Inside the acrobatics of Monkey: Journey to the West
Who knew how difficult it was to find performers who can spin plates? That’s what director Chen Shi-Zheng discovered when he traveled to China to find 23 acrobats adept at traditional Chinese circus techniques. It took him half a year to track them down.
“A lot of people have abandoned training in these classic acts,” explains the New York-based director. That’s why he was so intent on incorporating the art form into Monkey: Journey to the West, the opening production for the 2013 Lincoln Center Festival.
“I wanted to give a spotlight on this dying tradition,” Chen says. “I want the people who are practicing, especially young people, to value what they do. In China, it’s very unappreciated.”
July 10, 2013 No Comments
The composer’s vision for a summer of Off-Broadway musicals
Putting together a three-show summer season is ambitious enough, let alone when it’s being done by a musical theatre composer with two new pieces premiering in the next five months.
So why on earth is Jeanine Tesori (Shrek, Caroline, or Change) adding extras to Encores! Off-Center, the monthlong series of Off-Broadway musical revivals at City Center? As the artistic director of the program, she’s overseeing not just the musicals themselves, but also bonus material like art exhibits, concerts, talkbacks, and other events.
“We could have just presented the shows,” says Tesori, who is unveiling her inaugural series as artistic director on July 10 with a semi-staged version of Marc Blitzstein’s legendary 1937 musical The Cradle Will Rock. “But I wanted to make sure we discussed not just what they were, but what they continue to be and continue to mean to my fellow artists.”
July 8, 2013 No Comments
Why Venice takes place in an unreal world
Venice is set in Venice, but not the Venice you’d expect.
The hip-hop musical, now in previews at the Public Theater, unfolds sometime in the future, when terrorist attacks have torn the city apart, leaving the privileged to create their own private colony far away from the rubble. Meanwhile, everyone else survives in the ruins, and we join the story when a freedom fighter tries to unite his people with the elite.
“We knew we wanted to set the play in a place that was not referring to any other: We didn’t want to say it was in Europe or in the year 2087 on the continent of Anarctica,” says Eric Rosen, who wrote the book, co-wrote the lyrics, and directs. “We wanted to create a world that sampled from many styles that were around us, but still created its own rules.”
June 5, 2013 2 Comments
Inside Sheik’s score for “Caucasian Chalk Circle”
When he composes for the theatre, Duncan Sheik almost always works with a lyricist. Typically, though, the lyricist is still alive.
Recently, however, Sheik—who shared a Tony with lyricist Steven Sater for the score to Spring Awakening-–composed music for a revival of Bertolt Brecht’s Caucasian Chalk Circle, currently at Classic Stage Company. If he has a question, he can’t exactly call Brecht for an answer. Still, he says his process is essentially the same, explaining, “It’s my normal practice to set music to existing words.”
Brecht wrote the play, a parable about justice within feuding Russian communes, in 1944. This translation is by James and Tania Stern, with Brecht’s lyrics translated by the late W.H. Auden. While writing the music, Sheik listened to the record Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares by the Bulgarian State Television Female Choir.
“I didn’t necessarily have a choir to work with, but I was thinking about some of that tonality and some of those harmonies and the idea of merging middle European folk music with a certain kind of late 19th century classism, which you would have heard in that region at that time,” he says.
June 4, 2013 No Comments
Composer Scott Frankel and Lyricist Michael Korie on How They Created Their New Musical
It seems so innocuous. Just a song about plants. But it prepares us for the most resonant themes in Far From Heaven.
“Sun and Shade” arrives halfway through the first act of the new musical, which adapts the 2002 film and is now at Playwrights Horizons. It charts an early meeting between 1950s Connecticut housewife Cathy Whitaker (Kelli O’Hara) and her African-American gardener Raymond Deagan (Isaiah Johnson.) Eventually, Cathy will find her husband Frank (Steven Pasquale) with another man and cause scandal in her lily-white community when she looks to Raymond for comfort, but at this point in the show, she can’t imagine those sharp edges. She just wants to be civil to the man in her garden, so they have a conversation about plants.
“They’re trying to figure out how to talk to each other, and there are so many things that are unclear,” says composer Scott Frankel. “They’re employer/employee, woman/man, white/black. They end up talking about the gardening equivalent of the weather.”
But we can hear more than the characters can. Lyricist Michael Korie, who also teamed with Frankel on the musical Grey Gardens, says, “It’s a way of letting the audience figure out the subtext. You know they’re not just singing about plants.”
Underneath the alkali and perennials, “Sun and Shade” deals with living in daylight or in shadow, of being free or being hidden. That theme haunts both the housewife and the gardener, and as the show progresses, they sing more explicitly about their isolation. By the end of the first act, they even share a fervent duet called “Miro,” where their mutual love of modern art reveals a shared desire to express themselves.
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May 31, 2013 No Comments