Alec Baldwin’s new podcast Here’s the Thing, on WNYC, is charming and intelligent.  There’s nothing gimmicky or over-produced about it.  It is simply Baldwin interviewing people he “wants to know more about”, as is stated in the opener.  The current list includes actors, directors, writers, politicians and producers.  The diversity in guests is refreshing and well curated.  Baldwin doesn’t steal the show, but includes enough of his own personality and anecdotes to make it more appealing than your average interview podcast.  Its smart and funny and definitely worth a listen.  Particularly entertaining is the episode featuring Erica Jong and her Daughter Molly Jong-Fast, in which mother and daughter go head to head on the feminist movement and the experience of being a young woman today.  Baldwin seems an unexpected moderator to such a discussion and the fact that he performs so well pays tribute to his versatility, curiosity and dimensionality.    And that’s to say nothing of his dulcet tones, which make listening an auditory pleasure.  You get the sense you could hear Baldwin reading instruction manuals and get some satisfaction out of it and with such universally engaging and illuminating content its sure to be a success. 

          Alec Baldwin’s new podcast Here’s the Thing, on WNYC, is charming and intelligent.  There’s nothing gimmicky or over-produced about it.  It is simply Baldwin interviewing people he “wants to know more about”, as is stated in the opener.  The current list includes actors, directors, writers, politicians and producers.  The diversity in guests is refreshing and well curated.  Baldwin doesn’t steal the show, but includes enough of his own personality and anecdotes to make it more appealing than your average interview podcast.  Its smart and funny and definitely worth a listen.  Particularly entertaining is the episode featuring Erica Jong and her Daughter Molly Jong-Fast, in which mother and daughter go head to head on the feminist movement and the experience of being a young woman today.  Baldwin seems an unexpected moderator to such a discussion and the fact that he performs so well pays tribute to his versatility, curiosity and dimensionality.    And that’s to say nothing of his dulcet tones, which make listening an auditory pleasure.  You get the sense you could hear Baldwin reading instruction manuals and get some satisfaction out of it and with such universally engaging and illuminating content its sure to be a success. 



           Seminar, a new play by Theresa Rebeck playing at the Golden Theater, is a sharp, funny character piece and particularly satisfying as a twenty-something New Yorker.  The play follows four aspiring writers who hire Leonard (played by Alan Rickman), a well respected author and editor, to help hone their talent and, more importantly, provide them with connections that will lead to a professional career.  It is set almost entirely in a monstrous, rent controlled upper west side apartment and the students are each three-dimensional caricatures of young New Yorkers.  I felt I personally knew each and every one of them, which is the trademark of an effective marriage between good writing and good acting.  The characters each struggle with their respective ‘talents’ as their teacher pitilessly critiques both their writing and their personalities, but ultimately giving them what they want: a path on which to direct their careers.  While superficially Seminar is about the difficulties of being a struggling ‘artist’, trying to create something meaningful and original; similar to the no nonsense Leonard, it is actually much more about the struggle to balance naive ambition and pride with the realities of building a career in an increasingly competitive field.  It’s a struggle faced by nearly every young college graduate I know in New York and while Seminar does not remotely limit itself to a New York audience, it certainly comes from a New York perspective, set unambiguously in New York scenes and with New York characters.  
            Rickman’s character is arrogant and brutish, ultimately masking a lack of “skin”; an inability to deal with the criticism and soullessness of the publishing world.  Rickman should be credited for showing the audience Leonard’s sensitivity while still maintaining his rough exterior.  Often such ‘tough on the outside’ characters end up artificially dropping their defenses in order to let the audience in, but at no point in Seminar does Leonard’s behavior seem out of character while still leaving the audience feeling they understand his insecurities and bitterness.  This is partly possible due to Martin’s character (played expertly by Hamish Linklater).  The insecure and talented Martin is portrayed as a younger version of Leonard, not yet embittered by years of half successes and little recognition.  Martin, unlike Leonard, wears his heart on his sleeve and is almost unbelievably naive.  It is through Martin that we come to understand Leonard’s character and between the two of them see the necessity of rising above ego and naivety in order to learn from others and achieve success and comfort. 

