Is the New Golden Age of American Theatre Beckoning?

Broadway was electric in its Golden Age.

Broadway was electric in its Golden Age.

The Golden Age of American Theatre is considered to have lasted about 40 years, depending upon how you define it. Starting sometime around 1915 and lasting until sometime in the late 1950s to early 1960s, it was a time that saw the Little Theatre Movement develop, the Harlem Renaissance bloom, Broadway houses multiply and then decline, and great works that defined the American theatre and made the rest of the world respect our dramatists, composers, and lyricists come into being. Broadway was the central focus of this period of stage enlightenment.

It was a heady time that included groundbreaking works such as The Emperor Jones, Show Boat, Mulatto, The Adding Machine, Death of a Salesman, A Streetcar Named Desire, and Oklahoma!, as well as many more works that would define and redefine the voice, vision, and vocabulary of the American Stage. It set new standards for the stage and made Broadway theatres the most coveted and admired venues in the world.

Ingredients for a Golden Age of Theatre

The Theatre of Dionysus where the first Golden Age began.

The Theatre of Dionysus where the first Golden Age began.

There are certain periods, instances in history, where theatre has reached unprecedented artistic heights. These may be chronicled quickly, as typical periods that make it on the list are Ancient Athens, Ancient Roman Theatre, English Renaissance, the Spanish Golden Age, Japanese Kabuki and Noh Theatre, and French Neoclassicism. Golden Ages tend to be defined specifically within a nation’s or region’s borders.

Overall, certain elements seem to be in place for a Golden Age of Theatre to develop and exist. These include:

  1. A nation or region dominating as a military power
  2. A burgeoning economy
  3. The move towards developing an identity or a “national” voice
  4. A desire to express that voice through the performing arts
  5. Theatre that has been made accessible to all
Charles Gilpin as Brutus Jones.

Charles Gilpin as Brutus Jones.

Interestingly enough, most of these times when theatre flourished were also times of strict control by the government. Also, these ages have tended to be defined first by the dramatic literature that was created, and thus, theatre that primarily featured innovative scenography, highly developed physical acting, or other such artistic endeavors that are not chronicled by written scripts, have been left out of the mix by scholars.

Finally, Golden Ages tend to be short-lived overall, with spans ranging from 50 to 100 years. Perhaps because the national energies that created them also tend to last about that long or maybe due to the fact that these periods tend to be times of national unity, and such occasions are rare and limited in time.

Can There Be a New Golden Age in US?

The original production of Death of a Salesman.

The original production of Death of a Salesman.

After the 1960s, the American theatre changed drastically as the Regional Theatre Movement and Off-Broadway started to take focus away from Broadway. In 1992 Robert Schenkkan’s The Kentucky Cycle won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. That marked the first time that the prestigious award was given to a play prior to it coming to New York. Again and again this would be the case with the Pulitzer. This change was emblematic and indicative of the decentralization of American theatre.

And that is where this question concerning a “new” Golden Age is posed. Can there be a Golden Age if New York and Broadway are no longer the central staging grounds for new works? In addition, can there be a new age of greatness if Broadway theatre, due to extravagant ticket prices, is inaccessible to so many Americans, if our national voice is so diversified, and if the theatre now has so many entertainment rivals, including the Internet and the various types of media available through it, TV, and film. All of these factors conspire against a Golden Age.

The way we communicate and don't communicate has changed.

The way we communicate and don’t communicate has changed.

Additionally, the whole communal experience of the theatre runs contrary to how we live our lives. The days of sitting down to dinner at a table with friends and family is a past memory for most. There was a time when TVs and radios were shut off, everyone was called to the table, and people ate together and conversed.

We can now access anything we want on our phones, which are really high powered computers, and so many of us sit in groups eating, meeting, and sometimes chatting, as our visions are firmly fixed on these devices, or, we simply sit along with our Android, iPhone, tablet, or laptop, paying attention to whatever screen it lit up in front of us.

