“It could be argued that James Houghton, who died this week after a battle with cancer, did more for the American theatre during the past quarter-century than anyone else—playwright, director or producer, man or woman, anyone the average theatregoer knows by name.”
That about says it. Charles Isherwood of the New York Times wrote those words in an appreciation published by the newspaper August 3, one day after Houghton, the founder of the Signature Theatre Company and, for a quarter century, its artistic director, died at the age of 57.
Create a theatre company dedicated to the work of playwrights—specifically one playwright, per season. A simple idea, no? Only logical, right?
Except that, in 1991, when Houghton, a former actor who was then barely in his 30s, did just that it was considered a radical idea. Even worse, an uncommercial idea. But, idealistic and dedicated to the purity of the mission, he did it anyway. And within three years—and three seasons, dedicated, in order, to Romulus Linney, Lee Blessing and Edward Albee—he had succeeded in turning the tiny troupe into a cherished New York theatre institution.
Even more unbelievable: the company endured and thrived and, by 2012, when it moved into its purpose-built, Frank Gehry-designed, three-theatre home on West 42nd Street, it was a national theatre powerhouse. It did nothing less than offer a new lease on life to dozens of playwrights, both young and old, and therefore injected into the lifeblood of the American theatre a steady dose of iron and oxygen and who-knows-what vitamins.
Isherwood’s words were not journalistic hyperbole, a lede intended to grab a reader’s interest. They are mere fact.
Stephen Sondheim doesn’t turn out musicals today like he did in the 1970s. So even the news that he might have a new show in the works makes headlines.
The composer stated during a talkback at the Glimmerglass Festival this past weekend that a new musical, a collaboration with playwright David Ives, will likely be produced Off-Broadway by the Public Theater in 2017.
The project, said Sondheim, is two acts, the first based on Luis Buñuel’s movie The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972), the second on The Exterminating Angel (1962). The musical, Sondheim said, is about “trying to find a place to have dinner.” The first deals with interruptions to dinner, the second is about “people who have dinner and can’t leave,” which “is my cheerful view of the world today.”
Sondheim has drawn on European film for inspiration before. A Little Night Music was based on Ingmar Bergman’s Smiles of a Summer Night.
Representatives for the Public Theater could not confirm the 2017 production, but stated, “We are happily developing the Buñuel project with Stephen Sondheim and hope to present it in the near future but no set date has been confirmed.”
Good enough for us!
Like ‘90s-themed parties? Then, you’re going to love Broadway right now and in the months to come.
This week, when the opening-night curtain went up on the new revival of Cats, composer Andrew Lloyd Webber had three shows running on Broadway.
The other shows are the long-running The Phantom of the Opera and new School of Rock.
The first time Lloyd Webber enjoyed this distinction was in 1990; Phantom and the original production of Cats played simultaneously with Aspects of Love in the early 1990s and with Sunset Boulevard in the mid 1990s. It happened again three other times during that very Lloyd-Webber-y decade.
The reviews on Cats were mixed to poor, suggesting that Cats reputation as an innovative work had faded with the years and that the new production was both too familiar and not familiar enough.
“The overriding spirit of the revival appears to be the familiar motto: Don't mess with success,” said the Times. “Once again, the production is directed by Trevor Nunn, with sets and costumes by John Napier. Once again, a Broadway theatre has been transformed into a grungy London junkyard, where trash piles up against the walls and spills out into the auditorium—albeit on a somewhat smaller scale.”
“Today, Cats feels experimental only in the sense of writing a show as if Oklahoma! and Company never happened,” wrote Time Out. “Lloyd Webber's ability to craft a coherent book musical has always been shaky. Cats is an attenuated high-concept revue that grows tedious by its second act.”
“To be fair, Cats is not quite as bad as cultural elites liked to suggest; there were far worse shows during its 18-year run,” opined New York magazine. “But Cats was both pretentious and déclassé, dragging the musical form down from its recent supposed glory just as it dragged Eliot down from Prufrock to Pouncival.”
