Mr. Wright

Part of the only fun in a disappointing show is the chance to play casting director. As the the onstage performers struggle, it’s entertaining trying to “make it work” by substituting more exciting actors in your mind’s eye.

I had a little casting game at The Mountaintop, an interesting and ambitious new Broadway play that is seriously underserved by Samuel L. Jackson’s small performance as Martin Luther King, Jr. Broadway economics demand stunt casting, blah blah blah, but this is a role that begs for a stage performer, someone who can command the attention of thousands and put it to use in the forward thrust of a play. It’s MLK after all, a man whose power literally lived in his capacity to project and communicate.

Who would be exciting in Jackson’s role? My pick is Jeffery Wright, an insanely talented actor who always pops up the the most unexpected places. He’s done Restoration Comedy, Kushner, Suzan-Lori Parks, a James Bond movie, and everything in between, all to brilliant effect. Most importantly, he can project something epic, and epic is what The Mountaintop is all about.


Sweet and Sad and Cheap

You know that wonderful relief you feel settling into a new episode of a favorite TV show? That’s the sensation I got at the Public’s Sweet and Sad, a real-time sequel to last year’s That Hopey Changey Thing. “It’s the Apple family!” you think with a smile. “My how I’ve missed them!” (Both plays are by Richard Nelson.)

Hopey Changey was “about” the 2010 midterm elections, Sweet is “about” the tenth 9/11 anniversary, but what makes the plays wonderful is the fully-realized characters and the episodic pleasure that comes with returning to them. Fortunately for us, the entire cast of these two “Apple Family Plays” has remained the same. Their super-naturalistic performances were great then, and they’re great now.

And all for $15? Who’s knows how the Public is managing that one, but their LAB series officially makes theatergoing cheaper than the movies.

Fingers crossed the Apples are back next year, too!

Something’s Coming…

Get excited — here comes the new season!!! 45th Street is chock full of new marquees:

From left, there’s the Booth (Other Desert Cities), the Schoenfeld (Bonnie and Clyde), the Jacobs (The Mountaintop), and the Golden (Seminar). Across the street, not in view, is the Music Box (Private Lives).


I Am Lion, Hear Me Roar

For those of us who hit elementary school in the early 90’s, our first brush with musical theater came from animated films like The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King. These titles traded in traditional musical forms, but were staged by brilliant visual artists, not Broadway heavy-hitters.

As little kids, we didn’t know about Stephen Schwartz, Alan Menken, or Elton John, we just loved their characters and adored their music. Disney animation was the ultimate status symbol, too — pity the first grader who hadn’t seen Lion King on the big screen and on home video. Several of those classic titles have been turned into Broadway musicals, but it’s the films that will always stay closest to the heart of those who grew up on them.

[Read more…]

Twenty-Four Follies

Ron Raines in Follies: “I would give—what have I got?—my soul’s of little value, but I’d give it to be twenty-five again.”

What about twenty-four? Hey, that’s how old I turned the night I caught Follies. It was a smash of a party, what will all those lines like, “The only thing I want from you is a divorce;” or, “There’s no one in my life; there’s nothing;” and, “I want another chance.” Happy Birthday, indeed!

But seriously—all that talk of age and regret could trick you into thinking Follies a deadly graveyard party for the geriatrics. That’s hardly the case: The show still registers as a beautifully layered “sorrowful précis” (to quote one song), even if you’re in the under-forty set.

[Read more…]

Never Been North of 96th Street?

A little lyric from “In the Heights” wiggles into my mind whenever I approach my neighborhood subway:

Now, You’re probably thinkin,
“I’m up shit’s creek
I never been north of ninety-
sixth street”

It’s a goodhearted dig at upscale Broadway audiences. It’s also the momentary jingle of my commute to and from 96th Street.

Musical landmarks litter New York, but the conductor of my brain never tires of this musical flash.

Broadway on 9/11

Check out’s poignant video about working on Broadway on 9/11:

Part II can be found here.

Maybe She’s Born With It… Maybe It’s Cymbeline

Someone must be focus-grouping hands these days…

Either way, Fiasco Theater’s “Cymbeline” is a wonderful off-Broadway jaunt. The antique scholars quoted in the program angrily remark on the “absurdity,” “confusion,” and “impossibility” of the play, one of Shakespeare’s late Romances, but Fiasco makes theatrical virtues out of these perceived downfalls. See it if only for the magical “bedroom scene,” one of the most beautiful and gripping scenes ever committed to the stage.

High Line Theatrics

The High Line Park (photo by Iwan Baan,


Ticket prices got you down? Head to the High Line above 10th Ave for a free show where New York herself is the star. This park, a repurposed elevated track, is an exercise in “city as theater:” By framing and focusing our otherwise scattered attention, the High Line reveals New York as the glittery, every-changing diva she really is. Walking along this shrubbery promenade, you stop, breathe, and really see where you are. Is this not the highest task of art? [Read more…]

The Walkout

Vera Farmiga in “Higher Ground (L), Lily Rabe & Josh Hamliton in “A Doll’s House,” (R)

“The Walkout:” It’s a perfect 11 o’clock moment, the instant your hero shouts, “Enough!” then marches out the door, leaving the familiar behind for the unknown.

A film and a play recently made Grade A hay out of this device. The former, Vera Farmiga’s “Higher Ground,” examines one woman’s journey in and out of faith; the second, “A Doll’s House” (which I saw in revival at Williamstown), presents a wife on the verge of implosion. Each woman makes a dramatic exit, and each gives a wrenching, climactic address explaining why she’s leaving and what she clings to as – click click – her heels take her into uncertainty and solitude.

[Read more…]

%d bloggers like this: