Lincoln Center’s dark legacy

My essay in the July/August double issue of Commentary is about Lincoln Center. Here’s an excerpt.

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Lincoln Center, the first major urban performing-arts center in America, was well on its way to completion a half-century ago. The New York City Ballet, the New York City Opera, and the New York Philharmonic had already moved there, and the Metropolitan Opera followed suit in 1966. Theatrical productions began to be mounted in the Vivian Beaumont Theater by the end of 1965, and the Juilliard School and the School of American Ballet relocated to its 16-acre campus a few years later. This unprecedented consolidation remains to this day unrivaled in scope: No other performing-arts center dominates the artistic life of a great American city so totally.

lincoln_center3In recent years, though, Lincoln Center has weathered an equally unprecedented series of crises. The New York City Opera stopped performing there in 2011 and closed its doors two years later. Shortly thereafter, the Metropolitan Opera was forced to contend with a fiscal meltdown that threatens its very survival. Meanwhile, the New York Philharmonic, whose concert hall is closing in 2019 for desperately needed interior renovations, announced that Alan Gilbert, its music director, will be stepping down from that post in 2017 after a tenure widely regarded as lackluster….

Hence it is unusually timely that Reynold Levy, who served as Lincoln Center’s president from 2002 to 2014, has published a memoir noteworthy both for its candor and its smugness. As its title suggests, They Told Me Not to Take That Job: Tumult, Betrayal, Heroics, and the Transformation of Lincoln Center is even more self-serving than most books of its genre. Levy all too clearly sees himself as the heroic figure who single-handedly wrought “transformational change” in the face of “seemingly intractable problems,” and he believes that most of Lincoln Center’s remaining difficulties are the result of certain of its constituents having stubbornly refused to take his advice….

Levy’s indictments are plausible as far as they go. They ignore, however, the fact that Lincoln Center’s original designers made irreversible miscalculations whose long-term consequences are now glaringly apparent and increasingly dire….

In the end, Lincoln Center is best understood as a historical accident, one that has had a distorting and destructive effect on the performing arts elsewhere in America….

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Read the whole thing here.

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So you want to see a show?

Here’s my list of recommended Broadway, off-Broadway, and out-of-town shows, updated weekly. In all cases, I gave these shows favorable reviews (if sometimes qualifiedly so) in The Wall Street Journal when they opened. For more information, click on the title.

An American in Paris (musical, G, too complex for small children, virtually all performances sold out last week, reviewed here)
Fun Home (serious musical, PG-13, all performances sold out last week, reviewed here)
A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder (musical, PG-13, nearly all performances sold out last week, reviewed here)
Hand to God (black comedy, X, absolutely not for children or prudish adults, reviewed here)
The King and I (musical, G, perfect for children with well-developed attention spans, all performances sold out last week, reviewed here)
Matilda (musical, G, all performances sold out last week, reviewed here)
Les Misérables (musical, G, too long and complicated for young children, reviewed here)
On the Town (musical, G, contains double entendres that will not be intelligible to children, reviewed here)

Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps (comedy, G, ideal for bright children, remounting of Broadway production, original production reviewed here)
The Fantasticks (musical, G, suitable for children capable of enjoying a love story, reviewed here)
The Flick (serious comedy, PG-13, too long for young people with limited attention spans, closes Aug. 30, reviewed here)

10014602_10153394661070797_5076908638098174684_nIN GARRISON, N.Y.:
A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Shakespeare, PG-13, closes Aug. 28, reviewed here)

Doubt (drama, PG-13, closes Aug. 2, reviewed here)

On the Twentieth Century (musical, G/PG-13, virtually all performances sold out last week, closes July 19, contains very mild sexual content, reviewed here)

The Tempest (Shakespeare, G, reviewed here)

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Snapshot: the first Academy Awards telecast

TV CAMERAThe opening of the twenty-fifth Academy Awards ceremony, the first to be televised. The ceremony, which took place on March 19, 1953, was introduced by Charles Brackett, co-author of the screenplays for The Lost Weekend and Sunset Boulevard, and began with a monologue by Bob Hope, the master of ceremonies. Ronald Reagan was the off-camera narrator:

(This is the latest in a series of arts-related videos that appear in this space each Monday and Wednesday.)

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Lookback: on nursing a loved one

LOOKBACKFrom 2005:

For years my mother took care of me whenever I needed taking care of, wiping my brow and mending my scrapes, listening to me gripe about the slightest ache or pain (I was no better a patient as a boy than I am as a man). If she ever complained, it wasn’t to me. Now it’s my turn, and you’d think I’d be able to face the moderate rigors of two weeks’ part-time nursing duty with more grace.

If I were a better person, I could at least assure myself that this is a spiritual exercise, a refiner’s fire that will toughen my character and make me more considerate and forgiving upon my return to Manhattan. Would that it were so. I’m sure the sheer relief of shedding my cares will leave me dizzy with joy come Friday, but I’m no less sure I’ll be my old impatient self within a week at most, wondering why the world isn’t capable of ordering itself with a more comprehensive regard to my immediate needs….