           Seminar, a new play by Theresa Rebeck playing at the Golden Theater, is a sharp, funny character piece and particularly satisfying as a twenty-something New Yorker.  The play follows four aspiring writers who hire Leonard (played by Alan Rickman), a well respected author and editor, to help hone their talent and, more importantly, provide them with connections that will lead to a professional career.  It is set almost entirely in a monstrous, rent controlled upper west side apartment and the students are each three-dimensional caricatures of young New Yorkers.  I felt I personally knew each and every one of them, which is the trademark of an effective marriage between good writing and good acting.  The characters each struggle with their respective ‘talents’ as their teacher pitilessly critiques both their writing and their personalities, but ultimately giving them what they want: a path on which to direct their careers.  While superficially Seminar is about the difficulties of being a struggling ‘artist’, trying to create something meaningful and original; similar to the no nonsense Leonard, it is actually much more about the struggle to balance naive ambition and pride with the realities of building a career in an increasingly competitive field.  It’s a struggle faced by nearly every young college graduate I know in New York and while Seminar does not remotely limit itself to a New York audience, it certainly comes from a New York perspective, set unambiguously in New York scenes and with New York characters. 

            Rickman’s character is arrogant and brutish, ultimately masking a lack of “skin”; an inability to deal with the criticism and soullessness of the publishing world.  Rickman should be credited for showing the audience Leonard’s sensitivity while still maintaining his rough exterior.  Often such ‘tough on the outside’ characters end up artificially dropping their defenses in order to let the audience in, but at no point in Seminar does Leonard’s behavior seem out of character while still leaving the audience feeling they understand his insecurities and bitterness.  This is partly possible due to Martin’s character (played expertly by Hamish Linklater).  The insecure and talented Martin is portrayed as a younger version of Leonard, not yet embittered by years of half successes and little recognition.  Martin, unlike Leonard, wears his heart on his sleeve and is almost unbelievably naive.  It is through Martin that we come to understand Leonard’s character and between the two of them see the necessity of rising above ego and naivety in order to learn from others and achieve success and comfort. 



             A new show popped up on Hulu a few days ago.  It is the online preview for the pilot of Smash, NBC’s new musical show.  Smash, set to premiere next Monday, was hoping to secure an audience ahead of time through Hulu and for my part it worked.  I had no idea what I was in for when I click ‘watch now’, expecting some cheesy, over-acted, under produced drama like so many of the other featured new pilots that have been popping up on Hulu (Playboy Club comes to mind).  
            The show opens with our young ingénue belting her heart out to Somewhere Over the Rainbow only to be immediately interrupted and dismissed from what turns out to be an audition.  Through the rest of the episode the audience is introduced to a large and impressive cast, including Anjelica Houston, Jack Davenport and Debra Messing (among others).  Deborah Messing and Christian Borle play two writers of successful Broadway musicals.  The season opener shows them beginning work on a musical based around the life of Marilyn Monroe.  Soon a producer shows interest (played by Anjelica Houston), a director (or is he a choreographer?) comes next (Jack Davenport) and then the actors.  The episode ends with two girls competing for the part of Marilyn: the naive young ingénue from the Midwest (Katharine McPhee) and the disillusioned and desperate perpetual Broadway chorus girl (Megan Hilty).
            The producers of the show are clearly responding the success of Glee, recognizing audiences respond well to big voices and big musical numbers.  Smash does not have a shortage of these, but unlike Glee it has real talent (if there was any auto tuning I didn’t hear it), original music and a fully fleshed out storyline.  I was blown away by the songs, which immediately prompted me to look further into where this show had come from.  The music is written by the Broadway veterans Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (the team behind Hairspray).  I also learned that Smash was originally planned for Showtime, explaining the quality, but more than that it is produced by Spielberg.*
            Conceived initially by Spielberg, development began in 2009 at Showtime and moved to NBC in 2011.  Spielberg’s idea was to create a show, in the Slings and Arrows vein, in which each season follows the production of a new musical.  But here’s the catch, after the season’s completion the musical would be fully produced and sent to Broadway*.  It is a brilliant idea!  In the show, Messing and Borle complain about the lack of new musicals on Broadway.  A sentiment every fan of musical theater has been lamenting for years.  When new shows do appear they go either the Wicked, Disney or South Park Routes.  Even the revivals saturate themselves so thoroughly in pop-culture appeal they are on the verge of suffocation (e.g. How to Succeed…).  Smash’s model creates new work that doesn’t compromise itself by contorting itself to fit into the pop culture box.  Instead it brings popular media to the writers and allows them to create work that then projects itself into popular culture.  Its innovative and I’m sure within the theater world it will have its critics, but judging from the quality that is presented in Smash the producer’s seem dedicated to creating a Broadway quality production better than the tortured pandering characteristic of many recent new musicals.
*http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smash_(TV_series)

