St. James Theatre
246 West 44th St. between Broadway & Eighth Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through July 2, $99 - $199
It’s ice cold at the St. James Theatre, and I’m not talking about the air-conditioning inside or the weather outside the venerable Broadway venue. I’m referring to what is happening onstage, where Disney has turned its Oscar-winning 2013 animated film into a special-effects-laden musical. Attempting to capture the runaway success of such other animation-to-Broadway hits as Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, and The Lion King, Disney has instead made a mess of the plot, which was inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s story “The Snow Queen,” and added nothing memorable in the expanded score. In case you’re not familiar with the story: In a faraway kingdom, King Angarr (James Brown III) and Queen Iduna (Ann Sanders) have two young daughters, Anna (Audrey Bennett or Mattea Conforti) and Elsa (Brooklyn Nelson or Ayla Schwartz). Elsa is gifted (the gift is a curse, of course) with icy magic she can’t control. One day Elsa freezes part of Anna, so Pabbie (Timothy Hughes) and Bulda (Olivia Phillip) of the Hidden People save Anna but cannot remove the magic from Elsa, who despairs of her power. The parents separate the children to avoid another incident, but the adults are soon lost at sea — this is Disney, after all, where parents rarely fare well. Ten years later, Elsa (Caissie Levy) is ready to be queen of Arendelle; at the coronation ceremony, the sisters are reunited. The Duke of Weselton (Robert Creighton) makes a play for the queen, while Anna (Patti Murin) falls madly in love with Prince Hans (John Riddle) of the Southern Isles. Queen Elsa once again loses control of her magic and this time dooms Arendelle to an eternal winter. Unable to reverse the spell, she returns to her northern castle, where she plans to live alone so she can never harm anyone again. Anna is determined to brave the brutal cold and get to her sister, joined by ice seller Kristoff (Jelani Alladin), his trusted sidekick, Sven the reindeer (Andrew Pirozzi), and Olaf (Greg Hildreth), the girls’ childhood snowman come to life. Danger awaits along their treacherous journey, even with a brief respite supplied by Oaken (Kevin del Aguila), who offers them hot drinks and the use of a sauna. But the closer they get to the castle, the more it looks like they’re not going to make it alive.
The Broadway musical features a book by Jennifer Lee, who wrote the screenplay and codirected the movie with Chris Buck, and music and lyrics by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, who wrote the eight songs for the film and an additional dozen for the show. “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” is still fun, and Levy gets to belt out the Oscar-winning “Let It Go” as the first-act closer, but many of the other songs don’t fall in sync with the narrative, bringing everything to a stop as the orchestrations soar just because they can. Murin (Lysistrata Jones, Wicked) has a goofy charm as Anna and bonds well with Riddle (The Visit, The Little Mermaid), but she and Alladin (Sweetee, Choir Boy) never generate the necessary heat between them. Hildreth (The Robber Bridegroom, Peter and the Starcatcher) nearly steals the show as Olaf, who manually operates the puppet from behind, when it is not already being stolen by Pirozzi (Movin’ Out, Hairspray Live!), who portrays Sven by arching over and using stilts inside the reindeer suit. (The reindeer’s blinking is creepy in a good way.) The costumes are by Tony winner Christopher Oram (The Cripple of Inishmaan, Evita), who also designed the ever-changing set, ranging from the girls’ bedroom to an ornate room in the castle, from a mountain trading post to ice daggers rising out of the floor. Levy (Les Misérables, Ghost) is in strong voice but gets overwhelmed by the special effects (designed by Jeremy Chernick, with lighting by six-time Tony winner Natasha Katz, sound by four-time Tony nominee Peter Hylenski, and projections by Tony winner Finn Ross), as does Tony winner Rob Ashford’s (Thoroughly Modern Millie, Cry-Baby) choreography and Tony winner Michael Grandage’s (Red, Merrily We Roll Along) direction. The cracking sounds and images as the ice spreads across the stage and even onto the walls of the theater are impressive, but they also grow more and more distracting, but perhaps that was done on purpose as the story grows holes that you can drive an ice truck through.
