Photo courtesy of Lisa Pacino
In October 2011, Chapman Roberts—the vocal arranger of and performer in hit shows such as Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar—gathered together more than 300 African American stage performers and behind-the-scenes professionals for a historic picture. “Nowhere in history did there exist a photo of the black performers of Broadway as a group,” Roberts says, adding that once he had such an accomplished crew assembled he couldn’t let the talent go untapped. “We decided to turn the photo into a live concert and celebrate ourselves and our predecessors.” Two years later, the musical revue Black Stars of the Great White Way debuted as a one-night-only event at New York’s Queensborough Performing Arts Center.
Those who may have missed that special show are in luck. On June 23, Roberts brings his production a step closer to the actual Great White Way (Broadway, that is), with a second one-night performance—The Black Stars of the Great White Way Broadway Reunion: Live The Dream—at Carnegie Hall. More than just a collection of some of the most phenomenal talent to ever grace the stage, the nearly three-hour show is a tribute to pioneering African American performers (Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong), who helped pave the way for future entertainers.
Returning cast members include Ben Vereen, Hinton Battle and Cleavant Derricks—but the star lineup doesn’t stop there. With help from Live the Dream executive producer Norm Lewis, Roberts has wrangled even more wattage for his second go-round, including Tony Award winners Ben Harney and Obba Babatundé. Other legends like Keith David, André De Shields, Larry Marshall, Savion Glover and Maurice Hines round out the ensemble.
The performance is as much a passing of the torch as a historical recount for a new generation. “Legacy is essential to the survival of any culture,” Roberts says. Plus, the show is absolutely riveting and not to be missed. But if you need further convincing: Who knows when—if ever—such a legendary cast can be assembled again? June 23, 8 p.m.; 212-247-7800; carnegiehall.org.
Photo by Rob Kalmbach
Between the writing, casting and rehearsing, a typical star-studded theatrical production can take years to develop before it ever hits the stage. Rome wasn’t built in a day, as they say.
This month, however, 24 actors, six writers, six directors and two musical guests will prove otherwise for the fourth annual 24 Hour Plays: Los Angeles (June 20; 8 P.M.). Held at the Broad Stage theater at the Santa Monica College Performing Arts Center, the showcase benefits Urban Arts Partnership (UAP) (urbanarts.org), an arts-education organization working in more than a hundred underserved schools in New York and Los Angeles.
The talent—which includes boldface names like Glee star Ashley Fink; actress (and UAP artistic board chair) Rosie Perez; Emmy Award winner Ben Karlin, a writer for The Colbert Report; and Rob Greenberg, director of How I Met Your Mother—will create and perform six original ten-minute plays, all in 24 hours. Two students from L.A.’s ArTES High School, where UAP teaching artists work with classroom educators to bring arts into the curriculum, will also join the cast for the marathon event, which is sponsored by Montblanc. (Gillian Jacobs, Anna Camp, Wilmer Valderrama and Skylar Astin [pictured above, from left] worked together last year.)
“The 24 Hour Plays epitomizes the creative process,” explains UAP CEO Philip Courtney, listing motivation, persistence, critical thinking, collaboration and fearlessness as the keys to succeeding onstage. “It has been proven that these exact five qualities are what a young person develops as a result of having arts education in their lives. UAP develops the next creative thinkers, problem solvers and community leaders.”
“It always ends up being such a fun event,” says Sin City actress Jamie Chung, who is participating this year. “I’m a nervous wreck 23 out of the 24 hours, but there’s no better feeling. Plus, we are supporting Urban Arts—and they always throw a great after-party.” At 1310 11th St., Santa Monica; tickets, from $200; urbanarts.tix.com; for information on exclusive-access packages (from $500), contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
© Joan Marcus
When Here Lies Love—the dancey, on-your-feet theater experience inspired by the life of Imelda Marcos—premièred in April 2013 in downtown New York, it was met with breathless enthusiasm by critics and audiences alike, who were taken not only with the voice of lead Ruthie Ann Miles (playing Marcos herself; pictured above, middle) but also the infectious music by Talking Heads frontman David Byrne and DJ Fatboy Slim. For those who missed it the first time around, the show has returned for an open-ended off-Broadway run at the Public Theater. The show (on an open end run in New York) opens in London in the fall as well, and it's worth seeing live—even the newly released cast album, great as it is, doesn’t compare to the real thing. 425 Lafayette St.; 212-967-7555; publictheater.org.
