Neil Simon Theatre
250 West 52nd St. between Broadway & Eighth Ave.
Tuesday - Sunday through March 29, $55-$147 (daily $30 lottery)
Watching The Last Ship, which opened last night at the Neil Simon Theatre, you’re likely to think you’ve seen this all before, as it rather precisely follows the pattern of 2013 Tony winner Kinky Boots: Both musicals feature music and lyrics by a pop star (Sting for The Last Ship, Cyndi Lauper for Kinky Boots), both are set in a British working-class community, and both involve a son debating whether he should follow in his father’s footsteps. And just as Boots was vastly overrated, the same is likely to happen with Ship. Based on Sting’s childhood experiences in the shipbuilding town of Wallsend in the northeast of England, The Last Ship focuses on Gideon Fletcher, first as a fifteen-year-old kid (Collin Kelly-Sordelet) wanting something more than his tough father (Jamie Jackson) has planned for him, then returning fifteen years later (now played by Michael Esper) for his dad’s funeral and trying to get back together with his old girlfriend, Meg (Dawn Cantwell, then Rachel Tucker). But the Wallsend he’s come back to is in the midst of a battle with corporate suit Freddy Newlands (Eric Anderson), whose company is taking over the docks and turning the shuttered shipyard into a scrap yard. With the help of former welder Arthur Milburn (Aaron Lazar), who is in love with Meg and is a surrogate father to her son, Tom (Kelly-Sordelet), Newlands tries to convince the unemployed shipbuilders to come work for him, but their leader, Jackie White (Jimmy Nail), wants no part of it. “You could die and hope for heaven / But you’d need to work your shift / And I’d expect ye’s all to back us to the hilt / And if St. Peter at his gate were to ask you why you’re late? / You’d tell him that you have to get a ship built,” he sings in “Shipyard,” in which all the men join in on the chorus, stamping their feet as they declare, “And the only life we’ve known is in the shipyard.” It’s the strongest song in the show, but it also emphasizes their refusal to face the facts that the world is changing while they’re not, adding to the many holes in the script.
In the second act, the book, by Tony winner and Oscar nominee John Logan (Red, The Last Samurai) and Tony and Pulitzer Prize winner Brian Yorkey (Next to Normal), falls apart as Father James O’Brien (Fred Applegate), previously the comic relief, becomes the overly melodramatic sentimental inspiration, the love triangle between Meg, Gideon, and Arthur quickly turns stale and unbelievable, and the shipbuilders’ occupation of the yard is just plain ridiculous. Even the staging, by two-time Tony winner Joe Mantello (Take Me Out, Assassins) and choreographer Steven Hoggett (Once, The Glass Menagerie), can’t keep things afloat, as it also recalls Kinky Boots as the lads set out to build a ship for themselves. The cast is mostly excellent, particularly Tucker and Nail in their impressive Broadway debuts and another first-timer, Shawna M. Hamic, as Beatrice Dees, the owner of the Ship in the Hole pub, who offers “Mrs. Dees’ Rant” after intermission. While Sting’s score can be refreshing at times, steering clear of Broadway-fication, it can also be repetitive and preachy (“Life is a dance, a romance where ye take your chances / Just don’t be left on the shores of regretful glances”). As the two main narratives converge, the plot grows ever-more convoluted, getting lost in tired us-vs.-them themes that drain the show of any real depth, leaving The Last Ship bobbing on the surface, going nowhere.
