Who: New Camerata Opera
What: Virtual world premiere
Where: New Camerata Opera Zoom
When: Thursday, May 6, and Saturday, May 8, $40-$160, 8:00
Why: On March 18, 1990, thieves broke into the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston and got away with thirteen masterpieces worth half a billion dollars; you can learn more about the still-unsolved crime in the new Netflix documentary This Is a Robbery: The World’s Biggest Art Heist. Immersive specialists New Camerata Opera will be pulling off its own interactive, virtual museum heist this week with the premiere of The Brooklyn Job. Written and directed by Sarah Morgan Ashey, the piece, debuting May 6 and 8 at 8:00 over Zoom as part of the sixth annual New York Opera Fest, mixes prerecorded elements filmed and edited by Erik Bagger with live performance, featuring sopranos Samina Aslam and Barbara Porto, mezzo-sopranos Eva Parr, Julia Tang, and Anna Tonna, tenors Victor Khodadad and Bagger, baritones Stan Lacy and Scott Lindroth, and bass Kofi Hayford. Dan Franklin Smith is the music director. New Camerata Opera has presented such online works as Julie, the nine-episode Ives Project, and The Prince von Pappenschmear, a Prequel during the pandemic lockdown; The Brooklyn Job is a participatory opera that invites viewers to take polls and, for an additional fee, order a cocktail box (by May 3) that comes with a Woman in Gray, Sunlight Effect, or Rhubarb Spritz, spiced caramel popcorn, and an art-focused interactive program guide.
“Most of the shows I’ve done – and the parts I’ve played – have come to me through the back door, by accidents, you might say, or coincidence, or just plain luck. And tonight, I’d like to share with you some of my lucky accidents,” two-time Tony winner John Cullum says at the start of his wonderful one-man show, An Accidental Star, streaming on demand through April 21. Copresented by three theaters that have played an important role in Cullum’s long, distinguished career, the Vineyard, the Irish Rep, and Goodspeed Musicals, the eighty-minute production takes viewers behind the curtain as Cullum relates funny and poignant anecdotes and sings songs from throughout his more than sixty years in the business.
Cullum, who turned ninety-one last month, was born in Tennessee and had dreams of making it as an actor. When he arrived in New York City in 1956, he was ready to do whatever it took to land an audition and get an acting job. Through a series of lucky accidents, he soon found himself cast in three summer plays for Joe Papp’s Shakespeare in the Park, even though he had zero experience with the Bard. That led directly to auditioning for Moss Hart for Camelot on Broadway, where Cullum would meet Richard Burton, who became a lifelong friend.
Cullum, who won Tonys for Shenandoah and On the Twentieth Century, was nominated for On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, Urinetown, and 110 in the Shade, and scored an Emmy nomination for his role as Holling Vincoeur in Northern Exposure, also chronicles experiences involving Maximilian Schell, Louis Jourdan, Lerner & Lowe, Hal Prince, Robert Preston, Robert Goulet, Madeline Kahn, The Scottsboro Boys, and his wife of more than sixty-one years, choreographer and writer Emily Frankel. Filmed by Carlos Cardona in January onstage at the Irish Rep, An Accidental Star was conceived by Cullum and Jeff Berger, written by David Thompson (The Scottsboro Boys; Priscilla, Queen of the Desert), and directed by Lonny Price and Matt Cowart (110 in the Shade, Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill), with music supervision by Georgia Stitt and music direction by Julie McBride, who accompanies Cullum on piano. The cameras shoot Cullum, dressed in an unbuttoned vest, purple shirt, and brown pants, from all sides as he sits on a stool, gets up and spreads his arms for a big finale, and walks over to the piano to join McBride. He’s an engaging raconteur who is deservedly proud of what he’s accomplished yet humble enough to understand how fortunate he’s been on this amazing journey, which includes a live watch party on April 17 at 2:00.
In addition to watch parties, where people from around the world gather online to experience streaming content together, from old TV shows to theater productions and Zoom cast reunions, listening parties have taken off as well. One of my favorites is Tim Burgess’s Twitter edition, in which he spins classic records, sometimes joined by members of the band who talk about the making of the album. Melding that idea with Kanye West’s 2018 Wyoming media listening party for Ye, New Light Theater Project and 59E59 Theaters have teamed up for The Jackson C. Frank Listening Party w/ Special Guests, a virtual show running March 29 to April 11, an interactive listening party for Jackson C. Frank’s eponymously titled 1965 record, which was produced by Paul Simon. Written by Michael Aguirre and directed by Sarah Norris, the eighty-minute show is hosted by Allen, who is still upset that he could not make it to Kanye’s party, so now he is putting on an event to outshine all others, while also sharing the story of his missing brother. The cast includes Aguirre as Allen, Bethany Geraghty as Mom, Dana Martin as Grandma Woodstock, and Sean Phillips as Simon, with film and sound editing by Hallie Griffin.
