The Playgoer: October 2007

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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Are We Stuck in "19th Century Television Theatre"?

"I always find the American theater is slightly locked in the nineteenth century. Everything is psychologically based. And I've seen some really good stuff recently, but I've seen some plays that in England would have been called television drama....I saw a play at the Atlantic [Scarcity, by Lucy Thurber], and I saw a play, 100 Saints You Should Know [by Kate Fodor, at Playwrights Horizons], which were really good pieces but I thought they were like great television drama. What was interesting to me was that there is no outlet for writers like that, so naturally they're going to be done in small theater. TV and cinema don't allow that, there's nowhere you can do those debates. I'm not saying it doesn't work as theater. It's just not the best use of theater."

-Brian Cox (of course, the original Hannibal Lecter, among other great stage & screen performances) keeping it real with New York Magazine.

They only printed this part in the online outtakes. The tamer part of the interview is here.

Guthrie 360°


If you're curious what all this Guthrie hubbub is about, then here's a great, great time-waster. A complete virtual tour--including 360° panoramas--of nearly every nook and cranny of the new complex. Courtesy of the Minneapolis Star-Trib.

I seem to recall some carping a year ago at the unveiling. Still haven't been myself. From the pics I'm just amazed this much money--and it screams money--was raised in this country to build a "legitimate" (i.e. not for touring musicals) theatre! With three spaces and plenty of audience lounging space, seems like the funds were put to good use so far.

Drool away...

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Just Because it's on Broadway Doesn't Mean you Have to Call it Art

"No visual arts critic is expected is to write a column that covers everything from a Gainsborough retrospective, the new Rachel Whiteread and then the Hollyoaks Hunks calendar....The opening of a new West End musical is closer to the launch of a new ride at Alton Towers - and nobody bothers to review them."

- Mark Ravenhill, in the Guardian.

Assuming Alton Towers is the UK's answer to Disneyland(?) I like Mark Ravenhill's point here, even though I'm ambivalent. In short--why review outright commercial claptrap as "theatre"?

Once, just once, I'd love to see the New York Times just not review something like Grease, or All Shook Up, or even 3 Mo' Tenors. Or at least, don't send your first string theatre critic, but an "entertainment" columnist. Just because someone has footed the enormous bill to put something on Broadway doesn't mean you have to call it theatre. I'm sure many critics would agree with me about wasted evenings at totally non-dramatic (and hideously boring) events.

My ambivalence, though, comes from some residual belief, faith, in the great Broadway tradition of providing at least well-crafted and aesthetically pleasing--and sometimes even socially edifying--entertainment. While I might have written off Jersey Boys pre-opening as just another cynical jukebox musical, many testify otherwise. (I still haven't seen it myself.) Others sing the kitchy praises of even Xanadu and Legally Blonde, as at least satisfying displays of craft.

But in the end, it would be refreshing to see some editorial discretion from arts editors when it comes to how to devote your precious column inches on theatre. They make no bones about ignoring over 50% of Off & Off-Off Broadway. So why not give just one or two Rialto shows a pass.

To put it as only Ravenhill can, about attending the West End opening of Joseph, the latest Andrew Lloyd Webber reality-tv stunt:

It was a kitschly enjoyable event, though it had as much to do with a night of good theatre as homemade porn does with a lifelong relationship.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Donnie Darko...on stage

ART is doing a stage adaptation of Donnie Darko???

Marcus Stern, who helmed the theater's popular, genre-bending "The Onion Cellar" in collaboration with local rock group the Dresden Dolls, stages his own adaptation of the indie pic....

[A] special effects film that featured time portals, car crashes and burning buildings would seem an unlikely candidate for the stage. Make that the small stage -- ART's Zero Arrow Theater seats 300.

Stern, however, didn't see it that way, saying the project fit in with the type of non-realistic theater to which he is drawn....Younger auds, he says, connect with things that have a contemporary pace and a different hard-core aesthetic. "You're seeing actors and music and everything collide really fast, back and forth, which to me reflects what younger audiences are going to in general..."

Yup. He's onto something.

More info on the ART site.

Puff Puff

If your theatre is facing a local smoking ban, you definitely need to check out this exhaustive survey of alternate options by Stage Directions' Jean Schiffman.

For instance, did you know that the leading brand herbal cigarette is called "Ecstacy"? Wouldn't that lead to, um, other confusions?

(Btw: "advertised ingredients are wild lettuce, catnip, passion flower, skull cap, mint, natural flavors." Stick with the other X, I say.)

Oh, and another btw, if you're one of those people in the audience who automatically protest-coughs at the mere site of any lit substance or perfectly non-irritating dry-ice fog...stop it. You make me want to gag.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Guthrie nabs new Kushner

The Guthrie in the news again.

According to Variety, they're "preeming" the next new play by Tony Kushner. In 2009.

Title: "The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures."

As Variety saliently points out, "The show will mark the first time Kushner's stage work addresses gay themes since the Pulitzer-winning 'Angels.'"

Contextomy-gate?

While Playgoer was happy to make a joke of his own out of context pull-quotes, the NY Drama Critics circle ain't so amused anymore:

Newsday's Linda Winer was especially annoyed that the producers of "Walmartopia" took her largely negative review and made it look like a ringing endorsement.

Other critics were ticked off with a "Grease" ad that made a whole bunch of negative reviews read like raves.

Circle president Adam Feldman of Time Out has appointed the Daily News' Howard Kissel to head up a committee - shall we call it The Kissel Commission? - to see what can be done about this terrible ethical breach.

Either the Walmartopia team has done a good job already erasing any trace of said ad from the web, or I'm not good with the Google. Anyone have it? (Weiner's full--i.e., negative--review is here.)

And I wrote previously about the infamous Grease ad here.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

REVIEW: Living Theatre's "Mysteries" (Time Out)

I was happy to have the chance to review the Living Theatre for Time Out this week.

Like with their recent "The Brig" revival, here is a chance to see a nimportant piece of theatre history (albeit recent theatre history) fairly well preserved. I don't mean like a museum piece. Sure, some of the younger members seem oddly timid and prudish compared to the remaining old-timers. And, yes, their new space is tad too...well, nice for its own good. (The current "Mysteries," especially, should be seen in some large filthy warehouse, probably.) But their passion is still tangible and the gut sensations they evoked four decades ago still accessible.

If I may quote myself:

Seeing this legendary company—and [co-founder Judith Malina] herself—onstage reminds you of a time when theater mattered as a rebellious activity. If you go to Mysteries you may be confused, embarrassed and even pissed off. But you’ll never forget it.
This is a somewhat awkward show, by the way, to cover as a critic--given how much the audience is called upon to take part! What is one to do... take your notepad and pencil onstage with you, scribbling observations as you're simultaneously joining hands "ohm-ing" with the ensemble? (Don't worry, I put my pad down for that part.)

Any critics out there have other funny "on-the-job" audience participation experiences?

The Megamusical's "Thatcherite Values"

"I would argue that it reveals a lot about Britain in the 1980s that the theatrical landscape was dominated by Cats, Starlight Express, Les Miserables, The Phantom of the Opera and Miss Saigon. These were all products of the Thatcher decade; and while Miss Saigon demonstrated the tragic consequences of America's Vietnam incursion, these shows collectively embodied, and even endorsed Thatcherite values. They celebrated the triumph of individualism. They combined escape with a spurious sense of uplift: even a literal ascension to heaven at the climax of Cats. Above all, they showed the musical's potential, through skilful marketing, to make vast personal fortunes. Whenever Peter Hall had the temerity to protest to Margaret Thatcher about dwindling subsidy, she would counter with the fame enjoyed by our theatre the world over. "Look," she would triumphantly claim, "at Andrew Lloyd Webber", as if the argument was conclusively closed."

