Friday, January 30, 2009

Prognosis for Brandeis and Rose Art Museum not good

Louis Brandeis, after whom the University was named, believed n finding the best way to do something, and then to do it. It is doubtful he would consider dismantling a museum to pay for the temporary shortfall and failures of the current administration and trustees.

When Michael Rush, the Director of the Rose Art Museum says "it's over" should we take him at his word, or is he under orders to parrot the party line of the university bosses? From the Boston Globe:

Michael Rush, the museum’s director, was greeted with applause as soon as he stepped to the microphone but had a dire prognosis for the museum.

“The Rose is over,” he said. “The Rose as we’ve known it is over.”

Even if there were hope of saving the museum, no donors would be willing to give money or art after what has unfolded this week, he said.

Following that story, perhaps the best comment ever comes from David Shapira: "More than Madoff and Rubin, Reinharz and the trustees bankrupted Brandeis - financially, academically, and morally - by betraying the trust of generations of past donors, removing a collection which brought the art world's scholars from afar, and most tragically, by forever removing one the great incentives for future donors worldwide to choose Brandeis as the guardian of their treasures."

"Now, unless the Rose is made a perpetual museum beyond the reach of administration shylocks - Brandeis future donations will plunge permanently - destroying the great opportunity of a diverse Jewish voice in the wilderness."

A voice in the wilderness? AAM’s President Ford Bell urges a different course of action for Brandeis.

In my previous entry, I hinted at the preferred policy of the IRS when disbanding large institutions like an arts museum. They do not like to see collections sold, and prefer to see them handed over to another nonprofit that can safeguard their future. This concept was underlined in a statement from the American Association of Museums:

"If it cannot afford to maintain and exhibit its collection, we urge Brandeis University to seek another steward of it. There are many fine museums in the region capable of caring for these works, even on a temporary basis, while the university explores other options. In choosing an alternate solution to the sale and irrevocable loss of the collection that was entrusted to its care, the university would serve as a role model for its students, faculty and community."

Of course the issue is not that Brandeis can or can not afford to maintain the museum, it certainly has not been a drain on the university, quite the opposite. The problem is that the trustees and administration appear to view it as nothing more than a convenient cash cow to be plundered to cover their own shortcomings.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Brandeis Makes a "Bone Headed Decision" to Close the Rose Art Museum

The Rose Art Museum by Harrison Abramovitz Architects (1962). Photo from the Saatchi Gallery, UK.

The decision by the Trustees of Brandeis University to close the Rose Art Museum and sell off its huge art collection is just the most recent example of the financial panic taking place in boardrooms across America. Following the announcement yesterday, Brandeis students are in an uproar, the arts community in shock.

More and more details are becoming clear as other bloggers ferret out the details. Some to check out are ArtFagCity, ModernArtNotes, The ArtLawBlog and NewsGrist.

And there is a petition you can sign.

The story so far. First, the $700 million dollar endowment of the university has declined from its earlier heights. Then the board faced a stubborn $10 million dollar budget shortfall for 2009. Solution? This drastic measure. By selling the Rose Museum's valuable collection they both erase the deficit and restore the endowment without having to go out and do the hard work of fundraising in a troubled economy.

But many think this is both lazy and the coward's way out. It is the wrong solution because the long term consequences are actually quite dire. Like ex-President Bush they leave the mess for someone else to clean up. Ask any development director. This supposed easy fix is going to poison their relationship with donors for decades to come.

The museum holds well over 6,000 works by artists such as Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein. Their combined value is believed to be in excess of $350 million - though in a declining art market it could well be less.

Someone has to point this out, too: it really isn't necessary. The University won't fold without it, most of it is just going to be plowed right back into that deflated endowment, perhaps to be pissed away on more poor investment choices. The Board's operation is not very transparent but if the endowment declined, it was the trustees who ok'd the unsuccessful investment strategy.

Sebastian Smee, art critic at the Boston Globe sees it as panic, and calls it "unconscionable."

No stranger to controversy himself, former Boston arts maven David A. Ross calls it a "boneheaded decision." He sure got that right. Here's his take on it:

"The Rose represented a critically important aspect of the American Jewish identity. How sad that a board blinded by fear would act so foolishly. I hope that Michael Rush, Lois Foster, John Lee and all their friends in the American art community, will continue to raise their collective voices in opposition to this bone-headed decision. It is both stupid and wrong in so many ways.

As ICA director in the 1980's I was always thrilled to visit the Rose, and see the lively exhibition program, and its unique and important collection. The Rose is a vital part of the New England cultural ecology, and its disappearance will impoverish the region and the nation. "

Rose Museum Director Michael Rush, inexplicably cut out of the process. Photo by Charles Giuliano.

