Savion Glover’s Meditative Aspirations through Dance

SavionGloveromphotoSavion Glover is inviting audiences to literally worship with him.

The call to prayer is a very serious and thoughtful chapter in Glover’s continued growth as an artist. His summer shows at New York’s Joyce Theater, not only introduce us to what will become his latest production for the coming year, but allows us a window into the latest developments of an artist some have unabashedly called a genius.

With his latest show, “Om,” Glover explores the spirit and his expression and celebration of it through dance. “Om” runs through July 12 at New York City’s Joyce Theater.

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????This is certainly not the first time Glover has delved into the spiritual realm in his work. Indeed, there has been a steadily growing expression of spirit within his shows over the years. Increasingly, he has also worn photos around his neck that honor his tap mentors. Other expressions over the years have even extended to his way of positioning his hands—cupped and held in front of him—as if to receive a blessing or to pray.

But in “Om,” Glover takes us even deeper inside his own personal spiritual journey.

It should be said from the outset that this is not a show for the faint of heart or spirit. Those expecting an evening of happy, carefree razzle dazzle should look elsewhere; that’s never been Glover’s style anyway.

But, this may be a tough show to absorb even for the most avid tap dance fans and Glover followers. Indeed at the opening night performance, a steady trickle of audience members could be seen leaving about halfway into the 90 minute show (which is performed without intermission).

Certainly, the virtuosic brilliance that is Glover’s calling card is much in evidence. And it is nothing short of astounding to take in what is essentially a musical symphony emanating from Glover’s feet: the complex rhythmic patterns, the intricate shadings, the masterful control taking movements from almost pedestrian to warp speed.

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????It cannot be said enough how brilliant Glover’s footwork is.

As a work of art, “Om” is as genuine and heartfelt a tribute as one could ever hope to see. Glover, it should be noted, has long taken great pains to offer tributes to the many mentors and artists who taught and inspired him. In “Om,” those tributes come not only in the numerous portraits placed around the stage amid a profusion of candles and religious symbols, but in the snippets of signature steps—the ultimate tap homage.

Especially for those familiar with the great hoofers, this is a feat in and of itself. As each passage built in intensity, Glover mixed in signature steps form these legendary hoofers with his own flourishes and expansions on rhythms only he could hear and decipher. Equally fascinating was his ability to coax rhythms out of thin air.

But as a theatrical experience, “Om” falls short.

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Images courtesy of Keith Sherman & Associates

There are intriguing forays that are never fully explored, such as Glover’s occasional rhythm trade-offs with his frequent collaborator Marshall Davis, Jr. and an ensemble passage by Glover, Davis along with a trio of dancers (Mari Fujibayashi, Keitaro Hosokawa and Olivia Rosenkrantz) danced tenderly to Mahalia Jackson’s classic rendition of the spiritual “Trouble of the World.”

And the show opens in mesmerizing fashion as Glover, clad in white, stands seemingly motionless amid a sea of candles, shimmering ripples of sound emanating from his feet. This serves as an undercurrent as we hear Glover’s voice reading first Psalm 23 “The Lord is my shepherd …” and then The Lord’s Prayer. Adding to this aural symphony is a meditative hum of voices punctuated by gongs and other sounds associated with calls to worship.

But that was the extent of that road of exploration. From there, the presentation turned increasingly inward. Glover’s inner thoughts are reflected through his feet—dazzling, virtuosic, even brilliant.

In maintaining focus over his search for spiritual fulfillment, some may feel that Glover’s “Om” is perhaps, too literally, a physical manifestation of meditation. The experience for the audience is just as it would be for someone to watch someone else meditating or praying.

Image courtesy of twitter.com

Image courtesy of twitter.com

And therein lies the challenge for audiences: worship and prayer and meditation are really not intended to be spectator or theatrical events.

—Karyn D. Collins

 

Holler If Ya Hear Me: Liberation through Pain

"Holler if Ya Hear Me" cast. Image courtesy of Joan Marcus

“Holler if Ya Hear Me” cast. Image courtesy of Joan Marcus

Tupac on Broadway?

To say that the new musical “Holler if Ya Hear Me” is arriving with an equal amount of high expectations and wary skeptics waiting in the wings would be putting it mildly. “Holler” officially opens Thursday on Broadway at the Palace Theater and stars Saul Williams, the celebrated slam poet and actor-singer-musician who turned the poetry/spoken-word world on its ear in the indie film “Slam.” The show also features Tony Award winner Tonya Pinkins and Tony nominee John Earl Jelks.

holler creative team edit todd kreidler, daryl waters, kenny leon, wayne cilento

“Holler” creative team from Left:
Todd Kreidler, Daryl Waters, Kenny Leon, Wayne Cilento
Photo by Kevin Thomas Garcia

Kenny Leon, who won a Tony earlier this month for his direction of the Broadway revival of “A Raisin in the Sun” that ended its run on June 15, is director of “Holler.” Others in the creative team— all Tony winners—are music supervisor Daryl Waters whose credits include “After Midnight,” “Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk” and “Memphis” for which he won a Tony for Best Orchestrations;  and choreographer Wayne Cilento whose Broadway choreography credits include “Wicked” and “The Who’s Tommy” for which he won a Tony for choreography.

But “Holler” is not a Tupac biography. There are no mentions of Bloods and Crips, East Coast/West Coast rivalries, Suge Knight, Biggie Smalls, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg or any of the other key figures or events in Shakur’s real life story.

"Holler if You Hear Me" cast. Image courtesy of Joan Marcus

“Holler if Ya Hear Me” cast. Image courtesy of Joan Marcus

Instead, “Holler” is an original musical based on the music and poetry of the late rapper and actor. Tupac Shakur was only 25 when he was shot and killed in 1996 at the height of a long-running feud between East Coast and West Coast gang-affiliated factions in the rap music world. His shooting remains unsolved. But by the time he died, Shakur had become something of a legend—popularizing gangsta rap while at the same time captivating many in the arts world with his poetry and acting performances.

Like others associated with the show, writer Todd Kreidler  is careful to point out that “Holler” is not about Shakur. Indeed the show scrupulously avoids any mention of the East Coast/West Coast rap wars and sets its story in an unnamed city in the Midwest.

Saul Williams, Dyllon Burnside and Joshua Boone

Saul Williams, Dyllon Burnside and Joshua Boone in “Holler If  Ya Hear Me.” Image courtesy of Joan Marcus

“It’s not autobiographical. It’s not about Tupac’s life at all. It’s totally a fictional story that emerges out of the lyrics of his songs and out of his poetry,” Kreidler said.

Kreidler, who is well known in theater circles as the longtime dramaturg for playwright August Wilson, said he felt it was important not to do a biography treatment of Tupac’s story.

“I felt if I wrote a biographical story about Tupac,  it would get in the way of the lyrics, of the poetry,” Kreidler. “I felt that if I tried to deal with the whole East Coast/West Coast thing then that would absorb the energy of what he was writing about.”

