Monday, May 24, 2010

Sean Hayes to host 2010 Tony Awards

So, Sean Hayes has been named as host of the 64th Tony Awards, on June 13. I'm a little surprised, since he's also a nominee - for Best Leading Actor in A Musical in Promises, Promises. I'd think those eight shows a week would keep him pretty busy.

But according to this L.A. Times article, several nominees have pulled double duty, including Hugh Jackman, Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, Jane Alexander and George C. Scott. (Although I can't quite picture George C. Scott hosting an awards show!)

I'm sure Hayes will do everything a host is supposed to do: be funny and charming and keep things moving. I'm curious to see him when he's not playing over-the-top Jack from Will and Grace. (You can read Hayes' answers to questions from New York Times readers here.)

Although honestly, the host doesn't really matter. Sure, he or she might pick up a few extra viewers. (Or drive some away.) But by and large if you're interested in Broadway and theatre you'll watch the show. If not, you won't.

And I really like this clip of Hayes with Promises, Promises costar Kristin Chenoweth. He's so appealing - adorable and sweet in an understated way. I know you can't tell much from a brief clip but his Chuck Baxter didn't remind me at all of Jack.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

In memoriam: Michael Kuchwara

I'm so sorry I never had a chance to meet Associated Press drama critic Michael Kuchwara, who died Saturday at age 63. He was widely admired as a generous person, a fair-minded critic and a hardworking reporter.

One quote struck me from the AP obituary. In a 2006 American Theatre Wing video Kuchwara said, "I'm writing for an audience that may never see the shows that I'm writing about."

It's a reminder that he began covering Broadway in 1984, when the Internet was still in its infancy.

If you lived outside of the New York City area and you loved theatre it was probably Kuchwara's reviews and articles that you read, hanging on every word that made its way into the local paper.

Perhaps you dreamed of getting to the Great White Way, as a performer or in the audience at a Broadway show. I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say that Kuchwara's reviews most likely played a role in nurturing those dreams.

Of course it's much easier now for far-flung theatre fans to follow Broadway from an abundance of Web sites.

But Kuchwara's reviews and stories were the most widely disseminated of any critic. He brought a bit of Broadway and 0ff-Broadway to readers in big cities and small towns across the United States and Canada.

And Kuchwara had a job that requires great skill from a writer. Anyone can write long and complex, filled with insider jargon. Not everyone can write clear and concise and accessible to all. (Here are some of his recent reviews.)

Michael Kuchwara was able to spend a good part of his professional life doing something he loved, no small accomplishment. From reading the tributes that have been coming in, it's clear that the theatre community has lost a great champion.

Friday, May 21, 2010

As Lost ends, what got lost for me

With Lost ending on Sunday night, this paragraph from a story in today's New York Times pretty much sums up how I feel about the series:

"Since Lost itself favors oracular pronouncements, here’s one more: The show had one good season, its first. It was very, very good — as good as anything on television at the time — but none of the seasons since have approached that level, and the current sixth season, rushed, muddled and dull, has been the weakest."

I watched Season 1 on dvd and I loved it - especially the way the back stories of the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815 slowly unfolded. As things moved forward, I figured the story would be about their exploration of the island and their attempt to get back to civilization.

But in the subsequent five years characters and interconnections multiplied, the violence ratcheted way up, the action moved back and forth through time at a dizzying pace and it got to be too much. The plot was much too complex and I just couldn't keep up.

Seriously, did you care about any of the succeeding characters or stories as much as you did about Jack, Kate and Sawyer, Michael and Walt, Jin and Sun, Claire and Charlie, Rose and Bernard, Locke, Hurley and Sayid, Shannon and Boone?

Plus, I love a good mystery but as time went on, Lost became less of one and more of a supernatural battle between the forces of good and evil. I feel like that wasn't what I signed up for in the beginning.

So while I've kept watching, hoping some questions would get answered, I haven't really felt emotionally involved like I did that first season. I feel like producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse were making it up on the fly, without a real sense of where the show was heading or even if it made sense.

Of course I'll be sitting in front of the TV on Sunday night. I really do want to find out how it ends. But I'm just sad that somewhere along the line, amid the smoke and explosions and science and philosophy, the show's human element got lost.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Elie Wiesel versus a playwright

File this one under: What was she thinking?

A play by Deb Margolin that included a fictitious conversation between Bernard Madoff and Elie Wiesel in Madoff's jail cell has been canceled.

Wiesel, among those fleeced by the disgraced financier, objected to his depiction in "Imagining Madoff" and threatened legal action if it were performed at the Jewish theatre troupe Theater J in Washington.

Margolin, a performance artist who teaches theatre at Yale, says her intention was to use Wiesel as a foil for Madoff because “his name is synonymous with decency, morality, the struggle for human dignity and kindness.”

