Tag Archives: broadway

‘Beauty and the Beast’ aims to enchant a new generation

In 1991, Disney struck gold with Beauty and the Beast. The film enchanted audiences and critics alike, and raked in several hundred million dollars along the way, but also upended expectations of what an animated film could be.

Not only did the New York Times theater critic controversially call it the best Broadway musical score of the year (spurring an actual Broadway show three years later), it also was the first-ever animated film to be nominated for a best picture Oscar.

Over a quarter century later, the legacy endures but times have changed, and there’s a new Beauty and the Beast on the block. Out March 17, the film is a lavish live-action reimagining of the “tale as old as time” with state-of-the-art CG splendor, Howard Ashman and Alan Menken’s classic songs and score (and a few new tunes with Tim Rice), and a modern social consciousness.

The film stars Harry Potter’s Emma Watson as the bookish heroine Belle, who yearns for adventure outside of the confines of her “small provincial town” and Downton Abbey alum Dan Stevens as the cursed and cold Beast. Their supporting cast is a coterie of veterans, including Kevin Kline (Maurice), Emma Thompson (Mrs. Potts), Ian McKellen (Cogsworth), Audra McDonald (Madame Garderobe), Stanley Tucci (Maestro Cadenza) and Ewan McGregor (Lumiere).

That Disney’s specific vision for Beauty and the Beast has lived on is no surprise, and its 13-year run on Broadway helped keep it in the cultural consciousness.

“It’s genuinely romantic, a genuinely beautiful story,” Menken said of its lasting appeal.

And then there’s the nostalgia aspect. For many (including the cast), this was a seminal childhood film.

Luke Evans (Gaston) saw it when he was 12, Josh Gad (LeFou) when he was 10, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Plumette) when she was 8. Suffice it to say, they all knew the lyrics to the songs before they were cast.

The remake is also part of the Walt Disney Company’s ongoing strategy to mine their vaults for animated fare worthy of live-action re-creations. Mulan, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin and The Lion King are just a few already in the works.

But that doesn’t mean there weren’t worthy updates to be made in Beauty and the Beast. Director Bill Condon (Dreamgirls) delighted in rooting the story in a specific time and place — 1740 France — and adorning every last corner of the production with Rococo and Baroque details.

Technology advances allowed the production to render household objects that look believable when brought to life. The Beast’s look, meanwhile, was achieved by combining performance capture and MOVA, a facial capture system, meaning Stevens throughout production walked on stilts and sported a prosthetic muscle suit with a gray body suit on top. (Yes, he danced in this getup).

The characters are more fleshed out as well. The Beast gets a backstory. As does Belle, whose independence looked refreshingly radical in ‘91 and goes even further here.

“She’s a 21st century Disney princess. She’s not just a pretty girl in a dress,” Evans said. “She’s fearless and needs no one to validate her.”

That the woman behind the character is also the UN women’s goodwill ambassador only adds to its resonance.

“I think Emma’s an incredible role model for young girls, as somebody who has two daughters but also has a young son who I want to grow up with these values instilled,” Stevens said.

And, in a tribute to Ashman, who died of complications relating to AIDS at age 40 before the ‘91 film came out, the production even unearthed forgotten lyrics from his notes, which they’ve added to two songs in the new film — Gaston and Beauty and the Beast.

While many of the beats, and even lines, remain the same as in 1991, the world looks more diverse from the very first shots. Faces of all races can be seen both in the grand castle and the country town.

“(Condon) wanted to make a film that was resonant for 2017, that represents the world as it is today,” said Mbatha-Raw.

Much has been made, too, of LeFou’s subtle “gay moment,” which put the internet in a tizzy far ahead of anyone actually seeing the film. On one side, GLAAD was applauding, on the other, a Facebook page apparently belonging to the Henagar Drive-In Theatre in Henagar, Alabama, announced that it would not be showing the film.

Many in the production have backed away from the topic entirely.

“To define LeFou as gay … nobody who sees the movie could define it that way. He’s enthralled with Gaston,” Menken said. “I’m happy that LeFou is getting so much attention. But I pray that this stupid topic goes away because it’s just not relevant with any respect to the story. Even the one moment that’s being discussed is just a silly little wink. It’s nothing.”

