249 West 45th St. between Broadway & Eighth Ave.
Tuesday - Sunday through September 3, $59-$189
The best musical on Broadway — yes, that includes Hamilton — will be going through a major casting change over the next few months involving the rather critical character of Pierre. But there’s no need to worry, as the show has proved since its debut at tiny Ars Nova in 2012 and subsequent move to a Meatpacking District tent before being presented at the American Repertory Theatre at Harvard on its way to the current smash Broadway engagement. Superstar crooner Josh Groban will be playing Pierre through July 2, after which Oak Onaodowan, who originated the roles of Hercules Mulligan and James Madison in Hamilton and plays Afrika Bambaataa in The Get Down, will take over. In addition, Groban’s superb understudy, Scott Stangland, will play Pierre on April 25, and the original Pierre, Dave Malloy, who wrote the book, music, lyrics, and orchestrations, will appear as his complex creation May 4-9 and June 13, 20, and 27. I have seen all three Pierres, and I can unequivocally say that it does not matter who you see as the downtrodden shell of a man who admits, “I never thought that I’d end up like this / I used to be better.” I actually preferred Stangland to Groban, the former more natural in the role of a man caught up in romantic intrigue in early-nineteenth-century Russia, based on a section of Leo Tolstoy’s epic War and Peace. Malloy was delightful as Pierre in the eighty-seven-seat Ars Nova, where the vodka poured freely. It’s really a no-lose situation, as Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 features such a large and talented ensemble cast and is so spectacularly staged by Rachel Chavkin that you shouldn’t go, or not go, simply based on star power. It’s an extraordinary electro-pop opera no matter who is onstage any given night.
THE INCIDENT (Larry Peerce, 1967)
209 West Houston St.
Sunday, November 3, $7, 11:00 am
One of the ultimate nightmare scenarios of 1960s New York City, Larry Peerce’s gritty black-and-white The Incident takes viewers deep down into the subway as two thugs terrorize a group of helpless passengers. Joe Ferrante (Tony Musante) and Artie Connors (Martin Sheen, in his first movie role) are out for kicks, so after getting some out on the streets, they head underground, where they find a wide-ranging collection of twentieth-century Americans to torture, including Arnold and Joan Robinson (Brock Peters and Ruby Dee), Bill and Helen Wilks (Ed McMahon and Diana Van der Vlis), Sam and Bertha Beckerman (Jack Gilford and Thelma Ritter, in her last role), Douglas McCann (Gary Merrill), Muriel and Harry Purvis (Jan Sterling and Mike Kellin), Alice Keenan (Donna Mills), soldiers Felix Teflinger and Phillip Carmatti (Beau Bridges and Robert Bannard), and others, each representing various aspects of contemporary culture and society, all with their own personal problems that come to the surface as the harrowing ride continues. It’s a brutal, claustrophobic, highly theatrical film that captures the fear that haunted the city in the 1960s and well into the ’70s, with an all-star cast tackling such subjects as racism, teen sex, alcoholism, homosexuality, war, and the state of the American family. A DCP restoration of the rarely shown drama, some of which was filmed in the actual subway system against the MTA’s warnings, is screening April 26 at Film Forum, with the Bronx-born Peerce, who made such other films as A Separate Peace, Two-Minute Warning, The Bell Jar, and Goodbye, Columbus, on hand to discuss the work.
Saturday, April 22
“It is with deep honor and humility that I accept this ambassadorship. Rest assured I do not take my duties lightly,” says St. Vincent, the official ambassador for Record Store Day’s tenth anniversary event, taking place on April 22. Record stores all over the city will be participating, offering limited edition discs; the list includes Jazz Record Center, Record Mart, Rock and Soul Records, the various Academy stores, Second Hand Rose Music, Record Runner, Turntable Lab Storefront, Village Music World, Generation Records, In Living Stereo, Good Records NYC, Downtown Music Gallery, A-1 Records, Deadly Dragon Sound, and Record Grouch. Among the special 45s, twelve-inch singles, and LPs to watch out for is tunage by Prince, David Bowie, Sharon Jones, Peter Tosh, Ken Kesey, Johnny Cash, Townes Van Zandt — and some living people as well, like Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, Drive by Truckers, David Crosby & the Lighthouse, Spoon, Bettie Serveert, Sting, Pokey LaFarge, Crooked Beat, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Mike Peters, and moe., in addition to tributes to Leonard Cohen and the Clash. There are also double-sided singles by Tegan and Sara / the Regrettes, the Flamin’ Groovies / Dylan Gardner, and Talking Heads / Wildling. Record stores keep going the way of the dinosaurs, so support your local music shop and listen to songs the way they were meant to be heard. Oh, and getting back to St. Vincent, who’s following in the footsteps of such previous ambassadors as Dave Grohl, Chuck D, and Iggy Pop, you can check out her preparation for her ambassadorial responsibilities here.