New York Live Arts
219 West 19th St. between Seventh & Eighth Aves.
April 18-22, free - $30
The annual Live Ideas festival at New York Live Arts has previously explored the legacies of Dr. Oliver Sacks and James Baldwin, examined social, political, artistic, and environmental issues (curated by Laurie Anderson), and looked into a nonbinary future (curated by Mx Justin Vivian Bond). The five-day 2018 festival, “Radical Vision,” asks such questions as “How do we not simply protect democracy but make it stronger?,” “What are new (radical) ways forward — ways that go to the roots of our current democratic crisis?,” “What is your radical vision of Democracy?,” and “What would you give up to make it real?” New York Live Arts will host live performances, panel discussions, special presentations, and participatory events addressing these issues, kicking things off on April 18 with a gala at Irving Plaza honoring Elizabeth A. Sackler and Bryan Stevenson, with performances by Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company, Samora Abayomi Pinderhughes, Abby Z and the New Utility, and Esperanza Spalding. The festivities then move to New York Live Arts, with three days of free public readings on democracy, the forum “Bending Towards Justice?,” “The Press + the Resistance,” “By the People?,” and “How Do We Prepare for Trump’s Second Term?,” with such creators and thinkers as Xenobia Bailey, Lawrence Lessig, Alicia Hall Moran, Roger Berkowitz, Emily Johnson, Max Kenner, and Erin Markey. Live Ideas 2018 concludes April 22 at 7:30 ($10) with the Democrazy Ball, with DJ JLMR and performances by Daphne Always and the Dauphine of Bushwick. Below are some of the other highlights of “Radical Vision.”
Wednesday, April 18
Contents Under Pressure: Democracy in Crisis, keynote conversation with Sherrilyn Ifill and Professor Lawrence Lessig, moderated by Bill T. Jones and with an opening performance by mezzo-soprano Alicia Hall Moran with artist and puppeteer Matt Acheson, $15-$30, 6:30
Thursday, April 19
Dahlak Brathwaite: Spiritrials, one-man multidimensional play written by and starring Dahlak Brathwaite, with a score by Brathwaite and Dion Decibels, directed by Marc Bamuthi Joseph and Sean San Jose, $15-$30, 8:00
Friday, April 20
Mike Daisey: The End of Journalism, monologue, $15-$30, 8:00
Saturday, April 21
Zephyr Teachout: Hands-on Politics, workshop with Zephyr Teachout, free with advance RSVP (suggested donation $5-$10), 1:00
Resistance & Friends, with live performances by vocalist and composer Like a Villain (Holland Andrews), singer Joseph Keckler, choreographer and dancer Marguerite Hemmings, drag queen and performance artist Ragamuffin, poet and performer Saul Williams, the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company, and choreographer and dancer Keely Garfield (Mandala), hosted by drag king Elizabeth (Macha) Marrero, $15-$25, 8:00
Sunday, April 22
Cynthia Hopkins: Learn a Song of Resistance, free with advance RSVP (suggested donation $10), 11:00 am
The Secret Court, staged reading by Abingdon Theatre Company, written by members of the Plastic Theatre and conceived by Tony Speciale, $12-$15, 12:30
Kenyon Adams: Prayers of the People, a secular liturgical performance of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” participatory ritual/performance conceived by Kenyon Adams (little ray), directed by Bill T. Jones, featuring Cynthia Hopkins, Padraic Costello, Vinson Fraley, Rebecca L. Hargrove, Walker Jackson, and Adams, $15-$25, 6:00
The Hayes Theater
240 West 44th St. between Broadway & Eighth Ave.
Tuesday - Sunday through May 13, $99 - $169
Kenneth Lonergan is en fuego. In 2014, the playwright and filmmaker’s 1996 work, This Is Our Youth, debuted on Broadway. Lonergan’s first play to make it to the Great White Way earned a Tony nod for Best Revival. Two years later, his off-Broadway play Hold on to Me Darling had an extended run at the Atlantic Theater, and the Bronx-born Lonergan’s indie film Manchester by the Sea was nominated for six Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay; Lonergan won the latter. And no sooner did Lonergan’s 2001 play, Lobby Hero, start accumulating accolades for its current Broadway revival than it was announced that his Pulitzer Prize–nominated 2000 work, The Waverly Gallery, will make its Broadway bow in the 2019 season. Lobby Hero also has the honor of being the first play produced at Second Stage’s first home on Broadway, the newly remodeled Hayes Theater on West Forty-Fourth St., where the show continues through May 13.