For his part, Gad thinks it’s been “overblown,” too, and that the story is more about “inclusiveness” and not judging a book by its cover.

“It’s a story with a lot of wonderful messages, and, really once you watch the film, anyone who is wondering what it’s all about will understand that it’s a beautiful story, inclusive of everyone. It’s a legacy that I’m proud to be part of,” Evans added.

“But you can judge Gaston by his cover,” he said with a smirk. “That’s exactly who he is.”

Play of George Orwell’s ‘1984’ coming to Broadway

A new British stage adaptation of George Orwell’s chilling dystopic novel 1984 is coming to an America where issues of “newspeak” and surveillance are quite relevant.

Producers Sonia Friedman and Scott Rudin said the play will open in June at the Hudson Theatre. Nominated for an Olivier Award, it was created by Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan. No casting was revealed.

First published in 1949, Orwell’s classic tale of a society run by Big Brother in which facts are distorted and suppressed in a cloud of “newspeak” has topped the Amazon.com best-seller lists.

The renewed interest comes on the heels of the Trump administration’s unfounded allegation that millions of illegal votes were cast against him last fall and an adviser coining the phrase “alternative facts.”

The creative team for 1984 includes Chloe Lamford (Scenic & Costume Design), Natasha Chivers (Lighting Design), Tom Gibbons (Sound Design) and Tim Reid (Video Design).

Barbra Streisand enlists pal Melissa McCarthy, Anne Hathaway and others for Broadway album

Sometimes even Barbra Streisand needs a little help from her friends. The 74-year-old stage and screen legend decided early on that her 36th studio album would feature Broadway duets.

So she called on some of her friends and favorite actors, including Anne Hathaway, Daisy Ridley, Hugh Jackman, Chris Pine and Bradley Cooper, to bring her vision to life.

The result, Encore: Movie Partners Sing Broadway, is a quirky mix of surprising and entertaining collaborations pulled from hit musicals like My Fair Lady and A Chorus Line, as well more obscure productions such as Evening Primrose and Smile.

Despite the group effort, the album is still authentically Streisand.

“Records I have control over,” said Streisand, who was hands-on with every aspect, from song conception to directing each performance.

“That’s what I cared about as a young performer as well. I didn’t know about what salary it was,” she recalled. “I cared about creative control. That nobody can tell me what to sing or force me to sing or album cover design or anything that had to do with my creativity. It had to feel right to me.”

In a recent interview at the oceanside Malibu, California, studio where she recorded Encore, Streisand delved into her directing process with some of the biggest names in Hollywood.

 

BALDWIN CAME READY TO PLAY

Streisand admitted that some stars took a little persuading. Alec Baldwin, for example, feared he didn’t have the vocal chops.

“And I said, ‘You’re a personality and it’s perfect for the song,” she said of her early conversations with the 30 Rock actor. “Will you try with me? Because if it’s really terrible we won’t use it. Will you experiment with me? Will you play with me?”

Luckily he agreed and the outcome is the cheeky, romantic duet, “The Best Thing That Ever Has Happened,” from Stephen Sondheim’s lesser-known musical, Road Show.

“It’s hard work getting the notes right for people who are not singers, but I know they can act their way through it. They’ll get it and that’s the fun of doing this kind of project,” Streisand said.

 

FUNNY GIRLS UNITE

Streisand wanted a new twist on the classic “Anything You Can Do,” from Broadway’s Annie Get Your Gun.

So the Funny Girl star tapped fellow funny lady Melissa McCarthy to reimagine the song as comedic banter between showbiz frenemies.

“When I approached Melissa, the first thing she said to me was ‘I can’t sing you know’ and so she’s a little bit tone deaf,” Streisand explained. “But she compensates with so much personality and so much laughter and so much spontaneity.”

Streisand recalled how McCarthy struggled to hit some of the notes, but other times she nailed it.

“There are moments she sings and I go, ‘Melissa that was fantastic! You sang that beautifully!’ And she surprises herself,” she said.

 

WILLY WONKA REIMAGINED

“When I was a child I had imagination. I lived in Brooklyn. You know, I slept in the living room. But I imagined myself as somebody, as having something worthwhile to be noticed and somehow I manifested it. So I know anything is possible,” said Streisand.

