The Playgoer: October 2010

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Saturday, October 30, 2010

Tennessee Williams, Part 5

Friday, October 29, 2010

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Tennessee Williams, Part 3

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Tennessee Williams, Part 2

Your daily Tennessee installment...


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Take It Away, Tennesee

Sorry things have been quiet here the last few days.  And looks like I need to tend to other things for the whole week, so I'll just sign off till next Monday.

Meanwhile, here's the first ten minutes of a cool Tennessee Williams documentary to keep you entertained.  (Lots of rare interview clips.) There are six parts in all so I'll set up the blog to post one each day, so it'll be like I never left!  If you can't wait, though, you can watch the rest beginning here.

See you next week!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Star Casting Brings an Edgy New Play to B'way

Earlier today we had some buzz of one Broadway show recruiting porn star Jenna Jameson to keep alive.  Now we hear of a quite different case of star casting that is apparently making it possible for an acclaimed new American play to have a rare NYC premiere on Broadway.

You may recall Rajiv Joseph's Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, a play that premiered here in a workshop then got a well received production in L.A. directed by Moises Kaufman. That staging led to a nomination for the Pulitzer--a nomination outright ignored by the governing board, who overruled the drama jury to award a more successful Broadway show that, I think, shouldn't even have been eligible that year, having premiered the previous season.

Now, as if heeding the lesson that only Broadway counts in the US cultural marketplace, supporters of the play are determined to get it there at all costs.  Hence today's star casting in the title role of the "Tiger"...Robin Williams.

Needless to say, Robin Williams is no Jenna Jameson.  (In many, many ways.)  He once upon a time was a good actor, before an inexplicable string of family comedies rendered his name almost nauseating to anyone who once appreciated his gifts. And while this will be his Broadway debut, technically, he did star in that famous Off Broadway Godot twenty years ago, and did train as a Juilliard stage actor. 

But of all things, Robin Williams is not the kind of actor who, um...disappears into the role, so to speak.  So even though I have not yet seen or read the play, and even though I understand the character of the Tiger to be a kind of comic narrator...one has got to be a little concerned about this much anticipated new work getting hijacked by its star, no matter how well intentioned.

At least Kaufman is still at the helm, though, and will do his best to retain the play's integrity.  I guess it's more the audience's reaction I'm worried about--if they come expecting to see only an artsy version of the comic's latest standup act.

Quote of the Day

"The producers were surprised, but Jenna has a good voice. And while she's famous for her X-rated movies, she can act. This may be a shock to traditional Broadway fans, but the show is always trying to push the boundaries."

-spokesman for Rock of Ages on rumors they will cast ex-porn queen Jenna Jameson in a supporting role in the long running musical.

Gives a whole new meaning to the concept of whoring yourself on Broadway, doesn't it.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Not Rockin' the House

Which Broadway show had the lowest attendance last week?

Would you believe: American Idiot?  Yep, 53.3% capacity.

So much for getting the kids back to Broadway.

Personally, I found the show kind of fresh for the first twenty minutes, or so.  (The first three numbers.)  The music sounded great for, basically, a Green Day tribute band.  The kids sang their hearts out.  There were young folks in the audience and they were groovin'.

Then something went wrong with the script--you realized there was none. I think director/conceiver Michael Mayer made a big mistake taking care of the "book" himself and not bringing in an actual playwright. Not that it needed lots of dialogue or more "bridge" passages.  But anything to make it less like the meandering Jukebox Musical it essentially is.  The aim seems to have been to emulate the free-form structure that ur-Rock Musical, Hair. (After all, the kids are basically a "tribe.")  But the myopic patched together narrative of three boys and their stupid problems just don't rise to the big stakes the Hair conveys.  Yes, one of the kids goes off to Iraq and loses a leg, but by the end, well...it's like... it's all good, yo.

At least the show is short, at an intermissionless 90 minutes.  But it could have been even shorter if Mayer didn't tack on at least three extra endings.  And do you really want to end your show--any show--by having the entire cast sing straight out at the audience, "I hope you had the time of your lives..."  Um, a little presumptuous, aren't we?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Welcome to NYC Theatre, Part 2: Tickets

Part of an ongoing series.

Today we school theatre loving newcomers to our city in the ways of obtaining Broadway tickets without defaulting on your student loans.

(The economics of ticket-buying for Off Broadway, nonprofits, and downtown venues will follow shortly.)

First let's dispel the myth that you will always have to pay $100 for a ticket to a Broadway show.  Usually it's a question of when you want to see it, how far in advance you plan, how flexible you are with dates, and, most crucially, where you're willing to sit.

