Results tagged “new york times” from Drama Queen

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. 

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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.


May 16, 2010 9:01 AM |
This, from today's New York Times: Michael Kimmelman's feature on The Producers' Berlin stage debut. The "Mr. Walter" in question is Falk Walter, director of the Admiralspalast, where the show is being produced, and where audience members can enjoy the proceedings from the comfort of the Fuhrer's own box seats. 

Tough times have hit theaters here. This German-language version of the show comes via Vienna, where the curtain fell on a planned yearlong run after only 10 months. One estimate put losses there at $26,000 a week. About 71 percent of seats were sold. Ticket sales here picked up a bit after the opening on Sunday but have been equally slow. And Mr. Walter can't count on a big, aging, suburban Jewish population to pad the parquet. [my italics]

Riiight. I'm guessing he probably can't count on a big, aging, urban Jewish population, either.
May 19, 2009 12:10 PM |
It's been a hell of a long week both personally and professionally, so I apologize to my regular and faithful readers for not posting more. I'll try to hit you back next week. 

In the meantime, this week I'm macking on: Philadelphia's steadily growing reputation as a hotspot for new play development. If you missed it, this New York Times feature hardly has enough room to mention all the opportunities available to playwrights here. It mentions many of our best beloved artists as well, people whose names--based on their steady and consistent output alone--certainly deserve to be circulating on the national stage, and on national stages. Bruce Graham, Michael Hollinger, Jennifer Childs, Geoff Sobelle, all outstanding Philly playwrights, and only a fraction of the total. In addition, so many of our established houses are dedicated to incorporating new work that just about every major company and some of the minors include at least one piece making in its world debut on a local stage.

This unique environment is thrilling for critics as well. I'm happy to review The Music Man or Chazz Palminteri's touring production of A Bronx Tale, as I did this week (click either to see the reviews), because they're known entities and easy writeups. But nothing will quite put you on your game and make you contend with the weight of your words like reviewing a brand new production. At that point, it's all you, baby, and you stand or fall on your own merits. As a critic, all you can do is hope that you're not the writer history remembers as the one who almost sunk our next Beckett. It's an exciting and terrifying environment in which to write, and one that probably comes closest to mimicking the opening night excitement and terror felt by those whom we critique. The way I figure it, that's only fair, and it ought to be a more frequent part of every critic's experience, though far too often, it's only a tiny portion.

This week I'm hating on: The way life keeps getting in the way of my theatergoing. I had to cut a deal with my husband last month: no more going to shows that I'm not reviewing and no more features. Of course, I've worked out a complex system of justifications to get around that, like: no more than two shows a week, and if I go to more than that it's only because I'm reviewing three or so that week, but if I don't have any reviews, then only two. And I'll only do features if my editor asks me. Or if I have a really great idea.

No, my husband's not a total a*hole. He's actually a really great guy who never shied away from a dirty diaper, helps coach our son's soccer team, and takes our daughter to horse shows even though he's really, really allergic to horses. It's just that the theater critic's schedule (out at night and writing every weekend) is not conducive to family life, at least not if you take either theater or family seriously. I'm guessing that's why there are so few mothers of young children in this gig, and it's certainly why I took a five year sabbatical from the job after our second child was born. Also, with the news industry being the way it is, and most critic spots going freelance and paying a pittance, this isn't the job of a primary breadwinner, and yet its importance and the necessity of being an expert on the topic of what's going on in theater in your town if you're writing about theater in your town hasn't lessened any. I don't know the answer, but I can certainly take up your time bitching about it here. Thanks. I feel better already.
November 14, 2008 11:36 AM | | Comments (2)
A bit late, I know, but I was very busy in synagogue yesterday atoning for all the mean things I've written about perfectly nice people during the past year. 

This week I'm macking on: journalists who drag theater out of its complacent spot as William Shakespeare's publicity machine, and into the bright light of contemporary affairs. The New York Times' Patricia Cohen wrote a chilling feature this week about the nosediving economy's effect on Broadway. The Stranger's Brendan Kiley published a hotly discussed column on how theater can fix itself (and though I might only agree with about half of his 10 fixes, the simplest--beer, babysitting, brash new works--would go a hell of a long way toward putting those coveted young butts in the seats, and keeping the old ones coming back for more). Ellis Henican keeps inviting me on his radio show to look at the election through a dramatic lens. And I'm sure there are plenty more examples I've missed that you're welcome to post below. Anything, anything journalists can do to give theater a makeover so it's no longer regarded as film's boring, uncool older sister (Ugh, that farthingale? So 500 years ago.) is a welcome change. I know it's great, you know it's great, the challenge is getting people to talk about theater as much as they talk about television and film. 