This was the idea behind her heartfelt duet, “Pure Imagination,” from the 1971 film, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

Streisand teamed with actor-filmmaker Seth MacFarlane for the dreamy ballad and penned a spoken-word introduction about imagination she hoped will resonate with modern audiences.

“The divisiveness, the violence, these are very sad times,” she said. “I just believe in the power of whatever it is _ faith, prayer, visualization … who knows what that can manifest?”

 

FOXX FOR THE FINISH

Streisand had full confidence that Jaimie Foxx would rise to the challenge of performing one of Broadway’s most-beloved songs: “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” from The Sound of Music.

“I did because I saw him get an Academy Award for playing Ray Charles. So I know he can sing,” she said. “His soulfulness, his great voice …. he was able to sing it in one session, you know. I mean he’s that good. So I was thrilled. I was thrilled to sing with him.”

Streisand closes the album with the soulful, moving duet, which she said is about “having dreams and taking chances.”

“Step-by-step we will get there,” said Streisand of her approach to any obstacle. “We will climb that mountain. You have to have faith in today’s world. Don’t you?”

 

On the Web

http://encore.barbrastreisand.com/

Before Broadway, ‘Miss Saigon’ to appear on movie screens

American audiences will get the rare chance to catch a sneak peek of the new Miss Saigon before it opens on Broadway next spring. They just have to go to a movie theater.

A filmed version of the musical’s live 25th-anniversary celebration in London will make its world premiere on some 175 U.S. movie theaters on Sept. 22, some six months before the same production with the same leading actors lands on Broadway.

The show captured the performance at the Prince Edward Theatre in London’s West End in September 2014 and was augmented by close-ups recorded a few months after the show closed there earlier this year.

The same stars — Jon Jon Briones as The Engineer and Eva Noblezada as Kim — are slated to appear when the show opens at the Broadway Theatre in March, but mega-producer Cameron Mackintosh isn’t worried the broadcast will cannibalize fans.

“It encourages business,” he said. “This is the greatest cinematic trailer for a theatrical production that’s ever been produced. I could be wrong, but I defy anybody who loves the show and isn’t bowled over by the film not to want to go.”

Miss Saigon, a tragic Vietnam War love story inspired by Giacomo Puccini’s opera Madame Butterfly, has songs by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg, who also wrote Les Miserables.

Mackintosh said he didn’t initially plan for a broadcast version of Miss Saigon, but was persuaded to capture the 25th anniversary of its West End arrival with a dozen cameras. A special finale was added that featured the original stars Jonathan Pryce, Lea Salonga and Simon Bowman — as well as Mackintosh making a surprise appearance.

He considered it one of the top three performances of Miss Saigon in its history. “Beyond just it being a wonderful performance, there was a sense of magic in the air,” he said. (As for Mackintosh himself, “I bounce around like an irrepressible ball.”)

He and his team decided to add documentary footage and fold in close-ups shot later. They reminded viewers it was a live event by not digitally removing the performers’ microphones and layering in shots of the audience going into the theater and their reactions at some scenes.

“What producer in his lifetime gets the chance to do a great show twice with two brilliant companies in two different productions? Not many people have ever had that opportunity,” said Mackintosh.

The final result is presented by Fathom Events, Universal Pictures and Picturehouse Entertainment. American audiences will see the same production from London directed by Laurence Connor and with its two stars. “They’re seeing what they’re going to get,” Mackintosh said.

When the revival finally arrives on Broadway, it will join other Mackintosh-produced works like The Phantom of the Opera and Cats, which returned this summer. (It will have missed his latest revival of Les Miserables, which closes next month after 21/2 years.)

“Thirty years on, to have my four great musicals of that era still firing on all cylinders is amazing,” he said. “I’m as enthusiastic about these great shows now as I was when I helped create them all those decades ago because, to me, they smell as if they’re absolutely freshly minted.”

 

On the Web

http://www.fathomevents.com

‘Scary Lucy’ no more: New Lucille Ball statue installed

A new statue of Lucille Ball was unveiled in the late actress’ hometown of Celoron, New York, to replace one that was so hated it was dubbed “Scary Lucy.”

Hundreds of fans chanting “Lucy! Lucy!” gathered over the weekend in Lucille Ball Memorial Park in the western New York village of Celoron to watch as the tarp was removed from the statue made by sculptor Carolyn Palmer.

