627 Fifth Ave. at Seventeenth St., Brooklyn
Wednesday - Sunday, October 4 - November 26, $100
The parade of immersive theatrical productions continues in October and November with Curiosities, in which the audience in invited so see a performance of Professor Mysterium’s Menagerie of Wonder, an illegal sideshow with misfits and deviants taking place in the subterranean jazz club known as the Menagerie, which is surrounded by secret passages demanding investigation. Fifty visitors, encouraged do dress in 1930s duds, each night get to create their own adventure by following whatever path they choose. Along the journey, they will encounter movement, music, and whispered dialogue and will be touched. The show was created by actor, designer, and director Anthony Logan Cole; Bryan Knowlton is codirector and choreographer, with lighting and sound by Christina Verde, costumes by TJ Burleson, and sets by Roberto Garcia. Tickets for the multisensory show, which runs Wednesdays to Sundays from October 4 to November 26 with an official opening of Friday, October 13, are available now and are expected to go fast, especially to fans of Sleep No More, Queen of the Night, The Grand Paradise, Then She Fell, Speakeasy Dollhouse, Empire Travel Agency, and the like. In addition, the Menagerie will be open as a club on Monday and Tuesday nights, with guest performers.
Less is certainly not more in Manhattan Theatre Club’s production of the surprisingly slight Prince of Broadway. Continuing at the Samuel J. Friedman through October 22, the show is a tribute to legendary icon Hal Prince, who has won twenty-one Tony Awards during a grand career going back to his days as an assistant stage manager in 1950 through directing and/or producing many of the greatest musicals in Broadway history. Prince himself directs the talented cast of nine — Chuck Cooper, Janet Dacal, Bryonha Marie Parham, Emily Skinner, Brandon Uranowitz, Kaley Ann Voorhees, Michael Xavier, Tony Yazbeck, and Karen Ziemba — who all portray him, glasses on top of their heads, as he discusses brief, mostly unilluminating snippets from his history, many of them self-aggrandizing platitudes that serve as introductions to some of the numbers, although there are a few choice tidbits, including his meeting Stephen Sondheim. The crew is just about as good as it gets, with a book by two-time Tony nominee David Thompson, arrangements and orchestrations by two-time Tony winner Jason Robert Brown, sets and projections by Tony winner Beowulf Boritt, costumes by six-time Tony winner William Ivey Long, lighting by two-time Tony winner Howell Binkley, and codirection and choreography by five-time Tony winner Susan Stroman. And the show has several memorable moments, including Cooper bringing the house down with “If I Were a Rich Man” from Fiddler on the Roof, Parham belting out the theme song from Cabaret, Xavier and Dacal camping it up on “You’ve Got Possibilities” from It’s a Bird...It’s a Plane...It’s Superman, and Skinner delivering a moving “Send in the Clowns” from A Little Night Music. But as Ziemba sings as Fräulein Schneider from Cabaret, “So what?”
Too many of the production numbers are not introduced by name; how many people are likely to know that “This Is Not Over Yet” is from Parade? Prince’s specific contributions, whether director or producer, are not indicated onstage (only in the program), so it is often difficult to grasp how much we’re seeing is from the man himself. With limited or no background information, most of the songs exist in a kind of vacuum, where the audience doesn’t know enough about the characters to get involved in their tales, except for the numbers that have more exposition in them. Even such beloved songs as “Something’s Coming” and “Tonight” from West Side Story feel lost amid the other hits and non-hits; it’s not fair for Stroman and Prince to assume the crowd is already familiar with the songs, a disservice particularly to younger generations or newcomers of any age to musical theater. And although Prince worked on nearly sixty shows, a mere sixteen are represented here, with three or four songs from certain musicals; it would have been fascinating to see tunes from such less-well-known works as Zorba, A Family Affair, Flora, the Red Menace, or even A Doll’s Life, which closed after five performances, instead of multiple numbers from Evita and The Phantom of the Opera. An earlier version did have other songs, including “All I Need Is One Good Break” from Flora, but numerous delays and financial issues led to many changes. (For example, in March 2012 it was announced that the Broadway production would open that November with Sebastian Arcelus, Linda Lavin, Richard Kind, LaChanze, Shuler Hensley, Sierra Boggess, Josh Grisetti, Amanda Kloots-Larsen, Daniel Breaker, Caroline O’Connor, David Pittu, and Skinner.) In a program note, Prince writes, “I doubt if anyone today can duplicate the life I’ve been lucky enough to live.” That’s very likely true, but the eighty-nine-year-old master deserves better than Prince of Broadway.