-Michael Billington, in a terrific (and long) essay on postwar British theatre--which is a preview of his new book.

Williamstown update

It's official. Nicky Martin is in.

Yes, he's also currently AD at Boston's Huntington currently, but in his last season there.

Any statement, Mr. Modesty?

“I’m not surprised they asked me to do it...I’ve worked there for 10 years, I was there for two years as resident director. I gave them a lot of hits.”
Alrighty then.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

What the Producers are "Implementing"

Kudos to Playbill's Adam Hetrick for digging up the details on exactly which changes unacceptable to the stagehands union are being "implemented" this week by shows in Shubert and Jujamcyn theatres.


The list sheds much more light on what's actually being contested in these negotiations and what the impasses are.

The new rules that the League has begun enforcing follow.

Setting the Running Crew
Stagehand crew size and job assignments were previously frozen on the opening night of a Broadway show. The League claims this does not allow enough time to "routine stagehand work and determine appropriate staffing levels." The crew size and job assignments will now be frozen six weeks after opening night. (The Union rejected this proposal.)

Electrician Duties
In some instances up to three electricians have operated the board that controls light, projection and sound cues � a job that can be handled by one electrician. The new rule says that "three separate stagehands are not required" to operate such a board. (Local One tentatively agreed to codify this practice.)

Premium Pay for a 7th Day or 9th Performance
Stagehands who work a 7th day or a 9th performance (for example, a Monday performance for a show that regularly plays a Tuesday-Sunday schedule) are paid time-and-a-half. Previously, even those stagehands who had not worked all six days or eight performances were paid time-and-a-half for this extra performance. The League and the Union agreed to a proposed exchange whereby the League would not be required to pay time-and-a-half to those who had not worked the full week; however, the League agreed to pay time-and-a-half for all work "performed on any non-performance day where a production performs only five days per week (Wednesday through Saturday)."

Overtime Hiring Requirements
Previously, if only a few stagehands were required to work overtime, Broadway producers were required to pay overtime to all of the stagehands that had been called that day. Producers will now pay overtime only to the stagehands required to work past a given call period. (The Union rejected this proposal.)

Meal Periods
Meal periods, the previous contract stated, must take place on the hour at 12-1 PM or 1-2 PM, and for evenings at 5-6 PM or 6-7 PM. During many load-in and technical rehearsal days, management was left a choice between "stopping and restarting work for an entire department on the hour or paying everyone a penalty of a time-and-a-half hour." The League will now implement meal time flexibility as long as a break is given within 3 to 5 hours of a stagehand's start time. The new rule would also allow a 30-minute break if a meal is provided for the crew. (Local One has rejected this offer.)

Rehearsals and Work Calls
Currently stagehands called in for a four-hour minimum call can only perform work specific to that type of call. For example, a crew member called in for a rehearsal call cannot be required to do maintenance work � fixing lights or maintaining scenery. Such work would require an additional work call. The League states that they will now require that stagehands perform any work necessary, within departmental lines, on a production while they are being paid, regardless of the type of call. (Local One has rejected this offer.)

Performance Calls
During the performance of a show, there are strict rules regarding what can be required of a crew member. The Union has agreed to allow "work on equipment and related items for promotion and publicity." The League also proposed that stagehands should be permitted to clean up the set, the show's equipment and repair any problems that occurred during the performance. Should the work require more time than the actual running time of the show, crew members would be paid in one-hour increments. Local One agreed to a two-hour minimum call solely to permit clean up for safety reasons.

Continuity Calls
In the previous Local One contract, stagehands may be called one hour prior to a performance (solely for work related to that performance), or for one hour after the performance, but never both, unless producers schedule an additional four-hour call. Producers now intend to schedule and pay for work up to three hours around any given performance, limited to two hours prior and one hour after. This does not include clean up, which may require two hours. The previous union contract also said that if a show ending at 10:25 PM necessitates additional work, the call-time rolls back to 10 PM, requiring producers to pay for an additional hour's work. And, if more time is needed, the call becomes a four-hour call. The League has eliminated this rule, which Local One rejected.

Canceled Performances
Currently, when a scheduled performance of a show is canceled and replaced by a rehearsal or a work call, stagehands are required to be paid for both the canceled performance and the rehearsal/work call. The League will now not pay stagehands twice for the same hours. (The Union has rejected this proposal.)

I'll try to comment more later. But so far, it's notable that while many of these sticking points may seem to reflect badly on the union (i.e. business as usual, getting paid for "loafing around," etc) I'm sure from the stagehands point of view, these are all demands for equity among workers (i.e. paying all stagehands even if you need just some) and for stability/reliability of work regardless of the whim of producers (i.e. not getting out of paying stagehands by canceling performances.) Something to think about.

Let Idle be Idle?

Could Eric Idle be going back to some good ol' Python roots with his next non-Spamalot, non-musical project?

Eric Idle will be trying out his new play "What About Dick?" with two public performances in Hollywood.

The play, penned by Idle and his "Spamalot" composer John Du Prez, will be performed at the Ricardo Montalban Theater on Vine Street on Nov. 10 and 11.

Cast includes Billy Connolly, Tim Curry, Idle, Eddie Izzard, Jane Leeves, Emily Mortimer, Jim Piddock and Tracey Ullman.

All I can say is... Pretty Good Cast!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Shakeup at Williamstown?

Variety reports that Roger Rees is out, three years after taking over from LA-bound Michael Ritchie. Longtime Williamstown habitué Nicholas Martin is probably in.

Anyone out there familiar enough with the Williamstown scene to give the Rees assessment/postmortem?

2 txt or not 2 txt

Peter Marks says it, so I don't have to:

If the 12 or so plagues visited on those of us who frequent the theater have long included incessant talking, lozenge unwrapping, armrest hogging and cellphone ringing, one has been added of late that is in some ways even more insidious: mid-performance text-messaging.....

[...]

A few weeks ago, at a Friday night performance of Synetic Theater's new "The Fall of the House of Usher," I watched as a man seated five or six rows from the stage of the Rosslyn Spectrum consulted a glowing little screen every two or three minutes. It became a production unto itself. Never mind that the vibrant one he had ostensibly come to see was a thrill for the eye. His eyes were glued to the tiny illuminated thing -- an experience he forced me to share.

What, I wondered, occupied this gentleman, and so many like him, before such things existed? Was it possible that they ever simply sat still? (I also marvel at how, before plastic bottles became essential at all times, people actually endured an entire hour of theater without taking a sip of water.) At another production, of a play by an Irish writer, three young women directly in front of me settled into their seats and a few minutes into the first act, pulled out their BlackBerrys and cellphones.

Weary of the drama, they began to send text messages -- to each other, I believe.

It's here to stay, I'm afraid. The smell of the greasepaint, the flicker of the crowd...

Hey, at least someone in the theatre is paying attention to text! Har, har, har...

Read more of Marks' riotous rant in the WaPo.

Monday, October 22, 2007

What Would Guthrie Do?

Chicago Trib's Chris Jones vents some Minneapolis-envy in extolling the new Guthrie for getting some things right. He exhorts Chicago theatres (and by extension much of the country) to follow these ten precepts.

