Results tagged “Broad Street Review” from Drama Queen
Since it's making the rounds and I've received multiple queries asking what exactly went down, here's my take on the whole Media Theatre thing. And it was so calm around here for a while.
Yes, Media artistic director Jesse Cline attempted to keep me from reviewing his production of Jekyll and Hyde: The Musical. He then took time during his opening night curtain call to say, "There is a critic here who will probably trash this show." (He was right, but not for the reasons he elaborated. He thinks I hate melodrama; I don't. However, I did leave the production thinking Jekyll and Hyde: The Musical is a load of thick and greasy schmaltz, minus the nutritional value.) He came out to my seat in the audience to continue the discussion, loudly, while jabbing an accusatory finger at my friend and colleague, Jim Rutter (who--poor guy--was also at my left hand when I reviewed Love Jerry). Finally, the company used quotes from my review, out of context, to promote the production in question. So it goes.
But that's not really why I feel compelled to comment on what happened in Mr. Cline's theater. Unless his board of directors feels otherwise, it's Mr. Cline's pulpit, and if he wants to use it for bullying purposes, fine. My editors felt it best to leave out any mention of the incident, and that's also fine. My record with this particular theater shows that despite similar previous antics on their part, I've always reviewed them without bias.
No, my complaint is with Broad Street Review editor Dan Rottenberg, who published a review of the show by Rutter, then insulted him for his conclusions, lack of credentials and professionalism. What Cline did was childish and unprofessional; what Rutter did was his job. If Rottenberg doesn't like the content of Rutter's review, it's his job as editor to return the review for a rewrite, and explain where Rutter's logic doesn't work; having written for Rottenberg once before, I can attest to his willingness to send a journalist back to the drawing board, and make a review better for it. But it's certainly not his job to use one of his writers' articles, an article he's supposedly vetted for its coherence and readiness for viewing, as a springboard for his own attack on that writer. An editor is supposed to have your back, not stab you in it.
Rutter is most certainly a professional, as is evidenced not only by Rottenberg's and others' willingness to pay him for his reviews, but by his own education, experience and acceptance into and participation in the National Endowment for the Arts' Fellowship in Theatre and Musical Theatre. Mr. Rottenberg, I return to the question posed by you and Mr. Cline: Considering Rutter's history of effort of behalf of your publication, why would you want to hurt him?
Since I never got around to posting my critique of American Idiot for the Broad Street Review, the show's Best Musical Tony nod and an article by Jon Pareles in today's New York Times seem as good excuses as any to get it up here. But that's not really my purpose today.
Pareles, as a pop music critic, doesn't generally cover theater. And let's face it, it's kind of depressing that a journalist who's been covering rock since the '70s only now feels that the form is reaching a critical mass on the Broadway stage. Seems sort of an exercise in emphasizing how woefully out of touch with popular culture Broadway has become. But to me--and mind you, I love me some Green Day--the less obvious discussion is this: will it take another 40 years before hip-hop makes a dent on Broadway? I guess In the Heights tossed rap into its bag of tricks, but that show's cockeyed optimism only scratched the surface of hip-hop's depth and potential.
It's true commercial hip-hop is in a fallow period right now, with teenybopper pop/rap crossovers dominating the airwaves, but there's certainly no shortage of a back catalog or hungry up-and-comers. With players such as rapper Jay-Z and Jada Pinkett Smith--yeah, her own band favors thrash metal, but c'mon son, her husband's Will Smith, king of populist hip-hop--getting into the producing game (for Fela!) things might soon change. However, if and when they do, Broadway will still be years behind Hollywood, which already mined the genre and its artists for years. I mean, even Vanilla Ice got his own movie way back in 1991.
Eric Rosen and Matt Sax's Venice--a rap version of Othello--is currently bringing some buzz, and its appearance in October at L.A.'s Kirk Douglas Theatre might serve as a launching pad for even wider success. And maybe it will take two white kids assimilating rap into Shakespeare for other producers to be open to that music's inherent potential. But it's just plain astonishing that no one has bothered to dig into the operatic rise and fall of Eazy-E, or built a blow-your-mind jukeboxer around Notorious B.I.G.'s Life After Death (free idea: round out the score with some Li'l Kim), or hired Queen Latifah to do in a jewel box what she does best in arenas, or tapped Lil Wayne or Outkast, or hey, the Jigga man himself, to add their particular musical vision to the American Songbook.
I've been asked by about 10 people to weigh in on Spring Awakening, whose national tour is currently writhing through Philly's Academy of Music. However, rather than write a review, which my colleague Toby Zinman has already done very nicely in today's Philadelphia Inquirer, I'll just say that I loved it, and instead, offer a list of 10 thoughts (one for each of you) Spring Awakening awoke in me.
10: Northeast Philly got something right. I know, I know, it's the "Great Northeast," but so far, the greatest contribution they've made to the performing arts landscape is Blake Bashoff (at left, with Kyle Riabko as Melchior), a Washington High grad who plays the troubled (ok, they're all troubled) Moritz. Maybe I've forgotten some great Neezer (besides my cousin AJ Slick, who happens to be the best Stevie Ray Vaughn cover artist ever to sling on a Gibson). If I have, I'm sure someone will remind me.
9: The Spring Awakening song "Totally Fucked" sounds a lot like the Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson song "Life Sucks." In fact, both shows share a similar theme. A rock musical about 19th century adolescents? An emo musical about the adolescent behavior of a future president? Same diff.
