This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001

SEMELE

(photo by Michael Cooper)

Chinese visual and performance artist makes his directorial debut with Canadian Opera Company production of SEMELE (photo by Michael Cooper)

Who: Zhang Huan and the Canadian Opera Company
What: Semele
Where: BAM Howard Gilman Opera House, Peter Jay Sharp Building, 230 Lafayette Ave., 718-636-4100
When: March 4-10, $35-$170
Why: Chinese visual and performance artist Zhang Huan brings a distinctly Chinese look and feel to the Canadian Opera Company’s multimedia production of George Frideric Handel and William Congreve’s Semele, the Greek myth about the love affair between the god Jupiter and the mortal Semele, which does not make Jupiter’s wife, Juno, very happy. In his directorial debut, Zhang, who works in Shanghai and New York City, re-creates an authentic 17-ton, 450-year-old Ming Dynasty temple as part of the set, while also incorporating a Chinese dragon and sumo wrestlers. The opera is conducted by Christopher Moulds, with costumes by fashion designer Jan Feng, and lighting by Willem Laarman based on Wolfgang Göbbel’s original design; coloratura soprano Jane Archibald plays Semele, with Colin Ainsworth as Jupiter and Hilary Summers as Juni/Ino. The three-hour opera will be performed March 4, 6, 8, and 10; Neil Kutner and Paul Bartlett will lead the master class “Semele: Behind the Scenes” on March 8 at 10:00 am at BAM Fisher ($45).

CULTUREMART 2015

(photo by Sara and Reid Farrington)

Sara and Reid Farrington go behind the scenes of the making of a classic in CASABLANCABOX (photo by Sara and Reid Farrington)

HERE
145 Sixth Ave. at Dominick St.
March 4-14, $15
212-352-3101
www.here.org

HERE’s annual winter performance festival, now in its fourteenth year, highlights cutting-edge works-in-progress from a wide-ranging group of artists who are either current or former participants in the HERE Artist Residency Program (HARP), which commissions hybrid presentations in order “to not only grow innovative artistic work, but also [to] give artists the awareness and skills — in areas such as audience relations, budgeting, grantwriting, and touring — they need to continue to grow their careers.” This year features a dozen multidisciplinary workshop performances, beginning March 4-5 with sound designer Christina Campanella and composer Jim Dawson’s Lighthouse 40° N, 73° W, a continuous geographic audio installation in which the audience listens in on headphones to a twenty-five-minute loop, and Sara and Reid Farrington’s CasablancaBox, in which the husband-and-wife duo combine live actors and film clips that go behind the scenes of the making of the 1942 movie; Farrington has previously reimagined such films as The Passion of Joan of Arc, Rope, and multiple versions of A Christmas Carol in his unique, mesmerizing style. On March 6-7 at 7:00, Paul Pinto’s Thomas Paine in Violence explores the American patriot during the last days of his life and the start of his afterlife, with music performed by vocalist Joan La Barbara and the ensemble Ne(x)tworks. On March 7-8 at 8:30, Sean Donovan and Sebastián Calderón Bentin turn to Alain Renais’s Last Year at Marienbad and Luis Buñuel’s The Exterminating Angel for Abbadon, in which a social gathering delves into the nature of class structure; Abbadon is on a shared bill with Amanda Szeglowski/cakeface’s Stairway to Stardom, a piece of dance theater that takes its inspiration from the public access amateur talent television show of the same name.

Hai-Ting Chinn’s SCIENCE FAIR takes viewers on a multimedia operatic journey (photo by Benjamin Heller)

Hai-Ting Chinn’s SCIENCE FAIR takes viewers on a multimedia operatic journey (photo by Benjamin Heller)

