancers of the Mariinsky and Bolshoi Theaters starred. 

Poster for the Saison Russe at the Théâtre du Châtelet, 1909.

The following year, he decided to show only ballet performances and, in 1911, the impresario turned the seasonal tours into the itinerant ‘Ballets Russes’ company, based in Monte Carlo.

Ballets Russes in Seville, Spain, 1916.

The most important of Diaghilev’s achievements was the discovery of new musical names. Among his troupe were the most famous dancers of Imperial Russia: Anna Pavlova, Tamara Karsavina, Vaslav Nijinsky, Yekaterina Geltzer. Michael Fokine accompanied the troupe as a choreographer. The costumes were created by Léon Bakst and Alexandre Benois and the composer for early programs was Igor Stravinsky.

Ballets Russes during the rehearsal: at the piano on the right is composer Igor Stravinsky, and standing is Michael Fokine. In the center is ballerina Tamara Karsavina.

The season of 1909 opened in the Parisian Théâtre du Châtelet with the five performances by Fokine: ‘Le Pavillon d’Armide’ (The Pavilion of Armide) with Pavlova and Nijinsky, ‘Polovtsian Dances’ (a scene from ‘Prince Igor’), dance suite ‘Le Festin’ (The Feast), romantic ballet ‘La Sylphide’ (The Sylph), and ‘Cléopâtre’ (Cleopatra) ballet. All the premieres were welcomed by the audience with great enthusiasm and Russian ballet became a world known brand. 

Serge Diaghilev and friends. // Ballets Russes in London.

The 1910 and 1911 seasons were also held in Berlin and Brussels. It started with Fokine’s new ballets: ‘Carnaval’, which the maestro considered his best work, ‘L’Oiseau de feu’ (The Firebird) with Tamara Karsavina, Scheherazade, Giselle, and ‘Les Orientales’ (dances from various ballets).

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IRELAND: DRUID’S NEW PRODUCTION EXPLORES THE MIND AND IMAGINATION OF EAVAN BOLAND ·

(Deirdre Falvey’s article appeared in the Irish Times, 4/20; One of Frances Kelly’s paintings, a portrait of her daughter Eavan Boland as a young girl. It features in the poster for Druid’s Boland: Journey of a Poet.)

Performance piece edited by Colm Tóibín will livestream one year after the poet’s death

It’s morning in California for Colm Tóibín, with sun streaming in the window; Garry Hynes is in Dublin as the dullish day ends. Technology enabling the conversation will also allow streaming of Druid Theatre’s latest project, Boland: Journey of a Poet, a new theatrical production about poet Eavan Boland, edited by Tóibín and directed by Hynes, towards the end of April, one year after Boland’s death.

Their locations are serendipitously appropriate, as Boland’s life and work had one foot in Stanford and one in suburban Dublin. The production explores the mind and imagination of one of Ireland’s great poets, melds her life and her work, as she did herself, “in the large, uncharted space between the lyrical and the political” as Tóibín describes.

Hynes and Druid were “looking at poetry, at a time where I think there’s a great need for the people to connect” and asked Tóibín to curate a series of poems over the 20th century. What started as one production – Coole Park Poetry Series of 10 actors reading 10 poems, from Austin Clark to Paula Meehan, broadcast during St Patrick’s Festival and more outings to come – grew into a second project.

Tóibín talks about “the two volumes of autobiographical essays, which are remarkable, which throw extraordinary light on the poetry, and on the life”.

“Slowly it emerged that, actually you could make a piece from that, using the poems and using the prose, and that they could throw light on each other, and you could make a narrative.” You could do that, said Colm. Could you do that, asked Garry. They both laugh now.

He came at it from a point of knowing Boland, having spent two periods at Stanford (in 2006 and 2008), where she led the writing programme, as well as return visits and many events and festivals, including Kilkenny, together. In Stanford, “she would call my office and say Colm, can I come up for a minute. We just talked poetry. She had an astonishing knowledge of what was happening in American poetry, and in Irish poetry too”.

She knew the poets personally, knew each poem: “I got an education from her. Hearing the voice I knew from the radio, in different contexts. I really found her tremendously good company as well. Very, very funny. She ran the programme and had an astonishing amount of power, which she used judiciously and kindly.”

