Who: Charles Busch, Phoebe Legere, Penny Arcade, Austin Pendleton, David Amram, F. Murray Abraham, William Electric Black, more
What: Live concert and summit (and many other events)
Where: Theater for the New City
When: Saturday, May 23, free, 8:00 (festival runs May 22-24)
Why: Since 1996, Theater for the New City’s annual Lower East Side Festival of the Arts has been a harbinger of summer, three days of multidisciplinary performances taking place in and around the organization’s East First St. home. But the twenty-fifth anniversary of the popular weekend event goes virtual because of the Covid-19 pandemic, but that doesn’t mean it’s slowed down in the least. From May 22 to 24, the festival, whose theme is “Renaissance: Arts Alive 25,” will feature 250 participants providing music, dance, theater, discussion, and more, all for free. The centerpiece occurs on May 23 at 8:00 with “The Mt. Olympus of LES Love!,” a concert with an amazing lineup consisting of Charles Busch, Phoebe Legere, Penny Arcade, Austin Pendleton, David Amram, F. Murray Abraham, and William Electric Black, followed by a summit that attempts to answer the question “Where do we go from here?”
The three-day celebration will feature such speakers as Nii Gaani Aki, Michael Musto, Brad Hoylman, Carlina Rivera, and Candice Burridge; theater excerpts with Barbara Kahn, Anne Lucas, Eve Packer, Greg Mullavey, the Drilling Company, Folksbiene National Yiddish Theater, Nuyorican Poets Café, and others; comedy from Reno, Stan Baker, Trav S.D., Wise Guise, Izzy Church, Epstein and Hassan, and Ana-Maria Bandean with Gemma Forbes; dance with Ashley Liang Dance Company, Constellation Moving Co., Dixon Place, H.T. Chen & Dancers, Wendy Osserman Dance Company, Thunderbird American Indian Dancers, and Zullo/RawMovement; music by Donald Arrington, Allesandra Belloni, Michael David Gordon and the Pocket Band, Art Lillard, and Yip Harburg Rainbow Troupe; cabaret with KT Sullivan, Marissa Mulder, Eric Yves Garcia, Aziza, and Peter Zachari; and poetry readings by Coni Koepfinger, Tsaurah Litzky, Lola Rodriguez, Bob Rosenthal, Lissa Moira, and Brianna Bartenieff; along with puppetry, film screenings, children’s events, and visual art, all for free, although donations are gladly accepted.
Who: Elizabeth Canavan, Liza Colón-Zayas, Scott Hudson, Russell G. Jones, Portia, Al Roffe, Felix Solis, David Zayas, Bobby Cannavale, John Doman, Laurence Fishburne, Dierdre Friel, David Deblinger, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Stephen Adly Guirgis
What: Live benefit reading of Stephen Adly Guirgis play
Where: LAByrinth Theater Company website
When: Saturday, May 23, free (donations accepted), 8:00
Why: Stephen Adly Guirgis’s Our Lady of 121st Street is timelier than ever in the age of coronavirus. The 2002 play, which was originally presented by the LAByrinth Theater Company in 2002 and revived at the Signature in 2018, takes place in and around a funeral home in Harlem, where the body of the late Sister Rose has gone missing as people from her past experience an odd kind of reunion. During the pandemic, in-person funerals are a rare event for very limited attendees, and bodies pile up in refrigerated trucks and makeshift tent-morgues. (“What kind of fuckin’ world is this?!” a character says early on.) On May 23 at 8:00, the LAByrinth is staging a live Zoom reunion reading of the play, directed by Elizabeth Rodriguez, who recently starred in Guirgis’s latest gem, Halfway Bitches Go Straight to Heaven.
The all-star cast features most of the original lineup, along with notable additions. Returning from the 2002 production, which was directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman, are Elizabeth Canavan as Marcia, Liza Colón-Zayas as Norca, Russell G. Jones as Flip, Portia as Inez, Al Roffe as Pinky, Felix Solis as Balthazar, and David Zayas as Edwin; they are joined by Scott Hudson as Gail from the 2003 iteration at the Union Square Theatre, John Doman as Father Lux and Dierdre Friel as Sonia from the Signature revival, Laurence Fishburne as Rooftop from the 2004 LA debut of the show, and Bobby Cannavale from Guirgis’s The Motherfucker with the Hat as Victor. LAByrinth cofounder David Deblinger, who portrayed Gail in the 2002 version, will read the stage directions. As a bonus, Pulitzer Prize winner Guirgis (Jesus Hopped the A Train, The Last Days of Judas Iscariot) will receive the LAByrinth’s Dave Hogue Award. The performance, a benefit for the LAByrinth, will stream live, then be available for twenty-four hours only. “This reading, featuring both original cast members from the LAB company and others whose work we’ve long admired, will help our community come together and hopefully raise some much-needed funds to get us through these unprecedented, tough times,” company artistic director John Ortiz said in a statement. I’ve seen three productions of the play by three different companies, and I was blown away each time; I can’t wait to see it again, amid these challenging times.
