Friday, January 28, 2011

Man plans, God laughs

Man plans, God laughs.

Change the gender and that Yiddish proverb sums up my life. I've always had the worst timing.

I've been a regular theatergoer since 2007 and it's been a wonderful experience. I've grown to love visiting New York City and seeing shows on Broadway - and elsewhere. I treasure the friendships that I've made.

But unfortunately, I became a theatre fan at a point in my life when responsibilities made it tough to be away from home. And now, what little freedom I've enjoyed is going to be even more curtailed. Getting to any theatre anywhere, even in my hometown, will be more difficult.

My first blog post, in September 2007, was a review of The 39 Steps at Boston's Huntington Theatre Company. In an act of hubris, I bought tickets for two plays in Boston this winter. I won't get to see either one. Clearly, I had deluded myself into believing I could live a life that was simply beyond my reach.

Internet access will be spotty for awhile - I'm mainly relying on my iPhone for my link to the outside world. So this is probably a good time to take a break from blogging. Thank-you for reading and hopefully I'll be back.

In the meantime, when you're at the theatre and if the spirit moves you please take a moment before the music starts or the curtain rises to think of me. I wish that I could be there with you.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Bill of Rights for Broadway ticket-buyers

Since I started going to Broadway shows, in April 2007, most of my experiences have been great. But I've also learned a lot about what can go wrong. So here's my suggestion for a ticket-buyer's Bill of Rights.

Sure they're obvious to veteran theatergoers but maybe not to people seeing their first show. And they're pretty simple steps. Let's face it, the producers are selling a product and we consumers should be able to make an informed purchase.

1.) Websites and promotional materials should list the date of preview performances and the expected opening night.

Sure, you can find the date a play or musical begins previews by Googling it - but why should you have to do that? You don't have to go to a third-party website to find out basic information about any other product.

In fact, not properly labeling preview performances may be a violation of New York's consumer protection laws.

Ticket buyers, 63 percent of whom are tourists and some of whom may be first-time Broadway theatergoers, should know when they're seeing a work in progress as opposed to the finished product.

2.) The ticket seller should list the dates when an above-the-title star will not be performing.

Right now if you go to Telecharge you can buy a ticket through the first week of November for How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, starring Daniel Radcliffe.

There are no dates listed for Radcliffe's vacation but he could take a week off in the summer or fall and when that happens, there are going to be some mighty disappointed Harry Potter fans. Of course they can get a refund but what if they've come to New York expressly to see him and can't easily return?

(I'm just using this show as an example since he'll be one of the biggest names on Broadway this spring. He may not take a vacation, the show may not last until November. Who knows?)

As I learned with La Cage aux Folles, sometimes there's no way to tell when you buy your ticket whether or not the star will performing. And I'm talking about planned vacations. While I ended up loving the musical with the understudy, it's an expensive crap shoot that ticket-buyers shouldn't be forced to play.

Producers, make an agreement about vacation time at the beginning of the run and inform the public. I realize this will result in your box office dropping for that week but selling tickets knowing the star won't be appearing is false advertising.

3.) Promotional material should state that the play or musical could close at any time, even it's advertised as a limited run.

What? Everyone knows a show could close at any time. Well as I found out with Elling - not everyone does.

When the producers announced it was closing, a week after opening night, I went to the show's Facebook page and saw comments from disappointed Brendan Fraser fans in England and Australia. They bought airline tickets and booked hotel rooms in anticipation of seeing him onstage. And it sounded like they couldn't easily get their money back.

If they'd known the play might not last its advertised 20 weeks, they might have waited until after the reviews came out before making their plans.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Remembering Jill Haworth

I have to say a few words about British actress Jill Haworth, who died Monday in Manhattan at age 65.

The New York Times obituary noted that she was the original Sally Bowles in Cabaret, which I didn't realize until I watched the PBS documentary Broadway: The American Musical. I knew her as Karen Hansen from the 1960 movie Exodus, based on the Leon Uris novel about the birth of Israel. (That's her with costars Eva Marie Saint and Paul Newman.)

In fact, I was surprised when Haworth's name came up in the documentary and wondered if it was even the same person but it was, her blond hair covered by a dark wig. To me, Sally Bowles was Liza Minnelli from the movie. It never occurred to me that someone else originated the role on Broadway.

