So this won’t be a typical review, as this is not your typical night at the theatre. Rebel Verses 2018 is a night when youth from numerous organizations made up of young artists, ages 13-19, are granted the opportunity to collaborate and network with their peers and certain prominent artists in order to to showcase original work. It’s a powerful and uniquely engaging two-week theatrical event, now gracing the stage in its second season Off-Broadway at the Vineyard Theatre. It features over one hundred artists and performers from ten youth-based companies from all five boroughs of New York City and beyond. It was born out of the important and life-changing need for these young new voices in theatre to take over the stage and tell us all that we need to know. In their own words and manner. It is an unapologetic and uncensored blast of personal creativity and political expression that will restore your hope in humanity and its future. The poetic Rebel Verses come flying out like a rhythmic blast, sometimes angry but more often frustrated and concerned. Singing and harmonizing out of the mouths of the next generation of theatrical writers and performers, this night of thoughtful artistic composition and expression shouldn’t be missed.
Each night, a prominent Guest Artist joins the festival for a special performance, hoping to inspire and enlighten the path forward.
Week One features the performances of young-artist involved in the following companies: The Door (NYC), Alumni Theatre Company (Pittsburgh, PA), and The Brotherhood/Sister Sol (NYC). Developing Artists and Vineyard Theatre Student Ensemble will perform on all nights of the Festival. The special guest each night are as follows:
Thursday, August 9 – Daphne Rubin-Vega (Miss You Like Hell, Rent)
Friday, August 10 – Flaco Navaja (poet/actor/singer);
Saturday, August 11 – Kevin Mambo (FELA!)
Week Two (I was so lucky to attend on the 16th) features the MCC Youth Company (NYC), Epic Next (NYC), 6th Borough Slam (Jersey City, NJ), and Girl Be Heard (Brooklyn) with special guests:
Thursday, August 16 – Laura Gómez (“Orange is the New Black”)
Saturday, August 18 – Joe Morton (“Scandal,” Vineyard Board Member)
Laura Gómex was the featured artist the night I was at the Vineyard, and her closing presentation was a warm embrace for the road ahead. She presented an autobiographical immigrant story of her journey from Santo Domingo to New York City. It was drenched in kindly humor and simple expressionism that easily touched the heart of any person struggling to find their place, voice, and position. It was just what the doctor ordered for this surprisingly intense group of new artists. All of them, rising up to adulthood in this complicated and messed up world and wanting a voice in the debate. They performed works of deep anger and frustration with the powers that be (for the moment ????) that surround and sometimes engulf is all.
Each of the four companies performs pieces of poetic performance stomping and snapping with a vengeance at the troubles of the day, especially focusing on the #MeToo movement, immigration under the #OrangeMonster (and beyond), obscene racism, and overwhelming prejudice. Sexuality, although briefly pointed at, doesn’t really get enough stage time, but the others are consistently and forcibly addressed with surprising expertise and detailed power. The highlight of the evening, for me, was the presentation by the Developing Artists & Vineyard Theatre Student Ensemble, who started it all off with a title wave of compelling studies and stories in “Survivor to Activist, Activist to Artist…Artivism“. It was a solid piece of emotional complexity with a few very deep personal stories mixed in with political statements that couldn’t and shouldn’t be ignored.
Much like the young activists that came out of the Florida High School mass shooting, this youthful crew knows how to encompass a thought process and address it with solid punctuation of facts and ideas. MCC Youth Company did a thoughtful, although somewhat earnest exploration of all that is “Lost & Found” as we work hard to make sense of ourselves. Epic Next did a timely excerpt from “Building Blocks: Colorful Minds“, directed by Melissa Friedman, using theatre, dance, movement and comedy to examine how Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math are taught in Public Schools, and the impact this pedagogy is having on diversity in the STEM workforce. The parade of teachers is hilarious but deeply disturbing especially when one of the good ones comes smack up to a brick walled administrator who doesn’t realize all the ways he is revolting. 6th Borough Slampresented a piece entitled, “Across“, exploring the real and perceived divisions, borders, and walls that separate us, through a series of poem that celbrate Latinx and Afro-Caribbean identities. It’s a beautifully orchestrated chamber piece of poetry and power that finds its identity in the madness that surrounds us.