Jehuda Reinharz, president of Brandeis, said that financial challenges facing the university forced the museum closing. Rose Museum supporters said they were simply cut out of the process. Even director Michael Rush only learned of the move late Monday afternoon, when he was informed by provost Marty Krauss.

On the Brandeis website, the Rose describes the works it holds as a "Permanent Collection". The Trustees have broken that trust by now making it a "Disposable Collection."

Trust between the donor and the institution is needed to make such collections possible. No doubt in the past there were promises made and assurances given to donors. With this announcement, these bonds have been broken. One can only imagine the hurt and humiliation felt by generous supporters who not only gave millions of dollars to Brandeis, but their most treasured possessions as well. In pursuing this course, the Trustees didn't consult with the Rose Museum's Board, Staff or Donors. This arrogant act is an embarrassment to such a fine educational institution. Such lack of respect for the donors and their feelings is a major gaffe.

There is little question that they will now enter into a series of lawsuits to unravel the codicils and conditions that came with the donations. How much is that going to cost them?

Alexis' Rockman's solo exhibit "The Weight of Air" at the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis featured paintings that depicted weather-related phenomena, including "Grey Twister, Green Field."

Initially, the Brandeis leadership answered questions of legality by declaring that this sale was ok'd by the Massachusetts Attorney General and its division of Public Charities. Turns out that this was quite presumptuous.

Emily LaGrassa, a spokeswoman for the Attorney General's office, said that Brandeis notified the agency Monday afternoon of its plans, after the trustees voted unanimously to shut down the museum. While Brandeis spokesman Dennis Nealon said at the time that the attorney general's office "has not balked at this at all," a university attorney amended that statement yesterday morning. And LaGrassa confirmed that the office has not offered an opinion on any aspect of the proposed sale.

So it appears that this was more wishful thinking on the part of the Brandeis Trustees than fact. This is far from a done deal.

No doubt it won't be long before some outraged donor sends off a letter to the IRS asking that they review these actions as well. This should be the real concern. IRS regulations are complex, and have specific rules that apply to closing an institution and disposing of its assets. Brandeis can not even rely on court precedents. The IRS often does not follow such legal rulings - or even its own precedents - in situations like this, but holds itself apart from them. Many challenges are argued anew, each decision unique.

Meanwhile, Brandeis is taking a beating among its various constituencies. No doubt it will see its applications decline, its gifts and bequests diminish. Controversy does not build donations.

The effects of this decision will spread far beyond their campus. Anyone who is considering donating art to a University is now likely to think twice. Already there is talk about only loaning works of art, or putting serious limitations on how it may be sold or traded. Colleges and universities with museums will pay the price for this decision in both fewer, and more complicated gifts of art.

Dana Schutz has had a retrospective of his work shown at the Rose Art Museum.

Part of the justification used to explain the decision of the trustees was that education is more important than running an art museum, and that education, not art, was their primary responsibility. If that's the logic, then do the trustees know that they also have a building chock full of books - is their mission to operate a library? Or a theater?

Their rationale clearly does not hold up if they continue to teach about the arts and arts administration.

Hundreds, perhaps thousands of people who love both art and Brandeis worked for fifty years to make the Rose Art Museum the treasure that it is. Indeed the Museum had its own board, benefactors and mission.

That the University Trustees view the Museum as nothing more than a treasury to be raided is a crime. Perhaps they have joined those who see higher education as a sort of glorified vocational school, preparing people for jobs, not for life. How typical of our times.

As Mark Favermann comments in his Berkshire Fine Arts report:
"At Brandeis University, the Philistines are not just at the gate but are actually running the institution."

Here are the names of the Trustees. It is not known which of these made the actual decision:

Malcolm L. Sherman, Chair
Jack M. Connors Jr., Vice Chair
Gershon Kekst, Vice Chair
Perry Traquina '78, Secretary
Rhonda Zinner, Treasurer
Jehuda Reinharz, PhD'72, President

Henry Aboodi '86
Allen B. Alter '71
Leonard J. Asper '86
Alex Barkas '68
Charles Bronfman
D. Ronald Daniel
Jonathan G. Davis '75
Donald G. Drapkin '68
Daniel J. Elkaim '81
William S. Friedman '65
Morton Ginsberg '56
Thomas P. Glynn, PhD'77
Vartan Gregorian
Sylvia Hassenfeld
Jonathon S. Jacobson
Daniel J. Jick '79
Kenneth S. Kaiserman '60
Stephen B. Kay (former chair)
Carol Kern
Dolores Kohl '55
Meyer Koplow '72
Myra H. Kraft '64
Thomas H. Lee
Jeanette Lerman '69
Stuart Lewtan '84
Barbara A. Mandel
Walter S. Mossberg '69
Louis Perlmutter '56 (former chair)
Ronald A. Ratner '69
Stephen R. Reiner '61
Robert S. Rifkind
E. John Rosenwald Jr.
Carol R. Saivetz '69
Lynn Schusterman
Michael H. Steinhardt
John Usdan
Linda Whitlock
Barton J. Winokur (former chair)
Paul M. Zlotoff '72

Saturday, January 24, 2009

In The Heights: This Week's Discounted Broadway Pick

Here's another top Broadway show at a discount.