On March 9-10, you can see a double feature of Hai-Ting Chinn’s multimedia opera, Science Fair, with music by Matthew Schickele and live piano by Erika Switzer, and The Emperor and the Queen’s Parisian Weekend, with music by Kamala Sankaram and a libretto by Pete McCabe, directed by HERE cofounder Tim Maner. March 10-11 pairs Matt Marks and Paul Peers’s Mata Hari, an opera-theater piece about the last days of the renowned WWI spy, with Nick Brooke’s Psychic Driving, which immerses the audience in surveillance and CIA brainwashing. From March 12 to 14, Jessica Scott’s Ship of Fools uses music, puppets, and movement to examine particular women throughout history while looking at who is in control of the future; it’s on a shared bill with Robin Frohardt’s Fitzcardboardaldo, a cinematic cardboard tribute to Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo, along with The Corrugation of Dreams, an homage to Les Blank’s Burden of Dreams, about the making of the Herzog film. CULTUREMART concludes March 13-14 with HERE artistic director Kristin Marting and Robert Lyons’s Idiot, an exploration of Dostoevsky protagonist Prince Myshkin using text, video, and dance. The festival also includes a trio of post-performance talks, “Continue the Conversation,” with “Soundscapes” on March 6 after the 7:00 Lighthouse show, “Variants of Video Integration” on March 8 following the 8:30 show, and “Playing with Operatic Form” on March 10 after the 8:30 show. Tickets for all productions are $15 except for Lighthouse 40° N, 73° W, for which admission is $5; a $60 OFF-OFFten Club membership allows you to see all shows for $5 each and also comes with four tickets to be used anytime during the season in addition to four glasses of wine from the café.

THE MUSIC OF DAVID BYRNE AND TALKING HEADS AT CARNEGIE HALL

music of david byrne

THE MUSIC OF DAVID BYRNE & TALKING HEADS
Carnegie Hall, Stern Auditorium / Perelman Stage, 881 Seventh Ave. at West 57th St.
Monday, March 23, $48-$160, 8:00
www.musicof.org

LIVE REHEARSAL SHOW
City Winery, 155 Varick St.
Sunday, March 22, $35-$55, 8:00
www.citywinery.com

For his eleventh “Music of” presentation benefiting music and education organizations for children, City Winery owner Michael Dorf will celebrate the career of David Byrne, both as a solo artist and the leader of Talking Heads. Past years have paid homage to Prince, Paul Simon, the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, R.E.M., Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, and others, with a wide-ranging group of musicians paying tribute by covering many of the songs that helped define the artist. Those gathering on March 23 at Carnegie Hall to sing the songs of Byrne and the Heads are Amanda Palmer and Jherek Bischoff, Sharon Jones, O.A.R., Steve Earle, Todd Snider, Thievery Corporation, Glen Hansard, Esperanza Spalding, CeeLo Green, Pete Molinari, Alexis Krauss, Billy F. Gibbons, Santigold, Beth Orton, the Roots, Bebel Gilberto, Forro in the Dark, and Cibo Matto with Nels Cline; Antibalas will serve as the house band. The night before the event, many of the artists will be at City Winery for a live rehearsal show that is open to the public. All proceeds will benefit Midori & Friends, the Center for Arts Education, Little Kids Rock, Grammy in the Schools, Fixing Instruments for Kids in Schools, and the Church Street School for Music & Art.

VIDEO OF THE DAY: “NEW TOPIA” BY THIS WILL DESTROY YOU

Who: This Will Destroy You
What: Two-night stand in Brooklyn
Where: Saint Vitus Bar, 1120 Manhattan Ave. at Clay St.
When: Thursday, February 26, and Friday, February 27, $18-$20, 8:00
Why: Experimental Texas instrumental foursome This Will Destroy You will be playing two nights in Brooklyn at the end of the month prior to their West Coast spring fling, highlighting tracks from their latest release, Another Language (Suicide Squeeze, September 2014). The album takes listeners on another progressive sonic journey that is encapsulated by the slowly building “Invitation” and the finishing blast of “Serpent Mound.” TWDY — founding guitarists Jeremy Galindo and Chris King, bassist and keyboard player Donovan Jones, and drummer Alex Bhore — will be at Saint Vitus Bar on February 26 with Christopher Tignor and So Hideous and on February 27 with Sannhet and Planning for Burial.