Tonya Pinkins and Christopher Jackson in "Holler. Image courtesy of Joan Marcus

Tonya Pinkins and Christopher Jackson in “Holler.” Image courtesy of Joan Marcus

Instead Kreidler used Tupac’s music and poetry to create a story about a young man, fresh out of prison, who struggles to resist returning to the negative influences and violence that seems to be an integral part of his old neighborhood.

“This is the story of a lot of young men—trying to make a new start, but dealing with forces that keep pulling them back into their old life. It’s about love and friendship really. These are universal things within the world of Tupac’s lyrics,” Kreidler said. “You don’t have to know anything about hip hop or Tupac to understand the story. But if you’re attuned to issues like gun violence or gang violence there will be things that will be magnified for you. Those things are part of this story.”

Despite the universality of the story, the raw language of “Holler” promises to raise eyebrows in a Broadway world that has rarely featured hip hop on its stages. Indeed, Broadway has only seen three other productions featuring hip hop—Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk” in 1996, a Broadway rendition of Russell Simmons’ “Def Poetry Jam” in 2002, and the 2008 “In The Heights.”

Tupac Shakur from the movie "Poetic Justice"

Tupac Shakur from the movie “Poetic Justice”

Kreidler said from the outset he was committed to staying true to the blunt realities represented in Tupac’s work. “It was of upmost importance that I wasn’t going to dilute this or make it more palatable for Broadway consumption,” Kreidler said. “I will not make it easy or soften anything in the material. So the material is intact.”

That means the liberal uses of the n-word and other street terms that were a regular part of Tupac’s work are presented unfiltered throughout “Holler.”

Kreidler said the brutal frankness of Tupac’s music and poetry demanded a similar level of reality in “Holler.” Kreidler said he built the show’s story around the stories he heard in each of Shakur’s raps and poems.

“I just began to live in the music and in the words. I never wanted to lay a story on top of his work. I never wanted to make Tupac fit my story. So I listened,” Kreidler said. “I found that much of the contradictory nature of Tupac’s work made it ripe for dramatic material.”

Saul Williams image courtesy of Joan Marcus

Saul Williams image courtesy of Joan Marcus

Kreidler said having slam poet-actor-musician Saul Williams in the lead role has given “Holler” an essential edge. “Saul can paint the material. He brings something to the material, keeps it alive in a new way,” Kreidler said. “He brings a certain something that’s different than someone might who just comes from the traditional theater world. It’s just magical what he brings.”

Kreidler might not seem like an obvious candidate to pen “Holler”:  he’s a white guy from Pittsburgh.  But Kreidler said he became a fan after being schooled on the beauty of Tupac’s music by Kreidler’s mentor, the playwright August Wilson. At the time, the two were working on Wilson’s “King Hedley II.” But when Wilson discovered that Kreidler had never heard Tupac’s music, he insisted—in typically insistent Wilson fashion—that the writer learn. Immediately.

“When he found out I didn’t know Tupac’s ‘Dear Mama’ he went right out to the Virgin Megastore, bought the CD and ordered me to go listen to it instead of coming to rehearsal,” Kreidler recounted. “August said, ‘That CD in your hand, there’s a whole universe in that. There’s nothing in your life that’s not touched by that’.”

Now as then, Kreidler said he’s captivated by Tupac’s gifts for storytelling.  “We’re using storytelling and narrative and stage spectacle to bring the lyrics to life in a way that even hardcore fans, I hope, will say ‘My God, I know every lyric but I haven’t understood it in this way before’,” Kreidler said. “I know there are a lot of expectations out there. Some people are looking at us cockeyed. Some people are saying ‘you’re going to desecrate the work’

“We’ve taken apart something that people know and love but  I think we’ve found a way to creatively use the material without denigrating it.”

—Karyn D. Collins

 

Vivian Reed: Sugar, Spice and Everything Nice

IMG_1242_DUVET54_Below++

Image courtesy of Vivian Reed

OK, we have the “Unsung” series on the Centric network and the OWN channel’s “Where Are They Now”. The Biography channel also does a pretty good job detailing the lives of celebs past and present. Still, if you want to get to the heart and soul of a renowned artist, nothing replaces seeing that artist perform live.

Fashion Reverie had the unique opportunity to see Broadway legend Vivian Reed perform live at the Below 54 cabaret lounge in late May of this year, and all who were there that evening—including Liza Minelli, S. Epatha Merkerson, and Freddie Jackson—would agree that Vivian Reed not only still has all the vocal chops and stagecraft, but like a fine wine, she’s gotten better over the years.

Sassy, eclectic, and full of pizazz are all appropriate adjectives that describe the on-stage brilliance of Vivian Reed. This woman was made for a life on the stage. And Vivian Reed’s well of performance credits and career accomplishments goes rivers deep.

Vivian Reed in "Bubbling Brown Sugar." Images courtesy of Ashton Springer

Vivian Reed in “Bubbling Brown Sugar.” Images courtesy of Ashton Springer

From her Tony-nominated performance in “Bubbling Brown Sugar” to appearances in such legendary shows as Broadway’s “Marie Christine,” “Sophisticated Ladies,” ”The Roar of Greasepaint, the Smell of the Crowd,” “It’s So Nice To Be Civilized,” to her run at the Pierre Cardin’s L’espace Cardin to television specials in France to performing in “Three Mo Divas,” Vivian Reed is still kicking up her heels and making merry like Christmas.

“I love performing that is where my heart is … my career has spanned quite a few years and I can knock on wood that I have not had to take a day job. Correction, I did try a couple of primetime jobs while at Julliard, but they didn’t work out. I was made for this career path and performing,” explains Reed.

And made for performing is right!! With all the energy she releases on stage, what’s left for a primetime day job? “My mother had lots of energy. It is a natural thing for me; once I hit the stage I am on.”

02 Vivian REED

Vivian Reed on French television

Being on is putting it mildly. From her rendition of Sam & Dave’s “Hold on, I’m Coming” to Oleta Adams’ soulful “Circle of Love” to the always poignant “Strange Fruit” to Vivian Reed’s unique rendering of “Come Rain or Come Shine,” Vivian Reed’s musical performances are not to be missed!!

“Parts of the show (Circle of One, Hold On I’m Coming, Lover Man, Come Rain or Come Shine) were done years ago in Paris. I took songs I have enjoyed and revamped and rearranged the songs.  I feel every artist owes to their audience to make things fresh,” details Reed.

“Now, the material does span different genres and that can be dangerous if you don’t know what you are doing. But, I interweave stories between the songs and pull from my life experiences and meander around the material with life experiences.”

Vivian Reed in Christian Dior for French Vogue

Vivian Reed in Christian Dior for French Vogue

Like any true stage diva, Vivian always gives her audiences that extra something special. And in Vivian’s case, one of those things is her love of fashion, evidenced in her on-stage ensembles. “My mother was a seamstress and taught me to sew, so in some way I have always been connected to clothing and fashion. While I was on Broadway [and performing in Paris,] I had fashion layouts in French and American Vogue, Mademoiselle, Elle France, and Paris Match.  I was also on Mr. Blackwell’s “Best Dressed List.”