Who: Megan McGinnis, Adam Halpin, Paul Alexander Nolan, Paul Gordon, John Caird, Michael Jackowitz
What: Livestreamed reunion of cast, crew, creatives benefiting the Actors Fund
Where: Broadway Podcast Network on YouTube and Facebook Live
When: Thursday, May 21, free (donations accepted), 8:00
Why: In May 2016, I raved about director John Caird and composer and lyricist Paul Gordon’s Daddy Long Legs, saying it was “absolutely lovely” and proclaiming that “Megan McGinnis gives one of the most charming and engaging performances of the season.” Directed by John Caird at the Davenport Theatre, the show centered on an American orphan’s coming-of-age as a young woman in a male-dominated society in the early twentieth century. On May 21 at 8:00, McGinnis, who played Jerusha Abbott, Adam Halpin, who costarred as Jervis Pendleton, producer Michael Jackowitz, Caird, who also wrote the book, and Gordon will have a virtual reunion as part of Ken Davenport’s ongoing series “The Producer’s Perspective.”
In announcing the event, Davenport explained, “I discovered the secret of happiness. It’s a virtual reunion of Daddy Long Legs! In 2015, we streamed Daddy Long Legs live to the world, and it became the very first Broadway or off-Broadway show to take our performance virtual. We were seen by over 150k people in 135 countries around the world. And when all the press articles started appearing on our efforts, and when our box office went up, and when our two stars started getting recognized on the street, we knew we were on to something with this streaming thing. And now, five years later, streamin’ is the only thing we have. Since my out-of-the-box-thinking and super courageous artists on Daddy Long Legs were so instrumental in ushering in the idea of theater-to-stream, I couldn’t think of a better group to reunite online during these cray-cray times.” You can watch the show on BroadwayHD (use code DLLBHD) to prepare for the reunion, which is free, but donations will be accepted for the Actors Fund Covid-19 Emergency Relief efforts. Davenport has been one of the busiest theater people around, hosting informal virtual interviews nearly every night, with such luminaries as Stephen Schwartz, Sierra Boggess, Alex Brightman, Ashley Park, Alan Cumming, David Henry Hwang, Marilu Henner, Jenn Colella, Santino Fontana, and more from wherever they are sheltering in place, with Des McAnuff, Kelly Devine, Michael Greif, and others appearing soon. The talks are archived here.
Who: Jon Bon Jovi, Meryl Streep, Diane Keaton, Rachel Brosnahan, Stephen Colbert, Martin Short, Dolly Parton, Dionne Warwick, Stephanie J. Block, Tony Shalhoub, Charlie Day, Chris O’Dowd, Zachary Levi, Zachary Quinto, Robin Thicke, Deborah Cox, Quentin Earl Darrington, Ariana DeBose, Darius de Haas, Mary Elizabeth Ellis, Eden Espinosa, Jordan Fisher, Stephanie Hsu, Randy Jackson, Capathia Jenkins, Jeremy Jordan, Ramona Keller, Alex Newell, Karen Olivo, Dawn O’Porter, Laura Osnes, Benj Pasek, Jodi Picoult, Shereen Pimentel, Andrew Rannells, Keala Settle, Jake David Smith, Will Swenson, Bobby Conte Thornton, Ana Villafane, Frank Wildhorn, Broadway Inspirational Voices, Covenant House Youth, more
What: Virtual benefit for Covenant House
Where: Amazon Prime Video, Broadway on Demand, Facebook, iHeartRadio Broadway, Stars in the House, Twitch, YouTube
When: Monday, May 18, free with advance registration (donations accepted), 8:00
Why: Covenant House’s annual gala goes virtual this year with A Night of Covenant House Stars on May 18 at 8:00. It’s free to watch, although you can donate to help homeless youth specifically during Covid-19. The mission of Covenant House, which was founded in 1972 and now has locations in thirty-one cities in six countries, is that “through a combination of support strategies, including educational programs, job training and placement, medical services, mental health and substance abuse counseling, legal aid and beyond, we help young people embrace the great promise of their lives, overcome steep barriers to independence, and strive to achieve their aspirations.” The ninety-minute concert will feature performances by such stars as Stephanie J. Block, Jon Bon Jovi, Dolly Parton, Jeremy Jordan, and Laura Osnes with appearances by Rachel Brosnahan, Stephen Colbert, Meryl Streep, Zachary Quinto, Diane Keaton, Tony Shalhoub, and more, cohosted by Audra McDonald and John Dickerson. While we’re all stuck at home, there are too many young people who don’t have anywhere to go, before, during, and after the pandemic. Covenant House seeks to change that.