THE PENGUIN COUNTERS (Peter Getzels & Harriet Gordon, 2016)
22 East 12th St. between University Pl. & Fifth Ave.
Opens Friday, April 21
Peter Getzels and Harriet Gordon’s The Penguin Counters arrives at Cinema Village just in time for World Penguin Day on April 25, which celebrates the cute and cuddly black-and-white (and often yellow) aquatic birds. However, the tuxedoed animals are facing a major challenge, as climate change threatens their very existence. The film follows Ron Naveen and his small team — Thomas Mueller of Frankfurt’s Biodiversity and Climate Research Center, research ecologist Steve Forrest, Stony Brook assistant professor Heather Lynch, and PhD candidates Mike Polito and Paula Casanovas — as they go from Argentina to Deception Island, tracking three varieties of penguins and following in the footsteps of British explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, who led a famously treacherous journey to the Antarctic in the first decade of the nineteenth century aboard the aptly named Discovery. In a bit of serendipitous luck, on a cruise ship he’s essentially hitchhiking on, Naveen meets Angie Butler, the biographer of Shackleton’s right-hand man, Frank Wild, who is transporting Wild’s ashes to South Georgia so they can be buried next to Shackleton’s remains, and Naveen joins her on her mission. Naveen, the founder and president of Oceanites, is gathering information for the Antarctic Site Inventory project, which has been detailing the plight of oceanic birds and the ecosystem for more than twenty years. “We’re not explorers, climbers, or athletes,” Naveen explains in a message about the film. “The weather we face is grueling. The terrain is hostile, and we’re only kitted out with golf-ball-sized tally-whackers and waterproof spiral notebooks. But our data has been instrumental in the formation of policies among polar scientists and the fifty member nations of the Antarctic Treaty Organization.”
“Penguins are my passion!” Naveen declares at the start of the film. “And why? Because penguins are indicators of ocean health, and they’re ultimately going to be sentinels of change.” Of course, penguins are also simply adorable, so the film is loaded with heartwarming shots of the flightless birds, as well as gorgeous panoramas of the Antarctic, lovingly photographed by Getzels and Erik Osterholm. And yes, there are scenes of his dedicated team counting nests in spectacular locations. A former government lawyer, Naveen’s cheerfulness about what he does is infectious, even in the face of dwindling numbers of penguins and the onslaught of climate change. But still, they’re just so darn cute. . . . After screening at film festivals all over the globe, The Penguin Counters opens April 21 at Cinema Village, with Getzels, Gordon, and Naveen participating in Q&As following the 7:15 shows April 21–26.
STREET OF SHAME (AKASEN CHITAI) (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1956)
7 Ludlow St. between Canal & Hester Sts.
Saturday, April 22, 5:45
Monday, April 24, 3:15 & 9:15
Made the same year Japan passed a major anti-prostitution law, Kenji Mizoguchi’s final film, 1956’s Street of Shame, is a brutally honest depiction of the decidedly unglamorous life of a group of courtesans at a Tokyo brothel. “Yoshiwara has been here three hundred years,” the Mamasan (Sadako Sawamura) says early on to a police officer. “Does an unnecessary business last so long?” Originally titled Red-Light District, the black-and-white film features an outstanding cast of women playing desperate geisha with serious family and financial problems that lead them to the embarrassment of trying to physically force men off the dark, dank street and into their rooms. Hanae (Michiyo Kogure) has to deal with aging, a baby, and a suicidal husband, Yumeko (Aiko Mimasu) doesn’t want her son to know what she does to earn money to attempt to give him a decent life, Yorie (Hiroko Machida) thinks a husband in a faraway village will gain her longed-for freedom, Yasumi (Ayako Wakao) has become a loan shark to her coworkers, and young Mickey (Machiko Kyō) is quick to share her opinions about the other women but not so quick to catch on to the debasement she is lowering herself to. The protofeminist director of such previous works as Sisters of the Gion, Osaka Elegy, Women of the Night, and The Life of Oharu as well as the brilliant two-part samurai epic The 47 Ronin, Mizoguchi spent much of his career — which included more than seventy films in thirty-three years, up to his death in 1956 at the age of fifty-eight — making films about the exploitation of women, partly influenced by having seen his sister sold into prostitution by their father. It’s a shame that Street of Shame, one of Mizoguchi’s best, also turned out to be his last, but what a way to go. Street of Shame is screening April 22 and 24 in the ongoing “Welcome to Metrograph: A to Z” series, which continues in April with such other S films as Preston Sturges’s Sullivan’s Travels, Lowell Sherman’s She Done Him Wrong, and Lech Kowalski’s Story of a Junkie A.K.A. Gringo.