I also have a clothing line, aptly named VJ Scarves. My scarves can be purchased on vjscarves.esty.com, which is a big shopping market site. They are mostly made out of silk charmeuse, but I have some scarves in the collection made out of rayon, as well.”

Vivian_Reed_2014_002_FB+

Image courtesy of Vivian Reed

Letting no grass grow under her feet, Vivian Reed’s career is ever evolving and she’s always primed for new challenges.  “I have a single out called “Sexaholic;” it has a good underground, club beat with sexy lyrics. I performed it recently at Joe’s Pub, and Clive Davis was in attendance. The audience loved it with my sexy moves and all.”

Sexy moves and all, that’s Vivian Reed and some. Sugar and spice, and everything that nice, that’s what Vivian Reed is made of!!

Vivian Reed will be appearing at Below 54 on June 19. For more information, go to 54below.com.

—William S. Gooch

 

 

 

 

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater at Lincoln Center

 

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater with Artistic Director Robert Battle and Associate Artistic Director Masazumi Chaya. Photo by Andrew Eccles

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater with Artistic Director Robert Battle and Associate Artistic Director Masazumi Chaya. Photo by Andrew Eccles

One of the hallmarks of the famed Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater has always been the company’s versatility. That strength has become even more expansive during the last couple of years under the helm of artistic director Robert Battle.

New York-area audiences will be able to see that range on full display when the Ailey company presents a two-week season at the Koch Theater at Lincoln Center.

Revelations Celebration in Costa Mesa, CA led byRenee Robinson. photo by Joesan Diche

Revelations Celebration in Costa Mesa, CA led byRenee Robinson. photo by Joesan Diche

The two-week-long season, which runs June 11-22, will be launched with a special event at 5:30 p.m. June 11 on the plaza outside the Koch Theater. Called a “Revelations Celebration,” the workshop, which is free and open to the public, will invite the public to learn excerpts from Ailey’s most famous work, the spirituals and gospel music-inspired work “Revelations.” Live musicians and drummers will also be part of the event.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's Jacqueline Green, Linda Celeste Sims, Kelly Robotham, and Belen Pereyra in Aszure Barton's LIFT.  Photo by Paul Kolnik

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Jacqueline Green, Linda Celeste Sims, Kelly Robotham, and Belen Pereyra in Aszure Barton’s LIFT. Photo by Paul Kolnik

“Revelations” will be on some of the programs for those attending performances inside the Koch along with three works that were added to the repertoire during the company’s December season at City Center—Wayne McGregor’s “Chroma,” Aszure Barton’s “LIFT,” and Bill T. Jones’s “D-Man in the Waters – Part 1).” Other repertory favorites during the June season will include Ron K. Brown’s “Grace,”  Ohad Naharin’s “Minus 16” and several Ailey classics.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's Antonio Douthit-Boyd and Akua Noni Parker in Hans van Manen's Polish Pieces. Photo by Andrew Eccles

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Linda Celeste Sims, Glen Simms, Antonio Douthit-Boyd and Akua Noni Parker, respectively in Hans van Manen’s Polish Pieces. Photo by Andrew Eccles

Of course, Ailey being Ailey, there will be new works on the bill as well—company revivals of Hans van Manen’s “Polish Pieces” and David Parsons’ “Caught” and two significant premieres—the company premiere of the historic solo “Awassa Astrige/Ostrich,” by Asadata Dafora; and the world premiere of “The Pleasure of The Lesson,” by Robert Moses.

“Awassa Astrige” is an important work in dance history for its fusion of traditional African dance and the Western concert stage. The piece is sometimes referred to as “The Dying Swan” of modern dance. Though only a brief solo, it is thought that “Awassa Astrige” inspired a generation of dance pioneers led by Katherine Dunham and Pearl Primus.

 

While the Moses work is an unknown since it’s a world premiere, the San Francisco-based choreographer is known as a post-modernist whose works typically blend a range of styles, from street dance to ballet.

Traversing that wide movement spectrum with all the other choreographic stops in between might sound daunting, but to the Ailey dancers it’s the equivalent of creative oxygen—a necessity to thrive and grow.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's Yannick Lebrun. Photo by Andrew Eccles Fashion Credit: Pants courtesy of Siki Im.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Yannick Lebrun. Photo by Andrew Eccles
Fashion Credit: Pants courtesy of Siki Im.

“To me, that’s what’s the most exciting thing about this company—to be able to adapt ourselves to so many different styles and so many different techniques, said Ailey dancer Yannick Lebrun. “We have to change, be able to express something different in every ballet, use our bodies in different ways to go from ballet to African to hip hop to modern dance to jazz. We do everything and that’s the beauty of this company—the diversity of the dancers, of the repertory. It’s one of the things I love the most about the Alvin Ailey company.”

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's Belen Pereyra, Yannick Lebrun, and Linda Celeste Sims. Photo by Andrew Eccles

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Belen Pereyra, Yannick Lebrun, and Linda Celeste Sims. Photo by Andrew Eccles

Lebrun, who joined Ailey in 2008 after a brief stint with Ailey II, said the preparation and approach for the two works are entirely different for each.

“For ‘The Ostrich’ it was very gratifying and an honor to actually be in the room learning the choreography. Charles Moore was the first male dancer who performed that ballet in the US and his wife, Ella Thompson Moore, came and restaged the ballet for us so that’s been an honor,” Lebrun said. “Coming from French Guiana, I don’t have a big problem with rhythm, but this is a challenge because it’s so simple but so specific at the same time. You can’t overdo it. You have to do exactly what it is and sometimes that’s a challenge because we think it’s so easy and so simple and such a short solo so you sometimes want to add even more.”

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's Yannick Lebrun. Photo by Andrew Eccles

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Yannick Lebrun. Photo by Andrew Eccles

“But the dance is already beautiful and so rich and striking. It’s really about showcasing the beautiful male body and the movement. So you have to really just focus on the specifics. There is no extra to add. It’s all there.”

The Moses work is pushing the dancers in an entirely different way, Lebrun admits. “The process of learning a new ballet with the choreographer can be even more exhausting. There are always changes. The dancers have to be open to change. We have to be able to adapt and work with the choreographer and be able to inspire them,” he said. “That’s the good thing about working with Robert. There is a lot of freedom in your artistic choices. He’s feeding off of us, challenging us. You’re being given this freedom for expression and making artistic choices.”

—Karyn D. Collins

2014 Tony Awards Predictions

Image courtesy of broadwaybox.com

Image courtesy of broadwaybox.com

With all due respect to the Miss USA pageant and Game 2 of the NBA Finals, the big, must-see TV event for many arts lovers this Sunday night will be the Tony Awards which honor the best performances and productions on Broadway.

The Tony Awards will air at 8 p.m. EST Sunday on CBS; Miss USA will be vying for the sparkly crown at 8 p.m. EST on NBC; and the Miami Heat will battle against the San Antonio Spurs to keep their championship crown, beginning at 8 p.m. EST on ABC.