In the Heights is a Tony Award winning musical that is a journey into one of Manhattan's most vibrant communities, where the coffee from the corner bodega is light and sweet, the windows are always open, and the breeze carries the rhythm of three generations of music. In The Heights is the musical that feels like a visit with new friends.
Acting: Olga Merediz and Mandy Gonzalez.

Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Dancing: Robin De Jesus and Marcy Harriell.

We have found a great ticket dea with seats as low as $41.50 for Rear Mezzanine seats at all performancesin rows G-H; and at $50.24 for Mezzanine A-F rows (except Saturday night). There are also seats at $73,50 for Orchestra and Front Mezzanine Tuesday to Thursday and Sunday evening. Friday and Saturday evenings, and Sunday matinee are $85.50.

To get this deal, which is about 40% off the regular prices, you have to call 212-307-4100 and use code NYT33. This offer is good for performances through March 15 only.

The show is playing at the Richard Rogers Theatre, 226 West 46th Street.

The original model for the set of In The Heights
What the Actual Set Looks Like

Blithe Spirit Returns with an All-Star Cast and We Have DIscounts!

Noel Coward wrote the play which first debuted on Broadway in 1941.

Announced to begin previews on February 26 and open March 15, Noel Coward's timeless Blithe Spirit is going to be the hot ticket on Broadway this Spring. With an incredible cast of previous Tony Winners, my prediction is that it will sweep up most of the Tony's in 2009 too. Just look who has been signed for the revival of this Noel Coward classic comedy:

Christine Ebersole plays Elvira

Christine Ebersole plays Elvira, the Blithe Spirit who is invoked at a séance. Not an etherial or floaty kind of ghost, but more of a petulant brat, she does not float gracefully about, but delights in teasing her now remarried husband Charles (Rupert Everett) and antagonizing Ruth - the current wife - to be played by Jane Atkinson.

Jayne Atkinson plays the current wife Ruth

I saw Atkinson this past summer as Candida in the superb Berkshire Theatre Festival production of the GBS play which is reviewed here. If you are near the Berkshires where Atkinson resides, she will appear at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington, MA on January 31 at 3pm as part of Symphony Space's Selected Shorts program. “Starting Over: Stories for a New Year.” This hit radio series will be presented live on the Mahaiwe stage with host Isaiah Sheffer, and actors Jayne Atkinson and David Strathairn reading funny and moving stories by Susan Sontag, Laurie Colwin and Percival Everett, about making a new start.

Angela Lansbury as Madame Arcati might look a little like this...

Madame Arcati, who loses control of the session with the spirits is, of course, played by the fabulous Angela Lansbury. Michael Blakemore who directed Lansbury in 2007's Deuce, directs. The only relatively calm and sane characters are the Bradmans, neighbors and friends of the Condomines played by Simon Jones and Deborah Rush.

The Noel Coward story is a classic. Novelist Charles Condomine, living with his second wife, Ruth, invites a local medium, Madame Arcati, to his house. His intention is to do some research into the spirit world for his new book. But he gets more than he bargained for when Arcati conjures up the ghost of Charles first wife, Elvira. Caught between one live wife and one dead wife — both jealous of the other — Charles thinks matters couldn't be worse.

Rupert Everett makes his Broadway debut as the husband Charles, confronted with two wives.

This production will be housed at the historic Shubert Theatre at 225 West 44rd Street just off Broadway. This link to Blithe Spirit discount seats - as low as $36.50 - must be ordered ASAP since they will go fast. This offer is good through April 12. On sale are Orchestra and Front Mezzanine seats at $59.50 for Tuesday to Thursday performances. These same locations rise to $69.50 for weekend performances. Rear Balcony seats for all performances are just $36.50.

To order you can call 212-947-8844 and mention the code BSNYTW6. You can also visit and use the same code.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Finally the Truth: Inauguration Quartet was Faking It

Not real music.