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“SIX GUN JUSTICE” WITH PAUL BISHOP PODCAST: ROBERT DWYER & AUSTIN WRIGHT ON THEIR BOOK: ‘THE SHERIFF’ (FROM TWODOT BOOKS) ·

Listen

Hang out around the Six-Gun Justice water cooler for another Six-Gun Justice Conversation segment.  Co-host Paul Bishop talks with Western writers Austin Wright & Robert Dwyer, whose debut Western novel, The Sheriff, was released in April.

 

View The Sheriff on Amazon 

Reviews

I think that THE SHERIFF by Robert Dwyer and Austin Wright has a chance to be judged one of those rare modern Western fiction classics. The authors somehow manage to be both traditional and surprising on every page. … The town of Three Chop, grizzled Sheriff John Donovan, assorted outlaws radiating real menace, women just as desperate and cunning as any of the menfolk—there’s damned fine storytelling here.– Jeff Guinn, New York Times bestselling author of The Last Gunfight: The Real Story of the Shootout at the O.K. Corral―And How It Changed the American West

THE SHERIFF is the debut novel from authors Robert Dwyer and Austin Wright, and a strong debut it is. There are definite echoes of the traditional Western here but a more literary sensibility to the writing and plotting. It’s a bleak but impressive yarn and well worth reading if you’re looking for a Western that’s a bit offbeat while retaining a fondness for what’s gone before.– James Reasoner, New York Times bestselling author

About the Authors

Robert Dwyer is a history buff with an abiding interest in the West, which looms large in the American psyche–a canvas for big stories and big ideas. He lives with his wife and dog in Alexandria, Virginia.

Austin Wright started watching John Wayne movies with his dad before he was old enough to talk–and he’s been hooked on Westerns ever since. He lives with his wife, son, and daughter in Annandale, Virginia.

Read their interviews on Stage Voices:

Part 1 

Part 2  

 

REJECTED BROADWAY POSTERS ON SALE TO HELP THEATER COMMUNITY ·

(Mark Kennedy’s article appeared on the AP, 4/19; via Pam Green.)

This combination of photos shows rejected theatrical poster art from “Cabaret, from left, “Equus,” and “Matilda The Musical,” designed by Frank Verlizzo and available for purchase. All proceeds go to the aid organization Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. (Frank Verlizzo via AP)

NEW YORK (AP) — Letting the world see your failures is usually something most people try to avoid. Not for theatrical poster designer Frank Verlizzo — he hopes you’ll put his on your wall.

Verlizzo is selling prints of his rejected posters for such shows as “Cabaret,” “Equus” and “Matilda” with all proceeds going to the aid organization Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

“It’s exciting for me because it’s work that I particularly loved that I didn’t think anyone was ever going to see,” says the artist. “So it’s kind of wonderful that they’re now out in the world, for better or for worse.”

The 16 posters included in the series — each goes for $399 with a frame — were either rejected, never pitched or part of a group of submissions that Verlizzo made that allowed only one winner.

One highlight is an alternative poster for “The Lion King.” Disney, of course, went for Verlizzo’s stark animal mane stamp that has become iconic. But now people can mount an unpublished design of his which uses paw prints from King Mufasa and newborn Simba to illustrate both the past and the future.

“There are a million reasons why a poster gets rejected for a show,” he explains. “It’s a room full of people. It’s like one big beauty contest. Everybody has their favorites.”

The offerings include an intriguing one for “Matilda” that uses letters of the alphabet to make up a graphic portrait of the imaginative heroine. Verlizzo created it for the Broadway run of the musical but producers decided to keep the previous West End campaign.

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THE BRIEF, BRILLIANT AND RADICAL LIFE OF LORRAINE HANSBERRY ·

(Parul Sehgal’s article appeared in The New York Times, 4/14; via Pam Green. Photo: The playwright Lorraine Hansberry in 1959. Credit…David Attie/Getty Images.)

The curtain rises on a dim, drab room. An alarm sounds, and a woman wakes. She tries to rouse her sleeping child and husband, calling out: “Get up!”