As with most awards these days, predicting winners has become something of a sport. And who are we to stand in the way of that tradition. So here, with quotes from some of the top nominees on their roles, as well as comments from some notable Broadway fans, is our Tony Award predictions wrapup:

The nominees are:

Best Play

“Act One”

“All the Way”

“Casa Valentina”

“Mothers and Sons”

“Outside Mullingar”

While there are some who argue that “Act One” will take the Tony, there’s a strong contingent who insist that Bryan Cranston’s performance as President Lyndon B. Johnson in “All The Way” will take this play all the way to a Tony Award for Best Play. “All The Way” has already snagged a Drama Desk Award, always a good indicator of Tony success.

Cast photo from "A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder": Photo by Joan Marcus, Courtesy "A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder"

Cast photo from “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder”: Photo by Joan Marcus, Courtesy “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder”

Best Musical

“After Midnight”

“Aladdin”

“Beautiful — The Carole King Musical”

“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder”

Broadway politics are making this a Tony category that’s too close to call.

The Broadway community and fans have been loving “After Midnight” but the show’s lack of an original score seems to be a strike against it in some eyes. That same lament applies to sentimental favorite “Beautiful – The Carole King Musical.”

That leaves “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder” (which leads all Tony nominees with 10) – the Drama Desk winner that’s been a hit with critics (and is the only nominee with an original book and score) but a miss at the box office. Don’t be surprised if “Beautiful” squeaks through with a win; word is a block of voters representing tour presenters are voting against “Gentleman’s Guide” because of that show’s weak box office numbers.

Mark Rylance photo: Courtesy Shakespeare Globe

Twelfth Night’s Mark Rylance photo: Courtesy Shakespeare Globe

Best Revival of a Play

“The Cripple of Inishmaan”

“The Glass Menagerie”

“A Raisin in the Sun”

“Twelfth Night”

The prognosticators are all over the place with this category. “A Raisin in the Sun” and “The Glass Menagerie” are sentimental favorites, but there seems to be a strong push for the exemplary all-male production of William Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night.”

"Hedwig and the Angry Inch" photo courtesy of criticalconfabulations.wordpress.com

“Hedwig and the Angry Inch” photo courtesy of criticalconfabulations.wordpress.com

Best Revival of a Musical

“Hedwig and the Angry Inch”

“Les Misérables”

“Violet”

This is one of the few categories with a shoo-in winner  — Neil Patrick Harris and “Hedwig.”

Best Book of a Musical

“Aladdin”

“Beautiful—The Carole King Musical”

“Bullets Over Broadway”

“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder”

The smart money says this will go to “Gentleman’s Guide.”

Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre

“Aladdin”

“The Bridges of Madison County”

“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder”

“If/Then”

As so often happens with the Tony’s, the real race, insiders say, will come down to two lesser-known shows—“Bridges” and “Gentleman’s Guide.” If “Bridges” wins here, that could also mean a win for leading lady Kelli O’Hara who is in danger of becoming the Susan Lucci of the Tony’s.

Bryan Cranston as LBJ photo: Photo by Evgenia Eliseeva, Courtesy "All The Way"

Bryan Cranston as LBJ photo: Photo by Evgenia Eliseeva, Courtesy “All The Way”

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play

Nominees:

Samuel Barnett, Twelfth Night

Bryan Cranston, All the Way

Chris O’Dowd, Of Mice and Men

Mark Rylance, Richard III

Tony Shalhoub, Act One

The prognosticators seem to agree—this is the year of Bryan Cranston, the “Breaking Bad” star who plays President Lyndon Baines Johnson in “All The Way.”

Here, Bryan Cranston talks about his character–LBJ – in “All The Way”:

“People close to him would say they weren’t fond of him, but they loved him. I found that fascinating: ‘I didn’t like him, but I loved him.’ They didn’t like how he mistreated people. But his heart? His intentions were honorable.  For the most part.”

—From The Guardian 

Audra McDonald photo: Photo by Evgenia Eliseeva, Courtesy "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill"

Audra McDonald photo: Photo by Evgenia Eliseeva, Courtesy “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill”

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play

Tyne Daly, Mothers and Sons
LaTanya Richardson Jackson, A Raisin in the Sun
Cherry Jones, The Glass Menagerie
Audra McDonald, Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill
Estelle Parsons, The Velocity of Autumn

If Audra McDonald doesn’t win her sixth Tony for her performance as Billie Holliday, it will be major news. Despite a few whispered complaints that “Lady Day” is really a musical in play’s clothing, McDonald’s tortured performance has earned universal praise.

Here’s Audra McDonald on the possibility of making history as the first actress to win in all four acting categories:

“I won’t feel like a failure if it doesn’t happen, and I’ll probably pass out if it does,” said Ms. McDonald, 43 years old, seated in her dressing room amid orchids and Holiday images. “My life has already exceeded anything that I could have dreamed up.”

Wall Street Journal

Neil Patrick Harris as Hedwwig photo: Photo by Joan Marcus, Courtesy "Hedwig and the Angry Inch"

Neil Patrick Harris as Hedwwig photo: Photo by Joan Marcus, Courtesy “Hedwig and the Angry Inch”

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical

Neil Patrick Harris, Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Ramin Karimloo, Les Misérables
Andy Karl, Rocky
Jefferson Mays, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder
Bryce Pinkham, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder

This is one of the few categories where there seems to be a general consensus about who will win: Neil Patrick Harris for his performance as the transvestite rocker in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.”

Here’s Anna Wintour, Condé Nast artistic director and editor-in-chief of Vogue from a New York Times story on Tony predictions:

This was clearly the year for men on Broadway to strut their stuff in women’s clothes, and no one did it with more passion, panache and sheer star power than Neil Patrick Harris, who will undoubtedly win the Tony for his electrifying performance as a glam rock almost-diva in ‘Hedwig and the Angry Inch.’ The fierce charisma, the raw emotion, those legs!”

And here, Harris compares his role in “Hedwig” to his role on television’s “How I Met Your Mother”:

“Playing Barney Stinson required a level of fearlessness that I don’t really possess as Neil, but as an actor he had to possess because he was sort of the fifth wheel, guns a-blazing guy that wanted a crazy adventure. So I got to do that for a long time,” (Harris) said. “And that plays into Hedwig’s life. She’s fearless. She’s like a shooting star, that she’s terrified that that light is going to extinguish.”

—From CBS New York

Jessie Mueller photo: Photo by Joan Marcus, Courtesy "Beautiful: The Carole King Musical"

Jessie Mueller photo: Photo by Joan Marcus, Courtesy “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical”

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical

Mary Bridget Davies, A Night With Janis Joplin
Sutton Foster, Violet
Idina Menzel, If/Then
Jessie Mueller, Beautiful — The Carole King Musical
Kelli O’Hara, The Bridges of Madison County

Despite all the powerhouse actresses in this category, first time nominee Jessie Mueller has  emerged as the frontrunner in this category for her performance as singer Carole King in “Beautiful – The Carole King Musical.” There are still a number of Broadway insiders who insist this is finally O’Hara’s year, but Mueller’s win at the Drama Desk Awards suggests O’Hara may continue to be a bridesmaid.