The $100-and-up price is now the standard quoted price for all orchestra and front mezzanine seats.  Rear mezz and balcony often aren't much cheaper at around $75.  Sometimes, the very, very last row or two at the top of the balcony is marked down to $40 or even $35.  But they are truly awful seats, and only worth it if it's a big musical or spectacle.  For a small play, you're better off watching the video at Lincoln Center.

But keep in mind all these are merely the stated price at the box office for folks who just walk up to the window blind. (Or buy on Telecharge, in which case add $15 or so for fees.)  And full price is for suckers!
While you may sometimes find yourself shelling out that much for shows you really, really, really want/need to see (and do choose those carefully), most of the time, if you plan ahead and follow the advice herein, you can still get into a Broadway show for less than $75, often even $50.

ONLINE DISCOUNTS
Except for predestined star-driven mega-hits (like Pacino's Merchant of Venice or last season's Hugh Jackman-Daniel Craig monologue workshop known as A Steady Rain) most shows will initially flood the market with modest discount codes that show up in many places but are basically all the same discount.  Easiest place to find them are either of the two big theatre websites, Playbill and Theatermania, where the offers are usually identical. (Theatermania sometimes offers more non-Broadway discounts.) Both these services are free, requiring only free online registration.  (The paid-membership Theatermania "Gold Club" is something different, which I'll get to.)

These are usually not super bargain discounts.  For instance, right now you can get an orchestra seat to a hit like Memphis at "only" $90; but a struggling show like Next to Normal will offer a $60 "top."  If you want to lowest price you'll go for the discounted mezzanine and balcony seats, which will usually be discounted below $50.  But for that special night you actually want to treat yourself (and someone else) to a nice downstairs seat for a change, you can get better value by shelling out the $75 or so.

Caveats: Do read the small print.  The discounts will usually be offered for limited dates--especially while the show previews and the producers await post-opening sales.  If it's a hit, the discount code may expire.  If it's not, then they'll extend. But even then, the offer may not be good for "peak" performances like weekends. Also: save yourself an added $15 or so per ticket in internet fees and walk the coupon over to the box office. Of course this requires actually going into Times Sq during daylight hours, but if you're buying more than one ticket, it's definitely worth it.

By the way, these are basically the same discount offers you'll get through other listservs, like the NY Times service, mass marketing emails, and snail-mail postcards.

You might find different offers on Goldstar, which serves multiple cities, and their NYC discounts sometimes include professional theatre, and sometimes even good theatre.

TKTS BOOTH
No, it's not just for tourists!  You'll have to wait in line with many and risk being taken for one--but a small price to pay for a sometimes-significant discount.

There are now actually three TKTS stations in the city, so you don't have to go to Times Square--and in fact you'll probably prefer not to go there since that's the most crowded--even though it does have the most accommodating hours. So if you live or work near South Street Seaport or Borough Hall in Brooklyn, give those a try.

Do familiarize yourself with all the TKTS rules and technicalities.  Times Square, for instance, only sells day-of, but the other sites will do some day-before for weekend shows.  Once upon a time TKTS only took cash, but now plastic is ok!

Downside to the Times Sq TKTS is, of course, the long wait and huge lines.  Going right when they open on a non-matinee day (3:00 on Monday, Thursday, and Friday, or 2:00 on Tuesday) is probably your best bet for speedy service.  And also don't forget the separate "Play" window; since most tourists are there for musicals, drama lovers can usually get a break.  This is why I think the best case to use TKTS is for a Broadway play that isn't doing well--it'll almost definitely be offered and no one else will be asking for it.

The TKTS discounts are usually either 50% or 25%. Unfortunately, only the already top-price seats are sold here, so you'll usually pay more than $50 anyway.  (Plus $4 service charge per ticket.) But, again, you're getting bigger value here more than cheap prices.

Of course, TKTS can be a waste of time if they're not offering the show you're looking for. They make it hard to know, since producers decide each day whether to offer their show based on current sales.  The TKTS site does offer a look at the previous week's offerings to get a sense of what may be there. And now the "At the Booth" app updates you each day.  (TKTS wasn't too happy about that for some reason. Guess he beat them to it.)

CLUBS
There a few organizations that charge you a fee in return for various random offers of cheap tickets to something.  The most popular is TDF (who also runs the TKTS booths). But I have found the offerings pretty sporadic--at least theatrically. (You get other arts discounts, too). 

TDF is fine for the casual playgoer.  But for the more addicted, there's the "hotline" approach offered by Audience Extras and, now, TheaterMania Gold Club.  These are great if you're willing to see anything, anything on any given night.  Your membership basically gives you access to very cheap seats at whatever the club is offering that day.  My view is it's fine if you're really ok with checking out a number of random, mostly downtown shows, just for exposure.  (In other words, your first year in NYC.)  My sense is you get a Broadway offer sometimes, during previews or for troubled shows.  But don't count on it frequently, nor for shows actually doing well.

THE RUSH & STUDENT SCENE
Rush tickets (student and otherwise) are more common at the nonprofits than on Broadway. But not unheard of!  Basically each producer decides that policy for their show and, naturally, it could change throughout the run, depending on how business is.  Also popular are same day "lotteries" for a small number of seats.  Standing room is mostly a tradition of the past, but hardly dead.  But it only pops up today for big, big sold out hits.

Luckily Playbill maintains a handy and up to date list of all the Broadway rush/lottery/student offers. Bookmark it.

As for students, that's also decided on a show by show basis.  But student discounts are increasingly offered on B'way, as an attempt to attract the college crowd and twentysomething adults.  Lately, student ID policies have redefined "student" as 25 and under--probably due to armies of "adult education" folks trying to pass.  Faculty ID's used to be just as good as a student ID, but no longer.  So make sure your ID is clearly for students and, preferably, stamped with the current semester. (They don't always check the date, especially if you look plausibly college age.)  The "25 and under" policy has also eclipsed student rush so much that a school ID is sometimes not necessary--just a drivers license.

THE BIG BUCKS
Finally, should your problem occasionally be not getting a low price but getting any ticket at all to a hot show, and you're willing to shell out a little more than full price, you can of course try Craigslist, but I now recommend StubHub--the new, perfectly legal, scalping site.  Unlike Craigslist, Stubhub basically mediates and guarantees all transactions, so I consider it safer.  It also attracts many sellers offering tix at many different prices, so there's usually some choice.

So there you have it.  Broadway on a budget.  Soon to come: non-Broadway on a budget, which is not as easy as it might sound...

Giving it Away

I have often railed against the practice of giving complimentary performance tickets to lots of people who feel they deserve them. Too many arts organizations, especially those in foreign countries, make a habit of handing out large numbers of free tickets to donors, friends, government officials and virtually anyone who asks for them. Ironically, these 'comps' are typically offered to those who can afford to buy a ticket, rather than to bring those unable to pay into the theater....

[...]

However, while I am opposed to free tickets, I am a big fan of free performances. That might sound like a contradiction but it isn't. When an arts organization has a mission to provide access to the arts for everyone, they will frequently plan for one or more free performances in a season. These are mission driven events. They indicate that the organization wants to make sure that all parts of the community can participate.


-Michael Kaiser, Kennedy Center


Talk among yourselves...

Monday, October 18, 2010

The (Opening Night) Party's Over

"It was one of those wonderful overnight flops...You're at the party, everyone's having a wonderful time, telling you how much they've enjoyed it. Then you look around – it happens in a millisecond – and everybody's gone. And you think: 'Oh my God, it's a flop.'...[I]t doesn't happen any more. Everyone looks at the Times review on their Blackberry or their iPhone before they come to the party. Or they don't come."

-Nicholas Hytner, recalling his ill-fated Broadway outing with Sweet Smell of Success

From a nice meaty profile of the Royal National Theatre AD in the Guardian.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Best "Doll's House" Ever

That's 'T' as in Torvald, fool!



I say "Henrik Ibsen: One Tough Dude" should be used for advertising by any theatre doing his plays from now on.

(In case you don't recognize, this is from the old TV Funhouse series that used to run on SNL. The inimitable Tracy Morgan voiced Mr. T.)

Roundup

-45Bleecker space shuttered!  And right in the middle of The Deep Throat Sex Scandal! (Oh, darn.) Hopefully it's temporary.  Bitter dispute between landlord and manager.  Riedel has the dirt.  And it's not necessarily the landlord who's at fault...

-Actors Equity has a new Exec Director.  And she used to work for the Broadway producers' league! I guess that's a good thing?

-The Giving Spirit: the Shuberts dole out some cash and the Fox Foundation (by way of TCG, not Rupert Murdoch) gives actors some very cool subsidized residencies at regional theatres.

-One of the Lincoln Center spaces has bedbugs!  (In the dressing rooms.) With sweet revenge they've infested none other than the David Koch Theatre. Perhaps there is a God...

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Social (Theatre) Network

Promising new site from the folks at ART/NY and TheaterMania: the New York Theatre Network.

ART/NY chief Virginia Louloudes offers a catchy mission statement:

"Ultimately, our goal is to bring live theatre back into popular culture by using popular communication tools that demystify our work and demonstrate that theatres are affordable and accessible to everyone."
Certainly beats newspapers!

