PHÈDRE LES OISEAUX (PHAEDRA THE BIRDS)
Baryshnikov Arts Center, Howard Gilman Performance Space
450 West 37th St. between Ninth & Tenth Aves.
May 21-24, 28-29, $20, 7:30
French director Jean-Baptiste Sastre describes his production of Phèdre les oiseaux (Phaedra the birds), which makes its New York premiere May 21-29 at the Baryshnikov Arts Center, as “a poem,” while Palestinian star Hiam Abbass calls it a “moment of pleasure, and of poetry, and of theater.” The seventy-five-minute show, which relates the Greek myth of Phaedra, a tale of forbidden love, betrayal, rejection, and revenge, will be performed by Abbass (Paradise Now, Lemon Tree) as Phaedra and American-Ugandan actor Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine (Heroes, Treme) as Hippolytus, joined by approximately thirty members of the Brooklyn-based organization Haïtian-Americans in Action serving as the chorus. The text is by Frédéric Boyer, with English translation by Cole Swensen and dramaturgy by Ellen Hammer. The international project, which features a local chorus at every stop on its tour, has been reconfigured for the Howard Gilman Performance Space, will be told in English, French, and Haitian Creole at BAC. [ed. note: This event has now been canceled. We apologize for any inconvenience.]
252 West 45th St. between Broadway & Eighth Ave.
Tuesday - Sunday through July 28, $62 - $142
When he was at Yale in the 1970s, Christopher Durang teamed with Albert Innaurato and Jack Feldman on The Idiots Karamazov, a musical about a Russian translator that begins with a song titled “O, We Gotta Get to Moscow,” as the translator confuses Dostoevsky with Chekhov and other writers. Going to Moscow shows up again in Durang’s delightful satire, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, which has made a successful transition from Lincoln Center’s Mitzi E. Newhouse to Broadway’s Golden Theatre. Durang sets his latest play in a Bucks County farmhouse by a lake where a blue heron stops by daily, based on the Bucks County farmhouse by a lake with a blue heron where Durang and his partner reside. Living in the fictional house are Vanya (David Hyde Pierce) and Sonia (Kristine Nielsen), a pair of fiftysomething siblings (one adopted) who have essentially sacrificed what lives they might have had by taking care of their ill, elderly parents while their sister, Masha (Sigourney Weaver), became a famous movie star gallivanting around the world with five husbands. Clearly, their parents had a thing for Chekhov; Masha is named after characters from The Seagull and Three Sisters, Vanya and the adopted Sonia from Uncle Vanya. Invited to a neighbor’s costume party, Masha arrives at the house in grand diva fashion, overemoting and unable to keep her hands off her hot new boy toy, Spike (Billy Magnussen), who enjoys taking off most of his clothes at a moment’s notice and striking muscular poses. Masha quickly grows jealous when Spike meets young, pretty ingénue Nina (played at Lincoln Center by Genevieve Angelson and now by Leisel Allen Yeager, the only cast change from the original production), a wannabe actress named after the young, innocent actress in The Seagull. Meanwhile, the cleaning lady, Cassandra (Shalita Grant), makes dire predictions that keep coming true, just like her namesake, the Greek mythological figure with second sight. As Vanya, Sonia, Masha, Spike, and Nina prepare for the party — Masha insists they all go as characters from Snow White, with Masha as the beautiful protagonist, slyly referencing Weaver’s portrayal of the evil stepmother in the 1997 television movie Snow White: A Tale of Terror — jealousy, fear, deception, childhood resentment, and more bubble to the surface and threaten to erupt, albeit in primarily wacky, hysterical ways.
You don’t need to know anything about Chekhov and his searing dramas about seriously dysfunctional families to get a huge kick out of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, which has a unique family feel itself — Weaver has been working with Durang since the Yale days, Hyde Pierce starred in the Broadway production of the playwright’s Beyond Therapy (as well as Peter Brook’s The Cherry Orchard), and Nielsen is Durang’s acknowledged muse, having appeared in many of his shows, in parts specifically written for her. Director Nicholas Martin, who previously helmed Durang’s Why Torture Is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them at the Public, keeps things relatively natural and grounded even with Weaver, Magnussen, and Grant playing things deliciously way over the top, as the story’s tender heart is wonderfully captured by the amazing Nielsen and Hyde Pierce, who agonize over their loneliness and advancing age, the importance of family, and, perhaps most Chekhovian, a world that seems to be passing them by. Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is a thoroughly enjoyable if often goofy and now, on Broadway, even bigger and broader mashup from one of America’s most engaging satirists at the top of his game. (And be sure to go here to read the fall 2012 issue of Lincoln Center Review, which includes Durang’s “My Life with Chekhov,” an essay detailing seven encounters he had with the Russian playwright, dating back to when he was fourteen.)