Obviously, it's a tougher goal since you have to actually leave the house to be part of the conversation, but if you can convince enough people they're missing enough of a cultural moment by staying home, or even better, can get inside their homes with a creative, interactive online presence surrounding each show (A good start? See New Paradise Laboratories' posting of auditions for its upcoming show Fatebook, a la The Real World, on its YouTube channel) and then offer them something extraordinary to discuss on their way out the door (and again, back online), you've elevated the entire sociological food chain. Nice work.

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This week I'm hating on: Oliver Stone, who gives you one more reason to spend your hard-earned entertainment dollars at a live, rather than filmed, performance. Why? Because, in the tradition of World Trade Center which was released around the five year anniversary of the attacks, his new film, W., couldn't possibly be released at a worse time. No one wants to see this now, because we've been living it for the last eight years. The right won't be interested because, well, it's Oliver Stone, and the left won't be interested because the wounds aren't just fresh, they're suppurating. Stone is such a pompous jerk that I imagine he thought he'd be doing the left a favor by helping to influence the election. Wrong and wrong. All Stone will have achieved with this film, no matter how good it is, is to remind everyone on both sides of the aisle the reason "liberal" became a dirty word (so self-righteous, so annoying). The worst part is that Josh Brolin, a genius of understated acting, might have turned in a career-making performance with this one, to say nothing of how much fun it would be to watch Richard Dreyfuss tackle the Darth Vader role (Hey, Cheney's the one who joked that his wife said the comparison 'humanized' him). 

Sure, with its epic, dynastic subject, it might be a great movie. In seven or so years. When we're in the midst of President Obama's second term, we're all driving American-made magnetic air cars and laughing about the days when we thought the nation was headed for bankruptcy and war with Iran. Boy, that was a time.

Below: Fatebook audition of "Katizzle Applebizzle from the 'hood of Minnetonka."

October 10, 2008 10:53 AM |
InConflictGroup.JPGLast season, Temple University's theater department scored a major hit with In Conflict, an original production based on former Philadelphia Daily News writer Yvonne Latty's book of the same name. The show and its undergrad cast have since gone on to a stint at New Haven's Long Wharf Theatre, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival--where they won the "Fringe First" award--and are now Off-Broadway at the Barrow Street Theater, where they received an enthusiastic review from the New York Times' Ben Brantley. 

Brantley's review picked out several of the same passages that I did when I reviewed the show last year for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Here's my review. Feel free to compare and contrast. I believe the show has changed a bit since the premiere, but we both seemed to share the same impressions:

War in Their Own Words: Vets Speak on Life and Loss

by Wendy Rosenfield

Congratulations to Temple Theaters and director Douglas C. Wager for creating In Conflict, a collection of former Philadelphia Daily News writer Yvonne Latty's interviews with Iraq war veterans that first appeared in book form, and has now been adapted for the stage.

There are many triumphs in the piece, not the least of which is the sheer variety of vets and war experiences represented, 19 in total: a Vietnam-vet officer who "bleeds red, white and blue"; an unabashed liberal enlistee who says he was sent to Iraq to be a "bullet catcher"; a triple amputee who shyly admits, "I miss my body"; a lost 26-year-old who spits, "I gave up my soul - can't nobody give me a prosthetic soul." Each story is fascinating, heartbreaking, heroic or all three, with insights as original as the individuals who generously share them. It is remarkable that with such a wide range of voices, the same themes emerge in most of their testimonies. They want the Veterans Administration to help care for their wounds, both physical and psychic, but tragically, they have mostly been abandoned. They wonder why exactly they were sent to Iraq. They wonder if civilians even care that they've nearly died defending our right to order a hot latte.

If I have any quarrel with the show it's that it could be shortened by a few narratives - not because they're irrelevant or dull, but because by including so many, they risk losing their individual impact to a sense of overload. However, I also wouldn't want to be the one to choose whom to cut and whom to keep.

So why see this version of Iraq veterans' stories instead of staying home and ordering up HBO's? Because In Conflict's most arresting feature is the irony that suffuses the whole endeavor. Latty recalls, in one of the filmed segments that appear between monologues, the disorientation she felt upon entering Walter Reed Medical Center and seeing men and women, the same age as her Villanova students, wearing the same baseball caps with shredded brims, the same t-shirts that declared their affiliations, but all missing limbs or faces. It is a similar feeling watching these uniformly excellent Temple students reciting the soldiers' tales and adopting their mannerisms. Perhaps they're so good because essentially, they're playing themselves, inhabiting a parallel universe where their doppelgangers are, instead of runnng to Wawa for a Coke, driving a booby-trapped road into hostile territory for that same Coke.