After purchasing your ticket, you’ll receive a link to download the record and instructions on how to make the official event cocktail, Hippie Juice. The folk album, originally released in 1965, features ten songs remastered in 2001, from “Blues Run the Game,” “Don’t Look Back,” and “Kimbie” to “I Want to Be Alone,” “Just Like Anything,” and “You Never Wanted Me.” It was the Buffalo-born Frank’s only record during a tragic life; when he was eleven, he suffered severe burns across half his body in a fatal fire at his elementary school, was given a guitar while being treated at the hospital, and later recorded Jackson C. Frank in England in six hours. He lost a child, was shot in the eye by a pellet gun, was homeless, and battled debilitating mental health issues; he died in Massachusetts in 1999 at the age of fifty-six, having never released another album (although a box set of his complete recordings came out in 2014). Despite his influence on many musicians, he has faded away into history, now to be resurrected at a virtual, interactive listening party, using his intimate songs to explore contemporary society.
Who: Saheem Ali, Lupita Nyong’o, Juan Castano, Alfredo Michel Modenessi, Rebeca Ibarra, more
What: Online premiere listening party for bilingual audio production of Romeo y Julieta
Where: The Greene Space and the Public Theater
When: Thursday, March 18, free with RSVP, 6:45 (stream available for one year)
Why: Unsurprisingly, audio plays have made a comeback during the pandemic, with theaters in lockdown. Keen Company’s Season of Audio Theater has included finkle’s 1993 and Pearl Cleage’s Digging in the Dark, with James Anthony Tyler’s All We Need Is Us up next. Playing on Air, which predated the Covid-19 crisis, has posted such nonvisual works as Cary Gitter’s How My Grandparents Fell in Love, Daniel Reitz’s Napoleon in Exile, Naveen Bahar Choudhury’s Skin, and Dominique Morisseau’s Jezelle the Gazelle, featuring such actors as Julie White, Jesse Eisenberg, Marsha Mason, Ed Asner, Jane Kaczmarek, J. Alphonse Nicholson, and others.
Meanwhile, the Public Theater has presented Anne Washburn’s Shipwreck: A History Play About 2017 as well as the four-part Free Shakespeare on the Radio: Richard II, adapted and directed by Saheem Ali. Ali has now teamed up with playwright Ricardo Pérez González on Romeo y Julieta, a bilingual audio adaptation based Alfredo Michel Modenessi’s Spanish translation of Shakespeare’s heart-wrenching tragedy.
The play alternates between English and Spanish; thankfully, you don’t hear every line in both languages, or else the show would be four hours long. However, the Public provides the script on its website so you can follow along and see the full translation. (The website also offers a visual guide to the cast and characters, a bilingual synopsis, colorful illustrations by Erick Dávila, and a trailer.) Presented in conjunction with WNYC Studios and the Greene Space, the radio play premieres on March 18 at 6:45 with much virtual fanfare, kicking off with a preshow greeting and cocktail demonstration (Mezcal Negroni or nonalcoholic Mojito), hosted by WNYC’s Rebeca Ibarra. Then the group listening party starts at 7:00, followed by a live talkback and Q&A with Ali, actors Lupita Nyong’o, who plays Juliet, and Juan Castano, who stars as Romeo, and translator Modenessi, moderated by Ibarra. Everything is free with advance RSVP, but you have to supply your own drinks.
The rest of the cast consists of Carlo Albán as Benvolio, Karina Arroyave as the apothecary, Erick Betancourt as Abram, Michael Braugher as Balthasar, Carlos Carrasco as Lord Montague, Ivonne Coll as the nurse, John J. Concado as Peter, Hiram Delgado as Tybalt, Guillermo Diaz as Gregory, Sarah Nina Hayon as Lady Montague, Kevin Herrera in the ensemble, Modesto Lacen as Prince Escalus and Capulet’s cousin, Florencia Lozano as Capulet, Irene Sofia Lucio as Mercutio, Keren Lugo as Sister Joan, Benjamin Luis McCracken as Paris’s page, Julio Monge as Friar Lawrence, Javier Muñoz as Paris, and David Zayas as Sampson. The original score by Michael Thurber is performed by Jon Lampley on trumpet, Eddie Barbash on alto saxophone, and Mark Dover on bass clarinet; bassist Thurber will also entertain the audience during intermission. The stream of the radio play will be available for one year.