Cherry Lane Studio Theatre
38 Commerce St.
Wednesday - Sunday through September 17, $55
Last year, the american vicarious theater company, led by artistic director Christopher McElroen, presented the world premiere of Thomas Klingenstein’s Douglass, about nineteenth-century abolitionist and social reformer Frederick Douglass. The same team is now back with If Only..., which opened yesterday at the Cherry Lane Studio Theatre. McElroen and Klingenstein are an unusual pair; the former is cofounder of the Classical Theatre of Harlem, while the latter is a conservative philanthropist and financial advisor who believes there is “too much emphasis on ethnic and racial difference and too little on our common national identity.” They both attempt to bridge that divide in If Only…, a relatively vanilla tale of the reunion of schoolteacher and former slave Samuel Johnson (Mark Kenneth Smaltz) and prominent society wife Mrs. Ann Astorcott (Melissa Gilbert), who had been brought together by Abraham Lincoln and haven’t seen each other since the assassinated president’s funeral. It’s now the winter of 1901, and Ann lives in a New York City Victorian brownstone with her businessman husband, Henry (Richmond Hoxie), and a young orphan, Sophie (Korinne Tetlow), who has not spoken since a tragic occurrence. Henry is out at a meeting of the monument committee — a rather timely responsibility, given the current controversy over historical statuary — so Ann and Samuel, who has arrived from Chicago to attend another funeral, are by themselves, where they exchange niceties, skirting around the central issue of their deep affection for each other, which, under different circumstances, could have led to a more serious, involved relationship. “Mr. Lincoln did not abide convention,” Samuel tells her. “Did you know that he did not hunt. Everyone hunted in the West, but not Mr. Lincoln. Nor did he drink, smoke, or swear. He did not like to fight, to farm, and he did not despise Indians. The soldiers liked his unconventional ways.” Ann responds, “The older I get, the more I understand the need for convention. One needs deep ruts to keep them from going off course.” He replies, “You once defied convention,” to which she answers, “If you say so.” The play is structured around the concept of convention, whether these two people, who clearly still are in love, will throw caution to the wind and let free their true feelings.
If Only... takes place in the Astorcotts’ cozy, old-fashioned parlor, designed by William Boles. Gilbert (The Miracle Worker, Little House on the Prairie) is prim and proper as Ann, who is like a butterfly in her husband’s collection, pinned back, not allowed by society to burst out and show her true colors. Law and Order veteran Smaltz (American Son, It Can’t Happen Here) plays Samuel with a cool demeanor; he understands the complicated situation but won’t take action unless Ann breaks out of her cold posturing. There’s not much to McElroen’s direction; the characters switch chairs or move a table, just to give them something physical to do. Klingenstein tries to make various comparisons to the current state of race relations in the United States (as well as an anachronistic reference to a glass ceiling), but they mostly fall flat in the face of the obvious, especially since what happened in Charlottesville. If Only... turns out to be more of a writing exercise than a fully fledged play, an overly trite story that exploits Lincoln’s beliefs and accomplishments, wondering why we all still can’t just get along.
BAM Harvey Theater, 651 Fulton St.
BAM Howard Gilman Opera House, 30 Lafayette Ave.
BAM Fisher, 321 Ashland Pl.
