It’s a formulation that we are supposed to buy into right away. Like the art world and the two artists being played with an almost all-too-knowing nod straight to the audience. In Anthony McCarten’s provocative but ultimately tiring play, The Collaboration, the historic icons on display leap at us, in a way, demanding to be taken in through an artful lens. We do want to believe, as we do in theatre, and we try, but, as directed by Kwame Kwei-Armah (Donmar’s One Night in Miami), the Artistic Director of the Young Vic in London, the painted strokes are too forced, and much too obvious to be taken for anything deep or meaningful. It shines, but in a way that doesn’t register, becoming an artifice of pop commercial culture, prepared and presented with purpose, not for anything but the market. Which may be as apropos of the product as anything up on that stage.
Recognizable mainly because of the wig, courtesy of Karicean “Karen” Dick (“Michael Jackson: Searching…“) and Carol Robinson (“Burlesque“), Paul Bettany (“A Very British Scandal“; West End’s An Inspector Calls), the wig designers for the show, the play cryptically fashions an Andy Warhol characterization that is appealing to watch and easy to engage with, but I’m not quite sure it registers as authentic. The first scene finds him being convinced by his art dealer, Bruno Bischofberger, played pleasantly by Erik Jensen (LCT’s Disgraced), to collaborate with Basquiat, for a purpose that feels artfully inauthentic, or at least, superficial. It’s money and fame, that is at the heart of this pressuring, and there is lots of ego in the arm twisting. I guess we are to accept that as enough, even when history tells us this isn’t exactly how it went down. But in McCarten’s play, the two punch plot formulation is presented basically to power this Collaboration through to the end. It’s like watching an up-and-coming boxer coming into the ring with an already famous one standing there already, reluctantly lacing up his gloves for the sole reason of trying to hold on to some of the glory he has amassed. But the stakes aren’t high enough emotionally in this formulation to care, so I’m not sure I understood the point, beyond that the world is forever fascinated by these two artists, even when they aren’t doing anything all that interesting.
But it is the over-the-top dramatization of Jean-Michel Basquiat, by the usually solid Jeremy Pope (Broadway’s Choir Boy; Ain’t Too Proud…), that pulls the play sideways. He gives us a tortured artist, full of dynamic twitches and some hypnotic gazing out into the audience, that feels as authentic as a poorly drawn cartoon. It consistently feels like Pope is playing to the crowd, giving us a cutout wax figure full of despair and troubled angst, wrapped in addiction and trauma-fueled delusion. I can’t say I know enough about the man to really say if that is an accurate portrayal, but it did feel performative as if the fourth wall kept being pulled down just so we, the audience, could get a good look at the damaged famous man that we are so drawn to, rather than trust our understanding of the creation and its subtlety.
The music is pumped up and DJ’d in as we walk into MTC’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre before The Collaboration has even begun, giving energy and the air of the period and place we are partaking in, thanks to the compelling images that take us back in time, courtesy of projection designer Duncan McLean (Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes at City Center). It elevates the crowd, bringing them to their feet to dance to the music and feel the rhythm of the rhyme. With a compelling set and exacting costumes designed by Anna Fleischle (Broadway/West End/Young Vic’s Death of a Salesman) with lighting by Ben Staton (Broadway’s A Christmas Carol) and a sound design by Emma Laxton (Young Vic’s Blood Wedding), the piece has all the elements of fine art in the making, but flounders in the splash of obvious choices by writer McCarten, who is also the book writer for A Beautiful Noise, another paint-by-the-numbers jukebox show on Broadway, that one about the life and legend of Neil Diamond. Another by the books engagement.
The Collaboration focuses our gaze in on these two influential and culturally important figures that blew apart the art world and reformulated it in very distinct and compelling ways. But the play fails to find a bridge to cross from one space to another, even as we watch them try to unpack the process before them through bickering, complaining, disengaging, and filming. It never feels organic, especially the dialogue, and it doesn’t seem to have anywhere to go. Assistance to given by the inclusion of Krysta Rodriguez (MCC’s Seared) as one of Basquiat’s more engaging girlfriends, but even with her ragtag representation, her inclusion never truly registers beyond being the bearer of bad news and complications. Had she not entered the space, the play would not require too much more to stay on track.