When Yo Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, Gabriela Montero and Anthony McGill began playing "Air and Simple Gifts" it was clear that this was a fake performance - the sync of the vibrato and rubato were off. From the sham "piece written for the occasion by John Williams" which was more like a copied and cribbed version of the Aaron Copland ballet, Appalachian Spring, to the quartet itself, it was all fake and phony.

Turns out that all the intense feelings on the faces of the players was nothing more than acting. The inner workings of the piano had been disassembled, and Yo Yo Ma had silenced his cello by putting soap on the hairs of his bow. All of this trickery is detailed in an article by Eric Felten in the Wall Streeet Journal.

"They were forced to perform to tape because of the weather" said Carole Florman, a spokeswoman for the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies. Yet the Marine Band and chorus that performed that day played without needing a recorded backup. The quartet had recorded the music the previous Sunday at the Marine Barracks in Washington, and those who run these kinds of events would have you think it was used as a "last resort". The players weren't exactly lip synching, but timed their bowing, blowing and pounding to complete the effect.

Yo Yo Ma put soap on the hairs of his bow to make sure no sound at all came from his "pretend" playing.

Now, having played a violin outdoors a few times myself, I know how quickly strings can go sour under such conditions. Then there is the huge disappointment I felt when after hearing that John Williams had composed something for the inauguration, and expecting perhaps something like Fanfare for the Common Man we get a rehash of a rehash. After all, even Aaron Copland had cribbed his melody from an old Shaker hymn.

What we were left with was fakery, and I guess, a nod to classical music. But even CNN decided to talk over the performance, philistines that they are. Or maybe they knew it was not real music.

The arts community is in the midst of a major campaign to have a Cabinet Secretary of the Arts.

Are you kidding me?

Keep politics out of the arts. All it does is encourage mediocrity.

if you are curious as to what kind of music the new President really enjoys, and live music does seem to be in favor, you can read all about what music he and Michelle danced to on Inauguration Night, and employed around the city before and after his big day.

O.K. I'll shut up now.

Presidential Oath of Office, Take Two

Take Two
All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts

...and it might also be said that they occasionally blow their lines, as President-elect Obama and Chief Justice Roberts did at the inauguration ceremony."Take One" was anything but flawless, they both stumbled over their script.

In the first go-around, Chief Justice John Roberts botched the wording, deviating from the language in the Constitution. Following along, Obama repeated the mistake.

The New York Times had fund with this, speculating: "How could a famous stickler for grammar have bungled that 35-word passage, among the best-known words in the Constitution? Conspiracy theorists and connoisseurs of Freudian slips have surmised that it was unconscious retaliation for Senator Obama’s vote against the chief justice’s confirmation in 2005. But a simpler explanation is that the wayward adverb in the passage is blowback from Chief Justice Roberts’s habit of grammatical niggling."
Take One
"Out of an abundance of caution," White House Counsel Greg Craig said in a statement, Obama decided to retake the oath Wednesday.

The world of politics is such that some evil soul somewhere would challenge the legitimacy of the inauguration. So Chief Justice John Roberts, black robe in hand, was ushered into the Map Room at the White House Wednesday night to re-administer the oath of office to President Barack Obama. All because one word was out of sequence.

"OK, Mr. President, that's a take!"

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Chad Allen on "Save Me" DVD and in Person in "Looped"

The versatile Chad has been acting since he was five.

Chad Allen's film "Save Me" was released on DVD yesterday, while Washington, DC's Arena Theatre has confirmed that he will co-star with Valerie Harper in Looped. On its way to Broadway, Looped is the story of Tallulah Bankhead, the original celebrity bad girl, which begins as she enters a studio to re-record (or "loop") one line of dialogue for her final film. What ensues is a showdown between an uptight sound editor and the outrageous legend.

Valerie Harper and Chad Allen in Looped.

Four time Emmy winner Valerie Harper plays Talllulah, to Chad Allen's soundman in Matthew Lombardo's riveting new play. It is slated for May 29 through June 28, 2009 at Arena Stage's Lincoln Theatre. We will write more about this production closer to the opening.

Save Me comes to DVD at last.

Meanwhile, Allen's "Save Me" which had its premiere at Sundance in 2007 has finally made it to DVD. Save Me is a deft exploration of the controversial ex-gay movement. The story follows Mark (Chad Allen), a drug-addicted young man who overdoses and finds himself at the mercy of his disapproving family.

Their solution to Mark's problems is to check him into a Christian run ministry overseen by Gayle (Judith Light), who believes she can help cure young men of their 'gay affliction' through spiritual guidance. At first, Mark resists the efforts of Gayle and her husband Ted (Stephen Lang), but soon finds solace and brotherhood with several of the members, including Scott (Robert Gant), who is battling family demons of his own.

Chad Allen and Robert Gant in Save Me.