1. Open the building at all hours.
2. Show off the backstage
3. Give tours. Every day.
4. Give artsgoers a choice of decent restaurants. And keep them open after the show.
5. Liven up the bars.
6. Juice up the retail.
7. Skip the nasty ticket takers
8. Don't forget the outdoors
9. Signage matters.
10. Honor the tradition.
To find out what the hell Jones means by these mantras, read the article.

In general, what connects them all is a very salient point. They're all about fostering community and making an outing at the theatre a fun social experience. But rather than enforce that upon your audience through strained "event"-planning and arbitrary rules ("Gay People Thursdays!")... just enable. Make everyone feel invited, provide a nice environment, and stay out of the eff-ing way!

Oh, and put on a good show if you can.

NY Theatre Review Party

My friends at NYTR are having what sounds like a humdinger of a fundraising bash at PS122 tonight. Not only the requisite silent auction but performances by Reggie Wattts, Beth Collins, and The Rising Fallen. And specially-commissioned "Tiny Plays " from Direct Arts , Bluebox Productions , The New York Neo-Futurists , Flux Theatre , The Shalimar , and Hoi Polloi. You can donate and reserve at their site.

And you can buy that fabulous Best of 2006 edition of NYTR (including an essay by yours truly) at Drama Books.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Stagehands Vote to Strike...Eventually...Maybe

Vote was "unanimous":

Members of Local One, the union representing almost all Broadway stagehands, authorized their leaders to call a strike in a unanimous vote today, the union said. While the vote does not mean that a strike is inevitable, it is a necessary step if one is to be called.

In a statement, the union said that there were no plans for a strike, which would leave most Broadway theaters dark, though James J. Claffey Jr., the president of Local One, was quoted as saying at the meeting, “No work in December without a deal.”


Remember, this is all about leverage over the next month, into the holidays.

Full story now in NYT.

On Blogging

If journalism is "the rough draft of history," is blogging the rough draft of journalism?

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Strike All in the Timing?

When the stagehands Local One union takes its strike authorization vote tomorrow, remember that a "yea" vote does not trigger any automatic work stoppage. It would simply give the leaders the authorization to call a strike...whenever they see fit. So you may not have trade in your next week tickets just yet. Just wait till the holidays...

[T]he union appears determined to stick to its own timetable, and it has typically been to the union’s advantage to have talks continue into the busy holiday season, when the potential damage of a strike to producers is greatest. The last two times the union was in negotiations with the league, which represents most of Broadway’s producers and theater owners, an agreement was reached in the last two weeks of November.

So for now the stagehands are planning to go to work next week under the imposed rules, Mr. Claffey said. But, he added, “we’re not going into December without a deal.”

So tomorrow may still not resolve anything. The strike vote could just be a nother bargaining chip. Then, as Thanksgiving approaches, it turns into a big B'way game of chicken.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Quote for the Day 2

“Broadway theater is the No. 1 reason tourists cite for coming into New York City....Having that be perceived as unreliable is a bad thing for the city. Even if everything gets resolved, once you have had a shutdown and have a lot of disappointed tourists here for a show, that message travels.”

-Kathryn Wylde, president of "Partnership for New York City."

Of course, nonprofit and Off-Broadway are unacceptable alternatives.

This and more about the projected economic impact of a work-stoppage here.

Quote of the Day

"If the stagehands strike, Clay Aiken could have to move his own props and scenery!"

-NY Mag "Vulture"

12 Million Tweens Can't be Wrong

File under 'Obvious but Noteworthy':

The Palace Theatre, home of Legally Blonde, may only hold 1,743 audience members, but the Oct. 13 MTV broadcast premiere was seen by roughly 1.27 million home viewers.

Legally Blonde was the most watched television program of audience members ages 12-34 during its 1-4 PM time slot Oct. 13. Including all subsequent weekend broadcasts, Legally Blonde was seen by a total of 12.5 million viewers.

Young women ages 12-17 were the highest demographic of viewers tuning in...

More at Playbill.com.

(Okay, my subject heading overstates things. But "Teenagers making a Large Percentage of 12.5 million" didn't have the same ring.)

Producers Still United Front

Okay, so maybe the Nederlander recusal does not foretell a weakening of producer resolve:

Or so says Riedel today

So does this mean the Nederlanders have broken ranks?

In a word, no.

The Nederlanders can't implement for a technical reason: They have a separate contract with the stagehands.

And while they're sitting in the negotiating room in solidarity with Shubert, Jujamcyn and the producers, they are there strictly as observers.

But sources say the Nederlanders will not wiggle out of their commitment to their colleagues.

Should a strike hit the Shuberts and Jujamcyn, the Nederlanders will lock the stagehands out of their theaters.

Riedel also reports that a yea vote Sunday by stagehands to authorize a work stoppage is "certain."

So we're back to where we were before, basically.

(Read Riedel's first item, btw, for updates on the sad 37Arts story. It's being "foreclosed." Yet more bad news for commercial Off-B'way.)

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Nederlanders Break Ranks

Big breakthrough in strike/lockout news.

The League plan to force a strike decision by "imposing" new terms on stagehands without a contract agreement just took a blow, with the defection of a major partner:

The Nederlander Organization, Broadway’s second largest theater chain, today told the stagehands it would not impose a new contract on the union next week, breaking unity with the League of American Theatres and Producers.

The move boosts the union’s, Local One of the International Alliance of Theatrical Employees, power in its ongoing fight with the League.
Keep in mind Nederlander may only be the "second largest" theatre owner in town, but they still own and run nine houses: the Brooks Atkinson,the Gershwin, the Marquis, the Minskoff, the Palace, the Richard Rodgers, the Lunt-Fontanne, the Neil Simon and--of course--the Nederlander. Moreover, the tenants at said theatres include such inconsequential shows as Grease, Legally Blonde, Hairspray, and Wicked. (Not to mention some Disney shows already outside of the bargaining unit.)

By seeking a "separate peace" with the stagehands, just as the strike vote approaches this Sunday, Nederlander just took away a might piece of the League's leverage--no doubt madking some of their colleagues on the rialto very, very pissed.

UPDATE: Definitely read the Comment below on the League's qualifying/reassuring response. Looks like the Nederlander split may NOT be as contentious as it seems.

"We don't need you, you can't afford us"

According to Riedel yesterday, the upcoming Broadway transfer of Billy Elliot is "budgeted at $18.5 million, making it one of the most expensive non-Disney musicals ever."

The producers of "Billy Elliot" aren't as greedy as Mel Brooks & Co. They're "only" charging $300 for premium seats. But they have increased the price of mediocre seats. On Saturday evenings, if you want to sit at the back of the orchestra or in the mezzanine, you'll have to shell out $135, as opposed to $121 at most other shows.

Not to beat the drum too loudly here - lest the League of American Theaters and Producers starts accusing me of being a stagehand-loving commie - but one thing is clear: Broadway has turned its back on the working and middle classes. If you're not rich, if you don't have a loft in SoHo or a three-bedroom on the Upper West Side or a house in Westport, get lost, we don't need you, you can't afford us. If you really want to take the family to a show, check out the Ice Capades.

Preach it, Michael.

However, there's another way to interpret this. It strikes me that the endangered breed of B'way producer is making a very calculated decision. Once one settles for the reality that, given expenses, profit is only possible at a 3-figure ticket price, lowering ticket prices becomes very, very hard. And so, maybe you stop caring that more and more "regular folk" are not going to be able to afford theatregoing as a regular habit. And you start caring a lot more about a) those who can afford it, or at least can "expense" it. And, b) those who will still splurge once a year--i.e. those for whom theatregoing is rare and expensive event (like a Vegas show or a 4-star restaurant), not part of their regular artistically nurturing diet.