An unflattering version by another artist was banished after detractors started a Facebook campaign named, “We Love Lucy! Get Rid of this Statue.”

The earlier statue’s creator, Dave Poulin, has said that he received death threats over the likeness. He apologized, calling his sculpture “unsettling,” but his offer to redo it for free was declined.

“Well, it’s been quite a ride,” Celeron Mayor Scott Schrecengost said as he kicked off the unveiling ceremony. “A little over a year ago, we got beat up pretty good.”

Schrecengost said that after the controversy over the earlier statue the town was “bombarded with all kinds of artists that would like to redo the statue.” He said Palmer was “the best sculptor we could have ended up with.”

Palmer thanked the “salt-of-the-earth” people of Celeron.

The crowd applauded as Palmer and Schrecengost unveiled the bronze statue, which shows Ball in a polka-dot dress.

Schrecengost said “Scary Lucy” remains an attraction and will be given another spot in the park.

The new statue was unveiled on what would have been Ball’s 105th birthday. The beloved star’s birthday is celebrated every year with the Lucille Ball Comedy Festival in nearby Jamestown.

This year’s festival started Friday. Headliners include comics Trevor Noah, Lewis Black and Brian Regan.

With ‘Gypsy,’ it’s young Capital City Theatre’s turn

Madison theatergoers will have one last Broadway splash before the summer doldrums set in when Capital City Theatre mounts a production of Gypsy June 17 and 18 at the Overture Center.

Considered by many to be the best musical ever written, Gypsy tells the tale of Rose, the consummate stage mother. She bullies, begs and boasts her way through vaudeville’s waning days to create a life for her daughters, transforming one of them into Gypsy Rose Lee, the world’s most celebrated burlesque artist. The musical is one of the first to feature lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, with music by Jule Styne.

CCT has upped the ante for this production by casting Broadway performer Michele Ragusa in the pivotal role of Rose, a character that has helped define the careers of Ethel Merman, Bernadette Peters and others who have played her. Broadway director Jeff Whiting will helm the semi-staged musical production, further strengthening the show’s pedigree in ways that CCT artistic director Andrew Abrams says will help the two-year-old company carve a deeper niche for itself in the Madison marketplace.

“We’re trying to become Madison’s first regional professional musical theater company,” Abrams says. “We hope to expand to a full season of musicals, including classic and contemporary shows, as well as new works and concert productions of lesser-known or hard-to-produce works.”

Gypsy will no doubt help those efforts along. The Wisconsin Gazette caught up with Ragusa and Whiting to find out more about the production and what’s in store for Madison audiences.

What was your first exposure to Gypsy?

Jeff Whiting: I’ll never forget (seeing) Bernadette Peters when I saw Gypsy for the very first time. I’ll also never forget the overpowering feeling I had afterwards about how powerful the theater can be. It moved me beyond words and I knew that I wanted to experience that feeling over and over. I suppose that’s one of the reasons I’ve stayed attached to the theater world with all of its ups and downs — to tell compelling stories through music and movement.

Michele Ragusa: My first exposure to Gypsy was auditioning for the Tyne Daly revival. After not getting cast as the “Hollywood Blonde,” I was still excited to see Tyne’s performance. She was transformative! I loved the show then and, after stepping into Rose’s shoes, even more so now.

Critics have described Gypsy as the greatest of all musicals. What does it have that other shows lack?

JW: I think Gypsy is considered one of the greatest musicals of all time because it ticks all the boxes of what makes powerful theater:

A strong story. It reaches to the core of anyone who’s ever had a dream. What are you willing to do, to sacrifice, to push, in order to get your dream. And, is it worth the cost?

The score. Nearly every single tune and lyric in this score has become iconic because of the melody and rhythm that connect so closely to the story.

The relationship: Gypsy explores the chemistry and relationships between a complex family and the pursuit of a dream on all levels.

MR: The overture, in my opinion, is the best one there has ever been. Talk about getting the audience into the spirit of the show!

Numerous actresses have played Mama Rose, including Ethel Merman who originated the role. What is your take on the character? Is she truly the worst of all show business mothers, or are there more dimensions here?