Who: Simon McBurney, Takumã Kuikuro, others
What: Virtual presentation of The Encounter
Where: St. Ann’s Warehouse website
When: May 15-22, free (donations accepted); live Zoom Q&A May 20 at 2:30, free with advance RSVP
Why: In the fall of 2016, Simon McBurney’s extraordinary play The Encounter, about photojournalist Loren McIntyre’s adventures in the Amazon, opened at the Golden Theatre. The mostly one-man show required every audience member to wear headphones; in my review, I wrote, “The play is also very much about contact, from McIntyre meeting the Mayoruna to how each audience member experiences it individually, a solitary yet communal experience.” With theaters closed and people sheltering in place, the idea of “contact” has changed. With that in mind, from May 15 at 2:00 through May 22 at 5:00, St. Ann’s Warehouse and McBurney’s terrific company, the London-based Complicité, are streaming for free a recorded version of the full play (with a new introduction by McBurney), taking you places you’ve never been in numerous ways; you will need your headphones to immerse yourself in the full effect of the 3D sound design. “We are, as a consequence of this pandemic, bodily cut off from one another. Disconnected. Isolated,” McBurney said in a statement. “But perhaps this sense of our separation, one from another, is simply a heightening of what we felt before this all began. We are thinking now, not only about how long this will last, but also what happens on the other side. To reconnect we need, perhaps, to learn to listen more closely. To each other. To our communities. To other cultures. To nature itself. The Encounter is at its heart a story about listening, not hearing but listening — to other, older narratives which, at the deepest level, form who we are, and if we do, we can imagine how we can begin again.”
On May 20 at 2:30, McBurney, an ingenious writer, director, and actor who has appeared in such films as The Golden Compass, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and Mission Impossible — Rogue Nation and has brilliantly adapted such other literary works as Haruki Murakami’s The Elephant Vanishes, Bruno Schulz’s The Street of Crocodiles, and John Berger’s To the Wedding, will participate in a live Zoom Q&A with Brazilian filmmaker Takumã Kuikuro and special guests; the discussion is free but advance RSVP is required here. I cannot recommend this presentation — a benefit for St. Ann’s — highly enough.
Who: Andrew Lloyd Webber
What: Weekend stream of Cats! with live audio commentary from Andrew Lloyd Webber, benefiting the Actors Fund
Where: “The Shows Must Go On!”
When: Friday, May 15, free (donations accepted), 2:00
Why: Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Composer in Isolation” series, consisting of short videos of the maestro playing his piano at home, joins forces with “The Shows Must Go On!,” the YouTube channel that has been streaming archival clips from such Webber works as Joseph and the Amazing Technical Dreamcoat, Love Never Dies, Jesus Christ Superstar, and The Phantom of the Opera, for a special weekend presentation of Cats! — no, not the recent disaster of a movie but the 1998 film of the stage production — and as a bonus Webber will be providing live commentary. Webber decided to do it after his beloved cat, Mika, was killed on the road earlier this week. “There’s an awful lot I’d love to say, and an awful lot of secrets I kind of feel I want to really let out of the bag,” Webber said in a video announcement you can watch above. The film was directed by David Mallet and features John Mills as Gus, Elaine Paige as Grizabella, Ken Page as Old Deuteronomy, and Susan Jane Tanner as Jellylorum. The program, which kicks off May 15 at 2:00 and continues through Sunday afternoon, is a benefit for the Actors Fund. You can send questions to Sir Andrew via Twitter using #ALWCats.
Who: Cast and crew members of A Strange Loop
What: Livestreamed reunion
When: Friday, May 15, free, 7:00
Why: Last week, Michael R. Jackson’s A Strange Loop won the Pulitzer Prize for drama. The off-Broadway musical, which featured Antwayn Hopper, James Jackson Jr., L Morgan Lee, John-Michael Lyles, John-Andrew Morrison, Larry Owens, and Jason Veasey, ran at Playwrights Horizons last year, directed by Stephen Brackett and choreographed by Raja Feather Kelly. In celebration of the award, the creators, cast, and crew will be reuniting on Facebook Live on May 15 at 7:00, hosted by James Jackson and Raja Feather Kelly. It’s free to watch this party, but be on the lookout for a charity donation request to help members of the theater community who are hurting during the pandemic shutdown.