Who: Mike Watt, Mike Daisey, Jennifer Blowdryer, Kim Addonizio, S. A. Griffin, Puma Perl, George Wallace, Richard Vetere, Michael Puzzo, Peter Carlaftes, Kat Georges
What: Annual Charles Bukowski Memorial Reading
Where: Three Rooms Press YouTube and Facebook
When: Tuesday, March 9, free, 7:00
Why: “What sort of cultural hangover keeps Charles Bukowski in print and popular more than twenty years after his death?” S. A. Griffin asks in his Three Rooms Press essay “Charles Bukowski: Dean of Another Academy.” “In light of the fact that a good portion of what has been published since his passing in 1994 may not be the man’s best work, along with some heavy editing at times, why does Charles Bukowski remain relevant well into the 21st century?” The fourteenth annual Charles Bukowski Memorial Reading, which this year takes place virtually on March 9 at 7:00, will explore what Bukowski would think about today’s social-media-obsessed society in the midst of a pandemic lockdown, with tribute readings by monologist Mike Daisey, performance artists Jennifer Blowdryer, poets Kim Addonizio, S. A. Griffin, Puma Perl, and George Wallace, and playwrights Richard Vetere and Michael Puzzo, hosted by Kat Georges and Peter Carlaftes of Three Rooms Press and featuring a special video appearance by bassist extraordinaire Mike Watt (Minutemen, Dos, Firehose, Big Walnuts Yonder). Admission is free.
Who: David Shapiro, Jonathan Lethem, Matt Wolf, Scott Macaulay
What: Q&As at live screenings in conjunction with online members-only release of seven-part Untitled Pizza Movie
Where: Metrograph Digital
When: Untitled Pizza Movie Part 1: Ice Cube Trays, Friday, February 26, 8:00; Untitled Pizza Movie Part 4: Zig Zag, Thursday, March 4, 8:00; Untitled Pizza Movie Part 5: The Natufian Culture of 9,000 BC, Saturday, March 6, 8:00
Why: “We had New York dreams, like the next Bohemian, but there was no hometown discount,” David Shapiro says in the first episode of the seven-part series Untitled Pizza Movie. This was the mid-1990s, and he and his childhood friend from Stuyvesant, Leeds Atkinson, went on a search for the best pizza in New York City, pretending to be with the Food Channel and showing up at restaurants with a caliper and cameraman Jonathan Kovel, stuffing themselves as they measured slices as if they knew what they were doing, speaking with the owners to get them to reveal some of their secrets. But what started as a quest for free food turned into a socially conscious adventure about their own lives as well as that of a New York City seeing so much of its past go by the wayside in the modern era, as Shapiro cuts back and forth in time. “I’m clouding this narrative with nostalgia, clinging to the rock by documenting fiction,” Shapiro explains. “We remember the stories we want to tell and misremember the ones that we don’t. Leeds and I were in denial; friends and cities are forever. We were making a movie, a movie to stop time. But then we met Bellucci.” New York City pizza aficionados will recognize that as being Andrew Bellucci, formerly of Lombardi’s before he was sent to prison; he is now out and just opened a slice joint in Astoria. Bellucci and Leeds become the centerpieces of the film.
Shapiro (Keep the River on Your Right, Missing People), who wrote, directed, edited, and produced the film, also meets with food and wine critic Eric Asimov, Drew Nieporent of Nobu, Anthony “Mummy” Barile of the much-lamented Three of Cups, lawyers, and members of Bellucci’s and Atkinson’s families, visiting some of the most famous pizza parlors in the city, driving through the streets and over bridges, playing in a band, and interspersing shots of various and sundry items spinning on a turntable. Along the way, it’s made clear that pizza is life. The series is being streamed February 27 through March 14 via Metrograph Digital, for members only. (Membership is only five bucks a month.) Each film — Part 1: Ice Cube Trays, Part 2: Eat to Win in the Elevator, Part 3: Pizza Purgatory, Part 4: Zig Zag, Part 5: The Natufian Culture of 9,000 BC, Part 6: Clams, and Part 7: Mars Bar — will have a live premiere, and three of them will include a Q&A with Shapiro, moderated by Jonathan Lethem (Part 1), Matt Wolf (Part 4), and Scott Macaulay (Part 5).