Daphne Rubin-Vega, (Public’s Miss You Like Hell) a Developing Artists spokesperson and Advisory Board member, captures the essence of this magnificent collaboration when she stated:
“There is a void in our community that Developing Artists fills by establishing a creative home for young people and instilling in them a sense of confidence and freedom of expression. Growing up in the New York public school system, I wished for an artistic outlet that would give voice to my culture and experience… The positive impact Developing Artists has on both the performing arts community and our city as a whole is immeasurable. REBEL VERSES Youth Arts Festival is a hotbed of new forms of learning through the arts, empowering young people to become successful artists and allowing them to recognize that their stories are a part of the fabric of this world.”
Developing Artists was launched in 1999, led by Artistic Director Jill DeArmon and Executive Director Jinn S. Kim. DeArmon and Kim joined The Vineyard in 2015-16 as Education Directors for The Vineyard’s Education program, now in its 19th year serving local public high school students and teachers. Developing Artists and Vineyard Theatre focused their combined Arts-Education efforts on student empowerment and the development of writing and collaboration skills. All this energy culminated in creating the electric new works for Rebel Verses.
“The Vineyard and Developing Artists share a mission to empower young artists to create original work for the stage, and to know their voices have value…We are excited to build on this shared vision and to once again partner on REBEL VERSES. Together we seek to create more opportunities for young artists who are speaking powerfully to their experiences and to our current moment, and to help their voices reach and inspire an even wider audience.” – Sarah Stern, Artistic Director of Vineyard Theatre.
This creation of opportunities is an idea that needs encouragement and support. As our host almost breaks down with the revelations of how much this program saved his soul, we must dig into our pockets and our hearts for the support it deserves. Beyond the good cause, the night was exciting and engaging, worthy of our time and energy on a hot summer’s night. Performances of Rebel Voices 2018 – Youth Arts Festival take place at Vineyard Theatre Aug 9-11 & 16-18 beginning at 7:00 PM each night. Tickets range from $5-$25. To purchase tickets and for more information, visit www.vineyardtheatre.org or call the box office at 212-353-0303.
Talking to The Creatives Of War Words
I was so moved by War Words the Pulitzer Prize nominated docu-play based on the words of the men and women who served in the U.S. Military during the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, T2C set up an interview with the playwright Michelle Kholos Brooks, Sarah Norris the director and Donald Calliste on of the actors in the show, who is also a vet and served in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.
War Word is based on Michelle Kholos Brooks interviews with veterans of the 20-year Long War and their families, War Words is composed of heroic and heartbreaking stories of the veterans, families, and allies of people who served: those who came home, and those who were left behind. The playwright and NewYorkRep have felt that there was always a need for civilians to better understand the motivation and sacrifice one makes to serve.
War Words: by NewYorkRep in association with New Light Theater Project at A.R.T. Theatre, 502 West 53rd Street, through December 17th.
Video by Magda Katz
I Can Get It For You Wholesale Shines Bright /Dark at Off-Broadway’s Classic Stage Company
That young boy, running and dancing around that Classic Stage Company theatre floor, flinging fabric in exchange for coins has everything one would want in a musical theatre hero, and we instantly feel for him, and his pain when some guy, “always bigger,” pushes him to the ground in a jarring antisemitic assault after taking his money while lobbing a slur right at him. We take in his pain and frustration, especially when, after, his mother, played to utter perfection by the always magnificent Judy Kuhn (CSC’s Assassins; Broadway’s Fun Home), sings the sweetest of care-taking songs, begging him to “chew a little something” for her. It’s the kindest of engagements. One that enters our collective hearts and stays with us, even as we watch the show, and him, turn so utterly dark.
Well, that was Harry Bogan, then, and he had us totally on his side cheering him on simply because of that first, well-executed, scene. Now, well, the theatrical now being 1937 New York City, as adult-played by Santino Fontana (LCT’s One Act; Broadway’s Tootsie), he’s a different kind of man. At first, we think of him as driven and ambitious, something that we can also get behind, but as the revival of 1962’s I Can Get It For You Wholesale rises forth most dynamically, we see another side of Harry, one that makes him and this musical a different kind of breed than I realized walking in. I had no idea that it was such a dark horse kinda of a show, and as unspooled meticulously well by director Trip Cullman (Broadway/2ST’s Lobby Hero), the anti-hero status of Bronx-born Harry stitches himself well into our psyche, giving us enough connection to make us struggle with our ongoing care, while also cringing when he deceives. And he does that often, and with such cleverness, we feel, since he buddies up to us so directly, a little guilty as well for all of his transgressions.