TWI-NY TALK: SCOTT SIEGEL

Barbara and Scott Siegel go out on the town nearly every night

Barbara and Scott Siegel are out on the town nearly every night (photo by Russ Weatherford)

BROADWAY BY THE YEAR
The Town Hall
123 West 43rd St. between Sixth Ave. & Broadway
Sunday, February 23, Monday, March 30, Monday, May 11, and Monday, June 22, 8:00, $47-$57 per show, $180-$220 subscription for all four programs
212-840-2824
www.thetownhall.org
www.siegelpresents.com

In the December 31 edition of “The Siegel Column” for Theater Pizzazz!, the husband-and-wife team of Scott and Barbara Siegel examined the state of the Broadway musical, writing, “The current crop of new musicals — both brand new and new productions of revivals — are tanking left and right. What’s up?” Their theory? “Producers are banking too heavily on good reviews from the New York Times.” The Siegels know what of they speak; for years, they have been regulars on the city’s theater and music scene, covering Broadway, off-Broadway, and off-off-Broadway shows in addition to cabaret. Both are voting members of the Drama Desk, where Barbara chairs the nominating committee, so she has to see more than three hundred productions every season. Meanwhile, Scott hosts a multitude of music-related events in addition to attending hundreds of shows with his wife as well. “It’s like a rollercoaster going from show to show,” Barbara says, “but the ride is accompanied by a fantastic scoring of Broadway music.”

Scott’s signature event is “Broadway by the Year,” which is about to begin its fifteenth year at Town Hall. Since 2001, Scott has been pairing performers with musical numbers from a particular Broadway season, but for the fifteenth anniversary, he will be honoring quarter-centuries, paying homage to the Broadway musicals of 1916 to 1940 on February 23, followed by 1941 to 1965 on March 30, 1966 to 1990 on May 11, and 1991 to the present on June 22. The February 23 show will feature a host of Tony, Grammy, and Drama Desk winners and nominees, including Tonya Pinkins, Steve Ross, Karen Ziemba, Emily Skinner, John Easterlin, and Nancy Anderson. While preparing for this and other shows, Scott discussed theater, music, and the many hats he wears.

twi-ny: This year you’re celebrating the fifteenth anniversary of “Broadway by the Year.” Did you ever anticipate that it would be still going strong all this time later?

Scott Siegel: When the series got started, I could never have guessed that it would reach a fifteenth season and that we would be sponsored by Bank of America. Nor would I have guessed that last year we would have changed the format to have over one hundred stars over the course of our season — which we are boldly attempting to do again this year. Getting so many stars willing to commit their time to our shows is almost as great a testament to our staying power as the loyal subscriber base that makes the whole series possible.

twi-ny: How did it initially get started?

SS: That’s a long story. Suffice it to say that I had a concept that Town Hall embraced and they asked me to produce it for them. At that time, I was exclusively a writer/critic. I had not produced anything whatsoever before the very first “Broadway by the Year.” Believe me, having your first experience as a producer putting together a show in a 1,500-seat landmarked theater is pretty daunting. But at its very core, “Broadway by the Year,” while it may have more bells and whistles by way of production values, is still very much the same concept now as it was fifteen years ago. Essentially, I put the music first and foremost; the historical context that I provide from the stage is there only to set up the songs (and hopefully entertain a little bit, too).

Scott Siegel hangs out with the cast of Broadway by the Year in 2014 (photo by Maryann Lopinto)

Scott Siegel hangs out with the cast of Broadway by the Year in 2014 (photo by Maryann Lopinto)

twi-ny: For your fifteenth season, you’re hosting four presentations, each one representing twenty-five years. Do you have a particular favorite quarter-century?

SS: Generally, I prefer the twenties and thirties the most because that’s when there were so many great composers / lyricists at work. All that Berlin, Kern, Gershwin, Porter, Romberg, etc.

twi-ny: What was it like in the early years, when you were just starting out, to get stars to participate?