In Burnt Tongues: An Anthology of Transgressive Stories, which he edited with Richard Thomas and Dennis Widmyer, Chuck Palahniuk writes in his introduction, titled “The Power of Persisting,” “The worst thing you could do is read this book and instantly enjoy every word. This book, the book you’re holding, I hope you gag on a few words — more than a few. May some of the stories scar and trouble you. Whether you like or dislike them doesn’t matter; you’ve already touched these words with your eyes, and they’re becoming part of you. Even if you hate these stories, you’ll come back to them because they’ll test you and prompt you to become someone larger, braver, bolder.” Palahniuk could have just as well been referring to his own novels, intense tales that can provoke scarring and trouble, delighting and offending fans, often simultaneously. In works such as Rant: The Oral Biography of Buster Casey, Haunted, Invisible Monsters, and Fight Club, Palahniuk dares readers to keep turning pages even as the plots and characters he depicts go places no book has ever gone before. Palahniuk’s public events also go places no author has gone before, as he is known for throwing fake body parts into a costumed audience, as he did at New York Comic Con a few years back. (Chuck actually retweeted our posting of photos from that NYCC event, a seminal moment in our existence on Earth.) On Halloween, Palahniuk will be celebrating the release of his latest novel, Beautiful You (Doubleday, October 2014, $25.95), with a gathering at the powerHouse Arena in DUMBO, where it is demanded that fans come dressed in pajamas, referencing the new book, significant portions of which take place in the bedroom, “where a billion husbands are about to be replaced.” Palahniuk will also have an opening act, Fred Venturini, whose story “Gasoline” is featured in Burnt Tongues. Writing about last week’s San Francisco stop on the Better than Sex Tour, Burnt Tongues contributor Brandon Tietz explained, “There’s a proven formula for a Chuck Palahniuk reading, and he broke it down for me step-by-step: intro, candy toss, story reading, glowing beach ball rave, etc.,” in addition to a Q&A and a severed-arm giveaway. “Best. Reading. Ever,” he concluded. Tickets for the powerHouse extravaganza are $30 and include a presigned copy of Beautiful You. We can’t wait.
Malian ngoni master Bassekou Kouyaté and his band, Ngoni ba, will conclude the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “Mali Now” series with an acoustic concert October 30 in the Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium. The group has released three albums, 2007’s Segu Blue, 2009’s Grammy-nominated I Speak Fula, and the latest, last year’s Jama Ko, which was recorded during the 2012 coup d’état and includes such dramatic songs as “Ne Me Fatigue Pas,” “Wagadou,” and “Segu Jajiri.” The Garana-born Kouyaté, who has been playing the ngoni, also known as a spike lute, since he was twelve, has performed with Taj Mahal, Toumani Diabate, Paul McCartney, Damon Albarn, and others. “Mali Now” previously featured a concert by Salif Keita and a three-part talk by Henry Louis Gates Jr. on the cultural, historical, and political legacy and future of the African nation. If you haven’t been following the influx of terrific Malian music over the last few years, highlighted by Tinariwen, the Touré family, Oumou Sangaré, Salif Keita, and Amadou and Mariam, this show at the Met is a great place to start.
The National Theatre production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time is an extraordinary multimedia journey through the mind of a fifteen-year-old boy with a kind of Asperger’s syndrome. Adapted with extraordinary care and insight by Simon Stephens (On the Shore of the Wide World, Punk Rock) from Mark Haddon’s award-winning novel and directed with flair by Marianne Elliott, the show takes place inside the created universe of truth-telling Christopher John Francis Boone (Alexander Sharp), an odd teen who is obsessed with prime numbers and mathematics, has a beloved pet rat named Toby, and does not like being touched. Upon discovering that the neighbor’s dog has been murdered, Christopher decides to play detective, interviewing people in the community to find the culprit. His father, Ed (Ian Barford), insists he stop sleuthing, as it will only lead to more trouble — Christopher has already been brought in by the cops, who considered him the chief suspect — but Christopher is determined to solve this mystery, as though it were a difficult but not impossible math equation. And when Christopher uncovers a shocking secret about his mother, Judy (Enid Graham), he sets out on another adventure, filled with dangers all its own.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time won seven Olivier Awards, including Best New Play, Best Director (Elliott), Best Actor (Luke Treadaway), and Best Supporting Actress (Nicola Walker), and it’s likely to win a bunch of prizes at next year’s Tonys as well. Elliott’s staging is captivating, the floor and three walls a grid on which Christopher draws emoticons, maps depict his travels, constellations appear, and video projections create a stunning escalator. Every technical element is worth praising: The sets and costumes are by Bunny Christie, lighting by Paule Constable, video by Finn Ross, choreography by Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett, music by Adrian Sutton, and sound by Ian Dickinson, combining to turn Haddon’s book into a treat for the senses. Twenty-five-year-old Sharp, a recent Juilliard graduate from London, is so immersed in his role that it is hard to believe he is acting, or that anyone else can play the part, but indeed, Luke Treadaway originated Christopher at the National Theatre, and Taylor Trensch gives Sharp a rest during matinees at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. The cast members, several of whom play multiple roles, also includes Francesca Faridany as Siobhan, Christopher’s teacher and mentor who narrates brief passages from the book; Helen Carey as Mrs. Alexander, a gossipy neighbor who invites Alexander in for cookies; David Manis as Rev. Peters, who discusses God and heaven with the boy; and Mercedes Herrero and Richard Hollis as Mr. and Mrs. Shears, the owners of the dead dog. The repetitive, self-referential nods to the book as book are unnecessary, pulling the audience out of the immersive fantasy for a moment, and the postcurtain coda also takes the crowd out of the world of the play to allow the production to show off one more time, but otherwise The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time is an absolute delight, a breathtaking, endlessly imaginative theatrical experience that is not to be missed. (As a bonus, some lucky ticketholders will find themselves in a Prime Number Seat, specially chosen by Christopher, which will win them a Curious button if the letters in their name add up to a prime number.)
Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall
881 Seventh Ave. at 57th St.
Monday, October 27, $44-$52, 7:30
For more than twenty years, South African visual artist William Kentridge has been collaborating with South African musician and composer Philip Miller, from such short films as Felix in Exile, Monument, and Weighing and Wanting to such multimedia installations as “Breathe Dissolve Return” and “The Refusal of Time.” On October 27, Kentridge and Miller will present their latest work, “Paper Music: A Ciné Concert,” at Zankel Hall as part of Carnegie Hall’s UBUNTU Music and Arts of South Africa festival. The evening will be introduced by Kentridge and consist of screenings of several short films with live accompaniment by vocalists Joanna Dudley and Ann Masina, pianist Idith Meshulam, and Miller as the gramophone DJ (on electronic sampler and Foley). Among the works being shown are Felix in Exile, Tide Table, and Other Faces along with suites from Carnets d’Egypte, The Refusal of Time, and Paper Music, which features excerpts from Kentridge’s marvelous 2012 Norton Lectures. In the program notes, Kentridge promises, “New music for old drawings. Recent music with recent films. New music written for films yet to be made,” while Miller explains, “The animated films of Kentridge allow a composer the space to suggest alternative narratives — emotions that may not even have been in his thought process when he drew these images. This gives an exhilarating but challenging sense of freedom not often found in the collaboration between composer and artist.” The UBUNTU festival continues through November 5 with performances by Kesivan and the Lights, Dizu Plaatjies and Ibuyambo, Angélique Kidjo and Friends in a tribute to Miriam Makeba, an exhibition of Kentridge’s works at the nearby Marian Goodman Gallery, and a satellite exhibition at David Krut Projects in Chelsea with works by Kentridge, Diane Victor, Stephen Hobbs, Senzo Shabangu, Vusi Khumalo, and Sam Nhlengethwa, among other events.
VERTIGO (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958)
209 West Houston St.
Alfred Hitchcock was perhaps never so fetishistic as in his 1958 psychological thriller, Vertigo. Based on Boileau-Narcejac’s 1954 novel, D’entre les morts, the film delves deep into the nature of fear and obsession. Jimmy Stewart stars as John “Scottie” Ferguson, a police detective who retires after his acrophobia leads to the death of a fellow cop. An old college classmate, wealthy businessman Gavin Elster (Tom Holmore), asks Scottie to look into his wife’s odd behavior; Elster believes that Madeleine (Kim Novak) is being inhabited by the spirit of Carlotta Valdes, her great-grandmother, a woman who committed suicide in her mid-twenties, the same age that Madeleine is now. Scottie follows Madeleine as she goes to Carlotta’s grave, visits a portrait of her in a local museum, and jumps into San Francisco Bay. Scottie rescues her, brings her to his house, and starts falling in love with her. But on a visit to Mission San Juan Bautista, tragedy strikes when Scottie can’t get to the top of the tower because of his vertigo. After a stint in a sanatorium, he wanders the streets of San Francisco where he and Madeleine had fallen in love, as if hoping to see a ghost — and when he indeed finds a woman who reminds him of Madeleine, a young woman named Judy Barton (Novak), he can’t help but try to turn her into his lost love, with tragedy waiting in the wings once again.