Based on the book by Yvonne Latty, adapted and directed by Douglas C. Wager, scenery by Andrew Laine, costumes by Marian Cooper, sound by Christopher Cappello, lighting by J. Dominic Chacon, video by Warren Bass.

The Cast: Tim Chambers, Sam Paul, Suyeon Kim, Sean Lally, Tom Rader, Stan Sinyakov, Danielle Pinnock, Ethan Haymes, Damon Williams, Amanda Holston, Joy Notom

Today's review marks another first for Temple, a move into Center City Philadelphia. They didn't pick the greatest show for their in-town debut, but did a serviceable job with the production. Review here.


Below: The Official Trailer for In Conflict


September 30, 2008 8:40 PM | | Comments (1)
mark.jpgMy new favorite blog is Mark Blankenship's The Critical Condition, and not just because he sparked up my Lazy Sunday by posting his distressingly catchy Silence of the Lambs hip-hop track right after a post about Eminem's imminent return. I love it because even though he's often critiquing theater for the New York Times, he's not afraid to simultaneously feed his pop culture jones. And why not? If someone has to check out Celebrity Autobiography or Perez Hilton Saves the Universe, then all the better if they own a copy of Suzanne Somers' "Touch Me," (everyone should) or check in on the pink poseur several times a day anyway. 

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At this point, Pop culture is so pop that VH1 is already loving up the naughty aughties while we're still waist deep in their muck, and FakeSarahPalin has 4,263 followers on Twitter (Yes, I'm one of them). With troupes like Les Freres Corbusier eliding easily between Schoolhouse Rock and Ibsen, it ain't enough anymore to brush up your Shakespeare. You've gotta watch New York brush up on hers as well. Or not. But still, you never know.

So hallelujah that playwrights like Tom Stoppard are there to worry about the big stuff, to school us on Havel and Housman, and that theater critics are, for the most part, thrilled to have such a deep well from which to draw. But considering the heaping helping of Pink Floyd in his latest work, it seems even Stoppard's been dipping into the shallow end of the waterhole lately. 

Though Blankenship--kicking back and mixing up his arts coverage with "Clay is gay" stories--may not save the world, he just might help save informed, professional criticism from extinction by expanding its reach outside the realm of a handful of subscribers and niche enthusiasts. And by "save it," I mean, "make a video for his Silence of the Lambs rap." Hey, whatever works.

Below: the meta-moment of the pop culture year. So far.

 


September 24, 2008 3:59 PM | | Comments (4)

If you've been keeping up with my Twitter stream, you're aware that I'm currently on vacation in Colorado. Earlier in the week my family and I spent a few days in Aspen, bunking at the Little Nell, a slopeside boutique hotel that during our stay also served as host to one of the Aspen Institute events. (Not sure which one--sadly, I wasn't invited to join them.)

On every floor of the Nell, every morning, is an eight-page photocopied version of the Times Digest. Subscribers to the New York Times are already familiar with the Digest, since they receive it daily via e-mail. Also receiving the Digest are:

"...over 50 countries... over 125,000 readers daily on all seven continents and the seven seas. Among the 400 subscribers around the globe are hotels and resorts, corporations and organizations, cruise ships and yachts, and United States Navy ships."

Since my husband's name and e-mail are on our subscription and I always read the hand-delivered version anyway, he never bothered to mention it to me, and until a couple of days ago, I never knew the Digest existed. However, once I saw it, I was immediately outraged. On vacation. In Aspen. Not cool.

It seems that the Times Digest, "designed and edited to provide a balanced selection of The Times's top stories and editorial comment, along with sports, weather, business news and the Times crossword puzzle," doesn't consider arts coverage a part of your balanced daily news intake. I guess that also follows for all those people cruising, yachting, working, playing and serving in the Navy. Again, not cool.

I feel terrible for Jenny, the poor Houston elephant afflicted with panic attacks. I also think the Bolivian witches' market sounds pretty rad in a Ripley's-Believe-It-or-Not kind of way. But are either of these stories more important than, oh, I don't know, Denver's public art and its relationship to this week's Democratic National Convention? Or if that's too Colorado-centric for you, how about Frank Gehry's sudden--and apparently involuntary--departure as architect of Brooklyn's Theater for a New Audience? Because the former made it to the Digest, but not the latter.

I get the inclusion of the business and sports highlights, even the crossword. But I'd just bet those Aspen Institute folks would rather read about Gehry than Jenny, and find it pretty insulting that the nation's paper of record doesn't consider arts news important enough to make the day's "best of" selection.

Of course, I'm basing my outrage on two days' worth of reading, but still. For even one day's worth of news from New York to be completely devoid of cultural coverage, well, that's something I just can't digest.

Update: It's Friday (Friday!) and still no arts news in the Digest.