This naturally includes tourists, even very middle-class, middle-income tourists who can't really afford it either, but will pay it once in a blue moon to treat their spouse and/or family. But then, as you can imagine, it better be really, really good. As in, bang for the buck.

Speaking of which, over to you, Riedel:

I'll say this for "Billy Elliot," though. If you're going to splurge on one show next year, this is the one.

And there you have the new Broadway.

New 45 Bleecker owners

The former home of the Culture Project (they were priced out) is under new management:

Producer Louis Salamone is the new owner of Off Broadway’s Theaters at 45 Bleecker Street, which includes two stages and a cafe.

Salamone will manage the venue with Edmund Gaynes, also his management partner at Actors Temple Theater and St. Luke’s Theater. The duo also have produced Off Broadway shows including “Picon Pie” and “Trolls.”

Calvin Wynter will manage the smaller downstairs theater, which will focus on comics, musicians and performance artists.

The combination of these different kinds of venues will hopefully offer some healthy cross-pollination.

Let's just hope it's not "All Trolls All the Time," though.


Countdown to Lockout

Two views:

"We are forced to implement because Local One will not pursue meaningful change."
-Charlotte St. Martin, President of the League of American Theatres and Producers.

"We negotiate our own contracts, and we're perfectly willing to sit down with the league any time they are willing to negotiate."
-Bruce Cohen, spokesman for Local One chapter of the IATSE stagehands union.

Excuse my pro-union bias, but... Doesn't the "meaningful" in "meaningful change" pretty much mean "profitable"?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

It ain't MTV, but...

Walmartopia gets on TV!

Off Broadway tuner "Walmartopia" gets an unlikely showcase Oct. 17 -- on the new Fox Business Network.

Cast of the show will perform the musical's six-minute opening sequence on "Happy Hour," Fox Biz's new afternoon program.

Gee, how political can that show be?

REVIEW: Good Heif (Village Voice)

Another cherry-popping moment in my criticism career. My first pull-quote, and my first contextomy (i.e. misleading pull-quote).

If you're on various email mailing lists, you may received an email advertising the play Good Heif boasting:

"American Gothic absurdism! Smith has a strong voice and paints the rural waste-land in intriguingly mythic tones. A finely executed New Georges production."
-- The Village Voice
Just so you know, that "Village Voice" is me! But here's the full context from the concluding paragraph:
Smith has a strong voice and paints the rural waste-land in intriguingly mythic tones. But her tale of frigid fundamentalists in the heartland stifling their children with their prudish prejudices seems overly familiar. The script never gets beyond the obvious thematic level of "Don't look, don't think, don't feel"—as a mob chants at the climax. Sarah Cameron Sunde exacerbates the schematics by directing everything at a fevered pitch with commedia-style physicality, rendering Ma and Pa especially cartoonish. While the actors impress in this mode—in a finely executed New Georges production—Smith's material may have been better served by underplaying, letting its American Gothic absurdism speak for itself.
Well, it's a fair cop, I suppose. Can't deny I praised the things I did.

And, truth be told, Good Heif is not awful, just miscalculated, I thought. Read the full, full context in the V.V.

By the way, the printed photo that ran with it reminded me I did leave out one major plot element--this forest-sprite character "Ol' Heif" a kind of female-bovine hybrid. Just one of those things that didn't fit into my 250 words. Apologies.

As a consolation, I offer the "Good Heif" folks this pull-quote: "Definitely the best cow-fucking show south of 14th Street!"

October 22, Lockout D-Day

From Backstage:

The League of American Theatres and Producers declared an impasse in their negotiations with the Broadway stagehands and will begin unilaterally implementing portions of their final offer to the union, league executive director Charlotte St. Martin announced Tuesday night.

St. Martin did not say which portions of the league's final offer, which was made Oct. 9, would be implemented, only that the process would begin Monday.
And again, Local One holds its "strike authorization" meeting the night before, Sunday October 21. No consensus yet on whether the union members will vote to authorize a strike--nor even, if they so vote, when said strike would actually commence. (Could be a bargaining chip, a further show of solidarity.)

Speaking of solidarity jury is apparently now out, though, on how much Equity and the musicians can be counted on.
A spokeswoman for the musicians union said officials would have no comment. Equity is currently weighing its options, according to spokeswoman Maria Somma said. Though it is quite possible Broadway unions would not cross a Local One picket line, it is not absolutely certain.
So, a whole lot of hedging going on.

Meanwhile, NY1 reports the stagehands have said thanks, but no thanks to proposed mediation by Hizzoner/"Arts Lover" Mike Blumberg.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

BAM after dark

Speaking of reaching out to new audiences (see previous post) BAM is introducing itself to a new demographic by turning itself into basically an all-night club, for one night.

The purpose of "Takeover" is to target "folks who have not come in BAM's doors before," the associate producer of music programming, Darrell McNeill, said. "Usually they come in by way of [BAMcaféLive] or BAM Rose Cinemas," he said. But with "Takeover," "we're trying to introduce the full BAM experience to the next generation of patrons."

Five bands — Antibalas, Be Your Own Pet, the Exit, Heartless Bastards, and Dirty on Purpose — will perform in the Howard Gilman Opera House, while the DJ's of Ubiquita NYC will spin soul, funk, reggae, and world music in BAMcafé. The four screens at BAM Rose Cinemas will show wide-ranging programs, from a "Lindsay Lohan Mid-Career Retrospective" to the Danish filmmaker Nicholas Winding Refn's violent "Pusher Trilogy." Throughout the building, there will be art and video installations by Mighty Robot A/V Squad; Neal Wilkinson of the Uncertainty Principle; Dustin O'Neill of the Fountainhead Design; Jean Shin, and Leo Villareal.

Okay, I can do without the Lindsay Lohan part. And who knows how many of these fans will ever come back to see the next Thomas Ostermeier Ibsen-deconstruction, for instance.

But tickets are $15-$20, and actual rock bands will play in that sacred opera house.

And they'll even be serving Bud Light!

("Drink sponsors" are listed as "Bud Light, Magic Hat, and MONSTER energy"--how's that for demographic diversity!)

Hytner's RNT

Michael Billington says attention must be paid to Nicholas Hytner's achievement at the Royal National Theatre, which, in short, has been to look beyond (while including) the traditional old-white-folk theatre audience:

What's the secret of Hytner's success? Cheap tickets, obviously: the £10-ticket scheme in the Olivier is the most radical, yet basically simple, audience-building idea in my lifetime. But Hytner has also realised a fundamental truth: that there is no longer a single, monolithic audience for theatre but a series of separate constituencies, hence his scheduling of canonical classics by Shakespeare, Shaw and Coward for the "brochure" audience. He has also realised that there is a younger group hungering for a more innovative kind of physical theatre: exactly the people who flocked to Emma Rice's A Matter of Life and Death and Katie Mitchell's version of The Waves. Productions like Coram Boy and His Dark Materials have also redefined what used to be patronisingly known as "children's theatre."
Of NYC theatres, the Public has the potential for such a balance. And even now the Roundabout--with their new blackbox/$20-a-seat space. But can such theatres use their "alternative"spaces for consistently inventive, daring, dare I say offensive work?

The best thing about the Roundabout experiment is that (like the National £10-ticket) it is totally outside of the subscription. Which means there's a better chance that the audience at any given performance will not consist mostly of culturally conservative subscribers who don't know what they're seeing. And that if a show is a hit, a better chance that tickets will still be available to younger, non theatre-savvy patrons-to-be.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Meet "StubHub"

"After years of complaining about scalpers, the theaters’ introduction of the premium ticket in 2001 meant that Broadway had decided, in a sense, to join them. And this year the League of American Theaters and Producers chose not to fight state legislation repealing longstanding price caps in the ticket-resale market, showing that Broadway had decided they couldn’t beat them either.