The major new elements to the show, the choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler and the Grizabella of Leona Lewis, got some knocks.
“Memories could be fatal to this revival of Cats—specifically, the memory of Betty Buckley as Grizabella, singing ‘Memory’ as it's meant to be sung, with heartbreaking beauty and exquisite pain by a great stage performer. Leona Lewis, the British pop star anointed by Andrew Lloyd Webber himself, isn't in her league.”
Cats’ ‘90s stage-mate Miss Saigon is returning to Broadway, British megaproducer Cameron Mackintosh announced.
This will be a transfer of the hit 2014 London production, which had new staging by Laurence Connor and revised book and lyrics by Michael Mahler. Previews begin March 1, 2017, and the opening is set for March 23 at the Broadway Theatre—the same playhouse where the original Broadway production opened in 1991.
As previously announced, also crossing the Atlantic will be the two London stars, Eva Noblezada, a 20-year-old from North Carolina, as Kim; and Jon Jon Briones as the Engineer.
The revival will run less than a year on Broadway, with performances scheduled through January 15, 2018, before launching its national tour later in the year.
And there is more British mega-musical news!
Broadway may get a transfer of the recent hit London revival of Sunset Boulevard, according to The New York Post.
The paper said producers Paul Blake and Mike Bosner want to import the English National Opera production into Broadway's Palace Theatre for 20 weeks starting in January 2017. Glenn Close has been rumored for the lead.
When is the last time a playscript flew off the shelves?
The playscript of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two, which was released at midnight July 30 to coincide with the opening of the play in London, has set a book-selling record.
It sold 680,000 print copies in the first three days of release, according to a report in The Stage. That makes it the fastest-selling book since the 2007 release of the final Harry Potter novel, which sold upwards of 2.6 million copies in its first seven days.
The book hit number one on Amazon.com, and by mid-morning August 1 had already become the best-selling book of 2016 on the site.
Whether it be the top-selling play of all time is hard to say, since many of Shakespeare's classics have been on sale for hundreds of years in an untrackable number of editions. Shakespeare trumps everything, always.
Still: impressive! Publisher Scholastic has ordered a printing of 4.5 million copies, dwarfing the sale of most playscripts, which generally peak in the thousands.
You write a play, it’s a big hit in London and New York and then—nada, zip, nothing. For decades.
A Taste of Honey was a big hit on Broadway for English playwright Shelagh Delaney in 1960. It was revived briefly in 1981. Then, all went dark.
Until now. The Pearl Theatre Company announced casting this week for the Off-Broadway revival of A Taste of Honey. The production is helmed by Austin Pendleton, an actor and director old enough to have seen the original production.
Performances are set to run September 6-October 16 at The Pearl Theatre.
Don’t worry about composer Duncan Sheik, just because his musical American Psycho closed so quickly on Broadway. He’s got another show up his sleeve.
Sheik and singer-songwriter Suzanne Vega will premiere a workshop of their new musical about renowned Southern writer Carson McCullers at Texas’ Alley Theatre.
The show is titled Lover, Beloved: An Evening with Carson McCullers, and is part of Alley All New, an initiative at the Houston-based theatre that works to support playwrights and new work.
Jackson Gay will direct the show, performed by Vega and Mary Chieffo.
How big a deal was James M. Nederlander, Sr. in the American theatre? This big a deal: the longtime patriarch of the Nederlander theatre-owning dynasty, who passed away July 25 at age 94, was honored not only by the Broadway tradition of dimming the marquee lights; the theaters in Chicago also dimmed their lights.
Theatres dimming their lights in honor of Nederlander this week included Chicago’s Oriental Theatre (24 W. Randolph), Cadillac Palace Theatre (151 W. Randolph), The PrivateBank Theatre (18 W. Monroe) and the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place (175 E. Chestnut).