149 West 45th St. between Broadway & Sixth Ave.
Tuesday - Sunday through December 30, $30-$139
About fifteen minutes before The Play That Goes Wrong was scheduled to begin, there was a commotion at the front of the stage involving several members of the crew. Concerned, I got close to hear what was going on. A woman who appeared to be the stage manager saw me and approached, a worried look on her face. “Have you seen Winston?” she asked me. “Winston?” I replied. “Yes, our dog. He’s missing and we need to find him,” she said, beginning a search through the aisles as the audience wandered in. Aha! The show had already started. In order for The Play That Goes Wrong to be successful, a whole lot of very intricate details and prearranged problems have to go completely right. Fortunately, they do, resulting in one of the funniest plays to hit Broadway in many a season. The Olivier Award–winning British import channels Noises Off, Fawlty Towers, Buster Keaton, and One Man, Two Guvnahs in an uproarious madcap farce that leaves no stone unturned in its wildly inventive quest to celebrate the unpredictability of live theater with superbly choreographed ineptitude. Written by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields of the Mischief Theatre Company and gleefully directed by Mark Bell, their former teacher at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, The Play That Goes Wrong portrays the opening night of the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society’s ill-begotten production of the fictional Susan H. K. Bridewell’s The Murder at Haversham Manor, a traditional British mystery set in the winter of 1922. In the play within a play, Charles Haversham (Greg Tannahill as Jonathan Harris) has been murdered, and the wily Inspector Carter (Shields as director Chris Bean) has arrived on the scene to interview the suspects, who include Charles’s brother, Cecil (Dave Hearn as Max Bennett); Charles’s fiancée and Cecil’s lover, Florence Colleymoore (Charlie Russell as Sandra Wilkinson); Florence’s brother, Thomas (Lewis as Robert Grove); Charles’s gardener, Arthur (Bennett); and Charles’s butler, Perkins (Sayer as Dennis Tyde). As the play, well, goes very wrong, the crew gets involved too, including sound engineer Trevor (Rob Falconer) and stage manager Annie (usually played by Nancy Zamit, but we saw the excellent Bryony Corrigan in her debut in the role).
One of the keys to the success of The Play That Goes Wrong, which boasts J. J. Abrams as one of its producers — he saw the show in London on a lark and became immediately enamored of it — is that the script is extremely tight and specific; the stage notes explain that “the actors of the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society are not bad actors but the victims of unfortunate circumstances. . . . In essence, it is vital everyone works to present ‘the play that goes wrong,’ not ‘the play that’s being done badly.’ As the intrigue builds, so do the company’s never-ending troubles, as doors won’t open or close, cues are missed, props are mixed up or break, words are mispronounced, pieces of Nigel Hook’s set fall apart, and characters keep getting knocked out. The humor even extends to the Playbill itself, with fake ads and bios. In addition, there is occasional audience participation — it just so happens that Bennett appreciates midscene applause, and keep a look-out for that ledger. Part of the joyous fun is trying to anticipate what might get screwed up next — as well as wondering if there are any real mistakes, made by the cast, sound designer Andy Johnson, or lighting designer Ric Mountjoy. But the immensely talented troupe, clearly game for anything, are expert improvisers and marvelously adept at physical comedy, so you might never know, but the raised platform that serves as Charles’s study is particularly precarious, apparently destined to cause some major damage. (Members of the cast have indeed suffered injuries over the years performing The Play That Goes Wrong as well as its sequel, Peter Pan Goes Wrong, and The Comedy about a Bank Robbery, also by Mischief.) And as far as injuries go, you might laugh so hard you’ll hurt yourself, which is not necessarily such a bad thing.
With the current rise in hate crimes in America and around the world, particularly involving anti-Semitism, it is an excellent time to revisit one of the most famous military cases of the nineteenth century, when French artillery officer Captain Alfred Dreyfus was arrested for treason and faced a court-martial that could send him to Devil’s Island, chosen primarily because he was Jewish. Manhattan-based Ensemble for the Romantic Century will be telling the famous story in its own inimitable style in The Dreyfus Affair, at BAM Fisher, combining narrative with historical music; the company was previously at BAM with 2015’s Jules Verne: From the Earth to the Moon and 2016’s Akhmatova: The Heart Is Not Made of Stone. Tony nominee Max von Essen (An American in Paris) stars as Alfred Dreyfus, with Peter Scolari as Émile Zola, Mark Evans as Matieu, Alfred’s older brother, Meghan Picerno as Alfred’s wife, Lucie, and Timothy McDevitt as Lieutenant Georges Picquart. The cast also features Daniel Rowan, Dee Pelletier, Mark Andrew Coffin, Mark Light-Orr, and Richard Waddingham. The score will include works by Ravel, Franck, Halévy, Rameau, and Ligeti, performed by Grace Park and Daniel Cho on violin, Chieh-Fan Yiu on viola, Nico Olarte-Hayes on cello, Jake Chabot on flute and piccolo, Parker Ramsey on organ and harpsichord, and Max Barros on piano. The show is written by Eve Wolf and directed by Donald T. Sanders, with sets and costumes by Vanessa James, lighting design by Beverly Emmons, and projection design by David Bengali.
TICKET GIVEAWAY: The Dreyfus Affair runs April 27 through May 7 at BAM Fisher, and twi-ny has three pairs of tickets to give away for free. Just send your name, daytime phone number, and favorite play, movie, or book about Alfred Dreyfus to email@example.com by Friday, April 21, at 12:00 midnight to be eligible. All entrants must be twenty-one years of age or older; three winners will be selected at random.