She says she was "devastated by his response" in a letter Wiesel wrote to her. I'll bet. I imagine that having your work described as "obscene" and "defamatory" by a Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize laureate must be humbling.
Update: The conversation continues at Parabasis, where Margolin comments.

This episode does raise some interesting questions.

What obligations do playwrights have when they depict real people? Must they adhere to the truth, the historical record, or can they use their imaginations?

Update 2: NPR interviewed lawyer and Columbia University lecturer Richard Lehv, who specializes in intellectual property, about what rights a living person has when they're fictionalized.

Personally, I do think you have to take some care when dealing with historical figures, with people who are still alive. But I also think artists should be free to experiment. It's a difficult balance and I'm not going to pretend I always know the right answer.

Two plays I've seen on Broadway, Mary Stuart and The Farnsworth Invention, have included imagined meetings between historical figures. (There are probably others that I've forgotten. It's practically a literary genre all its own.)

A crucial scene in the play Mary Stuart involves a confrontation between Mary, Queen of Scots and Queen Elizabeth I that never happened. The historical accuracy of Aaron Sorkin's play The Farnsworth Invention has been questioned and likewise includes a fictitious meeting between the main characters.

Of course, the real people who are at the center of those plays have died. I didn't get a chance to see Enron but I wonder whether playwright Lucy Prebble received any correspondence from the very much alive Jeffrey Skilling and Andrew Fastow.

Since they're both serving prison sentences in connection with the collapse of the Houston-based energy company I guess they could hardly claim their reputations have been damaged. Perhaps that's something for playwrights to keep in mind.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Detroit 1-8-7 makes ABC's fall lineup

It's official! Newly minted Theatre World and Outer Critics Circle award winner and Tony nominee Jon Michael Hill will be on television this fall. Set the DVR for Tuesdays at 10 p.m.

The police drama Detroit 1-8-7, featuring Michael Imperioli of The Sopranos and Hill of Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Company, has been picked up by ABC.

While I'm not a big fan of police shows, I was a big fan of The Sopranos and I thought Hill was terrific in his Broadway debut last fall in Superior Donuts. I'm excited about seeing the two of them together in very different roles.

Here's ABC's description:

"What does it take to be a detective on America's most dangerous streets? Get ready to be part of the action when a documentary crew rolls with some of Detroit's finest."

As I wrote last month, Imperioli plays Detective Louis Fitch, a hot-tempered veteran with an impeccable record for closing cases. And Hill is his new partner, Detective Damon Washington who, in addition to the pressure of his first day working in homicide, is also about to become a father for the first time.

Here's a clip:

Monday, May 10, 2010

Why I like Kristin Chenoweth's reply

I'm glad Kristin Chenoweth is getting lots of praise for her reply to a Newsweek story that questioned whether gay actors can play straight roles.

(The author cited Chenoweth's Promises, Promises costar, Sean Hayes, and Jonathan Groff, currently appearing on Glee.)

It's an eloquent and forceful answer to a ridiculous, offensive premise. There's one sentence I especially appreciated: “This article offends me because I am a human being, a woman and a Christian."

Thank-you, Ms. Chenoweth. It's nice to see someone use their religious beliefs not as an excuse to justify bigotry but as a mandate to speak out against prejudice.

Too often it's the most intolerant, reactionary elements who are the loudest and draw the most attention. It's easy to forget that there are many people of faith who are opposed to homophobia and are accepting, caring, committed to equality.

And really, this comment from Kieran on pretty much sums it up:

"I was actually shocked when I learned that Dustin Hoffman doesn’t really have autism, Helen Mirren never actually served as the Queen of England, Michael Douglas never worked on Wall Street, and Julia Roberts wasn’t really a hooker. My life is a complete ball of confusion. What next? Is Chewbacca really just a regular guy wearing a furry suit?"

Friday, May 7, 2010

American Idiot and Godwin's Law

Something about American Idiot's appearance last week on The Late Show with David Letterman has been bothering me.

Granted, since I haven't seen the Broadway musical I was watching it out of context. But because the performance was designed to entice potential ticket-buyers I think writing about my reaction is valid.

Just to let you know where I'm coming from, I bought American Idiot when it was released in 2004. I'm not a Green Day fan but it was getting a lot of attention and I was curious. I'm not sure I ever listened to the CD all the way through.

On The Late Show, the cast sang "Holiday" and it was performed in such an energetic way that I was really getting into it, even though I had no idea who these characters were and I couldn't make out all of the lyrics.

Then I heard someone shout some words I did understand, and it stopped me cold: "Sieg heil to the president gasman." And a few verses later, something about broken glass and "kill all the [insert antigay slur here].