When this dark horse of a musical first opened on Broadway in 1962, it had a fairly solid run (300 performances) but failed to garner the same enthusiasm that another show that opened that same season did (beyond what it did for a certain star-making turn of one Funny Girl). Five months earlier, to be precise, and that show, another dark anti-hero horse by the name of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying had what was referred to as a more “cuddly betrayer” in the likes of J. Pierrepont Finch. Theatre historian Ken Mandelbaum noted that “audiences were less willing to confront Wholesale‘s unflinching portrayal of Harry’s little world of men and ulcers on parade.” Finch was more for them, and Harry, well, not so much.
I guess it’s a bit understandable – one anti-hero musical at a time – but it’s one of those sad theatre stories that casts a unfortunate shadow on the musical’s true cleverness. Yet, with this production and John Weidman, the book writer of Assassins, on the job, revising his father’s work for this Classic Stage Company production, the edges and the ending have solidified into something darker yet more direct and engaging. We hear more from Harry, through his inner dialogue monologues spoken directly to us, sometimes asking us to forgive him for the terrible thing he’s about to do, basically trying to get us to stay with him as his lies and scheming get more and more profitable for him, and more uncomfortable for us to watch. Until we can no longer, but that takes a bit of time, and, that’s basically because of the show’s now strong structuring and Fontana’s detailed delivery. Our turn happens much later than we expect, making us feel even more complicit to his so-called crimes as we watch it all seemingly unravel, bringing down one truly lovely trusting character, and hurting numerous others along the way.
In the part of Harry, originated back in the day by Elliot Gould, Fontana works his superb magic, casting illusions that we buy into with all the charm in the world (displaying that glorious voice of his every chance he can get). He’s devilish, pretty much from the beginning, throwing his Union brothers under the bus right off the bat in his first adult move up the ladder. We watch him climb, becoming more and more successful, and buying his loving mother a shower of expensive gifts, too soon and too fast for us not to question how he is doing all that. He conquers the 1930s garment trade, one step at a time, but Harry’s climb seems to be always on the backs of others. It initially feels enterprising, but quickly shifts to something more dirty and troubling. Especially when it comes to netting some much-needed capital from a childhood sweetheart by the name of Ruthie, played gorgeously by Rebecca Naomi Jones (Broadway’s Oklahoma!). Their “Gemini meets Capricorn” number is delightfully playful and endearing, even as we unconsciously underscore the sweet serenade with the bitter smooth-talking schemer vibe. You better watch your back (and pocketbook) Ruthie, or else you might have a fall ahead of you. Just listen to his Mama, OK?
Harry follows that sad desperate stain with another sweet-talking con of a dinner, courtesy of Mama’s fine cooking (and a spectacular subtle performance). We watch as he bluffs and convinces two other guys to go into business with him, while scheming his way around corners to get his share of the down payment. He keeps talking to us, entwining us, trying to explain and ask our forgiveness, and even when he starts losing us, Fontana still finds a way to keep us completely tuned in. When he leaves the sweet Ruthie standing there with a plate she put together for him to basically sing a strong duet about the love and sound of money with a showgirl, it sits heavy in our hearts. Portrayed regally by Joy Woods (Off-Broadway’s Little Shop of Horrors) as that other woman, actress Martha Mills, who values money almost as highly as Harry, we can’t help but think that our anti-hero and this glamour girl are an equal match “as dollars meet in sweet surrender.”
As played out on that simplistic, yet overly cluttered stage, courtesy of Mark Wendland (PH’s Unknown Soldier), with strong detailed costuming by Ann Hould-Ward (CSC’s The Cradle Will Rock), straightforward clear lighting by Adam Honoré (CSC’s Carmen Jones), and a solid sound design by Sun Hee Kil (CSC’s A Man of No Importance), I Can Get It for You Wholesale sings beautifully through the darkness, even if all those tables and chairs keep getting in the way of letting these truly fascinating characters fully spread out. It rarely feels necessary, all those items crowding the stage, even when the staging makes strong use of the haphazard placements of it all. The choreography by Ellenore Scott (Broadway’s Funny Girl), is charming, effervescent, and fun, but suffers because of all that clutter. She finds ways to utilize the obstacles well, but the movements forever feel like its crowding in the energy, all to the beautifully adapted score arranged by David Chase (Broadway’s 1776) with music direction and orchestrations by Jacinth Greywoode (Iron John: An American Ghost Story).