Beyond some facts and figures that are thrown in for history’s sake, as if I was speed-reading Wikipedia about the two influencial artists, I waited and waited for a dramatic arc that would take me to a place of deeper understanding and engagement. It never really comes, beyond superficial ramblings about beauty, fame, drug addiction, and the idea around an artist’s ambition and drive. But nothing beyond the skin deep. It left me with the feeling one gets when one opens up an old box of postcards from fantastic and famed art shows seen in the past. We remember the idea and a few of the visuals, but sometimes, not much more. That’s about as complicated or deep as the thought and the memory gets from the postcard image of art made into a product. And we will place it back in the box and move on with our life, not really able to take in the image that was manufactured for our consumption on a postcard that was never sent. It’s a pleasant enough memory, but not one that enlightens or deepens the understanding. Unfortunately.
My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond.
Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible!
As it seems you all love a good list, here's two.
FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order):
Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date.
Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008
Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007
Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my last...so far),
Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009
FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different):
Angels in American, both on Broadway and off
Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987
Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012
Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986
And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list.
These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading.
And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy.
For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com
Photograph: Eugene Gologursky/Getty Images for Macy’s, Inc.
Join the Judy Garland and Fred Astaire tradition with the Easter Bonnet Parade on Fifth Avenue. There is also the Orchid Show at the New York Botanical Garden or right at home the flower show at Macy’s. On select Fridays every month, you can enjoy Free Admission to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum between 5 pm and 9 pm.
Until 4/9: Macy’s Flower Show. The show includes beautiful, bright floral arrangements, special events including live music, and kids’ activities.
until 4/23: This is The Orchid Show‘s 20th year. Reconnect with nature while experiencing the picture-perfect beauty of the orchids. On select nights, adults can experience the exhibition through Orchid Nights, with music, cash bars, and food available for purchase.
4/1-30: Sakura Matsuri Cherry Blossom Festival. The festival, hosted by the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, celebrates Japanese culture and the arrival of spring. It features a variety of cultural performances and activities, as well as a small flea market, tea ceremonies, and crafts. The highlight is the magnificent display of cherry blossom trees, with over 200 trees in full bloom. Visitors can admire the pink and white blooms and enjoy a traditional Japanese atmosphere. Tickets are usually around $40 for adults, though seniors and students get a reduced rate of $35.
4/7-16th: The New York International Auto Show. The first new york Auto Show took place in 1900, for over 120 years now they have been sharing what’s new and interesting in the auto industry.
4/9: The Easter Parade starts near St. Patrick’s Cathedral at 10am. The tradition dates back to the 1870s, where elaborate bonnets and fashion galore is full frontal.
4/15: The Tartan Day Parade is an NYC tradition that offers attendees a unique way to celebrate and honor Scottish culture. For the 25th year, there will be bagpipes, dancers, and even Scottish dogs marching in the parade. Attendance is free and open to the public. In addition to the parade, expect a whole week of Scottish-themed events and festivities.
4/15: The New York Restoration Project is giving out 3,500 free trees to New Yorkers across all five boroughs. To get one of the 3,500 free trees that will be given away, register in advance on this website, where you’ll also get to browse through the current list of distribution dates, times and locations.
4/15 and 29: f the likes of udon, yakitori, ramen, and taiyaki make your mouth water, then mark your calendar for Japan Fes in Chelsea. The event will be held from 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM and is considered a paradise for Japanese foodies and cultural enthusiasts.
4/16: Holi in The City demands food, music, dance, and fun while embracing people and organizations from all ethnic and religious backgrounds.
4/22: Earth Daycelebrated in NYC with a festive, family-friendly outdoor fair in Union Square. There will be dozens of exhibitors, interactive displays, a green-vehicle show, family activities, music, and entertainment. 12-6pm.