The Stage Is Set

To have another Golden Age of Theatre in America, we may have to redefine exactly what constitutes such. New elements might include:

  1. A stable national government that is defined by diversity
  2. A vital economy that includes a rising middle class
  3. Regional movements that connect to communities
  4. A national theatre festival made up of regional productions
  5. Theatre experiences that find their dynamics in the basics- strong acting, scripts, and direction
  6. Ticket prices to theatre performances and programs that make such affordable for all
The stage awaits.

The stage awaits.

Such an age would need a confluence of factors and elements that are in the offing, and that may never come together at all. All may be influenced by and many may be initiated by creative people who are committed to the art form and those who are well heeled enough to support it. One important ingredient that every great age of theatre has had that is not on our list is a few key people with foresight, creativity, and energy who possessed the bravery to take on new challenges, see things that others could not, and make them come alive in the form of theatrical performance.

Old New York

This composition of 28 clips of New York City ranges from 1896 to 1905.  They are “the oldest surviving footage of recognizable parts of New York.”

The footage includes Times Square, The Hippodrome, Old Madison Square Garden, Union Square, and much more; even the time-lapsed demolition of the Star Theatre at Broadway and 13th street.

It includes a constant map on the left which shows you where you are in the city.

We recommend viewing this full-screen.

Thank you, Yestervid.

Source: Yestervid. December, 2014. Oldest Footage of New York City Ever.  Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AQR-HKzESsM

On the Twentieth Century: Peter Gallagher Misses the Train Again

Gallagher will return soon.

Gallagher will return soon.

Peter Gallagher is still recovering from a serious sinus infection and that means that he was not seen on stage tonight in the revival of the Tony Award winning musical On the Twentieth Century. He is now expected to be on stage for the Saturday, March 7 evening performance. Gallagher has been out since the evening of February 21. The Roundabout cancelled the evening performance that night and the next day Gallagher’s understudy, James Moye, play the role of Oscar Jaffe. Moye, who usually plays Max Jacobs, has been filling in for Gallagher ever since, playing opposite Tony and Emmy winner Kristin Chenoweth (Lily Garland)

Postponements and Cancellations

On the Twentieth Century has already had numerous cancellations and postponements. The producers changed the first preview by one day due to setbacks caused by dismal winter weather. Then there was the cancellation of the Saturday night preview performance due to Gallagher’s illness and the need to offer Moye more rehearsal time. Recently, the Roundabout put off opening night, opting to offer the official opening on March 15 rather than March 13. The show is being performed at the American Airlines Theatre and it’s directed by Scott Ellis.

The Show

On the Twentieth Century, which was nominated for nine Tonys when it premiered in 1978, winning five, is a crazy comedy that takes place on a luxury train that’s named The Twentieth Century. The train is brimming with a wide range of unique and comical characters, including desperate Broadway producer Oscar Jaffe, former Broadway star and now film queen Lily Garland, Garland’s jealous and egotistical boyfriend, and a crazed but extremely benign religious zealot.

As the train travels along it’s predetermined destination, characters are side tracked and driven. The various characters collide to create mayhem, madness, and mischief. There are wonderful comic scenes, great gags and lines, and a lot of wonderful duets, solos, and production numbers.

The original production ofOn the Twentieth Century received five, including Best Book and Best Score. It was also nominated for four Drama Desk Awards, winning four including Outstanding Music.

Larry David’s Fish in the Dark Opens to Mixed Reviews

David's Fish in the Dark opened tonight.

David’s Fish in the Dark opened tonight.

Yes, it is true that Larry David’s Fish in the Dark is booked solid. It was an instant hit the first week pf previews. But now it’s official as the first reviews come out. Reviewers are surprised not by the fact that the comedy is filled with and finds much of its comedy from David’s neuroses, but that it’s a relatively old-fashioned, you might say, “classic,” comedy.

The reviews for Fish in the Dark are mixed.

Reviews Snippets

The reviews for Fish in the Dark were mixed. The Wall Street Journal thought Fish in the Dark was less of a play and more of a personal stage appearance and that David was uncomfortable on stage. The New York Times reviewer, Ben Brantley, said that he “laughed fully exactly once. The Washington Post called it a “middling comedy.”