Here’s Jessie Mueller on Carole King and Mueller’s own trajectory as an actress:

“A lot of people put Carole on this feminist pedestal, made her this icon, but it took her a lot of work to get to that point. She had to learn how to be out front,” Mueller said. “And I feel like I’m dealing with something similar in my own way, where my life has changed and my work has changed and there have been these opportunities given to me and it’s, like, ‘How do you deal with that and stay the person you are?'”

—Los Angeles Times

Mark Rylance in "Twelfth Night." Image courtesy of hollywoodsoapbox.com

Mark Rylance in “Twelfth Night.” Image courtesy of hollywoodsoapbox.com

Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play

Reed Birney, Casa Valentina
Paul Chahidi, Twelfth Night
Stephen Fry, Twelfth Night
Mark Rylance, Twelfth Night
Brian J. Smith, The Glass Menagerie

Mark Rylance, generally recognized as the English theater’s leading actor these days, made Broadway history this year, becoming the first actor to be nominated for two performances in the same year (four  women have accomplished that feat but Rylance is the first man). Rylance, whom Time Magazine dubbed the Shakespearean superstar, was also nominated for Best Actor for his performance in “Richard III” but it’s Rylance’s performance as Olivia in “Twelfth Night”—a nod to Elizabethan-era tradition—that experts say will snag the Tony.

Here’s Mark Rylance on how performing on Broadway helped him further develop his performances:

“I must say I found the wit and the attention of the audience and often the very wonderful actors who came to see the show [inspiring]… When they were sitting there, I would think, ‘How would he do it? Oh, he’d do it like this. She’d do it like this.’ The part really developed and grew, and I felt I really got more of a measure of the part in New York, thanks to the audiences, than I had managed before.”

Playbill.com

Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play

Sarah Greene, The Cripple of Inishmaan
Celia Keenan-Bolger, The Glass Menagerie
Sophie Okonedo, A Raisin in the Sun
Anika Noni Rose, A Raisin in the Sun
Mare Winningham, Casa Valentina

This category is considered wide open with no clear frontrunner. 

Alladin's James Monroe Iglehart genie photo:  Courtesy Disney Theatricals

Alladin’s James Monroe Iglehart genie photo: Courtesy Disney Theatricals

Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical

Danny Burstein, Cabaret
Nick Cordero, Bullets Over Broadway
Joshua Henry, Violet
James Monroe Iglehart, Aladdin
Jarrod Spector, Beautiful — The Carole King Musical

Robin who? Iglehart, as the genie, gets standing ovations in the middle of the show every night for his performance of “Never Had a Friend Like Me.” Even the anti-Disney contingent has conceded that this Drama Desk-winning performance has been pure theater magic.

Here’s James Monroe Iglehart on the rigors of playing the genie in “Aladdin”:

“I don’t have time to think that it’s hard,” he said. “It has to seem as fluid as possible. The best way for this is to make it look effortless.” He added: “I’ve kind of waited my whole life for this. I have wanted to be a cartoon character since I was a little kid.”

Los Angeles Times

Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical

Linda Emond, Cabaret
Lena Hall, Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Anika Larsen, Beautiful — The Carole King Musical
Adriane Lenox, After Midnight

This is another category that insiders agree is too close to call. 

Image courtesy of theaterlife.com

Image courtesy of theaterlife.com

And here are the nominees in the so-called creative categories:

Best Scenic Design of a Play

Beowulf Boritt, Act One
Bob Crowley, The Glass Menagerie
Es Devlin, Machinal
Christopher Oram, The Cripple of Inishmaan

Best Scenic Design of a Musical

Christopher Barreca, Rocky
Julian Crouch, Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Alexander Dodge, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder
Santo Loquasto, Bullets Over Broadway

Best Costume Design of a Play

Jane Greenwood, Act One
Michael Krass, Machinal
Rita Ryack, Casa Valentina
Jenny Tiramani, Twelfth Night

Best Costume Design of a Musical

Linda Cho, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder
William Ivey Long, Bullets Over Broadway
Arianne Phillips, Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Isabel Toledo, After Midnight

Best Lighting Design of a Play

Paule Constable, The Cripple of Inishmaan
Jane Cox, Machinal
Natasha Katz, The Glass Menagerie
Japhy Weideman, Of Mice and Men

Best Lighting Design of a Musical

Kevin Adams, Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Christopher Akerlind, Rocky
Howell Binkley, After Midnight
Donald Holder, The Bridges of Madison County

Best Sound Design of a Play

Alex Baranowski, The Cripple of Inishmaan
Steve Canyon Kennedy, Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill
Dan Moses Schreier, Act One
Matt Tierney, Machinal

Best Sound Design of a Musical

Peter Hylenski, After Midnight
Tim O’Heir, Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Mick Potter, Les Misérables
Brian Ronan, Beautiful — The Carole King Musical

Best Direction of a Play

Tim Carroll, Twelfth Night
Michael Grandage, The Cripple of Inishmaan
Kenny Leon, A Raisin in the Sun
John Tiffany, The Glass Menagerie

Best Direction of a Musical

Warren Carlyle, After Midnight
Michael Mayer, Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Leigh Silverman, Violet
Darko Tresnjak, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder

Best Choreography

Warren Carlyle, After Midnight
Steven Hoggett and Kelly Devine, Rocky
Casey Nicholaw, Aladdin
Susan Stroman, Bullets Over Broadway

Best Orchestrations

Doug Besterman, Bullets Over Broadway
Jason Robert Brown, The Bridges of Madison County
Steve Sidwell, Beautiful — The Carole King Musical
Jonathan Tunick, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder

Recipients of Awards and Honors in Noncompetitive Categories

Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre

Jane Greenwood

Regional Theatre Award

Signature Theatre, New York

Isabelle Stevenson Award

Rosie O’Donnell

Tony Honors for Excellence in the Theatre

Joseph P. Benincasa

Joan Marcus

Charlotte Wilcox

—Karyn D. Collins

 

 

 

 

 

 

Misty Copeland Shines in La Bayadere

Misty Copleand in "La Bayadere." Image courtesy of pin interest.com

Misty Copleand in “La Bayadere.” Image courtesy of pininterest.com

The question is often asked, how do you attract young, diverse audiences to old classical ballet warhorses? Some ballet companies have tried a star-studded cast or updated productions that are not bogged down by outdated mime sequences and character dances. Still, studies show that ballet audiences are aging and decreasing.

American Ballet Theatre (ABT) may have inadvertently found one solution.  ABT’s multi-ethnic casting in La Bayadere may render some answers to the challenge of audience diversity.  On the night that I attended (Saturday May 23) there were noticeably more people of color in the audience and might I add more young folks, as well.

Misty Copeland image courtesy of Rosalie O'Connor

Misty Copeland image courtesy of Rosalie O’Connor

With Misty Copeland’s memoir “Life in Motion:Unlikely Ballerina” still being on The New York Times bestseller list, undoubtedly many audiences members came to see Misty Copeland in La Bayadere as Gamzatti. Still, Copeland being a woman of color dancing the second female lead Saturday night may have added to a younger, more diverse crowd.

Paradoxically, La Bayadere is set in India where there are lots of brown people. And in the ballet’s nearly 150-year history, Misty Copeland is one of the few women of color to dance one of the ballerina leads.