The cast is compelling, emotional, and exceptional, with Kuhn and Jones coming together beautiful and clear. Adam Grupper (Broadway’s (Pictures From Home) as Maurice Pulvermacher, Greg Hildreth (Broadway’s Company) as Teddy Asch, and Woods as the other woman giving Ruthie a run for her money, also give us their all, but the secondary heart sits firmly in that other family, the one that trusts Harry completely, with their love, security, family, and faith. In their union, played strong and true by Adam Chanler-Berat (Broadway’s Amélie) and Sarah Steele (RTC’s The Humans) as husband and wife; Meyer and Blanche Bushkin, the Jewish designer and his wife, they put their complete faith in Harry and usher forth a whole different element to the show. One that is completely devastating thanks to their and the cast’s delivery. It’s that uncomfortable conflict between faith, assimilation, and tradition, echoed in Kuhn’s carrying Mother and realized most fully in the celebration of Bushkin’s son, Teddy, portrayed by Victor de Paula Rocha (MUNY’s Rent) [who also earlier played the young Harry] and his Bar Mitzvah. That family’s betrayal is the final straw, yet it still stings true since, for some reason, we had not given up on Harry until that very moment.
But let’s not forget what most of us do know about this musical, historically speaking, and the main reason this show is remembered. It was the 1962 launching pad for a young, 19-year-old Barbra Streisand, making her Broadway debut as the loyal assistant to Harry, Miss Marmelstein, a part made bigger because of her just-seen talent. Funny Girl followed a few years later, and the rest is history, but inside this particular production, the making of another star is laid out right there before us. Maybe this part is the dress pattern for success, who knows, but with Julia Lester taking on the role, fresh from her Tony-nominated breakout performance as Little Red in Broadway’s smash revival of Into the Woods last summer, it certainly feels that Miss Marmelstein is the launching pad for success. Almost more-so than Harry, and Lester shines in the part, rolling about and rivaling all on top of those messy set pieces, commanding us to pay attention. How could we not? She shines super bright; hilarious and completely appealing, an equal to Fontana in his dark spotlight. I had no idea that I was walking into something like that, let alone the darkness of the anti-hero played out so deviously well, much like most I gather from the intermission reactions, but it’s certainly worth the trip to Union Square, to watch one star on the quick rise, and another cementing his already golden status in Classic Stage Company‘s solid revival of I Can Get It For You Wholesale. I’m glad I’m going to be able to say I was there when it all happened. Into the Woods and beyond.
Ken Fallin’s Broadway: Michael Urie and Ethan Slater
With the holidays, my caricature of Spamalot is taking time, so I decided to highlight the two performers who for me stood out.
I have drawn Michael Urie several times, but I love this picture with him and my drawing of him in Buyer and Seller. Urie as Sir Robin, shows a new side of him that is truly funny.
Ethan Slater should have won a Tony for Sponge Bob Square Pants. My guess is he will be nominated again for his multiple roles in Spamalot.
Up next my caricature of Spamalot
The Emergence of Profound Theatre at The Signature
Things are not as they seem. What is our place in the universe? Did you know we once co-created and still create our own universe…everyday? Are we alive? Where does love come from? These are the subjects that Emergence and Patrick Olson ask us to ponder. Featuring music, spoken word almost like Laurie Anderson or David Byrne and Alex Grey like visuals, Olson imparts what could almost be a movement towards a better planet. Olson, also a talented songwriter brings together Ian Jesse on bass, Nadav Hezi on guitar, Jordan Coker on drums, and Thomas Nickell on keys, four vocalists ala Robert Palmer (Cherry Davis, Samara Brown, Miya Bass, and Bella Kosal), 3 acrobatic dancers Summer Sheldrick, Dana Liebezeit, and Lavy Cavaliere, add to his universe.
Olson, founded a science publishing company, released an album in 2021 titled Music for Scientists. “Moons of Jupiter,” is featured in Emergence. Other songs include: “Time,” “In My Mind,” “Energy,” and “Becoming.”