In its long-standing tradition of staging excellent Shakespeare productions, Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) is set to showcase the bard’s formidable King Lear this winter (January 7 to February 9).
Staged at BAM’s Harvey Theater, the production, which is organized by BAM executive producer Joseph V. Melillo, casts actor Frank Langella as the titular character in a rendition by Britain’s award-winning Chichester Festival Theatre. Directed by Angus Jackson, the company’s associate director, the play has already garnered rave reviews in London. “King Lear is a timeless story,” says Melillo. “Angus has directed it with a poetic emphasis on the relationships—this is not a high-concept directorial production.”
Instead, three-time Tony Award–winning Langella drives the show amid intense anger, compassion, madness—and lots of rain. “I knew that BAM audiences would recognize this production as a significant theater experience,” says Melillo. “One of America’s greatest actors in perhaps the most challenging Shakespearean role.” 651 Fulton St.; 718-636-4100; bam.org.
Marie Godeau and Alexandra Zelman-Doring. Photo by Adolfo Doring
The Flea Theater hosts a three-week run of Act Before You Speak, a new production of Hamlet by Throes Theater company (opening August 3). The 70-minute play, written for two women (who remain silent throughout) and a violin, distills the words of the original down to their composite emotions—grief, love, revenge, madness. (Hedvig Claesson directs the production, with an original score composed by Jirí Kaderábek and Mahir Çetiz.) Each scene wraps itself around a single quotation from Shakespeare’s work, seeking to crack open and expose the organs of the text, bending physics so socks become skulls and the entire story of Hamlet occurs in six distinct encounters with six different characters. We sat down with the stars of the play, author and actress Alexandra Zelman-Doring and actress Marie Godeau.
Q: What was the inspiration for the play?
Alexandra Zelman-Doring: It developed organically from work in the theater. Actions, encounters—we’re going for more universal elements. So we have Hamlet and his best friend, Hamlet and his mother. Today you find a lot of Shakespeare that’s all about the language, and you forget what’s physical.
Q: Would you be able to do this without music?
AZD: Well, I wouldn’t want to. Put it that way.
Marie Godeau: The music is so present, and the violinist [acclaimed composer and violinist Ana Milosavljevic] is constantly on stage. There are no blackouts, no curtains. There are some moments where she doesn’t play, but even in silence she’s present. And she scares people. She is the ghost, she is the narrator—perhaps the puppeteer.
Q: Shakespeare wrote his plays almost entirely as dialogue and speeches. Was there something about Hamlet in particular that called for silence?
AZD: Silence can be a way of speaking. He performs actions that speak as clearly as words, really. Because we’re going for clarity, it’s not supposed to be some super avant-garde you-don’t-know-what-the-fuck-is-going-on performance—it’s really not that. It’s very clear. It’s actually more simple even than the words. Actions can strike at the heart of something.
Q: Like music. Is it because actions don’t play games in the way that words can, through wordplay and double entendre?
MG: Of course there is double entendre and games with words. We do it every day with the way we carry ourselves and our bodies. There’s always duality in what we show and what’s really happening in the inner, inner self. But because that’s all we have onstage, because there are no words, it’s very bare. The audience sees everything.
AZD: We’re better at performing it than we are at speaking about it.
Through August 26; tickets, $20; The Flea Theater, 41 White St.; 212-226-2407; theflea.org.
Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park—the annual performances of the bard’s work staged at the Delacorte Theater in New York’s Central Park—is one of the most cherished summer cultural traditions in the world. This year, as the icon turns 50, there is even more to celebrate, and the Public Theater’s gala on June 18 will do just that.
The highlight of the evening is a reading of Romeo and Juliet starring Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline, 50 years to the day after Shakespeare in the Park’s first-ever performance at the Delacorte, which was The Merchant of Venice on June 18, 1962. Other alumni, including Sam Waterston, Jeffrey Wright and Christopher Walken, will comprise the cast; Al Pacino, who appeared in 2010’s The Merchant of Venice, which ultimately went to Broadway and garnered him a Tony nomination, is the evening’s honoree.