In Lobby Hero, Lonergan explores personal and professional responsibility while addressing police brutality, sexual harassment, misogyny, the prison system, militarism, lust, and racism; he made only minor tweaks to the original play, and more than a decade after he wrote it, it still fits in extremely well in this #MeToo, Black Lives Matter era. Michael Cera, who starred in the revival of This Is Our Youth and will be in The Waverly Gallery with Elaine May, plays the title character, Jeff, a wisecracking, ne’er-do-well security guard at a Manhattan apartment building. Jeff, who is trying to get his life on track, works for William (Brian Tyree Henry), known as the Captain, a straightforward boss who likes to think he is tough but fair. After Jeff fails to have a police officer who entered the building sign the book, William tells him, “Look, if you stick to the rules, then you never have to have a discussion about whether or not you were justified not sticking to the rules.” Jeff, who thinks he deserves a break, responds, “I am like the most conscientious guy in this whole building. The rest of these guys are like a bunch of crack addicts and degenerates.” The cop who refused to sign in is the hard-headed Bill (Chris Evans), who is in line for a gold shield. He comes by often to call on Mrs. Heinvald in 22J, making his new partner, Dawn (Bel Powley), wait downstairs while he conducts his business. Jeff develops an instant crush on Dawn, who is still on her probationary period after graduating from the academy, but William, a practical man who admits he is “no fun,” puts the kibosh on that. “Whatever you do, you’re just an imitation cop and she’s a real cop. And if you get involved with some lady policewoman, it is a sure bet you’re gonna end up feeling outranked and outclassed,” he says. Ever the jokester, Jeff replies, “I always feel that way. My last girlfriend was a tollbooth collector, and she intimidated the shit out of me. At least if I was going out with a cop, I’d feel, you know, somewhat safe.” When William has a difficult decision to make regarding his brother’s arrest for a gruesome crime, it sets in motion a series of truths and lies that impacts all four of the characters’ lives, changing the power dynamic as they each search for answers to some dangerous situations.
Lobby Hero takes place on David Rockwell’s open, revolving set, which offers several different angles of the lobby as well as the street outside on the cops’ beat. Cera (Juno, Superbad) and Emmy nominee Henry (Atlanta, The Book of Mormon) have an immediate chemistry onstage, like the classic comic and straight man act; Cera is fun as the quipster who seems to really be a good if goofy guy, while Tyree is sensational as the oh-so-serious William, who just wants himself, and everyone he comes into contact with, to do the right thing all the time. Oddly, while Cera and Henry fill their roles with believability and honesty, Evans (Captain America, Snowpiercer), in his Broadway debut, and Powley (Arcadia, The Diary of a Teenage Girl) feel like stereotypes, often going too far over the top, Evans overplaying Bill’s self-importance, Powley using a distractingly childish voice as Dawn. (Cera and Evans also appeared together as adversaries in the 2010 film Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.) Fortunately, director Trip Cullman (Six Degrees of Separation, Significant Other) doesn’t let the characterizations get too far out of hand, as Cera and Henry — both worthy of Tony nominations — bring it all back down to earth. Lonergan (You Can Count on Me, Margaret) writes incisive, riveting dialogue that makes its points with intelligence as it touches on key issues. “You don’t worry about if the world is bad or good, because I know goddamn well it’s bad,” William tells Jeff. “You just do your best and let the chips fall where they may.” But Lonergan takes it just that much further, pointing out that we all have a part to play in our destinies. “I feel a little bit responsible for the mess you’re in,” Jeff says to Dawn, who responds, “You’re not responsible. I’m responsible. I’m totally responsible.” And once again, the hotter-than-hot Lonergan is responsible for shining a light on our everyday foibles as well as the current state of our country.
Who: Benedict Cumberbatch and surprise guests
What: Letters Live New York
Where: The Town Hall, 123 West 43rd St. between Sixth Ave. & Broadway, 212-997-6661
When: Friday, May 18, and Saturday, May 19, $62-$202 (use presale code LLNYC), 8:00
Why: On May 18-19, Letters Live will make its New York City debut, with Oscar nominee and Olivier and Emmy winner Benedict Cumberbatch and special guests reading letters at the Town Hall. Past events have featured letters by David Bowie, Mohandas Gandhi, Maya Angelou, Elvis Presley, Janis Joplin, Kurt Vonnegut, Charlotte Brontë, Tom Hanks, Katherine Hepburn, Richard Burton, Patti Smith, Abraham Lincoln, James Baldwin, and Che Guevara, read by Gillian Anderson, Sir Ian McKellen, Kylie Minogue, Russell Brand, Thandie Newton, Jake Gyllenhaal, Rose McGowan, LeVar Burton, Mark Hamill, Anjelica Huston, James Corden, Oscar Isaac, Mary J Blige, Jude Law, Nick Cave, Sir Ben Kingsley, and others. Presale tickets for the epistolary presentation, which was inspired by Shaun Usher’s Letters of Note anthologies and Simon Garfield’s To the Letter, are now available using the code LLNYC. Part of the proceeds will be donated to 826NYC and the Entertainment Industry Foundation.
