The sixth annual NYC PodFest takes place this weekend at Abrons Arts Center, with two dozen podcasts recording live in front of an audience, adding a visual element to what is usually just an aural experience. Among the special guests are Michael Ian Black, Judy Gold, Jordan Klepper, Wheatus, Kevin McDonald, Lucy Wainwright Roche, Touré, Matthew Broderick, Martha Plimpton, and Zach Braff. Below are only some of the highlights.
Friday, April 6
Pod Save the People, hosted by DeRay Mckesson, with guest Touré, $30-$40, 7:00
If I Were You with Jake Hurwitz & Amir Blumenfeld, $25-$45, 9:15
Saturday, April 7
Kill Me Now with Judy Gold, $10, 2:45
Employee of the Month, hosted by Catie Lazarus, with guests Masha Gessen, Martha Plimpton, and Anthony Atamanuik and musical guest Lucy Wainwright Roche and the Employee of the Month house band, $20, 3:00
Kevin McDonald’s Kevin McDonald Show, with guests Michael Ian Black and Jordan Klepper and musical guest Wheatus, $15-$25, 9:15
Sunday, April 8
A Discussion with Zach Braff and Gimlet Founder Alex Blumberg, plus an advance screening of Alex, Inc., free with advance RSVP, 7:15
Touré Show, hosted by Touré, $15, 1:00
Little Known Facts, hosted by Ilana Levine, with guest Matthew Broderick, $10, 6:30
ASCENSION: A LIFTING OF DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING’S LEGACY ON THE 50th ANNIVERSARY OF HIS ASSASSINATION
Who: Adepero Oduye, Amma Whatt, C. Kelly Wright, Kyle Marshall, Bertha Hope
What: An evening of live performances and tributes celebrating the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Where: Harlem Stage Gatehouse, 150 Convent Ave. at West 135th St., 212-281-9240 ext. 19
When: Wednesday, April 4, free with RSVP, 7:30 & 8:45
Why: On April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, altering the course of America’s future. Harlem Stage is honoring Dr. King’s legacy with a special program on April 4, 2018, the fiftieth anniversary of his murder. At 7:30 and 8:45, singer-songwriter Amma Whatt, actress, singer, and dancer C. Kelly Wright, dancer and choreographer Kyle Marshall (a solo piece set to Dr. King’s “On the Mountaintop” speech), actress, writer, and director Adepero Oduye (an excerpt from “The Drum Major Instinct”), and jazz pianist Bertha Hope will perform a tribute to MLK and Harlem, built around one of MLK’s most famous quotes, putting it into contemporary context: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
It’s not exactly clear when Joanna Kotze’s What will we be like when we get there begins and ends — at a talkback moderated by Okwui Okpokwasili following the March 29 performance, one audience member said she wasn’t sure if the show was still going on. Such is the mystery, magic, madness, and mayhem of this world premiere, taking place at New York Live Arts through March 31. South Africa-born, Brooklyn-based dancer, choreographer, and teacher Kotze kicks off the evening by pointing out the exits, telling the audience to turn off their cell phones, and describing the origins of this collaboration with visual artist Jonathan Allen, sound designer, composer, and musician Ryan Seaton, and dancer and choreographer Netta Yerushalmy. However, Kotze’s speech starts hesitating as she drifts toward the floor, holding the microphone stand in awkward positions. Yerushalmy comes out and lies down on her side at the front of the stage, facing the back. Seaton pushes a heavy piano back and forth, perhaps a reference to Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí’s Un Chien Andalou. Allen lays orange gaffer’s tape from a ladder onto other objects as well as on the floor, creating new physical spaces in the air and on the ground. Seaton (Callers) plays electronic music from a laptop, then runs to a saxophone or grabs a clarinet and plays it. Allen (whose related paintings, “Knowing That Your House Is on Fire,” are on view in the lobby) gets continually knocked over by Yerushalmy (Paramodernities), who, after a long period hiding her face, finally reveals herself to the crowd but later teases it with potential nudity. Kotze jumps onto an empty chair in the audience and takes a breather on the steps. Allen collects nearly everything not bolted down — folding chairs, a cart, monitors, mechanical equipment — and moves it to the middle of the stage, as if a Wizard of Oz-like cyclone is scooping up whatever is in its path. For seventy-five minutes, with the house lights on, the four friends engage in a series of set pieces exploring connection and communication in a stormy world, incorporating large doses of absurdity and humor. Bessie winner Kotze (FIND YOURSELF HERE; It Happened It Had Happened It Is Happening It Will Happen) takes advantage of every part of the New York Live Arts Theater, immersing the audience in the vast unpredictability of life in the twenty-first century through an exhilarating controlled chaos. The quartet eventually stands together and bows, but a day later I’m still not sure it’s over, as Kotze alludes to in the title of this thrilling work.