JW: Rose is probably the best-known stage mother there is. She’s driven by her determination to chase after her dreams, sometimes to excess, but she truly believes she’s doing what’s best for herself and her family. This is the reason so many great actresses are drawn to the character.

MR: The show takes place during tough times and I feel that Rose was a very sensual being. She knew how to use her wiles to get “favors”. I don’t think she’s a battle-axe or a monster, as some think. In her mind, there isn’t a person living who wouldn’t want to be in show business. This is her gift to her daughters, how she shows her love and devotion to them.

I also feel it’s important to show a real love between Rose and Herbie. The audience needs to see a real connection; otherwise, it’s just a “using relationship” and I don’t think, as an actress, you have anywhere to go with that.  Rose is a force.  I’m hoping the audience will see all the layers and colors that I’m going to paint her with.

Sondheim’s lyrics for the show were an early effort by one of Broadway’s most prolific composers. How well do these lyrics serve the Sondheim legacy?

MR: I think you can see how Sondheim’s creativeness was beginning to bloom. The lyrics here really do move the storytelling along and I think his rhymes in “Together, Wherever We Go” are delightful. His later works are much more complex, but I do think you can see the genius beginning to develop here.

JW: I think Sondheim’s lyrics are a huge part of the success of Gypsy. The juxtaposition of “curtain up” and “light the lights” set in the context of the play are pretty surprising and brilliant. I think the most surprising thing, though, is that Sondheim was originally asked to write the score, but Ethel Merman didn’t want an “unknown” doing the score. Stephen agreed to do the lyrics, but I find it a great reminder that every “unknown” has to start somewhere.

Gypsy is clearly a product of its time, yet it endures. What are the show’s deeper themes and does it still resonate with contemporary audiences?

MR: Gypsy has stood the test of time because its themes are universal.  I think the audience can relate to all the characters and their relationships.  The show also has such wonderful comedic moments that the balance between the drama and the comedy is perfect.

JW: The more things change the more they stay the same. We all have dreams. Some people seem to achieve their dreams more easily. Some people push harder until they get it. But at the heart of the show is what Rose says at the end: “I just wanted to be noticed.” I think we can all relate to that sentiment, and this is the reason the show hits at the core of today’s audience.

Capital City Theatre’s production of Gypsy runs June 17 and 18 at Overture Center, 221 State St., Madison. Tickets range from $25 to $45. Call 608-258-4141 or visit capitalcitytheatre.org.

Broadway embraces diversity, but have things really changed?

This season, the theater community is celebrating how Broadway has finally become the Great un-White Way.

Black actors have taken center stage in The Color Purple, The Gin Game, Eclipsed and Shuffle Along. A Latin cast shines in On Your Feet! and Asian-Americans told a bitter tale from America’s past in Allegiance. The season’s megahit Hamilton, of course, has multi-racial leads in its DNA.

At Sunday’s Tony Awards, 14 of the 40 nominees for acting in plays and musicals — 35 percent — are actors of color. And more non-whites are nominated on the other side of the stage, including choreographer Savion Glover, director George C. Wolfe and playwright Danai Gurira.

But this season’s diversity may be more a coincidence of timing than Broadway stages consistently providing an accurate reflection of America’s melting pot.

“The aligning of the stars has occurred this year where a lot of really spectacular work featuring multi-racial casts and a true photograph of what the world and America really looks like is performing on Broadway night after night after night,” says The Color Purple producer Scott Sanders. “Will we see this being the norm moving forward? I’m not so sure.”

Neither is Pun Bandhu, an Asian-American actor and a member of the Asian American Performers Action Coalition’s steering committee. The group is the only one that collects data on Broadway’s diversity — it started collecting it nine years ago — and it offers a sober outlook.

According to its latest report, non-white actors haven’t ever in the past nine years represented more than 26 percent of all Broadway roles. Though numbers for the current season aren’t ready yet, the numbers for minority roles last season actually dipped to 22 percent, down from the previous season’s 25 percent.

“What last year’s numbers prove is that while we may be having an extra diverse year this year … that’s not usually the case,” said Bandhu. “It hasn’t changed that much actually on Broadway.”

The numbers suggest improvements one year, then a drop-off the next. The 2013–14 season was rich with roles for African-Americans, including A Raisin in the Sun starring Denzel Washington, Audra McDonald channeling Billie Holiday in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill and the dance show After Midnight.

