PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, May 18-24: Village Voice Shake-Ups, Murder Ballad Opens, Little Miss Sunshine Set for Second Stage

News   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, May 18-24: Village Voice Shake-Ups, Murder Ballad Opens, Little Miss Sunshine Set for Second Stage
 
It was a fairly quiet week around Times Square, news-wise, with everyone's mind on June 9, the date two weeks from now when the Tony Awards will be handed out.

Michael Feingold
Michael Feingold Photo by Krissie Fullerton

The award ceremonies, which increase in number with every year, continued apace. The major one this week was the 58th Annual Village Voice Obie Awards, which honors achievement in Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway theatre and have no nominations. A pall was cast over the ceremony this year when the Voice's longtime drama critic, Michael Feingold—arguably the heart of the Obies, since he's been on the nominating committee for decades and often served as its chairman—was handed his walking papers by the weekly's cost-cutting management just days before the event.

Feingold's departure marks yet another loss of a seasoned critical voice for the New York theatre, which has been losing critics at a breakneck pace. At this rate, in five years time the theatre beat will be covered by a half-dozen 23-year-olds who write for blogs. Feingold, 68, began writing for The Village Voice in 1971. His columns are known for the erudition and understanding of theatre history, both ancient and modern, and how current plays fit in with that continuum. Aside from John Simon, Feingold probably possesses more first-hand knowledge of New York stage history than any other currently working theatre critic. He's the sort of walking encyclopedia that can't be replaced.

Village Voice publisher Josh Fromson issued a statement, saying, "It is my sincere hope that Michael Feingold, named a two-time Pulitzer finalist for criticism, who has been invited to continue his association with the Voice by serving as Chairman of the Obie Awards, will accept this offer. We also hope that he will continue to contribute to The Village Voice."

Fromson is certainly a hopeful man. Why a staff veteran of 43 years would benevolently help to prop up—and probably without pay—the reputation of the paper that just axed him is anybody's guess.

Rebecca Naomi Jones
Photo by Joan Marcus

Anyway, the event went on regardless and awards were handed out. In a tie vote, the judges accorded the award for Best New American Play to Lisa d'Amour's Detroit and Julia Jarcho's Grimly Handsome. Other playwriting awards went to Ayad Akhtar for Disgraced and Annie Baker for The Flick. The play The Whale continued to net awards, getting one for lead actor Shuler Hensley. Prototypical downtown actor Matthew Maher received an Obie for Sustained Excellence. And the Lifetime Achievement prize went to the eminently dependable stage actresses Lois Smith and Frances Sternhagen, whose careers go back to the 1950s. ***

Murder Ballad, the new musical by Julia Jordan and Juliana Nash, that played an acclaimed, sold-out engagement at Manhattan Theatre Club's The Studio at Stage II, returned to the Off-Broadway stage, officially opening at the Union Square Theatre.

The production feature three cast members from the MTC run, John Ellison Conlee, Rebecca Naomi Jones and Will Swenson, who are joined by Caissie Levy. Levy steps into the role of Sara, the part originated by rising stage star and Tony winner Karen Olivo, who, back in March, made one of the more interesting and odd career exits in American stage history by posting a long blog item explaining that she was "starting over."

Critics again liked the tight, focused musical about the price of desire, betrayal and adultery, calling it hot and intense and praising all four performers.

William Finn

Another new musical, Little Miss Sunshine, by William Finn and James Lapine, announced it will make its New York City debut at Off-Broadway's Second Stage Theatre this fall. Based on the 2006 road-trip indy film of the same name, the musical has apparently undergone a major overhaul since its world premiere at California's La Jolla Playhouse in February 2011. It currently retains only three songs from that original version.

Lapine and Finn scored a major—and unexpected hit—with the last musical they collaborated on, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. That, too, played at Second Stage, before transferring to Broadway. Second Stage told The New York Times that there are currently no plans for a Broadway transfer after the show's Off-Broadway run, although Broadway producers Beth Williams and Barbara Whitman are providing some financial support for the fall production.

Ethan Coen
Photo by Doug Hamilton

The Atlantic Theater Company will return to the work of its second favorite playwright (after founder David Mamet, of course), Ethan Coen, in its upcoming season, which was announced this week. The season will open Aug. 28 with the world premiere of Coen's first full-length play, Women or Nothing, about "two women so desperate to have a child that one of them will even sleep with a man." The production will be directed by the ubiquitous David Cromer.

Also part of the season is a new production of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht renewed The Threepenny Opera directed and choreographed by Martha Clarke; and a new work by Stephen Adly Guirgis, seemingly on loan from the LAByrinth Theatre Company, where his work usually premieres. The play is called Between Riverside and Crazy...

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It's the little theatre miracle that keeps on happening.

Though the annual Tony Awards broadcast ceased to be a ratings winner, oh, decades ago, the CBS network has steadfast stood by this poorest relation of all award shows, presenting it faithfully, year after year, for the past 35 years.

This week, CBS announced a new broadcast agreement with The Broadway League and the American Theatre Wing that will keep the annual Tony Awards broadcast on the CBS Television Network through 2018.

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Finally, Academy Award-winning actor-director Clint Eastwood has been tapped to helm the screen adaptation of the Broadway hit Jersey Boys. Because, you know, Clint loves musicals. Remember "Paint Your Wagon"?

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