Now, I understand that it's punk and it's supposed to be about disaffected kids and rebellion and anti-establishment. Maybe it fits the character. As I said, I was hearing it totally out of context, as I imagine many viewers were.

All I know is, it was shocking to hear a Nazi salute in the middle of a rock 'n' roll song performed by an energetic cast of twentysomething Broadway actors on national television. Maybe because I'm Jewish and probably older than the average American Idiot fan, it made me uncomfortable.

And honestly, it would make me uncomfortable in a Broadway theatre. How should I react? One minute I'm caught up in the music and the next minute I'm stopped cold. Should I clap and cheer? What about the people around me clapping and cheering? Would they understand my unease or would they just be oblivious to the words and their meaning?

To me, it just seemed like Godwin's Law in action. Once you start throwing around Nazi comparisons, you've lost the argument. You're simply doing it for shock value.

And I wonder if a song that used a racial slur would have gotten past the CBS censors as easily as one with an anti-gay slur. To me, they're equally offensive. It's a horrible, hurtful word that's thrown around far too easily.

Green Day says "Holiday" is an antiwar song. I guess the "president gasman" is supposed to be George W. Bush. Call me old-fashioned but I'm one of those people who believes that only the Nazis should be called Nazis. Otherwise, you're demeaning their victims and trivializing what they went through.

It'll be interesting to see whether this is the song that the Best Musical nominee performs on the Tony Awards.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

2010 Tony nominations

Okay, a few thoughts on the 2009-2010 Tony nominations, which were announced today.

Since I only saw shows that opened in the first half of the Broadway season, I only have half as much to say as I normally would. But I am excited that some of my favorites were included.

Obviously, it's much more fun to watch the Tony Awards if you've seen some of the nominees.

Performers I thought were terrific in shows that have closed weren't forgotten: Jon Michael Hill in Superior Donuts, Jan Maxwell and Rosemary Harris in The Royal Family, Kate Baldwin and Christopher Fitzgerald in Finian's Rainbow and Bobby Steggert and Christiane Noll in Ragtime.

And I'm happy for two musicals I managed to see, and enjoyed, that are still running: Memphis and A Little Night Music.

In one category, Best Performance by an Actress in a Musical, I saw four out of the five nominees, everyone except Sheri Rene Scott in Everyday Rapture. I loved all four and they're such different roles that it really points to the difficulty in choosing a winner.

A couple of omissions: Reg Rogers was hilarious in The Royal Family. And I thought James Schuette's set design for Superior Donuts was amazing in its detail, right down to the wads of gum stuck underneath the tables.

I'm still sad that the revival of Brighton Beach Memoirs closed before it became eligible for the Tonys. I think Noah Robbins, Laurie Metcalf and director David Cromer certainly would have been contenders.

And finally, I feel so sorry for Kevin Mambo, who shares the role of Fela Kuti in Fela! with Sahr Ngaujah. He does half the work yet he wasn't even deemed eligible for a nomination. I imagine he'll have very mixed feelings on Tony night.

Here are the nominees. They're a great reminder of all the wonderful times I spent in Broadway theatres last fall. Congratulations to everyone! The Tony Awards will air at 8 p.m. June 13 on CBS.

Best Play

In the Next Room or the Vibrator Play, Sarah Ruhl
Next Fall, Geoffrey Nauffts
Red, John Logan
Time Stands Still, Donald Margulies

Best Musical

American Idiot
Million Dollar Quartet

Best Book of a Musical

Everyday Rapture
Dick Scanlan and Sherie Rene Scott
Jim Lewis and Bill T. Jones
Joe DiPetro
Million Dollar Quartet
Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux

Best Original Score

The Addams Family
Music & Lyrics: Andrew Lippa
Music: Adam Cork
Lyrics: Lucy Prebble
Music: Branford Marsalis
Music: David Bryan
Lyrics: David Bryan & Joe DiPetro

Best Revival of a Play

A View from the Bridge

Lend Me a Tenor

The Royal Family

Best Revival of a Musical

A Little Night Music
Finian's Rainbow

La Cage Aux Folles


Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play

Jude Law, Hamlet
Alfred Molina, Red
Liev Schreiber, A View from the Bridge
Christopher Walken, A Behanding in Spokane
Denzel Washington, Fences

Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play

Viola Davis, Fences
Valerie Harper, Looped
Linda Lavin, Collected Stories
Laura Linney, Time Stands Still
Jan Maxwell, The Royal Family

Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical

Kelsey Grammer, La Cage aux Folles
Sean Hayes, Promises, Promises
Douglas Hodge, La Cage aux Folles
Sahr Ngaujah, Fela!

Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical

Kate Baldwin, Finian's Rainbow
Montego Glover, Memphis
Christiane Noll, Ragtime
Sherie Rene Scott, Everyday Rapture
Catherine Zeta-Jones, A Little Night Music

Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play

David Alan Grier, Race
Stephen McKinley Henderson, Fences
Jon Michael Hill, Superior Donuts
Stephen Kunken, Enron
Eddie Redmayne, Red

Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play

Maria Dizzia, In the Next Room or the Vibrator Play
Rosemary Harris, The Royal Family
Jessica Hecht, A View from the Bridge
Scarlett Johansson, A View from the Bridge
Jan Maxwell, Lend Me a Tenor

Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical

Kevin Chamberlin, The Addams Family
Robin De Jesus, La Cage aux Folles
Christopher Fitzgerald, Finian's Rainbow
Bobby Steggert, Ragtime

Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical

Barbara Cook, Sondheim on Sondheim
Katie Finneran, Promises, Promises
Angela Lansbury, A Little Night Music
Karine Plantadit, Come Fly Away
Lillias White, Fela!

Best Scenic Design of a Play

John Lee Beatty, The Royal Family
Alexander Dodge, Present Laughter
Santo Loquasto, Fences
Christopher Oram, Red

Best Scenic Design of a Musical

Marina Draghici, Fela!
Christine Jones, American Idiot
Derek McLane, Ragtime
Tim Shortall, La Cage aux Folles

Best Costume Design of a Play

Martin Pakledinaz, Lend Me a Tenor
Constanza Romero, Fences
David Zinn, In the Next Room or the Vibrator Play
Catherine Zuber, The Royal Family

Best Costume Design of a Musical

Marina Draghici, Fela!
Santo Loquasto, Ragtime
Paul Tazewell, Memphis
Matthew Wright, La Cage aux Folles

Best Lighting Design of a Play

Neil Austin, Hamlet
Neil Austin, Red
Mark Henderson, Enron
Brian MacDevitt, Fences

Best Lighting Design of a Musical

Kevin Adams, American Idiot
Donald Holder, Ragtime
Nick Richings, La Cage aux Folles
Robert Wierzel, Fela!

Best Sound Design of a Play

Acme Sound Partners, Fences
Adam Cork, Enron
Adam Cork, Red
Scott Lehrer A View from the Bridge

Best Sound Design of a Musical

Jonathan Deans, La Cage aux Folles
Robert Kaplowitz, Fela!
Dan Moses Schreier and Gareth Owen, A Little Night Music
Dan Moses Schreier, Sondheim on Sondheim

Best Direction of a Play

Michael Grandage, Red
Sheryl Kaller, Next Fall
Kenny Leon, Fences
Gregory Mosher, A View from the Bridge

Best Direction of a Musical

Christopher Ashley, Memphis
Marcia Milgrom Dodge, Ragtime
Terry Johnson, La Cage aux Folles
Bill T. Jones, Ragtime

Best Choreography

Rob Ashford, Promises, Promises
Bill T. Jones, Fela!
Lynne Page, La Cage aux Folles
Twyla Tharp, Come Fly Away

Best Orchestrations

Jason Carr, La Cage aux Folles
Aaron Johnson, Fela!
Jonathan Tunick, Promises, Promises
Daryl Waters & David Bryan, Memphis

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Bomb scare in Times Square

When I lived in Tel Aviv from 1997 to 1998 I rode the city buses all the time. One ride in particular I'll always remember.

A woman motioned to a small rectangular box on the floor and asked whether it belonged to anyone. When no one claimed it, she yelled to the driver, who stopped the bus, and we all got off while he called for the bomb squad.

Thankfully, there was no bomb. What struck me was, I didn't even notice the box and if I had, it wouldn't have occurred to me to say anything. As an American, it wasn't anything I'd ever had to think about.

I got on another bus in Tel Aviv that day and I continued to ride them. After all, you can't stop living your life. I always felt very safe in Israel. I guess that's the difference between living in a country and watching the news reports from afar.

Israelis, sadly, are accustomed to being hyper vigilant. Yesterday's bomb scare in Times Square is another reminder that Americans now have to be vigilant, too. But like Israelis, we can't live our lives in fear.

Kudos to the two sidewalk vendors who alerted the police to the suspicious SUV and to the quick response from the New York Police Department, the New York Fire Department and the bomb squad. Bustling Times Square can't be an easy place to evacuate at any time.

I've been to New York City about a dozen times over the past three years and as a theatre fan, I love the convenience of staying in Times Square. I feel completely safe walking back alone from a Broadway show to my hotel at midnight.

In fact, I've felt safe everywhere I've gone in the city. It's one of my favorite places to visit. Yesterday's incident doesn't change that. The next time I get to New York I will definitely stay in Times Square, without hesitation.

Am I vigilant? Of course. Wherever I am, I'm always aware of my surroundings. That's just common sense.