SS: Wonderful question! I’ll tell you the secret. Provide singers with great material, a lot of support, a fun and rewarding experience, and they tell their friends. The very first concert had Jason Graae, Heather MacRae, and Sally Mayes — just those three. Not long after, I saw Liz Callaway at Joe’s Pub and went backstage to say hi and ask her to do the next “Broadway by the Year.” Before I could ask her, however, she said, ‘My friend Jason Graae just did one of your concerts and had a ball. Can I do one?’ Liz has been one of our regulars, appearing in one of the concerts almost every season since then. That’s how I got over one hundred stars last year and why I’ll get them this year :).

twi-ny: You also put together “Broadway Unplugged” and the Nightlife Awards, have written many books and columns, have led film seminars, had a radio show, are producing “Maxine Linehan: Beautiful Songs” at the Metropolitan Room — and still find the time to go to hundreds of Broadway, off-Broadway, and off-off-Broadway shows with your wife. You must be out nearly every night of the year.

SS: I’m exhausted just hearing all of that. Actually, the only time either of us takes a break is when we break down, getting sick. It really helps that we love what we do. And every day is different, so it never gets boring.

twi-ny: What would an actual break entail for you?

SS: We’re often asked that. On the rare times when we leave New York, it’s usually to do the same stuff we do here someplace else. A musical festival in Quebec City — things like that. We’re not the types to lie on a beach in the sun.

Scott Siegel is celebrating the fifteenth anniversary of his popular Broadway by the Year series as Town Hall

Scott Siegel is celebrating the fifteenth anniversary of his popular “Broadway by the Year” series at Town Hall

twi-ny: You and Barbara appeared on The Joe Franklin Show. What was that experience like?

SS: Barbara is the shy one. She didn’t appear on the show, but I did the TV show with Joe several times, and I was on his WOR radio show many times as well. Whenever Joe would see me, he would always greet me with “Mr. Siegel, make it legal,” and ask me if I knew who sang that song. I would always answer Sophie Tucker, and he would always pretend to be amazed that I knew that. Joe was a genuine New York character and I’m glad I had the chance to know him.

twi-ny: In your opinion, what’s the current state of the Broadway musical?

SS: Such a big question. For the most part, today’s Broadway musicals are tourist attractions; they have to be in order to be successful. A show can only run for about three months, at most, with the core New York theater audience. That’s why the more daring and interesting musicals are off-Broadway. When one of them takes off with great reviews and major buzz, it can move to Broadway and compete — like Fun Home, which is coming to Broadway from the Public. But it’s an uphill battle. I’m always impressed when a show without stars, just good music, a good book, and talented actors, can swim upstream and succeed, like Memphis and A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder. They are the wonderful exceptions to the rule.

twi-ny: What are some of your favorites that are playing right now?

SS: As for brand-new musicals that are running right now, I’m a fan of Honeymoon in Vegas. The music and lyrics are terrific — and the show is so beautifully crafted. It just works like an old-fashioned, well-made Broadway musical. I would say about Hamilton, at the Public, that it’s going to be considered one of the most important musicals of our era.

VIDEO OF THE DAY: RAILROAD EARTH LIVE AT eTOWN HALL

Who: Railroad Earth
What: An Evening with Railroad Earth: Winter Tour 2015
Where: Brooklyn Bowl, 61 Wythe Ave. between North 11th & 12th Sts., 718-963-3369
When: February 19-21, $20, 8:00
Why: Relentless touring jam band Railroad Earth will be making a three-night stand at Brooklyn Bowl this week, highlighting tracks from their upcoming DVD, Live at Red Rocks (Black Bear, April 7, 2015), which boasts such favorites as “Long Way to Go,” “Chasin’ a Rainbow,” “Dandelion Wine,” “Elko,” and “Mighty River” recorded last August, as well as last year’s Last of the Outlaws (Black Bear, January 2014) and songs from throughout their nearly fifteen-year career. Featuring lead singer Todd Sheaffer on guitar, Tim Carbone on violin and guitar, John Skehan on mandolin, bouzouki, and piano, Andrew Altman on bass, Carey Harmon on drums, and Andy Goessling on multiple instruments including guitar, banjo, dobro, mandolin, flute, pennywhistle, and saxophone, Railroad Earth plays an alluring mix of country, folk, pop, rock, and Americana that never fails to take their intensely devoted audience on a beautiful ride. They’ll also be at the Mountain Jam Festival in Hunter on June 4.