When Mark and Scott begin to find their friendship developing into an unexpected romance, both are forced to confront the new attitudes they're beginning to accept, and Gayle finds the values she holds as an absolute truth to be threatened.

Directed by Robert Cary, from a screenplay by Robert Desiderio, Save Me is a love story that offers a complex and timely examination of one of the most polarizing religious and sexual debates in America, while intricately showing the way love (for oneself, most importantly) can heal in all its various forms.

I just checked, and it is now available at Netflix.

Edward Albee's A Delicate Balance Next for Arena Stage

Illustration by Jim Salvati

A Delicate Balance is a searing play which won the 1967 Pulitzer Prize, and Edward Albee himself is helping guide the cast and creative team in this provocative new staging. Experienced Albee collaborator Pam McKinnon directs, and Albee himself has already made an appearance as the Arena Stage prepares the work.

Featuring Broadway stars Kathleen Chalfant (Wit, Angels in America), Terry Beaver (Henry IV, The Last Night of Ballyhoo), Ellen McLaughlin (Angels in America) and Carla Harting (Eurydice),joined by Helen Hedman and James Slaughter, A Delicate Balance runs February 6–March 15, 2009 at Arena Stage in Crystal City, Virginia.

L-R) Ellen McLaughlin as Claire, Kathleen Chalfant as Agnes, Terry Beaver as Tobias, and Carla Harting as Julia in A Delicate Balance at Arena Stage in Crystal City February 6—March 15. photo by Scott Suchman

“Albee is fearless about writing stories that get us in the solar plexus, and he does so with his brilliant wit, dynamic storytelling and rigorous use of language,” shares Artistic Director Molly Smith. “His work draws the best artists, and with this production audiences are fortunate to have an enormously strong cast and creative team—approved by Albee himself.”

“A Delicate Balance is a mountain of a play, at once domestic and existential, both funny and harrowing,” says MacKinnon. “It is a true joy to come to rehearsal to wrestle with this potent classic that seems perfectly written for our precarious times and having Edward around is always a treat. The actors feed off his insights and it's a great shortcut to actually hear the author's intent.”

The play explores the complicated family life of Agnes and Tobias, a retired couple living in suburban America with Agnes’ alcoholic sister, Claire. Agnes and Tobias’ house becomes unexpectedly full when their daughter, Julia, returns home after yet another failed marriage and their friends Harry and Edna move in without warning. Free-flowing cocktails, secret histories and unspoken boundaries create the prickly climate of this American family.

Tickets may be purchased online at and by phone at (202) 488-3300.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Raisin in the Sun set for the Guthrie March 12 to April 11

Franchelle Stewart Dorn in Penumbra Theatre's A Raisin in the Sun, coming to the Guthrie. Photo by Peter Jennings

The Guthrie will host Penumbra Theatre’s production of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, directed by Lou Bellamy. A co-production with Arizona Theatre Company and The Cleveland Play House, the presentation marks the 50th anniversary of the show’s groundbreaking Broadway opening, and arrives at the Guthrie on the heels of two highly-lauded regional runs in Ohio and Arizona. A Raisin in the Sun previews March 12, opens March 13 and plays through April 11, 2009 on the McGuire Proscenium Stage.. Tickets are now on sale through the Guthrie Box Office at 612.377.2224.

A recent widow, Lena Younger (Franchelle Stewart Dorn) wants to use her husband's insurance money to buy a home for her family, freeing them from the cramped tenement in which she, her two children, daughter-in-law and grandson live. Her son, Walter Lee (David Alan Anderson), is determined to invest the money in a business - an opportunity for him to be his own man and not just the driver for his white boss. Lena refuses; in her eyes a house is a sturdy thing to build a dream on, one that can relieve the strains that poverty has put on the family. But when a white representative of the neighborhood "welcoming committee" presents the Youngers with an offer to buy them out of their home to prevent integration in their community, the dream of the house quickly becomes a nightmare.

The title comes from the opening lines of “Harlem,” a poem by Langston Hughes

“What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?”

David Alan Anderson plays Walter Lee. Here he is seen in a 2004 Berkshire Theatre Festival production of Blues for an Alabama Sky. Kevin Sprague Photo.

A Raisin in the Sun was nominated for four Tony awards when it opened on Broadway in 1959, lauded by The New York Times as a show that “changed American theater forever.” For the first time in history a production hailed an all-black principal cast, a black director and a black playwright. Its 29-year-old author became the youngest American and the first black playwright to win the New York Drama Critics’ Best Play of the Year citation. Marking its 50th anniversary, A Raisin in the Sun brings to life the inspiring classic story about a working class black family struggling to make it in America.