Well, as long as we guard against pollyannaish assumptions of flocks of young folk getting into the New York nonprofit theatre scene just because it has a cool site... I'm encouraged by the game plan so far:
NYTN will be a social resource developed to cultivate new and existing audiences for the vibrant community of not-for-profit theatre organizations in New York City.  The network, a multi-prong theatre hub, can be used as an information source, an event site, and a home for social networking, dedicated to deepening the engagement between artists and audiences in the theatre capital of the world.

[...]

NYTN is unique in that it puts both the larger theatre with a sizable advertising budget and the smallest theatre with no advertising budget on a level playing field.  As the "MenuPages" of the theatre world, NYTN allows users to browse in multiple ways—satisfying every appetite.  NYTN also allows fans and member theatres to deepen their relationship by interacting through open discussion boards that can be created by the theatre company or the fans.  NYTN's social networking function allows users to see what their friends are sharing and liking and then makes recommendations to users based on their own preferences as well as their friends'.  Additionally, users can view videos associated with the shows and purchase tickets to shows through the site.
To my mind, the benefit of practical uses of advertising and ticketselling (especially if on a truly "level playing field") will far outweigh such "social" functions as chats and friending.  Disucssion boards? Who knows, maybe it can evolve into a downtown version of All That Chat.  But otherwise, I believe the blogs have already created a lot of community discourse and sharing.  But as a central aggregator and marketplace, this idea is downright overdue!

What do you think of the site itself?  Let's take it apart here. Maybe they'll read your suggestions and feedback.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Portable Off B'way Subscription: It's Here!

Four NYC-based nonprofit companies--okay, not quite the biggest ones--are finally offering a kind of joint/flexible subscription package.  Reports Playbill:

The Civilians, The Talking Band, The Rude Mechs and The Exchange have aligned to allow theatregoers to purchase a season subscription package highlighting their respective seasons.
Ari Edelson, artistic director of The Exchange, conceived of the subscription pass that provides individuals with four show credits that can be used to attend works by each of the participating companies.

The credits can be used toward four tickets to one performance of a particular show, or for one ticket to each of the four productions. The Xpass also allows for other flexible combinations that permit users to share credits with one another. Each four-credit pass is $85. Individual tickets for all four shows would total $130. An iPhone application is also set to launch that will include additional program materials, behind-the-scenes information, multimedia and nearby restaurants.
All, actually, are worthy companies.  And the Civilians are downright famous.

Baby steps, sure.  But it's gotta start somewhere.  And at $21.25 a ticket, not a bad start.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Sondheim at the Office

In case you missed last week's The Office--devoted to Andy's appearance in a Scranton community theatre's Sweeney Todd--here's a quickie overview:





Full episode here.  Catnip for theatre lovers--a veritable laundry list of do's, dont's, and miscellaneous backstage lore.

Such as:

-Creed reviving the old critics' tradition of "phoning in" your review
-Michael auditioning with a one-man Law & Order episode
-an actor's cell phone going off on stage
-and why you should never bring either glass bottles and/or balloons into the house.

Friday, October 08, 2010

So You Think You Can be a Broadway Audience

Critics Adam Feldman and Elizabeth Vincentelli have already made some good blogging hay out of an effort by the producers of the Broadway bio-play Lombardi to anticipate first-time playgoers with a unintentionally hilarious "FAQ" section of the show's site.

The FAQ's have now been taken down (after the ridicule, we assume), but luckily Adam and Elizabeth have preserved it for posterity.  Among my favorite bits are...

"The usher will also give you a printed program. Be sure to arrive early enough to read it, so you have an idea of what to expect during the show."
 
(Like, when was the last time a Playbill did that?)
 
"Let the actors know that you appreciate the show: Laugh at the funny parts, applaud when you like something..." 
 
(Great.  Now we'll have even more clapping seals every time a set with trees is revealed.)
 
But the prize goes to...

"Purchasing a ticket is required for a live theatre performance..."
 
One wonders how these would-be patrons even found themselves on the interwebs!

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Taymor's Tempest

It's finally here.  With Helen Mirren as "Prospera."  Here's the trailer...



Certainly "rich and strange" looking, eh? And some cool casting (especially Russel Brand and Djimon Hounsou.)

The "Prospera" idea is hardly Taymor's.  I know Vanessa Redgrave did it at the Globe in London, and Blair Brown here at McCarter for director Emily Mann.  Can anyone verify who was the first to think of it?