The Wrap, which was more positive than the WSJ , Times, or Post noted, “It’s to be expected that Larry David’s new play is laugh-out-loud funny. The big surprise, though, is just how sturdy and conventional his stage comedy is in an old-fashioned Broadway kind of way. David may have written cutting-edge TV, but “Fish in the Dark,” which opened Thursday at the Cort Theatre, is anything but cutting-edge theater.”

The Daily News was also fairly upbeat, saying, “Fans will be pleased to know that David, a Broadway rookie, holds his own with seasoned stage pros in this solid production helmed by Anna D. Shapiro (“August: Osage County”), who is as good as it gets for shaking hilarity from family dysfunction.”

For Variety, Marilyn Stasio observed, “For anyone who’s still reading this review, let me say that, contrary to rumor, the show is not a TV sitcom. It does, however, round up some outrageously funny Larry David-ish characters who could probably float such a show.”

Stasio adds, “Helmer Anna D. Shapiro (“Of Mice and Men,” “August: Osage County”) has shrewdly surrounded her star with some of the best character actors in the business — Lewis J. Stadlen, Kenneth Tigar and the wonderful Marylouise Burke among them — to give master classes on how to time a laugh. There’s a swarm of these pros playing the family friends and relatives who crowd the waiting room keeping the death watch for Sidney, who is showing a lot of spirit for a dying man. Just ask the pretty girl who makes the mistake of paying him a bedside visit.”

The cast, as just about every reviewer admits, is stellar.

Record Breaker

No play in Broadway history has had $13.5 million in advanced ticket sales. Fish in the Dark for that fact alone is a record-setter. David fans are giddy with the show, reviewers are mixed, and producers are very happy. Fish in the Dark opened March 5 and is scheduled to close June 14.

Rebecca Naomi Jones Replaces Lena Hall in Hedwig and the Angry Inch

Rebecca Naomi Jones replaces Lena Hall in Hedwig.

Rebecca Naomi Jones replaces Lena Hall in Hedwig.

Rebecca Naomi Jones will be in Tony-winner Lena Hall’s stead and play Yitzhak in the hit musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Hall leaves April 4 and Jones will begin performing April 14. In that interim understudy Shannon Conley will play the role. Jones, who is currently Off-Broadway in Charles Mee’s Big Love at the Signature Theatre, has appeared on Broadway in American Idiot and Passing Strange.

Hedwig

Hedwig and the Angry Inch, which has been enjoying a successful Broadway run at the Belasco Theatre, won multiple Tonys last season. Written by Mitchell, who currently stars as the title character, and featuring a score by Stephen Trask, Hedwig and the Angry Inch is about a transgender woman (Hedwig) from East Berlin whose sex change went array. The woman is part of a rock and roll band that she feels has not been given proper recognition. Her remembrances are simultaneously painful and funny, as she reveals her deepest feelings to the audience. The score features the songs “Tear Me Down,” “Wig in a Box,” “Wicked Little Town,” “The Origin of Love,” and “Angry Inch.”

Mitchell Leaving

Mitchell is scheduled to depart from Hedwig and the Angry Inch on April 26. Then on April 29, Darren Criss (Glee) will take up the torch for a 12-week run. The musical, which became an Off-Broadway hit in 1998, open on Broadway in 2014, winning the Tony for Best Revival of a Musical. The show won eight Tonys and also received the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Revival of a Musical.

Clive Owen Opens Roundabout’s 50th Season In Old Times

Owen on Broadway in Pinter's Old Times

Owen on Broadway in Pinter's Old Times

Owen to make Broadway debut in Pinter’s Old Times.

Clive Owen will star as Deeley in Harold Pinter’s dark and mysterious drama Old Times. The play will be the first offering in the Roundabout Theatre’s 50th season. Opening night is set for October 15, 2015 with previews starting September 17.

First Time on Broadway

This production marks Owen’s Broadway debut. Nominated for an Oscar for the closer, Owen won the Golden Globe for that same film. Theatre work includes Romeo & Juliet, Design for Living, and A Day in the Death of Joe Egg. At present, the actor is in New York filming the second season of Steven Soderbergh’s The Knick. The actor got a nomination for Best Actor from the Golden Globes for his work on that show.