There were also African-Americans in roles previously performed almost exclusively by white actors, like James Monroe Iglehart as the Genie in Aladdin, Nikki M. James and Kyle Scatliffe in Les Miserables, and Norm Lewis becoming the first black Phantom on Broadway in The Phantom of the Opera.

That season, black actors represented 21 percent of all roles. But the next season, the number fell to 9 percent.

This ebb and flow is nothing new to Stephen C. Byrd, a veteran Broadway producer behind this season’s Eclipsed. He recalls a diverse Broadway when he produced an all-black revival of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in 2008.

Back then, Morgan Freeman was starring in The Country Girl, Laurence Fishburne was in Thurgood and such shows as Passing Strange, In the Heights and the original run The Color Purple were playing.

“That was a time of great diversity on Broadway,” said Byrd, who produces minority-driven works with Alia Jones-Harvey. “We’ve been at this for 10 years and it’s taken from that time to come to where we are today to see that same diversity on Broadway.”

This season, Byrd is watching as Broadway is cheered for its inclusiveness at a time when the film industry has come under heavy criticism for a lack of diversity in the Academy Awards. There’s even been the bragging hashtag #BroadwaySoDiverse to rival #OscarsSoWhite.

But next season isn’t shaping up to be a #BroadwaySoDiverse sort of year.

While black actresses will lead Cats and Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812, and African-American actors will be represented in revivals of Motown: The Musical and August Wilson’s Jitney, the lead actors are so far all white for the upcoming The Cherry Orchard, Heisenberg, The Glass Menagerie, The Master Builder, The Present, The Bandstand, Hello, Dolly!, The Little Foxes, Les Liaisons Dangereuses, and Falsettos.

Of the six leading parts in Holiday Inn, only one will be played by an actor of color. All six leading roles in a revival of The Front Page will be played by white actors.

“As a producer, you have to be aware that audiences are demanding diversity. They want to see themselves reflected on the stage,” said Bandhu. “I think it has been proven that diversity is good for Broadway.”

Box office data shows that overall Broadway grosses are flat , meaning producers will have to attract new theater-goers, including minorities, if they want to see profits to go back up.

One such person used to be Daveed Diggs, an actor and rapper who earned a Tony nomination in his Broadway debut in Hamilton. Raised in the Bay Area, Diggs said he never went to Broadway when he visited New York.

“As someone who was on the outside of it, who’s always been on the outside of it, there is an elitism that you feel coming from Broadway,” he said. “I didn’t care because it didn’t seem like they cared about me.”

Liesl Tommy, the South African-born and Tony-nominated director of Eclipsed, has made it her mission to change that feeling, hiring people of color for the creative team and onstage. “To think that you are not part of the problem is a grave mistake,” she said.

Perhaps her most influential work is actually far from Broadway — the 2,000 seat theater at Disneyland where she directed a stage production of Frozen that will be seen by up to 10,000 people a day.

“One of the things I had to advocate for was diversity in casting, says Tommy, who has watched people — black and white — in tears as a young black actress belts out Elsa’s anthem “Let It Go.”

On Broadway, no show has more captured the cultural mood like Hamilton — connecting musical theater to hip-hop and celebrating minority actors. Other important firsts were made in non-traditional casting, including Sophie Okonedo in The Crucible and Forest Whitaker in Hughie.

But even in this diverse season, there were some sour notes, as when Dames at Sea included grotesque racial stereotypes and a revival of Noises Off — a farce about the making of a stage show — had no minorities among its nine-member cast.

“The message that that sends is that, ‘Theater is for white people.’ For a show that is supposed to celebrate the industry as a whole, it really is glaring that people of color were completely omitted from that,” Bandhu says.

He urges producers to push for non-traditional casting — he congratulates “Waitress” for hiring non-whites for two-thirds of the lead actresses — and putting minority actors in lead roles.

“Hopefully things like Hamilton start to change the curve a little bit. The penny starts to drop. When you start seeing more visible talent from actors of color and you start seeing them populating stages, then their absence becomes even more stark.”

The Tony Awards broadcast on CBS at 7 p.m. June 12. Actor and The Late Show star James Corden will host. Visit tonyawards.com for more details.

