Wednesday, October 27, 2010

An Explosive New Musical

Earlier this week, theater fans received the news that In The Heights would close on January 9, 2011. As sad as it is when shows close, especially one as joyous as Heights, it did have an impressive three-year run and made a lasting impact on musical theater. After seeing the explosive (it's a term used in the subtitle, but it's the most appropriate description) new musical Venice at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City, California, I got to thinking about how a musical like In The Heights made it possible for a musical like Venice to exist.
Venice, with a book by Eric Rosen and music by Matt Sax (Rosen and Sax share a lyricist credit), is loosely based on Othello. The show takes place in a fictionalized Venice after 20 years of war. A group called the Disappeared, who were kept safe during the war, are finally returning to the city. One of them is Willow (Andrea Goss), who is about to marry the new leader Venice (Javier Mu├▒oz). Venice's half brother Markos (Rodrick Covington) is still reeling from Venice's decision to promote Michael Viktor (Erich Bergen), also one of the Disappeared, to lieutenant general over him, and which leads into the Othello-like story of betrayal and jealousy.

Matt Sax has written one of the most contemporary scores I've ever heard in a musical. He is also a skilled rapper as he plays the narrator Clown (the cast is pretty much perfect, not a weak link among them). While In The Heights does have a hip hop score, it is still a traditional musical. Venice is not only much darker (the character of Venice is a product of a rape), but it feels like it's breaking new ground in the way the score is used. Any type of music could be used to tell this story, it just happens to be hip hop, but it's not the point. And because In The Heights set the groundwork, I think audiences will be more likely to accept Venice.

Lately, critics have crowned Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson as the future of musical theater, which is troubling. It relies on silly jokes rather than saying anything all that intelligent about the political situation today or then. Though it's billed as an emo music, it bears little resemblance to the emo music that's played on the radio. I won't include American Idiot in this discussion because that was an album by Green Day first. The music of Venice was composed specifically for a show, but I could hear many of these songs played on the radio. There is a lot of talk of Leap of Faith, also part of the Center Theatre Group's season, coming to Broadway in the fall 2011. While that would be nice, especially so Raul Esparza can finally win his Tony, Venice is a show that needs to be on a New York stage, or really any stage.

Photo credit: Craig Schwartz

Social Network (not that one)

The Alliance of Resident Theatres/New York and TheaterMania have teamed up for a social network aimed at independent New York City theaters--New York Theatre Network. The site launched on September 28 with the motto, "The who, what, and where of New York City theater."

The idea for a one-stop shop for independent theaters and theatergoers came from Virginia Louloudes, executive director of A.R.T./New York. She wanted to find a partner to help maintain the website and as the first website where users could purchase tickets and find information about Off-Off-Broadway shows, TheaterMania was the perfect match.

Theater companies can log in to NYTN and update information about their current shows. Even the smallest theaters can create videos by borrowing Flip cams from A.R.T./New York. "Theaters as small as the Dark Lady Players and as large as Roundabout have an equal platform," Louloudes says. In an effort to educate theaters about social networking, A.R.T./New York offers classes to teach theater companies about making YouTube videos, writing for a website, tweeting, creating a social marketing plan, etc.

Visitors to NYTN can search for shows or theaters and buy tickets, get personal recommendations, watch videos, read blogs, and post in discussion boards. Through Facebook connect, visitors can also see what theaters and shows their friends are liking and access Facebook fan pages and Twitter pages in one place. "Liking one theater is never enough. Come and like them all," Louloudes says.

You can log into NYTN here and follow @NY_TN on Twitter.

Photo credit: PR Newswire

A Football Fan and A Theater Nerd Walk Into A Broadway House...

Since writing this article for TDF Stages on Lombardi's marketing strategy, I've been curious about who would get more out of the show--theater fans or football fans. I had the perfect opportunity to find out when my parents came to New York for a visit. I'm an avid theatergoer (I'm guessing you knew this) and I don't know anything about football. My father is a football fan who only occasionally enjoys the theater. I took him to see Lombardi, a little bit as a social experiment, but mostly because I finally found a way to spend time with my dad while combining both of our interests.

I did not expect to be so engaged in Eric Simonson's play from start to finish. In the play, fictional reporter Michael McCormick (Keith Nobbs), is assigned to profile Vince Lombardi (a convincing Dan Lauria). Most of the action takes place in the home Lombardi shares with his wife, Marie (a scene-stealing Judith Light), though a few scenes take place on the football field. There were only a few moments of football speak where I felt confused.

Usually if I see a play or film with my dad, I'll ask him what he thinks and he'll say, "It was OK," or, "I liked it," and leaves it at that. But after this show, he was eager to discuss it. First, we talked about the performances, which we agreed were the strongest aspect of the show, especially Lauria and Light. Then, we talked about how well the staging worked in the round. The theater was set up to look like a stadium, and the set pieces rotated. My father was especially impressed with the way Thomas Kail staged the action so as not to alienate any section of the audience.

We also discussed what didn't work in the play. We both found that it focused too much on the reporter character and not enough on Vince Lombardi. My father wanted to know more about Lombardi's take on football and thought that sports fans would be disappointed by how little football there was (interestingly, the play got stronger reviews from sports critics than theater critics). I came away learning a lot more than I did before about Lombardi, but I didn't really understand why he was such a legendary coach. We also both felt that the relationship between Lombardi and his son either needed to be more fully developed or dropped entirely.

At the performance I attended, I looked around at the audience to see a mix of ages, races, and genders, a few Packers jerseys, as well as your typical matinee crowd. It may not be the best play ever written, but in terms of bringing new audiences to the theater, Lombardi scores a touchdown.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Contest: Win Tickets To Lombardi

Update: The contest is now closed. Thank you so much to everyone who entered. Congrats to winner Lisa Bodnar! I will be e-mailing you shortly with details on how to claim your tickets.

The 2010-2011 season is officially underway and if you see a lot more football fans hanging out in Times Square than usual, it could be because of Lombardi. Lombardi is about legendary football coach Vince Lombardi (played by Dan Lauria) and explores his life both on and off the field. I'm giving away a pair of tickets to the show. To enter, all you have to do is answer the two following questions (one is about theater and the other is about football to even the playing field) in the comments. Please include your e-mail address or Twitter handle so you can be contacted if you win. I have temporarily turned on comment moderation and will wait until the contest ends to post the comments. The contest will end on Friday, October 15 at 5 p.m. The winner will be chosen at random from the correct entries. Thanks to Art Meets Commerce for arranging the tickets.

1) Tommy Kail, the director of Lombardi, who was nominated for a Tony Award for directing In The Heights, graduated from which Connecticut University?

2) How many Super Bowls did Vince Lombardi and the Green Bay Packers win?

If you don't win tickets, fear not, the producers are also offering a
special fan offer:

Save over 30% on LOMBARDI on Broadway

$79 Orch (A-G) (reg $115)
$49 Orch (H-K) (reg $115)

· Go to and use code LOAMC96
· Call 212.947.8844 and use code LOAMC96
· Visit the Circle in the Square Box Office at
50th Street West of Broadway and mention code LOAMC96

*Offer valid for performances 9/23/10-11/21/10, except 10/21/10. Offer valid for select seats. Subject to availability and prior sale. Not valid for prior purchases or in combination with any other offer. Blackout dates may apply. Offer may be revoked or modified at any time without notice. Service charges apply to online and phone orders. Ticket price includes a $2 facilities fee. All sales final; no refunds or exchanges.