September 14 - December 16
As usual, we are considering moving in to the Brooklyn Academy of Music for three months after the announcement of the lineup for the thirty-fifth BAM Next Wave Festival, running September 14 through December 16 at the Harvey, the Howard Gilman Opera House, and the Fisher. “This year’s Next Wave showcases artists from Switzerland to Senegal in creative dialogue with historic events, personal histories, and the present moment,” longtime BAM executive producer Joe Melillo said in a statement. The roster includes old favorites and up-and-comers from around the world, with several surprises. Dance enthusiasts will be particularly impressed with the schedule, which begins September 14-24 with a superb double bill of Tanztheater Wuppertal/Pina Bausch’s Café Müller and The Rite of Spring, which were part of the first Bausch program at BAM back in June 1984. For The Principles of Uncertainty (September 27-30), Maira Kalman teams up with John Heginbotham, Dance Heginbotham, and the Knights to bring her online graphic diary to life. New York Live Arts artistic director and cofounder Bill T. Jones returns to BAM with the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company and composer Nick Hallett for A Letter to My Nephew (October 3-7), about his nephew, Lance T. Briggs, who battled illness and addiction. Senegalese artist Germaine Acogny takes center stage for the emotional solo piece Mon élue noire (My Black Chosen One): Sacre #2 (October 4-7), choreographed specifically for her by Olivier Dubois of Ballet du Nord, set to music by Stravinsky. Also on the movement bill are Joshua Beamish/MOVETHECOMPANY’s Saudade, Cynthia Oliver’s Virago-Man Dem, ODC/Dance, Brenda Way, and KT Nelson’s boulders and bones, David Dorfman Dance’s Aroundtown, Hofesh Shechter Company’s Grand Finale, Xavier Cha’s Buffer, Big Dance Theater’s 17c, and Tesseract, a multimedia collaboration between Charles Atlas, Rashaun Mitchell, and Silas Riener.
The festival also boasts impressive theater productions, kicking off October 11-14 with Schaubühne Berlin’s tantalizing version of Shakespeare’s Richard III, translated and adapted by Marius von Mayenburg, directed by Thomas Ostermeier, and starring Lars Eidinger. Théâtre de la Ville, Paris is back November 2-4 with Albert Camus’s State of Siege, directed by Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota. Tony-winning Belgian director Ivo van Hove takes on Ayn Rand in Toneelgroep Amsterdam’s four-hour The Fountainhead November 28 to December 2. Rachel Dickstein and Ripe Time bring Naomi Iizuka’s adaptation of Haruki Murakami’s Sleep to the Fisher November 20 to December 2. Fresh off her Broadway stint in Marvin’s Room, Lili Taylor stars in Farmhouse/Whorehouse: An Artist Lecture by Suzanne Bocanegra, directed by Lee Sunday Evans (December 12-16). Geoff Sobelle, who went solo at BAM for The Object Lesson, is joined by an ensemble of designers and dancers for Home (December 6-10). And be on the lookout for Manfred Karge, Alexandra Wood, and Wales Millennium Centre’s Man to Man, Thaddeus Phillips and Steven Dufala’s A Billion Nights on Earth, the Cameri Theatre of Tel-Aviv’s adaptation of Etgar Keret’s Suddenly, directed by Zvi Sahar and PuppetCinema, Manual Cinema’s Mementos Mori, Marc Bamuthi Joseph/The Living Word Project’s /peh-LO-tah/, and James Thierrée and Compagnie du Hanneton’s La grenouille avait raison (The Toad Knew).
Music aficionados have plenty to choose from, with Olivier Py Sings Les Premiere Adieux de Miss Knife, Kronos Quartet, Rinde Eckert, and Vân-Ánh Võ’s My Lai, Bang on a Can All-Stars, Michael Gordon, David Lang, Julia Wolfe, and Michael Counts’s Road Trip, Gabriel Kahane’s Book of Travelers, Rithy Panh, Him Sophy, Trent Walker, Jonathan Berger, and Harriet Scott’s Bangsokol: A Requiem for Cambodia, Wordless Music Orchestra and Chorus’s two-part John Cale: The Velvet Underground & Nico, and the New York premiere of American Repertory Theater’s Crossing, an opera inspired by Walt Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” composed, written, and conducted by Matthew Aucoin and directed by Diane Paulus. The season is supplemented with several postperformance talks and master classes.