Now, less than six months after Albany passed the law, StubHub, where you can buy and sell Broadway tickets at any price, has set up shop — literally — right down the street."

- Campbell Robertson in today's NYT, about the new ticket-broker HQ right in Times Square. Flaunting it!

Who owns "StubHub"? Why, EBay, of course.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

From Lockout to Strike?

The story only gets more complicated...

Broadway seems safe for the weekend. And probably for the next week. But now October 21 is the date to watch, according to Crain's:

This afternoon [Friday, October 12], James Claffey Jr., president of Local One, announced he would assemble the union's Broadway workers Sunday, Oct. 21 to vote on a strike authorization if the producers impose a new contract. Today's announcement started the required ten-day process necessary to authorize a strike.
So the producers may succeed in changing the nomenclature by declaring a new contract by fiat. Which in the words of Crain's Miriam Kreinin Souccar, would leave "the stagehands to blame for all the sad tweens who wouldn't get to see Wicked or Legally Blond."

Which is also probably why the producers haven't locked them out just yet. Even though their official statement is:
“When you have big hit shows making $500,000 a week profit, you don’t want to close anything,” says one theater executive.
On the other hand, they could also just be buying time:
Though the producers could impose a contract as early as Monday, some say they are talking about waiting until next month, after all the sets for the new shows are safely loaded into theaters. October is the busiest “load in” month for the fall season—with more than 10 new shows being set up.

“Waiting till shows are loaded in is a good strategy,” says Norman Samnick, an attorney with Bryan Cave, who has negotiated against the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees in the past. “If the shows are loaded in, they could even operate without stagehands.”(That is of course, if the actors and musicians crossed picket lines.)
Is that true? Big Broadway musicals could perform without stagehands? Or are they assuming scabs?

Word, so far, seems to be that actors and musicians are in solidarity. So far.

PS. Campbell Robertson also has more in Saturday's NYT.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Playgoer in LA

As mentioned yesterday, I'm now in LA for the weekend, attending and presenting at a musical theatre conference at UCLA.

It's a great line-up of scholars, including David Savran, D.A. Miller (Place for Us), and legendary archivist Miles Kreuger. Plenty of panels on both egghead and toe-tapping stuff.

I myself will be on a panel 11am Saturday, on "Middlebrow and Cultural Prestige" with a brief presentation on the many faces of the marketing campaign for Grey Gardens and what it says about class and demographics for the current Broadway musical. After I've tried it out there, I'll try to post some version of my talk here.

So drop by, Angelinos! And tell me what theatre I should catch here. If I have time.

Friday Lockout Update

Still in limbo, in short.

Riedel reports the producers' side is now trying to change the language, trying to make it look more like a stagehand "strike" than a producer lockout after all.

The producers are backtracking as fast they can from the word "lockout," which, they've come to realize, makes them look like the bad guys. It's going to be hard for the producers to win a p.r. war if they're the ones shutting down Broadway.

A couple of them have gone so far as to claim that it was the press who put that term out there. Sorry, folks, but at a big producers' meeting last summer, the word "lockout" was used again and again, sources who attended the meeting say.

Thus...

The strategy that now seems to be emerging is that the producers may toss the ball back at the stagehands by "imposing" their final offer on them....

"Imposing" the final offer means that the producers will simply start living under the terms of the contract they want and leave it to the stagehands to call a strike.


Either way, the people on the inside of this, as you can see, are still planning for the worst.

Meanwhile NY Magazine asks, "Why Is Entertainment Labor Unrest So Freaking Boring?"
These people are entertainers! Couldn't they do something better with their moments in the spotlight? Couldn't those writers out in Hollywood knock out a couple of epically funny press releases mocking their opponents across the table? Couldn't the stagehands in New York work all night to build an enormous gallows spanning 45th Street and hang the producers in effigy? Can't someone, oh someone, make labor unrest fun again?

Point taken. But I still find it interesting. And pretty eff-ing important in determining the conditions under which the work we see on stage is presented to us.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Post Lockout Updates Here

I'm on the road, travelling to Los Angeles today, for a musical theatre conference at UCLA. About which, more later. (Do check it out if you're in the area.)

Meanwhile, if there's a break in the Stagehand Lockout story, please post it here in Comments so we can all stay abreast. Think of it as a Lockout Bulletin Board.

Peter Stein

You may remember six weeks ago my amazement that the NY Times, in announcing the Greek National Theatre's Electra, didn't seem to know who director Peter Stein was. Well David Cote and I decided to make sure the rest of New York knew.


The perk for me was to get a half-hour with the man on the phone. Some highlights from that interview, a brief overview of his career and interests, and a preview of his Electra are contained this week's Time Out theatre feature.


I also caught the show last night, which was one of the most involving productions of a Greek tragedy I've ever seen live. Much credit goes to the stunning lead performance by Stefania Goulioti. Her Electra is young, hip, pissed off, and downright hot. Despite Stein's age and asethetcially conservative rep, this is still not your father's Greek Tragedy. In fact, now I'm worried he comes off as too conservative in the article. While there's no easily described "concept", we're not talking big stiffs walking around in shoulder-padded Star Trek robes. The visual minimalism allows for great freedom. And even just a touch of modernity--the brooding Electra and Orestes wear black hoodies and sweats, while everyone around them is in ethereal white. In this and many ways, Stein successfully evokes Hamlet throughout. But this time there are two vengeful children of a fallen father.


Now the fact that Electra, Clytemnestra, and all fifteen women of the chorus are magazine-cover gorgeous does betray an old European he-man's sensibility. (Not to mention the female nudity.) And I think theatregoers from the 60s and 70s will recognize some perhaps outmoded "experimental" aesthetics. But I found it completely fresh.


Because of Stein's legendary textual specificity, the language barrier is frustrating here. Spoken in modern Greek, the subtitles are hard to follow without missing the stage action. But if you know the play well at all, this won't be a problem.


Plenty of empty seats, I believe. And discounts aplenty on Theatermania, Playbill, etc.


So read the article, and go!

Lockout Update: One Day More?

According to Riedel today, the sky isn't falling. Yet.

The two sides will meet in Midtown this afternoon to come to a decision on how to ratchet down the dramatic tension and move forward.

"Senior members of the league reached out to us to discuss the situation and we have agreed to meet with them - however, we will not be negotiating," according to one union official.

Bottom line: "The Great White Way will not go black tonight." Tonight.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Frankenstein a Go

Just to settle the confusion over Young Frankenstein (and I know you were wondering), Backstage says in the event of a lockout, the show "would open as scheduled" or at least start previews tomorrow, October 11.

Since they are presumably sold out already, though, I guess they stand nothing to gain. But they sure ain't going to lose anything...

Lockout Update, 1:30pm

A more detailed NYT story online now from Campbell Robertson. (Too late for the Arts print edition, so in the Metro section.)

Now Campbell, I'm confused about the status of Young Frankenstein, since in your September 26 article, you said: "'Young Frankenstein,' is playing in a nonleague theater, and would probably open no matter what." Today you're reporting a lockout "would affect all the shows currently on Broadway except for four — 'Mary Poppins,' 'Pygmalion,' 'Mauritius' and 'The Ritz'— which are playing at nonleague theaters." Did Mel decide to play nice with the League?