8: I was surprised to see how closely the musical stuck to Frank Wedekind's source material. A season or two ago, a local company (Or rather, local now. They arrived in our fair city from New Orleans by way of a gal named Katrina.), EgoPo Productions, did an expressionistic rendering of the original, complete with masks. It was startling stuff, and I'm pretty psyched that we regional viewers came in on the later end of the musical's run, if only because it gave the locals a chance to capitalize on Broadway's fortunes while simultaneously supplementing and enriching our overall theatergoing experience. More, please.
7: I'm on board with Sheik's/Sater's decision to intensify Martha's suffering in "The Dark I Know Well," changing her abuse from merely physical to both physical and sexual. Why? In a play about children's victimization by the adults charged with their care, incest is one of the few secrets Wedekind avoided, but its inclusion makes perfect sense.
6: I'm not on board with Michael Mayer's decision to make Wendla such an obviously willing participant in her... What is it? Seduction? Rape? Sexual baptism? The original take ain't pretty, but neither are the ragged emotions of Wedekind's kinder. When you're 14, sometimes no really does mean yes, and even when it doesn't, you spend years wondering if maybe it did after all. That confusion, particularly in light of Wendla's begging Melchior to beat her, also made perfect sense.
5: If you follow my Twitter/Facebook feed, I apologize for repeating myself, but I still think my favorite emotion is whatever attaches itself to a minor chord. I guess it's something between yearning and anticipation, maybe both. The best way to maintain that feeling is to make your own Duncan Sheik station on Pandora. It's like listening to the cast recording, but quieter.
4: Melchior's philosophical transformation and friendship with Moritz, among other things, reminded me of Leopold and Loeb, which reminded me that there's yet another take on their story opening here in August. Mauckingbird Theatre's production will mark the third show I've seen about those two nasty little sociopaths. Why, after all these years and crimes, do Leopold and Loeb still fascinate?
3: While discussing the show over a drink with my pal Jim Rutter, the Broad Street Review's dance/theater critic, I asked him why he liked this one so much, but disliked Rent. He answered that Rent glorified its characters, while Spring Awakening's characters (and emotions) were so much more genuine. That's true, even if it sort of misses Rent's point. But I'd wager there wouldn't be a musical Spring Awakening if Rent hadn't taken on La Boheme first.
2: What kind of a moron would bring their little kid to see a show like that? And if parents are too lazy to do their own homework, can't we at least help those kids out so they're not stuck sitting between mommy and daddy watching a sexy teen proto-Nazi masturbate onstage to Desdemona's murder? People love theater, they love turning their kids on to theater, just not necessarily, you know, turning them on. Why do movies and video games require ratings, but not theater? Sure, it's an imperfect system, and I'm not in favor of policing people's parenting, or censorship, or ignorance, but since, as Spring Awakening so deftly illustrates, parents are clueless, and more important, theaters aren't looking to alienate anyone these days, why not offer them a big fat clue right on the ads?
1: To protect the innocent, I'm keeping the year of my own forest-heavy "Purple Summer" to myself. I will say this, though: the music and circumstances may be slightly different, but it's both terrifying and comforting to know that for 118 years--at least--the lyrics to those songs have remained the same.
For an important news break.
Everyone's a Critic will continue its important work later today, but in the meantime, an interesting, blog-worthy dustup flared between Philadelphia's Wilma Theater, Sarah Ruhl's agent and the Broad Street Review (BSR), an online publication covering the city's arts and culture.
The Wilma hosted an open reading of a "surprise play," which turned out to be Ruhl's newest, In the Next Room. Several critics attended, and one, Jim Rutter, wrote what I thought was an insightful review, published by the BSR. And therein lies the rub. The Wilma claims the work is unfinished and thus shouldn't be subject to review, but the question is, if a theater promotes a reading as a newsworthy event--and certainly sending out a press release about a "surprise" by a major playwright would make it so--then isn't it a journalist's responsibility to report on that surprise? Perhaps a review is the wrong approach, but surely no one can be shocked by some aspect of the evening showing up in print or online, as Rutter and BSR publisher Dan Rottenberg note in their chain of correspondence. And considering that--Hello!--the play is all about the history of the vibrator, well, who didn't think it would generate a (cue music) throbbing, pulsing, writhing storm of controversy and attention?
It all brings me back to a discussion I had here with The Critical Condition's Mark Blankenship about my call for a review of Les Freres Corbusier's Dance Dance Revolution (DDR). (I know, I know, I promised I was done talking about it, but I can't stop myself!) Mark's position was similar to that of Wilma Artistic Director Blanka Zizka: if a work isn't ready for the public feeding frenzy that sometimes accompanies a review, it shouldn't be reviewed. In DDR's case, I believed (and still do) that if the public is being charged to attend the event, and it's receiving a full-fledged production--I'd say 50 dancers, a crazy Thunderdome set, and a soap-opera-starring leading man qualify it as such--then it's a journalist's duty to inform the theater-loving public about what transpired onstage. In the Wilma's case, I think it's a trickier call, since a staged reading makes no claims about being a fully-realized work. But again, if it's promoted as a newsworthy event, the argument could be made that it ought to covered as one. Additionally, since, as Rutter points out, "news" can be broken at any time by anyone with a Blackberry and an opinion, is it even reasonable for a playwright or theater to assume they can close the floodgates of public opinion when they're the ones who have opened them in the first place?