Douglas Hodge

Douglas Hodge, Tony Award winner, will direct. Hodge won the Tony as an actor for his performance as Albin in the Broadway transfer from London of the musical La Cage aux Folles. In the U.K., Hodge has achieved great notoriety as an interpreter of many of Pinter’s characters. As an actor, he has appeared in No Man’s Land (Comedy Theatre 1993), Moonlight (Almeida Theatre 1993), A Kind of Alaska, The Lover and The Collection (Donmar Warehouse 1998). He’s also played as Jerry in Betrayal (Royal National Theatre’s Lyttelton Theatre 1998) and has appeared as Aston in The Caretaker (Comedy Theatre 2000). His stage directing credits include Torch Song Trilogy at the Menier Chocolate Factory in 2012, Last Easter by Bryony Lavery at Birmingham Rep, and See How They Run, which first went on tour and then sold out its West End run.

The Play

In considering Old Times and its meaning, one may simply remember one thing that playwright Pinter said about his play, “A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false.” In the play, Deeley is anticipating meeting his wife Kate’s longtime friend, Anna. After becoming reacquainted and acquainted with Anna, Kate and Deely find that what was supposed to be a time to share and exchange memories has become a stormy fight for superiority and power.

The full cast and creative team will be announced at a later date.

On the Twentieth Century’s Off Track Again

On the Twentieth Century. delays opening night

On the Twentieth Century. delays opening night

Chenoweth in On the Twentieth Century.

Once again, On the Twentieth Century has experienced a schedule snag as producers have decided to delay opening night by three days. That means the Broadway revival of the Coleman, Comden, and Green musical will March 15 instead of 12. Earlier, due to delays associated with inclement weather, the Roundabout delayed the show’s preview by one day, and then, a week from this past Saturday, the decision was made to cancel the evening performance due to Peter Gallagher’s (Oscar Jaffe) illness and the fact that his understudy had not yet had enough rehearsal to go on in his stead. The show did go on the next day with understudy James Moye in the role of Jaffe.

Reason for Latest Delay

The three-day delay is reasonable, as co-star Peter Gallagher has missed an entire week of previews due to a sinus infection. For the past week, co-star Kristin Chenoweth (Lilly Garland) has been playing opposite Moye. Gallagher is due to return tomorrow, which will offer him about a week-and-a-half of previews before opening night.

The Story

On the Twentieth Century, which was the big Tony-winner when it premiered in 1978, is a wacky comedy set on a luxury train that’s been given the appellation The Twentieth Century. The train is filled with an array of rich and funny characters, including desperate Broadway producer Oscar Jaffe, former Broadway star and now film queen Lilly Garland, Garland’s jealous and egotistical boyfriend, and a crazed but extremely benign religious extremist.

As the train rumbles along, these characters are driven: some are driven into each other’s arms, others are driven to scheme, while others are driven to follow their convictions. The extreme drives of the various characters collide to create mayhem, madness, and mischief. There are wonderful comic scenes, great gags and lines, and a lot of wonderful duets, solos, and production numbers.

The original production of On the Twentieth Century was nominated for nine Tonys. It received five, including Best Book and Best Score. It was also nominated for four Drama Desk Awards, winning four including Outstanding Music.

On the Right Track?

Can anyone get this train to run on time? Actually, it’s expected that the show will be fine and that the Roundabout and director Scott Ellis are being prudent in waiting to open. On the Twentieth Century a physical play, and Gallagher will have to work his way back into it. Aspects of this production were still being refined when he took ill. For the week that Gallagher was out, ticket sales were down for the musical comedy with capacity falling 9.4% from 97.7% to 83.3%. Look for a rise in ticket sales with Gallagher back.

2014-15 Broadway Season: 4 Shows Open on Broadway in March 2015

The Heidi Chronicles will be the final show to open on Broadway in March.

The Heidi Chronicles will be the final show to open on Broadway in March.