             A new show popped up on Hulu a few days ago.  It is the online preview for the pilot of Smash, NBC’s new musical show.  Smash, set to premiere next Monday, was hoping to secure an audience ahead of time through Hulu and for my part it worked.  I had no idea what I was in for when I click ‘watch now’, expecting some cheesy, over-acted, under produced drama like so many of the other featured new pilots that have been popping up on Hulu (Playboy Club comes to mind). 

            The show opens with our young ingénue belting her heart out to Somewhere Over the Rainbow only to be immediately interrupted and dismissed from what turns out to be an audition.  Through the rest of the episode the audience is introduced to a large and impressive cast, including Anjelica Houston, Jack Davenport and Debra Messing (among others).  Deborah Messing and Christian Borle play two writers of successful Broadway musicals.  The season opener shows them beginning work on a musical based around the life of Marilyn Monroe.  Soon a producer shows interest (played by Anjelica Houston), a director (or is he a choreographer?) comes next (Jack Davenport) and then the actors.  The episode ends with two girls competing for the part of Marilyn: the naive young ingénue from the Midwest (Katharine McPhee) and the disillusioned and desperate perpetual Broadway chorus girl (Megan Hilty).

            The producers of the show are clearly responding the success of Glee, recognizing audiences respond well to big voices and big musical numbers.  Smash does not have a shortage of these, but unlike Glee it has real talent (if there was any auto tuning I didn’t hear it), original music and a fully fleshed out storyline.  I was blown away by the songs, which immediately prompted me to look further into where this show had come from.  The music is written by the Broadway veterans Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (the team behind Hairspray).  I also learned that Smash was originally planned for Showtime, explaining the quality, but more than that it is produced by Spielberg.*

            Conceived initially by Spielberg, development began in 2009 at Showtime and moved to NBC in 2011.  Spielberg’s idea was to create a show, in the Slings and Arrows vein, in which each season follows the production of a new musical.  But here’s the catch, after the season’s completion the musical would be fully produced and sent to Broadway*.  It is a brilliant idea!  In the show, Messing and Borle complain about the lack of new musicals on Broadway.  A sentiment every fan of musical theater has been lamenting for years.  When new shows do appear they go either the Wicked, Disney or South Park Routes.  Even the revivals saturate themselves so thoroughly in pop-culture appeal they are on the verge of suffocation (e.g. How to Succeed…).  Smash’s model creates new work that doesn’t compromise itself by contorting itself to fit into the pop culture box.  Instead it brings popular media to the writers and allows them to create work that then projects itself into popular culture.  Its innovative and I’m sure within the theater world it will have its critics, but judging from the quality that is presented in Smash the producer’s seem dedicated to creating a Broadway quality production better than the tortured pandering characteristic of many recent new musicals.

*http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smash_(TV_series)



Get tickets before it sells out!

Get tickets before it sells out!