4/27- 30: Antiquarian Book Fairnow in its 63rd year, this festival for book collectors at Park Avenue Armory for a full weekend of first editions, maps, manuscripts and other treasures from literary epochs past from nearly 200 exhibitors.
On Sunday, March 19, 2023, Hadestowncelebrated the first day of spring and the show’s recently-achieved milestone of 1,000 performances at Broadway’s Walter Kerr Theatre.
The handsome artist with Anais Mitchell
On hand were songwriter Anaïs Mitchell and director Rachel Chavkin, Tony Award winner Lillias White, original Broadway cast member Jewelle Blackman as Persephone, Grammy Award winner Reeve Carney as Orpheus, Tony Award nominee Tom Hewitt as Hades, and two-time Tony Award nominee Eva Noblezada as Eurydice. were joined by Amelia Cormack, Shea Renne, and Soara-Joye Ross as the Fates. The chorus of Workers is played by Emily Afton, Malcolm Armwood, Alex Puette, Trent Saunders, and Grace Yoo.
The winner of eight 2019 Tony Awards including Best New Musical and the 2020 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album, Hadestown is the most honored show of the 2018-2019 Broadway season. In addition to the Tony and Grammy Awards, it has been honored with four Drama Desk Awards, six Outer Critics Circle Awards, including Outstanding New Broadway Musical, and the Drama League Award for Outstanding Production of a Musical.
Following two intertwining love stories — that of young dreamers Orpheus and Eurydice, and that of King Hades and his wife Persephone — Hadestown invites audiences on a hell-raising journey to the underworld and back. Mitchell’s beguiling melodies and Chavkin’s poetic imagination pit industry against nature, doubt against faith and fear against love. Performed by a vibrant ensemble of actors, dancers, and singers, Hadestown delivers a deeply resonant and defiantly hopeful theatrical experience.
In the summer of 1941, Walt Disney’s top animator led hundreds of Disney artists out on strike, nearly breaking the studio. This is the true story of those two creative geniuses, plus a corrupt advisor and a mafia gangster, who collided to cause the greatest battle in Hollywood history.
An essential piece of Disney history has been unreported for eighty years.
Soon after the birth of Mickey Mouse, one animator raised the Disney Studio far beyond Walt’s expectations. That animator also led a union war that almost destroyed it. Art Babbitt animated for the Disney studio throughout the 1930s and through 1941, years in which he and Walt were jointly driven to elevate animation as an art form, up through Snow White, Pinocchio, and Fantasia.
But as America prepared for World War II, labor unions spread across Hollywood. Disney fought the unions while Babbitt embraced them. Soon, angry Disney cartoon characters graced picket signs as hundreds of animation artists went out on strike. Adding fuel to the fire was Willie Bioff, one of Al Capone’s wise guys who was seizing control of Hollywood workers and vied for the animators’ union.
Using never-before-seen research from previously lost records, including conversation transcriptions from within the studio walls, author and historian Jake S. Friedman reveals the details behind the labor dispute that changed animation and Hollywood forever.
Join a book talk with the author Jake S. Friedman on March 21 @ 7:00 pm – 8:30 pm, at The Lambs, 3 West 51st, 5th floor. RSVP@The-Lambs.org. The book will be available to be purchased and signed by the author.
Jake S. Friedman is a New York–based writer, teacher, and artist. He is a longtime contributor to Animation Magazine, and has also written for American History Magazine, The Huffington Post, Animation World Network, Animation Mentor, and The Philadelphia Daily News. For ten years he was an animation artist for films and television as seen on Nickelodeon, Disney Channel, and Saturday Night Live. He currently teaches History of Animation at the Fashion Institute of Technology and at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. The rest of his time he specializes in mental health for the creative psyche.
The moderator will be honorary Lamb Foster Hirsch, aprofessor film at Brooklyn College and the author of 16 books on film and theater, including The Dark Side of the Screen:Film Noir, A Method to Their Madness: The History of the Actors Studio, and Kurt Weill on Stage: From Berlin to Broadway.