If you’ve wondered what that strangely curious building going up on West Thirtieth St. between Tenth & Eleventh Aves. is, we now know. It’s called the Shed, which bills itself as “the first arts center designed to commission, produce, and present all types of performing arts, visual arts, and popular culture.” The Shed, a 200,000-square-foot structure designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro in collaboration with the Rockwell Group, will open next spring with intriguing, exciting projects by Steve McQueen and Quincy Jones; Gerhard Richter and Steve Reich; Anne Carson with Ben Whishaw and Renée Fleming; Trisha Donnelly; Agnes Denes; and others. “The original idea for the Shed was relatively simple: provide a place for artists working in all disciplines to make and present work for audiences from all walks of life,” Shed artistic director and CEO Alex Poots, formerly director of the Park Ave. Armory, said in a statement. “Our opening programs begin to show how these artists, art forms, and audiences can thrive together under one roof.” But before the Shed officially opens, it will be holding a preopening program, “A Prelude to the Shed,” in a flexible, transformable venue in an undeveloped lot at Tenth Ave. and West Thirty-First St., designed by architect Kunlé Adeyemi of NLÉ Works and conceptual artist Tino Sehgal. “‘A Prelude to the Shed’ is an exploration of architecture as an extension of human body, culture, and environment. Can architecture be more human?” Adeyemi explained in a statement. “This curiosity led us to reconfigure a steel shed into a comfortable interface to interact with people physically; inside and outside, in light and darkness, individually and collectively. Using simple technologies, we made the structure so that it can be moved and transformed by people, enabling its participation in different formats of art, education, events, and public life.”
From May 1 to 13, visitors with advance free tickets can see live music and dance, panel discussions, art installations, and more. (There should be some walk-up availability as well.) Each session includes Sehgal’s continuous, immersive dance/sound piece This variation, which interacts with choreographer William Forsythe’s Pas de Deux Cent Douze, a reimagining of the central duet from his 1987 ballet In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated. On some nights, Reggie “Regg Roc” Gray will lead “D.R.E.A.M. Ring Dance Battles,” part of FlexNYC. Several nights will feature live solo concerts by ABRA, Arca, and Azealia Banks; on other nights there will be panel discussions organized by Bard professor Dorothea von Hantelmann with Shed senior program adviser Hans Ulrich Obrist and chief science and technology officer Kevin Slavin. Among the topics are “Transformative Topologies: Past, Present, and Future Functions of Art Institutions,” “Beyond the Mind/Body Division: Neuroscience, Technology, Spirituality,” “Agnes Denes: Animale, Rationale, Mortale,” and “A Global Dialogue That Is Not Globalization,” boasting such international thinkers as Manthia Diawara, Tim Morton, Avital Ronell, Barbara Browning, Moncell Durden, Nelson George, Frankie Decaiza Hutchinson, Akeel Bilgrami, Joy Connolly, Tim Ingold, Emily Segal, and Richard Sennett. And on May 5 and 12 at 11:30 am, Asad Raza, Jeff Dolven, and D. Graham Burnett’s “Schema for a School” experimental course for students will be open to the public. “Prelude” will also pay tribute to architect Cedric Price’s unrealized 1961 building “The Fun Palace” with an archival interactive display. We’re out of breath already, and this is only the preopening. So we’ll let von Hantelmann sum it all up: “Art institutions — museums, exhibitions, theaters, concert halls, festivals — have always been spaces in which a social structure becomes manifest. To find ritual forms that correspond to contemporary forms of life and to the social structures of the early twenty-first century, that is the aspiration to which this project is dedicated.”