(Frankenstein previews are scheduled to start tomorrow. So I guess it's already had its load-in.)

Also in the piece, some hardball from new League chair, Charlotte St. Martin:

They’ve basically come back with virtually nothing that we’ve asked for....In fact, the union’s offer has made the situation worse for all productions.
Response from James J. Claffey Jr. (president of Local One)?
“We will continue to negotiate with honest exchanges but we will not make a concessionary agreement in these prosperous times in this billion dollar industry."

I repeat, as of now, there are no negotiations going on and there is no offer on the table.

However, before you trade in your tickets, Robertson says: "If the league declares a lockout, it could start immediately or after a period of several days."

Lockout Update: "Highly Likely"

A more recent, and presumably more authoritative, update from the Times and the Post.

NYT, as of 9:30am, now calls a lockout "highly likely."

Riedel, meanwhile, lays out the crux of the matter:

The League of American Theatres and Producers yesterday presented what it termed a "final offer" - including a 16 percent wage increase over five years - to Local 1, the stagehands union, which gave it a chilly reception.

"In response, the union has offered only minimal changes for load-ins and virtually no changes for running shows," said league head Charlotte St. Martin.

He adds: "The union has said that while it's flexible on other terms, it will not change its load-in stance."

Well, given the producers are all about the load-ins, this don't seem to be going nowhere right now.

On the bright side, tonight's shows are safe. Riedel says the lockout could be as early as tomorrow, but not sooner.

Stay tuned.

Lockout Watch--Prepare Youselves!

Well, so much for progress...

Late last night, Variety posted this:

Broadway is one step closer to a potential shutdown, with labor talks between Rialto producers and the stagehands’ union coming to a close Tuesday night with both sides putting their best and final offers on the table.

The League of American Theaters and Producers made their offer at around 6:45pm Tuesday. Local One responded with their own best, last offer about 10:10pm.

Talks concluded shortly thereafter, with no date yet set for further meetings.

If an agreement is not reached, the mostly likely result would be a lockout initiated by the producers, an action that would darken the majority of Broadway offerings.

Meanwhile, this morning New York 1 confirms that the League did officially "reject" said Union offer. And that the previous League offer had been rejected as well. So, it's getting serious, people.

Remember, if the League goes ahead with the lockout (and do remember it's a management "lockout" not a union "strike," though we'll see how the press covers it), everyone's affected except Roundabout's (Pygmalian & The Ritz), MTC (Mauritius), Disney (Lion King, Poppins, Mermaid) and Mel (Young Frankenstein being safe in the non-League Hilton theatre.) So they'll have the field to themselves. And the tourists will be happy with at least some of those choices. I don't think even this will make them flock to a new play like Mauritius. But who knows, maybe it will see a boost.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

"Is.Man" Ain't

As a critic, you never know when you're called upon to do a little genuine news reporting--as Caryn James discovered at St. Ann's Warehouse this weekend reviewing the visiting Dutch play Is.Man by Adelheid Roosen, when lead actor Youssef Sjoerd Idilbi walked off after expressing frustration with a faulty sound system:

It always takes a while to know when an exit is unplanned, but the performers left behind were vamping for a little too long: a musician sang and played, and a white-robed dervish who had been sitting quietly in the background got up and started whirling. But you knew Mr. Idilbi was leaving the building when he popped in from the wings wearing street clothes and carrying a plastic bag from Foot Locker. He retrieved something he had left at the rear of the stage and walked away, carrying any hope of a dazzling American debut for Ms. Roosen with him. The playwright herself took over the role, but it wasn’t the same.
Yes, when the whirling dervishes and the Foot Locker bags start appearing, you know something's not quite right.

Unfortunately for the show, James says Idilbi was the best thing about it. And few dramas currently running, it seems, can boast an onstage moment more delightfully weird.

MSM discovers NYTheatre.com

Nice to see Martin Denton & mom get their due in the NY Daily News.

Martin sums up his site's mission perfectly:

"If the play is a dog, we'll say that," he said. "But we also try to find something good to say. We want to encourage these companies because most of them don't make any money. They're also grateful for the attention, because most of them don't have any money for publicity."

There's certainly place--nay, a need-- for this kind of advocacy-criticism. Especially when it's devoted to the shows that can't afford press agents.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Ticket Price Problems, cont. (DC edition)

Sure enough, just as NYT was running Charles Isherwood's take on ticket prices, WaPo offered the DC edition by Peter Marks.

Inspiring story of the small Catalyst theatre there, who took the plunge--without any corporate-backed safety net--into $10 tickets.

When Scott Fortier proposed reducing ticket prices for his company, Catalyst Theater, to the fire-sale level of $10 for all seats at all times, his board took a great big gulp.

Everyone knows, after all, that the costs of putting on plays go up, not down, every year, and that apart from cajoling deep-pocketed foundations and patrons for gifts, the only way to pay the bills is to charge more at the gate. But what Fortier coveted more than checks were fuller houses for the modern plays and revitalized classics Catalyst stages at the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop -- an aim that was not being met at the company's regular prices of $25 to $30 a head.

Fortier's cheap-seat strategy has proved enormously popular: This past season, its first full one at $10 a pop, the company performed to an all-time high of 76 percent capacity, and this fall, annual subscriptions have doubled.
Marks also details some of the new "Hiptix"-esque programs by the two DC biggies Arena and Shakespeare--basically limited discounts for under 35'ers. But as you read all the restrictions and exceptions on these and similar programs you start to wonder how much does it help to require ID checks, only certain days in certain combinations, etc. As mentioned in a comment earlier, TCG has launched some totally free nights of theatre across the country involving a bunch of member companies. But ultimately nothing will do as much good for theatre as cheap tix all the time. The audience sought for with these campaigns is an impulse buy audience, remember. If they were inclined to register for a membership and commit to certain days in advance...well, they'd become subscribers, wouldn't they.

The Tryout

When producing a new musical, take it out of town first. That's the long-standing tradition on Broadway.

But a tryout is pricey, and forget privacy: The websites devoted to first-night chatter have killed the romantic notion of a safe haven where artists can create a show far from the prying eyes of Gotham gossipmongers.

Nonetheless, most legiters wouldn't open in Gotham without one.

Find out why in Gordon Cox's Variety article today.

I'm reminded of an old Broadway joke. If they caught Hitler, what should be his punishment? Send him out of town with a musical.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Bravo, Charles Isherwood

Of course the headliner in today's Arts & Leisure is the up-close-and-impersonal with Mr. Pinter, a must-read.

But check out also Isherwood's very comprehensive and thought provoking essay on the New York theatre's gradual acknowledgement of and steps toward mitigating our crisis of the ticket-price.

Now I have said on this site many times that I don't think that cheaper tickets are a cure-all to the problem of fostering a younger generation of theatregoers. But certainly it's a component. And the chances of hooking new audiences once they do find an interest in theatre will be easier if the financial investment is not so high.

Now I pride myself on rarely paying more than $40 for a ticket. But that's because I'm on countless email lists, memberships, and other discount categories. (Not to mention a subscriber to some theatres.) Isherwood offers the excellent reminder that this is a bandaid and doesn't address the real problem:

There have long been various programs aimed at making mainstream theater accessible to wider audiences at lower prices. The Theater Development Fund’s TKTS booth (where a half-price ticket to the back row can now cost more than $50, including service charges) is the most prominent, but the organization also offers other ticket discounts to members. Most major not-for-profit theaters have student outreach programs or discount offers for younger theatergoers. But they tend to focus on audiences already actively interested in theater. You have to know what the Theater Development Fund is to seek out its bargains, just as you have to be a regular visitor to the many theater-related Web sites that have discount-ticket offers to take advantage of them.