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Review: The Sneeze

I'm back on the Time Out beat this week with a review of The Pearl's staging of The Sneeze--Michael Frayn's 1988 Chehov-comedy compilation.

Did not quite make me wanna say "God Bless You"...

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

When Mrs. Warren Was Dangerous

Times theatre-page webman Erik Piepenburg has put together a nice little educational primer (with documents!) on the controversy surrounding the original NY premiere of Shaw's Mrs Warren's Profession back in 1905, which was basically banned, as it had been in London a decade earlier when it first debuted.

When the American actor Arnold Daly tried to produce the play in New Haven in 1905, police shut down the production after one performance. By the time it reached the Garrick Theater on West 35th Street, interest was at a fever pitch. After opening night, New York City Police Commissioner William McAdoo canceled the remaining performances and arrested almost every person involved, calling the play “revolting, indecent and nauseating where it was not boring.”
Well, ok I know some folks would agree about the "boring" part being adequate grounds for arrest.

Still, Mrs Warren is perhaps my favorite Shaw play, and while I haven't seen the Roundabout's revival with Cherry Jones yet, I recommend just seeing it if you never have.  It's early Shaw (so, he wrote it only in his 40s!) and a little more raw than the later plays.  And its searing indictment of capitalist society's hypocrisy over criminalizing vice never gets old.  Mrs. Warren's graphic and bitter defenses of what poverty makes people do (as she slips from her learned poshness into her natural gutteral cockney) will shock those who think Shaw is just all quips and teacups.

By the way, you'd think the play's subject of prostitution would be a selling point, right?  Then, tell me, why is the word nowhere in the Roundabout ad campaign?  Maybe we haven't come that far since the Comstock days after all...

The word, of course, never appears in the play, either--perhaps causing some audiences today to miss the point!  But this isn't Shaw's choice, just another silly constriction imposed by the censors.  Shaw does make great hay of this, though, in the final scene in one of my favorite meta-theatrical moments of all time.

Long story short, Mrs. Warren is a high-class, international Madam who has kept this secret from the polite society she travels in, and from her now-adult daughter, Vivie.  Kitty has never known who her father is, and barely knew her mother, who sent Vivie off to fancy boarding schools and university with her "tainted" earnings.  In the course of the play she learns who her mother is and, in this last scene, wants to explain this to some close friends.  What ensues is a devilishly clever negotiation by Shaw of both the dramatic and political conflicts at stake in the play and the censored playhouse:

VIVIE. I am sure that if I had the courage I should spend the rest of my life in telling everybody--stamping and branding it into them until they all felt their part in its abomination as I feel mine. There is nothing I despise more than the wicked convention that protects these things by forbidding a woman to mention them. And yet I cant tell you. The two infamous words that describe what my mother is are ringing in my ears and struggling on my tongue; but I cant utter them: the shame of them is too horrible for me.

[She buries her face in her hands. The two men, astonished, stare at one another and then at her. She raises her head again desperately and snatches a sheet of paper and a pen].

Here: let me draft you a prospectus.

FRANK. Oh, she's mad. Do you hear, Viv? mad. Come! pull yourself together.

VIVIE. You shall see. [She writes]. "Paid up capital: not less than forty thousand pounds standing in the name of Sir George Crofts, Baronet, the chief shareholder. Premises at Brussels, Ostend, Vienna, and Budapest. Managing director: Mrs Warren"; and now dont let us forget her qualifications: the two words. [She writes the words and pushes the paper to them]. There! Oh no: dont read it: dont!

[She snatches it back and tears it to pieces; then seizes her head in her hands and hides her face on the table].
So in what seems to be just a private little scene between three close friends is hardly private at all.  Vivie really is addressing the audience: I really wish I could tell you what this play is about but the stupid censors won't let me!  The result is a quite puzzling moment dramatically...but a fascinating one politically.  And one that will surely baffle Broadway audiences today without this context.


Now I must admit, I've never gotten around to researching what the "two words" are.  I always assumed it was a phrase that meant a prostitute or madam.  But do any Shavians or other Victorian scholars out there have an idea?


A free full text of the play here, by the way, if you want to save on the ticket.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Roundup

-Banking on theatre as the best weapon against the climate-change deniers(!), the National Science Foundation is giving a ton of money to The Civilians to develop a global warming piece.

-The recession is not stopping Second Stage from going full speed ahead in opening a Broadway home.

-Directors at Work: Chris Jones looks at Bob Falls' ever-evolving style and David Rooney profiles an emerging Off Broadway hot property, Sam Gold.

-B'way Producers Globalize: The Nederlander Organization goes whole hog into China. Leonard Jacobs has at them.