Duncan Sheik reconsiders an ‘American Psycho’ and makes beautiful music

The first time Duncan Sheik read the disturbingly gory novel American Psycho, it didn’t go well. He got halfway through the book before throwing it across his dorm room in disgust.

“I remember being, frankly, kind of off-put by the style and the tone of the book and obviously the violence was just very hard to read in my tender, 21-year-old soul at the time,” the singer-songwriter says.

Some two decades later, he was urged to try again by producers hoping to turn it into a musical. Sheik bought another copy of Bret Easton Ellis’ book ahead of a trip to Japan. This time, he kept it.

“I was completely absorbed by it and completely amazed by how prescient Bret Easton Ellis had been in this crazy story that he had written. He kind of predicted so much of where the culture was headed,” says Sheik, who wrote the music for the Tony Award-winning Spring Awakening.

Now Sheik is ready to let Broadway audiences hear how he turned the provocative 1991 novel about a psychopath into one of the season’s bravest pieces of musical theater. American Psycho opens April 20.

“Even though it’s violent and it’s bloody, it’s also beautiful and really avant-garde and really cool,” says Sheik, who grounded the musical’s sound in electronic dance music of the era.

The story centers on yuppie serial killer Patrick Bateman who is obsessed with high-end clothes and beauty products as he slashes his way through Manhattan. Christian Bale starred in the 2000 film version.

“The book really is an allegory to me. Patrick Bateman is an avatar of a lot of impulses that happen to a lot of people in our culture, including myself,” says Sheik, a Buddhist who bikes around the city and whose new album is the terrific Legerdemain. “I see these incredibly materialistic sides to myself and this weird judgmental and non-compassionate part of my being. It’s part of the human condition. We all have it to some extent.”

Sheik, a Brown University graduate who had the 1996 hit song “Barely Breathing,” channeled the music he heard getting past the velvet ropes of trendy, late-1980s Manhattan clubs such as Tunnel and Nell’s into the score for American Psycho. In one standout song, “You Are What You Wear,: he even reached out to old girlfriends to ask a question: What were you really into wearing in the late ’80s? He put the answers in the tune about high fashion that rhymes Giorgio Armani with Norma Kamali.

The result is producer Jesse Singer’s favorite song from the musical and proof of how playful and clever Sheik can be. “Duncan is really a genius and an intellectual and brings something both uniquely his but importantly of this period to the stage,” says Singer.

Benjamin Walker stars as Patrick Bateman in the musical adaptation of 'American Psycho.' Photo: Jeremy Daniel
Benjamin Walker stars as Patrick Bateman in the musical adaptation of ‘American Psycho.’ Photo: Jeremy Daniel

Because Bateman — played onstage by Benjamin Walker — is an armchair music critic who likes Huey Lewis and the News and Phil Collins, Sheik also peppered his score with sly reworkings of “In the Air Tonight” and “Hip to Be Square.”

The show, directed by Rupert Goold and with a story by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, made its premiere in late 2013 at the Almeida Theatre in London. The version in New York will be much wilder.

“We were all sort of worried that it might be too violent for people and it might seem too misogynist,” says Sheik. “But, in fact, the truth is this piece is a critique of a certain way of thinking about things. So in truth it’s better to go all-in.”

He even got a chance to ask Ellis whether the craziness that Bateman gets up to is really happening or is just in his head. “Brett would not answer the question because I think he wants it to be really ambiguous,” Sheik says.

Either way, Sheik is hoping his brash soundscape for American Psycho does the same thing his fresh songs for Spring Awakening did a decade ago: Attract new audiences to something bold onstage.

“I feel like it’s become my project to drag different people who might not normally go to musical theater pieces to come see a piece of musical theater,” he says.

 

On Broadway: ‘Blackbird’ is brilliant

It turns out there is a place more uncomfortable to be on Broadway than a bullet-ridden hut watching sex slaves try to preserve their humanity. That would be among the audience watching the harrowing — and absolutely brilliant — revival of “Blackbird.”

David Harrower’s play is so intimate and emotional and charged that it makes “Eclipsed” seem like a comedy in comparison. It’s also impossible to stop watching because both characters are fully realized and equally sympathetic.