French Institute Alliance Française and other locations
Florence Gould Hall, 55 East 59th St. between Madison & Park Aves.
FIAF Gallery, 22 East 60th St. between Madison & Park Aves.
September 6 - October 15, free - $60
FIAF’s annual Crossing the Line Festival enters its second decade with the eleventh edition of its always exciting multidisciplinary lineup featuring unique and eclectic works from around the world. This year’s focus is on Congolese choreographer and CTL veteran Faustin Linyekula, who will be presenting the world premiere of the site-specific Banataba at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (9/9, 9/10, 9/12, $65), the U.S. premiere of In Search of Dinozord with Studios Kabako at the NYU Skirball Center (9/22, 9/23, $40), and the world premiere of Festival of Dreams at Roberto Clemente Plaza on 9/23 and Weeksville Heritage Center on 9/24 (free, 3:00). The festival begins September 6-7 with Ryoji Ikeda’s supercodex (live set) at the Met ($45-$60), a follow-up to his dazzling Superposition from 2014. In #PUNK, taking place 9/14-15 in FIAF’s Tinker Auditorium ($30), Zimbabwe-born, New York–based Nora Chipaumire channels the musical rage of Patti Smith; the 9/14 show will be followed by a Q&A with Chipaumire and Linyekula, moderated by Ralph Lemon. Performance festival regular Annie Dorsen (Magical, Yesterday Tomorrow) takes a new narrative approach to the internet in The Great Outdoors, 9/21-23 in FIAF’s Florence Gould Hall ($35). Alessandro Sciarroni continues his “Will you still love me tomorrow?” trilogy with the New York premiere of UNTITLED_I will be there when you die at La MaMa 9/28-30 ($25, 8:00).
Moroccan dancer-choreographer Bouchra Ouizguen’s Corbeaux (Crows) is a site-specific living sculpture that will move throughout the Brooklyn Museum’s Beaux-Arts Court 9/30 and 10/1 (free with museum admission). Drag fave Dickie Beau conjures Marilyn Monroe and Judy Garland in Blackouts 10/5-8 at Abrons Arts Center ($30). Adelheid Roosen and Nazmiye Oral transform FIAF’s Le Skyroom into an intimate living room in No Longer without You 10/12-15 ($25), in which traditional Muslim immigrant Havva Oral and her Westernized daughter, Nazmiye, discuss faith, sexuality, identity, and more. In addition, Alain Willaume’s immersive exhibition, “VULNERABLE,” will be on view 9/15 to 10/28 in the FIAF Gallery (free), and Sophie Calle’s Voir la mer, set by the Black Sea in Istanbul, will be projected on Times Square billboards every night in October at 11:57 as part of the monthly Midnight Moment program.
111 West 44th St. between Sixth & Seventh Aves.
Tuesday - Saturday through October 22, $29 - $149
I attended the star-studded August 10 opening of Michael Moore’s Broadway debut, the mostly one-man show The Terms of My Surrender, in which the Flint native rails against Donald Trump and shares stories about how one person can make a difference. In my review the next day, I noted that there was a handful of important flaws; other critics were somewhat less generous (amid some raves). With all that is going on in the world, overwhelming us on a constant basis, I decided to revisit the Belasco Theatre the next week to see if Moore and director Michael Mayer had made any important changes and how Moore might incorporate the violent white nationalist march in Charlottesville, Virginia.