So Isherwood rightly points to the Signature Theatre experiment soliciting corporate subsidies to mark down all tickets as a watershed moment. "The Signature initiative simplified the process, taking the work out of it," he says. "Instead of signing up for a program or visiting a theater’s Web site, all you had to do was buy a ticket." (And it is a subsidy: tickets for Iphigenia 2.o, for instance, clearly label it as a "$65 ticket less $45 subsidy." It's almost like Time Warner is paying me $45 to go see it! Call it a "challenge grant," I guess)

More than the increases in younger audiences, maybe the most heartening stat the Signature gave Isherwood is: "The number of attendees with annual income of less than $50,000 grew by 25 percent." Seems like rather obvious logic. But good to prove that it works. And that our theatres need not be enclaves of just the wealthier classes. For ticket buying is a form of clout. So even though the richest patrons may continue to exert influence on the board and upper management, all those under-$50 grand attendees can now have a voice, too, in the programming of a theatre.

But remember: "The reduced-ticket initiative was relatively easy at the Signature because it produces just three shows a season at a 160-seat house." And, at usually fewer than eight shows a week, on one of the lower-rung Off-Broadway contracts, at that. So how such strategies can translate to bigger companies is an open question. Isherwood interviews both Roundabout's Todd Haimes and Lincoln Center's Andre Bishop on what their hopes are. Haimes is proud of finally getting "aggressive" with their lowering of "Hiptix" tickets, offering more 1st night cheap seats, and adding a blackbox space at $20 a pop, for subscribers and newbies alike. ("The company decided to start the program immediately, rather than wait to get a corporate sponsor," Isherwood adds.) Bishop meanwhile is much more cautious--and limited by the complex "membership" system at LCT, where they are technically sold out in advance most of the time. And their student-discount program, as noted, is even more complicated, forcing you to get on some magic "list" way ahead of time, otherwise, whether or not everyone on the list uses those tickets, you're out of luck. Not exactly encouraging of that average young single-ticket buyer who might want to check out that new Sarah Ruhl or Christoper Shinn play. (Though LCT did do more outreach than I've ever seen on those two shows. Plus, Bishop reiterates their plan to build a new third space solely for new plays.)

So while there's no way for these big B'way-size companies to mark down all their seats, I suddenly had the thought: what about just the balcony? The idea occurred to me when Isherwood started pointing out the ahead-of-the curve thinking going on in classical music and dance:
The Met also reduced its cheapest tickets to $15 from $25 last season. New York City Ballet did the same, halving the price of its cheap seats, to $15 from $30. Sales tripled.

Currently, the balcony at a Broadway house (even at the nonprofit Roundabout & Manhattan Theatre Club theatres) averages well above $50. The experience many novice ticketbuyers have in such overpriced bad seats at a middling show does more harm to the future artform perhaps than anything else. (The feeling of lack of value for your money is the most irreparable kind of damage.)

So what about a commitment to a $25 of even $30 top in the balcony? I bet it would not take much more of a financial subsidy than the one Time Warner currently gives Signature. And while, yes, the seats are sometimes too far back for certain shows, at least people would accept the risk for the price. There always were great "balcony shows" in the history of Broadway, plays so original or subversive that they turned off the high-rollers downstairs, but solicited ovations from the common folk in the rafters. For all the class division, it would not be bad first step toward restoring some kind of class balance to the theatre.

While those shows currently selling out at the current prices may feel no incentive, it's certainly a worthy investment in the future of Broadway to populate the balcony with enthusiastic and diverse peoples of all ages, rather than the often disgruntled, confused, and frankly gypped patrons stuffed into those little seats right now.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Lockout Update: Producers Win?

Thanks to Steve on Broadway for tipping us off to Jeremy Gerard's apparent scoop in Bloomberg yesterday that the producers may get what they want after all without having to resort to a lockout of the stagehands. Still no final agreement, but the union reportedly has assented in principle to a smaller required load-in crew. In exchange for higher load-in pay.
Reports Gerard:

The turnaround on Thursday by Local 1 came at the end of a tense day of negotiations, the two people said, when the union side apparently recognized that this time, the producers were willing to face a shutdown rather than extend the status quo.
Interesting, though, that the theatre owners (Shuberts, Nedelanders, Jujamcyn) were so panicked about a shutdown they wanted to back down. But the mighty League persisted.
Earlier in the week, the people said, there had been dissent within the ranks of management, which includes both Broadway theater owners, who traditionally wielded the most power in negotiations, and producers, who actually pay the bills. When the theater owners nearly acceded to the union demand to hold firm on the work rules, producers balked. According to the sources, the producers insisted on holding firm to the demand that the load-in rules be changed.
So that was Thursday. According to a small Metro item in the Times today, negotiations yesterday went till midnight and have just been extended to Tuesday.

By the way, according to Gerard, "The cost of the load-in can easily exceed $1 million and was, the producers argued, a contributing factor in the 80 percent failure rate of Broadway shows." Well, some shows, maybe.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Legend of Sleepy Sweeney

Yes, all Tim Burton movies look alike. But still, the Sweeney Todd trailer is wicked cool.

Interesting, though, that it is apparently not being sold as a musical. In fact, until the very end I was convinced they were not doing Sondheim's Sweeney at all. (lots of talking, little singing)

Burton, Depp are marquee names. Not Steve.

In fact--if I'm not mistaken, this is the first feature film of a Sondheim musical since....(drum roll)... Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. In 1966*.

(I'm not counting TV broadcasts of Broadway productions, of course.)

To be fair, Hollywood pretty much stopped making musicals after that for a long, long time.

Also to be fair, to Sondheim, that film is unwatchable.

Correction: Commenters inform me I am neglecting a 1978 film of "A Little Night Music," directed by Hal Prince shortly after the Broadway original, starring Liz Taylor. Apparently, this film was not a good film.

*Also, I got the "Forum" movie date wrong: 1966, not 1963.

Lockout Update* (*Updated)

That extra week of negotiations apparently hasn't yet solved the impending producer-stagehand crisis on Broadway, according to Riedel at least:

As of deadline yesterday, the producers and stagehands were still caught up in what I'm told were extremely tense and difficult negotiations. Sources say the personal animosity between Bernie Plum, lawyer for the producers, and James Claffey, head of the stagehands' union, has poisoned the contract talks. Says a top theater producer, "Everybody's on tenterhooks."
Maybe they can recruit those tweens as scabs?

UPDATE: The absolute latest as of noon today, this just in from Crain's NY Business and their Miriam Kreinin Souccar. Negotiations extended today after officially ending last night with bupkis.
Yesterday’s meeting ended at 9:30 pm without an agreement, but the groups decided to reconvene at 2:30 p.m. today. The two sides have been in talks since their three-year agreement expired in July.
And some interesting analysis:
Insiders say that by extending the deadline repeatedly, as it has been doing, the League reduces its negotiating power. The association wants to settle the matter prior to November, the start of Broadway’s busy holiday season. If negotiations stretch into that period, the union would gain the advantage, because a strike at that time would cause the most damage.
Should producers be worried?
Last weekend Local One met with the other Broadway unions to seek their support if there is a lockout. Just as they did during the musician’s strike a few years ago, the Broadway employees agreed to band together.
In a word, yes.

If you have Broadway tickets for next week--or even this weekend--you may want to stay tuned...

L'Affaire "Catered"

Remember that little LA Times review I posted Wednesday about A Catered Affair? Well, someone ain't happy with Charles McNulty about it.