A lot of Emergence is played off as scientific fact such as we are all made out of hydrogen, carbon, calcium, and phosphorus, which is not living. Tension holds us upright despite gravity and yellow tulips are actually not yellow. This is all done with thought-provoking monologues that is in essence basic knowledge, but sometimes the most simplest concepts are the most profound. Do most people even contemplate spatial paradigms and the relativity of time and space? I think not and yet if we did the universe would be a better place.
Some of this material and this world can seem overwhelming, but in this intimate space we go through the trauma of it together.
Olson truly likes being up on stage and sharing his knowledge, his music and his philosophy. He looks kind of like a rock Mr. Rodgers.
A lot of what makes this show is the lighting design by Jordan Noltner, and the projections, by Jonathon Corbiere and Tyler Sammy of Futuretalk, Inc., and Nick Proctor, of Wasted Potential. These almost become another character.
This show is uplifting, insightful and definitely a unique theatrical experience.
Emergence: Things Are Not As They Seem: Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street through January 7th. Tickets and information: emergenceshow.com
All The Devils Are Here: How Shakespeare Invented The Villain” Magnificently Explored Page by Patrick Page
“Unsex me here!” An appropriate beginning for All The Devils Are Here: How Shakespeare Invented The Villain, playing out and summoned with full force downtown at the DR2 Theatre. And he does it with a few lines from Lady Macbeth. Which is more than perfect as a parade of dark villains are called forth, exquisitely, with the passionate prose of Shakespeare, delivered with aplomb by the spectacularly gifted Hadestown voice, Patrick Page. It’s a fascinating exploration, given by a man overflowing with talent, page by Patrick Page. With a voice that commands our attention.
Diving with bold deliverance into the dark side of Shakespeare’s greatest villains from his first morality play encounter to his final foray into the storm, All The Devils Are Here… as directed with deliberation by Simon Godwin (TFANA’s Timon of Athens), unpacks the conceptualization of the villain and its origin with a bass-toned relish that is infectious. It’s the ultimate origin story, deftly delivered by Page, the ultimate Hades, flipping back through the pages of history to uncover the creation of the most wicked of characters, from the visual and ideal of the ‘Vice‘ character in 1572 through its evolution within the works of William Shakespeare. Ending with a staff broken.
Created and performed by the impeccable Page, this meticulously well-crafted “little seance” seduces, unrolling the text and the psychological case studies through the many “frescos” of Shakespeare’s great creations most elegantly. It is fascinatingly rendered and conceptualized, guiding us with careful thought and due diligence through the canon of this famed playwright, illuminating the evolution of evil, as conceptualized by the more than a dozen of his most evil characters.
“Shakespeare didn’t just create some of literature’s greatest bad guys — he invented the very concept of the villain,” Page tells us, most eloquently. He walks us through, with a vibration that is ever so dark and delicious, speaking of impulse and revenge; backstories and character development, all the way to the more complex psychological case study of the psychopath. From Richard III to Prospero, with a grand enlightening stop into the devils that live inside Macbeth and beyond.
The twisted motivation and hidden humanity at the heart of Shakespeare’s greatest villains is set forth on a well formulated stage, bloody-well designed by Arnulfo Maldonado (Broadway’s A Strange Loop), with carefully constructed crimson costuming by Emily Rebholz (Broadway’s Jagged Little Pill), exact lighting by Stacey Derosier (Roundabout’s The Refuge Plays), and an intimate solid sound design by Darron L West (Public’s Coal Country). Page, once dubbed by Playbill as “The villain of Broadway” is the perfect creation to unwrap this sharply defined thesis for our consumption and contemplation.
It’s thrilling and relatable; fascinating and detailed, from Richard III to Macbeth. He calls forth all of Shakespeare’s evil and the discord, to investigate its formulation and unpack its impulses, but also to understand the connection to our own human nature. The ending illuminates in its humanity and worldliness. It’s grand and fantastically delivered, with “speeches like that” that scare the hell out of him and implant it into ourselves. So beg the angels to come protect us all, because after seeing the magnificent All The Devils Are Here: How Shakespeare Invented The Villain, you will walk out believing in evil, or at least understand its literal creation and origin story. “Let your indulgence set me free.” Now rotate three times and spit. Just to be on the safe side.
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