Frank Theater's By the Bog of Cats slated for the Guthrie

By the Bog of Cats is set in rural Ireland.

The Frank Theater's production of Marina Carr’s By the Bog of Cats, is slated for the Guthrie’s Dowling Studio March 12-April 5, 2009.

Set in rural Ireland, By the Bog of Cats is an uncompromising tale of abandonment and shocking self-sacrifice. Hester Swane is a woman born of gypsies and tied to the bleak landscape of the bog where she has lived her whole life. Her lover, Carthage Kilbride, with whom she has a young daughter, is about to be married to younger woman who will bring him land, wealth and respect. Discarded and ignored, Hester sets out with a reckless fervor to reclaim the life that she had.

Virginia Burke plays Hester Swane in Bog of Cats.

In this loose retelling of Euripides' Medea, Marina Carr blends the mythic with the modern, populating the Bog of Cats with misfits, witches, and ghosts. The stellar cast includes Virginia Burke, Anneking, Melissa Hart, John Catron and others.

Tickets are now on sale through the Guthrie Box Office at 612.377.2224.

Shrek the Musical using discounts to build their audience

It isn't easy being green.

It's a sweet, big and lovable show. They just recorded the original cast album a few days ago - it is due out in March - and Shrek should be a sure thing on Broadway as word of mouth spreads among families. So for the next few weeks, through March 15 and the end of winter, you can get steeply discounted tickets. So while Shrek saves the Princess, you will save the money.

They are offering the $110 Orchestra and Front Mezzanine tickets at $68 for Tuesday-Thursday evenings and Wednesday matinee, and $45 for Rear Mezzanine. For Weekend evenings and matinees, the discount is less, $80 for the better seats, $55 for the Rear Mezzanine. ( usually $120-65). Shrek is playing at the Broadway Theatre at 53rd Street.

One of Shrek's big production numbers.

This discount has expired.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Broadway's Phantom of the Opera at Half Price

Broadway Ticket Deal of the Week

Can it be more than two decades since the legendary Phantom of the Opera first opened on Broadway? I wonder how many different people have played the key roles since the first performances with Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman.

A phalanx of Phantoms

POTO is likely the most spectacular show on Broadway, and if you haven't seen it yet, have I found a deal for you. Half price tickets you can order by phone for performances between now and March 13, 2009. Tickets for orchestra and front mezzanine seats are just $60 for Monday to Friday evenings and Wednesday matinees. There are even some Saturday matinee tickets at $70. The only blackout dates I know of - so far - are February 14 and 16. Other dates will no doubt be added after this post appears and tickets continue to be gobbled up.

For the Broadway production, the roles of Christine and the Phantom are currently being performed by Jennifer Hope Willis and John Cadia.

So here is the deal. Just call 212-947-8844 and use code PHNYTW9. You can also go to and enter the same code number.

Tim Martin Gleason as Raoul has spent most of his adult life with Phantom.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Guthrie Planning for Beckett's "Happy Days"

"Wait for the happy day to come when flesh melts at so many degrees and the night of the moon has so many hundred hours." - Winnie, Happy Days

Sally Wingert will take on the character of Winnie while Richard Ooms transforms himself into Willie. Photos by Mike Habermann.

From Minneapolis comes news of a fresh production of Samuel Beckett's two-character drama Happy Days to be directed by Rob Melrose. Undertaking the complex roles of Winnie and Willie are Guthrie veterans Sally Wingert and Richard Ooms.

Preview performances begin February 14; Opening February 18 and slated to run through March 8, 2009 at the Dowling Studio of the Guthrie.

Fiona Shaw talks about Beckett and Happy Days

Productions of Happy Days always create a lot of buzz, and this print interview with Fiona Shaw is enormously insightful as is the video (above) which I discovered through Douglas McLennan and his Arts Journal video feature.

Beckett's intense and concentrated two-character drama features an eternally optimistic Winnie inexplicably buried waist-deep in a mound of earth, clinging to her life of arbitrary routines and rituals. Her husband, Willie, appears from time to time and replies only occasionally to her cheerful chatter, a source of comfort as she remains ever hopeful that "this is going to be a happy day." With its vivid sense of the bizarre and a blend of humor and compassion, Happy Days represents one of the Nobel Prize-winning writer's finest works.

The Guthrie's Dowling Studio is a state of the art black box theatre, seen here before it is configured for "Happy Days". Michal Daniel photo.

As with most of Samuel Beckett's works, the play is minimalist, concentrated to the bare elements needed to make Winnie's resilience apparent in the stream of her thoughts and emotions, allowing the Irish playwright, poet and novelist an opportunity to offer a penetrating and uncompromising exploration of the human condition. As is the case with all of Beckett's work for the stage, Happy Days is an utterly spare and precise play, with every detail carrying the exact weight and degree of importance determined by the author.