"In life there is always one badly behaved guest at the party, and in this case it was the reviewer from the L.A. Times," Fierstein [i.e. Harvey] wrote in his e-mail, which went to, among others, the head of the William Morris theater department and executives at Jujamcyn Theaters, co-producers of "A Catered Affair."

"The man begins his piece by telling us that he hates the original film, hates the original teleplay, has no respect or even like for the work of Paddy Chayefsky, dislikes social drama in general and downright loathes me.

"He then wastes the rest of his newspaper's space trying to justify his loathsome opinion. I'm sorry, friends, but that's not reviewing, that's simply proselytizing."

True, he must be touchy about McNulty saying he sings "as though he just gargled with thumbtacks." But remember, Fierstein also wrote the book for "Catered" (adapted from a Chayevsky original) as well as staring as his own interpolated "gay uncle" character. So he's out to protect his property. To wit, reports the Riedel:
And in laying the groundwork for "A Catered Affair," he's dined with some of Broadway's most influential reporters, columnists and bloggers.
Hmm. Who are these bloggers of whom you speak, Michael?

Carnegie Deli would be fine with me, Harvey.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Discount Booth to Nowhere


NYT veteran metro reporter Sam Roberts gives an update on the "progress" of the new Duffy Square TKTS booth. Who knew such a little patch of land would take on "Big Dig" proportions.

The development fund was diverted after 9/11. Meanwhile, the price tag increased to $14.5 million, $11.5 million of it from the city.....Four-hundred-and fifty-foot deep geothermal wells have been drilled in the middle of Times Square to provide air-conditioning. But groundbreaking was 17 months ago. The Empire State Building was finished in less than 14 months. How did a six-month project that was supposed to be completed last December turn into at least a two-year one?

Well, one of the contractors went bankrupt. And the innovative design has proved challenging to engineer. Glass panels and beams fabricated in Austria are finally being packed for shipment to New York to construct what Tim Tompkins, president of the Times Square Alliance, describes as “the Spanish Steps on steroids.”

Elsewhere Roberts likens the structure to "the fiberglass hull of a racing yacht." I still think of it as some conveyor belt off a cliff myself.

What it actually is is ­ "a glowing, re- glass 27-step staircase that, as one British engineer boasted, will be able to accommodate 1,500 'fat Americans.'"

Maybe that's why I'm getting that cattlefarm slaughterhouse vibe from it.

Until the (projected) completion in Spring '08, TKTS will continue to operate out of the driveway behind the Marriott Marquis hotel.

B'way Generation Gap

It ain't just between the grown-ups and the tweens, says Riedel:

Just how big is the audience now for the classic old Broadway shows? Smart producers I know believe that the audience has finally clicked over from the World War II generation to the baby-boom generation.

Your grandmother loved "South Pacific." Your mother loves "Jersey Boys."
Good point. Has the "nostalgia era" just moved up a few decades? And will classic 40s and 50s musicals (and plays in general) soon be greeted as if they were 19th century curiosities?

That was the feeling I had at Hairspray, surrounded by bopping boomers who quite unironically behaved as if they were at Bye Bye Birdie. See also the continuing Grease machine. (Holding steady at 85% capacity.)

Riedel's context, by the way, is the push to bring back the Laurents-Lupone Gypsy on Broadway next year. Uphill battle, believe it or not.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

"Catered Affair" out West

Charles McNulty's LA Times review of A Catered Affair doesn't bode well for its highly anticipated Broadway arrival.

Nut graph:

"A Catered Affair" has some funny bits, but a desire to keep things gritty and real (in a fake 1950s way) stymies any farcical momentum. And with a score by John Bucchino that's mostly talky recitative, the work often seems like a serious chamber drama more inclined to frown than smile. The exception to this, of course, is when Fierstein takes possession of the stage. Like a gay golem, he terrorizes everyone with his sentimental shtick and sandpapery delivery of songs, which makes him sound as though he just gargled with thumbtacks.
Mostly, though, McNulty blames the choice of source material as well, the Paddy Chayevsky teleplay & subsequent screenplay.
The stern lesson to take away, however, is that not every movie can -- or should -- be transformed into a musical. Some, like Chayefsky's sad-sack dramas, are better left to the wee hours of late-night television, when the flickering images of the past are all we need to distract us from our insomnia.
Uh oh. Better tell John C. Reilly who's been developing a "Marty: The Musical." (Seriously.)

Personally I'm still a fan of Chayevsky's Network screenplay, but I must plead ignorance on the rest of his oeuvre.

George Grizzard




















A fine career stage actor, George Grizzard died yesterday, at 79. A foremost interpreter of Albee, he co-starred in the original Virginia Woolf (above left, as the young football stud), the marvelous Delicate Balance revival of the 90s, and Seascape on Broadway just two years ago (above right).

Acting right up to the end, his last appearance was in Paul Rudnick's Regrets Only last year.

He made his Broadway debut in 1955 and hardly did any films in the ensuing 50 years.

I will always remember him from a night three years ago, Valentine's Day, dining alone in a Union Square restaurant before his call for Nicky Silver's Beautiful Child, a little Off Broadway production he was starring in at the Vineyard Theatre down the street. It took me a while to realize that the charming old gentleman offering unsolicited menu advice to me and my girlfriend was a stage legend.

Check out the obit and the slideshow. What a career.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

"Shakespeare Abridged" Abridged Permanently by School

''The only thing I can think of that she might have found objectionable is that there is the use of the word penis, twice.''

-Paul Bartz whose Windwood Theatricals touring group was canceled mid-performance at a Mesa, AZ middle school. Apparently "The Complete Works of Shakespeare Abridged" was too racy. The AP has the funny and disturbing datails.

"The Degrassi Set"

The Broadway revolution will be cell-ivised. Representative tweenies at Legally Blonde.
photo: Joe Fornabaio


Last December, NYT's Campbell Robertson told us Broadway was playing to toddlers. Now, in a very similar front-page feature, it's tweens. Which is it, man?

Well at least they're getting older, right?

Nut graph:

The idea of Broadway as a destination primarily for big-city sophisticates, of course, has gone the way of the top hat. The proportion of Broadway audiences composed of out-of-towners, who are likely to be looking for family entertainment, has grown by half in the last 25 years. At the same time, bringing young people to Broadway has become an almost existential mission for producers.

One company that pointed the way was Disney, whose successful shows, like “Beauty and the Beast,” brought in children as never before, many of whom grew up to become the teenagers longing for the sassier “Legally Blonde.”

But Robertson actually spends much of the article dispelling the idea that tween power is the answer to all woes:

Movies are relatively cheap and accessible, so Hollywood can court a narrow segment of the population and still make a killing. Thus a so-called chick flick like “Legally Blonde” can gross $96 million domestically appealing almost exclusively to, well, so-called chicks.

A successful show on Broadway has to attract people who are, first, in or visiting New York and, second, willing to spend a good deal of money. That’s already a pretty small crowd. Slicing it any further is risky.

Hence, you gotta fill the rest of the seats with the same old old people as before.

The optimistic message is....more young people growing up on theatre, and thus more future audiences.

The pessimistic side? More Legally Blondes.

Monday, October 01, 2007

2+2+1

"Every Geffen subscriber should love two plays, like two others and hate the fifth."

-Gil Cates (as paraphrased in Variety) on running LA's Geffen Theatre. Not bad advice, coming from a real Hollywood guy.

Worthwhile read, about the Geffen stepping up its commitment to new play premieres (though by established writers) and trying to make LA theatre matter on the national scene.