The Public Theater, LuEsther Hall
425 Lafayette St. by Astor Pl.
Extended through June 30, $80.50 - $95.50
“I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be great if — as this piece would be principally composed of clubby dance music — one could experience it in a club setting?” David Byrne asked upon the release of his 2010 two-disc concept album about Imelda Marcos, Here Lies Love, a collaboration with Fatboy Slim featuring vocal contributions from Tori Amos, Steve Earle, Martha Wainwright, Natalie Merchant, Florence Welch, Cyndi Lauper, Nellie McKay, and others. “Could one bring a ‘story’ and a kind of theater to the disco? Was that possible? If so, wouldn’t that be amazing!” And amazing it is, to put it lightly. Byrne has turned Here Lies Love into a spectacular, must-see event, an immersive, endlessly creative theatrical experience that has been extended at the Public through June 30. Scenic designer David Korins has transformed LuEsther Hall into a rockin’ dance club where the audience is encouraged to shake it to hard-thumping tunes spun by a DJ (Kelvin Moon Loh) as they enter the space, which has stages at either end and a cross-shaped platform at the center. (The majority of the crowd moves about on the floor, with a smaller contingent sitting in chairs in the balcony, watching from above.) For the next ninety minutes, Byrne (concept, lyrics, music), Fatboy Slim (music), choreographer Annie-B Parson, and go-to director Alex Timbers (Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Peter and the Starcatcher, the upcoming Shakespeare in the Park production of Love’s Labour’s Lost) tell the story of Imelda Marcos (Ruthie Ann Miles), from her younger days as a poor villager in Tacloban with her best friend, Estrella (Melody Butiu), to her romance with politician Ninoy Aquino (Conrad Ricamora), marriage to eventual Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos (Jose Llana), and ever-expanding wealth and power.
The nonstop action takes place on a constantly changing set rearranged by a crack crew as the lead actors, as well as a talented ensemble cast (each of whom is worthy of mention: Renée Albulario, Natalie Cortez, Debralee Daco, Joshua Dela Cruz, Jeigh Madjus, Maria-Christina Oliveras, Trevor Salter, and Janelle Velasquez) that goes through numerous costumes (designed by Clint Ramos), pop up all over the theater, march up and down the sides, and walk through the crowd. Peter Nigrini’s projections range from archival news footage to live shots of reporters interviewing the main characters, with the audience right in the middle of it all as if they are one with the Filipino populace as the People Power Revolution approaches. Byrne’s lyrics are sharp and insightful, never proselytizing or judgmental, highlighted by such numbers as “The Rose of Tacloban,” “Eleven Days,” “Order 1081,” and the title song, tracing the political history of the Philippines in the twentieth century as seen through the eyes of a fascinating woman who didn’t just collect expensive shoes. Here Lies Love is a staggering achievement, an engrossing and involving extravaganza of cutting-edge theater at its finest.