LUNAR NEW YEAR 4713: THE YEAR OF THE RAM (or GOAT or SHEEP)

year of the ram

Sara D. Roosevelt Park and other locations
East Houston St. between Forsythe & Chrystie Sts.
February 19-28, free - $115
www.betterchinatown.com
www.explorechinatown.com

Gōng xǐ fā cái! New York City is ready to celebrate the Year of the Wood Goat (aka the Year of the Ram and the Year of the Sheep) this month with special events all over town, in all five boroughs. The sixteenth New Year Firecracker Ceremony and Cultural Festival will explode in and around Sara D. Roosevelt Park on February 19 at 11:00 am, with live music and dance, speeches by politicians, drum groups, lion, dragon, and unicorn dancers making their way through local businesses, and more than half a million rounds of firecrackers warding off evil spirits and welcoming in a prosperous new year. The Flushing Lunar New Year Parade takes place February 21 at 10:00; following the parade, there will be a family festival at the Queens Botanical Garden ($2-$4, 1:00 - 4:00). Also on February 21 ($5-$12, 1:00 – 4:00), Asia Society will present its annual Family Day: Moon over Manhattan, featuring lion dance and kung-fu demonstrations, live music, and arts and crafts. The New York Chinese Cultural Center will present a Lunar New Year program with folk dances, paper cutting, calligraphy, and lion dances at the Bronx Museum of the Arts on February 21 (free, 2:00 - 4:00). One of our favorite restaurants, Xi’an Famous Foods, will be hosting a culinary Lunar New Year concert at the Music Hall of Williamsburg on February 21 with MC Jin, Wanting Qu, Clara C, Esther & Lara Veronin, the Shanghai Restoration Project, and Mree, benefiting Apex for Youth ($50-$165, 6:00). There will be a performance by Chinese Theater Works, a zodiac-themed scavenger hunt, and sheep meet-and-greets at the Prospect Park Zoo February 21-22 ($6-$8). The Museum of Chinese in America will give Lunar New Year walking tours on February 21-22 ($8-$15, 11:00 and 1:00), followed on February 28 ($10, 11:00 am – 4:00 pm) by its Lunar New Year Family Festival, with lion dances and workshops, food tastings and demonstrations, storytelling, calligraphy, balloon animals, arts and crafts, and the Red Silk Dancers. The sixteenth annual Chinatown Lunar New Year Parade and Festival will wind its way through Chinatown, Sara D. Roosevelt Park, and Columbus Park on February 22 starting at 1:00, with cultural booths in the park and a parade with floats, antique cars, live performances, and much more from China, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, and other nations.

year of the goat

On February 22 (free - $25, 11:00 – 3:00), the China Institute’s Chinese New Year Family Celebration boasts lion dance and kung-fu performances, gallery tours with receptions, and dumpling and lantern workshops. Dr. Hsing-Lih Chou has curated a Lunar New Year Dance Sampler at Flushing Town Hall on February 22 (free, 2:00). The New York Philharmonic gets into the party spirit with Yo-Yo Ma leading a Chinese New Year musical evening on February 24 at Avery Fisher Hall ($45-$115, 7:30); the program includes the U.S. premiere of Zhao Lin’s Duo concerto for cello, sheng, and orchestra, conducted by Long Yu. Earlier that day, the Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company and students from the National Dance Institute will perform traditional dances on Josie Robertson Plaza (free, 4:30). The annual Lunar New Year Festival at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is set for February 28 (free with suggested museum admission, 12 noon – 5:00), with puppet shows, martial arts demonstrations, dances, storytelling, tea presentations and ceremonies in the Astor Chinese Garden Court, and activities inspired by the exhibition “The Art of the Chinese Album.” And the Queens Zoo will honor the goat/ram/sheep February 28 - March 1 with scavenger hunts, arts and crafts, live live performances, calligraphy workshops, and meet-the-sheep programs.