Sally Wingert in the 2008 Guthrie Theater production of Wendy Wasserstein’s THIRD. Seen here with Tony Clarno. Directed by Casey Stangl, set design by John Arnone, costume design by David Kay Mickelsen, lighting design by Marcus Dilliard. Photo by Michal Daniel.

Another view of Sally Wingert in the Guthrie's THIRD, Photo by Michal Daniel.

Co-founder and artistic director of San Francisco's The Cutting Ball Theater, Melrose previously directed Pen (2007) in the Dowling Studio, and served as assistant director for the Guthrie's 2003 production of Othello. He leads an artistic team that includes Michael Locher (Set Designer), Christine Richardson (Costume Designer), Frank Butler (Lighting Designer), Michael Lupu (Dramaturgy), Martha Kulig (Stage Manager) and Meaghan Rosenberger (Assistant Stage Manager).

Single tickets are priced from $18 to $30, with opening night priced at $34. Tickets are now on sale through the Guthrie Box Office at 612.377.2224, and online at at the Guthrie website.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Matthew Modine for Hartford Stage's To Kill a Mockingbird

Matthew Modine

Matthew Modine will make his Hartford Stage debut as Atticus Finch in the eagerly anticipated stage adaptation of Harper Lee's classic novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. Drama Desk Winner Hallie Foote will also be featured. Michael Wilson will direct the production, which will play at the Tony Award-winning Hartford Stage, February 19 - April 4.

Hallie Foote photo by Jim Cooper.

Matthew Modine has worked with many of the most highly regarded film and stage directors, including Oliver Stone, Stanley Kubrick, Robert Altman, Alan J. Pakula, Spike Lee, Tom Mike Figgis, Jonathan Demme and John Sayles. 

A partial list of his films include Birdy, Married to the Mob, Vision Quest, Full Metal Jacket, Gross Anatomy, and Shortcuts. 

Matthew Modine on stage at the Old Vic

Modine last appeared on stage in Arthur Miller's Resurrection Blues, directed by Robert Altman at The Old Vic in London.  He also worked with Arthur Miller in Finishing the Picture, directed by Robert Falls at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago.

To Kill a Mockingbird is a tender portrait of a southern town, brimming with powerful lessons of tolerance, justice and quiet heroism.  Scout and Jem are growing up in the Deep South during the 1930s depression.  Their idyllic childhood is jolted with the realization that prejudice and bigotry rule in their small town when their father, a lawyer of principle and integrity, is asked to defend a young black man falsely accused of raping a white woman.

Also announced today in the cast for Mockingbird are Devon Abner, James DeMarse, Hallie Foote, Jennifer Harmon, Nafe Katter, Doug Lyons, and Olivia Scott.

Matthew Modine on the red carpet.

Tickets for To Kill a Mockingbird are currently on sale at the Hartford Stage box office at 860-527-5151 or visit Hartford Stage online.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Heather Woodbury returns to Steppenwolf to give a Stripper's HIstory of the World

Heather Woodbury, Photo by Scott Groller

The mind of Heather Woodbury is a wonder to behold and Chicago audiences last saw it at work in the 1998 Steppenwolf production of What Ever: An American Odyssey In 8 Acts, a challenging 10 hour, 100 character play and performance novel presented over four evenings.

What Ever was last seen at Steppenwolf in Chicago in 1998

Woodbury the plawright, historian, actor, whatever, returns to Chicago and Steppenwolf for one night only on Tuesday, March 3, 2009 to perform her newest work, The Last Days of Desmond "Nani" Reese, 
A Stripper's History of the World
 which will be Directed by Abigail Deser
and is written and performed by Woodbury.

Here is the concept: In the year 2014, a young "ethno-femino-dance anthropologist" travels to post-quake, post-drought Los Angeles to research her 10,000 page dissertation on "The History of the World, as Told by Loose Women." Her final subject: the half-mad, 108 year-old legendary stripper Desmond "Nani" Reese, who is holed up in a bramble-covered shack with 27 cats. Woodbury channels the voices of these two unlikely heroines, illuminating the lives of outlaw women through the ages.

The story is about a 108 year old fallen woman who is still falling. Her story is told in snippets and pieces, combining into a collage of the American experience. Fiction becomes reality.

Heather Woodbury

The Austin Chronicle summarized it this way: "The Last Days compares strippers and storytellers, whores and academics, sex workers and artists, all of which has been done before. This time, the play humanizes them and leaves them all at the end without much cover."

