“In Bye Bye Birdie, the 1960 musical about the coming of rock and roll to small-town America, the members of an Ohio family sing a song called “Hymn for a Sunday Evening” in which they tell of their abiding love for The Ed Sullivan Show, the Sunday-night TV variety show on which they are about to appear with Conrad Birdie, an Elvis Presley-like pop idol: “How could any family be/Half as fortunate as we?/We’ll be coast to coast/With our favorite host.” But while most people who see Bye Bye Birdie today know that Sullivan, unlike Birdie, was a real person and that Elvis Presley’s 1956 performances on his program were a watershed moment in the singer’s early career, the larger point of the song is lost on younger viewers, few of whom are aware of how central a role The Ed Sullivan Show once played in American culture…”
Archives for February 2010
In today’s Wall Street Journal column, I review the Transport Group’s superb off-Broadway revival of Mart Crowley’s The Boys in the Band, plus Sam Mendes’ Bridge Project production of The Tempest and a new play by Douglas Carter Beane, Mr. and Mrs. Fitch. Here’s an excerpt.
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If I had to draw up a list of the most effective American plays of the past half-century, Mart Crowley’s “The Boys in the Band,” in which a group of unhappy gay men gather for a birthday party and spend the night picking at one another’s psychic scabs, would be on it. Mr. Crowley’s best-remembered play may not be a masterpiece, but it’s exceptionally well constructed and as compelling as a fist fight, and the Transport Group’s Off-Broadway revival–only the second in New York since “The Boys in the Band” opened in 1968–does it near-complete justice.
The Transport Group is presenting “The Boys in the Band” in a site-specific “environmental” production directed with taut fervor by Jack Cummings III, designed by Sandra Goldmark and set in an actual penthouse space in midtown Manhattan, with the 99 members of the audience scattered throughout the living room. The results are unnervingly intimate–the nine actors are in your lap all evening long–and so believable that you’ll flinch when the insults start flying….
Does Sam Mendes really like Shakespeare? The staging of “The Tempest” that he’s mounted under the auspices of the Bridge Project, in which Brooklyn’s BAM Harvey and London’s Old Vic Theatres jointly produce a pair of classics each season performed by binational casts, makes me wonder. Like last year’s “Winter’s Tale,” it’s so cluttered and idea-ridden that the play comes close to getting lost in the shuffle…
Douglas Carter Beane’s latest, “Mr. and Mrs. Fitch,” is the tale of a pair of washed-up gossip columnists (John Lithgow and Jennifer Ehle) who rejuvenate their careers by publishing a scandalous story about an imaginary person. Even if the premise were less trite, the play would still be a bore, consisting as it does of several thousand bitchy one- and two-liners lined up in a row, few of which are funny….
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Read the whole thing here.
“Great ladies cultivate those occupied with the arts as in former times they kept buffoons.”
W. Somerset Maugham, preface to The Plays of Somerset Maugham, Vol. 3
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.
Warning: Broadway shows marked with an asterisk were sold out, or nearly so, last week.
• Fela! * (musical, PG-13, adult subject matter, reviewed here)
• God of Carnage (serious comedy, PG-13, adult subject matter, reviewed here)
• South Pacific (musical, G/PG-13, some sexual content, brilliantly staged but unsuitable for viewers acutely allergic to preachiness, reviewed here)
• A View from the Bridge * (drama, PG-13, violence and some sexual content, closes Apr. 4, reviewed here)
• Avenue Q (musical, R, adult subject matter and one show-stopping scene of puppet-on-puppet sex, reviewed here)
• The Fantasticks (musical, G, suitable for children capable of enjoying a love story, reviewed here)
• The Orphans’ Home Cycle, Parts 1, 2, and 3 (drama, G/PG-13, too complicated for children, now being performed in rotating repertory, closes May 8, reviewed here, here, and here)
• Our Town (drama, G, suitable for mature children, reviewed here)
• Venus in Fur (serious comedy, R, sexual content, closes Mar. 28, reviewed here)
But little people are so difficult.
They’re lousy snobs, the lot of them.
Talk like an Englishman, they think you’re Jesus Christ.
Bertolt Brecht, The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui (courtesy of Mary Foster Conklin)
“Lincoln Center Festival is for all intents and purposes in the business of bringing foreign artists to New York–and American regional theater, unlike British theater, is devoid of the made-in-Europe snob appeal that goes over so well in New York. But what if Washington’s Kennedy Center, or some ambitious presenter in Denver or Palm Beach or San Francisco, undertook the task of putting on an all-American Shakespeare festival? Or, better still, a festival of great American plays performed by our top regional companies?…”
Donald E. Westlake (a/k/a Richard Stark) talks about the creation of Parker:
(This is the latest in a weekly series of arts-related videos that appear in this space each Wednesday.)
“If there is anyone who owes everything to Bach, it is God.”
E. M. Cioran, All Gall Is Divided: Gnomes and Apothegms