Ron Cohen previews an Off-Broadway season packed with Broadway names.
As is its custom, Off-Broadway is moving into the New Year with an eclectic array of musical offerings, packed with both revivals and new creations. Some boast prestigious names – including a batch of Tony winners from Broadway – and some are quite curious indeed. Here are some highlights for the early months of 2015.
Kansas City Choir Boy: A formidable persona from the rock world, Courtney Love, is one of the draws of this piece, which is part of Prototype, a festival of contemporary opera and musical theatre, one of the several showcases for boundary-breaking performance inhabiting New York during January. The show, written by singer-songwriter Todd Almond, is described as a “theatricalised concept album”. Almond and Love play a couple whose relationship evolves through the years, from small-town teenage sweethearts to adults going their separate ways. She’s an ambitious singer, he’s a non-ambitious songwriter. Love (Courtney, that is) is, as I’m sure you recall, is best known perhaps as the wife of the late Kurt Cobain and the leader of the raucous band Hole. The show’s brief run, already begun, continues until 17 January.
A 24-Decade History of Popular Music: 1900s-1950s: One of the most curious and intriguing endeavours of the season, this show is being created and enacted by Taylor Mac, a terrifically engaging performance artist whose stock continues to rise deliciously. This will be the first instalment in an epic project planned to cover 240 years of popular music. This section, starting 13 January, will be divided as well into two segments, each presented on different evenings: one stretching from the 1900s to the 1920s, and the second, from the 1930s to the 1950s. A five-decade marathon ends the run on 25 January. Mac, according to advance word, is to be joined on stage by ‘a ten-piece orchestra, dancing beauties and special guests’. The piece is a presentation of New York Live Arts, a venue for ‘innovative movement-based artistry’.
Texas in Paris Texas in Paris: You’re not seeing double; that’s the title. York Theatre Company is presenting this musical play about two strangers, an American black woman and an American white man, who are invited to perform together at the Maison des Cultures du Monde in Paris. Tony-winner Lillias White (for The Life) plays the woman, Scott Wakefield is the man. Writer Alan Govenar has based his work on a true story, and it features spirituals, cowboy songs and country hymns. Akin Babatunde directs for an opening on 5 February.
Hamilton: Lin-Manuel Miranda, the composer-performer who gained acclaim for his In the Heights, winning a Tony for Best Score, turns his attention from contemporary Latino New Yorkers to Revolutionary America, with his musical portrait of Alexander Hamilton, one of the country’s founding fathers and its first Secretary of the Treasury. Miranda is being joined by his In the Heights cohorts, director Thomas Kail and choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler. Besides Miranda, the sizable cast includes Broadway luminary Brian d’Arcy James. The official opening at The Public Theater is 17 February.
Into the Woods: While the Disney-produced movie of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s masterful fairy tale mash-up continues to light up movie screens, Roundabout Theatre Company’s Off-Broadway venue is providing a home for this pared-down version. It has been put together by the impressively imaginative Fiasco Theater group with ten actors plus one pianist. Opening is set for 22 January, after previews that started in late December. The production played to much acclaim earlier at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, New Jersey.
Brooklynite: Michael Mayer, the Tony-winning director of such Broadway shows as Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Spring Awakening and American Idiot, goes to work at the Off-Broadway Vineyard Theater to helm this new musical, for which he co-wrote the book. His co-writer is Peter Lerman, who supplies the music and lyrics. It concerns a store clerk who yearns to be a superhero and is said to be inspired by a real store in Brooklyn where such folks can buy capes, masks, tights and other gear they’ll need for their alter egos. The show officially takes flight on 25 February after nearly a month of previews.
John & Jen: This is a revival of an early work by Andrew Lippa, the songwriter whose Broadway credits include The Addams Family and Big Fish. For this show which played Off-Broadway in 1995, Lippa wrote the music and co-authored the book with its lyricist Tom Greenwald. It’s a two-actor piece, exploring the relationship of a woman with her younger brother, killed in the Vietnam War, and her son who carries his name. The show is being presented by Keen Company, whose artistic director Jonathan Silverstein is directing for a 26 February opening. Kate Baldwin and Conor Ryan make up the cast.
Encores!: This always eagerly anticipated series of pretty-much fully-staged productions of Broadway musicals from the past at New York City Center – although they still are labelled as concert versions – starts its 2015 season with George and Ira Gershwin’s Jazz Age hit Lady Be Good, playing 4-8 February. Guest-starring in the company is perhaps the tallest of Broadway legends, Tommy Tune, who’ll be portraying, we’re told, “a song-and-dance man with fascinating rhythm”. Danny Gardner and Patti Murin will play a sister and brother who crash a society garden party and determine to marry for money. Back in 1923, the roles were played by an actual pair of siblings named Fred and Adele Astaire. Mark Brokaw directs and Randy Skinner choreographs. Next up will be Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s Paint Your Wagon, directed by Marc Bruni with choreography by Denis Jones, playing 18-22 March. The three-show season ends 6-10 May with John Kander and Fred Ebb’s Zorba, with Walter Bobbie directing and Josh Rhodes choreographing.
New York Spring Spectacular: This Radio City Music Hall presentation is hard to classify. Is it musical theatre, spectacle or what? It headlines the Rockettes, the venue’s fabled chorus line, mixing it up with puppets, videos and a whole bunch of other stuff, something like they do in the Music Hall’s annual Christmas show. But the show, planned as a love letter to New York in the spring, also involves folks with considerable Broadway resonance: Tony Award-winning director-choreographer Warren Carlyle is overseeing the thing along with ‘co-creative directors’ Diane Paulus (another Tony winner) and Randy Weiner. Broadway songbird Laura Benanti will be inhabiting the gargantuan stage along with the Rockettes, and playwright Joshua Harman, who’s gained considerable plaudits for his non-musical comedy Bad Jews, is credited as ‘writer’. Celebrated names are recording voices for New York landmarks, which, we’re promised, will be re-created with lots of advanced stage technology. Whoopi Goldberg will be none other than the Statue of Liberty. As for a score, we can only assume it will be jukebox. Whatever it is, the show starts previews 12 March, opens 26 March and is to close on 3 May.