 

August 21, 2008 10:08 PM |
In this Sunday's New York Times "Week in Review" section, Charles Isherwood laments the city's paucity of Shakespeare offerings. I usually agree with Mr. Isherwood wholeheartedly and appreciate his championing of underdog (by which I mean non-revival, non-Disney) Manhattan productions. So it pains me to say this: boo freaking hoo, dude. 

A critic who complains about the lack of Shakespeare in the city that's supposed to be "America's theatrical epicenter" is either depressed by the lack of worthwhile new productions or needs to spend a week or two of quiet contemplation in the hinterlands. Or both. I won't presume to know which state of mind applies here, but I will say that someone needs to agitate for progress on the Broadway stage, not for Shakespeare.

I mean, I understand the satisfaction that comes with good Shakespeare. I've even blogged about it. Here in Philly we have an on-season Shakespeare festival as well as an off-season one. We've got a free Shakespeare in the park, a couple of houses that have been throwing in roughly a Shakespeare-a-year, and a few smaller outfits that produce offbeat versions of the classics. Surely, not all are created equal, but if it's Shakespeare you're looking for, you can reliably find him at any point during the season.

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And yes, Chicago and D.C. have Shakespeare companies, but even though Chicago's gaining steadily on New York's theatrical dominaton, it has neither the resources nor the cachet of Broadway. At least not yet. But if Broadway continues to nurture the same old safe retreads and turn its back on work that actually bolsters this country's theatrical tradition, well, finding a decent Merry Wives of Windsor will be the least of Mr. Isherwood's worries.  

Let the provinces whet their appetites on Shakespeare; it can only benefit New York. When you dine regularly on Kobe beef at home, you're less likely to accept a McDonald's patty when you go out. But you're probably not going to order Kobe again, either. You want something new and mouthwatering, and if you're served the same old Kobe filet, even if it's really good, you'll end up wondering why you didn't just stay home and make it yourself... It's sure a lot cheaper. 

I don't mean to pick on Isherwood. A dedicated Shakespeare company in New York City is not the worst idea ever, it's just misguided. Maybe it wouldn't be such a big deal if he suggested placing it in Brooklyn, or somewhere it had a chance to be more than an exercise in showing off one's Elizabethan chops. And perhaps also, I'm naive. I figure New York is what regional theater aspires to be; but maybe we've already caught up, and the ideal of New York's vanguard status is just vestigial at this point. 


August 10, 2008 6:51 PM |
Well, not Hitler exactly, but the Chapman brothers' defacement of his artwork

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Those brothers grim, Jake and Dinos, bought a bunch of the Fuhrer's watercolors a while back, causing shivers to run down the spines of horrified citizens everywhere. Turns out they had nothing to fear.

The men's work displays an obsession with organized death--they've had their way with Goya, and created a sculpture called Hell--detailed with other work in the video below--which featured dioramas filled with miniature representations of many, many imaginative torments. Their recent, and similarly-themed (though much-differently executed) show Little Death Machines was dismissively reviewed by Ken Johnson in today's New York Times as a one-note gimmick, but if they're only capable of one note, I'll eagerly listen. At least until I can't stand it anymore. 

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Unlike Tom Sachs' ill-conceived consumerism/Holocaust debacle of a few years back (He just missed the green revolution by thismuch. Could've been a visionary with that rationalization!), the Chapmans apply meticulous method to their love affair with madness. 

The Hitler doodles add another note to their oeuvre anyway, one of post-Holocaust glee. The Chapmans don't just dance on his grave, they hold a rave on it. The chemical sunsets and floating hearts surrounding Hitler's pedestrian architectural facades are ominous, but only after you've had a chance to laugh out loud at them. By destroying the watercolors' value as Fuhrer-created art and subverting them into Chapman-based art, the boys have triumphed over evil at least this once. 

Why should Banksy get all the ironic graffitti love? Here's to vandalism with a purpose.

 
May 30, 2008 1:41 PM | | Comments (1)
Let us now praise great moments in criticism. Stephen Holden's New York Times review of "Broadway's Greatest Showstoppers," itself contains this showstopping bit of critique:

You haven't really heard "Bring Him Home," the corny, tear-jerking aria from "Les Misérables," until you've savored the grand operatic treatment given it by the tenor J. Mark McVey, sobbing as the strings sighed behind him; it was the aural equivalent of a thick lobster bisque made with heavy cream.

 Nicely done, sir. It calls to mind Jay McInerney's evocative wine/Beatles comparisons in Food and Wine magazine, and does the whole profession proud. 

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I can taste that Les Miserables viscosity all the way from here.

May 22, 2008 7:01 PM | | Comments (2)
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