Little Theatres in the Big Village

Have you ever been hanging out on Wall Street and thought, “Damn…why is Times Square so far away? I want to catch some quality theatre!” No? Well, too bad. As the “pink elephant phenomenon” teaches us, you’re thinking it now.

Never fear, because I’ve got a secret to share. There are a host of wonderful theatrical venues nestled in the fabulous Village of New York City! They’re not terribly massive, but sometimes a close-knit experience is what you want. As a bonus, many excellent new productions and classic revivals will find a home in these theatres.

The three houses I’m spotlighting were so chosen because they do not belong to a theatre company. Off-Broadway, for example, venues like the Laura Pels (Roundabout), Lucille Lortel (MCC), or Mitzi Newhouse (Lincoln Center) are often owned by bigwig arts institutions. But the three below are typically rented out for independent productions. And sometimes, you’ll get to see a big-name star in their show, up close!

Let’s get to it!

Minetta Lane Theatre. 18 Minetta Lane. Pictured show: Himself and Nora

09himself-master768 The Minetta Lane Theatre opened in the East Village in 1984. It is noteworthy for having two seating levels (orchestra and balcony) that can accommodate 391 total patrons. Fun fact: Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years (which has become a cult classic) first premiered at this house!

Cherry Lane Theatre. 38 Commerce Street. Pictured show: Out of the Mouths of Babes

mouth-of-babes-450x300__main The Cherry Lane Theatre opened in the West Village in 1924, making it the oldest operating theatre off-Broadway. It was converted from a warehouse by the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay. Today, it seats 179 people and is mostly known for hosting new and unconventional works.

Barrow Street Theatre. 27 Barrow Street. Pictured show: Sweeney Todd

02sweeneyjp-superjumbo The Barrow Street Theatre opened in the 1990s, but its location (within Greenwich House) has been around since 1902. The venue has a 200-seat capacity. Nowadays, it is getting a great deal of buzz for hosting the lauded immersive production of Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd!

What is the best production you have seen at one of these little Village theatres?

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QUIZ: Which Muse Are You?

Famous paintings over the years are filled with lovely female models. They convey strength, beauty, and- in some cases- mystery. Who is this muse? Why is she portrayed in this light? I can’t give you a definitive answer to those questions, but I can at least offer this quiz to help you determine which portrait you best embody. Be sure to share your results in the comments!

1. If I were an animal, I’d probably be a…

A. Lion B. Squirrel C. Fish D. Domestic house cat

2. My favorite accessory is…

A. Gold chain B. Colored scarf C. Earrings D. Ribbon headband

3. In photos, I often look…

A. Angry B. Relaxed C. Shy D. Bored

4. I could see my muse living in…

A. Italy B. Poland C. The Netherlands D. New York City

5. A lot of my friends are…

A. Dead B. Animals C. Older than me D. Wealthy

RESULTS

If you picked mostly A’s…you’re Judith Slaying Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi!

If you picked mostly B’s…you’re Lady with an Ermine by Leonardo da Vinci!

If you picked mostly C’s…you’re Girl with a Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer!

If you picked mostly D’s…you’re Countess d’Haussonville by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres!

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(Source: The Frick Collection App)

A Bronx Tale Vs. Diner: Old America onscreen and onstage

When we hear the phrase “period piece,” our minds tend to conjure up an image of a lady wearing multiple petticoats having romantic problems in Britain. And that would indeed fit the bill. But at the same time, a story about a kid growing up with the mob in 1960s NYC…or one about 20something friends navigating love in 1950s Baltimore…would also fall into this category. The classic films A Bronx Tale and Diner are both pieces of Americana during decades that were quite different from the one we live in. Perhaps that is what can take credit for their lasting appeal; we are fascinated by this somewhat foreign climate, as it stands in stark contrast to the country we have become, for better and for worse. For those who did live through those prior decades, the movies can also be a great source of nostalgia for “a simpler time.”

But how much simpler was it, really?

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At their cores, these two films are about a certain social issue: Diner focuses on male coming-of-age and A Bronx Tale deals with racial strife and Mafia politics. In these eras, it was perfectly acceptable for boys to catcall their girls, and the decimation of black people’s property was a fairly regular occurrence. Both of these movies were made some 20 years after the fact, so it’s clear that such behavior was not necessarily condoned. Rather, the pieces served as portraits of the ever-changing times. And this “snapshot” status is part of what solidified them as classics of cinema.