It's interesting that Haworth's two biggest performances serve as historical bookends - a bohemian nightclub singer in Germany as the Nazis are rising to power and a young Jewish girl trying to build a new life after World War II.

I watched Exodus more than once before visiting Israel for the first time in 1995. That was a time in my life when I pretty much ate, slept and breathed anything to do with the place, which culminated in my moving to Tel Aviv for a year. Today, it's hard to believe I was so obsessed.

I realize the movie is long and overly sentimental but Haworth was so sweet and self-assured. My Israeli tour guide dismissed Exodus with some embarrassment, saying of Paul Newman's character, nobody could be that perfect.

I still find the film incredibly moving, especially when the refugees are being held on Cyprus and later, on board the Exdous, desperate to break the British blockade of Palestine. In his review for the Times, Bosley Crowther called Haworth's performance "fresh and deeply poignant."

The Times obituary says information about her family and survivors wasn't available. But she leaves a performance that has stayed with me.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Theatre wish list: spring 2011

It's cold, it's snowy and icy, it gets dark early. What better way to keep my spirits up than to look ahead. These are the Broadway and off-Broadway shows I'm most excited about seeing this spring. Of course I hope to see more but if I had to pick ...


Catch Me If You Can

I liked the movie, with Leonardo DiCaprio as con man Frank Abagnale Jr. But the main attraction is the score. Hairspray is one of my favorite musicals so I want to check out the next show from Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman.

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

I enjoyed the Australian movie, about three drag queens traveling across the Outback. It's poignant story about a journey, and who doesn't look forward to a road trip? Plus, there will be an actual bus onstage.

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

I thought Daniel Radcliffe was so compelling in a dramatic role in Equus. I actually enjoyed him more onstage than in the Harry Potter movies. So I'm curious to see how he'll handle musical comedy. And he looks so cute in that blue bow tie!


War Horse

I've watched a trailer from Britain's National Theatre and I'm quite taken with the lifelike horse puppets. The story, about a boy's search for his beloved horse amid the trenches of World War I, sounds compelling.

House of Blue Leaves

The revival of John Guare's play, which takes place on one eventful day in New York City in 1965, features Edie Falco and Ben Stiller. Of all the actors appearing on Broadway this spring, they are the two I'm looking forward to the most. Plus, it's directed by David Cromer and I think his work is brilliant.


I love Mark Rylance after La Bete and I've heard he's terrific in Jerusalem, too. The Guardian wonders whether Jez Butterworth's 3-hour play will be too British for Americans. I'm willing to give it a try. And I've been to the original Jerusalem, so I'm intrigued to see if I'll get the connection.


It's tougher to come up with an off-Broadway list. There are so many more shows and some of my choices may have opened and closed by the time I get to New York. But realistically, here are three I'd love to see and I have a good chance of catching:

By the way, Meet Vera Stark

It's a new play by Lynn Nottage, who wrote the Pulitzer-winning Ruined. Plus, from the description it sounds like such an interesting story: A seventy-year journey into the life of Vera Stark, a headstrong African-American maid and budding actress, and her tangled relationship with her boss, a white Hollywood star desperately grasping to hold onto her career.

The Other Place

In Sharr White's play, Laurie Metcalf portrays a medical researcher working on a treatment for Alzheimer's whose life takes a disorienting turn. Metcalf is the draw for me. I first saw her as Kate Jerome in Brighton Beach Memoirs in 2009 and I thought she gave an amazing performance in the short-lived revival. She's an actress I would see in anything, if I had the chance.

The Shaggs: Philosophy of the World

A father in New Hampshire in the 1970s forces his three daughters to form a rock 'n' roll band as a way to climb out of poverty. They're not very talented but they end up becoming a cult favorite before fading into obscurity. I know it sounds a little bizarre but the musical is based on a true story. And I'm intrigued.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Why I get The New Yorker

I just renewed my subscription to The New Yorker although I was a little on the fence about it. I've gone through periods of getting the magazine then cancelling, because they do pile up.

But it helps me live a rich fantasy life, pretending I'm on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. (Do people who live in New City York read The New Yorker? I'm assuming they do but I don't really know.)