It is the opening scene — and the injunction — of Lorraine Hansberry’s 1959 play “A Raisin in the Sun,” the story of a Black family living on the South Side of Chicago. “Never before, in the entire history of the American theater, had so much of the truth of Black people’s lives been seen on the stage,” her friend James Baldwin would later recall. It was the first play by a Black woman to be produced on Broadway. When “Raisin” won the New York Drama Critics’ Circle award for best play, Hansberry — at 29 — became the youngest American and the first Black recipient.

How often the word “first” appears in the life of Hansberry; how often it will appear in this review. See also “spokeswoman” or “only.” Strange words of praise; meretricious even, in how they can mask the isolation they impose. Hansberry seemed to anticipate it all. At the triumphant premiere of “Raisin,” at the standing ovation and the calls for playwright to take the stage, she initially refused to leave her seat. “The thing that makes you exceptional, if you are at all,” she later wrote, “is inevitably that which must also make you lonely.”

Hansberry died in 1965, at 34, of cancer. The fact still feels intolerable, almost unassimilable — her death not merely tragedy but a kind of theft. “Look at the work that awaits you!” she said in a speech to young writers, calling them “young, gifted and Black” — inspiring the Nina Simone song of the same name. Look at the work that awaited her. She goaded herself on, even in the hospital: “Comfort has come to be its own corruption.”

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STEPHEN SONDHEIM & JOHN WEIDMAN’S ‘ASSASSINS’ GATHERS A KILLER ROSTER OF PERFORMERS ·

(Charles McNulty’s article appeared in the LA Times, 4/16; via Pam Green.)

Members of three “Assassins” casts perform “Everybody’s Got the Right” during the Classic Stage Company’s filmed benefit.

(Classic Stage Company)

“Assassins” is a hard musical to love, but maybe even a harder one to forget.

This show by Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman is built around a rogue’s gallery of infamous Americans who tried, in some cases successfully, to kill the president of the United States. As a description, “audacious” seems far too tame for a musical that searches for the pep in pathological and even makes treason tuneful.

Cognitive dissonance is built into a work that saves some of its prettiest melodies for the most murderous maniacs. Frank Rich, in his review of the 1991 off-Broadway premiere at Playwrights Horizons, called it “an antimusical about antiheroes.” The show was a hit off-Broadway, but it took 13 years for this disturbing vaudeville to make it to Broadway.

A planned 2001 Broadway production, directed by Joe Mantello, was postponed because of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. With the country still smoldering, how could audiences be expected to turn out for a musical that includes one attempted assassin who wanted to hijack a plane and crash it into the White House?

If history always seems to be bumping into “Assassins,” it’s probably because the dark cultural currents that give rise to John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald and their copycat kind are continually being replenished in a nation that enjoys dividing its citizens into winners and losers.

The tumultuous history of “Assassins” is recalled in “Tell the Story: Celebrating Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman’s ‘Assassins,’” a vibrant recorded benefit for New York’s Classic Stage Company, conceived and directed by artistic director John Doyle, one of Sondheim’s most inventive contemporary interpreters.

Doyle was in rehearsal with “Assassins” last year when New York performance venues were forced to close because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The show will reopen the off-Broadway theater later this year, and this documentary (available till Monday) is both a salute to the musical and to the scrappy brilliance of theater artists, whose survival is being tested like never before.

How will the show play after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol? Possibly no longer as an exhibition of deranged, fame-seeking extremists but as a window into widespread American grievance. “Everybody’s Got the Right,” the musical’s opening (and closing) number, looks at what can happen when the government is blamed for standing in the way of a disaffected citizen’s pursuit of happiness.

In her preface to the documentary, Hillary Clinton calls attention to the dire situation of theaters, like CSC, which are struggling to resuscitate themselves after being dark for so long. If anyone has the right to be unsettled by “Assassins,” it’s the former secretary of State, senator and first lady, who, despite all the obstacles thrown in her path, came within a hair’s breadth of becoming our first woman president. But with the authority of someone who knows the dark underbelly of American politics, she makes the case for a musical that “dares its audience to see our country and assess our national myths through the eyes of our villains instead of our heroes.”

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