Ethel Barrymore Theatre
243 West 47th St. between Broadway & Eighth Ave.
Thursday - Tuesday through July 14, $69.50 - $145
As audience members arrive at the Barrymore Theatre to see the Scottish Play, they’re greeted by a warning on the outside doors: “The producers ask that you please refrain from speaking the name of the play you are about to see while inside these walls.” Once this fascinating, intense reimagination of William Shakespeare’s 1606 tale of bloodlust and blind ambition gets under way and star Alan Cumming says the name of the eponymous character out loud, there’s an audible hush in the theater, as if he’s broken the cardinal rule. For this is no ordinary Macbeth, and Cumming is no ordinary lead actor. Instead, he plays a deeply troubled man locked up in an asylum after some kind of tragic event. A doctor (Jenny Sterlin) and an orderly (Brendan Titley) set him up in his room and watch him carefully through a door and a window as he deals with his psychological crisis by getting lost inside Macbeth, speaking only lines from the play as guilt and fear envelop him. Directors John Tiffany (Once, Black Watch) and Andrew Goldberg (The Bomb-itty of Errors, Betwixt) have Cumming examine himself in a mirror, sit proudly on a chair like it’s a throne, huddle meekly under a stairway, and take a bath as he goes from Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, Banquo, and Macduff to the three witches, King Duncan, Fleance, and Malcolm. The stark, surreal goings-on are enhanced by Ian William Galloway’s surveillance cameras and video monitors and Fergus O’Hare’s powerful sound design, as loud noises echo through the patient’s head and across the theater. Cumming gives a tour-de-force performance as the man coming undone in one hundred breathtaking minutes, mixing in humor with tragedy as his breakdown continues. “There’s no art to find the mind’s construction in the face,” Duncan says in the first act. In this bold, daring take on the Bard’s classic story, there is plenty of art in the destruction of one mind’s haunted memory.
222 West 45th St. between Broadway & Eighth Ave.
Friday - Wednesday, $87 - $152
In her long-awaited return to the Great White Way, the Divine Miss M inhabits the role of Hollywood superagent Sue Mengers in the one-woman show I’ll Eat You Last. Midler, making her first nonconcert Broadway appearance since 1967, when she played Tzeitel in Fiddler on the Roof, is, well, simply divine as the aggressive, ultra-determined Mengers, who was both loved and hated while tirelessly working for such big-time clients as Julie Harris, Steve McQueen, Ali McGraw, Gene Hackman, Faye Dunaway, and Ryan O’Neal. Midler spends ninety minutes as Mengers, wearing a lovely sparkly blue caftan designed by Ann Roth, lounging on a couch in Scott Pask’s elegant living-room set, drinking, smoking, and cursing as she shares intimate moments from her life and career while waiting for a critical phone call from her number one client, Barbra Streisand. She even invites an audience member onstage to get her some booze and a cigarette, revealing her power to get men to do her bidding. Unfortunately, John Logan has not given Midler much of a play to work with. The show is subtitled A Chat with Sue Mengers, and that’s pretty much exactly what it is: a mere chat, not a Broadway production. Logan, who has penned such films as The Last Samurai, Hugo, Rango, Star Trek: Nemesis, and The Aviator in addition to Red, for which he won a Tony, was inspired to write I’ll Eat You Last after meeting Mengers at a 2008 dinner party. His script contains plenty of funny one-liners but is primarily superficial and reverential, paying tribute to Mengers, who died in 2011 at the age of seventy-nine, in a series of worshipful anecdotes that don’t quite come full circle. Midler is delightful gossiping about such Hollywood celebs as McGraw, McQueen, producer Bob Evans, and director William Friedkin, but this chat is more of a pleasing appetizer than a full, satisfying meal.
Music Box Theatre
239 West 45th St. between Broadway & Eighth Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through December 22, $59 - $148
Inventive director Diane Paulus, who has staged wildly successful revivals of Hair and Porgy and Bess in recent years, now lovingly resurrects Roger O. Hirson’s and Stephen Schwartz’s Pippin on the occasion of its fortieth anniversary. “We’ve got magic to do, just for you,” the cast announces in the dazzling opening number, and the first act of this self-described “anecdotic revue” is indeed magical. The show, which was directed by Bob Fosse back in 1973, is hosted by the Leading Player (usually played by Patina Miller but performed by Stephanie Pope when we saw it) à la the Emcee in Fosse’s Cabaret, both addressing the audience directly and running things onstage. It’s the early Middle Ages, and King Charlemagne (a beautifully bearded Terence Mann) is sitting on the throne, denying peasants’ wishes and leading his empire through a series of wars. Meanwhile, his prodigal son, Pippin (Matthew James Thomas), has returned from his studies, trying to figure out what to do with his life. “Why do I feel I don’t fit in anywhere I go?” he asks in the ballad “Corner of the Sky,” continuing, “Rivers belong where they can ramble / Eagles belong where they can fly / I’ve got to be where my spirit can run free / Got to find my corner of the sky.” He considers becoming a warrior like his half brother, Lewis (Erik Altemus), which delights his stepmother, Fastrada (Charlotte d’Amboise), who envisions Pippin getting killed, making Lewis next in line to be king. But that doesn’t quite work out, and soon Pippin finds himself in the midst of a difficult moral quandary as he considers the sins of the father and the needs of the common people.