The show turned out to be much better the second time around. Moore was more comfortable (though not when it comes to dancing), several cringeworthy lines and a dreadful bit were cut, and no special guest arrived for the interview segment. Trump’s words relating to Charlottesville were projected across the stripes on the American flag that hovers behind Moore, and the proceedings had a more agreeable narrative flow. Moore did note at one moment that he went ahead with a line his producers wanted him to get rid of, and he made a point of explaining that he would not have done the show unless the producers agreed that all balcony seats would sell for $29, something he did not say on opening night, so perhaps the show has indeed undergone some necessary and successful nipping and tucking. Whatever the case, The Terms of My Surrender improved greatly upon repeat viewing, even if Moore is still preaching to the converted. However, I’m unlikely to go back a third time; as with presidents, two “terms” are enough.
American Airlines Theatre
227 West 42nd St. between Broadway & Eighth Ave.
Through August 27, $47-$127
Scott McPherson’s 1990 play, Marvin’s Room, is finally making its Broadway debut, in a touching and funny Roundabout production directed gracefully by Anne Kaufman. The work, which focuses on the complex relationship between two sisters, ran in New York at Playwrights Horizon and the Minetta Lane Theater in 1992-93, winning two Drama Desk Awards (including Outstanding Play) and an Obie, and was then turned into a film in 1996 with an Oscar-nominated Diane Keaton, Meryl Streep, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Gwen Verdon. For its Great White Way bow, it has enlisted a pair of fab actresses to portray the sisters. Lily Taylor stars as Bessie, a forty-year-old woman who has been caring for her ailing father, Marvin (Carman Lacivita), and her partially incapacitated aunt, Ruth (Celia Weston), in their Florida home for decades. “Dad’s dying but he’s been dying for about twenty years. He’s doing it real slow so I don’t miss anything,” Bessie tells Dr. Wally (Triney Sandoval), who is filling in for her regular physician. “And Dr. Serat has worked a miracle with Ruth,” she adds. “She’s had constant pain from her back since she was born, and now the doctor had her get an electronic anesthetizer; you know, they put the wires right into the brain and when she has a bad pain she just turns her dial. It really is a miracle. . . . If she uses it in the kitchen our automatic garage door goes up. But that’s a small price to pay, don’t you think?” The scene’s elements of vaudeville slapstick prepare the audience for Bessie’s discovery that she is sick as well. Her sister, Lee (Janeane Garofalo), arrives from Ohio to offer assistance, along with her two boys, Charlie (Luca Padovan) and the older, deeply troubled Hank (Jack DiFalco). It’s not exactly the most heartwarming of family reunions as everyone tries to decide how far they’re willing to go to help.
Garofalo (Russian Transport, The Truth about Cats and Dogs), in her Broadway debut, and Emmy winner Taylor (Aunt Dan & Lemon, Six Feet Under) get the sibling thing just right; they even look somewhat similar, and more so as the play continues. Taylor plays Bessie with a soft vulnerability beneath her hard shell, while Garofalo is excellent at keeping Lee’s motives just under the surface. Whenever they are together, Marvin can be seen in silhouette lying down in the bedroom, a constant reminder of what drove the sisters apart. Tony nominee Weston (True West, The Last Night of Ballyhoo) provides comic relief as the slow-moving, God-fearing Ruth, who refers to a bowel movement as a “stinky.” The set by Laura Jellinek (The Nether, The Wolves) easily slides from kitchen to doctor’s office to hospital room to retirement home while Obie winner Kauffman (Marjorie Prime, Belleville) moves the story at a calm pace despite the occasional fireworks. The play was inspired by childhood memories as well as a different play McPherson was writing, about an AIDS clinic. McPherson later cared for his partner, a cartoonist and activist who died of AIDS in February 1992 at the age of thirty-three; McPherson, who also wrote Scraped, passed away from AIDS complications later that year, at the same age. Marvin’s Room is a tragicomic story that boldly addresses the question of what happens when a caregiver needs a caregiver as well as a bittersweet reminder of the weight of family responsibility and heartbreaking loss.