However, within the last five years, both stories have also found their way onto the stage. And suddenly, they’ve lost their classic status and must be looked at through fresh eyes once more. But live theatre is an entirely different animal than the silver screen.

Seen through today’s progressive filters, and in the flesh, both of these musical adaptations have come under heavy criticism. They’ve been called “dated,” “offensive,” and “no longer relevant.” Granted, A Bronx Tale has found much better commercial footing on Broadway; Diner never even made it out of regional theatre. (I have no good explanation for such a discrepancy.)

But the fact remains- does today’s America need to be reminded of its past imperfections (some of which persist to a degree) in a musical? Or, with the advent of groundbreakers like Hamilton or War Paint, should Broadway only be looking ahead?

Further food for thought: A forum thread on A Bronx Tale‘s adaptation and an interesting article on why Diner really shouldn’t be a musical. What do you think?

Spotlight: My Top 5 Asian-American Performances

New York City’s “Asia Week” kicks off in a short amount of time. This annual festival promotes all manner of Asian visual art…especially at places like the Rubin Museum that specialize in it. So in honor of the event, I’m going to share with you my favorite Asian-American PERFORMING arts turns on the stage and screen.

Ruthie Ann Miles in The King and I

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Many theatergoers were surprised when Miles defeated the three ladies of Fun Home for the Best Supporting Actress Tony two years ago. But that’s hardly to say that the win wasn’t deserved. Quite the contrary- she took the oft-portrayed role of Lady Thiang and breathed new life into it. Her rendition of the showstopper “Something Wonderful” was very much so. (Incidentally, I will be seeing Ms. Miles next week in the current revival of Sunday in the Park with George.)

Ming-Na Wen/Lea Salonga in Mulan

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Mulan is one of my all-time favorite Disney movies, partly because of its badass heroine. Ming-Na Wen and Lea Salonga, as her speaking and singing voice respectively, brought the Chinese warrior to greater heights and a new generation of admirers. Can you show me one 1990s child who hasn’t belted out “Reflection” or “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” in the shower? NO!

George Takei in Pacific Overtures

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Okay, I’m cheating a bit with this one because it hasn’t actually happened yet. I’m not a Trekkie and I didn’t see Allegiance, but I felt this list would not be complete without an appearance by Takei. He is slated to star in Classic Stage Company’s off-Broadway revival of the lauded Sondheim musical later this year. He will be playing the Reciter, and with a voice like his, he’ll no doubt do it well. “Oh myyyy!”

Chiaki Kuriyama in Kill Bill Vol. 1

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What I love about Chiaki Kuriyama in this film is that it is a true example of a “breakout performance.” Despite her relatively short time as the bloodthirsty Gogo Yubari, she managed to turn in a really memorable portrayal…and also did not know a word of English prior to joining the cast. Not to mention that this character has the coolest weapon ever: a “meteor hammer.” (She still meets her demise at the hands of Uma Thurman.)

Zhang Ziyi in Memoirs of a Geisha

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I love so many things about Zhang Ziyi as Sayuri in the silver screen adaptation of the Arthur Golden novel. She infused such a likable sincerity into our young geisha that an already-sympathetic character gained even more depth. Ziyi looked stunningly beautiful in the movie, too; I really wish I could see her in more mainstream works because she obviously deserves the acclaim. In fact, I have her pegged to star as Mulan in Disney’s upcoming live-action film!

Who are some of your favorite Asian-American actors?

The Good Witch Evolution

This week’s entry is my in-depth analysis of how Glinda, the Good Witch of Oz, has changed all the way from Baum to Broadway. Buckle up, buttercups!

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(Timeline created by me.)

In L. Frank Baum’s original Oz books, Glinda was the Good Witch of the South. I have never read any of them, but it’s a fair guess to say that she was benevolent and wise. In Baum’s last book, titled Glinda of Oz, Glinda tries to prevent war; the dark nature of this is speculated to be related to Baum’s failing health.