  Over the past few years the Bridge Project, headed up by Sam Mendes, has earned itself an impressive reputation.  I unfortunately did not have the pleasure of seeing any of their production until last night.  Their last and final project, Richard III with Kevin Spacey, lived up to all the hype.  It is rare to see such a flawless production.  Everything from the acting, to the sets, lighting, costumes, video, music and projections were perfectly effective in creating a world in which to tell what is ultimately a difficult story.  The play itself is practically a laundry list of murders and the audience must be familiar with each character before their inevitable demise.  One of the ways this production helped its audience was by projecting character names at key moments between scenes directing the audience’s focus, keeping those less familiar with the play (and I’m one of them) from getting lost amid all the gore.  
            Set on a nearly empty stage, as is the fashion, with rows of doors lining the sides of the stage, structural lighting was used to divide up the space.  Characters entered and exited through one door or another always backlit.  Not only did this cast ominous shadows foretelling their entrance, with Richard’s hunchbacked form immediately apparent, but also created an anxious anticipation.  
            During Richard’s final manipulation before being crowned, playing at piety and reluctance to take the thrown, he wasn’t on stage.  He acted offstage as a video was projected above Buckingham’s fervent appeals to the public to call Richard to the thrown.  This was a brilliant device, emphasizing Richard’s manipulative posing and theatrics, while also making all the subtlety of Spacey’s facial acting accessible to the audience.  It allowed the audience to have a much more personal interaction with the character, seeing his deception up close, than is often possible in an 800 hundred seat theater.  
            A row of drummers, deafening as it echoed around the house, announced Richard III’s coronation on a stage which had opened up at the back, adding a substantial amount of space, emphasized by the number of doors, decreasing in size as they now extend far back.  Each door contained an X, which the audience saw placed earlier by Queen Margaret as part of her curse, prophesying the fall of the Plantagenets.  Richard III approaches the thrown and falls before reaching it.  Spacey is brilliant at portraying Richard III’s deformity, accompanied by an anger at his frailty which explains his mercilessness.  Lines of light projected on the floor of the stage add a dramatic element and emphasized the size and depth of the space.  
            Its after intermission that the audience is shown how horrible Richard III can be.  Spacey moves between a veneer of cooperation, seen more often in the first half, and outright demands, often in the form of violent outbursts that manage to terrify even from my seat in the gallery.  The high point of Spacey’s performance, however, is the soliloquy following his dream in which the ghosts of his victims confront him.  He arises before going to battle and almost manically faces his deeds and fears in a time when he needs loyalty.  Shakespeare’s language at this moment is particularly rhythmic and Spacey’s delivery did it justice, almost chanting the words in his rising anxiety, building a kind of sympathy for his wretched character and preparing the audience for the coming battle scene.  This production was dramatic, suspenseful and terrifying and I can’t praise it enough. 

  Over the past few years the Bridge Project, headed up by Sam Mendes, has earned itself an impressive reputation.  I unfortunately did not have the pleasure of seeing any of their production until last night.  Their last and final project, Richard III with Kevin Spacey, lived up to all the hype.  It is rare to see such a flawless production.  Everything from the acting, to the sets, lighting, costumes, video, music and projections were perfectly effective in creating a world in which to tell what is ultimately a difficult story.  The play itself is practically a laundry list of murders and the audience must be familiar with each character before their inevitable demise.  One of the ways this production helped its audience was by projecting character names at key moments between scenes directing the audience’s focus, keeping those less familiar with the play (and I’m one of them) from getting lost amid all the gore. 

            Set on a nearly empty stage, as is the fashion, with rows of doors lining the sides of the stage, structural lighting was used to divide up the space.  Characters entered and exited through one door or another always backlit.  Not only did this cast ominous shadows foretelling their entrance, with Richard’s hunchbacked form immediately apparent, but also created an anxious anticipation. 

            During Richard’s final manipulation before being crowned, playing at piety and reluctance to take the thrown, he wasn’t on stage.  He acted offstage as a video was projected above Buckingham’s fervent appeals to the public to call Richard to the thrown.  This was a brilliant device, emphasizing Richard’s manipulative posing and theatrics, while also making all the subtlety of Spacey’s facial acting accessible to the audience.  It allowed the audience to have a much more personal interaction with the character, seeing his deception up close, than is often possible in an 800 hundred seat theater. 

            A row of drummers, deafening as it echoed around the house, announced Richard III’s coronation on a stage which had opened up at the back, adding a substantial amount of space, emphasized by the number of doors, decreasing in size as they now extend far back.  Each door contained an X, which the audience saw placed earlier by Queen Margaret as part of her curse, prophesying the fall of the Plantagenets.  Richard III approaches the thrown and falls before reaching it.  Spacey is brilliant at portraying Richard III’s deformity, accompanied by an anger at his frailty which explains his mercilessness.  Lines of light projected on the floor of the stage add a dramatic element and emphasized the size and depth of the space. 

            Its after intermission that the audience is shown how horrible Richard III can be.  Spacey moves between a veneer of cooperation, seen more often in the first half, and outright demands, often in the form of violent outbursts that manage to terrify even from my seat in the gallery.  The high point of Spacey’s performance, however, is the soliloquy following his dream in which the ghosts of his victims confront him.  He arises before going to battle and almost manically faces his deeds and fears in a time when he needs loyalty.  Shakespeare’s language at this moment is particularly rhythmic and Spacey’s delivery did it justice, almost chanting the words in his rising anxiety, building a kind of sympathy for his wretched character and preparing the audience for the coming battle scene.  This production was dramatic, suspenseful and terrifying and I can’t praise it enough. 