The first act is spectacular as the fictionalized story plays out within a circus setting featuring thrilling acrobatics by members of the Montreal-based troupe Les 7 Doigts de la Main, who juggle fire, slide across rolling balls, impossibly balance on objects and one another, and literally jump through hoops as they display life’s unlimited potential. Andrea Martin (SCTV, Young Frankenstein) amazes in a showstopping acrobatic number of her own as Pippin’s grandma Berthe, agelessly performing “No Time at All.” The second act bogs down significantly as Pippin spends time on a farm with the motherly Catherine (Rachel Bay Jones) and her young son, Theo (alternately played by Andrew Cekala and Ashton Woerz), considering a more ordinary life, but he still knows there’s something special out there for him. “Every so often a man has a day he truly can call his,” he sings. “Well, here I am to seize my day / if someone would just tell me when the hell it is.” Understudy Pope is luscious, leggy, and lascivious as the Leading Player, a star-making role originated on Broadway by Ben Vereen, who won a Tony for it, and currently played by Tony nominee Miller. Chet Walker’s choreography has Bob Fosse written all over it, and indeed it’s credited to Walker (Fosse) “in the style of Bob Fosse.” Paulus has managed to transform Pippin, an obvious product of its era, coming in the early 1970s following a tumultuous decade that included the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War, and free love, into a more timeless tale of generational change as the son both embraces and rebels against the father, trying to find his place in the world.
Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre
236 West 45th St. between Broadway & Eighth Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through May 19, $67-$132
When petty thief Treat (Ben Foster) lures home businessman Harold (Alec Baldwin), he gets more than he bargained for in the energetic Broadway debut of Lyle Kessler’s 1983 play, Orphans. Treat has turned to a life of crime in order to take care of himself and his developmentally disabled younger brother, Phillip (Tom Sturridge), in their run-down house in North Philadelphia. Treat, who takes pleasure in wielding a knife, ties the passed-out Harold to a chair and tells Phillip to watch him while the older brother goes out to try to collect a ransom for his kidnap victim. Phillip, who has a thing for mayonnaise, canned tuna, and a woman’s red shoe, can’t leave the house because of allergies that could potentially kill him. But inside he’s like a playful caged animal, leaping across John Lee Beatty’s set like a feral cat, from stairs to couch to windowsill and back again. Meanwhile, when he comes to, Phillip is nonplussed at having been captured, speaking eloquently about admiring the Dead End Kids and remembering his difficult childhood as an orphan, just like Treat and Phillip. Soon he’s serving as a surrogate father figure, at first enraging Treat while intriguing Phillip, leading to a surprise shift in the power dynamic. Orphans is a showcase for the trio of actors; the original L.A. production thirty years ago starred Joe Pantoliano, Lane Smith, and Paul Leiber, while the 1985 Steppenwolf version boasted Gary Sinise directing John Mahoney, Terry Kinney, and Kevin Anderson, and Alan J. Pakula’s 1987 film featured Albert Finney, Matthew Modine, and Anderson. For this Great White Way edition, Foster (3:10 to Yuma, The Messenger), in his Broadway debut, is solid as the ultraserious Treat, who will do whatever it takes to protect Phillip, while Baldwin has a field day as Harold, part Leo Gorcey, part Huntz Hall, part Humphrey Bogart as he coolly and calmly handles what should be a life-threatening situation, instead seeing it as an opportunity. But it’s Sturridge (Being Julia, On the Road) who steals the show with his mesmerizing, acrobatic performance as a trapped man-child ready to burst free. Director Daniel Sullivan (Prelude to a Kiss, The Substance of Fire) injects a kind of punk-rock ferocity into the Pinteresque proceedings as he weaves together Treat’s intense rage, Phillip’s sense of wonder, and Harold’s absurdist ramblings on human existence. Orphans is a captivating, if unusual and offbeat, dark comedy that thrills from start to finish.