In November 2014, Animus Theatre Company presented a twelve-hour reading festival at Circle in the Square of Leslye Headland’s “Sin Cycle Plays,” consisting of Assistance, Bachelorette, Cinephilia, Reverb, Surfer Girl, and The Accidental Blonde (with one more to come). On Tuesdays and Wednesdays from April 10 to May 30, the company, in association with the Dirty Blondes Theater Company, will be taking Headland’s Surfer Girl in a whole new direction. The New York premiere of the work moves to a conceptual performative environment designed by painter and installation artist Chaney Trotter at the Foley Gallery on the Lower East Side, instead of its originally intended, more traditional theater setting. Every week, the one-woman show will pair a different actress (Courtney Shaw, Erin Leigh Schmoyer, Karen Eilbacher, Amy Northup, Sara Canter, and three TBA) with one of four directors (Alex Correia, Taphat Tawil, Jen Wineman, and Noah Himmelstein). Thus, Surfer Girl, which investigates the sin of sloth, will be seen through multiple lenses by Animus because of the changing performers and directors, each performance different from the others. There will also be a cash bar with beer and wine for postshow mingling; opening night will be followed by a discussion with Headland, who has also written and/or directed the films Bachelorette, Assistance, About Last Night, and Sleeping with Other People and is currently making an untitled Netflix series with producer Amy Poehler and star Natasha Lyonne.
252 West 45th St. between Broadway & Eighth Ave.
Tuesday - Sunday through June 24, $47 - $159
Edward Albee’s 1991 Pulitzer Prize–winning play, Three Tall Women, is finally making its Broadway debut, in an elegant, exquisitely rendered production directed by Joe Mantello at the Golden Theatre, featuring American actress Laurie Metcalf, Canadian actress Alison Pill, and British legend Glenda Jackson. The two-act intermissionless play, an ingenious depiction of aging, among other things, takes place in the 1990s in the lush bedroom of a sneering, wealthy widow identified in the program as A (Jackson), who is in her early nineties. She lives with her wisecracking, pessimistic caretaker, B (Metcalf), who is fifty-two. They have been joined by the deadly serious C (Pill), a twenty-six-year-old sharply dressed lawyer who needs A to sign some forms she’s been ignoring. Each woman represents a different class and generation, youth, middle age, and old age, each with different values, desires, and expectations, but as B likes to point out, everyone is on their way toward death. “Start in young,” she says, referring to children. “Make ’em aware that they’ve got only a little time. Make ’em aware that they’re dying from the minute they’re alive.” Amid visits to the bathroom, anecdotes about the past, and legal papers to be signed, the women deliver rapid comebacks with plenty of snark as they consider the state of their lives. But then a paradigm shift occurs, and in the second act there is a slight but key change in the set and in the characters, who are no longer quite what they were previously. Once the audience realizes what is happening, there are likely to be more than a few thrilled gasps of recognition as Albee peers ever deeper into the life of the female species, leading to an utterly breathtaking finale.
Three Tall Women was inspired by Albee’s troubled relationship with his adoptive mother. “We had managed to make each other very unhappy over the years, but I was past all that, though I think she was not,” Albee wrote in the introduction to the published 1994 edition of the play. “I harbor no ill-will toward her; it is true I did not like her much, could not abide her prejudices, her loathings, her paranoias, but I did admire her pride, her sense of self. . . . No, it was not a revenge piece I was after, and I was not interested in ‘coming to terms’ with my feelings toward her.” It is precisely for those reasons that Three Tall Women works so well. There are no heroes or villains, no black-and-white depictions of good and evil. A, B, and C all have their own strengths and weaknesses; despite the specificity of their lives, they are everywoman, experiencing the ups and downs of everyday existence, since death is the great equalizer. Few male playwrights have drafted such female characters as Albee, who also displayed that vast skill in such other works as The Lady from Dubuque; The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?; Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Pulitzer Prize winners A Delicate Balance and Seascape.
The eighty-one-year-old Jackson (Strange Interlude, A Touch of Class), in a tight hairstyle that is a character unto itself, is feisty and glamorous in her first Broadway role since she was nominated for a Tony in Macbeth in 1988, having left acting to pursue a career in politics, serving as an MP from 1992 to 2015; her A is a bigoted wealthy widow, mother, and former grande dame who is refusing to come to terms with the maladies that befall the elderly, no matter how rich they might be. The sixty-two-year-old Metcalf (A Doll’s House Part 2, The Other Place) gives a homey charm to the sarcastic spinster B. And the thirty-two-year-old Pill (Blackbird, The Lieutenant of Inishmore) holds her own as the practical C, who has dreams of a great future for herself despite seeing what lies ahead. (Among the other trios to have played the three women are Myra Carter, Marian Seldes, and Jordan Baker at the Vineyard in 1994 and Maggie Smith, Frances de la Tour, and Anastasia Hille in the West End that same year.) Two-time Tony winner Mantello (The Humans, Love! Valour! Compassion!) lets the three actresses strut their stuff with minimal intrusion on Miriam Buether’s opulent bedroom set, which is centered by the stately bed itself, here representing birth, sex, and, ultimately, death.