In 1939, cinematic history was made with The Wizard of Oz, considered a classic motion picture; here Glinda was portrayed by Mrs. Ziegfeld herself, Billie Burke. If you compare Burke with the Glinda illustration, you’d see that both have red hair and a tall crown. But in the film, Glinda was made the Good Witch of the North rather than the south.

Glinda’s first trip onto Broadway (I think…) was in the African-American musical The Wiz, where she appears near the end as the Good Witch of the South again. But her most famous Broadway incarnation would be spawned from the Gregory Maguire novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. We’ll talk more about that later, but it marked the beginning of Glinda’s personality change. Whereas she has always been depicted as a kind and helpful soul, Wicked gave her flaws, such as shallowness and a need for power.

Early in 2013, Disney put their own spin on Oz through an (in my opinion) unfairly maligned movie that tells the story of how the Wonderful Wizard of Oz came to be. At the beginning of Glinda’s incarnation, she was depicted with red hair; however, starting with the Wicked musical and continuing in Disney’s Oz flick, she had gone blonde. Her crown also dropped several inches in height. Personality-wise, the Disney interpretation of Glinda is more similar to her original demeanor than the one seen in Wicked, but she is still shown to have a sense of humor.

Where is Glinda today? Well, ask most people, and they’ll probably imagine Billie Burke in the 1939 movie. But the Wicked musical has proven such a success that folks may consider her personality in that story to be a part of who she is as a household name. Chances are, as long as the Land of Oz continues to captivate the world, the character of Glinda the Good will continue to morph in our minds and in the media. So I guess the big question is this: To you, who is Glinda?

Spotlight: Il Signoro Scorsese

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Martin Scorsese is widely considered to be one of the greatest directors that Hollywood has ever seen. A Queens native, Scorsese is most closely associated with ensemble gangster as well as gritty “case study” films with a central character. Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio are two of his oft-used actors. (Pictured is Leo with the maestro on the set of 2002’s Gangs of New York.)

As an aside, am I the only one who still (incorrectly) thinks that Scorsese was involved in A Bronx Tale? My stepmother and I are probably going to see its Broadway musical adaptation this spring. But I feel like Martin Scorsese should have had something to do with it. Which, actually, is a testament to how ingrained he is in our minds when it comes to mob movies.

But that is neither here nor there.

As any film buff could tell you, Martin Scorsese (the man himself) did not win a directorial Oscar until his career had been going for some 30 years. The piece that earned him his Best Director prize was The Departed. And, in fact, a majority of his filmography does center on directing- but he also wrote the screenplays for many of his movies and likes to make cameos onscreen.

Regardless of whether a given cinematic work involves gangsters or innovators…or both…it tends to share common themes with his other movies. The Last Temptation of ChristThe Aviator, Raging Bull, and The Wolf of Wall Street all portray a the rise and fall of an “anti-hero” archetype. CasinoGoodfellas, and The Departed are intricate Mafia sagas. Ideals (or distortions) of Catholicism, wealth, and Italian-American heritage are explored in both categories. Then you have the aesthetically astounding Hugo that doesn’t fit into either group…and is probably the only film on his resume that kids can watch.

As a native of the borough, it’s only fitting that Scorsese’s legacy be showcased at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria. In this fascinating exhibit, you can see original storyboards, props, and- among other costumes- a dress worn by Cate Blanchett in her Academy Award-winning turn as Katharine Hepburn. There is a great writeup of this display here!

So what’s next for this unstoppable septuagenarian? Silence, a psychological drama set in an exotic location and starring Liam Neeson as a monk on the brink of losing his faith. Let’s start a discussion: what’s your favorite Martin Scorsese picture, and what concepts come to mind when you hear his name?

Happy Hunger Games!

And by The Hunger Games, I mean the 2017 entertainment awards season. It kicks off with the Golden Globes, whose nominations were announced today.

Things I love: Moana‘s dual nominations, the recognition of Deadpool, Ryan Murphy finally giving Sarah Paulson awards material, and Simon Helberg getting a much-deserved Supporting Actor nod for Florence Foster Jenkins.