And where else can you get insight like this, in Adam Gopnik's interview with chef Ferran Adria, of the legendary Spanish restaurant elBulli:
Were we, I asked, on the verge of entirely breaking down the line between sweet and savory?
He looked at me with delighted triumph. “It can’t be that an American is asking me that!” he said. “A hamburger with ketchup and Coca-Cola? That’s the most intense symbiosis of sweet and savory imaginable. It’s your cultural theme.”
Our cultural theme is a hamburger with ketchup and a Coke - now I know! I searched Google for a photo to accompany this post but to be honest, they were all pretty unappetizing.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The ethics of Spider-Man's marketing

I haven't said very much about Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark because I haven't seen the show and I didn't feel like I had anything to add to the debate that hadn't already been said.

But I just read a column about the ethics of professional critics reviewing the musical while it's still in previews and this jumped out at me:

"Broadway audiences know that previews are early glimpses of works in progress, and that is part of their appeal. The audiences for previews are part of the creative process, for how they react to a performance will help decide what stays and what gets cut. The prices they pay for the privilege of being Broadway guinea pigs are fair if they choose to pay them."

Sorry, that holds true for a portion of the audience. But 63 percent of Broadway tickets are purchased by tourists and I bet many of them have no idea when a show is in previews or exactly what that means. For some, Spider-Man may be their first Broadway experience.

In fact, if you go to the Spider-Man web site, it says "Now playing on Broadway." It doesn't say in previews or that the musical is subject to change. I don't think the word "preview" is even mentioned on the web site, so I don't know if it's a "choice" on the ticket-buyer's part or simply not knowing how privileged they are to be attending a preview performance.

And if they are familiar with previews, they may have purchased their ticket thinking it was after the much-delayed opening night, now scheduled for Feb. 7.

I just checked Ticketmaster for a performance in late January, while the show is still in previews, and ticket prices range from $76.50, for the cheapest seat in the balcony, to $289, for a premium seat in the orchestra. If you have a family of four, $306 is a hefty price to pay to be a "guinea pig" for director Julie Taymor and rest of the creative team.

You can debate the appropriateness of professional critics buying a ticket and writing a review before opening night. But please, don't tell me that Broadway audiences fully understand what a preview means, especially when the show's own web site misleads them.

If you want to talk about ethics, let's talk about the ethics of producers who fail to tell the ticket-buying public exactly how much of a rough draft they're spending their money to see and charging them plenty to be part of a work in progress.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year!

Happy 2011!

Fifty years ago, in 1961, 54 shows opened on Broadway.

Musicals from 1961 include Frank Loesser's How to Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, Jerry Herman's Milk and Honey, Bob Merrill's Carnival!, Johnny Burke's Donnybrook!, and Comden and Green's Subways are for Sleeping.

Among the year's plays were Robert Bolt's A Man for All Seasons, Neil Simon's Come Blow Your Horn, Jean Kerr's Mary, Mary, Ossie Davis' Purlie Victorious, Henry and Phoebe Ephron's Take Her, She's Mine and Harold Pinter's The Caretaker.

Tennessee Williams' The Night of the Iguana featured Bette Davis in her final Broadway role. William Shatner appeared in A Shot in the Dark before he went on to boldly go where no one had gone before. And Dustin Hoffman made his Broadway debut, in The Cook for Mr. General, six years before starring in one of my favorite movies, The Graduate.

Three plays opened and closed on the same night: The Garden of Sweets, set in a Greek-American candy store and ice cream parlor in a city on the Great Lakes; Julia, Jake and Uncle Joe, which took place in a New York apartment, a Moscow hotel room, the office of the American ambassador and the Kremlin; and Once There Was a Russian, set in 1787, in Potemkin's study in a small Crimean palace on the sea.

One show from 1961 that became a hit is on my must-see list for 2011: the revival of How to Succeed in Business, with Daniel Radcliffe taking on the role created by Robert Morse. Radcliffe was compelling in his Broadway debut in Equus and I'm looking forward to seeing him in a musical.

Wherever you are I hope your 2011 is happy, healthy and filled with great theatre and as always, thank-you for stopping by.