Read the whole thing here.

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Almanac: Hank Hill on stupidity

INK BOTTLE“I don’t have an anger problem, I have an idiot problem.”

Alan R. Cohen and Alan Freedland, “The Texas Skilsaw Massacre” (a 2002 episode of King of the Hill)

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In the director’s chair

directors-chair.jpg-nggid03282-ngg0dyn-320x240x100-00f0w010c010r110f110r010t010I have big news. The simplest and best way to break it is to reprint the following press release from Florida’s Palm Beach Dramaworks, which went out this morning. It speaks for itself, and for me.

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Terry Teachout, drama critic for The Wall Street Journal, playwright, librettist, and biographer, will add another title to his impressive list of accomplishments when he makes his directorial debut next season with Palm Beach Dramaworks’ production of his acclaimed first play, Satchmo at the Waldorf. The piece, in which Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong reminisces about his life and career just months before his death, closes out PBD’s 2015-2016 season.

“I invited Terry to direct the play because he seemed like an inspired choice,” says PBD Producing Artistic Director William Hayes. “He obviously knows the piece better than anyone. He’s very familiar with our theatre, as he’s been coming here for years. During that time, I’ve gotten to know him and we’ve had fascinating conversations about theatre, about productions we had both seen and he had reviewed. We were often on the same page, and I was deeply impressed by his acuity. He’s also talked to me about Satchmo at the Waldorf, and I think he’ll bring new insights and a fresh perspective to his play.”

oSays Teachout: “I was surprised and apprehensive when Bill asked me to lunch one day and said that he wanted me to direct the play. I staged a run-through of an incomplete version of Satchmo in a workshop setting in 2011, but that’s the only time I’ve ever directed anything, anywhere. It seemed like a really interesting process, though, and when the New England premiere was mounted in Lenox the following year, I went to every single rehearsal—even the tech rehearsals. I also talked in great detail to Gordon Edelstein, the director, about the process as it was unfolding. I had a feeling that a time might come someday when I’d want to try directing the show myself, and that it’d be smart for me to pay attention. When Bill approached me about staging Satchmo, I knew I’d never get a better chance than this—to work with a company I admire in a theatre I know well. He’s a persuasive guy, and he said, ‘We won’t toss you in at the deep end without a life vest.’ That sealed the deal. By the end of lunch, I’d either talked myself into it or let Bill talk me into it—I’m not sure which!”

Teachout, a native of Missouri who was a professional jazz bassist for eight years, has had an uncommonly diverse career. Best known as a drama critic, he has also been a dance and music critic, an editorial writer, and a member of the National Council on the Arts. He has written the libretti for three operas by Paul Moravec and is the author of several books, including The Skeptic: A Life of H.L. Mencken, All in the Dances: A Brief Life of George Balanchine, Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong, and Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington. Satchmo at the Waldorf was written after the Armstrong biography.

The much-lauded play has already been seen in Orlando, Lenox, New Haven, Philadelphia, New York (off-Broadway), and Los Angeles, and upcoming productions are scheduled for San Francisco, Chicago, and Colorado Springs in addition to PBD.

PBD Interiors 02“I’ve loved all the productions so far,” says Teachout. “Of course I’ve always had notions of my own about how the play might be done, but I never felt like they were right and everybody else’s ideas were wrong—they were just different. So when I stage Satchmo, I’m not going to act like I’m the author and this is my big chance to finally get it all right. I don’t feel that way. Instead, I want to approach the play strictly as a director, a guy who comes in, sits down, and says, ‘O.K., here we all are. Here’s this script. Now, what can we do together to make it work?’ I do have some preliminary production ideas based on my knowledge of PBD’s auditorium and the designers we’ve picked, but they’re completely up for grabs. I’m going to start from scratch—working on this play, in this theatre, with these people. It’s the opportunity of a lifetime, and I’m grateful beyond words for it.”

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For more information on Palm Beach Dramaworks’ production of Satchmo at the Waldorf, which runs May 11-June 12, 2016, go here.

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Just because: Paul Scofield in King Lear

TV CAMERAAn excerpt from Peter Brook’s 1969 film of King Lear, starring Paul Scofield as Lear, Jack MacGowran as the Fool, and Irene Worth as Goneril:

(This is the latest in a series of arts-related videos that appear in this space each Monday and Wednesday.)

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Almanac: Paul Scofield on glamour and the serious actor

INK BOTTLE“Glamour is a trap if you go just for that. It does not develop the ability. At first when one starts acting one is really searching for an identity. Work is really the sole means of an education. I don’t mean by that either you or I were not educated properly when we were at school. But perhaps the real knowledge that we have came afterwards, through our work.

“When that realisation comes to an actor he has reached the crossroads. Either he becomes an actor of ego, or a worker.”

Paul Scoield (quoted in Garry O’Connor, Paul Scofield: An Actor for All Seasons)

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