This is clearly not light fare for general audiences, but for theatre-goers with a taste for the wild, wicked and complex. Laurie Anderson has called Woodbury a one-woman Dickens.

But the best thought of all is from the Irish Times: "What if the great American novel turned out to be a piece of theatre?"

Last Days of Desmond "Nani" Reese: A Stripper's History of the World (90 minute length) debuted May, 2007 as part of City of L.A. Individual Artist Fellowship program.

Heather Woodbury in action.

To date it has received the following productions :
2008 February
Bang Theatre, L.A. Producer: Fomenting ARTS & Bang
2008 April
Women's Center Stage Festival, Culture Project, NYC
2008 May
Vortex Theatre in Austin, Texas Producer: Vortex

For more information on Steppenwolf and all their upcoming productions.

Visit the home of Heather Woodbury.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Next to Normal at Arena Stage. Washington, D.C.

(top)  Aaron Tveit as Gabe, (second row - behind the scrim - L-R) Alice Ripley as Diana, Louis Hobson as Dr. Madden, (front row, L-R) J. Robert Spencer as Dan, Jennifer Damiano as Natalie and Adam Chanler-Berat as Henry. Photo by Joan Marcus

Around the beltway, even the pols are talking about the big musical hit at Arena Stage in Washington, DC, but there are only two more weeks in which to see it. Pre-inauguration visitors are gobbling the tickets up, so get your ducats asap. The show, if you haven't heard by now, is Next to Normal which arrived at Arena Stage shortly after its premiere production at Second Stage Theatre in New York City.

“This is a musical that gets under your skin,” comments Arena's Artistic Director Molly Smith.

Next to Normal is a contemporary musical that explores how one suburban household copes with crisis. With provocative lyrics and an electrifying score of more than 30 original songs, Next to Normal shows how far two parents will go to keep themselves sane and their family’s world intact.

(L-R) Aaron Tveit as Gabe, Alice Ripley as Diana and J. Robert Spencer as Dan at Arena Stage in Crystal City through January 18, 2009. Photo by Joan Marcus

The music is by Tom Kitt, book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey and direction by two-time Tony nominee Michael Greif (Broadway’s Rent, Grey Gardens), The cast includes Alice Ripley (Side Show), Aaron Tveit (Wicked, Hairspray), Adam Chanler-Berat and Jennifer Damiano (Spring Awakening) reprise their roles from the Second Stage production and are joined by J. Robert Spencer (Jersey Boys) and Louis Hobson.

Aaron Tveit (R) will be familiar to Berkshire audiences who saw him at Barrington Stage as Matt in Calvin Berger, seen here with David Perlman (L) as Calvin. Kevin Sprague Photo.

For those who haven't been to DC in a while, the company is currently rebuilding its 47-year-old Southwest DC theater campus which includes the Fichandler Stage and the Kreeger Theatre. Its reopening is slated for the 2010/2011 season. It currently operates out of Arena Stage in Crystal City and the historic Lincoln Theatre.

Visit their website for excerpts of Next to Normal and news of their next production, Irving Berlin's I Love A Piano, to run January 29 to February 15 at the Lincoln Theatre.

Aaron Tveit as Gabe, J. Robert Spencer as Dan, Alice Ripley as Diana, Jennifer Damiano as Natalie, Adam Chanler-Berat as Henry and Louis Hobson as Dr. Madden at Arena Stage in Crystal City through January 18, 2009. Photo by Joan Marcus. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Innovation is not only on the stage

Arena Stage is well known for its theatrical creativity, but this company goes the extra step. Its Board and administration have undertaken some pretty remarkable initiatives.

For example, when the investment banks failed and Washington was consumed with the economic rescue, Arena held a "Bail Out" ticket sale. Knowing that uncertain economic times creates uncertain ticket sales, they offered a one-day only "bail out" ticket sale. During these 24 hours, all tickets were $25 each for the first week of performances to all remaining seven shows at Arena Stage. This represented a savings of up to 60% off regular ticket prices for more than 25,000 tickets. According to Laura Bloom, Arena's media relations associate, the total number of tickets sold during this sale was 6,661 for an income of nearly $200,000. Pretty incredible, folks.

(L-R) J. Robert Spencer as Dan and Alice Ripley as Diana in Next to Normal at Arena Stage in Crystal City through January 18, 2009. Photo by Joan Marcus

The other program I find impressive is called "Send a young person to the theater" and it is both an educational and audience development initiative. These programs are largely sponsored by contributions both from individuals and grant givers. Arena Stage gives thousands of free and heavily discounted tickets to local students, forfeiting over $100,000 of revenue in the process, but insuring the growth of future audiences for theatre. Thank you!