Vertigo is a twisted tale of sexual obsession, much of it filmed in San Francisco, making the City by the Bay a character all its own as Scottie travels down Lombard St., takes Madeleine to Muir Woods, stops by Ernie’s, and saves Madeleine under the Golden Gate Bridge. The color scheme is almost shocking, with bright, bold blues, reds, and especially greens dominating scenes. Hitchcock, of course, famously had a thing for blondes, so it’s hard not to think of Stewart as his surrogate when Scottie insists that Judy dye her hair blonde. Color is also central to Scottie’s psychedelic nightmare (designed by artist John Ferren), a Spirographic journey through his mind and down into a grave. Cinematographer Robert Burks’s use of the dolly zoom, in which the camera moves on a dolly in the opposite direction of the zoom, keeps viewers sitting on the edge of their seats, adding to the fierce tension, along with Bernard Herrmann’s frightening score. Despite their age difference, there is pure magic between Stewart, forty-nine, and Novak, who was twenty-four. (Stewart and Novak next made Bell, Book, and Candle as part of the deal to let Novak work for Paramount while under contract to Columbia.) The production was fraught with problems: The screenplay went through Maxwell Anderson, Alec Coppel, and finally Samuel A. Taylor; shooting was delayed by Hitchcock’s health and vacations taken by Stewart and Novak; a pregnant Vera Miles was replaced by Novak; Muir Matheson conducted the score in Europe, instead of Herrmann in Hollywood, because of a musicians’ strike; associate producer Herbert Coleman reshot one scene using the wrong lens; Hitchcock had to have a bell tower built atop Mission San Juan Bautista after a fire destroyed its steeple; and the studio fought for a lame alternate ending (which was filmed). Perhaps all those difficulties, in the end, helped make Vertigo the classic it is today, gaining in stature over the decades, from mixed reviews when it opened to a controversial restoration in 1996 to being named the best film of all time in Sight & Sound’s 2012 poll to the latest digital restoration that is playing at Film Forum October 24-30, a great way to get ready for Halloween. (And don’t be late, as even the opening credit sequence is beautifully creepy.)
Gavin Brown’s enterprise
620 Greenwich St.
Through Saturday, October 25, free, 10:00 am- 6:00 pm
Rob Pruitt displays the profuse output of his mind and the many sides of his artistic vision in “Multiple Personalities,” continuing through October 25 at Gavin Brown’s enterprise. The DC-born, New York City-based provocateur has divided the solo show into four distinct parts. In the front office, a year of framed monthly calendars feature notes and drawings for every day, from birthday reminders to deadlines to the release of the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine, complete with a miniature version of the title object. The next room is filled with Ikea love seats (displayed atop black-and-white tiled bases) and standing tabletops that have been completely covered by Pruitt’s studio assistants with colorful doodles and sayings, a wry and often goofily pornographic take on pop culture and societal norms that features various familiar cartoon figures, Hollywood celebrities, and politicians engaging in wild sex (don’t miss Bart Simpson, Ned Flanders, Beavis and Butt-Head, and the Pink Panther in a chain next to John and Yoko) as well as tributes to Cy Twombly, Pop Rocks, and Pruitt and longtime partner Jonathan Horowitz.
In the third room, several of Pruitt’s acrylic on linen “Suicide Paintings” hang on white walls, with Hamptons sand forming a small shore around them. The gradient works, in shades of blue, green, and purple, are a kind of melding of Mark Rothko (who committed suicide) with James Turrell and Hiroshi Sugimoto (who are both very much alive), like peaceful, inviting windows onto the sea. In the final room, small cats are checking out Pruitt’s “Therapy Paintings,” large canvases based on automatic-writing doodles the artist made during therapy sessions, using ballpoint pens and then blown up onto canvases primed with white impasto. With “Multiple Personalities,” Pruitt, who’s been hosting “Rob Pruitt’s Art Awards” at the Guggenheim since 2009 and whose “Andy Monument,” a silver sculpture of Andy Warhol, graced Union Square back in 2011, has created an impressive display of his wide-ranging talent, ingenuity, and, of course, unique sense of humor.