Prepare to be shocked and amazed!
Tonight at House of Yes.

Prepare to be shocked and amazed!

Tonight at House of Yes.


            I have mixed feelings about New York City Ballet, with their endlessly repeating classic Balanchine rep shows, interspersed with some new pieces and some less classic (perhaps for a reason) Balanchine pieces.  They unarguably have some of the most beautiful and impeccably trained dancers the world has to offer.  That fact alone makes NYCB irreproachable.  But given that fact, I walk out of a NYCB performances disappointed or unimpressed more often than I should.
            On a last minute whim I grabbed tickets tonight.  The show opened with The Steadfast Tin Soldier, a dopey character piece about a soldier that falls in love with a paper doll.  The choreography was cute, but the story lacking (characteristically Balanchine) and therefore not interesting enough to hold my attention.  The second piece was Le Tombeau du Couperin, a standard black and white ballet with 8 sets of couples and  predictably Balanchine.  The dancers performed together impeccably, seamlessly flying past eachother in tight grids, dissolving into circles and paired lines all with quick leg-flashing choreography relaxing occasionally into still moments.  All in all a lovely piece, consistent with the Balanchine ethos and well executed, but not startling or breathtaking.  
            The third piece, Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux, I was most impressed by.  This shows my taste and I am sure some ballet aficionados will decide they have figured me out.  Yes, I prefer traditional virtuosity to Balanchine’s stripped down simplicity.  Tiler Peck flew across the stage with sharp, energetic movements accompanied by a somewhat more sluggish (but also lovely) Gonzalo Garcia.  Peck is a beautiful and impressive dancer.  She is one of my favorites in the company because of her immaculate technique.   She could add a bit more softness to her movements at times to make her dancing more emotive, but that often comes later in a dancer’s career.   
The final piece was Union Jack, a boisterous piece using the full company and lots of plaid.  It is fun, if a bit odd.  Its main interest lies in the sheer number of bodies that populate the stage as row on row of dancer march in unison.  I always enjoy a good evening at the ballet and this was no exception despite the strange mix of rep pieces, but I do feel New York City Ballet should be able to give me more.  In all fairness, they often have, but tonight wasn’t one of those nights. 

            I have mixed feelings about New York City Ballet, with their endlessly repeating classic Balanchine rep shows, interspersed with some new pieces and some less classic (perhaps for a reason) Balanchine pieces.  They unarguably have some of the most beautiful and impeccably trained dancers the world has to offer.  That fact alone makes NYCB irreproachable.  But given that fact, I walk out of a NYCB performances disappointed or unimpressed more often than I should.

            On a last minute whim I grabbed tickets tonight.  The show opened with The Steadfast Tin Soldier, a dopey character piece about a soldier that falls in love with a paper doll.  The choreography was cute, but the story lacking (characteristically Balanchine) and therefore not interesting enough to hold my attention.  The second piece was Le Tombeau du Couperin, a standard black and white ballet with 8 sets of couples and  predictably Balanchine.  The dancers performed together impeccably, seamlessly flying past eachother in tight grids, dissolving into circles and paired lines all with quick leg-flashing choreography relaxing occasionally into still moments.  All in all a lovely piece, consistent with the Balanchine ethos and well executed, but not startling or breathtaking. 

            The third piece, Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux, I was most impressed by.  This shows my taste and I am sure some ballet aficionados will decide they have figured me out.  Yes, I prefer traditional virtuosity to Balanchine’s stripped down simplicity.  Tiler Peck flew across the stage with sharp, energetic movements accompanied by a somewhat more sluggish (but also lovely) Gonzalo Garcia.  Peck is a beautiful and impressive dancer.  She is one of my favorites in the company because of her immaculate technique.   She could add a bit more softness to her movements at times to make her dancing more emotive, but that often comes later in a dancer’s career.  

The final piece was Union Jack, a boisterous piece using the full company and lots of plaid.  It is fun, if a bit odd.  Its main interest lies in the sheer number of bodies that populate the stage as row on row of dancer march in unison.  I always enjoy a good evening at the ballet and this was no exception despite the strange mix of rep pieces, but I do feel New York City Ballet should be able to give me more.  In all fairness, they often have, but tonight wasn’t one of those nights.