What I don’t love: the fact that when the Oscars arrive, only one of the two front-runners for Best Picture can win. At least with the Globes, they can both take home a trophy because…well…they couldn’t be more different from one another.

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This is the drama, a gritty coming-of-age story about a gay black man in Miami. The comedy/musical is La La Land, a passionate tale of a musician and an actress, set in Los Angeles.

Oh Lord. Nobody can argue that both of these movies are expertly crafted, masterful in their storytelling and workmanship. Nobody can argue that the people involved put their hearts and souls into the pieces…the two not-so-secret ingredients in all great art that is created.

But the higher-up voters of the motion picture industry will argue the following, and have to make a decision: which of the two films represents GREATER art? It’s a Hobson choice, because no matter whose side you’re on, you’re going to face backlash. If Moonlight takes all the accolades, the other half will claim that the subject matter was catered to. If La La Land wins big, the other half will point out the Academy’s history of white preferences. Still some on both alliances will simply argue that their pick is the more “significant” of the two. Whatever that means.

You want to know what I think?

I find it impossible to compare Land to Light because they both embody the two distinct things that art is meant to do. That is, to both take us out of reality AND teach us about it. In these uncertain times, we absolutely need both.

Good luck, and peace.

Spotlight: Sing Prima Donna, once more!

The upcoming Broadway season is filled to the brim with new musicals. And now that Hamilton is an incumbent show, the Tony Awards will actually be suspenseful this year. What makes this even more of a banner year- like last year was a banner year for ethnic diversity- many of the upcoming shows feature terrific ladies in lead roles.

While it can be argued that women remain underrepresented in the world of theatre, particularly in the creative jobs…we’re making great strides. It seems to have kicked off with Waitress last year, which featured Broadway’s first all-female creative team. For those of you who don’t know, that means the songwriter(s), director, librettist, and choreographer.

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“The day starts like the rest we’ve seen, another carbon copy of an old routine…”

The first show coming our way, although it doesn’t really count, is Kristin Chenoweth: My Love Letter to Broadway. The reason it doesn’t count is because it’s a very limited run and more of a concert than a Broadway production. Still, it plays next month at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, undoubtedly a testament to K-Chen’s masterful career. The event will, I’ve heard, feature different songs/special guests each night.

Next up are the new Broadway revivals of Miss Saigon and Hello Dolly! which feature two of the greatest musical roles ever written for women. The two pieces themselves couldn’t be more different: Victorian-era Yonkers vs. Vietnam War, anyone? But the fact remains that newcomer Eva Noblezada and superstar Bette Midler (as the respective titular characters) are sure to give powerhouse performances and perhaps even snag some Tony Awards. We shall see.

After that comes Anastasia, a theatrical mashup of two Hollywood films (one of them animated) about the biggest Romanov family urban legend. Featuring a tunefully beautiful score by the dynamite Ahrens and Flaherty, the show stars Christy Altomare as Anya, reprising her acclaimed performance from Goodspeed, CT. She will be joined by stage veterans Ramin Karimloo and Mary Beth Peil.

Finally, it’s the ultimate diva smackdown with War Paint, a new musical about makeup mavens Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden. And who better to play these larger-than-life personalities than Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole, respectively?! This show was the biggest hit ever for the Chicago house where it premiered. Performances begin at the Nederlander Theatre on April 6th, 2017.

Which leading lady-driven musical are you most looking forward to this season? Do you have far-too-early Tony predictions? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Spotlight: The Top 10 Moments I’ve Personally Witnessed on Broadway.

  • Chita Rivera having more rhythm than me at 83 years old in The Visit
  • Terri White’s “Who’s That Woman” in the revival of Follies
  • Judy Kaye swinging from a chandelier in Nice Work If You Can Get It
  • Mary Louise Wilson straddling the train in On the 20th Century
  • Elaine Stritch breaking the 4th wall in A Little Night Music
  • Jessie Mueller’s soulful “She Used to Be Mine” in Waitress
  • Laura Osnes’s dress transformation in Cinderella
  • The Alison Bechdel trio “Flying Away” in Fun Home
  • Jefferson Mays as the D’Ysquith family in A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder
  • Paulo Szot singing “Wash That Man” in South Pacific

 

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Tuneful Pokemon- Take the Poll!