That’s hard to do, since one is a woman who was sexually abused 15 years ago when she was 12 and the other is the man, who at 40, was the one who seduced her. It is a rich stew of anger and shame and love that opened recently at Broadway’s Belasco Theatre.

Michelle Williams plays the spiky, vengeful and still-broken victim, and Jeff Daniels is the stressed-out, humiliated one-time aggressor. With this indisputably superb cast, the play ducks and weaves enough to take your breath away under Joe Mantello’s taut direction.

The woman arrives unannounced during closing time at her former abuser’s place of employment, a nondescript modern, soulless office. He has served prison time, changed his name and has started a new life, even becoming involved with a woman his own age.

Daniels plays the man suddenly made raw, slightly bowed and disheveled as he is reminded of his horrific past. In her presence, he fights the reemergence of tics and is absent-mindedly obsessed with picking up the litter in the break room where they meet, as if he could make everything clean again.

There is also harshness to Daniels’ character, and he goes to the edge of violence to try to get out of having this confrontation, here and now. He’s protective of the new life he created and suspicious of his visitor’s motives. He even rifles though her bag to see if she’s got a weapon.

“I didn’t agree to this,” he says.

“I lost more than you ever did,” she replies.

While the play’s topic might initially put some off, this cast makes the spare and human dialogue soar. These are two actors at the top of their game, holding back nothing. At a recent preview, the audience was absolutely rapt, the theater silent. It gets so intimate you might be embarrassed to be so close.

Williams arrives for the confrontation in a girlish dress and high heels and a burning anger. She wants admissions and details and, above all, an explanation. “I hate the life I’ve had,” she tells him.

She toys with Daniel’s character at first, aware that he is under pressure by the presence of co-workers, who ghostly walk past the frosted windows. Phones bleat all the time, adding to the stress. Soon, she reveals the longing in her hurt and her own culpability in the relationship. It is an utterly heartbreaking performance.

In one beautifully realized moment, Williams delivers her 12-year-old version of events in a monologue that spills out like poetry as the office’s neon lights darken save for one illuminated square above her (Brian MacDevitt did the perfect lighting). In another splendid scene, the two actors unleash their frustrations on the room (Scott Pask did the spot-on scenic design).

By the end, it’s clear this is not a battle about the past as much as the future. Can the woman even find peace and move on? Can the man show he has changed? Will the past always rule us forever?

On Broadway …

Blackbird.”

New adaptation of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ heads to Broadway

Harper Lee’s classic novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” — and its now-somewhat sullied hero Atticus Finch — are heading to Broadway in a new adaptation written by Aaron Sorkin.

Producer Scott Rudin said Wednesday the play will land during the 2017-2018 season under the direction of Tony Award winner Bartlett Sher, who is represented on Broadway now with the brilliant revivals of “The King and I” and “Fiddler on the Roof.” No casting was revealed.

Sorkin’s plays include “A Few Good Men” and “The Farnsworth Invention.” He won an Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award for his screenplay for “The Social Network,” which Rudin produced, along with Sorkin’s other films “Steve Jobs” and “Moneyball.”

The book has been made the leap to the stage before, including a 1991 adaptation by Christopher Sergel, which premiered at New Jersey’s Paper Mill Playhouse. There also was a production in 2013 that had a run at London’s Barbican Theatre with Robert Sean Leonard in the role of Finch, the noble widower and lawyer called upon to defend a black man accused of raping a white woman in Depression-era Alabama. This new version will mark the story’s Broadway debut.

“To Kill a Mockingbird,” published in 1960, introduced Finch, Scout, Boo Radley and other beloved literary characters. The book was adapted into an Oscar-winning movie starring Gregory Peck as Atticus and has become standard reading in schools and other reading programs, with worldwide sales topping 40 million copies.

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1961, and widely praised as a sensitive portrait of racial tension as seen through the eyes of a child in 1930s Alabama, it also has been criticized as sentimental and paternalistic.

Last year saw the publication of Lee’s recently discovered manuscript, “Go Set a Watchman,” described as a first draft of the story that evolved into “Mockingbird.” Critics and readers were startled to find the heroic Atticus of “Mockingbird” disparaging blacks and condemning the Supreme Court’s decision to outlaw segregation in public schools.