But this incongruent casting is all too common in classical ballet. From Don Quixote to Le Corsaire to brown characters in the Nutcracker, Petrouchka, and Raymonda, ethnic themes with brown/black characters have been whitewashed. Only now does there seem to a slight glimmer of change.

 

Image courtesy of thechanelmuse.com

Image courtesy of thechanelmuse.com

When it comes to the dancing, Copeland as Gamzatti was in her element. Though cast in this role since 2012, injuries have prevented Copeland from performing Gamzatti frequently. Setbacks aside, Copeland brought the right combination of technical brilliance, stagecraft and regal austerity to Gamzatti. This is a role for an actress ballerina who can breeze through several technically difficult solos while staying in character. Copeland rose to the challenge.

All the technical gifts are there, as well as a keen sense of stagecraft. However, at this juncture in her career, Copeland is maturing into an artist with great depth. Where some ballerinas would be content to whip through multiple fouette turns and high developpes, Copeland employs these pyrotechnical feats as a reflection of Gamzatti’s determination to win Solor at any costs.

Images courtesy of Rosalie O'Connor

Alina Cojocaru images courtesy of Rosalie O’Connor

Alina Cojocaru as Nikiya was the perfect personification of lyrical plasticity. In her interpretation of Nikiya, Cojocaru’s arabesque was much more than a perfectly placed arabesque. Each arabesque seemed grow and evolve, highlighting Nikiya’s ever-growing love for Solor and quest for purity.

Though Cojocaru “Kingdom of the Shades” pas de deux and variation are examples of pure classical technique and interpretation, her first act pas de deux and solo lacked passion with very little chemistry between her character and Solor (Herman Cornejo). Perhaps, Cojocaru is better suited for classical repertoire where she portrays a shade, a spirit or some romantic memory, requiring very little sexual tension or passion.

Herman Cornejo has come into his own as a danseur noble. As Solor, in spite of his diminutive stature, Cornejo was majestic, regal, and classically pure. Pyrotechnical bravura has always been matter of fact for Cornejo; however, Cornejo has now matured into an artist that uses his technical acumen to serve his character.

Still, the standout in La Bayadere was Misty Copeland. Not only did she shine, her performance illuminated Gamzatti. And ABT’s casting of Copeland is proving that when audiences of color see themselves reflected on stage, they show up.

—William S. Gooch

 

Ballet Hispanico’s El Beso

Gustavo Sansano"s "El Beso"

Gustavo Sansano”s “El Beso”

Ballet Hispanico’s season at the Joyce Theatre clearly demonstrates that the company under the helm of Eduardo Vilario is evolving in a direction that expands beyond the traditional Latin themes that the company had become associated under its founder Tina Ramirez. Some arts pundits may say this is a step in the right direction, while others might champion a return to the tried and true.

The real test of this directional shift is audience reaction. And based on the cheers and bravos on Ballet Hispanico’s opening night at the Joyce, Vilario has found a choreographic revitalization that has audience appeal.

Two of the pieces in the mixed bill on the Opening Night program have been reviewed in a previous Fashion Reverie review, so the focus of this review will concentrate mostly on Ballet Hispanico’s new work, El Beso.

1545676_750120355019170_6615772493857330427_nIn the vein of Twyla Tharp’s Push Comes to Shove, Gustavo Ramirez Sansano’s El Beso with costumes by Angel Sanchez, like many choreographers of his ilk, ingeniously combine dance vocabulary from a wide range of dance styles and idioms. There are nods to Graham, Cunningham, Tharp, Horton, lyrical jazz, classical ballet, with a little Forsythe thrown in for good measure.

This hodgepodge of seemingly diverse dance styles requires dancers that have incredible versatility and have the technical dexterity and experience working in this dance hybrid. Ballet Hispanico’s current rosters of dancers are definitely up to the challenges of Sansano’s choreography.

The overriding motif of El Beso is a kiss, and kisses in a various incarnations, forms and gestures. There are air kisses, kisses expected and unexpected, declined, romantic, playful, yet all fitting into Sansano, humorous but at times bombastic, rhythmic mélange.

Like Tharp’s Push Comes to Shove, El Beso has that emotion-free, pliable ragdoll quality that requires a very loose torso. Movement can start at your center but pull the dancer in a lot of different directions, sometimes off center, other times athletically spiraling in unexpected directions.

El-español-Gustavo-Ramírez-debuta-en-Nueva-York-con-El-Beso-y-Ballet-HispánicoAngel Sanchez’s pleated, asymmetrical skirts paired with shorts and a variety of pant-like garments helped facilitate the kind of movement employed by Sansano in El Beso. Sanchez’s billowing skirts at times seemed to continue and extend movement beyond the steps themselves, giving the Sansano’s choreography a buoyant quality that filled the stage.

Sombrerisimo-1c-Paula-Lobo

Annabelle Lopez’s Ochoa’s “Sombrerisimo”

 Annabelle Lopez’s Ochoa’s Sombrerisimo utilizes great partnering for the men in this male tour de force. Ochoa also infuses technique from modern dance, ballet, flamenco and lyrical jazz, all while several derby hats are passed back and forth, caught in the air, ricocheted and used as a centerpiece of the choreography.  Though Sombrerisimo highlights the versatility and technical acumen of Ballet Hispanico’s men, the work is not without humor or lyricism.

1801259_750118251686047_6306912962161506699_o

Edgar Zendejas’ “Umbral.” Images courtesy of Michelle Tabnick Communications

Edgar Zendejas’ Umbral is a mostly cerebral work, inspired by the Mexican celebration of the Day of the Dead. Umbral has some good choreography with inventive partnering in Umbral.  One of the most effective sections was sequence were the Ballet Hispanico women danced topless with their backs to the audience.  Zendejas ingeniously devised movement that spoke to the futility of life and the stark bareness of death without being too literal or kitschy.

—William S. Gooch

Broadway’s Spring 2014 Lineup

Start spreading the news.

Big stars—veterans and theater newcomers—are flocking to Broadway stages this spring to test their mettle in what is often considered to be the most challenging of acting genre.

The star turns—a trend that’s become increasingly popular for producers seeking a quick (and big)  return at the box office—mean that theater fans can see stars in a full range of plays and musicals.

Broadway veterans appearing this season include stars like Audra McDonald and Tyne Daly, both of whose careers have successfully straddled the theater and television worlds.

Other stars like Alan Cumming and Denzel Washington, made their careers in film but have also found increasing success in theater.

But the real news for this season is the number of Broadway newcomers appearing. They include Michelle Williams (“Cabaret”), Zach Braff (“Bullets Over Broadway”) and James Franco (“Of Mice and Men”).

Here’s a look at what’s new this spring on Broadway:

“Act One”

Lincoln Center – Vivian Beaumont Theatre, W. 65th St. off Broadway

In previews; Premieres April 17 for a two-month run

The word: Broadway royalty Andrea Martin and Tony Shalhoub along with Santino Fontana (“Brighton Beach Memoirs,” “Cinderella”) star in director James Lapine’s adaptation of Broadway playwright Moss Hart’s autobiography.