Late April marks the deadline for Tony nominations and that means there will be a few new shows opening on Broadway in March and then 14 in April. During the next two months, a total of 18 new shows, more than have premiered in the other 10 months of the 2014-2015 theatre season, will make their way to a Broadway stage. Here is a thumbnail sketch of what is opening in March.

Fish in the Dark (Opens March 5; Cort Theatre)

It is the first Broadway comedy by Seinfeld co-creator and Curb Your Enthusiasm creator Larry David. The March 5, 2015 opening is a fait accompli, as Fish in the Dark has been selling at over 100% capacity and there is no end in sight to that phenomenon, except for the fact that the show is in a limited run and will be closing June 14, 2015. David fans have lined up to buy tickets to the show and are enthusiastic about the play and the chance to see David on stage.

The cast, which numbers 18, includes Larry David as Norman Drexel, Rosie Perez as Fabiana Melendez, Jayne Houdyshell as Gloria Drexel, and Jake Cannavale as Diego Melendez. Other cast members included Jerry Adler as Sidney Drexel, Rita Wilson as Brenda, Drexel, and Ben Shenkman as Arthur Drexel.

The dark comedy is about a son who loses his dad to death and how he and the rest of the family deal with the event.

The Audience (Opens March 8; Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre)

Helen Mirren has crossed the pond and is presently in previews in The Audience, playing Elizabeth II in the play which earned her an Olivier Award about three years ago. The Audience takes as its starting point a historical fact: every week for the past 60 years Queen Elizabeth II has had a private, secret meeting with her Prime Minister. No one knows what has been said in such meetings. Playwright Peter Morgan has created a series of scenes detailing individual meetings between the 12 Prime Ministers and one Queen that have served England for six decades. Mirren, a consummate actress, will be on Broadway through June 28, 2015. The show is selling at close to 100%.

On the Twentieth Century (Opens March 12; American Airlines Theatre)

There’s been a lot of press about the first Broadway revival of the Tony winning musical On the Twentieth Century. The musical, which has music by Cy Coleman and book and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, is about a Broadway producer, Oscar Jaffe, who is desperate for a hit show. Jaffe’s professional life is in a shambles and believes that his former love and muse, Lily Garland, can save his career if he can get her to star in his next Broadway production. They board the luxury train the Twentieth Century, along with Garland’s jealous lover and an obsessed, hyperactive Christian, and as they cross the country old relationships are rekindled, jealousies surface, and mayhem ensues. It is an all stops out, no holds barred musical farce.

The revival of On the Twentieth Century stars Peter Gallagher as Oscar Jaffe and Kristin Chenoweth as Lily Garland. Gallagher has been ill of late and has missed a week’s worth of performances. He’s due to be back on stage starting Tuesday, March 3. The show has been selling at approximately 98% capacity.

The Heidi Chronicles (Opens March 19; Music Box Theatre)

The cast of The Heidi Chronicles includes Elisabeth Moss as Heidi Holland, Jason Biggs as Scoop Rosenbaum, and Bryce Pinkham as Peter Patrone, That is an exciting triumvirate of actors for the first Broadway revival of Wendy Wasserstein’s 1989 Pulitzer and Tony Award wining comedy.

The Heidi Chronicles focuses on the life of Heidi Holland and details her journey as a high school student in the 1960s, through her college and early professional years in the 70s, and into the 80s where she finally finds a balance of some sort between love, family, intimacy, and career. Wasserstein adeptly captures characters in respective eras and adroitly details their emotions, challenges, disillusionments, frustrations, and triumphs. In her comedy, Wasserstein investigates redefining family, love, and motherhood as the end of the 20th century nears.

Some of What to Expect in April

There’s a lot more to preview in March including Chita Rivera in the Kander, Ebb and McNally musical The Visit, the dark comedy Hand to God, and the romantic comedy Living on Love with opera superstar Renee Fleming making her Broadway debut. Also coming in April will be the Broadway premiere of the Gershwin musical An American in Paris, with a book by Craig Lucas, the musical adaptation of the epic Doctor Zhivago, and the new musical about how J.M. Barrie discovered Peter Pan, finding Neverland.