“For 50 years the Delacorte Theater has been home to the greatest American actors, who have been able to hone their artistry in the most beautiful, democratic theater in the world,” says artistic director Oskar Eustis. “Romeo and Juliet will be a celebration of those actors—a joyous love letter to the Delacorte, to Central Park and to New York City.”
Shakespeare in the Park has delighted more than 5 million people and staged upwards of 150 productions during its lifetime. (This year, As You Like It continues through June 30, and the Stephen Sondheim musical Into the Woods runs from July 23 through August 25.) While it’s certainly a big year for it, the Public’s downtown home at 425 Lafayette Street is also gearing up for a major milestone: a substantial renovation to its 158-year-old building wraps up this fall. June 18; ticket prices start at $1,500; 212-539-8547; shakespeareinthepark.org; publictheater.org.
Courtesy Signature Theater.
New York’s Signature Theater Company has long been known as a kind of playwright’s utopia, with a tradition of offering emerging playwrights intensive residencies and, more unusually, devoting entire seasons to the work of a single playwright. (The 2010-2011 season, for instance, staged only works by Tony Kushner, from a revival of his Pulitzer Prize-winning Angels in America to a new piece called The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With a Key To The Scriptures.)
After 20 years of moving from theater to theater, the company is now opening the doors to its permanent home: the Signature Center, a 70,000 square-foot space on 42nd Street, in Manhattan, that was designed by Frank Gehry. The space features three theaters with various and flexible seating arrangements, all occupying the same level as the vast lobby and central plaza, which contains a café and a bookstore. “I wanted to create a space that celebrates and enhances the intimacy between the performer and the audience,” said Gehry, “while encouraging the innovation that Signature is known for.”
The new season kicks off January 31 in the new building (we hope the paint is dry!) with Blood Knot, which is by this year’s playwright-in-residence, Athol Fugard. A restaging of Edward Albee’s The Lady From Dubuque will follow on February 14. But first: a properly grand opening gala on January 30, where attendees can roam from theater to theater enjoying champagne, hors d’oeuvres and various performances. The VIP ticketholders especially are in for a treat: an intimate, pre-gala cocktail hour with honoree Edward Norton and Frank Gehry himself. Tickets from $1000; Single VIP tickets, $2500, VIP parties of ten, $25,000; 480 West 42nd Street, 212-244-7529; signaturetheatre.org.
Summer theater started with a bang when the Royal Shakespeare Company set up residency in New York in July. It'll be capped off with a bang, too, as Oscar winner Cate Blanchett headlines the Sydney Theatre Company's performance of Uncle Vanya at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. from August 4 through 27. The company received enthusiastic reviews for its smash-hit production of A Streetcar Named Desire in 2009, and Blanchett was universally praised for her powerful portrayal of Blanche DuBois. Now she returns as Chekhov's enticing Yelena, who visits a distant farm only to become embroiled in a complex love affair. Australian reviews from the company's fall run suggest we're in for a treat. August 4-27, tickets from $59. 2700 F St. NW, Washington, D.C.; 202-467-4600; kennedy-center.org.
Before it's too late: Check these cultural events off your summer to-do list
Cate Blanchett and Richard Roxburgh in Sydney Theatre Company's Uncle Vanya. Photo courtesy of the Kennedy Center
Anyone who has seen Shine, Shakespeare in Love, Exit the King or most recently The King's Speech knows that everything Geoffrey Rush touches turns to gold, and his current theater engagement should be no exception. The Diary of a Madman, which opened last week for a one-month run at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, showcases Rush as Poprishchin, an unaccomplished civil servant living in 1830s Russia during the reign of Nicholas I. Based on a satirical short story by Nikolai Gogol, the play details the protagonist's descent into insanity as told through his diary entries: He suspects two dogs of swapping love letters and spies on their affair, believes himself to be heir to the Spanish throne and falls in love with his superior's daughter. If Rush's past performances offer any clues as to how he will play a man held captive by a rigid social structure and a debilitating mental state, it's a safe bet to expect brilliance. At 651 Fulton St., Brooklyn; 718-636-4100; bam.org.
Photo Heidrun Lohr