The Broadway Theatre
1681 Broadway at 53rd St.
Through April 29, $39 - $187
Much of Rocktopia, which opened Tuesday night at the Broadway Theatre, is a curiosity, a blending of classic rock and classical music that in theory might be a cool idea but in execution could be problematic. Rocktopia is a different kind of jukebox musical, with no narrative, consisting of overly familiar songs performed by pop, rock, theater, reality show, and opera singers, a five-piece rock band, the thirty-person New York Contemporary Choir, and the twenty-piece New York Contemporary Symphony Orchestra. Conceived by Trans-Siberian Orchestra member and Broadway veteran Rob Evan (Jekyll and Hyde, Les Misérables) and American conductor Randall Craig Fleischer, the traveling project is an up-and-down affair, as vocal histrionics get carried away, the setlist is about as standard as it comes, and amateurish, seemingly unrelated visuals are projected onto fifteen large, vertical piano keys at the top rear of the stage. But then something magical happens, where it all suddenly comes together for an absolutely smashing last few numbers that brought the crowd to its feet, everyone singing and dancing with an intoxicating fervor.
The show opens with the pairing of Richard Strauss’s “Also sprach Zarathustra” and the Who’s “Baba O’Riley,” sung by Evan and Tony Vincent (American Idiot, Jesus Christ Superstar), followed by Mozart’s “Eine kleine Nachtmusik” with Styx’s “Come Sail Away,” performed by Evan, Vincent (The Voice), Chloe Lowery (Trans-Siberian Orchestra), and Kimberly Nichole (The Voice). The double shot gets the point across but without any fireworks, as the melding of the two genres felt too obvious and separate. Special guest Pat Monahan of Train, who will be part of the show through April 6 (Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider is the guest April 9-15, followed by Cheap Trick’s Robin Zander April 23-29), takes center stage to get the Led out (first with Beethoven, then Puccini), but Stravinsky/Hendrix is out of place, as is Mussorgsky/U2, the latter accompanied by documentary footage of poor communities. However, it’s a thrill to see diva Alyson Cambridge, who has performed at the Met and the Washington National Opera, lend class to the festivities by singing Handel’s “Lascia ch’io pianga” and Lucio Dalla’s “Caruso” and also duetting with Evan. On nearly every song, Celtic violinist Máiréad Nesbitt sparkles, playing her fiddle as she flits about the stage like a mad fairy or sprite. There actually is a rhyme and reason for the visuals; in the online Rocktopia study guide, the evening moves from “Creation/Birth,” “Adolescence,” and “Experimentation” through “Dreams,” “Oppression/Rebellion,” and other aspects of the human condition, not that you would know that from what’s happening onstage. And we’re still trying to figure out the inclusion of John Denver in a video tribute to such dead rock stars as Jimi, Janis, Jerry, Jim, George, John, Prince, and Bowie, as well as photos of Eleanor Roosevelt, Amelia Earhart, and, yes, Anne Frank during the theme from Schindler’s List. Meanwhile, the woman vocalists and Nesbitt look like they just stepped out of a Mad Max movie, wearing postapocalyptic gowns designed by Cynthia Nordstrom, and Vincent appears to be doubling for Robin Lord Taylor’s Penguin on Gotham.
And then it happens. Samuel Barber meets Queen, Beethoven takes on Journey, and Gershwin intertwines with Queen in all the ways Evan and Fleischer intended, the classical music and the classic rock coming together, weaving in and out of each other, sending electricity across a room that suddenly comes alive as one. Guitarist Tony Bruno, bassist Mat Fieldes, drummer Alex Alexander, pianist and music director Henry Aronson (Rock of Ages, Grease), Nesbitt, the choir, the orchestra, and the singers — if still not the projections — bring down the house, leaving no one in their seat. Sure, it’s cheesy and extremely safe, but it’s also tons of fun if you just let yourself go. It might not be quite the revolution Evan and Fleischer intended, and it’s far more likely to attract fans of American Idol and The Voice and baby boomers who go to Jones Beach to see 1970s retreads rather than classical music lovers who go to the Met and Lincoln Center for opera and the symphony, but you can’t have everything. And what’s wrong with a little mindless entertainment in these hard times?