James Monroe Iglehart as the Genie in "Aladdin", photo courtesy Disney on Broadway

James Monroe Iglehart as the Genie in “Aladdin”, photo courtesy Disney on Broadway

“Aladdin”

New Amsterdam Theatre, 214 W. 432nd St.

Premiered March 20

The word: Disney’s latest musical, based on the 1992 Disney animated feature, has been universally praised by critics, especially the performance of James Monroe Iglehart as the Genie.

“All The Way”

Neil Simon Theatre, 250 W. 52nd St.

Premiered March 6

The word: Bryan Cranston (“Breaking Bad”) has won raves for his portrayal of Lyndon Johnson during the ‘60s.

"Bullets Over Broadway" image courtesy of newyork.com

“Bullets Over Broadway” image courtesy of newyork.com

“Bullets Over Broadway”

St. James Theatre, 246 W. 44th St.

In previews; Premieres April 10

The word: Zach Braff (“Scrubs”) makes his Broadway debut in the Broadway adaptation of this Woody Allen film classic directed and choreographed by Tony winner Susan Stroman.

Michelle Williams, courtesy "Cabaret"

Michelle Williams, courtesy “Cabaret”

“Cabaret”

Studio 54, 254 W. 54th St.

In previews; Premieres April 24

The word: Michelle Williams (“Brokeback Mountain”) makes her Broadway debut as Sally Bowles opposite Alan Cummings who will reprise his Tony Award–winning performance as the Emcee in this revival.

"Casa Valentina" image courtesy of playbillvault.com

“Casa Valentina” image courtesy of playbillvault.com

“Casa Valentina”

In previews; Premieres  April 23; Closes June 15

The word: Harvey Fierstein’s play stars Patrick Page (“Spider Man: Turn Off The Dark”) as part of a group of men whose summers in the Catskills saw them live as cross dressers.

Daniel Radcliffe, photo by Johan Persson, courtesy "The Cripple of Inashmaan"

Daniel Radcliffe, photo by Johan Persson, courtesy “The Cripple of Inishmaan”

“The Cripple of Inishmaan”

Cort Theatre, 138 W. 48th St.

Begins previews April 12; Premieres April 20 for a three-month-long run

The word: Harry Potter’s Daniel Radcliffe reprises his star turn in the Broadway transfer of this critically acclaimed play from London’s West End; written by Martin McDonagh.

Neil Patrick Harris in poster for "Hedwig," courtesy "Hedwig and the Angry Inch"

Neil Patrick Harris in poster for “Hedwig,” courtesy “Hedwig and the Angry Inch”

“Hedwig and the Angry Inch”

Belasco Theatre, 111 W. 44th St.

In previews; Premieres April 22

The word: Neil Patrick Harris “How I Met Your Mother” stars in the revival of this edgy rock musical about a German singer’s life after a botched sex change operation.

“If/Then”

Richard Rodgers Theatre, 226 W. 46th St.

Premiered March 30

The word: Idina Menzel (“Wicked”) stars in this original musical about a woman following two different paths. Menzel has earned raves; the show itself has been mostly panned.

Audra McDonald in poster for "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill", courtesy "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill."

Audra McDonald in poster for “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill”, courtesy “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill.”

“Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill”

Circle in the Square, 235 W. 50th St.

In previews; Premieres April 13; Closes June 1

The word: Five time, Tony winner Audra McDonald stars in this musical play in which singer Billie Holiday recounts moments in her life during a concert performance shortly before her death.

Scene from "Les Miserables", photo by Michael Le Poer Trench, courtesy "Les Miserables"

Scene from “Les Miserables”, photo by Michael Le Poer Trench, courtesy “Les Miserables”

“Les Miserables”

Imperial Theatre, 249 W. 45th St.

Premiered March 23

The word: This Broadway revival is based on the show’s recent touring production. In addition to more multi-cultural casting this time around (black actors as Javert and Eponine!), this production also does without the original’s famous turntable set.

Tyne Daly, photo courtesy "Mothers and Sons"

Tyne Daly, photo courtesy “Mothers and Sons”

“Mothers and Sons”

John Golden Theatre, 252 W. 45th St.

Premiered March 24

The word: Tony and Emmy Award–winning actress Tyne Daly has earned good to mixed reviews for her star turn in this new play by four-time Tony Award–winning playwright Terrence McNally.

Chris O'Dowd and James Franco, courtesy "Of Mice and Men"

Chris O’Dowd and James Franco, courtesy “Of Mice and Men”

“Of Mice and Men”

Longacre Theatre, 220 W. 48th St.

In Previews; Premieres April 16; Closes July 27

The word: When he’s not sending flirting texts to teen girls, movie star James Franco is making his Broadway debut in this revival of the John Steinbeck classic.

Image courtesy of broadway.com

“Raisin in the Sun” image courtesy of broadway.com

“A Raisin in the Sun”

Ethel Barrymore Theatre, 243 W. 47th St.

Premiered April 3; Closes June 15

The word: This revival of Lorraine Hansberry’s classic play has received rave reviews for star Denzel Washington as well as the play’s other leads—Anika Noni Rose, Sophie Okonedo, and LaTanya Richardson Jackson.

Broadway_rocky_time

“Rocky” image courtesy of time.com

“Rocky”

Winter Garden Theatre, 1634 Broadway

Premiered March 13

The word: This Broadway musical version of the iconic movie franchise has received mixed reviews but its lead actors and the show’s final scene have earned universal praise.

“The Velocity of Autumn”

Booth Theatre, 222 W. 45th St.

In previews; premieres  April 21

The word: This is a play by Eric Coble and starring Broadway favorite Estelle Parsons with Stephen Spinella.

—Karyn D. Collins

Cirque du Soleil’s Amaluna Charms and Excites, but?

Cirque Amaluna 1When you’ve established a reputation for setting new standards in creativity and “wow” moments, it gets harder and harder to top yourself. So, it is that with “Amaluna,” the newest production by Cirque du Soleil, there is no new “wow,” just plenty of a classic Cirque du Soleil moments.

And since classic Cirque du Soleil is still better than most of what’s out there on the entertainment scene, audiences will find plenty of magic, charm, beauty and yes, even some “wows.”

The Montreal-based entertainment company’s latest production, “Amaluna,” is being performed through May 18 on the grounds of Citi Field in Queens (home of the New York Mets), under one of Cirque du Soleil’s signature blue and gold striped traveling tents. For information and tickets go to: www.cirquedusoleil.com/amaluna

Collages295One of the wonders of Cirque du Soleil is that, with a few notable exceptions like its cadre of spectacular Las Vegas shows, it continually produces great shows with a mix of new acts and those that seem to rotate around the Cirque universe in different incarnations. Add some cool background music, beautiful costumes and sets, and a patina of class and style and Voila! Welcome to Cirque du Soleil.

But just when you think you’ve seen it all, Cirque du Soleil one-up’s itself. And so it is with “Amaluna.”  And this time around, part of the difference maker is that there is a smidgen of a narrative, an unusual element in the Cirque du Soleil world.