Purim is one of the most joyous of holidays of the year, when Jews around the world gather together to celebrate the defeat of the evil Haman and the saving of the Jewish people in the Persian city of Shushan in the fifth century BCE. Temples host “spiels,” humorous sketches telling the story of Queen Vashti, King Ahasuerus, Mordecai, Esther, and Haman; congregants arrive in costume and use noisemakers known as groggers every time Haman’s name is mentioned; the traditional fruit-filled three-cornered pastry known as hamantaschen is served; plenty of alcohol is mandated; and the whole Megillah, the Book of Esther, is read. With synagogues shuttered because of the pandemic lockdown, the party has gone virtual, with festivities zooming in from all over for you to enjoy from the confines of your home. All of the below events are free; some require advance registration.
On February 21 at 2:30, the Congress for Jewish Culture is presenting Itzik Manger’s Megillah Cycle, an adaptation of the 1968 Broadway musical The Megilla of Itzik Manger, conceived and directed by Mike Burstyn, who will reprise his original roles of the Interlocuter and the master tailor Fanfosso in addition to playing King Ahasuerus, previously portrayed by his father, Pesach Burstein. The international cast also includes Shane Baker, Eli Batalion, Jamie Elman, Daniel Kahn, Lia Koenig, Noah Mitchel, Eleanor Reissa, Joshua Reuben, Suzanne Toren, Allen Lewis Rickman, Yelena Shmulenson, and Avi Hoffman (as Haman), many of whom should be familiar to fans of Yiddish theater here in New York City. The free show, which will be performed in Yiddish with English subtitles, with commentary written by the late Joe Darion, artwork by Adam Whiteman, and music by Uri Schreter, will be broadcast on YouTube, where it will be available for an unlimited amount of time.
As you can tell, Purim is supposed to be a party, and the funniest party of them all is likely to be Met Council’s appropriately titled “Funny Story,” a free virtual table read of the Megillah with an all-star cast of comedians: Elon Gold, Howie Mandel, Bob Saget, Jeff Garlin, Judy Gold, Jeff Ross, Russell Peters, Susie Essman, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, Bari Weiss, Claudia Oshry, Violet Benson, Montana Tucker, and Eli Leonard, benefiting the organization’s Covid-19 Emergency Fund.
The National Yiddish Theater Folksbiene will be livestreaming its Purim blowout February 22 to 25, with a fifteen-minute Yiddish lesson with Motl Didner on Monday at 1:00; Zalmen Mlotek’s Purim-themed “Living Room Concert” on Tuesday at 1:00; the Hava Tequila Cabaret with Adam B. Shapiro, Dani Apple, Stephanie Lynne Mason, Daniella Rabbani, Lauren Jeanne Thomas, Bobby Underwood, Mikhl Yashinksy, and Michael Winograd on Wednesday at 7:00; and “The Megillah in Yiddish” reading, followed by a performance by the Brooklyn klezmer band Litvakus, on Thursday at 7:00.
On February 25 at 7:00, the Temple Emanu-El Streicker Center is putting on “The Masked Megillah,” a spiel inspired by the popular television program The Masked Singer. While the shul is not divulging the secret identities of who will be sharing the story of Purim in song and dance, the teaser features the one and only Tovah Feldshuh, from Golda’s Balcony and The Walking Dead.
And from February 25 to 28, the Yiddishkayt Initiative is offering a Purim edition of the International Virtual Yiddish Fest, consisting of “Bright Lights . . . Big Shushan: A Musical Megillah” with Cantor Shira Ginsburg on Thursday at 8:00; “Shmoozing with Avi,” featuring Phillip Namanworth the Boogie Woogie Mystic, on Thursday at 10:00; Aelita’s “Songs from the Heart” concert on Friday at 4:00; Isaac Bashevis Singer’s Gimpel Tam (Gimpel the Fool) starring Dori Engel on Friday at 8:00; a “PurimShpiel” concert with the Chorny-Ghergus Duo on Saturday at 2:00; the multimedia “KhapLop,” beloved children’s stories translated into Yiddish by Miriam Hoffman and read by her son, actor Avi Hoffman, on Sunday at noon; and a watch party of Itzik Manger’s Megillah Cycle on February 28 at 2:00.