Joanna Kotze has been dancing in New York since 1998 and creating her own works since 2009, collaborating with a wide range of artists and performing virtually nonstop. The South Africa-born, Brooklyn-based dancer, choreographer, and teacher will be at New York Live Arts this week with her latest commission, the interdisciplinary What will we be like when we get there, running March 28-31. The piece, part of the New York Live Arts Live Feed residency program, has been developed at the Sedona Arts Center, the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council on Governors Island, Bennington College, Jacob’s Pillow, the 92nd Street Y, the Milvus Artistic Research Center, and other locations around the world and now will make its world premiere in Manhattan. The interdisciplinary work, inspired by the 2016 presidential election and exploring personal connections impacted in the wake of that, was conceived and directed by Kotze (FIND YOURSELF HERE; It Happened It Had Happened It Is Happening It Will Happen) and choreographed and performed by Bessie Award winner Kotze, visual artist Jonathan Allen, sound designer, composer, and musician Ryan Seaton, and dancer and choreographer Netta Yerushalmy; the lighting is by Kathy Kaufmann. The March 28 performance will be followed by a discussion with Allen about his lobby exhibition of related paintings, “Knowing That Your House Is on Fire,” on view March 26 through April 13; the March 29 performance will feature a Stay Late Conversation moderated by Okwui Okpokwasili; and the March 31 show will be followed by live music curated by Seaton.
Who: Noah Emmerich, Randy Cohen, Gregorio Uribe Trio
What: Person Place Thing live podcast
Where: Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan, 334 Amsterdam Ave. at 76th St., 646-505-4444
When: Wednesday, March 28, $15-$20, 7:30
Why: Five-time Emmy-winning television writer, columnist, and author Randy Cohen will record his next Person Place Thing podcast live March 28 at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan, sitting down with actor Noah Emmerich. The native New Yorker has appeared in such films as Beautiful Girls, Super 8, and Miracle and such TV series as The Walking Dead, White Collar, and The Americans, where he currently portrays FBI agent Stan Beeman. He has also been onstage at the Kennedy Center, the Cherry Lane, Playwrights Horizons, and other theaters. Preparing for the live show, Cohen blogged, “It is easy to confuse the actor with the role, so to clarify: He is not a troubled, complicated FBI agent. (He may be troubled and complicated; that’s not for me to say.)” Don’t be surprised if the discussion turns to politics, judging from Emmerich’s Twitter feed. The evening will also include live music by the Gregorio Uribe Trio.
22-25 Jackson Ave. at 46th Ave.
Saturday, March 24, each session $10, both $15, 12 noon - 6:00, 6:00 - 9:00
The second annual Come Together: Music Festival and Label Market takes place March 24 at MoMA PS1, a joint venture between the museum and the late, lamented Other Music record shop. More than seventy-five labels will be in Long Island City, selling and sharing awesome music. There will be live performances by Laetitia Tamko’s Vagabon, Hailu Mergia, and Dead Moon, which will also be the subject of an archival exhibition; the New York premiere of The Potential of Noise (Reto Caduff & Stephan Plank, 2017), about sound designer and producer Conny Plank; “The Creative Independent,” a workshop with Brandon Stosuy, Katie Alice Greer, and Jenn Pelly; a sound design experimental workshop with Marco Gomez (False Witness); DJ sets by Yo La Tengo, phoneg1rl b2b NK Badtz Maru, Sal P, and Duane Harriott; a multisensory listening experience with Suzi Analogue’s Never Normal Soundsystem and wearable audio technology company SUBPAC; the multimedia lecture “A Cosmic and Earthly History of Recorded Music According to Mississippi Records” with Eric Isaacson; clips of live music performed at Other Music between 1995 and 2016; loops of prank calls by Longmont Potion Castle in the elevator; an interactive reading and listening room in honor of Mexican Summer’s tenth anniversary; the performative, interactive thrift-store installation “Jimmy’s Thrift of New Davonhaime” by Azikiwe Mohammed; and a zine-making workshop with Suffragette City. Among the other participating labels are 4AD, Cantaloupe Music, Captured Tracks, Daptone, Glassnote, Goner, Luaka Bop, Matador, New Amsterdam, New World, Ninja Tune, Nonesuch, Northern Spy, Rough Trade, Sacred Bones, Sub Pop, Third Man, and XL Recordings. Tickets to the fair are $10 for the 12 noon to 6:00 session and $10 for the 6:00 to 9:00 extended programming; you can get into both for $15.