Written and directed by noted theatrical director Diane Paulus (“Pippin,” “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess”), “Amaluna” tells a story loosely based on Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” and “Romeo and Juliet”;  Mozart’s opera, “The Magic Flute,”; and Greek and Norse mythology. Here, we meet Miranda, daughter of Prospera, a goddess who rules over a kingdom of female warriors and goddesses and other life-sized mystical creatures. When Miranda falls in love with a (male) Pirate named Romeo who washes ashore, the couple must prove themselves before they can receive Prospera’s blessing.

Downloads215The female-centric story means that almost all of the performers, including the live rock band, are women. And there is definitely a very cool Girl-Power vibe that gives an extra jolt throughout the show. You can’t help but smile, for example, at the battle cries from the fierce female gymnasts who serve as Prospera’s warriors. And the rocker chicks, who frequently appear onstage with the performers, add a cool vibe as only a rocker chick can.

Added to this are the kind of beautiful visual effects—hand painted, intricately detailed costumes and sets—that show a painstaking attention to detail. A small swimming pool mirrors the crystal ball given to Miranda (played with a sprite-like charm by Iuliia Mykhailova) and the daredevil edge of her contortions take on another dimension when she ends a series of maneuvers by diving into the pool.

All of this makes for some beautiful window dressing for a series of thrilling athletic and juggling acts. But there’s also a sense that the show is building up to a climactic moment that never quite happens.

Cirque Amaluna 6

All images courtesy of Cirque du Soleil

Yes, in addition to Miranda and her Romeo, there are plenty of oohs and ahs. The Icarian jugglers are charming, spinning their lamps while they are twirled and tossed on the feet of their partners. Modern dancer Amy McClendon is mesmerizing as the Peacock Goddess, making absolute magic out of little more than a series of arm movements and purposeful strides. And the trio of aerial strap artists thrill as they soar above and into the audience (a definite benefit of being in the Cirque tent instead of an arena).

But there wasn’t that one amazing moment. True, the performance I attended was absent one act because of an injury. Was that the “wow” that was missing? Perhaps. But it’s also quite likely that this is a Cirque production built not for a climactic spectacular moment but for an overall high gloss experience.

—Karyn D. Collins

Ladies and Gentlemen … The Beatles!

Collages291Fifty years ago, the winter of our discontent quickly became the winter that changed rock and roll in America.

That was the winter that the Beatles took America by storm. In one of the more unique tastes of Beatlemania, the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts—located at Lincoln Center—started offering fans a chance to step back in time thanks to a special multi-media exhibit, “Ladies and Gentlemen … The Beatles!” The Beatles exhibit will be on view through May 10.

This is a full-immersion exhibit into Beatlemania. The simple cases in the front lobby of the library with the display of original records, album covers, newspaper and fan magazine clippings are just a hint of what awaits visitors once they step into the gallery on the library’s first floor.

The display cases contain some quirky finds—a press release from Capitol Records that mentions the Beatles’ impending arrival in America; a February 11, 1964 column by Dr. Joyce Brothers in which she explains to worried parents that teenybopper’s adoration of The Beatles is a result of “adolescent rebellion (which) appears to be an unavoidable trauma.”

That’s all just a warm-up for the main act happening inside the library’s main gallery. Take a step inside that gallery and hello, you’ve stepped back in time. As you gaze at life-sized portraits of John, Paul, George, and Ringo, you’ll hear all the Beatle-related sounds of that winter of 1964.

This gallery rocks with the Beatles’ hits from 1964 like “She Loves You” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” Visitors will see (and hear) plenty of images of chattering, screaming, sobbing, singing teenagers.

“We love you Beatles, oh yes we do…”

Image courtesy of theguardian.com

Image courtesy of theguardian.com

The exhibit also features news coverage of the Beatles landing in New York City including the now-classic press conferences where the lads from Liverpool proved themselves to be quick with clever one-liners. Robert Santelli, the music historian and critic who is executive director of the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles that put the exhibit together, said the press conference footage is one of his favorite parts of the exhibit.

“I love the press conference when they first get off the plane in America. We see the wit, their humor and their ability to respond to some of the silliest questions that any rock and roll band had to answer,” Santelli said. “They did it with such style and grace and wit. If you don’t think The Beatles were funny guys, all you have to do is watch the clips of the press conference.”

Santelli said the biggest challenge in putting together the exhibit was deciding what could be cut. There just wasn’t enough room for everything, he said.

hoto courtesy the Grammy Museum/Fab Four Exhibits LLC and Jonathan Blanc/The New York Public Library

Images courtesy of the Grammy Museum/Fab Four Exhibits LLC and Jonathan Blanc/The New York Public Library

“We found a number of collectors whose collections were pretty substantial so there was a lot of material for us to choose from—over 600 objects to choose from. And the library had a very large collection of items as well,” Santelli said. “In the years that the exhibit deals with—1964 through 1966, there was so much Beatles merchandise and Beatles related objects so it really was difficult to figure out which items to leave out.”

Clearly, Santelli and his team opted to include as much as possible. In one area of the gallery, for example, the exhibit shows a teenaged Beatles fan’s bedroom (Santelli said he recreated his own bedroom from his childhood growing up in New Jersey) complete with a Beatles record player, a transistor radio blasting Beatles songs, Beatles trading cards and Beatles posters on the walls.

hoto courtesy the Grammy Museum/Fab Four Exhibits LLC and Jonathan Blanc/The New York Public Library

Images courtesy of the Grammy Museum/Fab Four Exhibits LLC and Jonathan Blanc/The New York Public Library

In another section of the gallery, a Beatles “store” shows a staggering display of Beatles merchandise—lunch boxes, wigs, sneakers, books, pins, coin holders, coloring books and dolls. There’s even Beatles gum and Beatles cans of Nestlé’s Quik chocolate milk mix.

The exhibit also includes sections about what else was happening in American pop music when the Beatles hit America and some behind-the-scenes footage about the group’s appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”

The Beatles on the "Ed Sullivan Show" in 1967. Image courtesy of google.com

The Beatles on the “Ed Sullivan Show” in 1964. Image courtesy of google.com

While the bulk of the exhibit is devoted to the years the Beatles devoted to touring before retreating to the studio for the rest of the band’s existence, the rear of the gallery features three sections that link memories of the Beatles to the present day. In one area, documentary shows current and past rock icons, including Ringo Starr himself, reminiscing about the Beatlemania days.

In another section, a drum kit is set up to allow visitors to play the drums with instructions from Ringo. The final section of the exhibit is a recording booth where visitors can leave their memories about the Beatles and what the group’s songs mean to them now.

Fashion_Reverie21“I’m really excited about the oral history booth,” Santelli said. “This exhibit is going on tour after it closes in New York and we’re hoping to collect 25,000 reminisces. I think we probably have around 7,000 so far.

“Eventually we’ll keep all of the oral histories at the Grammy Museum. Fifty years from now, if people are writing a book on The Beatles, they’ll have all of these memories from people who were tremendously affected by The Beatles.”

—Karyn D. Collins

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